The Times columnist and Spiked magazine editor, Mick Hume, has taken some time out of his busy schedule to speak to RoM.
Scott the Red: How long have you been following United?
Mick Hume: My whole life – since I was seven anyway, in 1967. I am the stereotypical Surrey Red, from the suburbs where there was no professional football. So we all supported the local clubs – Woking, Walton and Hersham – in the FA Cup etc, but when it came to proper football we had to look up. When I saw Best, Law and Charlton, I was a Red for life.
STR: How often do you get to Old Trafford?
MH: About half the league games if I’m lucky these days, same seat in the North Stand since 1993 (apart from the year when they knocked it down). When you’re a family man the trek up from London becomes a bit harder, so I have to combine a match with a visit to my in-laws in Eccles. My season ticket has always been used, though.
STR: Favourite ever United game?
MH: I was at Selhurst Park in ‘93, the night United beat Palace and Villa lost and we knew we were going to win the league for the first time in 26 yards. You had to have lived through the playground humiliation of those dark ages – I wore a black armband to school when we were relegated in 1974 – to appreciate how much it meant. I remember me and my younger brother were doing our pieces in the Arthur Waite stand among the Palace season ticket holders, while an elderly couple eating cheese and pickle sandwiches behind kept tugging at my coat and saying “will you PLEASE sit down young man?” I was in the same stand at Selhurst Park the night Eric karate-kicked that pillock, which was equally memorable.
STR: What’s your favourite United story or anecdote?
MH: Too many to mention. But I always laugh when I recall hearing Paddy Crerand on the radio in ’95, defending Eric after the karate-kick affair. When the thousandth plastic Red came on to complain that Cantona had shamed the club, was a bad role model etc, the exasperated Paddy finally lost it and just told him: “Listen son, in the end, you’re either Red or you’re not!” A legend for all occasions. And I liked the story Ferguson told recently, about how when players go off for a piss at the side of the pitch during training, Scholes will kick a ball 40 years and hit them in mid-flow. Says it all about Scholesy’s skill and attitude really – it’s not that he can’t tackle, it’s that he’s a Salford ginger-nut who enjoys a bit of aggro.
STR: What is the best example of ABUism you’ve come up against in the press?
MH: In my experience most of it is quite subtle, for example a lot of people in the media have always over-praised Wenger and Arsenal mostly as a backhanded way of doing down Ferguson and United. I will always remember Steven Howard of the Sun writing just before the end of the 1999 season that United might end up with more silverware that year but “most of the glory belongs to Arsenal”. A bit more than a week later the “inglorious” United had won the treble.
Personally I appreciate the more honest ABU attitudes. The football editor at The Times is a proper card-carrying Scouser and a top bloke, a veteran of Heysel and Hillsborough who knows almost as much about football as he does about Belgian beer, which is saying something. At the Times sport Christmas do in 2006, all the journos were telling me that they hoped United would win the league that year and break the hold of Jose Mourhino’s boring Chelsea machine. He was the only one who disagreed, explaining to his bemused colleagues that “Chelsea are just a ship passing in the night – but United are the evil empire”. I liked that, because I would feel the same way about them. But he is also professional enough to keep his prejudices out of his work as a journalist – which I’m not.
STR: What do you make of Ferguson’s repeated referee complaints?
MH: As match-watching Reds we can all see it is a diversionary tactic and a displacement activity to avoid talking about how he has cocked up his team selection and/or tactics (again). But that’s our business. So far as the outside world is concerned I think we should give the manager unconditional support, especially when he’s up against the football authorities. These “celebrity” referees get far too much respect these days. They are vain, jumped-up little Hitlers whom nobody would miss if they disappeared down a hole in the middle of the pitch and were replaced by the bloke from the local park. After Fergie slated Wiley, the referees’ spokesman was on TV complaining that if this went unpunished, fans would soon be shouting “You’re not fit to ref-er-ee”, Oh, the horror! Maybe they’d prefer it if we went back to the days when crowds shouted “Your old lady is a whore” and “Who’s the bastard in the black?” at them? I know I would.
