Manchester United v Liverpool abandoned after protestors break into Old Trafford

Hundreds made their way onto the pitch while others protested outside team hotel

A previously planned protest outside the stadium - by fans angry with the club’s American owners, the Glazers - turned violent as a group of around 100 people broke into the grounds. Video: Reuters

 

Manchester United’s game with Liverpool at Old Trafford on Sunday was postponed after a planned peaceful protest outside the stadium by fans angry with the club’s owners, the Glazers, spilled into chaotic and violent scenes as a group of around 100 broke into the ground, causing criminal damage and forcing some staff to lock themselves into rooms for safety.

The postponement of the Premier League match between the two most storied clubs in English football to an as yet undetermined date was confirmed almost five hours after supporters gathered at the stadium. It adds further uncertainty to United’s fixture list in a week when they are due to play the second leg of their Europa League semi-final with Roma, and is the most graphic illustration yet of the breakdown of trust between fans and owners.

Around 1pm a crowd began gathering outside the stadium holding anti-Glazer banners and chanting against the American family, whose longstanding unpopularity with supporters was elevated by their signing up to the now defunct European Super League.

Supporters broke into the ground. Photo: Oli Scarff/AFP via Getty Images
Supporters broke into the ground. Photo: Oli Scarff/AFP via Getty Images

A crowd of around 200 had also gathered at the Lowry hotel in the city centre, where the team stay before matches. At the latter the United coach was surrounded by supporters before banks of police arrived, while the number at Old Trafford swelled into thousands after 2pm.

With firecrackers being let off and with some carrying flares, a group marched toward the venue’s Munich Tunnel and by 2.30pm security had been breached and the Old Trafford pitch invaded. There, more firecrackers were let off, flares were thrown, one individual was seen swinging on a goal and, another grabbed a corner flag, while outside there were clashes with police, with two officers being injured after bottles were thrown, with one suffering a slash to his face and requiring hospital treatment.

Some inside the stadium gathered by a platform of Sky Sports, the host broadcaster, and at one point Gary Neville and Jamie Carragher, the former defenders for United and Liverpool who are now pundits, spoke with a group of those who had broken in.

Some of the invaders also got into the players’ tunnel, which meant a deep clean would have been required due to Covid regulations for the match to go ahead. Neville and the former club captain Roy Keane, who was also on Sky panel, said their shared the anger and frustrations of the fans with the Glazers’ ownership of the club.

At 3pm the stadium went into lockdown: members of the media were held outside and a sweep of the stadium was required. Neither team had left their hotel yet, with Liverpool also staying in Manchester, but an hour before the scheduled 4.30pm kick-off the lineups were issued, despite uncertainty regarding whether the game could start then or even be staged at all on Sunday.

Yet while another group again breached the stadium and a further lockdown had to be enforced, some became “violent and antagonistic” in the Munich Tunnel, according to Greater Manchester police, who stated officers from neighbouring forces had to be drafted in to try to gain control.

At 5.40pm it was called off for the day. It is the first Premier League game postponed because of fan behaviour.

The protest is the most dramatic of the turbulent Glazers’ reign. Malcolm Glazer took total control in June 2005 with a buyout that leveraged £525m of debt on to the club. Glazer died in 2014 but his sons Avram and Joel are now co-chairmen.

Fans’ anger at the Glazers control – for a perceived lack of investment in the club on and off the field and a failure to keep up with rivals Manchester City and Liverpool on the pitch – has sharpened since the announcement of the European Super League a fortnight ago. Joel Glazer was named as vice-chairman of the breakaway league when the announcement was made, and apologised to the fans in an open letter after plans for the league collapsed.

Huge numbers gathered outside the ground. : Barrington Coombs/PA Wire
Huge numbers gathered outside the ground. : Barrington Coombs/PA Wire

Fans of other clubs involved in the Super League project have protested, most notably at Arsenal, where thousands gathered outside the Emirates before their game with Everton to demand the removal of the ownership by Stan Kroenke, another American tycoon. But Sunday’s protest is the strongest and potentially most far-reaching yet.

“Following discussion between the police, the Premier League, Trafford council and the clubs, our match against Liverpool has been postponed due to safety and security considerations around the protest today,” read a statement from United. “Discussions will now take place with the Premier League on a revised date for the fixture.

“Our fans are passionate about Manchester United, and we completely acknowledge the right t o free expression and peaceful protest. However, we regret the disruption to the team and actions which put other fans, staff, and the police in danger. We thank the police for their support and will assist them in any subsequent investigations.”

Safety issues remain a concern for the club, with the gate breached by fans who invaded the pitch still in disrepair three hours later. There were suggestions that stewards might form a human shield to prevent any further intrusions during the match, but this was rejected. With the stadium therefore not completely secured, there was no option but to postpone.

The Premier League said: “We understand and respect the strength of feeling but condemn all acts of violence, criminal damage and trespass, especially given the associated Covid-19 breaches. Fans have many channels by which to make their views known, but the actions of a minority seen today have no justification. We sympathise with the police and stewards who had to deal with a dangerous situation that should have no place in football.”

Liverpool said they were in “full agreement” with the postponement because safety could not be guaranteed. The Merseyside team and United were finally allowed to depart their hotels just before 7pm.

Russ Jackson, assistant chief constable of Greater Manchester police, said: “The behaviour displayed today by those at both Old Trafford and The Lowry hotel was reckless and dangerous. We understand the passion many supporters have for their team and we fully respect the right for peaceful protest. Plans were in place to ensure this could happen safely, but it soon became clear that many present had no intention of doing so peacefully. The actions of those today required us to take officers from front line policing and call in support from neighbouring forces to prevent the disorder getting worse.

“At different points, bottles and barriers were thrown, officers assaulted and people scaled the stadium structure creating risk for themselves and officers. We have launched an investigation and we will be working closely alongside partners to ensure we establish the full circumstances surrounding today’s events and prosecute those responsible.”

One of those who entered the pitch, who said his name was Ryan, told the news agency PA Media: “The protest went better than expected. The whole idea was to cause disruption and I believe that’s what’s been achieved. The atmosphere was unreal. I myself have spent my life idolising this club and to watch how the Glazers have used the club has angered and disappointed me. The scenes on the pitch were unreal, we achieved what we needed to and took it further by making it onto the pitch. Do I agree with causing damage? Abso lutely not, but what do Manchester United really expect? They have been told for years.”

A statement from Manchester United Supporters Trust said: “The owners have taken £1bn out of the club and we have witnessed decay and decline both on the field and off it. The invasion of the stadium isn’t something we expected, and it is rumoured a gate was opened for fans, but even if that is not the case we believe the vast majority of Manchester United staff are sympathetic with the views of the fans.” - Guardian

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