Published: 20 SEPT 2005
For most of my life, Manchester United has been a passion that has never waned. No matter what has been going on in the rest of my life, I've been able to lose myself at the game. For that 90 minutes (and for the hours I shared with other fans before and after games) nothing else mattered but the atmosphere, the banter, the team, the club, the feeling of fresh Manchester air on my face. And football was always the passion that had nothing to do with money or background. No matter how poor you were, you could always manage to get enough together to go the game with your mates.
Then in the early 90's what seemed the most permanent thing in my life began to change. Many of the changes were wonderful - Le Dieu arrived and we began to have the success that culminated in the best night of my life in May '99. But at the same time, changes were afoot that were not so positive. Football clubs were becoming businesses, prices began to rise, players grew further and further away from the ordinary supporters, fans who had been going to Old Trafford for years began to be priced out. After '99 I began to feel more and more distant from the Club I had loved all my life. After years of going home and away I was one of those being gradually priced out. This season it has come to a head and for the first time in many years I am not going to away games and I am having to contemplate missing home games at Old Trafford. Next season, I will probably have to sell my season ticket for the whole season.
But it's not just the money. It feels to me that "my" Manchester United, the club I have loved all my life, is no more. Fans like me have been increasingly sidelined over the years. All the things we love - the chanting, the banter, the humour, the passion -have disappeared from Old Trafford. United fans today are a different breed. They have money, lots of it, which they spend in the Megastore. They seem to want all the things that I hate. They want a theatre, not a football ground - they even have girls walking around the perimeter at half-time selling ice cream now! They want celebrities not football players! For some years we were able to live with all this, loving the team and the shirt, but not having to buy into the rest of it. But in the last couple of years that has all changed. As the team of the late 90's begins to break up, the players have begun to be as distant from us as the board and Glazer. Apart from a few notable exceptions, the players no longer seem to care about the fans. They live in a world so far removed from the real world (millionaires at 18/19!!) that they have no understanding of the reality of supporting a Premiership club today. Most of the time they can't even be bothered coming over to thank the fans for supporting them - Gary Neville is the only player who still comes over to applaud the fans at the end of every game. When fans booed Rio recently I understood why they did it. I wouldn't have done it - I have never booed a United player in my life - but I understood it and I sympathized.
And it's much too simplistic to blame it all on Glazer. It was happening long before he came along. For years now, there has been an inexorable movement towards this summer, towards a situation which would eventually attract someone like Glazer, who would plunge the Club into the sort of debt that could eventually destroy it.
This summer has been one of the saddest times of my life. I feel I have witnessed the final nails in the coffin of "my" Manchester United. I'm sure that the Club will continue, even if Glazer does his worst, but "my" Manchester United is no more and can never return. I have managed (thanks to the son-and-heir) to renew my season ticket but, if I am honest, attending home games has not been a pleasure. My addiction keeps me going to OT but at the same time I look around at the crowd and at the players on the pitch and I feel nothing but sadness. I chant and sing, I jump up and down when we score, I argue about Fergie's selections as I've always done, but my heart isn't in it.
Others (including many pals who I have known for years) have made different decisions and have been following FC United. I have to admit that over the summer, whilst the new club was being set up, I was very sceptical about FC United. I had no animosity towards the new club, in fact I wished them well, but I simply couldn't see what it had to do with me. Despite my misgivings about the situation at Old Trafford and about Premiership football in general, I renewed my season ticket and decided that when I get priced out - most likely next season - I will walk away for good and perhaps support my local non-league club. I couldn't see any reason to support a club that plays in Bury and with which I have no emotional ties, and I couldn't see how anything could possibly replace the buzz I used to get from supporting United.
One of my friends, however, who shall remain nameless - she knows who she is! - has been mithering me to see for myself what FC United is all about. She even offered to treat me to the day out. So on Saturday morning I finally gave in and arrived in Manchester to meet up with other FC United supporters in a city center bar. After traveling en-masse on the tram to Radcliffe, where the game against Castleton Gabriels was being played, and into a local pub for a pre-match drink and sing-song, we headed off to the ground and Radcliffe Borough's club house. No segregation, just lots of good natured chanting, banter and drinking and, in the middle of it all, taking good natured flack from the fans and joining in the singing, were 3 of the injured players who weren't in the team that day! What was this about? Football players mixing with the fans? And genuinely enjoying themselves? This was certainly different to supporting the modern Manchester United! Another pleasure was meeting up with so many people that I knew but hadn't seen for ages.
Eventually we dragged ourselves away and headed off to the area behind the goal where my friend insisted we stood on the "left side" - yes, they have a right and a left side! And along with us came the players who had been in the bar. They spent the game on the terracing, with the fans, singing and chanting along with the rest of us. I'm not going to comment on the football because I don't know enough about either the players or the standard of football at this level, but suffice to say that it was far better than I expected but without any of the histrionics that accompanies the modern Premiership game. The atmosphere was excellent with lots of humour and banter - particularly between those of us behind the goal and the fans standing under the "bus stop" (just in case it rained a bit!) FC United won 3-0 and I had had a very enjoyable afternoon. It still didn't explain why this new club had become such a passion with it's fans so quickly, but then we all headed back to the pub, where I got my first taste of what supporting FC United really is about and where that passion comes from.
The buzz in the pub was excellent but then it went up several notches when all the players, the coaches, the kitman and the manager turned up! The next 2 hours were incredible and impossible to adequately describe to anyone who wasn't there. Just take a memory of the away end at one of the best away games you've ever been to, add all the staff and players to that mix after making sure that they all have a Gary Neville-style love of, and commitment to the club, stick a drink in their hands and sing your hearts out. And the players don't just sing along with the fans - they lead the singing, they chant about each other, they request their own songs over and over again. And that goes a little way towards describing a buzz which is still with me today. I made a hundred new mates yesterday and came home hoarse and exhausted but with the biggest smile on my face I've had for ages. And when I asked whether this was a special day, I was told no - it happens like this every week!!
So where does this leave me now? Well it certainly leaves me wanting more! And it leaves me more positive about football than I have been for a long, long time. And it wasn't just the session in the pub, the whole experience was a refreshing change from the modern Premiership experience. The crowd was a wonderful mix of men, women and children of all ages, all getting behind the team. There was no aggro and no heavy policing or stewarding. There were lots of colours but no jester hats! There was no anti-United chanting and a respect towards the opposition that I didn't expect (the FC United fans clapped the Castleton players off the pitch at the end of the game and chanted Castleton at them). There was no sign of the arrogance that can make some United fans embarrassing to be around. And all this at 3pm on a Saturday, for the princely sum of £6!
The formation of FC United has polarised opinions in the last few months with misconceptions on both sides. The biggest misconception of all seems to me to be that you have to choose to support one or the other. That you can't support FC United and still love Manchester United. Well I won't be giving up on Old Trafford willingly - I've loved Manchester United all my life and that won't change - I'll love United until I breathe my last and I'll carry on going to OT as long as I can scrape the money together to do so. But I found something yesterday that I thought was lost forever and I'm so excited about that that I feel like a massive black shadow has lifted and I can't wait for the next time!
FC United are having a United
United day on 8th October when all Manchester United fans are being invited
to come along to their home game at Gigg Lane. It's an international weekend,
so no-one has to miss a game at Old Trafford. I'm going, if you want to
know what it's all about - come along
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