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United’s owners facing strongest opposition yet

Manchester United

MANCHESTER, ENGLAND — It has certainly been a year of sporting contrasts for American businessman Joel Glazer.

In February, he was in a celebratory mood, raising the Vince Lombardi trophy as his National Football League team, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, won the Super Bowl, led by veteran quarterback Tom Brady.

Three months later, Glazer’s Premier League soccer team, Manchester United, had to call off its match against rival Liverpool following violent protests against the American’s ownership of the club.

The Florida-based Glazer family has owned United since 2005 and has faced fan opposition from the moment it completed its takeover, but the leading role it played in the failed attempt to launch the European Super League last month has reignited the protests.

United was due to play traditional rival Liverpool on Sunday, but the game was called off by authorities due to safety concerns after protesters clashed with police and some invaded the field.

One group of supporters broke through security and into the stadium, which was closed to fans due to coronavirus restrictions, protesting on the field and damaging some property inside the ground.

The late Malcolm Glazer, the family patriarch who made his fortune in real estate and stocks, bought United in May 2005 for 790-million pounds ($1.09 billion), after entering the sports business in 1995 with a takeover of the Buccaneers.

Since his death in 2014, his two sons Joel and Avram have been co-chairmen of United with the former playing a prominent part in the recent Super League controversy — he was named the short-lived breakaway’s founding vice-chairman.

That affair has relit the always smoldering protest movement among United fans and has now thrown the club into crisis.

Glazer has apologized for the club’s involvement in the project, which would have seen 12 of the top clubs in Europe breakaway from the established structures to create a privately owned championship.

But United fans have not accepted the apology.

“Actions speak louder than words and he and his family have shown time and again that their sole motivation is personal profit at the expense of our football club,” the Manchester United Supporters Trust said in a statement on Friday.

Former United captain Gary Neville, now a prominent television analyst, said on Sunday that Glazer’s hope of “rebuilding trust” was a forlorn one.

“The Glazers say they want to rebuild the trust, but they never had the trust of the supporters. I think [the protests are] a warning to the owners of the football club that, ultimately, they’re not going to accept what they’ve done in the last couple of weeks,” he said.

“This is a consequence of the Manchester United owners’ actions two weeks ago. There is a general distrust and dislike of the owners, but they weren’t protesting two or three weeks ago.” — Reuters