Never Mind Official…We’re All United

 

MANCHESTER United is a term that baffles me sometimes. It means so much to so many people, and it means different things to each of them. If I was to ask a season ticket holder what he likes about supporting our club he may well give the same answer as someone from farther a field. Both answers may be different, but both would be equally valid.

The name Manchester United baffles me because there are so many levels to it, it is a powerful banner and I know there are sections within that term that I am not ‘United’ with. There are two faces that I see, the football team and the club. I sit in my seat and shout and sing along with the rest of the fans because they are my team, just as much as any other person following them thinks that they own the club.

We like to think that we are important to the team, and we matter, and I think that we do matter. The team need our support and we are there to give it to them, from wherever that may be in the world. To the football team, we matter. Do we matter to the Club? There is always this nagging thought in my head that if we didn’t turn up, sing and shout and follow the team – other people would do because someone always wants to visit Manchester United.

Whenever you think of the Club you think of the business – the megastore, creating an idea in a great many tourists that you aren’t a real fan unless you have the latest Man United shirt, with the badges on and the name on the back. I know it’s the way of everything now and believe me I have copies of ‘Man United on Video’ stretching back years so I played my part and stuck my money in their tills – I helped the business out too.

This is exactly what people feared when Manchester United saw fit to remove Football Club from their badge, a departure from the football side and an expansion into what we see now – Manchester United the brand, as flashy and massive and dominating as ever, off the pitch and on. A footballing ‘McDonalds’.

As the brand grows, there is a fear that the people at ground level start to look very very small. So what happens, people still go, they still shout and scream at the match but they don’t feel as connected to the place and they wont because those days are gone and football is big business.

It is why European football is essential, why flying to the other side of the world during pre-season is expected, you get the feeling that its why some players in the Premiership are ever signed to a club. It’s why our manager once said he wouldn’t welcome the new owners and now says he is happy with them, it’s why ‘fans’ like Peter Kenyon and David Dein see pound-signs and act on them, it’s the reason Eric Cantona says he wont return to Manchester United while our current owners are in place.

Markets, money, merchandise. You can’t be a real fan; you don’t have the shirt with the new sponsor on it. It strikes me that the bigger the club gets the more impossible it is to be honest about them.

As a result of this there is a great tear inside many Manchester United fans. A ‘love the team but hate the club’ kind of attitude.

They see the difference, the club is the business, the team is the thing that many of them care about. This isn’t as simple as me saying ‘don’t buy the shirts or spend money there’, that is the personal choice of everyone who goes to Old Trafford. I’m certainly not going to tell any overseas fans not to visit the museum on their first trip over here, because it is an experience – it has to be done at least once.  

The more I experience ‘official-ness’ the more I tend to dislike it, especially in terms of Manchester United.

Martin Edwards, current Life President and former Chairman and Chief Executive, once said that he was ‘generally not in favour of fanzines’. Fanzines are considered by many to be the true voice of what is going on inside – the good, the bad and the ugly. They are something of a voice for the fans, more so than the ‘official’ things that say they are the voice of the fans.

I own the first ever Manchester United magazine – and many more besides. It says it there; you have Peter Schmiechel on the front cover and ‘Official’ as well. It gets you inside Manchester United, apparently. That’s all well and good but it doesn’t! It provides you the reader, with sanitised, cleaned up versions of stories that may have been interesting in their original form. Ex United players and legends have columns about the state of the team the previous week and I don’t even think they have Choccy’s Diary anymore. 

Manchester United’s official radio station is THE blandest thing I have ever heard, I do try and listen to it every match on the way home but between Cliff Butler, Matt Proctor and David Meek it’s like I’m waiting for rival fans to kick off in the car park just to give me some distraction. ‘I thought we played well, I thought the boo’s directed at Kieran Richardson were unfair’, let’s look at the table and read out the points and goals scored before we go to ten minutes of pro United messaging from our sponsors. Urrgh.

