The English football revolt over the scuttled European Super League went to a new level when around 200 Manchester United fans stormed the Old Trafford pitch.
It’s a pretty amazing scene seeing supporters break into the stadium and gather onto the pitch with colored flares and signs demanding the Glazer family sell the team. Similar scenes were outside where it appears a small group of demonstrators got into a scuffle with Manchester police officers including several metal fences either thrown or used as a weapon. BBC reports one officer may have been injured, but not seriously. There’s also a picture of a masked police officer holding a yellow smoke bomb or flare. Here’s part of Sky News’ coverage of the protests.
BREAKING: Angry Manchester United fans are staging a protest against the club's owners after getting inside their Old Trafford stadium.
— Sky News (@SkyNews) May 2, 2021
The protest forced Manchester United and Liverpool to cancel their planned match, a game with huge implications on the English Premier League table as Manchester City could win the league if Man U lost. The match will have to be rescheduled.
To put this in perspective, imagine Dallas Cowboys or New York Yankees fans breaking into their respective home fields and telling Jerry Jones or the Steinbrenners to get rid of their ownership stakes. That’s what Sunday’s scene in Manchester is like. A rebellion against ownership for its own attempted revolution against the current power structure in European soccer. More on that in a moment.
The fury towards Manchester United ownership makes sense due to recent history. Man U supporters fumed when American billionaire Malcolm Glazer took over the team in the mid-2000s and immediately racked up millions in debt. Fans attempted to buy the squad from the Glazer family in 2010 but the attempt failed due to the asking price. The club remains one of the more valuable soccer teams in the world, ranked third behind Real Madrid and FC Barcelona, but lost at least $200M in value since 2018.
United hasn’t exactly lit the soccer world on fire since the Glazers took control. It’s won five Premier titles but none since Sir Alex Ferguson’s final season in 2013, although it did seize the FA Cup in 2016. United saw poor play under Jose Mourinho and decent performance under Ole Gunnar Solskaer, but nothing from when it ruled English football.
All Manchester United supporters needed was a spark to set off even more direct action.
That spark was the announcement of the European Super League, a team-up of the 12 most popular (and richest) soccer teams for their own annual competition. The league, vice-chaired by Joel Glazer, vowed to bring in more competition and money to participating teams with Glazer himself promising it would increase “financial support for the wider football pyramid.” The how was still to be figured out since the league only featured the biggest clubs with room for five others following “annual qualifiers.”
It went nowhere. FIFA, the governing body of global international football, and its European subsidy, UEFA, quickly put the kibosh on the plan. The groups vowed to prevent players involved in the Super League from being on national teams along with a ban on Super League teams from competing in any other contests. Politicians and political commentators condemned the idea, as well, with John Ashmore at CapX writing it was anti-competitive because “the founding members can’t be relegated, effectively turning top-level football into a cartel” (Relegation, for those unfamiliar with European soccer, means teams who finish at the very bottom of the league table are moved into a “lower” league with few fans and money. It would be like if the Jacksonville Jaguars, New York Jets, and Houston Texans were kicked into the Canadian Football League while Saskatchewan, Hamilton, and Calgary ended up in the NFL). Ashmore also noted the Super League was a poor idea because some of the teams involved weren’t very good, including the Tottenham Hotspur club he supports. The Super League ended up suspending operations three days later after clubs removed themselves from the competition due to the harsh reaction.
Yet, the anger remains and Manchester United took the brunt of it, hence Sunday’s Old Trafford storming. It will be telling to see how the Glazer family responds to it. One fan told the BBC he believes they now have the high moral ground because of protester actions, and he’s got a great point. It’s understandable why the protesters got onto the pitch, but there’s no justification. Hopefully, those who trespassed will be fined and face more serious charges if it turns out they stole anything or hurt someone.
A very interesting sight for a Sunday, nonetheless, albeit disappointing for those hoping to watch Liverpool take on Manchester United.