It is just as well Manchester United’s next fixture is on foreign shores. Then again, a banner championing the ICJ (Inter City Jibbers) was on display in Houston for the pre-season derby in 2017 and there is every chance the owner made passage to Texas without spending a cent. Rome is drivable, too.
In a season devoid of matchgoers, United have a new chant as the soundtrack for their season: ‘We decide when you play’. It was not heard at Old Trafford but echoed down King Street West, via the Trinity Bridge. The hundreds of United supporters outside The Lowry caused ripples from the banks of the River Irwell.
United are due at Villa Park this weekend and there were fans from London and Birmingham in M16 on Sunday. They will be emboldened by their success in postponing British football’s biggest game and United fans have stormed the Villa Park pitch before. They have not lost at Villa in the league since 1995, either.
Ole Gunnar Solskjaer only emerged from The Lowry once the militants had dispersed. Deep down, he will have known he had no chance of negotiating their retreat had he attempted to mediate.
Solskjaer was serenaded at Old Trafford, where anyone present – apart from Graeme Souness – was lucid to the nature of the protests. The uneasy alliance that has existed for 16 years between United fans and owners has been broken, not by a lack of silverware but a betrayal of United’s ethos by cowboys the other side of the pond.
Many of those fans whose message reverberated across the Atlantic are understandably disappointed by the violence that marred some of the protests. It has given haughty sections of the media licence to lecture and former footballers are being quoted as authorities, as if they have paid to attend a game in the last two decades.
It is always bound to spill over when there is an angry mob and alcohol is rife. The unruly scenes dominated the news agenda – United were top billing on the BBC’s News at 10 after Line on Duty – and football is not lacking in Helen Lovejoys. Some crossed the line, literally, in the case of the Old Trafford pitch.
It has become an opportunity for some to denigrate United’s support. It must reassure the Reds who congregated outside Old Trafford and The Lowry that, even without a title in eight years and a trophy in nearly four, they still stir a hatred among other fans that is unrivalled. Elland Road did not have to be teeming with Yorkshire natives to gauge just how detested United are there.
United have acknowledged the clashes with the police in the mouth of the Munich Tunnel involved a minority. There was at least one arrest at The Lowry, where glass bottles were lobbed at police as the fans celebrated their victory, and the fallout will continue for the rest of the month.
As a peaceful protest, United fans succeeded. Had fans not stormed the stadium, damaged equipment, smashed a glass door used for disability access or antagonised the police, the game would have still been postponed due to the hundreds who mobilised at The Lowry.
The Manchester United Supporters’ Trust’s olive branch to the club elicited a statement from the club, detailing the scale of the damage and debunking a myth a club employee let fans into the stadium.
“The majority of our fans have and will condemn criminal damage, along with any violence towards club staff, police or other fans,” the statement read.”
“We remain committed to dialogue and engagement with our fans through the Fans Forum and other appropriate channels.”
The Super League is defunct but United fans are using it as a lightning rod to unsettle the Glazers, beaten for the second month running on Sunday. They cannot get away with milking the cash-cow from the Floridian sunshine anymore and communication has to be more regular than once every 16 years.
A truce is essential. Many of the fans at Old Trafford wanted the Liverpool match to go ahead and the essence of supporting a football club is just that. Games have to take place and a lot of the United fans feel as though they have made their point. Others will feel encouraged by the weekend postponement to embark on a month of disruptions.
The club and supporters need to find a common ground after battle lines were drawn by Joel Glazer with his public support for the Super League. Glazer, nor his siblings, have been on the frontline for their subsequent defeats and it is time they stuck their heads above the parapet.
Which means travelling to foreign shores.