Manchester United protest fears rekindled as Liverpool clash rescheduled by Premier League

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May 8, 2002
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Manchester United face two Old Trafford fixtures in 50 hours next week, sparking fears that there could be a repeat of the demonstrations that forced Sunday’s league game with Liverpool to be postponed. That match has been re-arranged for Thursday, May 13, with United’s home meeting against Leicester City now moved back to Tuesday, May 11. The hasty re-scheduling means Greater Manchester Police will be keen to ensure there is no repeat of Sunday’s scenes in which fan protests at the Lowry Hotel in Manchester city centre prevented the United team from driving to the game. In another flashpoint, demonstrations at Old Trafford saw supporters break into the stadium and led to violence as police dispersed the crowds. Police reported six officers were injured in the scenes that followed, with one needing emergency hospital treatment for a slash wound to his face. GMP were consulted about the fixture switch by the Premier League and gave the move the go-ahead last night. It is understood that an original plan, to bring forward Liverpool’s game with West Brom to next midweek, to allow the United “replay” to take place on Sunday, May 16, was blocked by relegation-threatened Albion who did not want to disadvantage themselves. But the changes now leave United with a daunting schedule of their own, effectively playing four games in the space of a week, starting with Thursday's Europa League semi-final second leg trip to Roma and also including Sunday’s visit to Aston Villa. United supporters have pledged to continue their demonstrations against their US-based owners, the Glazer family. There were fears of the United team bus being deliberately delayed by fans on its way to Manchester airport on Wednesday, leading to heightened security and a police tactical aid unit accompanying them without incident. There is now certain to be heightened security for the two home fixtures next week, plus United’s final home game of the season, against Fulham on Tuesday, May 18, which is expected to see a limited number of supporters allowed into the stadium. Meanwhile, Ole Gunnar Solskjaer has condemned the role of high-profile media pundits, led by Gary Neville and Jamie Carragher, in the protests that brought about Sunday’s violence. The United manager, talking for the first time since the demonstrations, was also critical of supporters who broke into the stadium and caused the game to be called off. “Everyone's got a human right to be heard and to be heard, has to be peaceful,” said Solskjaer. “When you step out of line, break on the pitch, break into dressing rooms, I think that’s one step too far, and when it becomes a police matter, that's not nice. And it's not been helped by certain individuals, that’s another part of it, but that's your (media) end of it.” Supporters have called for better lines of communication with United’s Florida-based owners who have been unpopular with fans since buying the club in 2005 and Solskjaer revealed that the Glazers have apologised to him for their handling of the affair. “I’ve been communicating with the owners, I've got an apology personally, they have started communication between other individuals than me and fans,” he said. “It's a difficult position to be in for me, this, I've always had a good relationship (with the Glazers) and they do listen to the fans and I am sure there'll be better communication coming. “As I said before the game, we have to listen, have to hear the fans' voice, it's everyone’s right to protest, but it has to be civilised, peaceful manner. “Unfortunately when you break in, when police officers get injured, that's one step too far and, unfortunately, now when it gets out of hand like this it's a police matter, it's not about showing opinions any more. “We want to listen it has to be in a peaceful manner, voice your opinions we know we need to communicate better and if you refer back to the apology they all accepted it was the wrong thing to do. They've all accepted it came out wrong, was the wrong thing to do. It’s a start, let's continue.” Events on Sunday, and growing anti-Glazer discourse, has overshadowed United’s Europa League semi-final second leg, a game in which Solskjaer’s side holds a commanding 6-2 lead from last week’s first meeting. “My focus has to be on the results but you don't need to be a rocket scientist to see we have challenges and frictions and things that have to be dealt with,” he said. “In communication, other individuals than me have started already, discussing with fans, communicating with fan groups, which is going to be massive going forward. “I know our fans want a team that’s likeable, that’s playing attacking football, scoring goals, being humble, winning trophies, working hard to get getter results so they can identify with them. “The players have done terrific to be where they are, I would be sad if all the good work the players have done is disrupted, our focus, is on playing well and getting to a final now.”

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