They got in through an entrance next to the Munich Tunnel, a symbol of Manchester United’s tragic but everlasting bond with the European Cup.
The Glazer family’s botched attempt to sever that tie with the preposterous European Super League was just one of the reasons supporters felt compelled to vent their fury outside Old Trafford on Sunday and somehow got on to the pitch — which is more than can be said for the players of United and Liverpool.
How did it happen? How did a planned protest which was supervised by a heavy security presence end up with fans on the playing surface, kicking the match balls among themselves, taking the corner flags, hurling flares at the Sky Sports TV gantry and ultimately clashing with police on the streets outside?
Manchester United fans stormed Old Trafford and forced the Liverpool game to be cancelled
Supporters made it onto the Old Trafford pitch to show their frustration with the Glazers
More than a thousand of them had gathered in front of Old Trafford ahead of the 2pm protest. Some way short of the 10,000 that had been mooted, but a significant number all the same and, ultimately, enough to force this fixture to be postponed.
They arrived from both ends of Sir Busby Way, past the anti-Glazer banners and the men selling green and gold T-shirts bearing the message ‘United Against Greed’.
Some came with young children which seemed odd at the time and wholly inappropriate in light of what happened next.
Fans congregated around the Holy Trinity statue of George Best, Denis Law and Bobby Charlton in front of the Megastore and already there was a hint of menace in the air.
A HISTORY WITH TROUBLE
Manchester United have been embarrassed by a string of break-ins in the last five years.
The club’s last home game of the 2015-16 season against Bournemouth had to be postponed after a bomb scare, but the device turned out to be a dummy, left behind after a training exercise.
In November 2016, Sportsmail revealed that two fans had bunked in at Old Trafford, slipping away after a stadium tour and sleeping the night at the Theatre of Dreams, before attending the next day’s game against Arsenal.
In 2018, a pitch invader sneaked toy guns into the ground, and a year later the club were were slated by a coroner after lifelong fan John Whale, 80, died after falling down steps at the ground after his path to an exit was blocked by stewards.
Questions are being asked over what the latest breach means for Controlled Solutions Group (CSG), United’s much-maligned security firm, who have been in place since 2012.
Fans of all ages showed up but the atmosphere took a turn as emotions ran high at the ground
‘Joel Glazer’s gonna die,’ they sang as the red smoke from flares began to drift across the plaza to the thin cordon of police standing in front of the ground.
‘How we kill him I don’t know, cut him up from head to toe, all I know is Glazer’s gonna die.’
Some camera crews filming the protest songs were showered with beer as the numbers grew and emotions began to run high.
A couple of loud bangs signalled the official start of the protest and fans immediately began moving towards the stadium, edging towards the steel gates of the Munich tunnel and just a matter of yards from where United’s executives would normally enter Old Trafford.
More flares, more chanting as those at the front began to pull at the locked gates.
They forced open a door in the south-west corner of the stadium which is used as access for medical staff, although one of the first protesters through told Sportsmail he was surprised at how easy it was to get in. ‘They didn’t try to stop us,’ he said.
‘There was plenty of provocation but the police and stewards did nothing. It’s clear that was their intention.
Fans found it easy to muscle through security and run riot inside the Old Trafford stadium
Though fans managed an easy entrance police were forced to fight back to push them out
‘You could have gone anywhere — it was weird. People went in the players’ tunnel and had the corner flags and match balls. Anything that would move. Afterwards, the police just ushered us out, it was all a bit unreal.’
Aside from turning on the sprinklers to soak the intruders, at that stage there was little resistance from the police or the club.
Many fans got on to the pitch through the disabled section, others slid down the tarpaulin sheets covering the empty seats.
Some jumped on the goalposts and one man was knocked clean off the bar by another protester kicking a ball into the top corner.
They lit flares and hurled one that fell just short of pundits, Micah Richards, Roy Keane and Graeme Souness in Sky’s outdoor studio.
At a time when Covid-free bubbles around footballers have been vital to the Premier League playing on through the pandemic, it had turned into a nightmare scenario for the match organisers. This was a major security breach and the match was now in serious doubt.
Once they’d stormed the pitch the invaders began causing chaos as the sprinklers came on
Half an hour later, the pitch invaders emerged victorious at the rear exit to the stadium, hurried on their way by security and applauded every step by fans who had gathered there to try to block the team buses from getting in.
Some more got back on to the pitch after kicking in the glass door to the disabled access lift, and were also given a heroes’ welcome when they marched out through the gates half an hour later.
A police van and eight more officers were deployed there to ensure the safe passage of the buses that never arrived.
It was already known that a more hardcore group of 200 fans had gathered at the Lowry Hotel to stop United’s players from leaving for the game, and there had been clashes with police there.
It turned nasty again at the front entrance to Old Trafford as well. The demonstrators had now been drinking for several hours and started to hurl bottles and even metal security barriers at the police who, up to that point, had been very restrained.
United players watched from their hotel rooms as fans gathered outside their Lowry Hotel
Though the protest did turn sour at points the United fans certainly got their point across
Perhaps too much so. A police helicopter only appeared halfway through the protest and, despite the large number of Tactical Aid Unit vans, the officers were not wearing body armour or helmets. Faced with an increasingly unruly mob, they decided to advance in two lines with batons drawn, splitting the protesters in half and forcing them back down Sir Matt Busby Way in opposite directions.
The fans reacted angrily while others, including members of the media, were caught in the crossfire. More bottles were thrown and skirmishes broke out at both ends of the road as two separate stand-offs developed.
The only person left behind by police was a one-man band performing in front of the Holy Trinity statue.
Undeterred by the carnage around him, he played You Are My Sunshine — a United tribute song to Ole Gunnar Solskjaer — on a saxophone even though he had to compete with the noise of the helicopter overhead and hundreds of empty bottles and cans blowing across the road in front of him.
It was a bizarre image to end the strangest of days.