May 14, 2021

Man Utd

News

How the Manchester United fans’ protests unfolded against the Glazers

6 min read

As a journalist, there are few more frustrating feelings than turning up in one place to cover a story and then realising the real tale might be unfolding elsewhere.

That was the initial feeling at Old Trafford on Sunday lunchtime, when the press turned up to cover the arranged and much-publicised protest against the ownership of the Glazer family at Manchester United.

While social media had been ablaze with reminders of the 2pm protest against the owners, there had been no mention of The Lowry, at least publicly. There was always a suspicion this might be a day of more than a few anti-Glazer chants on the Old Trafford forecourt and everyone back home in time for the game, a feeling reinforced before the ‘official’ protest had already begun.

It might be stretching it to suggest the Old Trafford protest was a decoy, given the thousands who turned up there and the impact that had, in terms of the protesters getting on the pitch and the visibility of that group, but certainly to begin with, the real drama was unfolding a couple of miles away.

The protest outside The Lowry Hotel had been kept secret all week, despite chatter over WhatsApp amongst the United fans involved, who had arranged to meet at midday outside the hotel on the banks of the River Irwell that the United squad stay in before home games.

Such was the planning that went into this protest, maps circulated over messaging with crosses marking the two possible exits for the team coach, with the largest group congregating at the top of Dearmans Place.

The Lowry isn’t the easiest place to depart from when there’s a crowd determined to stop that from happening. At midday the police presence outside the team hotel was minimal and the protesters, with the precision they’d wanted, were able to block the exit at the front of the hotel, with the two team coaches already parked up just yards from the front door.

At 11.58am the Red Issue Twitter account made the intention of The Lowry protest clear. “Stop the Sky Sports transmission and you stop the Glazers. It’s the only meaningful protest today.” The cat was out of the bag.

Red Issue had been behind the breach of security at the training ground around 10 days ago, when there was a banner declaring “We decide when you play” waved. That was no catchy slogan, but was now a call to arms.

Ten minutes later they tweeted a map of Old Trafford, with entry points marked by a cross and the usual entrance for the team bus circled, should it find a way past the protesters at The Lowry.

Soon, the police presence outside The Lowry had increased dramatically, with protesters initially kettled in at the entrance to the hotel. But by now the job was done. Players watched on from their windows at the events unfolding below them.

At around 1.30pm a big group broke out of the police cordon and blocked the back entrance of the hotel, and with Chapel Street now blocked as well, the coaches were going nowhere, even if Old Trafford had been ready to host a game.

But Old Trafford wasn’t ready to host a game. Not only were there no teams, but there were also no officials. Referee Michael Oliver was twice turned away as club staff sought to bring the situation under control.

What still remains unclear is how much coordination there was in this protest and how much desire there was to make sure, one way or another, this game couldn’t go ahead.

Almost bang on 2pm, protesters broke through barricades at Old Trafford and surged towards the Munich Tunnel, which was blocked off by iron gates. Then came the moment a red exit door was opened – from the inside – allowing hundreds of fans onto the pitch.

This would be an issue in normal times, but in the era of COVID secure stadiums, it added another layer of complication. Grounds are laid in red zones and amber zones and any breach of those would have been an issue. For a while it was unclear just how far into the bowels of the stadium protesters had got, with any entry to the dressing rooms a major issue.


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There was also the matter of the corner flags and match balls which had been taken away from the ground, although not before one fan had recreated Wayne Rooney’s overhead kick against Manchester City.

By now there was at least 20 riot vans outside The Lowry, but little sign of movement. At Old Trafford a police helicopter was finally called into action, hovering overhead.

There was another stadium breach when the glass door to entrance AE8 was kicked through. Dozens of fans flooded into a lift and were soon banging on windows above the protests, in an old boardroom.

As the clock ticked towards 4.30pm eyes were drawn towards The Lowry. Whatever the cleanup operation at Old Trafford, there could be no game with no players. There was confirmation of a delayed kick-off, rumours of a 6.30pm kick-off, then a 7.30pm kick-off and the prospect of the biggest game in English football going head-to-head with the biggest drama on British TV.

Just before 4.30pm the crowd was dispersed at Old Trafford after confrontations with police. Suddenly there was silence when only minutes ago smoke bombs and songs had filled the air, the whiff of cordite unmistakable.

At The Lowry the stand-off continued. At one stage the coaches looked to be being readied, but the departure never came. By 5.30pm it was clear it was no or never and with protesters still gathered in their hundreds, it was always going to be the latter.


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Five minutes later the club confirmed the game had been postponed. Outside the entrance on John Gilbert Way, where the team coaches entered, around a dozen fans remained, as well as half as many journalists. When our phones pinged in unison it was clear it was decision time. The confirmation of a postponed game was met with relative silence by the few remaining protesters at Old Trafford, but by jubilation outside The Lowry.

Outside the five-star hotel supporters had spent five-and-a-half hours making sure they would no longer be invisible to the Glazers. At 11.58am the true nature of Sunday’s protests were laid bare on Twitter. At 5.35pm it was mission accomplished.

There was a flashpoint of trouble, but those protesters quickly dispersed back towards the city centre, toasting a job well done. At Old Trafford staff began the clear up and the assessment of the damage.

There will also be discussions around a rearranged date for the game and, perhaps just as importantly, the possibility of further protests. Sunday’s action and the surprise element at The Lowry will have unsettled officials. At the moment United are next due to play at Old Trafford a week of Wednesday, against Leicester City, when there will be plenty of tension around the game.

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