Published: 21 August 2000
Supporting Manchester United today V's 15 years ago
With our fantastic success in the last 10 years and our rise to winning the Champions League, I often compare supporting United now to that of when I was a lot younger. I began supporting Manchester United in 1981 after seeing them play against Liverpool. I'm not sure of the result, but I'm fairly sure United were playing in White that day, all I remember was enjoying the game of football.
From then on, it was a passion rivalled only by a passion for support of my local teams in Gaelic sports, the Limerick hurlers & gaelic footballers. In 1981, football still hadn't gripped Ireland: the national side was not great, yet with some fine players, just missing out on the 82 World Cup. Local football had only got going 4 years previously with the foundation of my local side in 1977. Then there was "English Soccer" which back then caused 99% of the locals in my area to use just one word "Liverpool". Now they were the team of that era, everybody in Ireland loved them, probably because they had a few Irish players, but I could never warm to them.
So I decided to have a look and see what all the fuss was about. I watched them play this side Manchester United who they would beat easily etc. etc. as Liverpool were so good they were going to conquer Europe, but United were useless - according to people supposedly in the know at that time. I know that United didn't lose that day, in fact after consulting the history books, I think they played Liverpool twice in the calendar year of 1981 at Anfield (I think it was Anfield at United were not in red) and won twice ! Anyway, from there my support grew. The United boys played with a passion that Liverpool could not seem to match & armed with that fact I marched off to school ready for the masses of Scouse lovers only to be berated for being non-Liverpool. I quite enjoyed that.
Throughout the 80's then, United became my club and in a strange sort of way, the lack of success made me love them more & more. I remember travelling into my grandmothers house to watch the 1983 FA Cup final v's Brighton & my heart pounding as Gordon Smith had the chance to win it for Brighton. I remember crushing them in the replay & that was my first taste of success as a United fan. Strangely enough, I also remember vividly the 1983 cup winners cup final & a certain Mr. Ferguson celebrating ! But those years supporting United were fantastic, we won little yet played decent football, and a lad later to become known as "Sparky" and "The wembley warrior" became my hero. Selling him in 1986 was a low point, reclaiming him was a dream.
I remember Big Ron's sacking & Fergie taking over & although were were cup winners in 85 & finished second in 88, the years 85-89 were not memorable for success. Big Jack Charltons army though had marched on Stuttgart, Hanover & Gelsincherken & came within a whisker of a semi final berth in Euro 88. The Cup win of 1990 was fantastic, as RTE did not show the games until the semi final replay so I relied on radio reports on the hour from our national station. After numerous palpatations watching the semi-final replay & final draw, it was great to win the cup. Of couse I put it all down to Sparky's brilliance but a fantastic team effort nonetheless. The feats of Jack Charltons army in Italia 90 was also sweet and all in all, things were looking up.
We hit one of the lowest points in my memory in Sept. 1990 when Liverpool thrashed us 4-0 & although the lads in my school ridiculed me & the other handful of United fans, we felt brighter days were in store. Of course it was my hero again who won us the Cup winners cup. By now I had gotten used to listening to BBC radio 5 live and listening to those games in my bedroom all during the 90/91 season were cherished memories for me. During the semi-final second leg at Old Trafford, we had a powercut at home, so off down to the shop to buy batteries & although we were 3-1 up from the first leg, I had to hear that game. The Final again was shown on RTE & I recorded it & kept it, as I did with the 1990 finals - stored forever more in my football archive.
I had to cycle 5 miles to see live coverage of the League Cup final of 1992 and although we beat Forest, I was absolutely heartbroken when the league went away from us. It seemed everybody was against us and they won. That has to be the lowest point EVER supporting United. It was hard to gear up for the 92/93 season & when Everton walloped us 3-0 at Old Trafford I thought "it's never going to be us". However 8 short months later & absolute ecstacy. I was listening to the radio at home & then I heard it come through "Manchester United are the champions of England, Aston Villa 0 Oldham 1". By now we had SKY news but not Sky Sports & I tuned in to see the barmy army of crazy Mancs who had assembled in Manchester, beer cans in hand celebrating wildly. What we all witnessed the following night at Old Trafford can only be described as magic & seeing the trophy aloft in Robbo & Bruce's arms was a joy.
From then on though, supporting Manchester United became almost a sin. Suddenly I was perceived to be a "glory hunter" a "bandwagon fan" by people who knew I had supported United for so long. Scowls replaced laughter and tension replaced the banter we had enjoyed prior to our league win. People seemed to think that you were a United fan because they had just won the league, - not that United winning the league was just a bonus to me as a United fan, who loved them regardless of success. The double of 1994 was again a fitting reward to so many fans who had stayed loyal for so long yet reactions by rival fans & the media were becoming more aggressive. Cantona's suspension in March/April 94 was built up like a tidal wave in the media. People were scowling at Keano in the Ireland shirt, simply because he played club football for Manchester United. Although Keano, Paul McGrath, Andy Townsend & John Sheridan were outstanding in the victory over Italy, Keano didn't get the praise he deserved, but has he ever done for his exploits in the Green shirt ?
