As Bruno Fernandes’ volley hit the back of the net against Brentford on Monday night, the celebrations from the Old Trafford crowd seemed muted. The mountain to scale in terms of points to the ascending London sides may well be the reason.
The gap is too steep a mountain for this faltering side to climb, despite former Manchester United manager Ole Gunnar Solskjær‘s once claiming that “mountains are there to be climbed.” The gap is a chasm, and if Arsenal and Tottenham win which is as expected, Champions League football will be out of reach once again.
The background of the rather meaningless game is a lot more important, well to United fans anyway. Throughout the week, there has been murmurings of a walk-out, a protest against the Glazer family, a protest for change.
The secretive and indeed fairly unknown group on social media who go by the name of “The 1958” who claim to be an underground voice for the supporters, were advising United fans to leave Old Trafford after 73 minutes, to symbolise 17 years under the American ownership.
Those protests were a smattering of chants against the family, the rumoured walk-out was not as big as once hoped. The actions were not there but the words certainly are and they are growing louder and louder.
The Glazer family’s relationship with United fans is frosty, to say the least, the controversial leveraged takeover of the club in 2005, didn’t go down well with the United faithful, which is putting it lightly. The family’s first visit to Old Trafford since acquiring the club didn’t go swimmingly, the family had to be escorted in a police car off the site.
The vitriol and venom from the fans towards the new owners have been a theme over the last 17 years of their ill-fated ownership. The original protests in 2005, were then followed by a 2010 protest following the revelation of the debt incurred by the American businessmen.
Green and gold scarves were often aloft during the protests of 2010. Old Trafford was awash with green and gold, formerly of Newton Heath, the two colours have been associated with the protests ever since. The famed image of David Beckham swinging the iconic scarf aloft, in front of the adoring fans seemed to really put the campaign against the owners, into overdrive.
Up until last year, it’s been simmering for a while, on the pitch the club were faltering with poor recruitment, and poor decision making in general, Sir Alex Ferguson was gone and so was the Glazer’s shield of protection. Poor decision after poor decision, managerial sacking after managerial sacking, United have been in free fall on and off the pitch since 2013.
Gone are the days when the club would dominate English football, with arrogance and confidence. This wasn’t United, this was a shell of the club who have created such fond memories of joy for their fans, who now watch on as Liverpool potentially closes in on an unprecedented treble. With a potentially nightmarish scenario of Liverpool vs Manchester City in the Champions League final, potentially on the horizon.
April 2021 was the culmination of the simmering discontent, there had been flashes in the pan of frustration, but this was different.
The doomed European Super League which swept the nation and indeed the footballing world caused protests amongst the so-called big six sides, but with United, the anger was multi-layered. 16 years of poor decisions (at that point), and it culminated in this heartless, money-driven act of supreme greed.
The Glazer family as well as Liverpool’s FSG ownership were unsurprisingly the supposed driving force of this huge shake-up of football as we know it. Fans, players, owners and even Prime Minister Boris Johnson, vehemently opposed it. Eventually, common sense prevailed and the decision to throw the ESL on the scrap heap, for the time being, seemed to have put all the protests to bed.
The message from the fans was clear however, this wasn’t acceptable, and they wouldn’t get away with it.
As arguably the biggest game in English football was about to kick-off at Old Trafford, Manchester United and Liverpool were in for a shock with what happened next. Protests were occurring outside the ground, but some fans managed to break through the barricades and ended up on the pristine turf.
The scene was stark, the message was clear, albeit a little hazed with the behaviour of certain individuals. The mammoth clash between the two biggest teams in the country was abandoned, flares were set off, the pitch was breached, and the game was off.
Since then, promises have been made that things would change and that this time it would be different, is it?
An open letter from Joel Glazer sent to the Manchester United Supporters Trust (M.U.S.T) seemed significant, the first major piece of communication with the fans since 2005. In the letter, Glazer strived for the willingness of more communication from the hierarchy, improvements to be made at Old Trafford and more of an openness to the prospect of fan shared ownership, or at least a willingness to discuss the possibility.
The first point to analyse is the prospective upgrade to Old Trafford, which truth be told is in dire need of a facelift. The news from United that the club have appointed a team of consultants to work on the renovation, seems like a step in the right direction. How much work will be put into the new stadium remains to be seen.
Modernisation and expansion are the words used, with an expansion according to the Manchester Evening News the most likely scenario. It would mark the first expansion of the iconic ground since 2006, the outline of the expansion back then was agreed upon prior to the Glazer family taking over.
Communication has been a constant stick of criticism to beat the American family with, with the stark lack of communication about key decisions within the football club becoming something of a regular occurrence now.
“People want to know what’s happening, people want to know where things are heading but we will be communicating,” Joel Glazer said in his first public interview back in 2005. Up until last year, an eerie silence from the family followed this interview, decisions were made with zero fan communication, which of course blew up in their face massively during the Super League debacle.
Since Glazer’s statement last year, the communication has once again reverted to tranquillity. Ole Gunnar Solskjær has been sacked, no statement from the hierarchy, Erik ten Hag has been appointed – no statement from the hierarchy. The family seem to have reverted to their old ways and left all the statements down to John Murtough, now that Ed Woodward has departed the club.
Truth be told, this is the correct decision to leave the footballing decisions to the footballing people, but the fans may well appreciate more of an openness to talk about the future. The animosity towards the family may come down a percent or two…potentially.
This leaves us with fan-led ownership, which has been an open topic of conversation since last year, a review in November hoped to add more sway to that idea but it wasn’t to be.
“A missed opportunity to address the issues of club ownership,” M.U.S.T said following the review. “The government needs to urgently signal that following the review it will now move to look again at the question of supporter shared ownership, and how fans can be empowered to build a meaningful ownership stake in their club.”
So here we are, as the summer approaches and yet another new Dutch dawn for United. This last year of Glazer ownership may be the most turbulent in their 17 years of ownership, and that’s saying something. Promises have been made, some have been kept, others patently haven’t, who knows what the next chapter of Glazer owned Manchester United will bring.