After the highs of last season, which are touched on briefly here, it was
going to be a struggle for Manchester United to succeed on every front.
Dropping out of the FA Cup and losing out to Real Madrid in Europe might
have scared off some of the Glory Hunters before winning their sixth
Premiership in eight seasons.
Behind the gloss and the global bastardisation of Manchester United, at the
heart of this club is it's supporters - the likes of Windridge and Harvey.
While both authors are committed Reds, this book will have much wider appeal
for it's incisive observations on the trials and tribulations of what it
means to be a matchgoing fan in this world of corporate merry-go-rounds and
Sure there are reports from nearly every game this season - the authors
weren't successful in all of their applications for away tickets, obviously-
but this is much more than a collection of match reports. There are issues
discussed that affect every club, particularly Manchester United, and the
authors offer a unique insight into how it feels from the terraces, sorry
seating! Both authors are involved in a wide range of campaigns relating to
the club and it's supporters', and discuss their motivations and agendas
But be warned, this is not an expose of any kind, nor is it a glorified
"Nick Hornby" retro piece. No, the authors do not attempt to intellectualise
the subject, the simply report on how it is.
Quick to heap praise when justified and criticism when needed, the authors
never go over the top. They are just as likely to take the piss out of their
own club's goalkeeping errors as praise Roy Keane when all around want to
crucify him for his style or his salary.
There are a number of books around that can offer insight into different
aspects of a club, from the plc's point of view offering justification, the
players' biographies that only serve to destroy reputations and line
pockets. and so called reformed hooligans who now want to 'help sick people
and clean up the game' But this is something quite different to all of those
- this is true and accurate account of last seasons highs and lows.
A Seat In The Crowd is an essential read for any Manchester United supporter
- and a desired read for supporters of all clubs in this ever-changing game.
A Seat In The Crowd
by Paul Windridge and Linda Harvery
Published by Trafford Press. ISBN 1-55212-383-9
Part time glory hunters; Full time moaners. Too quiet; Too unruly; Clueless muppets; Arrogant beyond extreme; Middle Class; Drugged up scallies; Thick Northerners; Brash Cockneys. Can the real Manchester United supporters make themselves known?
Most people in Britain now have to concede at a least a grudging respect for the 1999 Treble Winners, but Manchester United supporters? Everybody has an opinion of them too. Been beaten eight-nil by one of Europe's premier teams? Time to get onto a post-match 'phone-in and have a pop at United fans!
As a United supporter, I am continually trying to argue to the supporters of other teams that fans of the Old Trafford outfit are no different to those of any other team, whatever division or league they may be in. Before the inevitable rant I've heard a thousand times before begins, I then attempt to go on to explain that not only are United supporters genuine fans of the game, but in fact it's not all that easy to be a member of Ferguson's Red and White Army.
This usually results in utter incredulity and further accusations from the Inquisitor General (unless you are born within the smell of a burger van on Sir Matt Busby Way, your United credentials are picked over and scorned as if indeed you were a 15th Century Spanish heretic).
What has been needed in such fierce arguments is proof. Proof that United fans are normal footie fans and proof that watching United is not simply a matter of turning up - three points - thank you - where's the trophy?
At last proof is here, it comes in the shape of A Seat in the Crowd: The Story of the 1999-2000 Season, a chronicle of the most recent twelve months of being a United supporter, written by Paul Windridge and Linda Harvey. The authors make no pretensions about who they are. Rather than attempt to be known 'faces in the crowd' around Old Trafford, the pair make no claims other than being typical, yes typical, fans of the Red Devils.
At first glance the book is a match-by-match account-cum-commentary of each and every game played by the defending European Champions as witnessed mostly by the authors with 'guest' contributions when the wallet wouldn't stretch as far as the globe trotting Reds.
