When lads meet other lads after a few boring ‘what do you do?’ and ‘where are you from?’ questions the conversation usually leads on to the inevitable ‘who do you support?’ question.
This was something that, during my early to mid twenties I always used to dread. That’s because, in order, my answers would have been ‘a student, Cardiff, Man Utd.’
For the millions of working non-Utd fans I was as bad as it gets! A tax dodging glory hunter!
However, I was neither. Well, that’s a lie. I was dodging taxes (through no fault of my own – that’s just the way that the UK education system is set up) but I certainly wasn’t a glory hunter. It just so happened that glory had, through fate’s will, hunted me out the day I decided that Utd were the team for me.
All of my friends were Liverpool fans and a small minority were fans of our local club – Cardiff City. However, during the early 1990s they were in the bottom divisions and weren’t on TV. We, as skint young men, were too poor and scared to brave the terraces of Ninian Park. Christ, we were too young to go it alone! For that very reason we, like many other boys in the South Wales area, followed a TV team. Liverpool were the glory team of the late 80s and, as such, all of my friends chose them as their team.
I was different though. I wanted to be different. I heard that Liverpool’s rivals were Utd so I decided to follow them. And that, as they say, was that. I was a Manc, a red, a Red Devil.
Just because I’m not from Manchester doesn’t devalue my support of them however. I truly resent any accusation of the kind. As a friend of mine once said (admittedly about Jamie Carragher) if you cut me open I’d ‘bleed red’.
I remember the 1990 Cup Final, the 1993 Premier League and the 1994 double. I was in my early teens for these so my supporting was relatively naive and innocent – limiting itself to cheers followed by a little gloat to friends.
It was as I got older that my supporting evolved into a defence of my position. I knew the reserve team, I knew the youth teams, I could reel off any Utd stat you wanted. This was because I was becoming aware of the glory hunter title and, quite frankly, it pissed me off! I felt that I had to defend my position as a Welsh Man Utd fan so I revised United and I become a ‘statto’ to prove my support.
United became, as I entered my late teens, who I was. I would ensure that I wore one of my many shirts on matchday as I listened to matches on 5Live or waited, with baited breath, for CEEFAX’s latest score page to refresh. I began to wear my collar upright at all times, regardless of the shirt. I implored my parents to only buy SHARP electrical goods. Shit, I even believed Fergie when he said they couldn’t see each other in their grey shirts!
Even the 1999 treble was tainted with a feeling of shame. I remember that as my greatest ever sporting year and I will never be able to hear or remember the words ‘and Solskjaer has won it’ without getting goosebumps! But, as I went off to university the following year I was aware, almost ashamed of the fact that, I was going to have to battle off all ‘glory hunter’ accusations.
And I shouldn’t feel shame supporting my club. I’ve been to Old Trafford several times to see them. My debut game was 3rd December 1994 vs. Norwich City. The night previous I was playing five a side football and, without realising, broke my metatarsal (before Beckham had told the world what a metatarsal was!). I spent the following day hobbling around Manchester flowing through seas of red, looking on in awe at the sheer volume of fans that hit the stadium to see ‘Five Cantonaaaaaaaas’ score for a 1-0 victory.
It was only as I hit my mid-twenties that I realised that it didn’t matter where you were from. You could support, with the same ferocity as a Mancunian United fan, Man Utd. I could delight in their victories and wallow in their losses with equal passion. I did and still do. The first thing I do every morning is check the BBC gossip column on my phone in the hope that Sneijder has been spotted at Old Trafford, whenever I play Football Manager I manage United – never anyone else – and live out my dream of managing the greatest team ever, I’ve realised that being a United fan isn’t where you’re from, it’s who you are.
Read more of Matt James’ articles at Red Flag Flying High