As the dust settles after a landmark day in Manchester United’s history, the papers this morning have been offering their views of the fan protest outside Old Trafford that led to United’s clash with Liverpool being postponed.
The protest was against the club’s controlling shareholders, the Glazer family, and to demand that the government adopts the ‘50+1’ model of football ownership in the UK, where fans must by law own the majority stake in a club.
Thousands of fans turned up outside Old Trafford and at the Lowry Hotel, where the United team were staying for their pre-game preparations. Those fans broke police barricades preventing the team from safely getting onto the bus to take them to the ground, while Old Trafford itself was penetrated, with fans running on the pitch waving #GlazersOut banners and green and gold scarves.
For the most part this morning the press have been supportive, with some moving pieces appearing from a number of hardcore reporters.
‘It is impossible to find fault with the legitimacy of these demonstrations, or their effect,’ writes The Independent’s Miguel Delaney.
‘These were almost unprecedented scenes. There has never been a game – let alone a game of this scale – postponed due to fan protest in the Premier League era.
‘You might say it’s the second most effective moment of supporter activism in modern English football history, after the demise of The Super League. Really, of course, it is just a continuation of that same protest. It is why that plan may genuinely prove a landmark moment in the game, in a way that was totally unexpected, and that represents a classic case of unintended consequences.
‘Through the Super League plan, the Glazers [made] an attempt to assert ultimate control.
‘Instead, the entire situation is now out of control, and there are – for the first time – genuine questions over whether the ownership is worth it.
‘United fans, like many others, have stood powerless in the face of this for far too long.
‘Well, this was both an expression of their power, and pretty much the only recourse the game left them with – and it had tangible effect.
‘The Glazers and the other owners might well have just taken things too far. This is the new world they may have created.’
The Telegraph’s Jason Burt was also supportive.
‘It is their right [to protest] specially given they have, over the past two decades, exhausted every other avenue to express their desire for a change of ownership,’ Burt said of the fans at Old Trafford.
‘Good luck to them if they can finally force that and the Glazers have certainly shown how unsuitable they are to be custodians of such a great club. If the Americans have any feeling for United they should seek a buyer end their ownership.
‘To force the game to be postponed is unprecedented and will certainly be noticed around the world.’
Writing for The Guardian, Jonathan Liew condemned the Premier League’s response to the demonstration.
‘”A dangerous situation that should have no place in football,” was how the Premier League reacted, and without wishing to downplay the public safety element let’s not pretend this was the main story here.
‘In fact, the Premier League’s reaction to the protests encapsulated the sense of alienation and disenfranchisement that engendered them in the first place. By firmly siding with its rights-holders and property‑owning class, it simply reminded us where the power in the game currently resides and has arguably always resided.
‘The Glazers cannot be forced to sell, and it’s hard to imagine that even a sustained protest movement would toxify the brand sufficiently to persuade them. And yet, the events of the last few weeks have shown that the ground on which English football stands is less firm than we once believed.
‘A pessimist might observe that it’s probably a stretch to expect a few guys with songs and banners to change the world for the better. An optimist would counter that it’s possibly the only thing that ever has.’
An article by The Mail’s Martin Samuel’s gave hope and inspiration.
‘There was nastiness, as there so often is on these occasions; there are people who abuse the right to dissent for their own ends.
‘Yet for all this, for all the disruption, disturbance and inconvenience around Old Trafford on Sunday, this was not the worst day for football. It was a good day, one might even argue.
‘Good, even with no match. Good, despite the bad. It was a day when many supporters made their feelings known in a way that truly encapsulated the anger around the Super League sell-out.
‘It was a day that owners ignore at their peril. This was football’s Network moment. The fans were as mad as hell: and they weren’t going to take it anymore.
‘Certainly they were not going to take distant, uncommunicative overlords who believe our game is their revenue stream. They were not going to take loyalty as a stick with which to beat the loyalists.
‘They were not going to take having no say, they were not going to take having no voice, they were not going to take this: what football has become and where it is going.
‘This was, potentially, the start of something special. It may not change the ownership of football clubs, but it will, if successful, change the direction those clubs are travelling. And if it does, it changes the game too. Pulls it from the brink. Saves it from the moribund imaginations of the super-rich. Manchester United and Liverpool wanted Project Big Picture – and now they’ve got one.
‘The Glazers are venture capitalists. When it is no longer worth owning Manchester United they will sell and, clearly, that moment has not been reached yet. What would make it worth their while?
‘A simple combination: a buyer with roughly £3 billion and an investment whose value was slipping. Yet the second part of that equation requires even more of a concerted effort than it took to organise Sunday’s demonstration.
‘It requires boycotts, of merchandise, maybe even ticket sales. It requires supporters to stop supporting. It is very hard to do. Adidas, though, are not impressed with a dip in Manchester United shirt sales this year. It’s not much, but it’s a start.
‘There was a lot of support outside for the 50+1 ownership model, but even the most optimistic revolutionaries cannot see that happening… Nor will it interfere in voting rights to give the fans the 51 per cent say demanded.
‘What might happen, if more protests follow – but only if these are peaceful – is that the government feels sufficiently pressured to provide for charters or supporter representation at executive level. Another start.’
There were other papers – The Sun and The Times, for example, that decided not to publish any articles in support of the protests. But the vast majority, whilst rightly condemning the small elements that turned to vandalism, remained entirely supportive.
The last words must go to The MEN’s Samuel Luckhurst, whose empassioned article will serve as a rallying cry for fans to continue the fight.
‘United supporters have achieved their greatest victory since they helped prevent Rupert Murdoch’s BSkyB takeover in 1998-99,’ Luckhurst wrote.
‘This triumph, achieved in the midst of a pandemic and amid significant restrictions preventing supporters from forming battleplans, was immense.
‘Napoleon would have approved of the tactical planning behind the United fans’ strategy. Thousands converged outside the Old Trafford east stand, a sufficient distraction for hundreds to unsettle the doormen at The Lowry Hotel, where the team was staying three miles away.
‘The Lowry might, in time, affix a blue plaque outside its entrance to mark the football fan’s equivalent of David toppling Goliath.
‘The Glazers had tried to pull up the drawbridge with the Super League venture, so how appropriate fans stormed the castle.
‘United confirmed the game had been postponed. The fans obdurately stood nearby, clutching their cans and banners, were soon informed. Victoire.
‘Driving back from the stadium, this correspondent had to switch the radio off. The coverage was out of touch and prejudiced, with armchair fans keen to condemn those who got off their backside.
‘A former Manchester City player wailed about the United protesters compromising the ‘integrity’ of the Premier League. My father messaged to say Micah Richards was eulogising City’s owners because he is an ambassador and that Graeme Souness was as detached in his analysis as a Glazer.
‘Whenever the Glazers sell up, United fans will be scrutinising the buyers. They are of a principled mindset and not prepared to make their bed with any human rights abusing overlords. They want the club in safe hands, not bloodied hands.
‘They will fight, fight, fight for United again.’