August 8, 2022

“The Glazers are ripping the soul from this club. A new manager coming in the summer and a few new players shouldn’t change anything.”

Three hours before Manchester United play their penultimate home game of the season, supporters begin to gather at the Tollgate pub. The Old Trafford turnstiles are a 15-minute walk from here – the top of the stadium’s glass-fronted East Stand visible in the distance from close to the pub’s front door.

At the far end of the beer garden, three large flags have already been fixed to a line of temporary fencing. All of them are red, white and black; all carry similar anti-Glazer messages. It’s quiet for now, but on the other side of the fence, police officers have started to assemble, clustering around a riot van which has been parked up on a kerb close by.

Less than a fortnight has passed since United fans gathered at the Tollgate in their hundreds before a league game with Norwich, beginning a fresh wave of protests against the club’s American owners. They had marched on Old Trafford in unison, flags held aloft, red smoke billowing in the air around them. When the game kicked off, many protesters remained outside for 17 minutes – one minute for every year the club has been under Glazer family ownership.

The plan is to repeat the march, following the same route – down Talbot Road, onto Warwick Road, then onto the stadium.

On this occasion, the circumstances are slightly different. The Norwich game took place on a warm Saturday afternoon. Supporters had plenty of time to get to the pub before the protest march set off. This, however, is a Thursday evening. Some of those planning to attend tonight’s game – a fixture with Chelsea which has been re-arranged due to them reaching the FA Cup final – will have only just finished work for the day.

In the pub’s dimly lit pool room, where the organisers of the protest are meeting, there are some doubts that tonight’s march will pull in the same kind of numbers.

“It’s always going to be more of a challenge when games are played midweek, especially when a game gets moved like this one,” one of the members admits.

The group behind the protests are known as The 1958 and are recently formed. Starting out as no more than ten ardent supporters who follow United home and away, they quickly doubled in size, attracting a 16,000-strong following on Twitter, the platform they use to share details of their protest plans.

Protests against the Glazer family are, of course, nothing new. A year ago, after the the family’s involvement in the plot to launch a European Super League became clear, United fans stormed Old Trafford, forcing the postponement of a league fixture with Liverpool. When they completed their takeover in 2005, instantly heaping enormous debts on United, an effigy of Malcolm Glazer had been strung up on railings outside the stadium and set alight.

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In between, there was the rise of the Green and Gold campaign, where fans adopted the colours of Newton Heath – the club from which United evolved – as a visible sign of their opposition to the ownership.

“We want to move away from the Green and Gold stuff,” another 1958 member tells JOE. “It looked great at the time but it’s become an element of mirth for other fans, so we’ve decided to try and move on from that. Red, white and black to get the club back. That’s become a bit of a strap line.

“We’ve seen what’s gone on before and there’s always been too much conflict, too much infighting.

“There’s a lot of different groups from within the United fanbase who’ve had their own ideas of how to do this – MUST (Manchester United Supporters Trust), TRA (The Red Army), all the rest of the match-going fans, too.

“We respect that people have different ways of wanting to fix this, but we just felt like we need to be on the same page if what we do is to be effective. We all want the Glazers gone, so it’s about setting aside any slight differences and coming together as one. That’s what we’re trying to create. 

“At the Norwich game the other week, we felt for the first time in a long time there were no factions. We didn’t want it to be about all those other groups, we just wanted us to be united. That’s what it needs to be if we’re going to get anywhere.”

It’s 6pm now. Kick-off is less than two hours away and the police presence around the Tollgate has grown substantially. Any concerns about a poor turnout have vanished. The beer garden is full. On the far side, close to fence where the flags have been hung, fans belt out anti-Glazer songs. A red and green haze lingers from the smoke bombs that are intermittently let off. There’s a long queue forming at the front of the pub, as more people wait to get in.

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Close to the entrance, one supporter says that without the protest, he’d probably not have gone to the game at all.

“I’m sick of the lot of them,” he admits. “They’ve given up, but what we’re seeing is the product of nearly 20 years of these idiots running the show. When they give jobs to their mates, not people who understand football, this is what happens.”

The 1958’s emergence has coincided with the final few weeks of a wretched season for United. Hopes of finishing it with a trophy ended in March and a weekend loss to Arsenal all-but confirmed the club will miss out on Champions League qualification for next season. To compound their misery, Liverpool are still on for an unprecedented quadruple, with Manchester City the only side likely to stop them.

The revived protests have prompted fans of rival clubs to claim United supporters only take action when their team aren’t winning. History shows it’s not as simple as that and, in some cases, completely incorrect.

The peak of the Green and Gold campaign came as United chased a league and European double in 2010. They were, at the time, on course for a fourth successive league title and had just appeared in back-to-back Champions League finals.

Despite this, their home victory over AC Milan in the knockout stages of the Champions League saw huge numbers of supporters take up the protest colours. Large ‘Love United, Hate Glazer’ banners were unfurled on the Stretford End. David Beckham, returning to Old Trafford as a Milan player that night, draped a green and gold scarf around his neck at the end of the game in an apparent show of support.

“It would be wrong to say some of this isn’t because we’re fed up with how bad the team is,” one of The 1958 members says. “That’s natural as a fan but it’s much bigger than that. We’ve got a ground that’s been left to rot. Our training base has been surpassed by every other top club.

“Look at the promises that were made last year by them, too. That’s the big one for a lot of us. There’s still nothing. They don’t give a fuck about us.”

The fierce protests that marked the collapse of the Super League saw Joel Glazer agree to meet United fans for the first time since the family completed their takeover. Pandemic travel restrictions meant that this was done via video call, but promises were made to representatives of MUST that the club would introduce a scheme which would allow fans to own shares and build a meaningful stake in the club.

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Though a United representative recently insisted progress has been made in this area, over 12 months have passed and no share scheme has been announced. ‘A year is a very long time to wait for someone to make good on a promise,’ MUST recently said in a newsletter to its members.

“There was a bit of hope last year when MUST had the breakthrough with the Glazers about the fan share, but deep down, I think we probably all suspected it was never going to happen,” the member says.

“It felt like they were doing that to pad us off until they got rid of us. The more time goes by, the more I think that was the case.”

By 7pm, the crowds at the Tollgate start to shift towards the exit. The plan had been to leave at 7:17pm, but the march has been brought forward. Police line the road for the first few hundred yards, traffic grinds to a halt as the protestors take over the road.

The supporters are in good voice. Chants of ‘We want Glazers out’, grow louder as they turn right down Warwick Road, making their final approach to the stadium. Passing the away end, the soundtrack briefly switches to a song about John Terry’s famous penalty miss before attention is turned back to the owners as the crowd passes through the Munich Tunnel.

Other questions remain about United fans’ drive to rid their club of the Glazers – namely who, given the likely cost to buy the club, might replace them if they are finally forced out – but for now, the focus is clear.

“In the past, these things have started to die out after a couple of games,” a member of the 1958 had said before leaving the Tollgate.

“The key to getting them out, we believe, is consistency. The turnout tonight has surprised us, but this needs to keep happening.

“They’re ripping the soul from this club. A new manager coming in the summer and a few new players shouldn’t change anything. We’ve had enough.”

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