It pays to know your patch, have a sense of the crowd and the strength of feeling about the issue underpinning the gathering. The supporters protest at Old Trafford against the ownership of the club by the Glazer family is the only such event that I have ever photographed - so I claim no expertise at this type of photography.
Being a regular at Old Trafford, I know the place well - the entrances, exits and the streets around the ground. I also know the history of the supporters feelings about the Glazers who are despised for what they are doing to the club. There is real anger about the issue.
Armed with that knowledge the day went very much as I expected. The crowd started to gather an hour before the official start. Everything was peaceful with young families arriving, fathers with young toddlers on their shoulders, young couples there to show support for the cause and “Glazers OUT” protest cards being given out on the street corners. The road down to the ground was decked out with all sorts of anti-Glazer flags. All of these made for good newsworthy photographs.
I met with other football photographers who were there taking pictures as more and more people swelled into the crowd. Colourful smoke flares were repeatedly let off which added intensity to the scene and again yielded some good images. Groups started chanting the usual football songs and huge banners were seemingly marched into the forecourt in front of the ground.
As a photographer I was simply on the look-out for decent pictures that would capture the essence of the event and thus wandering around the forecourt looking for people with posters, flares etc.
A security cordon of red barriers was spread right across the front entrance to the ground to stop people from passing through. It was all going quite peacefully but still there was a sense of ‘anything could happen here’. Suddenly, there was a main group on the concourse who set off some more green, yellow and red smoke flares and moved like a swarm towards the Munich Tunnel breaking through the metal barriers and casting aside hapless security stewards who could do nothing.
This group jumped onto the top of the low level roof of the Train station and seemingly put pressure on the closed main gates at the Munich Tunnel. The mood had suddenly turned a bit menacing. I went close to the Tunnel to get some pics of these activities and then moved out to the concourse again as the inhalation of concentrated smoke from the flares was beginning to affect me.
Word then began circulating amongst the photographers that cameras and lenses were being deliberately attacked by some in the crowd. That was enough of a signal for me to get out of the way and return to my car. I had enough good pictures and had no need to hang around to see the ugly side of the protests take effect.
Back in my car I was amazed that many in the crowd had actually gained entrance to the stadium and fights broke out with police. It would all have made great photography but I value my safety more than a few extra pictures