We won nothing in 1995, yet still I and others wore the shirts, tuned into the games, still Old Trafford was full but before & after we were still called Glory Hunters. Eric's suspension in Jan 1995 caused a huge furore in Ireland & the UK. A Sunday newspaper in Ireland had Eric related articles on 26 of it's 60 pages. I wrote to them giving them a piece of my mind, my letter was published by the ditor, but that was a big mistake. He gave my name & address & for 3 years after that I got crank calls - some nasty. 1996 was memorable for United as with a team of youngsters we took our second double. By now I had learned that United were simply hated regardless of what they did, so I ceased to talk of them in pubs or with anyone non-United. There was no point as any chance I had of winning a debate was scuppered by the words "bandwagon jumper" etc etc. Although champions in 1997 & having torn Borussia Dortmund apart in the Champions League semi-final & lose 0-2, everybody was writing us off in European terms.
Arsenal took the double in 1998 & at least I could relax as the ABU's were satisfied they had got some blood from United & we had won nothing. The fact we had won nothing was irrelevant to my level of support, but try telling that to an ABU. Sept. 1998 arrived & to me, United went into self destruct mode. The whole SKY issue gripped football & everybody wanted a pound of flesh. I had no response as 95% of United fans didn't want SKY owning us either & the ABU's lapped it up. This for me was the first time that fuel for the ABU's was provided from withing Old Trafford. We marched on to the treble, beating Arsenal to avenge 98 was sweet, taking the FA Cup for a record 10th time - fantastic and of course for anyone to realise what our achievement in the Nou Camp meant to us, read anybody's report of it. Tears, joy, emotion, ecstacy, all rolled into one. Thank you God for Ole Gunnar Solskjaer.
I managed to make it to Old Trafford for the first time ever to see the FA Cup 4th round game v's Liverpool on Jan 24th 1999. A dream come through and could I have picked a better game to go to ? What a superb display of United-Scouse hatred. My euphoria of having visited Old Trafford though, and the treble success was short lived as for the second time in a year, Old Trafford's hierarcy sent me into depression & gave every United hater enough fuel for a forest fire. We pulled out of the FA Cup ! Seeing scores flash up on the screen for the third round without United brought it home to all of us, no FA cup for us this year. Wenger had his say, Tony Adams had his say, everybody had their say. We had no defence apart from that the FA had pushed us into a corner, but who would back us on that one ? The FA didn't and certainly the United haters had their day.
Champions again in 2000 but now the media & press were back with the old "Not good enough for Europe" line. The fact that we lost to the eventual winners, as we had done in 1997 had no relevance & seemed to overshadow our league win by a record 18 points. The fact that Real apart, we probably have the best record of any side in the Euro Champions League since it's inception is lost on the ears of those who hate United, hate the facts.
And so I ask myself where did it all go sour ? Why was it great to support United while we were winning nothing yet since 1993, I've almost had to cover my United shirt when I go out ? Have we contributed to the war others seem keen to wage upon us ? I have to say yes, and for 2 main reasons: The Sky takeover & The 2000 FA Cup withdrawal. None of us were for them but would the club listen to us, the simple supporters ? not a chance. Fantastically though, we, through the efforts of some tough, United crazy people, stopped the SKY takeover. Others did a million times the work I did, yet I'm proud of the faxes & e-mails I sent that formed the battering ram which broke the backbone of the deal. If only we could have done he same with the FA Cup, the fans would have finally got the status they deserve: The most important people at Old Trafford. I'm confident though, had these 2 United own goals not come about, the United haters would still have found ammunition to shoot us with.
Even at the start of this season our great club has problems. Loyal fans are finding it hard to get a seat or a season ticket for Old Trafford. The Club is trying to milk us dry with an endless stream of Manchester United PLC products. I swore I'd never buy another shirt until "Football Club" was returned to the club badge or to the jersey in some way. Not just United, but all football is changing. £37 million for a player ? I can remember when Peter Beardsley was the British record transfer for £1.1M in 1987. There are talks of super league forming, that the FA Cup is not what it was, that domestic leagues may become a thing of the past, that pay-per-view only is the future of live football, with United seemingly at the forefront of this drive.
And I think back to when I started supporting Manchester United Football club. Limited success, unable to see the games live, listening to the radio, unable to buy a United shirt, true fans not at Old Trafford. Are all those things starting to happen again ? I think they are (apart from the limited success) but they are happening for far different reasons to when I started supporting Manchester United Football club.
But how do I know I still love the club ? It is when on a saturday, United go 1-0 down and it's gut wrenching agony until the Red Devils draw level. It's also the joy at seeing/hearing the lads go a goal up. Those feelings can never be taken away from us.
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