London (AFP) – British Prime Minister Boris Johnson said he understood “people’s strength of feeling” over football and club ownership as police launched an investigation into the protest that led to the postponement of Manchester United’s Premier League clash at home to Liverpool.
Fans invaded Old Trafford and ran onto the pitch Sunday as part of a demonstration against United’s owners, the US-based Glazer family. Greater Manchester Police saying one of their officers required emergency hospital treatment.
Anger towards the Glazers has been reignited by United’s part in a failed European Super League (ESL) project, which collapsed within 48 hours last month after a backlash from fans, players, governments and governing bodies.
Johnson, speaking Monday during a campaign visit to the north-east town of Hartlepool, where there is a parliamentary by-election on May 6, said: “I don’t think it’s a good idea to have disruptive behaviour, demonstrations of that kind.
“But on the other hand, I do understand people’s strength of feeling.
“And I think that it’s a good thing that we have been able to do things that make it pretty clear that the European Super League is not going to be appreciated by the people of this country, or by this government.”
Hundreds of fans managed to make their way into the ground, chanting “we want Glazers out”.
Large numbers of supporters had also gathered outside the stadium and there were clashes with police as they moved to disperse the crowd, with objects thrown at officers and horses.
– ‘Reckless and dangerous’ –
Two officers were injured, with one “attacked with a bottle and sustaining a significant slash wound to his face, requiring emergency hospital treatment”, according to a Greater Manchester Police statement.
Assistant chief constable Russ Jackson criticised the “reckless and dangerous” behaviour of supporters involved in acts of violence.
A United statement said: “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.”
The Premier League said while it understood the fans’ “strength of feeling”, it condemned “all acts of violence, criminal damage and trespass, especially given the associated Covid-19 breaches”.
Manchester City could have been crowned Premier League champions on Sunday had United lost the match.
The Premier League said a new date for the match would be announced “in due course”.
United and Liverpool were reportedly two of the leading drivers behind the Super League project. It sought to guarantee top level European football for 15 founder members every season without the need to qualify on the pitch.
In a rare public statement, United co-chairman Joel Glazer apologised to fans last month for signing up to the ESL.
“You made very clear your opposition to the European Super League, and we have listened. We got it wrong, and we want to show that we can put things right,” he said.
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