The protests at Old Trafford on May 2, 2021 will be remembered for a long, long time. This was the day that a section of Manchester United fans were able to storm the ground and gain access to the stadium in order to stage a protest against the owners of the club. For everyone else watching from England and around the world, it was quite extraordinary viewing as the fans congregated on the empty Old Trafford surface to voice their displeasure.
At one stage, the protesters’ rage turned to elation after they spotted Roy Keane on the press gantry, the Irishman was supposed to be doing punditry work for Sky during the Manchester United v Liverpool game. Chants of ‘Keano Keano Keano’ replaced songs about the Glazer family and in the background, a fan could be seen executing a faultless bicycle kick into an empty net, a dream come true for him one imagines, even if the Old Trafford backdrop on the day hadn’t been the one he envisioned growing up.
It was all quite bizarre at times and some people may be forgiven for wondering what impact these protests had. Apart from stopping City from winning the title, what would the United fans have gained from the protests, and could it be the catalyst to drive the Glazers out of the club?
The Super League didn’t start the fire
It seems certain now that this won’t be a one-off and that the European Super League was the straw that broke the camel’s back. Indeed, the United fans have long-held misgivings about the Glazer family that stretch back to their acquisition of the club in 2005. In essence, the Glazers saddled Manchester United with eye-watering debt and have used club revenue to service £1.5 billion of interest payments over the last 16 years, despite securing huge sponsor deals with the likes of British multinational company Aon who specialize in financial risk mitigation.
One of the protesters outside Manchester United stadium Old Trafford says the protest “isn’t just about the European Super League”, adding that the Glazer family, which has controlled the club since 2005, “need to go”.
— Sky News (@SkyNews) May 2, 2021
Additionally, one could be fooled for thinking that these protests have a lot to do with the results on the pitch but that isn’t true given that in general, United’s form has been picking up under Ole Gunnar Solskjaer. Despite not winning a title since Sir Alex Ferguson retired in 2013 after 26 years in charge, it’s abundantly clear now that the Red Devils are finding their way again on the football pitch.
Huge turnout at Old Trafford by Manchester United fans.
— Stan Collymore (@StanCollymore) May 2, 2021
Indeed, as of May 5, 2021, United are at odds of just 1.53 to win the Europa League this season. What’s more, is that even when United were at the peak of their powers under Ferguson in 2009, after winning three league titles and a Champions League in the past few seasons, there were ongoing protests against the Glazers. In reality, this protest is not about matters on the pitch but rather the shady goings-on off it.
United fans will get by with a little help from their friends
Crucially, it’s not just the fans that are at loggerheads with the owners but also ex-players of the club. During the unrest on the pitch, Gary Neville and Roy Keane were unequivocally giving their support to the fans and blaming the scenes on the owners. It is this backing that will worry the Glazer family the most given that Neville is their most vehement critic and also the most listened to pundit on Sky Sports.
In many ways, it was Neville’s emotional reaction to the news of the Super League that prompted fresh protests against all of the owners involved.
“This is disowning your own club stuff.” 🚮@GNev2 hits out at the six clubs linked with a Super League breakaway and says they should be ‘punished heavily’ by the Premier League and English governing bodies. pic.twitter.com/Sy0gM6qdgm
— Sky Sports Premier League (@SkySportsPL) April 18, 2021
Since then, the football world has of course seen various apologies issued from clubs which has, for the most part, calmed the waters.
The Manchester United spring
In United’s case, given the backing of the fans as well as iconic players in the club’s history, it doesn’t seem like the same tranquillity will be a feature at Old Trafford.
It is with this collaboration in mind that one has to assume that in actual fact, the Manchester United fans will be able to drive the Glazer family out of the club. It won’t, however, happen overnight given the Glazer’s reside safely across the Atlantic and away from the ire of the protests. For any long-term change to take place, the current Manchester United owners will need to feel it where it hurts them the most, financially. Once that begins to happen, you can be certain that a call will be made to prospective buyers.