THE HALF DECENT FOOTBALL MAGAZINE

13 May ~ More from 1994. In WSC 89, Man Utd fan Joyce Woolridge feared for the future following the club's Double and second successive championship. She's probably exploded by now

Just as much of British history has been written with the purpose of transforming ignominious failure into glorious victory, the mental world of the average football supporter is constructed almost entirely around coping with defeat by similar stratagems. As a Manchester United supporter, I and others like me have had plenty of practice in celebrating the club's inability to match its self-awarded status as the world's greatest football club by its results.

Ours has been the proud claim that United have always been hindered by having not just to win but entertain. Like Captain Scott and his men we did things properly, playing football as it should be played, while others – not burdened by this noble duty – unsportingly reached the Pole first. After 26 of such auto-suggestion, consistent success seems to have resulted in profound psychological dislocation.

In 1992 when Gary Pallister's mistake gave West Ham the goal that realistically ended United's title hopes once more, my conditioning immediately provided the required extravagant and public gesture of despair. In an Oscar-winning performance of masochistic frenzy I pulled on my running clothes and headed out into the driving night rain to run around the streets until, exhausted and soaked and hopefully having contracted pneumonia, I collapsed on my bed screaming, "Don't talk to me,"only to find disappointingly that nobody had the slightest intention of doing so.

The triumph next year was similarly easy to take. Bottle of cheap champagne in one hand, crumpled poster of Ryan Giggs in the other I hit the front lawn, singing to the largely indifferent West Country passers-by who knew nothing of the earth shattering events at Villa Park.

In contrast, when the final whistle sounded at Wembley last month it was difficult to know quite what pose to adopt in celebration. Finding improvement on last year's euphoria impossible, I stood silent and perplexed by yet another victory. Defeat would, on the other hand, have triggered my extensive and well-practised repertoire of excuses.

True, the satisfaction of winning two trophies had been blunted already by watching Bryan Robson dressed in a couture suit rather than his team strip. Obviously hating to leave the club anyway, he had been barred from a final, deserved celebration by Ferguson's decision not even to put him on the bench (Well, the manager had to find some way to thank McClair for apparently arranging for the terminally embarrassing 'Come On You Reds!' recording. It's appropriate that we are told the team had to have a "few 'beers" to be able to sing with some conviction, because you have to be completely inebriated to listen to it without flinching.)

Still, this is what happens when your team becomes a media event and every match a marketing opportunity. Old timers like myself can only refuse curtly to be face-painted and gaze uncomprehendingly at our copies of United magazine where a searing investigative piece like At home with dishy Lee Sharpe is topped only by the human interest of the dating service, where all the boys fantasise about meeting Michelle Pfeiffer but will make do with Tracey from Harpurhey if Catwoman's not available.

We can watch our Manchester United video magazines (top of the video 'Special Interest' charts), willing Pallister and Bruce to get through their ponderous and interminable Smith and Jones routine with some remaining shreds of dignity and remind ourselves that we'll still be buying these bland compilations and watching them in the company of other consenting adults when "Kan We Do It?" becomes "No, We Kan't".

But the fact remains that the double year has taken long-time United fans into unknown territory, and we're not managing very well. It's been birth certificates at ten paces in the club fanzines which have been dominated all year by a debate about non-Mancunian fans (incredible, really, when one of the great comforts in the Championship-free years was our 'amazing' worldwide support).

I still can't believe that part of the crowd's reaction when United lost only their second Premiership match of the season at Old Trafford on 5th March was to boo them off the pitch. There's not much left to say when someone announces that they haven't paid all that money just to see United lose, except perhaps to advise them to waste their money on something else next time.

I don't really mean that I want United to become "the team that throws it away" again, and I guess I could learn to live with the strain of endless honours. It will mean that I'll have to bid farewell to normal conversations with the Yeovil Town, Bath City and West Brom fans of my acquaintance who were not really interested this time round in sharing my fears when we only won 1-0 or entering into a discussion about whether Milan would have drawn 2-2 with Swindon.

I'll also have to go on reading the sort of short-sighted nonsense in the fanzines that complacency generates. The other burning debate has been about selling Giggs because, 'We don't really need him as we have plenty of other players every bit as good as he is and we can use the money to buy more and he only scored 17 goals this season and his crossing is still poor...' This impatience for perfection in a 20 year-old is born out of the refusal to acknowledge that it won't always be so easy to be so cavalier towards exceptional talent.

Who knows what will happen in the future, when presumably United will have gone through a process of shedding their wingers and Welsh and Irish players and turned themselves into Arsenal in pursuit of European success? That really will give us something proper to moan about, and we can go back to feeling our support is necessary. Until that time arrives, most of you can think yourselves fortunate that you don't have to martyr yourself in the thankless cause of supporting a team that has gone on winning in style.

Comments (1)
Comment by Mindbender 2011-05-13 11:42:40

As a long time Man U supporter during the barren 70s & 80's this article echo's many of my feelings. Recent supporters have become blase about success, just have to see what happens when Sir Alex retires

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