Nobody’s hands are clean here. And just because Manchester United fans launched the biggest and most powerful protest the Premier League has ever seen against an owner on Sunday, it should not mean other clubs’ issues are forgotten.
United fans succeeded in getting their message across, to such an extent they managed to get the biggest fixture in English football postponed. Disagree with that all you want, but it was powerful and has sent shockwaves through the football world.
And, as many of the placards and banners that were displayed outside Old Trafford at the weekend indicated, this is bigger than United. This is about reforming football, a drive towards the 50+1 Bundesliga ownership model, which would put the power back in the supporters’ hands — at every club up and down the land.
Ole Gunnar Solskjaer knows this deep down and although it’s against his interests to openly criticise his Glazer paymasters at United, his words before Sunday about the planned protests still resonate now.
“It’s important that the fans’ views are listened to and we communicate better,” he said, before speaking about his personal experience of working with the Glazer family.
“My job is to focus on the football side and that we have the best possible team.
“As I’ve said before I’ve been backed, I’ve had great support from the club and the owners and I’m sure I will get the backing again to go one step further.
“Then again, when the protests are on, it’s important they go in a good fashion and that we keep it peaceful.”
Any further protests against the Glazers should, obviously, take place peacefully, but maybe it’s now time for fans of other clubs to take a lead from United. They shouldn’t stand alone in this fight.
The meagre numbers of protesters seen outside Manchester City’s Colin Bell Stand after the European Super League (ESL) was announced reflected a fanbase that was completely apathetic towards the greed at the top of football — and their own football club. Even Liverpool’s protest against FSG was not wholehearted despite John W. Henry playing a major part in trying to establish an ESL.
City fans wont protest against their owner because he, Sheikh Mansour, has brought success to the club and in their eyes had done little wrong up until April’s Super League dalliance. The Glazers, while running an often malfunctioning ship at United especially in the years after Sir Alex Ferguson’s retirement, have at least overseen significant commercial growth at United; the club is self-sustainable and profitable. No club in the Premier League boasts a greater revenue than United.
There is certainly a debate to be had. Advocates of the 50+1 system, who note the success of that model in Germany, will say both models are flawed and allow billionaire owners from far-off lands to use previously community-driven clubs as their toys in Western Europe.
Hence the likes of Gary Neville will continue to campaign for reform, the former United full-back intelligent enough to see the issue is much bigger than the Glazers here.
The ESL only served to underline that point, with the ‘Big Six’ owners conveniently forgetting about supporters after they’d been away from the stadium seats for a year or so. Television money is worth more to them, and has certainly helped United grow into the commercial behemoth it is today.
But bums on seats, atmosphere in the ground, a loyal and local fanbase — they should matter too.
United did lots of good work when the first covid-19 lockdown was announced, especially in the local community. And on the pitch under Solskjaer the club believe they are (finally) heading in the right direction, with sources admitting replacing Ferguson was difficult and led to issues in recruitment and football leadership.
With a football director and a technical director now in place, after an overhaul of the club’s academy — plus €200million invested on the team in the past two years — United are making strides, but it doesn’t change the wider problem at the top of the game; the problem that allowed the Glazers, the Kroenkes, Sheikh Mansour, ENIC, Roman Abramovich and FSG to become so powerful. The problem that means fans are ignored far too often.
The majority of the supporters protesting under anti-Glazer banners, displaying green and gold colours on Sunday, knew that. It is no coincidence they have chosen this moment to voice their discontent, with the ESL the catalyst for a call to action.
But United cannot stand alone. If City fans don’t join them, it’s more likely that supporters of Tottenham, Arsenal and Chelsea certainly will — and some of those groups have already protested.
As Solskjaer, Neville and so many other ‘proper football people’ know, this is just the tip of the iceberg.