We have seen in Part I how the term ‘Man U’, considered objectionable by many supporters today, was created entirely uncontroversially by newspapers at least sixty years ago, as an easy printed abbreviation for Manchester United. Used initially almost exclusively for fixtures, results and league tables, it only later became part of grassroots speech a little later. We can also state with some confidence that, contrary to mythology, the expression Man U was not popularised either by Pathe Newsreels in the Fifties or by television in the following decades. When it did finally take hold among football followers it was by word of mouth.
None of which explains why many United fans take such strong exception to the term, which some regard as the ultimate badge of ‘Glory Hunter’ inauthenticty. Given the routine and unapologetic use of ‘Man U’ outside the UK by people who may have followed the club from afar for decades it’s worth investigating this small but not insignificant verbal schism in a bit more detail.
Having got the chronology straight, let’s now look at one of the reasons most frequently cited for why true Reds should have nothing to do with ‘Man U’, centred round a song mocking the death of one of United’s greatest heroes.
Duncan Edwards, WBA fans and ‘Manure’
The fact that United’s teenage England international Phil Jones has been likened by good judges of the game to the great Duncan Edwards, who died over half a century ago in Munich at the age of 21, probably tells us more about the latter than the former. Sir Bobby Charlton has said that ‘Big Dunc’ was the best player he’s ever seen, the only one who ‘made me feel inferior’, thus endorsing Edwards’ status as one of the ‘all-time greats’. He’s always had a very special place in my heart too, even though I never saw him play. After the air crash on 6 February 1958 he was grievously injured but through sheer strength of will somehow lived on for a couple of weeks before finally expiring. As an eleven-year-old I became obsessed with his condition throughout that period, checking the papers as soon as they arrived through the letter box at home, sometimes with better news, sometimes worse. I was deeply affected by his death, as remembered to this day by my closest school friend at the time.
To me Duncan in death embodied all the qualities one might want in any near-mythical sporting hero. He was the master of every footballing skill, including pin-point long and short passing with either foot, tackling with awesome power and precision, a towering header of the ball and finally, the possessor of cannonball shooting power, earning him the nickname of ‘Boom Boom’ Edwards in West Germany after he bulged their net from way out for England. But his appeal to me went beyond any of that. It was his widely acknowledged sportsmanship and generosity of spirit that attracted me, together with his modest, down-to-earth demeanour. His team-mates always looked to him as an inspirational match-winner and he became England’s youngest-ever debutant aged 18, and helped his fellow Busby Babes to successive league titles in ’56 and ’57. None of this went to his head and he seems never to have lost his innocent, bounding, almost child-like enthusiasm for the game, whilst displaying the deep-chested, mighty-thighed strength of an adult. In a way that is rare in such a macho culture, people like Sir Bobby who knew him well openly speak of having loved the man.
That’s why it is so shocking that supporters of West Bromwich Albion came up with a terrace chant not long after Munich, playing – with massive lack of subtlety- on the term Man U, mocking the memory of a kid who’d grown up just round the corner in the West Midlands, in nearby Dudley:
‘Duncan Edwards is Manure, rotting in his grave,
Man You are Manure, rotting in your grave
Man U, Man U never intended coming home…’
It should be noted that the first letters of the words in the last line add up to ‘Munich’, clearly intended to add to the taunting nature of the insult, albeit somewhat desperately…
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