Welcome to the latest feature of My Love for United. The big names keep on coming! After last week’s entertaining interview with Coronation Street and I’m a Celebrity star Andy Whyment, I am incredibly delighted to be able to hear from not only one of the best journalists in the field, but a huge red to match, Mr Andy Mitten.
Andy has been following United now for over 30-years and it was a huge moment for me to have a brilliant 45 minute conversation with him. His football stories range geographically from miles outside to Old Trafford, to Mexico and even the Faroe Islands, of all places, not to mention his bread and butter, his beloved Manchester United.
So, without further ado, this is Andy Mitten’s love for United, sit back and enjoy…
Tell us a bit about yourself for readers who may not know you.
When I was 15 I started United We Stand, it was a fanzine and I was going to games and felt that football fans were not being treated very well: I remember going to Forest away when I was 14 and it cost twice my weekly wage to stand on a terrace and their facilities and view were crap and I just thought ‘fans are getting a really rough deal here’ and it was at that time that the first wave of football fanzines gave fans a voice because the government looked down on football fans, they felt they were all scum and I thought ‘I’m not scum’ so we started United We Stand. We sold it outside the ground and it all seemed very exciting and we never knew where it was going and it grew and grew and grew.
By the time I was 18, I quite fancied being a football journalist, I did a degree in journalism and two years into that United offered me a job for their official magazine but I didn’t want to stop my studies so I didn’t. It was pretty flattering as it was the editor’s job as a young lad but I always felt I wanted to keep my independence as it adds to your integrity and you can ask difficult questions.
I started freelancing for different people and carried on doing UWS as it was close to my heart and still is. I’ve written 11 books, 8 are about United and what I do now is write full time as a football writer and have done for many years. I have written for FourFourTwo for twenty years and am their editor at large so I can do the journalism I love, not necessarily about United: I have been to Mexico to track down Maradona and went in with Lazio’s Ultras who are a pretty dangerous group of people. Maradona’s club said ‘no, he does no interviews at all and my editor said ‘no, go there anyway’ and I got a great story! Maradona said ‘where are you from’ and when I said ‘Manchester’ you could see it in his face, his eyes lit up, whereas if I’d said I was from Nurnberg I probably wouldn’t have had the same reaction! Once you are in front of people, humans are the same all over the world so if you’re communicative people are going to talk to you.
I went to the Arctic circle to do a derby game, I like seeing the world and my job allows me to do that. I like the travel, South America, I’ve interviewed Messi several times and there are more interesting players than Messi but he is Lionel Messi and you put him on the front cover of a magazine and people are going to be interested in him.
In terms of the ones we’ve had for UWS, Roy Keane was brilliant, absolutely brilliant just really outspoken. I’ve known Keane from when we signed him and twice during the interview, I would ask him a question and he’d just evil me back and say you’re talking s*** but I was laughing at it cause he’s not going to attack you but the material was amazing, probably the best we’ve had on United We Stand. If it came out now, it would probably be ripped off and twisted, which is a shame but even then United got nervous about that interview but the fans loved it and loved him.
When did you start supporting United and what was your first match?
All my life, but my first live game was quite late because I was 10, when you think I lived so close to the ground, ten years is quite a long time especially when my little brother went when he was 1 and my daughter was 1. The reason was, my dad played football every week so I was going to live football every single weekend but my dad didn’t want to take me to Old Trafford, he said he preferred to play football than watch it.
I was taken, not by my own dad, but by the dad of one of my school mates. From the age of 13, I started going by myself to home games and from 16 I was going to away games and haven’t stopped doing that. I started on the Stretford Paddock when I was 13, then went to the Stretford End and when I was 17 I moved to K Stand and I was there for many years. I’ve been lucky enough to see United in about 45 countries now.
The first match was Ipswich Town at home May 7th 1984, we got beat 2-1 so I remember it well, I think Stapleton got our goal… (checks Internet) oh no… it was Hughes… Mark Hughes got our goal. It was a friend’s 10th birthday party so that’s what we went for! I was struck by the greenness of the pitch because it’s in the middle of Trafford Park, where my dad worked, it’s one of the greatest moments of my life seeing that pitch for the first time. You can never beat that first time but I’m just glad that I’ve done it.