The book goes well beyond the "...and then Giggs passed to Cole who rifled home his second in the sixty-eighth minute" dry-as-dust approach. The emphasis is placed very much on the 'match day experience', the excitement and anticipation of the fan entering the stadium, the banter and the songs between rival fans, the thrill of witnessing a special moment of skill and the Manchester rain. All captured by two authors with a fine eye for detail.
Yet neither is the book solely about the 'match day'. The strength of the book - that of it being about Manchester United - is not because it charts sixty games of Roy Keane dominating the midfield or Beckham's fantastic free kicks (though both are sources of child-like wonder to the writers).
The tensions of being a match going football fan in the TV dominated world of Planet Premiership are felt nowhere more keenly than in M16. Where are you from? How long have you been coming? Do you support the team by singing - or by polite applause? These questions divide United fans far more sharply - and more bitterly - than the Bosnich or Taibi debacle.
It is here that the book makes a significant addition to the bookshelf. Two 'traditional', long standing Manchester United supporters - one from inside, one from outside Manchester - bewildered and bemused by the rapidly changing world of football. The players growing further apart from the supporters. The club, now pursuing Mammon and turning its back on the very people that created and cherished it. The new fashion fans football now attracts and 'markets' itself - two bit celebrities and corporate suits who always seem to find it easier to get hold of tickets for those important away matches. The rocketing ticket prices, mirrored by the declining in-stadium atmosphere which places more emphasis on bland chart music emanating from booming sound systems than the passionate terrace hymns of yore. And, of course, the FA Cup!
These issues are key pieces of the 'match day experience' jigsaw that is revisited time and again in the book. This jigsaw, through the season, becomes a picture of a set of supporters who are determined to love and worship their team and its players despite the efforts of the club, football administrators, and, yes, other United fans.
The other key pieces are the other supporters who are as important as the players themselves in the authors' matchgoing world. The friendships struck may be clearly reliant on going to games, but the bonds described equally clearly extend beyond simply chewing the half time fat. This book is not a Nick Hornby exercise in self-analysis and indulgent angst, but a shared celebration of the simple pleasures in football: a goal, a funny chant, and an inept steward. All are here.
On the field - the perspective of the supporters on the Roy Keane saga and the David Beckham storms in a [what the media would guess would be an overpriced and hideously ostentatious] teacup is outlined and debated. It is also left to these two supporters to put into perspective the hype and hyperbole banded about whenever United play - witness the media response to on-field referee debate during the two fixtures against Middlesborough for example. The Brazil tournament (I forget its name), as it should be, is brushed off with near total disregard.
It is on the field however that the book has its greatest difficulty. Entertainment is generated, often by the supporters themselves, often by the team overwhelming the opposition with a breathless display of skill and finishing power.
For all the sense of occasion, the reader cries out for excitement, the appetite whetted by the neck hair raising descriptions of last season's final game that opens the book. The description of Nou Camp euphoria can never be replicated in this book. The authors cry out for some competition! Unlike last year, the games United won were won (by and large) comfortably, the one's they lost were equally insipid. It is impossible to convey any emotion, despite the unbreakable thread of pride that runs through all the achievements of Sir Alex and his boys. The false dawn of Fiorentina's visit to Old Trafford is one notable exception.
It is not the authors' fault therefore that the book's climax is as much a story about the accelerating pace of changing times inside Old Trafford, as about the team closing in on the Premiership title.
The role of SPS, Keith Fane and Arthur Chubb. Parking up on match days, the pre- and post match pint. The political and the simple. All key aspects on attending a match at Old Trafford, now detailed for the first time in full print as a very satisfying alternative to the "Oooh, we're so hard" style hoolie-porn that purports to be 'match going culture'.
After reading this book, all but the most dedicated United haters of the type described in the book, would have to give due respect to those overcoming the traumas and obstacles in attempting what should be (and elsewhere, often is) the uncomplicated task of watching your favourite team play football. Preferably on a Saturday afternoon.
Now where's that missing opposition...?
See http://mufc.simplenet.com/seatinthecrowd for details of where to buy this book.