I have been meaning to put an article on this for quite a while on Stretty News. Now that we are nearing getting back into the ground, quite a few times I reminisce at Old Trafford when you hear the dreaded “We support our local team” or that other classic “is this a library” chants by the opposition fans.
My mind drifts back to a time when my grandad took me to Old Trafford as a 7-year-old to my very first United game. I’m sure we all have these memories of our first United game, so let me share mine.
I remember this like it was yesterday; I was 7 and mad on football. Literally every spare moment I was out kicking a ball on my own or looking to get a game going with the local lads down at school. It was my everything.
One day my Grandad came up to me and said: “Get your coat on son we are going to Old Trafford.” I couldn’t believe it and we didn’t have a pot to piss in at the time, so I had no scarves, hat or nothing (not even a half and half hah!). Anyway we jumped on the bus and got off in town. A quick trip to some greasy spoon for a bite to eat down one of the local back streets and then we headed to the ground.
The sight and the hustle and bustle of match day, this was great I was hooked and that was before we got into the ground. Remember this was well before the North Stand was erected and the turn styles you see these days. In we went to the Stretford End.
The scenes were reminiscent of this at the time (see below).
We had reach the ground quite early and I remember gazing upon the terraces to observe how they slowly filled-up. The first clutches of fans would clump in little groups around the barriers upon which they would tie their scarves and drape flags. This was at the height of the Stretford end “sway” and the football ultra, and fucking hell was I loving this. To be in the middle of such a movement and fall forward collectively at forty-five degrees then crash backwards as the bodies at the front collided with the barrier was both terrifying yet uplifting. It was like some turbulent sea of bodies, thumping against the cliffs, then swirling menacingly before the next charge. And like the ocean it could also be a brutal place as I was to find out in later years when I ventured to both home and aways on my own with mates.
Before kick-off I got a tap on the shoulder where a couple of Scottish guys started talking to my Grandad. “Yeah I’m here with the lad it’s his first game”, “Fucking hell wee lad take this support the team”. Nobody seemed to care in them days swearing in front of a 7-year-old. This was awesome, my first United scarf which I was to lose at a future game years later which I’m still gutted about.
Read more: The fancam circus
It took ages to exit the ground after the game and I was on cloud 9, what a day.
It’s a fact that both the love of my Grandad, who was everything to me and United are closely entwined. We used to talk hours together about football and United (and those scousers, he hated them). It maybe a cliche, but United is a family and my Grandad taught me that. I’m sure I’m not unique in that whereby United rips through generations in families.
I have now done the same to my lad, took him to his first game years ago as an 8-year-old and he is now a ST holder in the Stretford End with me. I can see the same type of reactions and dreams in his eyes and it takes me back to the time when my Grandad took me. I’m that 7-year-old again and just for a brief moment when you completely lose it, you are transported back in time from seats to terraces. Nothing else in the world can do that.
I still think about my Grandad every single day and his mantra “Life is for the living son”, I owe him everything.
Supporting United and other clubs in those days was very, very different. It wasn’t the civilised affair you see these days. You could very easily get the shit kicked out of you, pissed on, intimidated and that was amongst your own. The crowds were angry, the atmosphere volatile.
That’s why the away games are sought after they transport you back to a time of passion, danger and great atmospheres. But even these pale into significance from times before Fergie.
I came across a great video which shows the difference between then and now. It’s fantastic the club are trying to make an effort with TRA, banners, surfer flags and so on.
Atmosphere at football is often seen as a defining aspect of a club’s identity; the rapturous nature of the KOP at Anfield (allegedly), Old Trafford’s Stretford End and the Holte End at Villa Park are all enshrined in club folklore, exemplifying their character, unity and originality. However, with the introduction of all-seater stadia, the squeezing out of fans of a low income and the notable sanitation of British football grounds, atmosphere has markedly suffered as a result. Slowly clubs are beginning to realise this and are trying to put things in place. The pandemic as shown just how badly fans are needed, Sir Matt was right.
When I first started going to United this was at the height of football hooliganism, the height of the football Ultra.
Increased co-operation with clubs and supporter groups does mark notable improvements, yet more needs to be done to promote assimilation of Ultras into mainstream British footballing culture in order to prevent our grounds falling further into the stagnant, stale and passive quagmire. Football has moved on a lot since these days, much of it for the better. Apart from the game going supporter and at the expense of the match day experience and atmosphere, many would argue.
I feel the club need to encourage the next generation of local passionate red. These are the lifeblood of that support, those atmospheres. Instead we are stuck with fat corporates in ill sized suits, not caring about the game or result. Or alternatively those who know nothing at all about the history of the club, words to chants or local rivalries. Look around Old Trafford on match days you can spot them a mile away. The fact that younger audiences and fan base is dwindling is really sad, its tragic.
They maybe fans but its a fact that atmospheres at grounds like Old Trafford have suffered dramatically over the years because of this and that trend is set to continue unless something is done. The price of being a global club some might say, bollocks I say we have always been a global club since Munich, it’s something more, something deeper.
In stark contrast to fan culture these days we have the fan channels and the social media keyboard warriors. Fan culture and the match day experience is a far cry from most of their concerns. They are just in it for the clicks, likes and self-promotion. We have fan channels posing as United fans- total frauds backed by media companies in the name of earning the dollar from a global fanbase (sound familiar Glazers). Many of these accounts have most match going reds blocked. After all what could they possibly learn from these channels? What would they have in common? They prey on the fickle and naive.
In some respects the people who follow these accounts are even more mind boggling. Living their United experiences through some stranger who is exploiting them for £££ to read out their comments. They are watching them watching a United game. What is going on, you couldn’t make it up and a far cry from the match going red who have nothing in common with these so called fans who seem more interested in supporting an agenda (normally negative) or player over the club. They are rotting away the traditions and passion of what it means to be a true fan.
I’m sure anyone reading this have experiences of a time long since forgotten no matter what club you support. Great, great days, don’t you miss them, don’t you want them back, I know I do.