I wrote an article about the one year anniversary of the fan forum ‘The Republik of Mancunia’. I spoke to Scott, got it together and wrote about the meanings behind the ‘Mancunia’ term and found a great quote from the legend that is Mani (Stone Roses), basically echoing every anti England idea that Mancunia represents. Someone asked him how England would do in the World Cup and he said ‘I don’t care, not my team, I’m from Mancunia’. Great!  

I sent it off to Rollin Reds, the official Manchester United Disabled Supporters Association magazine. It got rejected because it was not current (which by the time they read it, it wasn’t), and because it mentioned things that couldn’t be written about in the magazine. 

Happily they sent suggestions: “It can’t slag off the club. It can’t slag off any other club and it can’t point the finger at anyone or anything….” Official means that none of the above can happen.

It may, after all, tread on some very important toes but it does beg the question: If fans cannot write about our club honestly, or write and banter about other clubs, and it cannot really write about current situations that may be in need of comment, through ‘official channels’ supposedly giving us the ‘inside view’ what can we write about?

 

If someone official takes exception to the relaying of the ambulance story against Liverpool in the FA Cup, or the ‘remodelling’ of the toilets by certain fans, and it must not be referred to, then no wonder people like Martin Edwards were ‘not in favour’ of fanzines because it seems like fanzines and forums contain more truth in them than some of the ‘official inside’ publications. Fanzines are able to give it is they see it, from any and all angles.

According to MUDSA anything submitted must pertain to disabled supporters also. I do understand this but it does slam the door shut on what can be written about. MUDSA is first and foremost the association for disabled supporters and I understand the need for relevancy but how many things can you include about that. Maybe I am wrong but above all we are a supporters association – whatever other common bond we have, the major one is Manchester United. Making EVERY piece pertain to disabled supporters just adds labels to an area which MUDSA above all, pride themselves on getting rid of.

You are above all a Manchester United fan and this is the way you get to support your team. Even the Disabled supporters suite is called The Ability Suite. Thanks to MUDSA we have the ability to support our team like everyone else, we don’t have the ability to react to our team in print and we know why, but to link everything to being disabled supporters?

Really well written articles written by writers who happen to be in a wheelchair, published in a magazine funded by people who happen to be in a wheelchair, representing a group of people who happen to be in a wheelchair and lead by a man who was decorated by the Queen for helping to take away the boundaries experienced by people in wheelchairs.

That makes more of a statement than anything else in my book.

It is refreshing that there are organisations out there that allow reactionary material which may not fully support the official line

I am not talking about honesty at all costs and I am not demanding to know the ins and outs of everything that goes on inside the club – there are some things that need to remain behind closed doors. Whilst I did agree with a lot of the things that Roy Keane said about United in that infamous and never to be aired interview, I did not agree that they should have been said like that. Opinions from fanzines and forums are different from the recorded opinion of the captain of the club, about the team-mates he is supposed to lead. That was wrong and that should have remained inside the team, but more power to Keano for saying what a lot of fans were thinking.

I think that’s the whole point – fans write the way that fans write because they can. They can be totally honest and opinionated and they have the freedom – they can boo Kieran Richardson as he collects his league winners medal, they can cheer Alan Smith (who had to get special permission from the league) to collect one. They can hope that the European Champions League gives us games against Real Madrid this year so that we can give gobby Gaby Heinze a ‘unique welcome’.

The official sites are like the parents, whereas the fan sites are like the cheeky kids. The parents may want to say a lot of what the kids say, but they are unable to. They secretly may even, dare I say it, agree.

Some of the official writing I have read is cold, bland and comes to a very nice point. It walks safely down a pedestrian path and nods kindly to the neighbours but it lacks passion, the passion, the rose-coloured spectacles, the fireworks. All these things are essential because football is a passion and ignites a response in a number of fans. When you reach a point that you are not able to express that, you lose something essential.

Viv la un official writers, forums and fanzines Viv la résistance! 

 

Make that – REDSISTANCE

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Author: SM

I am a writer of words. I write for Man United publications such as Red News, Its Round and Its White and I am the founder of Given to Score and the Sportmonkey Blog. I have written for many music websites.

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