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'Now is the time for change' - Why Man Utd fans' anti-Glazer family protests could succeed this time

08:00 BST 02/05/2021
Glazer Family Protests Manchester United GFX
Supporters have long had issues with the club's owners but the fallout from the failed Super League could now inspire real change at Old Trafford

It is always one of the biggest games in the football calendar: Manchester United against Liverpool at Old Trafford.

Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s side go into the latest installment of this famous fixture looking to continue their good run of form and secure a second-place finish in the Premier League, and prolong the title race for another week in the process.

Of course, victory over their bitter rivals would come with the added bonus of dealing a devastating blow to Liverpool's hopes of qualifying for next season's Champions League.

However, for once, the biggest story of the evening won't be what unfolds on the field as thousands of supporters are expected outside Old Trafford at 2pm UK time, two-and-a-half hours before kick-off, to protest against United's owners.

The demonstration has been sparked by the fallout from the club's involvement in the foundation of the European Super League (ESL) but make no mistake about it: this is about far more than a failed power grab by the continent's elite.

Simply put, United fans believe their club has been used as a cash cow by the Glazer family for the last 16 years.

A statement read out during an emergency Fans' Forum meeting on Friday declared: “We are disgusted, embarrassed and angry at the owner’s actions in relation to the planning, formation and announcement of the European Super League.

“Once again, this clearly demonstrates that the club’s owners are only interested in maximising their own profits and do not care about or respect the views of Manchester United fans.

“The complete lack of engagement with fans, our players and manager is a gross mishandling of club affairs and one which we cannot forgive. It was an attack on fans and on clubs across the whole of football and we have simply had enough.

“Joel Glazer’s subsequent apology is not accepted. Actions speak louder than words and he and his family have shown time and again that their sole motivation is personal profit at the expense of our football club.”

This is the merely the latest episode in a long-running series of disputes between the fans and the club's owners.

Indeed, it was telling that even though Joel Glazer spoke last week about wanting to improve relations with the supporters, he was not present on the Fans' Forum Zoom call.

The fans' gripes date all the way back to 2005, when the Glazers bought the club through a leveraged buyout for around £790 million ($1.1 billion). The money for the buyout was funded by debt that they would pay off from the club’s future profits.

United have already paid out over £1 billion (€1.4bn) in bank fees and dividends to the Glazers. Fans are further incensed by the fact that the Americans still took money out of the club during a pandemic which is believed to have cost United approximately £100m ($138m) in revenue.

They are not visible owners, it’s over two years since they were last at a game, and the tone-deaf nature of last week's open-letter apology for the ESL debacle only provoked further rage among the fan base.

It's also worth noting that Joel Glazer's previous communication with the supporters had come all the way back in 2005, on MUTV.

So, the relationship he spoke about wanting to rebuild in the letter was never there in the first place, and the other hollow words did nothing to placate angry fans.

Indeed, up to 10,000 supporters could now turn up at Old Trafford to voice their disappointment ahead of one of the biggest games of the season and the club have arranged extra policing at a stadium which has resembled a ghost town for over a year now.

Solskjaer, for his part, has no issue with the protest, as long as it remains peaceful.

“It's important that the fans' views are listened to and we communicate better,” he said ahead of the planned protest.

The Norwegian was quite happy to engage with protestors who recently broke into the club’s Carrington training base. He may be employed by the Glazers but he’s a fan at heart and wants the best for the club.

Remember, when he was a player, he became a patron of an anti-Glazer organisation. However, he is not going to take such a stance against the owners now, given his present position.

The problem for those supporters hoping to usurp the Glazers is that they are not driven by the desire to keep the fans happy or a need to win trophies. Champions League qualification is far more important, in their eyes, and that is all-but-secure for next season.

So, it's unlikely the owners will be having any sleepless nights over the fact United haven't won the league since Sir Alex Ferguson retired in 2013. Cash continues to flow in through lucrative commercial deals and regular European football.

Nonetheless, the Manchester United Supporters’ Trust (MUST) is determined to force through meaningful change. The statement read during the Fans' Forum ended with five points of action they want the club to take.

They want the club to appoint independent directors to the board to "protect the interest of the club as a football club, not its shareholders and their focus on profits over results", and demanded that the owners work with MUST over a share scheme that is accessible to all and offers shares with the same voting rights as those held by the Glazer family.

It is that last point which might give fans hope that maybe this time the protests won’t be in vain.

"This has moved beyond the ESL proposals," Ian Stirling, vice chair of MUST, told Goal. "The motives of the owners were laid bare for everyone to see and the dangers are plainly obvious to supporters. The Glazers have succeeded in uniting our fanbase.

"Now is the time for change. We need to keep the pressure on to force the government to make reforms. It's not just about 'Glazers out'; it's about securing the future of the club and putting the supporters at the forefront of that."

The main focus of the protest will be the '50+1' ownership model used in German football, and thousands of banners and placards have been printed calling for its introduction at Old Trafford ahead of Sunday's protest. 

In addition, a petition to get the United Kingdom government to discuss bringing in the law which enforces professional football clubs to have at least 51 per cent fan ownership exceeded 100,000 signatures this weekend.

Prime Minister Boris Johnson and other government officials were quick to condemn the ESL proposals but what will they be prepared to do now to ensure power grabs like that cannot happen again?

Woodward promised that the ESL was dead in the water and that United wouldn't be involved in any further discussions on the matter, but don’t be surprised if something similar crops up in the future. This isn’t over, and the supporters know it.

The ESL fiasco has given United fans the impetus to protest again and this time they’re not alone, with similar stands being taken by followers of other clubs across the country.

Consequently, there is renewed hope among the Old Trafford faithful that there is a willingness within the club to implement change.

"I think it goes wider than just a group of fans," Stirling added. "It wasn't just football fans who were incensed by the ESL proposals and because of that, it has United fans wanting to fight for a better future for the game.

"Football fans have been a derided community for a long, long time and this could see the end of that era because there has to be change. We won't go back to the status quo."

The ESL backlash has sparked a level of fury that goes way beyond the walls of Old Trafford and if the fans shout loud enough, then maybe this time their calls for radical reform will be heard.