Does United run in the family?
I’m a lifelong United fan, I grew up in Stretford for the first six years of my life, then Urmston which is next to Stretford so from a part of Manchester which is predominantly United in big, big Manchester City fan clubs, it’s called ‘blues in bandit country’ so a big United area.
A lot of friends there, like Eccles where you’re from, go to United home and away and have done for many, many years. I’m from a big football family, I’m just about the only person in my family who doesn’t receive pay to play football – the most famous player was my Uncle Charlie, who played in Sir Matt Busby’s first great side, he was a winger.
Both Charlie’s sons were professionals footballer, my grandad was a professional footballer, my dad’s one of nine- six were boys and footballers, my cousin Paul was at United, my brother was a really known non-league striker at clubs like Curzon Ashton, Altrincham and Trafford so I played in good teams, one in Stretford, but was never going to be good enough to make it.
From the age of four or five I was going to football every week watching my dad around the non-league grounds of Northern England and I loved it and I still love non-league to this day but my whole family was United. You could hear Old Trafford from where I grew up and when I was delivering my paper on my paper round as a young lad I could hear the roar of Old Trafford it was so loud even though it was two miles away!
What do you enjoy most about being involved with United?
I love writing and I’m passionate about journalism. I like meeting people and hearing what their stories are. I provide for United, for the city, I love the fanzine culture of the lads standing outside the ground – people coming up to them and buying the magazine. The game can be brilliant as well, I like big crowds, stadiums, the excitement of a match, the sport of football, I play football so there’s so many things that draw me in.
I like the fact it’s 75,000 people converging on one place, I like away fans and the atmosphere that they bring. I like statistics and numbers, I know an awful lot of s*** even though I’ve not been able to tell you who scored in my first game! I can tell you how many fans United took to away games in 1991 and my wife has zero interest in football and she thinks it’s bizarre but I can’t help it!
I like interesting people. We’ve got Ole in the next fanzine and I’ve known him since 1996. He trusts me and I’ve asked him all season to do an interview and he has given us one.
Who is your favourite United player of all time?
A few. Roy Keane, I played against Ryan Giggs as a kid, he was Ryan Wilson at that point but I’m the same age as him, knew him from being 13 and to watch someone the same age as you play 963 times for United blows your mind a bit.
These were normal lads who were brilliant at football.
When I started supporting United, I never thought the team would be first division champions and because of these lads I’ve travelled around the world. I’ve had my life greatly enriched by them and Ferguson, not just winning titles but European cups.
I’d probably say Cristiano Ronaldo is technically the best player I’ve ever seen, Keane, Bryan Robson, Eric Cantona. I really like Andy Cole as a person so it probably alters the way you’re thinking. Gary Neville was a brilliant right-back, Scholes was brilliant. Of the current players, probably De Gea up to this season.
What is your favourite United match of all-time?
Juventus 2-3 United and it’s officially the world’s greatest ever game of football, that’s recorded in the Guinness Book of Records and the best game I’ve ever seen. It had everything. If people think the final in ’99 is the greatest, fine… I respect that but at half time in Turin I’ve never felt like watching United in my life. The team, two miles where I’m from, going to the best team in the world and are dominating them and have come back against them… that just felt incredible.
But I have been spoilt for more than a lifetime of great memories and I suppose, as a fan, you have got to suffer these lows to appreciate the highs… and we have suffered!
Who is your most hated rival and opposition player of all time?
I think Liverpool are United’s greatest rivals and I’ve got mates who say ‘no, it’s City’ but I think it’s Liverpool. A huge football club, I hope they lose every game they play but I have a respect for them because of their history, I think you have to respect them.
I grew up at a time when they won everything, despised them and then we started winning everything and now they’re having a little moment in the sun… should they ever win the league and they’ve waited long enough for it!
