I can’t remember the exact moment I started supporting the club I do. Can you?
I know I was young, still very much in Primary School. But I couldn’t give you an exact date. I do remember coming home from church one day (this was back in the days when everyone went to church even if you weren’t a “proper” Christian) and being told that the brilliant Eric Cantona had struck a late winner to vanquish Liverpool in the 1996 FA Cup Final. So I was most definitely a Manchester United fan at this point. I can’t vividly recall any United-related moments before this, though, so I often use it as my starting point. I would have been 11.
So, at 11 (possibly earlier), would I have thought it was a good idea to support my local club? Of course not. I suspect I began to follow United mainly because my best friend at the time, Craig ‘Hughesy’ Hughes, supported them. At that age, you tend to pander to those people around you who you see as being cool. I further suspect that Hughesy only supported United because they were the most successful club in English football, and , therefore, really cool. But none of this goes through the mind of an 11 year old. Other than the really cool part.
At this time, not a single member of my family supported a football club. I know many people who support certain teams (local, and further afield) because they were first taken to watch them by their dads or granddads, aunties or uncles. Not me. My dad despises football, whereas my mum, while more passionate today, had no interest whatsoever back then. I’m the eldest child, so also had no older sibling to copy of be led dangerously astray by. Therefore, as a pre-teen young boy, I had free reign over which club I supported. Considering the period (mid-nineties), is it any wonder I found myself a little bit taken by the gloriously entertaining Manchester United?
The biggest local club at this time (and still, really) were Bristol City, who had just been relegated back into the old Second Division. Ask any 11 year old nowadays to name as many League One clubs as they can and I bet they won’t get into double figures. And that’s being generous. I certainly couldn’t have back then. With no family member or close friend to show me otherwise, why(/how) would I chose to follow Bristol City when Manchester United were there for the taking? Man United with such players as Eric Cantona, Ryan Giggs, Andy Cole, and this young lad named David Beckham. Not to mention the really cool songs they had released (“We’re Gonna Do It Again”, anyone?). Also, you’d see baggy red (sometimes grey) United shirts being worn wherever you looked (Hughesy always did), but rarely a Bristol City one. And certainly not a Rovers top. There was never any contest.
As my friends and I grew up, support fractured. But still for mostly Premiership (as it was) teams, mainly Arsenal (Henry), Liverpool (Owen), Chelsea (££) and Spurs (??). One, for some reason, became a ST holder at Wolves (Ndah?). Some started going to watch Bristol City, though, and quickly became proper “fans” (back then, I think this meant attending matches most weeks and popping into the club shop beforehand). I’d tag along to watch games with them and, at the height of my City-watching stage, would go 10+ times a season. It was convenient having Ashton Gate’s reasonably-priced, wooden Dolman Stand seats right on my doorstep (quite literally, for one friend). After all, as a 15/16 year kid, I didn’t have the money (or physical means) to travel to Old Trafford every week. Did this make me a Bristol City supporter? No idea. I enjoyed going, cheered them on, got excited when they scored, and angry when they lost. But it wasn’t the same feeling as watching United. I never contemplated switching allegiances full-time.
Of course, as you grow older still, attitudes change. You reach an age where you realise that supporting a local club is both much more convenient and, for some strange reason, smiled upon. I think there’s a general impression that it somehow makes you a better local citizen, too. As if you’re supporting them in more than the flag-waving, terrace-chanting fashion. This may be true (the lower down you go, the more true it becomes, I think), but it didn’t matter to me. It still doesn’t.
Prepare for some ridiculously cheesy sentimentality…
Because I love United.
I love it when they win, I truly hate it when they lose. I often times feel sick after a match (I’m looking at you, Everton), and, as we approach “squeaky bum time”, usually before matches, too. I cannot comprehend how, when somebody reaches a certain age, they decide they can start to follow a new club. That, just because people say supporting a football club hundreds (sometimes thousands) of miles away is a bad thing, they find themselves able to just stop caring and move on.
“You should support your local club you glory hunter.”
How on earth am I supposed to do that after all this time? Please, tell me.
If you’ve been married for twenty+ years to a woman you love, and this woman truly loves you, could you go through with a divorce just because people say that you should? Just because they all say – with no proper or clear reasons why – that your marriage is wrong? Of course not. It’s bullshit. The people who find themselves able to do so didn’t care for the woman (/football club, do keep up with this tenuous metaphor) to begin with, anyway. ‘Till death do us part and all that.
And so now, at the grand old age of 27 (yeah, I know), while I have visited various football grounds up, down and across the UK (St Andrews does the best pie, Park Avenue the best chips), and still attend matches at my local club (Weston-super-Mare, nowadays) as often as I can, my true club allegiance has not, and never will, change. I’m United for life, and couldn’t care less what anyone says or thinks about it. If you think it’s so easy to change the club you care about, I ask you to try it. If you find that you can, you were a plastic fan to begin with anyway.
That’s how and why I support the team I do. What about you?