Exodus – Movement of J(ah) people!

As I made my way up to my seat in J Stand for the Olympiakos game last month I could see a bit of a commotion going on with the lads I sit near. Edging along the row I was greeted with comments of, “here he is, we are honoured to be in his company” and “how’s he bloody got that?” To be honest I didn’t know what they were going on about but it was causing great amusement. James Grant from Oldham had covered my seat with his scarf, as I got close he whipped it away to unveil a plaque with the inscription ‘Pete Molyneux’.

I laughed, a little embarrassed, shook me head and said, “Well, there you are lads, I’ve finally arrived!” Months earlier I’d received a call from United’s ticket office saying that they were offering Platinum Season Ticket Holders (26+ seasons) the opportunity to have their name on their seats. “How much?” I said. “It’s free, Sir”. Initially, it seemed like a crass gimmick. Then I thought, “mmm, Pete Molyneux – Name on Seat!” It had a great ring to it, like a strap-line from Clive Tyldesley’s great European commentaries of the late 90s. “Go on, then, I’ll have it done!” The nice chap told me it would be completed sometime in the next twelve months. I’d forgotten all about it until that glorious night when we turned round a 0-2 deficit and I was honoured by our great club.

Returning home from the quarter-final defeat in Munich last week there was another communication from the Ticket Office. This time it was a letter advising me that I would have to move out of J Stand to accommodate the newly formed ‘Singing Section’. I would have to leave the seat I’ve had since August 1988 and move to another, yet unnamed, part of Old Trafford. I learned many years ago about life’s mixed fortunes; one day you’re the pigeon, the next you’re the statue. But I never expected to be shat on quite so quickly. I took 24 hours to calm down then visited the ticket office in person to make it quite clear I had no intention of leaving J Stand except in a wooden box. A courteous supervisor told me she understood how upsetting it must be but there was no alternative. Time to leave the ticket office, time for the gloves to come off, time to fight back.

I have supported the singing section trial since it started and still do. Ever since Old Trafford’s capacity reached 76,000 the noise from the fans who want to sing at home matches has become too diluted. There are pockets of singers everywhere around our fine ground but unless we’re playing one of the top 8 clubs or it’s a European game in the knock-out stages it’s not enough to ignite the whole stadium. The initial plan was to house the singers in L Stand and re-site the away fans well away from the pitch high up in Fergie’s Stand. That has proved too troublesome for security reasons and because J & L have the best acoustics the solution lays in J. In February United clumsily handed over much of J to the singers for the Fulham game. They tried to move us all out by sending emails over Christmas, some fans moved others fought to keep their seats and won. That action by the club caused some ructions but season ticket holders were assured it was just a trial and we would be consulted if there were any further plans to use J. We heard nothing until last week’s bombshell. The complete lack of transparency is a disgrace.

J Stand came to prominence in the late 80s, early 90s, when the number of season tickets made available by the club was significantly increased. Many ex-Stretford Enders took up the offer and migrated to the other end of the stadium where, housed next to United’s lively K Stand, we formed a formidable loyal, passionate, colourful and often feared support. J Stand became the heartbeat of United’s support for over a decade. Most of those guys and gals have stayed there and occupy the same seats they’ve had for four decades now. They follow United home, away and abroad and together with K have kept the singing going at that end of the ground at nearly every match. I understand J Stand has the highest proportion of ‘gold’ and ‘platinum’ season ticket holders within Old Trafford.

To now dismiss their support and loyalty at a whim to accommodate the singers is beneath contempt. To be fair the club have taken great strides to improve relations with supporters over the last 10-15 years. The ticket office is fast, efficient, friendly and a world away from the po-faced attitude we used to tolerate. For the last two years United have put on a free Christmas meal for their oldest season ticket holders, fans who have been coming to Old Trafford since the Busby Babes. Recently they’ve done free ‘pint & pie’ live screening of away matches for Gold and Platinum supporters who couldn’t get tickets to travel. All great stuff and often not seen or reported by the media. But on this issue Manchester United have made a huge misjudgement.

I have now written to the Venue Director asking him to reconsider the forced exodus. As a way forward I’ve suggested the club conduct a quick poll of the 1,600 fans in J Stand asking who wants to leave and who wants to stay given the club’s intention to use J as a singing section. I’ve no doubt some will leave and good luck to them. Their places can be taken by those on the shortlist to join the singing section. They will blend in with the existing fans in J and each time a ‘regular’ leaves that seat is backfilled from the shortlist. That process will take time but it’s equitable. In the meantime J will continue to provide great singing support to the team.

United are big business and the businesses don’t usually take unnecessary steps to aggravate their long-serving customers. Usually it’s legislation, competition or environmental factors that drive unpopular change. In other words, United don’t have to do what they’re doing to their 1,600 supports in J, they are doing it by choice which makes it even more unpalatable. The club have spent several thousand pounds conducting acoustic tests to find the most suitable spot for a singing section. They have also engaged in numerous meetings talking to supporters who are desperate for such a section. Time now, I feel, for the club to listen to the fans who will be most affected by this move. That’s the least they can do to repay J’s unstinting loyalty. I do hope we make progress otherwise this will set United supporter against United supporter.

In the meantime, if you’re reading this and you’re the chap who fixes the plaques to the seats of those regarded as United’s great and good just keep your screwdriver in your toolbox for now will yer?

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