You gotta love Manchester City’s latest signing, the best young striker since the last one they bought, Edin Dzeko. Barely one day into his job and the former Wolfsburg hit-man, does what everyone associated with Manchester City does- he talks about Man United.
Dzeko said: “I hear a lot about the fans — that most of the people from Manchester are Manchester City fans.”
While the validity of Dzeko’s statement is somewhat questionable to say the least, after all did all the one million fans on the streets of Manchester in 1999 travel from outside the City, the bigger question is ‘does it really matter?’
At first I was as annoyed as most Reds when I heard yet more nonsense about our club being spouted by yet another City affiliate. To be fair to City they were probably relieved that Dzeko knew which club he signed for – unlike Robinho- and didn’t mention the words “massive club” -which seemed to be compulsory for any player signing for them.
Once my anger had subsided slightly and turned to bemusement before finally settling into pity, I was left with the question “who really gives a toss?”
At Old Trafford there are undeniably a lot of fans from places nowhere near Manchester, there’s the Cockney Reds who make up a significant number of those attending matches, not to mention the Irish United fans of which there are many-usually giving interviews to Sky Sports or MUTV outside the ground. United aren’t alone though in attracting fans from other areas. During my time in London while at Uni’ I came across countless Liverpool fans who sounded about as scouse as Michael Caine and there seemed to be a running joke about Arsenal fans coming from Surrey.
There’s no doubt that any successful team is going to attract fans from outside its home city. Some of it may be due to the time you start watching football. If you haven’t got a dad who drags you along to games from an early age- as was the case with me and I always thank my lucky stars he didn’t support City- then you may like a team you see on the TV and start an affiliation with them. A case in point was around seven years ago when I spent a summer ’working’ abroad in Crete. There were several lads around my age- early twenties- working out there who all supported Spurs.
These lads were from a lot of different areas- Slough, Chingford, Bromley, wherever, yet for some reason on that island when I was there, Spurs seemed to be the most popular team amongst my fellow ’workers.’ One day, I asked one of them why he felt this was the case, as to be honest I didn’t feel Spurs would have been that popular as Arsenal had always been more successful and many of the fans were not from anywhere near Tottenham. He told me the reason he started following them, when he was around 8 or 9 Spurs had Paul Gascoigne, Chris Waddle and Gary Lineker playing for them, so he’d seen these players on the TV and found an instant appreciation of them. That’s what had made him follow Spurs and there’s every reason that other people his age may have had a similar experience.
That made perfect sense to me, after all one of my friends who lives in Twickenham recently told me her two young boys argue over football, the older one -he’s ten- follows Chelsea while the eight year old follows United.
For United there does seem to be a big number of ‘out-of-towners‘, arguably because of the success the team has had, or maybe going back further to the days of Busby and the legacy he built. For whatever reason United do have a lot of fans from outside Manchester of that there can be no denial. Personally I used to find myself getting a little annoyed when I was younger and I’d hear cockneys- or anyone from south of Birmingham really -at Old Trafford. I’d create nonsensical ideas in my head that they were ‘glory hunters’ that were stopping real fans getting tickets. My attitude has changed a lot over the years as I’ve come to realise that not only is it irrelevant when it comes to supporting the team, whereabouts you’ve travelled in from but also that the main attribute most of us want from our teams fans is to get behind the players on the pitch what accent you’re doing that in has no importance whatsoever.
Another factor which made me respect fans that travel from further afield to come to Old Trafford, was a story a bloke from Essex told me once when I was working in a pub there last year. George- that was his name, and probably still is- was born in the Manchester but moved to Essex as a baby with his family. His dad was a United fan- like mine- and had encouraged George to do the same. Despite living in Essex for forty years, he’d always remained loyal to United. He told me of his last trip to Old Trafford, a mid-week game against Wigan, he’d got the train up there but missed his train back as it took him longer getting out of the ground than expected.
The next train wasn’t until the morning so he’d had to get a coach, it was raining heavily- as it always does in sunny Manchester- so him and his mate had sat on a coach that took about 8 hours to get back to London- where they had to get a train to Essex- in soaking clothes. The point is, he’d gone through a lot of bother, and expense- travelling alone had ended up costing him about £50 just to watch a pretty run-of-the-mill game at Old Trafford. Was he a true fan? Of course. Did he have every right to be there as anyone else? Certainly. Had he spent more than a lot of people to get there? Absolutely.
It was a similar experience when I attended the West Ham game at Upton Park in the Carling Cup with a lad I know from Southend called Nathan. He told me how when he visits Old Trafford- which is quite often I hasten to add- he has to plan his work around it and often stay in a hotel, not the 10 minute car journey and back in my local for the post-match analysis, I’m used to.
Many fans who travel from afar have to spend a lot more money than local ones, Now I’ve finished Uni’ and am back in Manchester it’s a lot easier to get to the games-obviously, while a trip to a match commuting from London often took planning of a military nature.
There are those that would argue you should support your local team- tell that to people from Chester- that anything else is just glory hunting, however after some years of thinking this may be true, I’ve realised that this idea is as outdated and egregious as Gerry Francis’s hair. As the Green and Gold campaign has shown at United– and I saw many of these scarves when I lived in London- it’s not where you come from that matters it‘s who you support- and how you support them.
Read more of Justin’s work at the excellent NEW Manchester United blog ‘Red Flag Flying High’