Many of us do columns, reactionary and opinionated and they make a good read but for this particular attempt I wanted a change and a challenge. For most of us it is not as simple as a choice of football team to follow, it is something much more than that passed on from someone else. I started thinking of the time when I first became aware of Manchester United, when I was first included on the match day rota at Old Trafford and the game that started it all, West Ham United, November 1991. My own journey following Manchester United is only part of the story; my first scene in this movie comes about half way through. The first one bitten in our family was my Dad, the reason I go to Old Trafford now is because of my Dad and the best match day company I can have is, you guessed it, my Dad. So for this article I thought it only fair to speak to the man who started all this madness off and figure out between us where Manchester United has been going in the years he and I have watched them.
“Will it be red or will it be blue? Here’s what he said to me…”
“My earliest recollection is of my family buying me a football kit – red shirt and white shorts, not exactly a replica in though days but it was basic white ringed neck long sleeves. My brother got a similar shirt but was blue – nearer Everton than any thing else.” So it looks like we had a narrow escape, if he had opened the other present, I may have been taken to Goodison Park to support Everton. Thankfully though, there was no need to report my Dad for child cruelty, football loyalties were based on geography. “My grandfather used to live near Main road and I remember him teasing me about Manchester United not being a patch on City. My other grandparents were on the Salford side. In those days it was where you lived which affected who you supported.”
Strictly speaking by the time he was going to football matches, my Dad had moved to Bury so that was his local team, but, as he says, the passion was missing from those games for him. “I started to go and see Bury in 1973 but I always thought of this as watching a football match as apposed to supporting a team” He did manage to find one good reason to go to Gigg Lane, however; the presence on that pitch, of one true genius. “Around that time George Best would sometimes be dropped and have to play in the reserves. That was the only way he would have a chance of getting back in the first team the next week. United’s reserves played at Gigg Lane and there was a lot of support to watch him even in the reserves! He was so special, it was like watching Pele play football with school boys!”
“United Road, take me home, , to the place I belong…”
Manchester United inspires very vivid memories for anyone lucky enough to be anywhere near it when there is a football match on. For my Dad it was no different. “I remember walking up Warwick road singing load and clear – I was overawed by the excitement. We would go up into the Stretford end, climb up the big steps al the way up then once at the top more people came and we would end up half way down.”
“It was very loud. If I was lucky I’d see some of the game but the atmosphere was awesome.” Old Trafford is now all seater, and this has taken something from the atmosphere. You may be able to stay in one place and you don’t fear for your life as much as you used to but he believes something is missing. “All seater has taken the volume down and people actual watch the game – in my day if I saw the pitch I was lucky!”
For all the ‘in my day’ stories my Dad has, something’s never change and ‘friendly banter’ between the two sets of fans has been there all along. For the coach trip back to Bury he would relive the match and could be counted on to wind up the away fans as they left the ground, all very funny, until one set of fans got in their car and followed his coach: Once we got on the coach and got to the back we saw some opposing fans and made gestures to them but they were in a car and followed us!
No tales of post match trips to casualty though, as he explains: “Luckily we dropped off at various points and Bury was always last, by the time we left a few stops they had got fed up and continued their journey – a lucky escape at 14 years old!”
Law and Order
For all the tales of being squashed into the Stretford end and barely seeing the action, my Dad recalls all too clearly the events of ‘that’ afternoon when City came to Old Trafford with one Denis Law in their line up, “our lowest point”, he says. “Denis Law playing in blue didn’t look right but the crowd was behind the team all the time, even though the game wasn’t that exiting”. Then came the moment that would be replayed many times, as Denis Law sent his old team into the second division. He remembers it all, unfortunately: “the ball went across the box and who was there, Denis – he back healed it into the net and there seamed silence in the Streford End – Unusual. And for one moment I could see the pitch, Denis with his head down , a few minutes later Denis walked off he looked like we all felt. The second division beckoned.” As it happened, ‘that goal’ didn’t in fact relagate us as we would have been down anyway, no comfort for the Lawman or United fans, I’m sure.
Tommy Doc – As Big As Sir Matt (at least he could have been…)
For all the heartache of the second division, memories are mostly of a good team playing good football in front of very good crowds: “In the Second division we had a bigger following than any side -first division or second. We were taking more to an away game than the home team had!” Despite all that has been said since about our manager at that time, this United fan has nothing but praise to see for the infamous Thomas Henderson Docherty, “Tommy Docherty was the Man, we all loved him – his style of play grit and determination”. Looking back, he continues. “If only the board could have put up with his indiscretion or he had chosen love of United over another, he could have been bigger than any, even as big as Sir Matt!”
