Government ‘cannot condone’ fans behaviour at Old Trafford, says James Cleverly
he Government has said it “cannot condone” fans behaviour at Old Trafford on Sunday, but recognised the “frustrations” with football club owners.
A Premier League match between Manchester United and Liverpool was postponed after fans dramatically broke into Old Trafford and invaded the pitch in a protest against the Glazer family.
Police later condemned attacks on two officers, one of whom was attacked with a bottle and sustained a significant slash wound to his face requiring hospital treatment.
Foreign Office minister James Cleverly on Monday said that while he “cannot condone” the ugly scenes it was important to recognise the importance of fans to the game.
“Looking at the scenes that we have just seen on the programme, there can’t be an excuse for that kind of behaviour,” he told Sky News.
“I think it’s really important that we understand the importance of fans to the game, that’s why I’m very pleased that my friend and colleague Tracey Crouch has been appointed by the Prime Minister to lead the fan-led review, because fans have to be at the heart of this game.
“So I cannot condone the images that we have seen about storming the ground, but we do need to understand the frustrations that fans have, not just with Manchester United but with a number of clubs across the game.”
The protest came after the Red Devils were among 12 clubs that signed up for the breakaway European Super League, which collapsed within 48 hours due to huge pressure.
Those plans brought anger against the Glazer family to a new level, with fans congregating at Old Trafford to demand change.
Fans congregated from around 1pm outside the trinity statue on the Old Trafford forecourt as another group took their protests to the Lowry hotel, where the United team were staying ahead of the game.
Hundreds outside Old Trafford became thousands by the time the protest got under way at 2pm, when two firecrackers were let off and fans began to march towards the Munich Tunnel.
Red fences put in front of the East Stand did not last long as stewards were outnumbered and chanting supporters made their way towards the tunnel.
Footage soon emerged of hundreds of fans on the pitch, with a bunch exiting by jumping down to the nearby canal paths and others running out through the main gates at around 2.30pm.
An hour later another small batch of protesters were seen leaving the stadium. There was no sign of the teams at the ground but the line-ups were announced by the Premier League at 3.30pm.
Greater Manchester Police revealed two of its officers were injured in the protests..
A statement said: “Officers were aware of a protest planned to take place in Old Trafford today and were working closely alongside partners to ensure those that attended were kept safe whilst enabling their right to peaceful protest.
“Officers continued to closely monitor the situation, engaging with those present but, as the groups grew in size, it became clear that many of those present were not intending to exercise their right to peaceful protest. Flares were let off and bottles thrown at officers.
“Protestors outside Old Trafford became especially aggressive and antagonistic towards police before a group of about 100 forced entry to the ground with some United staff having to lock themselves in rooms.
“Those in the stadium were evicted by officers but outside on the forecourt hostility grew with bottles and barriers being thrown at officers and horses. Two officers have been injured with one officer being attacked with a bottle and sustaining a significant slash wound to his face, requiring emergency hospital treatment.
“With the situation increasing in hostility, additional officers had to be deployed and officers had to be drawn in from neighbouring forces to assist Greater Manchester officers.
“Following discussion with The Premier League, Trafford Council and the clubs, a joint decision was made to postpone the match for safety reasons.”
Andy Burnham, mayor of Greater Manchester, said he “fully understands” supporters’ concerns and said it was “essential that those running the club and the game listen to them”.
He added: “It is important to make clear that the majority of supporters made their protest peacefully today. However, there is no excuse for the actions of a minority who injured police officers and endangered the safety of others.
“This could be an important moment to change football for the better. We should all condemn violence of any kind and keep the focus on the behaviour of those at the top of the game.”
Former United defender Gary Neville told Sky Sports News: “There’s huge discontent. They’re basically saying enough is enough.
“The Glazer family have been resilient and stubborn for many years. I think they’re struggling for many, many years to meet the financial demands this club needs and have done for some time.
“This stadium, if you go behind the scenes, is rusty and rotting. The training ground is probably not even in the top five in this country.
“They haven’t got to a Champions League semi-final for 10 years and haven’t won the league for eight. The land around the ground is undeveloped, dormant and derelict when every other club seems to be developing their facilities and their fan experiences.
“The Glazer family are struggling to meet the financial requirements and the fans are saying the time is up.
“They’re going to make a fortune if they sell this football club. If they were to put it up for sale now I think the time would be right and it’d be the honourable thing to do.”