Manchester United supporters, who were demonstrating against the club’s owners, stormed Old Trafford this afternoon and protested on the pitch forcing the postponement of their Premier League game against Liverpool.
The game, which was due to kick-off at 4.30pm and could have seen Manchester City clinch the title had Liverpool won, was postponed just after 5.30pm as safety concerns remained despite the stadium and it’s immediate vicinity being cleared of protestors. No new date has been given for the fixture.
The Premier League released a statement saying the decision had been taken by the police, both clubs, the Premier League and local authorities: "The security and safety of everyone at Old Trafford is of paramount importance. We understand the strength and depth of feeling but condemn all acts of violence, criminal damage and trespass.
"Fans have many channels by which to make their views known, but the actions of a minority seen today have no justification.”
United also released their own statement: “Following discussion between the Police, the Premier League, Trafford Council and the clubs, our match against Liverpool has been postponed due to safety and security considerations around the protest today. Discussions will now take place with the Premier League on a revised date for the fixture.
“Our fans are passionate about Manchester United, and we completely acknowledge the right to free expression and peaceful protest. However, we regret the disruption to the team and actions which put other fans, staff, and the police in danger. We thank the police for their support and will assist them in any subsequent investigations.”
Supporters gained access to Old Trafford
At around 1pm, fans started to gather around Old Trafford for a planned protest against the Glazer family and within an hour several thousand had congregated around the ground’s superstore. Green and yellow flares were let off by some fans while police and stewards were forced to remove plastic barricades for safety reasons.
This allowed fans to access the Munich Tunnel which runs beneath the Sir Bobby Charlton Stand. A group of supporters then gained access into the stadium via a side “exit” door in the disabled section of the ground at about 2.20pm.
Consequently, hundreds of supporters were inside the stadium just hours before the kick-off. Fans were on the pitch, kicking footballs into the goal in front of the Stretford End and taking pictures and videos of their surroundings.
Some fans are believed to have entered the players tunnel and the dugout. It took some time for the stewards to remove the entrants but all of the fans who had entered the stadium were removed. Another smaller group also entered the stadium through the corporate boxes but were kept off the pitch by police before being ushered back outside.
The protests continued outside and were largely peaceful. However, the mood started to turn and become slightly nastier as bottles were thrown and police were confronted. It was then agreed by the authorities on the ground to clear the immediate vicinity of Old Trafford and disperse the supporters. A tannoy announcement followed at just before 5.00pm within the stadium declaring the ground as “secure”.
Safety issues remained a concern by the time the game was called off just after 5.30pm. It was later announced that two police officers were injured during the demonstrations, with one hospitalised after "sustaining a significant slash wound to his face", according to Greater Manchester Police.
Teams were stranded in hotels
Meanwhile, a separate gathering took place outside The Lowry Hotel in Salford Quays, which is where the United team were staying ahead of travelling to the stadium.
Supporters were impeding the squad from exiting the hotel and travelling to Old Trafford and blocked the team bus. United players remained in their rooms inside the hotel despite being expected to leave at 2.30pm.
Liverpool were staying at a different hotel, the Hilton on Deansgate, and also remained within the building although it is not believed that any supporters gathered outside there.
In a further turn of events, Michael Oliver, who was to referee the game, was turned away from the stadium for safety reasons but was then allowed entry prior to the game eventually being postponed.
Background to protests
These protests come after a group of about 20 of United supporters broke into the club’s Carrington training ground last month. They made their way towards the reception of the training complex and to the first-team training area but did not enter any buildings. Police were called to the training ground.
Ole Gunnar Solskjaer was joined by assistant manager Michael Carrick, technical director Darren Fletcher and midfielder Nemanja Matic in addressing the fans, who then dispersed.
These protests stem from the anger concerning the proposed European Super League, which was due to feature United, Manchester City, Chelsea, Arsenal, Liverpool and Tottenham Hotspur, but collapsed only two days after it was publicly announced.
The fallout has included the resignation of Ed Woodward, United’s executive vice-chairman. Fans want further change at the top of the club, specifically the Glazer family, which bought a controlling stake in United in 2005.
When Solskjaer addressed the media on Friday ahead of the Liverpool game, the United manager spoke of the importance of listening to fans but urged any protests to be peaceful.
"It's important that the fans' views are listened to and that we communicate better,” he said. "My job is to focus on the football side and that we have the best possible team. I've been backed and had great support from the club and the owners and I'm sure I'll get the backing again to go one step further.
"I'm so happy that all the clubs agreed this shouldn't be the way of moving forward. When the protests are on, it is important they go in a good fashion and that we keep it peaceful.”