Manchester United fan protests reached a whole new level on Sunday (May 2), as fans reached Old Trafford and invaded the pitch.
Manchester United fan protests reached a whole new level on Sunday (May 2), as fans reached Old Trafford and invaded the pitch. It didn’t end there, however. Fans reached The Lowry hotel in the city and prevented the team’s coach from departing. Eventually, the situation became a law and order one. Policemen got involved; the Premier League match against Liverpool was first delayed and then called off and postponed. This wasn’t the first round of Manchester United fan protests either. Previously, fans had managed to gain access to the Carrington training ground pitches. Eventually, they were talked down by United manager Ole Gunnar Solksjaer.
Social media was divided by what unfolded. While many agreed with the protests, others believed they went too far with their methods. What no one seemingly focused on, is whether or not this will have any effect in the long run.
To say the Glazer brothers – United’s current owners – are reviled by the fanbase is akin to saying Adolf Hitler did a bit of evil in his lifetime. Their leveraged buyout of the club in 2005 saw them unleash £525 million of borrowings directly onto the club.
Since then, the family has amassed more than £1 billion in payouts from the club’s finances. That success on the pitch has dried up rankles fans too, who rightfully ask why more isn’t invested in the football side of things.
And protests against the Glazers is nothing new. Their first visit to Old Trafford was met with such vitriol that they were escorted out in a police van for their safety. Fan protests back then also threatened to take a turn for the worse.
2010 saw the beginning of the ‘green and gold’ campaign. This was in reference to the club’s origins – Manchester United were known as Newton Heath when founded, and they sported a green and gold strip. The protest, therefore, symbolised taking the club back to its roots.
Yet the straw that has broken the camel’s back was United’s inclusion in the European Super League. The breakaway rebel league – short-lived though it might have been – angered fans, who saw it as the Glazers’ attempt to make more money while throwing tradition to the wind.
Thus the new protests are a case of deja vu all over again. The issue at hand is simple – fans want the Glazers gone.
The protests are being hailed by many as a sign of fan power and the influence it can have. However, while fan anger stopped the Super League, it remains unlikely to drive the Glazers away.
The reason? Money, of course. United’s global appeal and the cash-printing machine the club is means the Glazers have no motivation to sell.
Success on the pitch has been hard to come by since 2017. Yet the club are, quite simply, too big too fail. And their commercial appeal remains as high as ever. So why would the owners sell?
They are rarely at Old Trafford, so fan apathy is something they can live with – especially since, being based in USA, they can easily filter out the noise. The scale of protests matter little in this case.
There’s also the fact that the protests went rogue. News reports suggested altercations with policemen, and vandalism of a gate at Old Trafford. Such incidents tar the legitimacy of a protest, no matter the intent behind it.
It also plays into the hands of the establishment. Fans in England have called for greater fan involvement, or a move to Germany’s 50+1 ownership model.
Yet why would clubs choose to cede powers to fans, especially when they can easily claim that such behaviour shows that they would not fare well in positions of power. The argument is an incorrect one, but one that can easily be made regardless.
The solution to driving out the Glazers is a nuclear one – hit them where it hurts. The Americans are clearly enamoured by profits, which means fans will have to vote with their wallets. Stop buying tickets and merchanside. Cancel subscriptions to Sky and even MUTV. Boycott games in large numbers. All while hoping results go poor.
Yet the thought of not rooting for one’s club is an unbearable one for fans. Certain United fans actually did boycott the club and establish FC United of Manchester after the Glazers’ takeover.
Yet those fans have been lambasted, both by fellow United fans and even Sir Alex Ferguson. Turning on one’s club remains an unspeakable act, for such attachements are often formed over generations.
That the protests will eventually stop is quite likely. Yet what cannot be ignored is that there exists a disconnect between United fans and the ownership, one that is unlikely to be repaired any time soon.