It has been estimated that Manchester United have 333 million supporters in over 200 countries, providing an astonishing cumulative audience of 4.2 billion television viewers watching the team in 2010-11. It would be lovely to think we’re all one big happy family but it’s probably no exaggeration to say that millions of those very fans have no idea that the name they routinely use for their favourite club irritates the hell out of untold thousands of others. This difference of opinion simmers away among certain Reds, mainly in the UK, and was recently summed up perfectly by this anonymous posting on the net:

‘Why the fuck are we called Man U, for fuck sake, it’s United you dicks.’

One RoM regular has referred to our name being ‘desecrated’ by the use of ‘Man U’ and asks, ‘How hard is it to type Man United? It’s only 5 more letters.’

People often ask me what I think so I decided to explore precisely what’s at stake, hoping to pin down why feelings run quite so high on this apparently pointless divergence within United’s far-flung phantom empire. Of course I have my own views on the subject, as I regularly point out to my wife, but I must admit I have been surprised by how elusive the whole issue turns out to be, even on seemingly obvious questions. On the other hand, as I peered into Manchester United’s past through this tiny linguistic prism it has been surprisingly pleasureable to see the sheer richness of the landscape revealed. That’s why I hope you’ll bear with me on this somewhat meandering journey along the long and winding road of United lore.

But first, let’s start with a little historical quiz. What do the following all have in common?

2-8 November 1951: England team list in ‘Sport’ magazine, naming several Manchester United players.

27 April 1952: Football results column in the ‘Sunday Pictorial’, when Matt Busby’s United defeated Arsenal 6-1 to secure the club’s first league title for 41 years.

1 February 1958: The Arsenal v Manchester United match-day programme for what turned out to be the Busby Babes’ last domestic appearance before the Munich Air Crash five days later. (United won 5-4, of course, in a pulsating match dominated by the Herculean Duncan Edwards.)

26 March 1960: The Fulham programme for the first time I saw United, when Dennis Viollet scored twice in a 5-0 win to set the United record for league goals in a season, still unbroken.

15 September 1963: ‘Sunday Mirror’ match-report scoreline when George Best made his debut in a 1-0 victory against West Bromwich Albion.

7 May 1967: ‘Sunday Mirror’ report when United beat West Ham 6-1 to clinch Matt Busby’s fifth and final league title.

Got it? The correct answer is of course that in each case the abbreviation ‘Man U’ was used, with not a peep of ‘for fuck sake’ protest from anyone.

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