Growing up in Salford, I couldn’t afford to even go and watch United. My mum, who worked hard, didn’t have the money when tickets were available.
I didn’t ask too often, you don’t when you know.
Some of the local kids, well usually just me, cycled up to Old Trafford during games. It wasn’t all over TV then, but to feel it, and you could feel it, was something.
And then I started getting tickets from here and there. Eventually I was able to buy them for myself, then I got my own season ticket.
And right then and right there I’d made it.
Even watching Coventry fans throw around blow up dolls during perhaps the worst match I’d ever seen was still something to do, belonging.
Things change, you get a family, work brings restrictions, you move for the best of your family, and several kids later you’re not going so much any longer. When you do it’s for your child, because how could it not be? When it’s all boiled down, a parent taking their child to the football is what it’s all about, that lineage, extending or creating one.
Sneaking out to go to The Cliff to watch training, and then waiting for a few words with players was an adventure as a child. That once led to me waiting, in the rain and cold obviously, to beg Ferguson not to sell Cantona after his Kung-fu moment. I was about fourteen and whilst I felt a bit too old for it, perhaps it was my last stand… The Cliff was fun.
When I had my first child I was right in the moment I’d had a season ticket for a good few years. I was 28 and now financially comfortable, I’d been going to finals, Moscow should have been MY time. But, no, I’d just given birth, and in my son’s first week or so he ‘saw’ United win both the Premier League and Champions League.
It was an emergency caesarean birth, and jumping up when John Terry missed nearly sent me right back to St Mary’s Hospital. Worth it.
Then there was Rome. I went. Let’s not talk about the Stadio Olimpico and that little Lionel ‘can’t head a ball says Pele’ Messi.
Time goes on. A couple of months before the world learned Sir Alex Ferguson would be retiring I was lucky enough to give birth to a second son. A few days before the announcement that precious son died suddenly at eight weeks old.
Someone at United reached out. Our elder son, then 5, needed some relief. We all did, however little it was in the scheme of things. A trip to Carrington saw that young boy meet his heroes.
Nervous and emotionally delicate, he wouldn’t approach them. A gym full of the squad sat around in a circle was completely overwhelming. Rio Ferdinand, years before his own tragedy, made every effort to encourage our upset little boy.
That meant the world to me. My Captain.
The club, the staff, were brilliant. Those there at the time swore me to secrecy. They’ve since left and it’s relatively long enough to now share.
Well, a football club isn’t just that. It’s a life. From your heart to your mouth, if you don’t feel that emotional draw and drain then it’s really not worth it. In the best times and in the worst it follows you and there’s an attachment which burns within, or at least there should be.
So, do you want to know what really irritates me right now?
There’s a list. It grows by the day.
People not being excited enough about Christmas. People being too excited about Christmas. Brexit and all that brings. Trying to work out bike sizes for kids. It being unreasonably cold. A lack of clear sunlight. The feeling our species is regressing.
People. Yeah, people are a general irritation. That’s long standing. I love people, I hate people too, I think we all have a problem with much of the populace.
Whether it be Christmas or Brexit, but probably not bike sizes, there’s a growing realisation for me that people are led far too easily.
There’s so much information, so much ‘news’, that we can pick the bits we want. This isn’t restricted to Donald Trump, Nigel Farage and various efforts on their behalf, but also football.
Namely, in this case, Manchester United.
And something is really irritating me in that regard.
They’re brilliantly evil aren’t they?! They got Manchester United to buy Manchester United for them. A stroke of business genius. Mortgage the club against itself and wait. A plan which couldn’t have gone much better.
Could they care about my family or any other fans? Absolutely not. Yet that’s just background money taking which isn’t going anywhere for now.
They are the overlords and the relative evil which must be lived with. Either you go off and create your own club where everyone is equal, some more equal than others, or you carry on.
Most rightly carried on in their own way.
But let us not kid ourselves about the current Manchester United. And this, THIS, is the issue right now.
Recently there’s been a distinct effort to push the Glazers front and centre. Largely, it’s disingenuous: If you blame Jose Mourinho, you’re not a proper United fan because you don’t ‘get it’.
No. People very much ‘get it’.
The Glazers have sucked a hell of a lot out of United, and they’re almost certainly proud of it. They didn’t quite get the soul though, at least not all of it.
A great club struggled through and largely did it well. Ok, post Ferguson has been a general mess but it always felt a blip, and almost a rite of passage for those of us who don’t quite remember the grim second division times.
Now, well now the soul feels like it’s slipping. It’s one thing to have to put up with financial opportunists who fans, for all their efforts, can do nothing about, and it’s another thing to almost encourage an outsider to drag the club down to sooth his personal pride.
Manchester United is shrinking under a personality cult.
Some of those who wanted the manager so, so much and were so, so convinced he was the answer are ready to die on the hill, and, perhaps subconsciously, take some of the club’s stature with them. If it’s the club’s fault, if it’s the players’ fault, then it’s less the manager’s fault and they weren’t wrong after all.
Sections of fans have even turned against players like Marcus Rashford, a guy who should be an absolute pleasure of supporting the club. Y’know, having that joy of a local youth product doing well, the emotional connection which means you’d be likelier to see faults through rose tinted glasses than jump on any negative eagerly.
This is the soul. A belonging. Football support isn’t a statistical analysis, it’s heart.
The Glazer issue is an ongoing war, it doesn’t mean the club has to surrender at so many battles. Fans can be both anti-Glazer and for United getting the best out of the club’s short to medium term future.
‘The Glazers’ cannot and should not be a rallying cry for all ills. Put the white flag away, get the Red one out and remember Man United never die… right?
Make no mistake, the club’s immediate future is on the battlefield right now, and no amount of grandstanding against the rotten owners is going to stick a plaster on that.
Likewise, no amount of correct football management will solve the ownership issue, that would be a plaster too.
But it’s better than letting the club burn.