Man United and Boy
1991, West Ham United at Old Trafford. Here begins the next generation of our family support of Manchester United, and for both of us it was a special day but for different reasons. I remember the day very clearly, I remember driving to Old Trafford and the stadium being so big, watching the players warming up – although it was the away players because United always warm up at the Strettford End, of course. West Ham’s team included Frank McAvennie, Ludek Michlosko, Tim Breaker, and Man United’s had Peter Schmiechel, Paul Parker, Denis Irwin, Steve Bruce, Gary Pallister, Lee Sharpe, Andrei Kanchelskis, Bryan Robson, Mark Hughes. That first game meant a lot to the other Moult amongst us too – “I couldn’t wait for the first Saturday match I was taking my son to – memories of all though years ago watching them came flooding back – very played some exiting football”
As I live and breathe I cannot for the life of me remember anything about the game itself only that it finished 1:1. It’s the little things I still remember, the songs they played, the announcements Keith Fane made on the microphone and the characteristic smells of the approach to Warwick Road North, as it was then. That cross between pie smell and burger, a mish mash of takeaway vans and things that you can still smell to this day when you go. Everyone has sense memories and this is one of mine. The days of ‘wonderfuel’ signs on the Stretford End roof are gone and the stadium has changed a lot but it’s obvious from talking to my Dad about all this that we still take the same things from match day that we always did, right back to when he first walked up Warwick Road.
The Match Day ticket that got away
I remember being on an adventure holiday in the days leading up to the final game of the season in 1993 when we won the first Premier League title. Because I was on the match day rota, Blackburn Rovers at home was on my list. In the end though, I never got the chance to go to the game because I got ill while I was away and had to cancel my attendance. I was gutted. I remember a lot more of the games from years ago than I do now, for instance I can tell you when I was there during the 1992-93 season. I watched Eric Cantona’s goal and salute against Sheffield United, Gary Walsh’s top class save against Matthew LeTissier. I applauded Henning Berg on to the pitch for his debut against Southampton, I was there when Paulo ‘Bambi on ice’ Wanchope ambled through our defence and scored on his debut for Derby County. Unfortunately I remember when we finally lost our undefeated home record in Europe.
Will you start the fans, please?
Both of us remember getting things thrown at us as we sat in the car park waiting to leave after the Everton game from last season. I remember thinking that it was all going to kick off and I’d be on the news or something, no such luck for me although as my Dad got out of the car to politely advise the scouser that throwing full cans of beer at our car was not a good idea, I do remember that he was the one that was warned by the policeman to get back in his car!
I also remember one or two really special United performances in Europe. Against Dortmund. I remember it because the German fans threw down beer mats and it always made me laugh (it still does) when they started singing these chants in German that we’d probably get really offended by if we knew what they were on about. I especially remember Real Madrid in what turned out to be David Beckham’s last European game for us. He was on the bench and there was definitely something in the air that maybe the rumours were true and he was on his way to Madrid. I thought that maybe Fergie had kept him on the bench to avoid a conflict of interests. He did get on the pitch and I was bedazzled as I watched Ronaldo (the fat one) score goal after goal, quality goals too. One on one with our keeper, curling the ball into the net so neatly that the ball didn’t even bash the netting, I still remember the ‘whoosh’ sound it made as it curled perfectly. It was a really great game and Becks’ did score but anyone watching that night probably felt the same way I did – he was not long for the red shirt.
Together we have been to some classic matches, the match day rota has been kind. Thumping Arsenal was an unexpected treat, playing them off the pitch and then watching as Teddy Sheringham warmed up in front of the Arsenal fans and responded to their taunts by standing there and counting the three trophies he had won with us, United fans in that corner loved it. Arsenal fans did not! Sometimes on the rota we get a game that looks boring on paper, yet when you turn up you end up winning 9-0 (Ipswich). “Thumping Ipswich was great” says my Dad. “In the nineties when teams came to Old Trafford and put ten men in defence to try and get a draw, Sheffield Utd did that on a couple of occasions and Fergie said afterwards that’s what you have to expect when team are frightened of you they know we can score but that point is worth more than entertaining your fans.”
He continues by remembering Fergie’s after match comments when Leeds United, struggling in the depths of the league, came to Old Trafford and played like Brazil:
“I remember Leeds coming and they had had a bad season – Howard Wilkinson was going to get the chop but the came to United and played like they were the home side, Fergie said afterwards that the players want to look at themselves and do that every week not just against united- If they played like that every week that would save the manager.”
There Is A Light That Never Goes Out.
Now things have definitely changed, the stadium, the team, the money, the ownership. Up until I wrote this article I would have gladly sat you down and talked to you about how not all things have improved. My Dad agrees: “Not the traffic that’s for sure, and not the atmosphere on most occasions. The roar of the crowd when we scored felt like I had seen everything.”
In looking back to see where this United story began for us I have been reminded that really none of those things matter. The history of Manchester United affects many people, whether they live next door to the legends café up the road from Old Trafford, in Bury, in Liverpool or even further away, it goes beyond simple support for so many people and reading this now I am sure everyone everywhere has their own memories about how and when they were introduced into the world of Manchester United. It’s not about the players, it’s not about the successes. Don’t get me wrong, the best and the most in each of those cases makes a big difference but if you are reading this now you will, I hope, agree with me that we would watch Manchester United in the lower leagues if we had to, some of us already have. It is not about jumping on the bandwagon, it’s inside you and there is nothing you can do about it.
The final word goes to my Dad. “The thing I like most is being able to do something with my son that we both enjoy and have a passion for.” The real heart of the matter, and the point of this story is that although it relates personally to me, it translates to every single person reading this now – “…win lose or draw United is in our blood and we have that no matter what, who owns the club this is still United”.
Written by Rollin Red for RepublikOfMancunia.org