I cannot blame Manchester United fans for revolting – their voices have to be heard

“Enough is enough,” has been the slogan of the season in English football.

The weekend’s social media blackout was a symbol of everyone in the game coming together because they are no longer prepared to tolerate online abuse.

Two weeks ago we saw the same unity to kill European Super League plans within 48 hours of their unveiling.

And on Sunday afternoon, I witnessed supporters from Manchester United echoing that mood of deep discontent to tell the world they have had enough of feeling their football club is not being run for them, but to line the pockets of the Glazer family who have failed to engage with their core fanbase for 16 years.

I stood on the touchline at Old Trafford, shocked as a couple of hundred United supporters made it onto the pitch. I never felt threatened. There was a sense of revolt and mutiny within the stadium, not violence. Those fans who spoke to me and my Sky Sports colleague Gary Neville felt their voices had been ignored for too long and wanted to make their point in the most effective way possible, knowing the game was to be broadcast around the world.

Carragher had a pitchside view as fans stormed the Old Trafford pitch


Carragher had a pitchside view as fans stormed the Old Trafford pitch


Credit: REUTERS

Gary and I spoke on the basis of what we saw and experienced. We did not have all the details of incidents outside the ground, or what might have been happening near the United team hotel which meant the safety of the players could no longer be guaranteed.

Nevertheless, as an ex-Liverpool player and supporter, I was not prepared to go on live television and condemn United fans for being at the end of their tether when many of them have spent over a decade campaigning to raise awareness about how their club is run. I would be a hypocrite to do so.

This is not a time for tribalism, where rival fans accuse others of going further than they would on the basis of club loyalties. Every fan who is angry at feeling ignored by their club’s owners can understand why United fans decided to take a stand. I do not say this to condone any of the acts of public disorder, nor encourage a repeat in forthcoming fixtures. Forcing a postponement sets a worrying precedent so this must be a one-off. But the division between the Glazers and United fans has grown to such a harmful extent it was obvious it was going to take more than green and gold scarves to send a powerful message.

When you push your fanbase too far, there is bound to be a reaction. The Super League fiasco has been the catalyst for long-standing grievances to come to the surface, as is also the case at Arsenal. 

I did not see Sunday as being a direct response to the Super League proposals. It was a demonstration against owners who imposed debt on the club to complete their takeover in 2005 and have taken an estimated £2 billion in revenues since. The anti-Glazer campaign began when United were still the strongest team in England under Sir Alex Ferguson. Many supporters went as far as forming their own club, FC United, so I do not accept the argument that this is a consequence of the more recent drop in standards on the pitch.

Recent examples show that supporters are more prepared than ever to mobilise when necessary, which is why it has never been more important for owners to engage. It is on the board members to make sure this stops, not just the supporters.

I have seen fans from my own club take direct action against the club’s American owners, never more successfully than in the case of Tom Hicks and George Gillett Jr. That is the most relevant point of reference in this instance because Liverpool fans’ demonstrations helped force the sale of the club to Fenway Sports Group in 2010. History shows they were right to do so to prevent the club going into administration, but at the time they were branded football ‘terrorists’ by Hicks.

Okay, it never went so far as invading the pitch or forcing a postponement of a fixture. There were different circumstances at Old Trafford, supporters taking advantage of reduced policing and stewarding.

Placeholder image for youtube video: 6P8SeZdaZBE

What I especially hate is how often gatherings of football fans are misrepresented on the basis of a minority crossing the line. There are many latching onto the images of some idiots throwing a bottle and a flare on Sunday to tarnish the actions of the reasonable majority. Whoever did that should be identified and punished. 

Having been present as events unfolded, to use that as the basis to vilify everyone else feels wrong. 

Maybe I am paranoid, but I am particularly sensitive about this on behalf of United fans because I have seen it too often with my own club. I have spent almost 40 years as a player and previously as a supporter and now pundit, including following Everton and representing Liverpool across Europe, and seen hundreds of thousands of fans behave impeccably and do their club and city proud.

Yet it only takes a couple of morons to go too far and tribalism takes over and it’s presented as ‘typical’, leading to an entire fanbase, or the city itself, being denounced. No-one has to tell me or the people of Liverpool what a dangerous path that is and where it can lead. 

Football supporters always get a raw deal when it comes to being unfairly branded.

In any crowd of thousands, whether it is welcoming a team coach in Liverpool, Istanbul, Turin or Naples; an impromptu protest march against club owners in Manchester or North London; or even a well-organised demonstration against government policies such as we might see in central London, there will be individuals who go too far.

With regards to the events on Sunday, that should not divert attention from the broader issue, nor prevent a prolonged discussion as to what has pushed so many people into a position where they feel compelled to act. 

The incidents at Old Trafford raised several questions. The biggest are why it has come to this and what, if anything, the Glazer family intends to do in order to rebuild a deeply fractured relationship with their fanbase.

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