Monday’s soccer news starts with the Premier League postponing yesterday’s Manchester United vs Liverpool game due to a fan protest over United ownership. In a statement, Manchester United wrote, “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.”
In a separate statement, the Premier League wrote, “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. Fans have many channels by which to make their views known, but the actions of a minority seen today have no justification. We sympathize with the police and stewards who had to deal with a dangerous situation that should have no place in football.”
Soccer fans protesting against ownership certainly isn’t new, especially in England. There’s a long history of supporters advocating for a change in ownership, amplified when the club isn’t meeting expectations on the field. That’s somewhat different at a club like United. Anybody paying attention during the Glazer ownership era at Manchester United already knows what is at issue. It’s the concept that money going into the club should make it as competitive as possible. Especially when that club’s domestic rivals are spending so much to compete for trophies.
Supporter feelings were evident before the attempt to form The Super League, but it’s hard to separate that now. That plan spoke to a growing rift between what some elite club owners see as the best way forward financially and keeping European club soccer as an open competition. Given the dramatic differences in finances between the game’s elite and the rest, it’s always worth stressing what open really means. Add to that the distinction between the clubs in that elite category once again based on finances.
There’s no getting around what any form of an elite club breakaway represents to so many fans. It’s a push past the framework of European soccer as we know it, setting aside the issues the game already faces and replacing it with something else entirely. With that in mind, the pushback is hardly surprising.
It’s worth the reminder that we’re talking about a club trying to maintain elite status in a game where that means paying market rates. That was part of the motivation for The Super League, creating what the founders argued was a better system for generating the kind of money needed. That argument ended quickly, but it’s still an argument and one that influenced the Champions League revamp. It’s easy enough to set it aside in defense of an open European soccer system, but that’s overlooking the fundamental issues with what governing bodies, leagues, and clubs have already built.
ESPN’s Mark Ogden on the immediate and potential impact of the protest at Old Trafford. The NY Times’ Rory Smith with what the protest means. The Independent’s Mark Critchley also asks if this leads to change at Manchester United. The Guardian’s Jonathan Liew asks about fan power in contemporary soccer. Marca updates the La Liga title race.
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Logo courtesy of Manchester United