A Fight For The Soul Of Football

There’s something odd about the fact that Manchester United supporters chose to launch their protest on a weekend when there was a social media blackout around football, but also something rather fitting. The fans that broke into Old Trafford and stood on the steps of the team hotel need to be separated in my mind from the ones that caused violence and mayhem around the city. The former was, in my view, a necessary step towards getting their story front and centre whilst the latter was opportunism from thugs who couldn’t care less about the topic being protested. Not everyone agrees with what the supporters that got the match called off chose to do, with many saying that they should ‘find a better way’ to protest. In my mind, that’s akin to saying, “We don’t mind you protesting, but could you do it at a time and in a manner that’s more convenient?”

The protest was, in many ways, a fight for the very soul of the sport that we all love. The argument that United fans wouldn’t have protested if the club was successful is defeated by two key factors: the fact that the height of the Green & Gold protest came when the club was as successful as it has ever been and that this action came in between two semi-final matches. There were some fans that seemed to miss the point, crying for the Glazers to be removed in order to have them replaced with a petrostate, which isn’t what most were fighting for. They weren’t running on the Old Trafford pitch because the Glazers haven’t invested any money, but because the amount of money invested is as nothing when compared to how much the American family have bled the club for over the fifteen-plus years that they’ve owned the Red Devils. To paint this as being about wanting rich owners instead is to wholly miss the point of it all.

Direct Action Is Necessary

If you don’t know why Manchester United’s supporters launched their protest on Sunday then now might be a good time to read up on what the Glazers have done to the club. The biggest difference between them and Hicks and Gillett is that Manchester United’s finances were always much better placed to be able to cope with the leveraged buyout that the Americans pulled off. The manner in which their ownership of the club has been detrimental to it can be seen in fair more than just the money they’ve taken out of it, too. Old Trafford is, for want of a better phrase, falling apart and they’ve refused to invest any money into fixing it. There’ll doubtless be some reading this and wondering why, as Liverpool fans, we should care. The answer comes in the form of what happens next? What would have happened if a global financial crash hadn’t essentially forced Hicks and Gillett to sell our club? How bad might things have got and what could we have done?

Some things are about so much more than club rivalries. In a sporting sense, I wouldn’t want Manchester United to win so much as a raffle and I’d happily see them relegated down to League Two. What the Glazers are doing to the club isn’t about sport, however, and as Liverpool fans we should be acutely aware of what can happen when bad owners are allowed to do what the want to a football club without checks and balances. The idea that the United fans should ‘find another way’ to show their displeasure conveniently ignores the fact that they’ve been doing exactly that for years without an iota of the coverage on the issue that Sunday’s protests gained. Graeme Souness’s suggestion that they should have ‘turned their backs on the coaches’ was laughable and it’s clear from other things the Scot said that he doesn’t get what this is about. Direct action like we saw on Sunday is far from ideal, but sometimes it’s the only option open to supporters.

There’s No Link Between The Glazers & FSG

Despite Gary Neville’s desperate attempts to draw links between the Glazers and Fenway Sports Group during the coverage on Sunday, there is no link to be spoken of. Yes, they’re both American and yes they were both involved in the Super League debacle, but other than that, any attempts to draw links between them are false. I say this not as an FSG apologist but as someone that think it’s really important to pick your battles. In many ways, FSG have been the exact opposite of the Glazers, ensuring that the club is self-sustaining and working hard not to take money out of the club. Plenty of Liverpool fans don’t like John Henry and his business partners, but this is because they feel as though they haven’t gone fair enough in their investment into the Reds. Don’t get me wrong, the Americans have been deserving of criticism a number of times, such as when they attempted to put ticket prices up, but generally they’ve been decent enough custodians.

If you need proof of that then look at the Main Stand, look at the plans to improve the Anfield Road end of the ground and bear in mind that they could have done absolutely nothing differently as owners but seen the club win the FA Cup, two League Cups, two Champions Leagues and three league titles during their time in charge, to say nothing of the Super Cup and Club World Cup. They’ve made many mistakes, but they have, whether some people like to admit it or not, listened to our concerns over those mistakes. They are far from perfect owners, but the owners that some of their critics want simply don’t exist. What many want is a billionaire who was born and raised in Liverpool and will plough money into the club without ever thinking about what they’ll get back, as though people willing to do that would have become billionaires in the first place. Football is big business, so club owners will always be business people. All we want are ones that run our clubs without taking the Mickey.

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