Enough Gary. I want to watch football matches not riots.

Published: Tuesday, 04 May 2021

Enough Gary. I want to watch football matches not riots. Plainly no-one at your primary employer has got the courage to say anything to you - so let me.

It really is none of my business who owns Manchester United, Arsenal, Valencia, Salford or Sheffield. With the exception of Salford, nor is it yours. Nor is it Jamie Carragher’s, Rio Ferdinand’s, Jake Humphries or Gary Lineker’s. Our job is simple and privileged. Our job is to call football matches. It is not our job to instigate riots. And make no mistake, what happened at Old Trafford on Sunday was a riot. And a disgrace. I hate to think what the reaction would’ve been had Liverpool fans been to blame.

It was NOT a peaceful demonstration. One Police officer has been left with life changing injuries. He could’ve been blinded after being attacked by a thug wielding a broken bottle. Five more Policemen were hospitalised after scenes described as ‘reckless and dangerous’ by Manchester’s assistant chief constable Russ Jackson. The FA and Premier League have opened investigations into the ‘violent and criminal’ invasion of Old Trafford. Their words - not mine. As Graeme Souness put it ‘someone could’ve been killed today. A village idiot could’ve taken somebody’s eye out with the flare that was thrown at the tv gantry’.

I’ll tell you what happened - but I still don’t know why. A group of people purporting to be Manchester United fans staged a dangerous blockade of city centre hotels before breaking into Old Trafford through sacred territory emboldened by others - X-players - who should have known better.

What was it all about? Was it a protest against the ESL? No. But some would have you believe that? Was it a demonstration about the ownership of Manchester United? No. But some would have you believe that. It was a show of frustration that United are no longer the dominant force in English football.

The Glazers are not for me. But Sir Alex Ferguson never had a problem with them. ‘I am comfortable with the Glazer situation’ he would say. ‘They have been great’.

He also said ‘I think there are a lot of factions at Manchester United that think they own the club. They will always be contentious about whoever owns the club’.

United won four league titles and one European Cup when Fergie worked for the Glazers. They’ve since added an FA Cup, League Cup and a Europa League title. Since Fergie left the Glazers have spent the best part of £1b on transfers. So are they to blame for the lack of success? Or have others wasted that money?

If the protest was about the ESL then why have City fans not been out with their own wrecking ball? Or Chelsea fans? Or Spurs fans?

What we witnessed Sunday was frightening. It has no place in society, let alone football. It was also in stark contrast to the classy way David Beckham showed his support to United fans when he picked up a green and gold scarf on his return to OT with Milan in 2010.

At beINSPORTS we were lucky enough to have Arsene Wenger in our studios last weekend. With my Arabic colleagues - like so many - he was championing the right of supporters to have a say in how their club is run. That was until he came into our studio and I reminded him that for the last 18
months of his time at Arsenal he ignored fans pleas to leave! He wasn’t so keen on pressing his argument then.

Who did Peter Lim - the owner of Valencia - speak to before appointing the English coach that presided over the most catastrophic period in that clubs history?

How many fans representatives are on the Board at Salford? Was anyone asked about the appointment - and subsequent sacking five months later - of Richie Wellens? Those close to a Wellens speak of constant interference upstairs - demands on how training should be run - and even who should’ve been playing. To my knowledge the Glazers have never interfered in either of those areas.

That’s the problem when you get too busy. Whilst you’re manning the barricades in one place you forget that you’re guilty of all the same things you’re campaigning against elsewhere.

The ESL failed. It failed because Paris and Munich refused to join. Had they done - it would’ve happened. The noise didn’t change anything. Nor did the British govt - whose posturing now is at odds with the pressure they put on United to pull out of the FA Cup in
1999, because World Cup votes were at stake.

It’s time now for healing. The six English clubs involved in the proposed breakaway have all signed contracts with EUFA pledging not to go it alone again. The rest haven’t - which tells you that they are determined to bring about change - as we’ve said here for weeks.

Those of us in the media with influential voices have to understand the responsibility that comes with that privilege. We have to be careful about the language we use. We can’t call for fans to go the grounds and ‘rip out owners’. We must not talk about ‘murder’ when discussing football - or ‘famines’ or ‘mobilising’. All this is incendiary - and on a weekend when we all decided to come off social media platforms to make a stand against bullying and racism. You couldn’t make it up.

Let’s for a moment pretend the Glazers decide to sell. Who is going to replace them? And what would their intent be? It would be exactly the same as the Glazers - to run a successful business. The same goes for Arsenal, Chelsea, City, Spurs - and football is business now, whether we like it or not. And one other thing - where are we going to find enough billionaire owners to go round?

There’s no going back to the days of cloth caps - when the local butcher owned our favourite club. I’m old enough to remember Louis Edwards getting pelters because of the way he ran United. And his son, Martin. So nothing has really changed. As Fergie said ‘fans here will always be contentious - whoever owns the club’.

We’ve got the best coaches working in our league for a reason. And the best players. We’ve enjoyed an unparalleled time in our sports history - funded by the same people that we now criticise.
As I’ve said many times in this blog - be careful what you wish for.

United are currently looking for a Chief Exec Gary - give it a go. Show us all how it should be done. And please don’t tell me you couldn’t work for the Glazers. You once did - and pocketed millions from doing so. That was the time to make your voice heard.

I don’t ever want to see a repeat of Sunday’s riot. I repeat - I want to watch football matches. I want to watch the best league in the world continue to flourish. I’ll continue to call it as I see it - frustrated by referees, disappointed by some performances, exhilarated by others. I’ve been drawn into debates about the current owners of the club I support. Like ‘fans’ of other clubs we’re all allowed to moan and complain. That’s part of the fun, but sparking riots is not on my agenda. Nor should it be anyone else’s.