Manchester United have given over their Old Trafford stadium for a day of celebration to commemorate the club’s iconic flag known as ‘Big Lily’, which has travelled the world supporting the team since 1999, on the 21st anniversary of her creation.
For the first time ever, the famous supporters’ flag measuring 60 ft by 40 ft with 50 ‘Wee Lily’ tribute flags, dedicated to the memory and illustrious history of heroes’, legends and fans of the club, will proudly fly together as part of a documentary film.
Known as ‘The Global Flag of Friendship’, revered amongst the club’s one Billion global supporters, this fan icon originated out of the conflict in Northern Ireland.
The name ‘Lily’ derives from The ‘Easter Lily’ and Orange ‘Lily’ flowers, symbolic emblems in Irish folklore, representing Catholic and Protestant traditions in Northern Ireland. In spite of coming from different religious backgrounds, co-creators of Big Lily, Keith Norris and Martin ‘Faceman’ Cleary, were best friends and devoted Manchester United supporters.
Ireland is a hotbed for Manchester United with 45 official supporters’ clubs, North and South. Irishmen Patrick O’Connell, Johnny Carey, Noel Cantwell and Roy Keane have captained the team. Club legends including George Best, Sammy McIlroy, Norman Whiteside, Denis Irwin, Tony Dunne and Liam Whelan all hail from the Emerald Isle.
John Peden was the first Irishman signed by Newton Heath, pre-curser of Manchester United, in 1893. 63 players have followed suit, crossing the Irish sea to wear the famous red shirt of Manchester United, the latest, current under 23 star, Ethan Galbraith.
The club received great acclaim for displaying the ‘Busby Babes’ tribute flags, commemorating those who died as a result of the Munich air disaster in 1958, when they were displayed at the match against Everton at Old Trafford on February 6th – the 63rd anniversary of the crash which claimed 23 lives.
Several hundred dedicated United fans travel with the tribute flags to the crash site in Trudering, Munich each year where they hold a commemoration service organised by Manchester Munich Memorial Foundation, a charity dedicated to keeping the memory of the Busby Babes alive.
United’s Big Lily flag has many friends in the world of football, most famously Raul Gonzales and Cristiano Ronaldo. Club legend Pat Crerand and former captain, Gary Neville are Big Lily stalwarts as was the late, great Harry Gregg.
Big Lily achieved worldwide media coverage when a mural dedicated to her was unveiled on Belfast’s world-famous International Peace Wall in 2019. Global political figures including Lord Mayor of Munich, Dieter Reiter, Premier of Western Australia, Mark McGowan and ex Taoiseach of Ireland, Bertie Ahern have endorsed the role Big Lily plays in promoting peace and friendship across the world .