At the time of the US War of Independence in the 1770s the British soldiers wore redcoats. That was so the blood wouldn’t show on their scarlet uniforms if they got wounded. For similar reasons the American rebels wore brown trousers.

As we enter the decisive final weeks of the season, with injury-weakened Manchester United fighting for trophies on three fronts, I fear it’s already gone beyond Sir Alex Ferguson’s famous ‘squeaky-bum time’. We may now all need brown trousers, given that United have to face West Ham on Saturday at Upton Park, scene of all too many gut-churning disappointments in the past.

Is there an Upton Park bogey?

For most of the last half-century West Ham away from home has been a bit of a bogey fixture for United, including this season in the league cup when a hitherto hopeless West Ham suddenly rose up in November to batter the cup-holders 4-0. Many Reds will also recall with a shudder the way the already-relegated Hammers somehow shook off their dismal form in April 1992 to beat United 1-0, helping gift the league title to the hated ‘scum’ of Leeds United. Then, three years later, in the last league match of the season, they somehow held United to an improbable 1-1 draw, enabling Blackburn Rovers to win the 1995-96 Premiership by a single point. Both results were greeted with extraordinary outpourings of orgasmic joy in London’s East End, out of all proportion to how their own team had performed. There seems to be something about United which inflames West Ham fans at home, giving them some sort of resentment-fuelled adrenaline rush which transmits itself to their team.

The funny thing is that the bitter hatred wasn’t present when I first started going to West Ham v United matches, over fifty years ago. It was not that they didn’t want to beat United, who were clearly pegged as big name glamour boys, but there was just none of the visceral ,knuckle-clenching hostility of more recent times. There were some brilliant matches, full of good football on both sides in those distant days, although that doesn’t mean results were any better for the Red Devils.

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