Manchester United fans stormed into the English football club’s stadium and on to the pitch on Sunday to protest against the team’s owners, the American billionaire Glazer family, and their thwarted plan to join the abandoned breakaway Super League.
Fans at Old Trafford chanted, set off flares and unfurled banners calling for the Glazers to make an exit from Manchester.
The protests led to the delay and then postponement of the club’s match against arch-rivals Liverpool, which is owned by John Henry’s Fenway Sports Group, another American investor who apologised to fans for backing the Super League.
Fans have “the right to free expression and peaceful protest”, Manchester United said in a statement. “However, we regret the disruption to the team and actions which put other fans, staff, and the police in danger.”
The Premier League added: “We understand and respect the strength of feeling but condemn all acts of violence, criminal damage and trespass, especially given the associated Covid-19 breaches.”
Joel Glazer, the team’s co-chairman, apologised last month after being forced to cancel plans to form a breakaway Super League for an elite group of Europe’s best known football clubs, including Spain’s Real Madrid and Italy’s Juventus.
Under the proposals, the founding clubs would have been guaranteed a place in the league every year, which goes against the tradition of European football in which clubs compete to take part in top-level competitions.
Fans remain angry that Manchester United backed the Super League. Their unhappiness with the Glazers goes back to the family’s acquisition of the club in 2005, a £790m leveraged buyout that saddled it with debt, costly fees and interest payments. The family also extract dividends from the club, a rarity in the business of football.
Gary Neville, the former Manchester United player and an influential pundit, said on Sky Sports that it was the right time for the Glazers to sell the club, which has failed to win the Premier League since 2013.
“It would be the honourable thing to do,” he said.
Ahead of the match, Ed Woodward, Manchester United’s executive vice-chair, who announced he would step down at the end of the year after the frosty reception to the Super League, apologised to fans for the team’s role in the abandoned project.
“I can assure you that we have learned our lesson . . . and we do not seek any revival of the Super League plans,” he told supporters at a meeting on Friday.