The Glazer family will be tempted to ignore the protests of Manchester United fans on Sunday, but they should not count on the demonstrations being the last they have heard about the European Super League.
United’s owners were said to be close to walking away from their bid for the club in 2004 when it became clear that a hardcore group of the club’s fans were willing to engage in direct action, with the suggestion that they once only narrowly avoided a physical confrontation with some of the more fervent of the resistance.
There were other stunts and protests alongside such rumours, including the hanging effigy of Malcom Glazer, and a press release from the Manchester Education Committee (MEC) suggesting there would be consequences for those supporting the bid. Ultimately, Alex Ferguson gave his blessing to the takeover and £1 billion exited the club in fees, interest and dividends. The previous owners were hardly the most altruistic bunch, but they would presumably have directed at least some of that money to putting up a better fight against Lionel Messi’s Barcelona and Abu Dhabi’s Manchester City.
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It appears that even if the personnel may have changed - and there is no way to be sure - the methods of the MEC have seen a resurgence. Perhaps it is the old guard back now they see a new cause to hang their dissent off, or maybe it is a new generation of fans who are ready to assert their authority over their club, but the message has been clear and embraced: “We decide when you play.”
Manchester United fans protest
Image credit: Getty Images
That slogan was ably demonstrated on Sunday afternoon. What appeared to be a couple of hundred fans turned up outside the Lowry Hotel housing the club’s first team squad, and prevented their scheduled exit to Old Trafford for the game against Liverpool. On Twitter, the hotel used by Liverpool for a similar function was made public though it is not clear if that led to any disruption. From 2004, when the Glazers’ location was hunted for, to now, when fans are willing to camp outside hotel and block the path to games, it is clear the fans really can decide when their teams play.
Of course there is action from the police which could be used to combat such tactics. But with the razzmatazz of the Premier League one of the key selling points to broadcasters, it would surely dent the viability of the sport as content if there were pitched battles between players and people who in theory support their same club.
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Sunday’s events represent an escalation from the United hardcore. Before, they introduced themselves to the United training ground, unveiled their banner, and were satisfied by a chat with Ole Gunnar Solskjaer before leaving. Now, they have gone a step further. For all the security at the club, in anticipation of the protest, it is odd, suspicious even, just how easily they were able to saunter onto the pitch. During the time of coronavirus restrictions, it is going to be easy to contaminate areas that would force the postponement and abandonment of any games.
Malcolm Glazer has since died.
Image credit: Getty Images
Everything that fans warned about the Glazers in 2004 has come true. The club spent millions on debt, it has not won an important trophy since the departure of Alex Ferguson, the owners do not care enough to come to games or engage with fans, and now they have tried to take the club out of the shackles of standard governance. The control of United is now irrefutably about money for the Glazers and absolutely nothing else. The only way to combat that, it has been demonstrated, is to interfere directly with the team and its home. Green-and-gold protests after paying for a ticket mean nothing.
Fans and observers will be able to draw their own conclusions about whether they support such tactics, but for the Glazers it is immaterial. They may have to deal with the fact that this time there is a strategy that might make them finally reconsider their plans for the club.
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