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The fan protests that led to the postponement of Manchester United’s match with Liverpool on Sunday afternoon may well prove to be a watershed moment in terms of fans finally having a say in how their clubs are run, writes Dr David Webber.

5th May 2021

Of course, we’ve seen fan protests before. Right across the English game, at Blackburn Rovers, Coventry City, Liverpool, Newcastle, Portsmouth and Wrexham, supporters here and elsewhere have all hit out at their respective owners and demanded change.

What we saw on Sunday, however, was on an altogether different scale. This degree of direct action has changed the parameters of the politically possible. As one fan said, “we can do this every week”. If United’s US owners weren’t listening before, they should be now.

By disrupting and potentially cancelling one of the biggest games in world football, these local protests went global, reminding us - even in football’s age of global investors and global fans - of the central importance of local fans and local spaces.

The Glazers, of course, may not act. They may dig in. It would still be a surprise if they sell up. The Glazers do, however, have to listen. They have to enter into dialogue with the heart and soul of the club: the supporters. They have to recognise that even global ‘mega-clubs’ like Manchester United are locally-rooted. It is these local fans that provide the club with its history, and its identity. And it is this very same history and identity that global followers of the club buy into and want to be associated with.

The Glazers have reached a point of no return. If and when they do decide to sell, it will only raise further questions over the future direction of Manchester United. But there is a lesson here for all owners, and the Premier League as a whole. While lucrative global markets may be their goal, they cannot discount or take for granted the historical and cultural significance of these local fans and the local spaces they inhabit.

Dr David Webber is Course Leader for BA (Hons) Football Studies and BA (Hons) Football Business Management. You can read his full profile here.