Manchester United will ban any fans found to have been involved in criminal or violent behaviour during protests which forced the postponement of their Premier League match at home to Liverpool.
A number of supporters forced their way into Old Trafford prior to Sunday’s scheduled 4.30pm kick-off as a demonstration against club owners the Glazer family escalated into incidents of damage and violence.
Two police officers were injured, with one “attacked with a bottle and sustaining a significant slash wound to his face, requiring emergency hospital treatment”, while bottles and barriers were thrown outside the ground according to Greater Manchester Police.
United are continuing to work with police to identify fans involved but, according to their sanctions policy, damaging property or disorderly behaviour warrants a one to six-game ban, while abusive or aggressive behaviour towards staff, police or anyone else in a working capacity or any other criminal activity can lead to indefinite suspensions.
The PA news agency understands the club is focusing its efforts on those who committed offences and sanctions will not necessarily be applied to fans who merely entered the stadium or went onto the pitch.
“The club has no desire to see peaceful protesters punished, but will work with the police to identify those involved in criminal activity, and will also issue its own sanctions to any season ticket holder or member identified, per the published sanctions policy,” said a statement.
United have also rejected claims staff opened gates to allow protesters inside Old Trafford and say entry was gained by illegal means.
“Reports in mainstream and social media that protesters were able to access the stadium and pitch via a gate opened by club staff are completely incorrect,” added the statement.
“After breaking through barriers and security on the forecourt, some protesters climbed the gates at the end of the Munich tunnel, then forced access to a side door in the stand, before opening an external door that let others through to the concourse area and the pitch.
“A second breach occurred when a protester smashed the door of a disability access lift, enabling a group to enter the stand.
“The majority of our fans have and will condemn criminal damage, along with any violence towards club staff, police or other fans, and these now become a police matter.”
The Manchester United Supporters Trust has written an open letter to Joel Glazer demanding the owners engage in supporter consultation to avoid a repeat of the scenes at Old Trafford and has put forward a four-point plan to advance this.
“None of us want this to continue. We all have better things to do. So we need to find a way forward,” said the letter from MUST, who have given a Friday deadline for a response
“This is the only way to move this issue on. We strongly suggest you take it.”
United insist they remain “committed to dialogue and engagement with our fans through the Fans Forum and other appropriate channels”.
The postponement has given Premier League planners a headache as United are scheduled to play every midweek until the end of the season, meaning the most likely option is to stage the match on the weekend of the FA Cup final (May 15/16), with Liverpool’s game against West Brom brought forward to accommodate that.
“Information on the rescheduling of the game and any possible implication on other fixtures will be announced after discussion and agreement with the Premier League,” said United.
The Football Association, which is investigating incidents at Old Trafford, took a dim view of fans’ behaviour.
“We understand their frustrations. However, we cannot condone the violent and criminal behaviour that took place before the scheduled Manchester United v Liverpool match, which the FA is now investigating,” said a statement.