The well-worn joke is that the overwhelming bulk of Manchester United supporters hail from the south-east – or indeed, anywhere but Manchester.
As a case in point, when I go across the road this morning in order to collect my usual from the newsagents, it is inevitable that Bob – the Sub-Continent proprietor – will be particularly distraught. He’s a lifelong United fan who, until two season ago, was a season ticket holder. These days he just confines himself to disappearing every time United play, leaving his wife minding the shop, to watch their games on television.
Endearingly, Bob is an eternal pessimist. Even when United habitually ruled the roost, he always saw the next game – even against lowest of opposition – as the one in which his beloved team would falter.
Since November, out of human pity, I have given up teasing him about United’s fortunes. You can get bored of kicking a man when he’s down.
Yesterday, I watched the second half of the 3-1 defeat to Chelsea on the box, which I understand was United’s fourth loss in five games.
Much as I feel for Bob – and I write as someone who doesn’t really follow football – I am really rather enjoying United’s fall from grace and the agonising travails of their new manager David Moyes.
Committed football fans are pathologically programmed to ignore issues of money and ownership. In the Ken Bates years, Chelsea supporters were generally down in the dumps. Then along came Abramovich, whereupon suddenly money became no object. Their club didn’t just buy a few players, it bought half of Europe … and indeed Africa. Within two or three years, Chelsea supporters became accustomed to, and then expected as of right, major success upon an annual basis. Increasingly, thoughts of heritage and history counted for less and less. Who cares about the past when you’re winning today?
Then, a few years later out of the blue, new owners arrived at Manchester City. Seemingly, they had more loot at their disposal than even Abramovich. Within a couple of seasons they had also assembled a squad to frighten the world. Suddenly their supporters were preening themselves about City’s flowing style of play and, of course, their growing influence in the Premiership and Europe. Just as important – perhaps even more so – they were no longer the poor relations, in any sense, to their hated rivals down the road at Old Trafford.
Now – perhaps temporarily, perhaps not – the wheels are coming off at Manchester United. Maybe their problems began when the Glazers, those airhead American upstarts, bought the club on the never-never (if only it could have been some multi-billionaire instead).
Or perhaps the rot set in when, upon his retirement and with his support, they picked Moyes to replace Sir Alex Ferguson. The jury is still out as to whether Ferguson gave Moyes a hospital pass or a losing set of cards, or whether Moyes is merely suffering from a few and only-to-be-expected teething problems, or – God forbid – at the bottom line, he just isn’t up to the job.
Still, as I understand it, Moyes has a four-year contract – so I suspect we’ll be hearing more on these topics for a good while yet.
Be that as it may, I confess I am both enjoying and more engaged in the world of Premiership football this season than I have been for many years.