Sunday afternoon saw 16 years of frustration and anger boil over into one of the most spectacular protests at fan ownership there has been in English football, with Manchester United supporters making their voice heard in the latest round of anti-Glazer demonstrations.
With the world watching on, eagerly anticipated the Premier League clash between United and Liverpool, thousands of fans gathered outside Old Trafford before eventually making their way onto the pitch at the stadium, although just how they got into the ground so easily remains unclear.
For all the talk of this being a response to Joel Glazer and Ed Woodward’s idiotic attempt to drag United into the ill-fated European Super League, this protest was actually a culmination of years of mistreatment.
Why were the fans so angry?
Manchester United fans didn’t protest on the Old Trafford pitch because the team isn’t very good. Manchester United fans didn’t protest on the Old Trafford pitch because the coach isn’t very good. Manchester United fans set about causing the postponement of Sunday’s fixture in response to the Glazer family showing for 16 years that they have no care for the football club.
Manchester United have spent money on players, a lot of it, but none of it has come from outside of the club. At a time when United have seen Chelsea, Manchester City and PSG all have money pumped into those clubs, the Glazer family has limited United’s fiscal capabilities by regularly taking dividend payments.
Obviously, the less-discerning amongst people will claim that this is something United fans should just accept, that the owners own the club and have a legal right to do such a thing.
Technically, this is true, but it leaves a sour taste in the mouth when the Glazer family continues to take money from the club, when they actually only came to own it by taking loan-upon-loan and using the club itself as leverage against the money lent to them by US banks.
Furthermore, since 2013 there has been the presence of Ed Woodward as the club’s Executive Vice Chairman. Woodward, a graduate of the JP Morgan Chase banking ladder has been allowed to head footballing operations for the best part of a decade, as Manchester United became the laughing stock of the English game.
Not only has Woodward been woefully underqualified by the role he is soon to vacate, his way of conversing with fans has been equally as appalling. It may be unfair to label someone a liar, so all I will say is that Manchester United fans are still waiting for Woodward’s opening promise of returning the words ‘Football Club’ to the badge to come to fruition.
The Super League move was merely the final straw, and fans have been emboldened by the way it was quickly dispatched as a result of fan action, for the first time they now believe they can force the Glazer family out.
16 years of neglect
To those unfamiliar with the situation at Manchester United, it wouldn’t be unreasonable to ask what the big deal is. United have remained within touching distance of the Champions League money-pot even after the departure of Sir Alex Ferguson.
The reality, though, is that fans aren’t responding to what is happening on the pitch. They have been pushed to breaking point by the actions of a family who regularly undermines the importance of the fans, only to then lean on them for further financial gain.
Old Trafford as a football stadium hasn’t changed since 2006, when newly constructed quadrant sections were finished in order to bump up the attendance to 76,000. These plans were put in place way before the 2005 Glazer takeover and financed beforehand too.
What has happened in the 16 years since is the intentional dilapidation of a stadium. Ticket turnstiles introduced in 2007 no longer scan tickets effectively and fans are just waved in.
The walls around the turnstiles are old, crumbling and a hazard to public health. Furthermore, the fan experience has been totally ignored as well, there is nothing within that stadium to rival what is inside the Etihad Stadium or the newly constructed Tottenham Hotspur stadium.
Outside the picture is equally as grim. The painting of the steel structures has been stopped and left to peel and fragment, and the only infrastructural upgrade that has occurred under Glazer rule has been the introduction of new disabled seating sections and lifts… conveniently they were both legal requirements forced on the club.
A final point, and it may seem small but it really highlights the awful manner in which United have been run, in the final home match with fans before COVID-19 hit, there was an announcement that anti-bacterial hand-gel stations were being placed throughout Old Trafford. That was a lie, they didn’t bother to pay for them to be installed in the upper-tier concourse sections.
What do United fans hope to change?
The main aim of these protests is to force the Glazer family to sell the club. That is the end-game, although most fans are acutely aware that due to the high value of the club as an entity, this is near impossible.
As such, the independent Manchester United Supporters Trust (MUST) has repeatedly issued Joel Glazer with open letters, declaring their desire for actual conversations and fans being included in the club’s decision-making processes.
So far, all such requests have fallen on deaf (perhaps willingly so) ears. Nothing has changed as yet, but what is different about the protests of 2021 is that fans won’t stop. The Super League plans confirmed that the Glazer family was willing to sell all domestic fans down the river, leaving them without a club, and this won’t be forgotten.