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Foreign Office Minister James Cleverly says the ugly scenes witnessed during Manchester United fan protests at Old Trafford on Sunday cannot be condoned, though stressed that the current frustration felt among supporters of many clubs in English football needs to be understood.
Thousands of disgruntled United fans descended on the stadium ahead of the high-profile Premier League clash against rivals Liverpool - which eventually had to be postponed - to protest against the ownership of the Glazer family after years of simmering and long-standing resentment was reignited by the club’s role in the recent European Super League (ESL) debacle.
Around 100 fans managed to get inside Old Trafford and invade the pitch, with some letting off flares and one being thrown at the platform being used by Sky Sports. Hundreds also gathered to protest outside The Lowry Hotel in Salford, where United’s players were staying ahead of the match against Liverpool.
Greater Manchester Police (GMP) confirmed on Sunday evening that two of their officers had been injured in the protests, with bottles and barriers being thrown.
The Premier League condemned “acts of violence, criminal damage and trespassing”, while United said they “completely acknowledge the right to free expression and peaceful protest” but criticised the “disruption to the team and actions” which they said put “other fans, staff, and the police in danger”.
Asked about the protests during an appearance on Sky News on Monday morning, Mr Cleverly said the hostile scenes could not be condoned but added that fans’ frustrations must be looked into, beginning with the independent fan-led review of football governance announced in the aftermath of the ESL fiasco that will be chaired by former minister for sport, Tracey Crouch.
“I think looking at the scenes we’ve just seen on the programme, there can’t be an excuse for that kind of behaviour,” Mr Cleverly said.
“I think it’s really important that we understand the importance of fans to the game, that’s why I’m very pleased that my friend and colleague Tracey Crouch has been appointed by the Prime Minister to lead the fan-led review, because fans have to be at the heart of this game.
“You cannot, cannot condone the images that we’ve seen about storming the ground, but we do need to understand the frustations that fans have, not just with Manchester United, but with a number of clubs across the game and we will be looking into that through the fan-led review.”