Published: 04 Oct 2000
HAVE WE BECOME A BUNCH OF SPOILT BRATS?
I am writing this the day after United lost their second game of the season and already the panic buttons are being pressed and the doom and gloom merchants are out in force. Listening to all the moaning and whinging going on in the radio phone-ins, on the mailing lists and site forums and in the pubs of the North West, anyone would think we had not won since August like the Bitters down the road. The fact that the game at Highbury was the first time we've been beaten in the Premiership since February seems to have little bearing on those who are already glumly forecasting we'll win nothing this season (or ever again!), or indeed on those who would like us to sell virtually every player and start again. There are even those who are questioning the abilities of the great man himself.
To someone like myself, with rather more years under my belt than I care to remember, it can certainly seem as if the modern United fan, a set of fans with less to complain about on the pitch than any other group of fans in history, seems to do nothing but moan. And it's hard not to feel some sympathy with fans of other clubs when they say that we have been spoilt by our success. But is it true? Have we really become just a bunch of spoilt brats?
Certainly, the typical United fan has changed enormously since I first fell in love with the Babes and Manchester United. In those days the crowds were predominantly male, working class and local. The game was an escape from what to us these days would seem grim lives, working on the docks and in the factories of the North West. And it was cheap. Even if you didn't have much in your pocket, you usually had enough to get you into match on a Saturday afternoon. Apart from the few unforgettable years when the Busby Babes were setting Europe alight and the Holy Trinity were sending the Strettie into ecstasy, we didn't win an awful lot of silverware. Indeed, for 26 long years our cupboard was bare (of the one cup that counted anyway).
So if we weren't winning anything, and we were often watching the most dire football you could imagine, what kept us going week in, week out for all those barren years? I've hinted at one important factor already - it was cheap escapism. You could stand on the Strettie and sing your heart out and be part of something bigger than yourself. Because it was the whole experience of going to the game that was the drug. The match-day routine, meeting up with your mates, standing in the same place on the terraces, singing the songs, worshipping the legends and jeering at the useless, all part of the match day experience. That was what it was all about. To me it wasn't (and still isn't) just about the result of the game. Of course it's nice to win - I'm not a masochist, I'd rather be in the Nou Camp on a balmy evening in May than be losing away at some God-forsaken second division dump on a wet Saturday afternoon in the middle of January. But when it comes down to it, when it comes down to the fundamentals of what being a football supporter is all about, whether your team wins or loses doesn't really matter, because it's the experience and the supporting that counts - after all, what else would keep me going to watch Salford for over 45 years?
These days we get a different type of crowd in the ground. They (we) pay more and expect more. Football is no longer the escape from a harsh life it used to be. These days, those who need the escape most are those least likely to be found watching a live game. You have to have a decent job to be able to afford to go to Old Trafford in the new millenium. And, instead of the players being lads we can relate to - earning not much more than we do - they are now multi-millionnaires earning more in a week than most of us do in a year (or three!). Because we pay so much and they earn so much, we feel entitled to complain if they don't give us what we want. And what we want is more and more trophies.
United's wider fan base has also changed in many important ways. Now spread way beyond the confines of Old Trafford, United fans overseas out-number those in and around Manchester, and they certainly out-number those of us lucky enough to still be able to attend live games. The most important part of supporting your team, if your team happens to be Manchester United, is no longer going to the games. It's now just as likely to be travelling a hundred miles to the pub or supporters' club, or contributing to a mailing list or fans' forum or buying the latest kit at the new megastore. The regular match-going experience is no longer what being a supporter is about for thousands of people, that's become a dream, a once-in-a-lifetime experience. To the modern Manchester United supporter, it is all about winning, about trophies - after all, what else can it be about? Putting money into the pockets of the PLC in the latest megastore in the Far East? And can we really blame them for feeling this way? How can we match-going fans expect those who rarely, if ever, set foot in Manchester to have the same priorities as us?
And of course, there is the pessimist in all of us. The bit of us that still can't believe we have won all these trophies. That it won't all go wrong - probably in a very spectacular fashion in the near future! When we're winning everything in sight, it's easy to convince ourselves that it will go on forever. When we lose a couple - then we can see the chasm of another 26 years opening up in front of us and we panic. "Change the forward line", "get in a whole new bunch of defenders", "this keeper is crap" (despite being our saviour the week before). We've heard it all before. And where have we heard it all before?
Well, back on the terraces of course, in amongst the old fellas in their caps and their macs, whirling their rattles over their heads. Because the truth is that football fans have always moaned. There is nothing more likely to get a good moaning session going than a group of men at a football match. Moaning about the team selection, the manager, the result, the weather - it's all part of the enjoyment and escapism of a good afternoon out at the football. It was then - in football's golden age - just as it is today. The only difference is in the fact that these days you can't get away from it!
In the good old days, you left it behind when you left the ground (unless, of course, you were unlucky enough to live with one of them!). At the end of the game, if you'd lost, you felt miserable for a few hours and then you got on with your life until the next game came around and you could start afresh, with the highest of hopes. These days you can't get away from it. It screams out at you from the back pages of the papers, the mailing lists and internet forums. But the worst of all is the football phone-in, that most horrendous invention that gives the moaning football fan his 5 minutes of fame, over and over again! Because these phone-ins don't only happen on Saturday afternoons like they used to - these days you can find one 24 hours a day, seven days a week, if you surf the airways. And of course the presenters who run these so-called "programmes" love it. Because there is nothing that they, or their listeners, love more than hearing someone slag off United. Particularly if that someone is a United "fan".
So the answer to the question is no - I don't think we have become a bunch of spoilt brats. But what we have done is allowed those who should shut up and say nothing, the run of the airways. You know the type - they know more about tactics and team selection than The Wizard himself and don't hesitate to offer him, and the rest of us, the benefit of their advice. In the old days, it was only their immediate neighbours in Old Trafford they drove to distraction, these days, they have become the public face of the Manchester United fan and they are not doing the rest of us any favours. I will leave you with one fine specimen I heard after the Arsenal game yesterday. Calling himself a "fanatical United fan", he came on the air to complain about the "disgraceful performance at Highbury". His solution? We need 3 new strikers and a whole new back line if we are to win anything this season. In fact, in his opinion, we will never win anything again. Not unnaturally, the presenter assumed that he had been to the game. Oh no, he "hadn't been able to get a ticket". Had he watched it on Sky then? "No" again. Well just how had he followed the game? He had listened to the game on the radio! I rest my case!!
REDitorial by Salford Lass
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