Thugs, criminals, louts, uneducated, feral, embarrassing.
That’s what the Manchester United supporters who protested on Sunday were. Well, at least if you listen to much of the narrative.
Sure, there’s the explanation that they may have a point, however, it’s so much easier to go on the attack at the very small minority who resorted to violence and focus on that, than deal with the much more complex wider issue.
We are now two weeks away from when the European Super League was announced. It was the worst of times, but also the best of times as fans from clubs involved revolted at the idea.
Unity which is rarely experienced took over the game and fans made their voice heard. Chelsea supporters flocked to the ground to show their feelings, and not long afterwards it was announced the Blues had scrapped any commitment to being involved.
Those who had been outside Stamford Bridge celebrated it like a title win, because they felt they had been heard.
Arsenal fans soon followed, in great numbers, and their efforts were roundly applauded.
The ESL died, and for many that was it. Move on.
Jurgen Klopp appealed for people to “calm down”. Almost any other person alive could have said this and Liverpool fans would have destroyed them, although not the German manager who has so cloaked himself in the mystique of his club.
That felt like a nail in the coffin. Klopp was always going to take many Liverpool fans with him, and whilst he didn’t take them all, with many supporters of the club, including great contributions from The Anfield Wrap still keeping the fire burning, he took enough.
Protest became partisan again. No longer was it US V THEM. Fans of others outside the ESL clubs rolled around in thrill of points deductions and explained why their clubs, and their support, displayed a greater sense of ‘real football’ than any of those higher up the perceived food chain.
Glory hunters, that was the theme. Fans of clubs like Manchester United and Arsenal simply couldn’t handle that they were no longer at the very top of the tree, and much afterwards was seen through such a prism.
So the planned protest at Old Trafford came, and despite many (including people not too far from here) thinking it would be somewhat diluted, it was the most impactful of the lot.
Gathered outside Old Trafford, and The Lowry Hotel, were supporters who had been pushed too far. ESL may not have been the main reason yet it was certainly the ignition, and those Manchester United fans have since been let down by many.
Some will say they were let down most by those among them who broke eggs to make an omelette. Those who, as almost always in any protest about pretty much everything, go a little further than others.
The pearl-clutching at seeing actual football fans on a club’s actual football pitch was a little too much. They, in some ways, repossessed their ground and the images have gone across the world.
How dare football fans, who are everything that club, and any club, ever was, take to the sacred surface they and their families have spent decades cherishing.
You see, protests are all well and good until someone rocks the boat, but protests are generally completely useless until someone rocks the boat. The idea is to make those in charge feel uncomfortable and whilst violence can never be condoned, is the general idea of taking the pitch now so controversial that it leads to some of the reactions we’ve seen?
Pat Nevin, a pundit who will want you all to know he has a great record collection and is so socially aware he felt like an alien going into professional football, spent over an hour on Saturday slamming the protestors.
This man of the people was aghast at the people having their voice heard. His reactions became so increasingly absurd and increasingly exaggerated that if the BBC had allowed him an extra hour he’d have been talking about Roy Keane being potentially decapitated by a flare.
And then we have Jermaine Jenas, who explained during BBC 5Live’s coverage that he didn’t really know what the protest was all about and needed educating. He had a good chunk of time and all of his resources, and those of the BBC, to change that. Jenas had enough opportunity to cure his ignorance before his appearance on MOTD2, yet chose not to.
Wallowing in his own lack of understanding because it was slightly easier.
We should expect better.
Manchester United fans, at least the ones protesting, aren’t angry because they’re not signing Kylian Mbappe and Erling Haaland. This isn’t about a lack of relative success, protests were happening when the club was so deep in success the bubbles were rolling over the bathtub.
The Glazer family bought the club via loans and then leveraged that against the club, meaning huge debt interest repayments which impacted any actual progress on or off the pitch.
Presumably well aware of the controversy of what they’d done, communication with fans became non existent.
Old Trafford should right now be one of the very best sport stadiums in the world, yet it’s hard to argue it’s even in the top 20. Ask fans who were at the protest if they’d take relegation as a route to get the Glazers away and you’d find it hard to locate any who wouldn’t.
Because what you have here is real football. Real football fans who won’t care about your Sunday afternoon viewing being disrupted. Who wouldn’t be too concerned about points deductions, and who don’t care what YOUR club is doing right now, because this is THEIR club.
They want it back. They don’t want some billionaire to arrive and turn them into a new United Disney. Yes, they support a huge club and have experienced success, but it’s still their club, passed to them the same way as, say, Newcastle United is passed through generations.
You may be annoyed with the gobby kid in your class, hundreds or thousands of miles away from Old Trafford, who marked your childhood by gloating about the treble. Does that mark the rest of the club’s support? No.
It is clearly in the interest of some clubs, one of which is very local, that Manchester United isn’t allowed to use its full potential. That they don’t just have owners who won’t put money in, but have owners who drain it out via an everlasting drip to Florida, is quite appetising for opponents.
That on one level is just football support, schadenfreude will forever be vital. On another it’s betraying everything football is really about.
So the next time, and it’s already being planned, Manchester United supporters try to defend their club from those who see it as nothing more than a source of endless cash, and huge amounts of such, have some empathy.
Otherwise, we can join the rest of right-wing society in rubbishing any protest, and using the worst examples of such, to keep those who need a voice quiet.
People in working class communities used to say ‘know your place’ as they rolled their eyes at how they were looked down on. This is very much one of those occasions, and take sides as you wish.