BEVERLY HILLS, May 04, (THEWILL) – The Sunday, April 18 announcement of the formation of a new European Super League (ESL) that had six of the biggest clubs in the English Premier League denouncing their membership after the overwhelming backlash from fans and the rest of the footballing world was followed by fan-led protests across some English clubs.
It began at Chelsea and was responsible, as some reports assert, for the quick rethinking of Stamford Bridge’s involvement in the project, leading the club to be the first to seriously mull exiting the ESL before fans allowed the Chelsea team bus to enter the stadium for their EPL match against Brighton Hove and Albion on the Tuesday that followed the Sunday announcement.
The protests spread quickly with fans of Liverpool, Arsenal and Manchester United coming out in their numbers to register their displeasure at the unilateral decisions of the football clubs they have dedicated their unalloyed support to for years, suddenly becoming the tools of greedy owners thinking selfishly only of their pockets.
The protests therefore took on a wider issue beyond the immediate backlash of the ESL. In some clubs, like Arsenal and United, the protests had morphed into the deeper concerns of the fans about the administration of their clubs. Arsenal fans wanted the Kroenke family, which owned majority controlling stakes in the club, out of the Emirates and United fans wanted the same of the Glazer family at Old Trafford.
On Sunday, the protests at Old Trafford reached a crescendo when thousands of United fans stormed the stadium ahead of the EPL fixture against Liverpool to continue their anti-Glazer demonstration. It was remarkable because the fans forced their way into the pitch and occupied the grounds forcing the Premier League to postpone the match.
However, as the calls for the Glazers to go have fallen on deaf ears, the unrelenting fans have arranged for more protests. The intransigence of the owners is only heightening the ante as the population of United fans tired of their aloofness is on the increase. If more fans join in the public demonstration, with the planned protests ahead, there is no telling how far they will go and where they will force themselves into next.
To forestall further breakdown of order, the Manchester United Supporters’ Trust (MUST) wrote an open letter directly to owner Joel Glazer. Seeking a mutually beneficial solution to restore some form of normality, they urged the club’s hierarchy to work with them to find an amicable solution to the current chaos before it goes south.
The letter read:
“First things first, let’s be very clear that no-one wants what happened at Old Trafford [on Sunday] to be a regular event.
“We are football fans and we want to support our team. We don’t want to spend our days off work protesting outside our football ground. But what happened was the culmination of sixteen years in which your family’s ownership of the club has driven us into debt and decline, and we have felt ever more sidelined and ignored.
“After sixteen years not one member of the Glazer family has ever had so much as a conversation with us, the club’s Supporters Trust. That frustration reached boiling point. For the vast majority of the thousands of attendees at the protest they made their voice heard peacefully and respectfully. We support the right of fans to protest lawfully and, although we did not personally witness any such acts, of course we do not condone any acts of violence.
“None of us want this to continue. We all have better things to do. So we need to find a way forward, and we have a four point plan for you to do that:
“1. Willingly and openly engage and promote the government initiated fan-led review of football and use this as an opportunity to rebalance the current ownership structure in the favour of supporters
“2. Immediately appoint independent directors to the board whose sole purpose is to protect the interest of the club as a football club, not its shareholders
“3. Work with the Manchester United Supporters Trust and supporters more broadly to put in place a share scheme that is accessible to all and that has shares with the same voting rights as those held by the Glazer family. Should the appetite be there amongst fans then you should welcome, and offer no opposition to, the Glazer Family shareholding being reduced to a minority or indeed being bought out altogether.
“4. Commit to full consultation with season ticket holders on any significant changes to the future of our club, including the competitions we play in.
“We request a response to this four-point plan, in public and in writing, by Friday. This is the only way to move this issue on. We strongly suggest you take it.”
THEWILL recalls that MUST had been one of the Supporters’ Trusts that stood stoutly against the ESL the minute the news broke and called on the club to “immediately withdraw from this proposal” because “to bring forward these proposals without any fan consultation, and in the midst of a global pandemic when people should be pulling together not serving their own selfish interests, just adds insult to injury.”
It is worth watching how the club will react to this new development after their initial statement to the pitch invasion finished with the words, “We remain committed to dialogue and engagement with our fans through the Fans Forum and other appropriate channels.”