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Roots: Part 2
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Written recently on the IMUSA List:- Football has its roots in working class society. Remove them completely and it will slowly decay.

NEVER have truer words been said.

This is a very deep subject and probably beyond my hinterlektuwell capeherbillytiz.... but.........

In 1983 I went to the United States of America for the first time. Whilst there I attended an American football match at the Rose Bowl. I found the experience quite interesting. Plainly as a football (soccer - hah!) supporter of (by then) some thirty years I was used to large sporting events and large crowds, what I noticed was a very different situation to that which I was used to.

Also in 1983 we were very slowly emerging from the obscene thuggery which had pervaded football for the previous (say) twenty years. The hooliganism, which had come so close to bringing football to it's knees, was just about coming under control and the situation was just a little bit better.

The marked difference between what I had seen in America and what I had been witnessing in England really struck home to me at that time, though I had absolutely no idea how much of an impact the two things were going to have on my life.

This is not an academic 'study' because I'm just not bright enough. It is merely some thoughts (rambling thoughts, sadly) on what I have observed and what I think has happened and why the working class supporter (of which me and my dad have been two for over one hundred years of Manchester United watching between us) is a dying breed.

There is NO doubt in my mind that I was not the only person who had seen how the American football 'audience' was comprised. It was nearly all middle-class people who went to the ground in their camper vans, had picnics at the ground and made a day of the event, probably visiting the 'megastore' for their club pennants etc during the visit. The atmosphere was calm and controlled and, it has to be said, very pleasant.

Not too many years before that day me and dad had gone to watch Manchester United matches with the very real possibility of becoming embroiled in silly nonsense which could be life-threatening - this did happen on several occasions. A marked contrast it has to be said.

So I'm SURE that the footballing establishment (whoever or whatever they may be) decided that the way to combat hooliganism (for to allow it to continue meant the end of football - of that there can be NO doubt) was to convert the current working-class support to that of nice, family-oriented, middle-class people who would arrive early doors, have a meal in a stadium cafe and buy their Joe-the-mascot merchandise in the stadium's conveniently situated megastore. Ticket pricing would, most certainly, become one of the 'controls' used to bring about this 'class-cleansing'. Season ticket prices have become a real 'threat' to me and my dad and to many other good, decent and (most importantly) long established Manchester United supporters.

If any of the above makes sense then I have managed to articulate how I feel. If it doesn't - forgive me.

Now I move onto a related, but different tack. For the past few years I have been writing to the Manchester United fanzines (and the Internet community) about my concerns (for that is what they are) about the 'glorification' and 'promotion' of violence at football matches. For me the most disgusting piece of (Manchester United related) football writing in the last twenty years was the book 'The Red Army Years'. This book was one of the first to attempt to 'justify' and 'glorify' football hooliganism - thuggery by any other word. It made my flesh crawl.

On the back of that book have come a series of articles in the fanzines, again attempting to inform those who can have NO idea of what it was really like (ie anybody today who is under the age of thirty-five), about how 'wonderful' (sic) it was to 'run with a gang' and to 'take on the opposition firm'.


That period of total MADNESS meant that young children and (yes I HAVE to say it, even though it IS politically incorrect) many women just stopped attending. This was a tragedy for football. Young people, particularly, are the FUTURE for football. If they stop going (and thus find something else to occupy their time) then football comes to an end.

Having said all the above I CAN see the other side of this quite bizarre coin.

There are many supporters who feel that the atmosphere at Old Trafford has disintegrated. I am one of them. I think that many people believe that this has happened because a large number of seats at Old Trafford are now being filled by 'executive' types and families (daytrippers if you will) for whom attending a game is nothing more than a day out. I can see that. This is a problem.

There is no doubt in my mind (working-class 'chip' ALERT!) that the future of football is not with the 'executive', 'Rolex-watch-wearing', 'G&T drinking' types. For when the 'glamour' goes (as it IS, as I write) they will disappear as quickly as they arrived. The future is with (short-term) people like me and my dad. People with very limited resources. People who give up ALL of their other hobby pursuits to pay for their football. People who have supported Manchester United through thick and thin (a lot of 'thin' too). The future is also with (long-term) the young people. So the 'families' HAVE to be encouraged for they are the life blood.

Provision SHOULD have been made at Old Trafford to accommodate those who wish to stand and attempt to create the sort of atmosphere that, frankly, most of us who have been going for longer than five minutes would wish to experience. I stated several years ago that there was a way that standing could be accommodated with NO threat to safety. I sent my suggestion to the Board at Old Trafford. Plainly they felt that nothing could be done. Nothing, that is, until the recent 'Stretford End initiative'. But I truly believe that this 'offer' of a 'singing end' at the Stretty is misguided at best and potentially disastrous at worst.

What I didn't do, which some people did, was to orchestrate violence outside Old Trafford in order to frighten off those families who wished to attend a match. This DID happen (at least twice - possibly more) and was an obscenity.

The fanzine people calling for a return to football violence (and this is what they are doing through these disgusting 'glory, glory' type articles) are attempting to engender some sort of (perhaps) limited football violence in order, in their misguided minds, to convert Old Trafford back to the way it used to be.

They are doomed to fail. Of that there can be no doubt. But in the meantime they are going to do enormous damage to football in general and Manchester United in particular.

There is nobody alive who wishes to see a return to the Old Trafford (atmosphere) I remember as a youth more than I do. I stood on the 'right-side' from 1962 until 1968. I was there from the start. I was not an angel and I am ashamed of a few things that I did. But I am older now and, perhaps, slightly wiser. I don't want to see a return to those dark days which were the 1970's. I don't want to be frightened for my dad's and my own safety. I am too old now for that sort of nonsense, so is my dad.

There has to be a way forward. There has to be some sort of balance struck so that the middle-class, daytripper, megastore-buying, executive-meal-eating types can attend alongside the working-class, meat-pie-and-bovril types like me and my dad. There has to be a way.

The way is not through violence. The way is through dialogue and common sense.

If you have got this far I applaud you and sympathise. This is a diatribe and I apologise for the lack of structure. I do NOT apologise for the content. It is said from my heart and my heart is Red and always will be.

Peter Hargreaves


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