Of course you're right about the insanity of trying to stir up the old
violence as a means of bringing
the passion back to OT. I started going in the late 60s after my older
sister (thank God!) married a
Manc with a long, working-class family history of watching the Reds. I was
a fairly regular attender in the Stretford Paddock until work and other
unnecessary distractions took me away in the late 70s. I've started seeing
the odd game at OT when I can during the 90s, but this usually means
getting tickets through the Corporate route - although I tend to embarrass
my hosts by yelling and joining in with the newer songs I know (Yip-Yap
Stam is a good one) and the older ones I remember. All this makes me a
mixture of the two kinds of fan you discuss in your piece. I don't get any
pleasure at all from having a seat, being offered tacos, the megastore,
etc, and I miss the old atmosphere and excitement, but I don't miss the air
of menace that used to hang around every ground - not just ours; I was
attacked by skinheads at a DULWICH HAMLET match, for fucksake!
I still remember the chill I got at the Den during our glorious second
division season. Gerry Daly scored the only goal - a disputed penalty -
and I bit my lip very hard (I'd gone to the game with some
Millwall-supporting friends, who were staring at me in panic, terrified
that I might make any sound equating to approval at Gerry's goal.) A tiny
number of United fans who had been allowed in to the ground (the train
carrying the bulk of our lads having been turned back outside Euston) and
they weren't as discreet as me. Before their shouts had died down, I
noticed a line of heads moving along the back rim of the stand where all
the Millwall nutters stood (they used to wear surgical caps and called
themselves The Treatment - much beloved of gritty TV documentary makers at
the time). There was no segregation - you could walk right round the
ground - and seconds after the goal, all traces of red and white clothing
had vanished. Fascinating but deeply sinister.
So how do we avoid all that crap but get the passion back? Dunno. The
last game I attended where it felt like the old days (bearing in mind that
I haven't seen any of our recent fabulous victories against the various
Scousers, Gooners, Europeans etc) was the Charity Shield a few years ago
when we whipped the Geordies' collective big-mouthed ass (if you see what I
mean). They were singing and bragging and being intimidating before the
game, then went very quiet within minutes of the kick-off, when it emerged
very clearly that Shearer, Keegan and the rest of the sad bastards were
about to be taught an important lesson in humility and Knowing Your Place.
Now the red-and-white half of the stadium (and the red/black divide was
visually stunning that day) was made up of about 50% go-to-every-game
diehards and 50% day trippers like me, who found the Charity Shield as a
chance to see the lads in action without having to seek out touts or
corporate sugar daddies. The proper fans led the singing, and our lot
(wearing the metaphorical Rolex watches and soft girly underwear - before
Becks made it acceptable) joined in with great enthusiasm, because keeping
quiet would have exposed us as frauds. Not everybody knew the words, but
everybody sang. The bloke next to me, confused by the linguistic hurdles
of "Championes! Championes! Ole ole ole..." was singing "Champion honours!
Champion honours!...etc" - tricky to fit it all in. I started wondering
whether he was right and I was wrong.
Anyway the point of all that is that the conditions were right to generate
a brilliant atmosphere, and the nervy feeling we got from the Geordies
contributed to that. Fear, followed by the humiliation of your enemies,
mixed with social embarrassment, can work. (The walk back to the Tube
afterwards was tactfully muted, I have to say. They were soooo angry!).
All we have to do is try to bottle that in a safe, family friendly
container, and we'll have our dream back. And I'm sure Mr Edwards is
putting all of his talents into finding the right formula for us. Like fuck
And remember that however things have dipped for the true fans, we're still
with the greatest team in the world, one that's touched by some kind of
weird voodoo shit, judging by last season - which is why all the others
hate us. When Beckham came on to boos against South Melbourne the other
night, I thought "Yes!! Eat your hearts out, sad,
anyone-on-the-planet-but-Man U losers! We don't need to win this tournament
to prove we're the best team in the world."
Much plaudits to you.
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