MANCHESTER, England (AP) — Anti-ownership protests by Manchester United fans forced the postponement of a Premier League game Sunday against Liverpool after supporters stormed the stadium and thousands more blocked access into Old Trafford, demanding the Glazer family sell the club.
The unprecedented cancellation in the world’s richest soccer league due to fan protests is the culmination of long-running anger against the American owners that began with a 2005 leveraged takeover that loaded debt onto the club. But the wrath of supporters has boiled over in the two weeks since the New York Stock Exchange-listed club was part of the failed European Super League breakaway that collapsed amid a groundswell of condemnation.
Supporters gained access to the pitch even before the two teams traveled to Old Trafford. One of the flares set off by fans was launched into the stands where the Sky Sports television team was already broadcasting more than two hours ahead of the scheduled kickoff.
Although the protest had been announced in advance, the stadium forecourt on Sir Matt Busby Way was still accessed by thousands of fans, many chanting “We want Glazers out” as the flares were set off.
Fans dispersed only after baton-wielding police and officers on horseback charged under a shower of flying glass bottles about 20 minutes before the game was due to have started. Two police officers were injured and one required emergency treatment for a “significant slash wound to his face” after being attacked with a bottle, the Manchester force said.
United said the game was postponed “due to safety and security considerations around the protest.”
“Our fans are passionate about Manchester United, and we completely acknowledge the right to free expression and peaceful protest,” United said in a statement. “However, we regret the disruption to the team and actions which put other fans, staff, and the police in danger. We thank the police for their support and will assist them in any subsequent investigations.”
“We understand and respect the strength of feeling,” the Premier League said in a statement, “but condemn all acts of violence, criminal damage and trespass, especially given the associated COVID-19 breaches.
“We sympathize with the police and stewards who had to deal with a dangerous situation that should have no place in football,” it said.
United held no debt until the Glazers arrived in 2005, but the latest half-year accounts show it now stands at around $630 million. The Glazers, who also own the NFL’s Tampa Bay Buccaneers, have declined to engage with fans or media since buying the team.
Former Manchester United defender Gary Neville called on the Glazers to put the club up for sale.
“The Glazer family have been resilient and stubborn for many, many years,” he said. “I think they are struggling to meet the financial demands that this club needs and have done for some time,” he said, adding the stadium is “rusty and rotting” and “probably not even in the top five in this country.”