The fans never stopped supporting the team. That’s what they’ll say when looking back at David Moyes’ first season in charge of Manchester United. Whether Moyes only makes it to the end of the year or goes on to create a second 20-year dynasty, it’s unlikely that there’ll be many darker days than the 3-0 home defeat to Liverpool. And still the fans kept singing.
While the support for the team was certainly admirable, it was equally as tragic. They didn’t cheer the team on because they expected a comeback. That was impossible: there was no coming back from this.
They sang to prove a point. We’re still singing because we’re not like you. We’re still singing because we support our managers. We’re still singing because we’re Manchester United Football Club. We’re singing because we’re still better than you.
The fans in Old Trafford have taken the fall from grace with dignity. While they may mutter Moyes’ name with discontent in private, in public they have put on a united front. This was Ferguson’s last beckoning call after all. A public damning of Moyes would be to betray their last manager and that’s the last thing you’d get from a club built on loyalty.
However, it’s hard not to draw parallels between the Man United fans’ behaviour of late and that of Liverpool fans for the last 20 years. It may seem odd that a comparison with Liverpool fans would have negative connotations given that the Scouse support are famed for their backing of the club. But then that’s just it, they’re famed for their support because they sing when they’re losing. This is not something that a club as successful as Manchester United want to be associated with. It’s demeaning.
But they may just have to settle for having the best fans, if not the best team in the world. That’s how the future looks. It’s one where Gary Neville and Rio Ferdinand beam out from Sky Sports studios eulogising on the size, tradition and character of the football club as they cling onto past glories. It’s what we’ve had from Jamie Redknapp, Jamie Carragher and Graeme Souness for years.
And Souness knows how easily things can change at the top. Like Moyes, Souness had the unenviable task of following an incredibly successful manager of the biggest club in the country. And like Moyes, Souness found his best efforts met with failure.
However, unlike Moyes, Souness went out in a ball of flames. He took on the playing squad from day one, with little respect for reputation or skill. He broke the dynasty by breaking the team. If anything, Moyes has been too respectful to the players he was given. But then, the man who chose these players was the same one that chose him.
The Manchester United fans may accept their temporary fall from grace but only because they believe it won’t be as long as Liverpool’s time in purgatory. And they may be right. The reason that United were able to reign supreme over their Merseyside rivals for the last 20 years was due to the Manchester club’s relative success in harnessing the greater revenue streams offered by the Premier League.
And this strategy has only been on the increase. The club now boast 35 commercial sponsors according to their website, including Mister Potato, the Official Savory Snack Partner of Manchester United. However, how long Brand United can last if team United suffer an extended exile from the Champions League remains to be seen.
One gets the feeling that there is little danger of the Red Devils support having to update ’20 times’ anytime soon. 21 will come. But it may be that they have to live on past glories for longer than they think. They may just have to survive for as long as Liverpool have.