MARTIN SAMUEL: There was nobility amidst the carnage at Old Trafford
MARTIN SAMUEL: Those who betrayed the message at Old Trafford in favour of a bloody fight must be disregarded and disowned… There was nobility amidst the carnage. Man United and Liverpool wanted Project Big Picture – and now they’ve got one
- Manchester United fans stormed Old Trafford on Sunday, protesting the Glazers
- Fans’ anger has boiled over after the owners plotted to join the Super League
- Those who took the protests too far betrayed the message and must be shunned
- This could be seen as good day for football, and the start of something special
Put to one side, for a moment, those who let down the cause. Who fought with police, who threw missiles, who used legitimate protest as just another excuse to go on the tear.
Forget them, as we must for the sake of the movement. There was nastiness, as there so often is on these occasions; there are people who abuse the right to dissent for their own ends.
Yet for all this, for all the disruption, disturbance and inconvenience around Old Trafford on Sunday, this was not the worst day for football. It was a good day, one might even argue.
Manchester United fans stormed Old Trafford on Sunday, with the Liverpool game cancelled
Football club owners, including Glazers, cannot ignore this day in Premier League history
Good, even with no match. Good, despite the bad. It was a day when many supporters made their feelings known in a way that truly encapsulated the anger around the Super League sell-out.
It was a day that owners ignore at their peril. This was football’s Network moment. The fans were as mad as hell: and they weren’t going to take it anymore.
Certainly they were not going to take distant, uncommunicative overlords who believe our game is their revenue stream. They were not going to take loyalty as a stick with which to beat the loyalists.
They were not going to take having no say, they were not going to take having no voice, they were not going to take this: what football has become and where it is going.
Those who took the demonstration too far should be shunned for betraying the message
Such a marquee fixture being called-off sends a crucial message to all of the big clubs’ owners
So that is why those who betrayed that message in favour of a bloody fight and some entry-level theft and vandalism must be disregarded and disowned. This was a bit more serious than getting your self-aggrandising selfie atop the goalposts, or having it away with the corner flag.
This was not about throwing a bottle at a police horse. There was nobility amidst the carnage. This was, potentially, the start of something special. It may not change the ownership of football clubs, but it will, if successful, change the direction those clubs are travelling. And if it does, it changes the game too.
Pulls it from the brink. Saves it from the moribund imaginations of the super-rich. Manchester United and Liverpool wanted Project Big Picture – and now they’ve got one.
The backlash against the Super League encompasses the biggest of pictures: club ownership, competition, tradition, fair play, culture. The green and gold movement at Manchester United had been eased to the margins in the past by success.
Fans’ discontent with their billionaire owners has boiled over after the Super League plans
United started winning titles, reached three Champions League finals and the rebellion fizzled out. This one may not be so easily appeased. Manchester United won their last match 6-2 to stand within touching distance of a European final; Liverpool came into this season on the back of a Champions League win and a first Premier League title.
Neither of these clubs is mid-table Arsenal where insurrection is almost a given. At Liverpool, certainly, the owners were in enormous credit. Not any more, it seems.
Yes, there were some cocky kids swaggering around the Old Trafford pitch, mugging into their phones and showing off. And there were some dangerous thugs, stupidly throwing flares towards Jamie Carragher on the Sky podium or slashing at law enforcers with bottles.
Yet those who organised this demonstration of organised fury, who wish to hold the Glazers to account for buying their club and selling it out are not in this for the hits or the war stories.
They want representation or, at least, to be heard and taken seriously. They want their support and patronage to mean more than a number on a balance sheet. The aim yesterday, circulating within fans groups, was to get the game called off as a way of drawing attention to their dissatisfaction.
What little trust fans had in owners have gone and they want their clubs properly cared for
That they succeeded was an unlikely win. It was not as if Manchester United had not been warned. Reports last week told of 10,000 protestors. Maybe the club took them lightly, the way the Big Six felt a few carefully crafted statements would make it all go away.
At The Lowry Hotel where fans gathered to deliver their message to the team and United staff, police told protestors their continued presence was keeping the players in their rooms and stopping the game from going ahead.
Instead of being cowed, those on the fringes of the throng hurried to strengthen the cordon. The law-abiding fans were rightly condemnatory of the violence but felt no shame in what they had done.
The six clubs have underestimated the depth of feeling in this country about fairness and competition. They have underestimated how central the right to dream is to football’s soul.
We all know that Manchester United will be bigger than Leicester; but we feel passionately that Leicester should have the right to be better, if they can. Even Manchester United fans believe this. For if your club does not have to earn its status as the biggest and the best, what value is there in any achievement?
The protests did spill over and it was merely a minority who caused the scrapping with police
So while there was a dark side to the protests, and a light side – two chaps in green and gold carrying a big Glazers Out banner took great grinning delight in mimicking the actions of the stewards, politely directing cars off the premises when the game was postponed – mostly there was a serious side.
The fights with police and the pitch invasion are the most compelling images – groundstaff were still working on the surface pre-match when the first invaders spilled inside – but the vast majority of those present were absolutely sincere in their protests. What hope they have of achieving those aims is another matter.
The Glazers are venture capitalists. When it is no longer worth owning Manchester United they will sell and, clearly, that moment has not been reached yet. What would make it worth their while?
A simple combination: a buyer with roughly £3 billion and an investment whose value was slipping. Yet the second part of that equation requires even more of a concerted effort than it took to organise Sunday’s demonstration.
It requires boycotts, of merchandise, maybe even ticket sales. It requires supporters to stop supporting. It is very hard to do. Adidas, though, are not impressed with a dip in Manchester United shirt sales this year. It’s not much, but it’s a start.
There was a lot of support outside for the 50+1 ownership model, but even the most optimistic revolutionaries cannot see that happening. A Conservative government – or any electable Labour one – is not about to seize the assets of a private company.
Manchester United fans’ mass-scale fightback needs to be the start of more action from fans
People are waking up to the value of football to communities and want to wrestle control back
Nor will it interfere in voting rights to give the fans the 51 per cent say demanded. What might happen, if more protests follow – but only if these are peaceful – is that the government feels sufficiently pressured to provide for charters or supporter representation at executive level. Another start.
And this is why the protest movement sits at a tipping point. Attacking police officers with bottles, throwing barricades at horses, outbreaks of violence, random acts of vandalism, these are argument losers. These are actions that a party of law and order cannot be seen to indulge.
Every lurid image of a missile being launched or a punch being thrown plays into the hands of those who believe football is populated by thugs and deserves scant consideration in a time of real crisis.
Yet there were many good people at that demonstration, too. People who see the value of football to countries and communities, who recognised the attempt to steal it from us, for private gain, as an abomination, a step too far.
Who saw the selfishness, the greed, the ripple effect that would be felt, impoverishing all but the elite few. And who stood against it, and made their fury heard.
Maybe not all the way across in Tampa, but here, where the power to affect change also resides. This starts here.
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