Thursday, 28 May 2009

Red Inquest

Not the rumination you might expect, picking over faults and failings from last night's disappointing failure to capture a third/fourth Champions League crown, instead I've been wondering why exactly I support United anyway. And where this niggling sense of robbery comes from. Normally, I consider myself very anti-corporate, not particularly selfish; a One Nation Under Dog kind of guy. I only EVER wear replica shirts on European Cup nights/morning afters. Yet here I am, gnashing my teeth over United's failure to haul themselves further up the golden ladder.

So what are my reasons for choosing Red over Right?

1. I should be following Bangor City. Or, taking geography to its most reductivist conclusion, Llanfairpwll, my home village side. Both teams have fought well above their weight in the past, due in part to the Welsh FA's privileged position in world football, and I am otherwise very keen to promote the Welsh associations in my life. My first game was Bangor City in 1983 (the magic GLC year!), playing non-league English at the time. However, United date from my Welsh years, when I was perhaps more interested in what set me apart from my environment, and (difficult as it might seem now) Manchester was my original "City", my first taste of people busying about and tall buildings.

2. My Dad supported them, even though they were perhaps more accurately, his second team after Macclesfield Town, who were strictly non-League all his life. He died before they leapt up into the Coca-Cola business. He got on a bus sometime during or after the war and went to see United play at Maine Road and became a fan. He followed them during their post-war flush of success, Matt Busby's first great side, and had already stopped his season ticket by the time of the Best-Law-Charlton era. He was a link to the time before United became national property, and longer before they were the hated monolith they are now. So there is that handy memorial angle, but it's not the whole story.

3. They were the best weapon to hand on the playground to fuck with Liverpool. My childhood was dominated in football terms by the Liver Bird and the perfidious influence of Dalgleish, bubble perms and 'tasches; and it was only United who seemed to be able to really get under their thick skins. Of course, this cuts both ways, and this last season has taught me that it takes only a stiff challenge from Anfield for my old animosities and insecurities to well up from the pre-PL era and fill my mouth with bile.

4. I loved their big-spending underachieving ways, their champagne-addled wrongheadedness. Paul McGrath's natural athleticism and nous riddled with self-doubt and self-destructive boozing v Alan Hansen's dour professionalism - where was the contest? I'm very aware now that I was buying into a what might be wielded as a brand nowadays, but at the time, I am sure, it was simply United's attempt to express themselves, having been somehow caught up in the glamourous riptide of football's showbiz side. The more remote consistency and success seemed, the more they seemed to reach for the chequebook. Perhaps Newcastle could be held up as a more recent example, but it seems that where the Geordies seem nowadays to specialise in blind, (literally) Messianic passion, United fans of the 80s and early 90s seemed nourished more by a throbbing sense of injustice. It was a simple refusal to accept that their formula was badly-conceived, that they weren't reaping the silverware on a regular basis. Only the FA Cup seemed possible, the format that seemed to match United's self-regard/romance quotient most neatly during the dark league days. What good could ever come of this refusal to face up to reality?

5. The United Myth. Here is where I start to get particularly perverse and irrational. I was very happy to buy into the idea of United as the Red Arrows of Destiny, a football display team set apart from other workaday concerns, the Harlem Globetrotters of world football. With its Fifties stars mown down by tragedy while (allegedly) merely building up to the heights of their powers, and thereby safe from actually disappointing the fans by failing to meet their potential, their magnificent trajectory was somehow adumbrated over the following decades. It acted as a powerfully intimidating benchmark for thirty years' worth of talented players; but somehow sustained my/our belief that United were one of Europe's, and the world's, greatest clubs purely because they hadn't been proved wrong. Munich was maybe our version of Barcelona's Franco. Surely we would have eclipsed Liverpool in exactly the same way as Barca would've been nine cups better off instead of those fascists at the Bernabeu. As it stands, we've still only won one more Cup than Nottingham Forest. That still burns. Until we get the trophy cabinet, we are only royalty in terms of our bank balance.

On the whole, these reasons feel as foggy and dissonant as they always have. We accrue trophies under AF with predictable regularity. We are arguably the greatest club in England in terms of domestic achievements (matching Lerpwl in the league, holding more FA Cups than anyone else). We have as many European cups as Barcelona (unfortunately). But any victories just seem to be thrown into a dull ache in my belly. Had we won last night, there would have been a brief buzz of justification, a sense of temporary fulfillment, then the anxieties and impatience would have percolated back up. I patronisingly yearn for a genuine thrill of reaching some hitherto undreamed pinnacle, instead of feeling the need to tick little silver boxes on the way to applying for the post of unassailably best club ever, and thereby best ever primary school decision ever made.

Your pal, Coc x

No comments: