Wednesday, May 31, 2006
35,000 fan flag
Ben Lindley is in the breezy East Stand of Old Trafford. In one hand he holds a bunch of red and white plastic rectangles.
He's draping them over the back of seats while his partner on the job, Anne-Marie Mockridge, has an armful of elastic bands at the ready.
They're here nine hours before kick-off for Raise the Flag, an initiative by England fans, before their team face Hungary in a World Cup warm-up friendly.
They're spending the day with up to 50 other fans, putting 17,500 of the plastic pieces at each end of the ground.
When the two teams stand on the pitch at 8pm to sing their national anthems, 35,000 England fans will hold the pieces aloft to form a giant St George's flag.
"When you see the flag held up it gives you pride," says Ben thumping his chest. "I'm England through and through and I'm proud of it."
Anne-Marie agrees and admits she'd rather be here than at the pre-match build up in the pub.
"It's gobsmacking when you stand and watch it being lifted up. You get such a lump in your throat."
The irony about this exercise is not lost on organisers. It is being held on the day that those serving banning orders against travelling to the World Cup are handing in their passports.
Englandfans spokesman Mark Perryman had the idea under sourer circumstances, as coins rained down on him from Italian fans at an England away game in Rome in 1997.
Italian Ultra supporters - not the usual role models - were holding their flag formation aloft. Mark thought a similar display could be a way to demonstrate the positive side of England supporters.
Now every England home game features Raise the Flag and he hopes it could be a feature in the World Cup.
"It's something you can become part of," he says. "A symbol of pride in your team. A symbol of the fans and the flag coming together."
One hour in, and the top tier of the East Stand is covered in flag pieces.
Helper Malcolm Dunn, an avid Manchester United and England follower, is hopeful Raising the Flag will be a force for good.
Recalling the violence which has marred past overseas tournaments, he says: "It's important to give a positive reflection of England football fans."
"Our press has given us a bad press which has sometimes been unjustified. We have a problem but we are working hard to eradicate it."
Lunchtime. Old Trafford is filling up nicely - not with fans but with flag pieces.