Manchester United cannot say they were not warned. ‘We decide when you play’ read one bedsheet during the Carrington protests two weeks ago. They decided.
Another banner that stretched along the walls opposite Hotel Football on Sunday read, ‘Fight greed, fight for United, fight Glazer’. Of all the chants aired on the Old Trafford forecourt, ‘we’ll fight, fight, fight for United’ was not one of them yet thousands did just that.
From personal and professional matchgoing experiences at Old Trafford, numerous faces were recognisable. Stretford Enders, south-standers, away-dayers, the lot. The makeup of the support restored faith in the sanitised football fan experience.
There were no half-and-half scarf sellers under the Sir Matt Busby statue. Some members from a fan TV channel turned up but were so distant they might as well have been on a barge on the River Irwell. “You can stick your f—–g YouTube up your a–e,” was the chant.
This was not a protest for the faint of heart and not entirely peaceful. Green, gold and red smoke billowed to create a constant haze. Ten years on from the Occupy movement, Manchester’s has begun and it is coloured without a tinge of blue.
United supporters have achieved their greatest victory since they helped prevent Rupert Murdoch’s BSkyB takeover in 1998-99. This triumph, achieved in the midst of a pandemic and amid significant restrictions preventing supporters from forming battleplans, was immense.
Napoleon would have approved of the tactical planning behind the United fans’ strategy. Thousands converged outside the Old Trafford east stand, a sufficient distraction for hundreds to unsettle the doormen at The Lowry Hotel, where the team was staying three miles away.
The Lowry might, in time, affix a blue plaque outside its entrance to mark the football fan’s equivalent of David toppling Goliath. You only had to be a regular reader of the Manchester Evening News to know United’s pre-match itinerary: check-in on Saturday night and depart by 2.45pm on the Sunday. How they must have wished they stayed at Lancashire’s Old Trafford.
Saturday evening was the calm before the storm. As 3pm loomed on Sunday, the players were still in their tracksuits and militant supporters were crammed on Chapel Street. Some players looked down, dumbfounded, at the Reds stood on Trinity Bridge.
At Old Trafford, thousands were present an hour in advance of the official 2pm start time of the protest, swigging from beer cans and bottles. As the clock ticked past two, they swarmed towards the mouth of the Munich Tunnel.
The Glazers had tried to pull up the drawbridge with the Super League venture, so how appropriate fans stormed the castle. A gaggle waved from the window of the old boardroom window to the left of the Munich clock. Outside, the thronged thousands cheered and chanted ‘United’.
They aired a paean to Ole Gunnar Solskjaer and went through their repertoire of anti-Scouse chants but did not always target Liverpool, occasionally omitting them for a Glazer or Glazers.
‘Joel Glazer stinks of –$$’ read one cardboard banner and ‘Belongs to Mancs not to Yanks’ was another. Placards were handed out promoting the 50+1 model favoured by German clubs.
A flag the width of nearly two goalframes and manned by at least two fans read in capitals ‘WE WANT THE GLAZERS OUT’. A boy of primary school age, sat on his father’s shoulders, wielded a red flare.
The United defence was more porous than in the 6-1 thrashing by Tottenham. Soon, admirers were watching footage of Reds strolling around the pitch on their smartphones from outside. Unlike at Carrow Road in 1977, no one fell through a roof.
Inevitably, the combination of alcohol and the angry mob was too overwhelming for a minority and it turned nasty. Some soberly left around 3pm, voicing concern the match could be postponed. They were replaced by more walking down Sir Matt Busby Way, clutching crates of Carling and Stella.
The greater the police presence the more irritable the mood became and police drew batons in response to antagonistic behaviour. Some numbskulls targeted a cameraman for filming them and were condemned by sensible supporters. They had gathered for the exposure, after all.
Back at the Old Trafford gate on John Gilbert Way, a gaggle of fans were stood where the United coaches were supposed to have already pulled through. Surprisingly, the number gradually subsided even though the forecourt crowd had dispersed.
Six of us reporters had congregated outside the gate and our phones simultaneously pinged at 5.25pm. United confirmed the game had been postponed. The fans obdurately stood nearby, clutching their cans and banners, were soon informed. Victoire.
Driving back from the stadium, this correspondent had to switch the radio off. The coverage was out of touch and prejudiced, with armchair fans keen to condemn those who got off their backside.
A former Manchester City player wailed about the United protesters compromising the ‘integrity’ of the Premier League. My father messaged to say Micah Richards was eulogising City’s owners because he is an ambassador and that Graeme Souness was as detached in his analysis as a Glazer.
Whenever the Glazers sell up, United fans will be scrutinising the buyers. They are of a principled mindset and not prepared to make their bed with any human rights abusing overlords. They want the club in safe hands, not bloodied hands.
They will fight, fight, fight for United again.