Following United’s game against Chelsea at Stamford Bridge last season, a match report appeared in the London Evening Standard. The opening paragraphs did not mention the score or the man of the match or anything to do with the tactics, instead they focussed on our fans’ most popular chant at the time.
What’s the most obnoxious chant in football? It’s a crowded field, you’ll agree, and there are plenty unfit to print even in a racy column such as this. But for what it matters, my money’s on the one Manchester United fans have going. It goes: ‘we’ll do what we want, we’ll do what we want – we’re Man United, we’ll do what we want.’ Shameless cheek. Bratty ner-ner. Hubris by the pound. An arrogant implication that the club are above sanction or reproach.
I was delighted when I read that because I thoroughly enjoy seeing how much our club gets under the skin of others. It was brilliant to see a journalist so full of bitterness that a song sung by a few thousand travelling reds got him worked up enough to allow it to dominate his match report.
He’s not alone though. This country is obsessed with Manchester United to the point where people actually feel the need to claim they are an “ABU”, or, “anything but United”. Fancy being from Darlington or Ealing or Kidderminster, having absolutely nothing to do with United, but supporting anything or anyone that attacks or beats us. What kind of existence is that? Still, ABUs exist everywhere and they have a strong voice in the national press.
“The most important thing about Wednesday night’s game is how well we played. But you have lost that in the mist of your venom,” Ferguson said addressing the press two years ago, following our exit from the Champions League after a 3-2 victory over Bayern Munich. “Someone told me the other day that when the press came back from the Rome final they were all delighted. They were on the press bus and pleased that we lost. It is disappointing when there is a British team in a European final and even one member of the British press wants us to lose. Someone on the bus told me he was absolutely disgusted at the behaviour of the British press at the European Cup final and he had no reason to lie to me.”
We are the main story, we are the country’s biggest and most successful club, we have provided England with some of its best ever and most capped players, yet from the journalist to the postman, the accountant to the plumber, United are despised by Englishmen.
There are plenty of reasons why our club is hated and this can be broken down in to several categories. There is the hatred we court and bring on ourselves, the hatred that is inspired by jealousy, the hatred due to out of town support and finally, the hatred based on myth.
The most enjoyable of these is arguably the negative feelings we can inspire in rival fans, like the chant that got the poor journo at the Evening Standard so upset. When we’ve had national hate figures at our club, like David Beckham and Cristiano Ronaldo, we loved supporting them. As the boos rang around opposition stadiums, we’d cheer their every touch, chant their name and in the case of Ronaldo, hit back, singing he “made England look shite”. I loved Becks blowing kisses to the rabid Stamford Bridge crowd as he went to take a corner and it was great watching Ronaldo hold his finger up to the baying mob at Villa Park showing them who was number one.
The most obvious reason to hate United though, as much as other people would argue it was our arrogance, is the jealousy they feel. Going back over the past twenty years or so, United have won more league titles and European Cups than all of the other English clubs put together. Of course you’re going to hate the team at the top, let alone the team at the top as often as United are. It doesn’t seem to matter what happens, whether we sell our best player or get bought by corrupt owners who take us in to a ridiculous amount of debt, we’re always there or there abouts and that’s annoying. The “not arrogant, just better” banner is wrong though. We are arrogant, but we are arrogant because we are better.
Then there are the fans of no mark teams who endure disappointment after disappointment who have their noses rubbed in it by people who shunned their local team to bask in Manchester’s glory. As if seeing United dominate English football wasn’t bad enough without having to put up with all the ribbing that comes from people who never watch United play in the ground but parade around in their brand new replica shirts. It’s certainly a lot easier to support Manchester United than it is Southend United, Burton Albion or Macclesfield Town, so you can understand why our out of town support would grate on people.
As a result of this hatred, we get England fans singing “stand up if you hate Man U” when there are several United players on the pitch at Wembley. We get the nonsense about us being too up ourselves to play in the FA Cup, when in actual fact we got fucked over by former Sports Minsters Tony Banks and Kate Hoey. We get accused of having the officials in our back pocket simply because we tend to score a lot of goals in injury time, or “Fergie time” as they so amusingly call it, and are awarded lots of penalties (although not as many as the other teams in the top four). It’s nonsense, myth, but rival fans are happy to perpetuate it in order to work themselves up even more.
Do we care about this though? Is being hated something we enjoy or are proud of? Millwall fans sing “no one likes us and we don’t care” and it just comes across as fairly desperate. So whilst I wouldn’t want us to relish in the hatred, there are some positives that we can draw from our unpopular status.
“It’ll bring everyone together,” Ferguson said last season after Rooney was banned for two games for breaking Law 12, which is broken in every game every week but goes unpunished. “That’s the great advantage we have now. It’s a plus for us. We’ll be united about it.” A few weeks later we were champions again.
Ferguson repeatedly uses this hatred to foster a powerful siege mentality within the club which has seen us go from strength to strength over the decades.
Gary Pallister has reflected on Ferguson’s effective use of the negative feeling towards the club, specifically referring to the media blackout he enforced in the lead up to that crucial game in the FA Cup against Nottingham Forest in 1990 after the players and manager received a hammering for underperforming by the press.
“Fergie made us realise we were all in it together,” he said. “There is always a certain siege mentality that has to go on in a dressing room because it is always about yourselves as a team. But there are certain times when he ups that. The manager told us in the run up to that Forest match that you cannot let outside influences rule the roost. It is not about what the press think, it was about trusting in each other. He used to say it is not about what others think or write – it is about us all as players sticking together. He did make a thing about it being the world against us and you did believe it and hit back with a ‘we’ll show ‘em’ attitude. It was all about focus and rolling your sleeves up and it worked. It made an impression on all of us who experienced it.”
In his autobiography, the manager admitted as much himself, acknowledging the impact that fighting against everyone else has on the club.
“In most cases a cause is the best form of motivation: religion, your country, Manchester United against the world. We use it, I use it, from time to time.”
Essentially though, of course we love the hatred and not just because we’re childish and like winding people up. It’s not just because it’s a great motivational tool for our manager either. It’s because if you’re hated you are doing something right and all the bad feeling that comes from the outside towards our club revolves around the success we enjoy. We are the most hated because we are the best. Long may that continue!
Originally published in the Red News fanzine