In October 1978 the Irish punk rock band The Undertones released their classic debut single Teenage Kicks. In two minutes and twenty seven seconds of pure genius songwriter John O’Neil captured the intensity, joy and pain of teenage passion. The song’s anonymous hero blurts out his feelings for a girl he sees regularly around his neighbourhood. We’ve all been there. But it doesn’t have to be a boy or a girl. When I hit the teenage years in 1968 girls had to wait; my one true love were the European Champions – Manchester United.
My Dad had taken me to watch the Youth Cup matches at Old Trafford in 1963-64 when I was 9 and the thrills watching young Best, Sadler, Aston, Anderson, Rimmer, Noble etc. lift the trophy hooked me for life. The following season, my dad felt I was old enough to stand on the terraces and watch the first team with him. From September ’64 we took our place on the old Scoreboard End and enjoyed the brilliance of Matt Busby’s last great team. We saw stirring league battles, epic cup ties and captivating European encounters speckled with magic dust from Best, Law, Charlton, Herd, Stiles, Crerand et al as United reached the pinnacle of club football.
I loved those times with my Dad and still treasure them now, 50 years later. But a strong desire was stirring in the heart of Pete Molyneux as he turned 14 – the lure of independence. The heartbeat of the ground was the Stretford End – a swaying mass of Red humanity that housed United’s most loyal, patriotic, vociferous, foul-mouthed and sometimes troublesome followers. In the days before all-seater stadia, it was the main standing area of the ground, accommodating 20,000 fans under one roof. I desperately wanted to be part of it and not just because of its reputation. All my schoolmates and lads from the neighbourhood stood on the Stretford End. Before, during and after the match we chatted about football – the previous match, today’s game and next week’s fixture. We were obsessed. But the chat covered all things teenage – fashion, girls, music, everything. Most importantly we did it away from the protective but often suffocating glare of our parents. I didn’t want or need my dad by my side at the game just like I didn’t want him to come with me to scour the record shops in Manchester or accompany me to the cinema to see a film. I wanted to go with my mates. For 12 months I battled daily with my dad to let me stand on the Stretford End with my mates, eventually he conceded. It was a right of passage and father and son were better for it.
Our grounds today come in for a lot of criticism, especially from my generation. The sanitisation of all seater stands where any form of animated passion for your team brings grief from Steward with Superpowers. The plastic fans, the day trippers, the half/half scarf half wits all blight our wonderful game. Yet I believe we might be slowly turning the tide. Maybe the pendulum has swung too far one way and some miscalculations can be put to right for the genuine supporter. The ‘singing sections’ – despite the clumsy title – are a start. A fresh look at safe standing with 21st century technology is another. Time, perhaps, to address the issue of succession planning on the terraces. The ‘family stand’ is fine for adults with young children but our match-going teenagers have little option but to settle for sitting with dad, mum or an older carer. It’s better than not being there at all but it’s not like being with your friends, with fans of a similar age, similar interests, similar passions. Twenty years have passed since we last had areas where teenage could choose to populate. That’s a generation that have missed the opportunity to sample what fans enjoyed in the first 85 years of Old Trafford. That can’t be right.
Never have Manchester United listened to their fans like they do today. The change in attitude has been refreshing and welcome. I applaud it. I strongly implore the club representatives to consider assigning part of our fine ground to housing teenagers at prices that they can afford. The size of the area can be varied dependent upon advance demand. Work needs to be carried out to decide what ages are eligible, admission fees and where within the stadium. But let’s agree now to look at it.
We need to support our teenage fanbase and most will repay that support in kind for the rest of their lives.
If you want to help bring in a section for teenagers at Old Trafford, take 2 seconds to sign the petition and spread the word.