Several weeks ahead of the U.K.’s scheduled release from pandemic lockdown, Manchester United fans returned to Old Trafford arena in a hail of smoke bombs. A crowd of protesters had gathered outside in early May, demanding that United’s American owners, the Glazer family, sell the team. Then about 100 fans broke into the stadium, whose stands had been empty for the entire Covid-disrupted season. Smoke filled the air. A young fan in faded jeans and a white hoodie marched down the sideline, holding a corner flag aloft like an enemy banner claimed in battle. Others chanted a familiar refrain: “Love United, hate Glazer!”
The Glazers were among the first in a wave of overseas billionaires to invest heavily in English soccer, shifting the sport’s center of power away from locals. Hardcore United fans have despised the family since Malcolm Glazer took over in 2005, in a deal that left the club with hundreds of millions of dollars in debt. When Malcolm’s sons Avram, Bryan, and Joel toured Old Trafford after the takeover, they had to be extracted in a police vehicle as protesters hurled bricks.