On Sunday afternoon, Manchester United’s organization of Liverpool became the first Premier League game postponed due to fan behavior.
A planned peaceful protest against the Glazer property of the Old Trafford club, which loaded £ 525million in debt on the legendary institution in the 2005 takeover and has since cost more than £ 1bn in interest and fresh, turned out to be sneaky.
Part of the crowd, numbering in the thousands outside the stadium and around 200 gathered at the United Hotel in the city center, reduced the powerful main message of intolerance towards smart owners in that the police of Greater Manchester called the behavior “aggressive and antagonistic”.
A group of more than 100 people breached security and invaded the grounds. Firecrackers and flares filled the air, while there were clashes with officers outside the ground.
While there were some ugly scenes, the main benefit has been the added accountability of supporters to reclaim the game – an offshoot of the failed and greed-driven Super League.
But how did a long-known demonstration, with a mood of anticipated anger, manage to cause so much disruption? How good is United’s security? What are the laws surrounding such gatherings and have the police followed them?
Geoff Pearson, one of England’s leading researchers on football crowds and their management, was at Old Trafford on Sunday to follow the unfolding of events.
He speaks The independent through a decisive afternoon in the game:
You predicted that the barriers outside Old Trafford would not be enough to control the expected numbers, that there would be congestion and markers of severe disruption …
The day went pretty much as I expected with the only surprise being that the fans were able to walk into the stadium and onto the pitch. The outer perimeter was waist-high, a temporary fence with a few stewards to the side. The crowd that gathered on the other side of this fence was in the thousands. It all piled up on the road because they didn’t have the space they expected which was the entire forecourt outside Old Trafford which is a very cleared.
I think it was always inevitable that the temporary barrier would be crossed. Traditionally, the forecourt has been seen as an area for Manchester United fans, that it is there for them. Obviously, it is private property, but it is normally free to cross and it has enormous cultural significance. So at the end of the day if you try to delegate that of a protest that will be seen as illegitimate by protesting fans. That’s why they basically made their way because they wanted to protest on the entire forecourt.
Manchester United expected this event, but seemed very light on safety for it?
As I understand it, two supporters broke down an unguarded door and they had to open the doors for the rest of the supporters who entered the stadium. They stayed indoors for a significant period of time and from the outside we could see them in the windows of the executive boxes and lounges. In that regard, it was a significant security failure for Manchester United. The stadium must be a fortress, it is designed to be difficult to access. There was a fairly significant security breach at Old Trafford. Fans I spoke to suggested there were a lot of them in the tunnel and claimed to be in the locker room as well, which would obviously compromise the Covid security of the event. I know this is something the Premier League denies currently, but there were several fan accounts in the dressing room. Whichever way we look at it, it’s ultimately a huge Manchester United security failure.
What was the role of the police on Sunday?
The Greater Manchester Police had a duty to facilitate protests under human rights law. By allowing the protest to take place, they did what they were legally obliged to do. The problem with the outer perimeter fence was unfortunate. The protest was mostly peaceful. There were smoke bombs and a large crowd which was difficult with small incidents of violence. It wasn’t like there was massive property damage happening to the main body of the protest.
Once you have a crowd of that number that has gathered as a police force, you have two choices. The first is that you allow the manifestation to continue, engage in that manifestation, and try to negotiate. The alternative is that you use force to disperse the crowd. What GMP did was they allowed the protest to continue which was the right decision to make. And then in the end they used force, they used horses, they used batons to disperse the crowd.
Much has been said about the “right way” to protest. The point, however, is to be heard and to force change, which often has to happen in disruptive ways …
The immediate goal of the Manchester United fans protesting today was to disrupt the game. It was the starting point to show how much they are against property. These protests against the Glazers have been going on since 2005 and the 2010 one, which was completely peaceful and completely legal, had no effect. The fans have had enough, and they think the best way to bring attention to the plight and try to pressure the owners to sell or relinquish control is through a disruptive protest like this- this. They realized more than I expected. possible because they postponed the game. For the most part in a protest, it is disruption so your grievances cannot be ignored. This is why there is such a debate on this new policing bill, as it would limit the ability to conduct disruptive protests.
Tell us more about this bill …
It is the Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts bill. Essentially, this would allow the police to prevent protest rallies, which caused serious discomfort or annoyance. It goes incredibly far and will incredibly limit the capacity for active protest in this country.
What will be the fallout in terms of arrests from Sunday’s demonstration?
Some arrests have already taken place. Anyone who has been identified launching missiles, police will seek action. The Evidence Collection Team will operate CCTV all around Old Trafford. One of the interesting things is that going to a soccer field during a designated match without a legal excuse is a criminal offense, but in fact the evolution of the law has suggested that protest could be a legitimate excuse. It may be that any action taken against these fans may need to be a charge of aggravated trespassing. Courts are somewhat overwhelmed now due to Covid and the crisis in the criminal justice system. It may be years before some of these cases are actually heard if the people involved are identified.