STR: Is it time for video refereeing?
MH: No. How could we get shot of all our anger and outrage by swearing at a video camera?
STR: Do you think the Chelsea result will have an effect on who wins the title?
MH: It doesn’t help matters, does it? I think the games so far this season suggest three things: United might not be all that good, but none of the “Big Four” are as big or as clever as they think they are and the Premier League is basically crap. That is why these bottom-feeder clubs can beat the supposed stars, because the league has been levelled down. Chelsea must be warm favourites now, but they are no world-beaters and we’ll see how all of their “experience” – ie, average age over 30 – stands up in the winter mud. At least we can comfort ourselves with the thought that the Scousers definitely won’t win it, 20 years and counting…
STR: What is our strongest line-up this season?
MH: I might be the only one who still thinks Ben Foster should be in goal, but he’s the future and Edwin VDS is the (admittedly glorious) past. Rio Ferdinand seems to be returning to the standards that had me dub him the world’s only forgetful elephant after that drugs test debacle, so Brown should get a run. But the main problem is I haven’t a clue as to our best midfield. Fergie has too many players there, and too many of them are mediocre. The fact that Giggs and Scholes are still our best midfielders says it all. In any case, I would always like to see United play two up front – Rooney plus one – whether it is at home to Blackburn or away to Chelsea or Barcelona.
STR: Berbatov – genius?
MH: Yes. And no.
STR: Which younger player are you most impressed with so far?
MH: I like the twins at full-back, especially as it now seems they can fool referees into booking the other one an so never get sent-off. If they learn to defend they could be the business. Apart from them I would like to Macheda get on the pitch for more than five minutes so we can see that he is more than a one-goal wonder.
STR: Who is our most important player?
MH: No question at all, Wayne Rooney by a street, and I would have said that even before Ronaldo left. Rooney is the one that makes everything happen. He is the best English footballer I have seen in 40 years, and already one of my three all-time favourite United players along with Best and Cantona – not bad for a Scouse scally.
STR: Which rival player do you hate the most and why?
MH: There are the obvious suspects such as the high-pitched whinger Gerrard and his mate Carra. But I have always had a sneaking detestation for Thierry Henry. A fine player no doubt, but one who somehow embodies all that I dislike about the sanitised image of the New Football. That is why he is the darling of the Guardian-reading Hampstead set who go on about the “beautiful game” but hate the “ugly” working class people who watch and play it. It was a tribute to the tolerance of English football fans that, when the self-righteous Henry threatened to walk off the pitch if he heard a racist whisper, away crowds did not all start greeting him with monkey noises.
STR: What was your opinion of Ronaldo in his last season?
MH: He behaved like a bit of an old tart, but one who still had a lovely pair of legs. I had no problem with him leaving really. It seemed clear from the day he arrived that Ronaldo was always going to end up at Real Madrid, it was only a matter of when and for how much. Eighty million quid after six seasons, three league titles, one European Cup and all the rest seemed a perfectly reasonable way to say goodbye. Hope we get them in the Champions’ League mind, Rooney still owes him one.
STR: Who’s a good shout for replacing Ferguson?
MH: The biggest question of all for the future of United (apart perhaps from “Will the club go bankrupt before the Glazers get out?”) I used to think Martin O’Neill could found a new Ferguson-style dynasty. Capello would be a good short-term bet if he is still around, he has already shown United how to use Rooney. I don’t really fancy any of the ex-players just now – and that includes Darren F, whom Sir Alex would no doubt love to inherit the crown. But I have completely flip-flopped in my attitude to Fergie. In 2005 I was sure he was finished and should be forcibly retired. Now I think he should stay as United manager forever, and they should invest in the drugs, robotics, cryogenics or whatever else is necessary to keep him going for another 23 years.
Mick also writes for Red Issue fanzine in his ‘View from the Smoke’ column.