James Cleverly condemns violence at Old Trafford on Sunday but says supporters must be at heart of game
The “frustration” felt by fans towards some football clubs had to be understood, a government minister has said in the wake of Sunday’s pitch invasion at Old Trafford.
James Cleverly, a Foreign Office minister, was speaking after Manchester United’s game with Liverpool was postponed after a peaceful planned protest outside the stadium by fans angry with the club’s owners turned violent.
“Looking at the scenes that we have just seen on the programme, there can’t be an excuse for that kind of behaviour,” Cleverly told Sky News, adding that supporters had to be at the heart of the game and referring to a “fan-led” review announced by the government.
“So I cannot condone the images that we have seen about storming the ground, but we do need to understand the frustrations that fans have, not just with Manchester United but with a number of clubs across the game.”
An investigation has been launched by Greater Manchester police after an officer was left needing emergency hospital treatment following the disturbances at Old Trafford.
Fans broke into the stadium and invaded the pitch in protest at the club’s owners, the Glazer family, while outside the ground bottles and barriers were thrown at police officers and horses.
The postponement of the Premier League match between the two most storied clubs in English football was confirmed after supporters gathered at the stadium.
It added further uncertainty to United’s fixture list in a week when they are due to play the second leg of their Europa League semi-final with Roma, and is the most graphic illustration yet of the breakdown of trust between fans and owners.
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At about 1pm, a crowd began gathering outside the stadium holding anti-Glazer banners and chanting against the American family, whose longstanding unpopularity with supporters was elevated by their signing up to the now-defunct European Super League.
A crowd of about 200 people had also gathered at the Lowry hotel in the city centre, where the team stay before matches. At the hotel the United coach was surrounded by supporters before banks of police arrived, while the number of protesters at Old Trafford swelled into thousands after 2pm.
With firecrackers being let off and with some carrying flares, a group marched toward the venue’s Munich Tunnel and by 2.30pm security had been breached and the Old Trafford pitch invaded.
There, more firecrackers were let off, flares were thrown, one individual was seen swinging on the goalposts and another grabbed a corner flag, while outside there were clashes with police, with two officers injured after bottles were thrown, with one suffering a slash to his face and requiring hospital treatment.
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