Following United’s boring 1-0 win over Birmingham last week, Sir Alex Ferguson laid in to the fans. “The atmosphere inside the ground wasn’t very good,” Ferguson said. “The crowd was dead. It’s the quietest I’ve heard them here. It was like a funeral, it was so quiet. We needed the crowd today. It’s all right saying the players will make the fans respond, but in some situations, like today, we need them to get behind us. We’ve played game after game in this period and in these moments we need a lift.”
Cue “Prawn Sandwich” headlines and criticism of United fans. What the atmosphere was actually like that day was irrelevant because if Ferguson is going to make a stand against his own fans, then it must be true. The Stretford End sang all game against Birmingham. It wasn’t loud enough and the rest of the ground didn’t join in, but it would have to be a pretty twisted funeral to sound the way the ground did that day. There was a mediocre atmosphere to match the mediocre football the fans had paid £35 to watch on a New Years Day hangover. Should Manchester United need a rousing atmosphere to secure more than 1-0 win at home against relegation candidates?
What Ferguson failed to mention when sticking it to the fans is that we had turned up in droves to Upton Park just a few days before, singing from start to finish. Paying over £40 a ticket, travelling to London and back four days after Christmas, supporting the team for ninety minutes, and for what? To see our team put on a gutless display, conceding two goals from set pieces, and go home with nothing. Now, don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying fans should necessarily begrudge days like that. It’s part of football. Sometimes your team do the business, sometimes they don’t. It’s frustrating to see your team put on a display like ours did against West Ham, but what can you do? The great atmosphere our fans provided that day did nothing to ‘lift’ the players, but it was still given out happily.
United fans could possibly then be forgiven for expecting some kind of reaction when playing Birmingham a few days later. That doesn’t excuse fans sitting there not singing, but is one explanation. If Ferguson can’t motivate the players to try and score, then it’s a bit rich to expect us to. In difficult games against tough opposition, in important matches when we’re playing like rubbish, then fair play, get behind your team and sing your heart out. Should United need that kind of motivation to see off Birmingham? And don’t get me started on the hypocrisy that comes with criticising the support at Old Trafford whilst publicly backing the Glazers.
However, following our fans impressive display at Villa Park and our players’ less than impressive performance, Ferguson had this to say of the fans. “They were absolutely fantastic. Every time we come to Villa Park whether it be for an FA semi-final or a league match they’re always really up for it and that makes a difference to the team. I made that point last week [after the Birmingham game]. And when our fans are like they were today we don’t let them down.” Now that’s not entirely true is it, Fergie? Again, I refer you to West Ham eight days ago.
Regardless, as the chant goes, which was sung loud and proud yesterday, “every single one of us loves Alex Ferguson”, which is entirely true, even if every single one of us doesn’t always agree with him!