I remember being at Anfield in ’92 the whole ground singing ‘have you ever seen United win the league?’ and I was thinking ‘you absolute b******s but I like that edge, I want that edge in football, I like that atmosphere you get, not violence, between United and Liverpool.
Player? I would’ve loved Steven Gerrard to play for United because he was a brilliant footballer. Ferguson would’ve signed him but Liverpool never would’ve sold him and he probably would never make the move. Around 2007, Ferguson would have probably put him number one of his targets. Gerrard was in his peak, he was brilliant but his family would’ve gone through hell if he’d joined United.
Part of me likes the fact Liverpool and United don’t sell players to each other, it’s good. I like the fact they just refuse. Gabriel Heinze got slaughtered for it (fraternising with the enemy) and I’m glad he did.
What is your stance on the Glazers?
I don’t think the takeover should ever have been allowed to happen. It was a highly leveraged buyout, I don’t think United need to be owned in the manner they are.
I think it is big enough and strong enough for the fans to own the club. I’d love to see that happen, however it’s really complex.
I used to think Barcelona had the perfect model and we’re not close to it but in many ways it’s actually more unstable than United because you have presidents vying for position every four years and it can have a very destabilising effect on the club. I don’t think a perfect model exists for a football club. I spoke to a director at Schalke 04 and they are genuinely fan owned and he told me all their problems there, basically how they cannot compete because of their principles.
United are one of the three biggest clubs in the world and I like to see them competing. But the Glazers didn’t do anything illegal when they took over the club and they have been pretty smart in some of the ways they have boosted the commercial revenue but the takeover did cause heartache amongst United fans and some of that heartache hasn’t healed.
I’ve never seen the Glazers selling as being realistic, the Saudis in November was all internet hot air and, as a journalist, it didn’t stand up in any way, shape or form. They have a profitable company which they have from taking out a big mortgage and it’s working for them, looking at it coldly and in a calculated manner, it’s making them an awful lot of money so why would they sell? And, even if they did sell, who would buy it? Who is in a position to pay $4,000,000,000 and then are those people any better than the Glazers? There are all these questions that come to the fore.
United have been impressive during this lockdown period and they have to be credited for that, because there are plenty of times where we have asked questions of them and criticise them.
Do you think Ole is at the wheel for the long term?
I would like Ole to succeed and I think that managers deserve time.
Be they Moyes, Van Gaal, Mourinho, they deserve a couple of seasons. But there has got to be minimum requirements as well. There were times in December when United had won only 4 of their first 14 league games and I’m thinking ‘this isn’t good enough’ and Ole knew that as well but he has a good idea, I think he is a decent coach and has proved that by getting some good wins against big teams. He just needs the team to be more consistent now and his record in the transfer market at United is a good one, much better than his predecessors.
I’d love him to be a success. If he is successful, he is far more inclined to stay around and it would be great if he did but United shouldn’t be 5th in the league, we should be fighting for titles and he knows that but he is no fool. He can be tough when he needs to be and that comes across in the UWS interview as well. He is not paying lip service to people, players departed who he wanted out of the club to shape the squad in the manner which he wanted so I think he is absolutely capable of making decisions like that.
New United We Stand is out tomorrow. Big Ole Gunnar Solskjaer interview. Subscription copies and single issue orders all posted. We’ll do another mail out this week if you want to order. Details on my pinned tweet. Will link to stockists too. pic.twitter.com/vbrM2w8JQd
— Andy Mitten (@AndyMitten) May 20, 2020
Of course, it helps he is a club legend but if United finish next season and the season after he’s not going to be around but I am seeing signs of improvement and hopefully that will continue. He doesn’t suffer fools, he got rid of players last summer who did not aid United’s dressing room and didn’t waste any time doing that.
A huge thank you, once again, to Andy for this amazing interview. We hope your enjoyed his story. If you liked it, you can check out more of Andy’s work via Twitter, where you can also find details of how to subscribe to United We Stand and purchase the mag with the big Ole interview in it.