Manchester United in Adversity – But what of the fans?

Manchester United Fans

There was no doubt Old Trafford has been louder in the last two games. Of course, we were playing Liverpool last week, which always gets the spirits up, but there was something more than that: United had been badly wounded at city on the previous Sunday; a lesser group of fans might have taken the opportunity to make clear their dissatisfaction with the team and with David Moyes. Similarly so in the dire capitulation to West Brom. But this was not a lesser group of fans: this was Manchester United’s match-going support, and it does adversity very well.

This isn’t popularly acknowledged, needless to say.  The conventional view of us is of a group of supporters, bloated and spoiled with success, who are in it for the glory and nothing else. That’s why the press, following the West Brom defeat, chose to emphasize the boos from sections of the United support rather than the pro-Moyes chants and the singing of ‘We’ll Never Die’ that sent a shiver up the spine david-moyes-crowdtowards the end of the game. The truth is, United are possibly the only club in England whose support doesn’t merely swell in size when times are good: bad times bring out the best in United, and its been that way for decades.

Take season 1973-74, a dismal one for the club: United on our way to relegation for the first time since the war.  In comparable circumstances, it’s common for a club’s support to become disillusioned and decline and to stay away from the ground in increasingly larger numbers. Not United. Despite the successful years of the fifties and sixties being clearly over and showing little possibility of returning soon, United’s home support actually rose in our relegation season and we became the first club ever in English football to have the biggest average home attendance in a season in which we went down.

United’s attendance didn’t merely stay sold during our season in the second division – it increased.  It wasn’t a marginal increase either, but a healthily inflating attendance figure of a kind that most clubs only experience when their team is experiencing unusually good times.  For United, it goes without saying that these were unusually bad ones and yet we became the only club in over fifty years to be the best supported side in the country, despite playing outside the top division.

This isn’t the case elsewhere. Our close neighbours city have of course enjoyed a lot of yo-yoing during the period in question; in fact, they’ve been relegated from the top division on six occasions, and despite their reputation for resilient loyalty among their supporters, on all of those occasions their average attendance declined while they were in the second tier. This is despite the fact that twice they followed this up with a quick promotion and on one other occasion (1983) only just missed out. On the three occasions Leeds have been relegated from the top division since the fifties, their support has plummeted. They lost more than seven thousand, over a third of their fans, from their average attendance when going down in 1960, almost a third in 1982 and over seven thousand again in 2004.

And what of that other team so often held up by the media as a paradigm for fan loyalty – Newcastle United?  Unfortunately, as is so often the case, we find that media representation and conventional wisdom don’t tie in with reality. Newcastle have suffered the drop four times since the war, and, only on one occasion – in 1961 – did their average attendance show a very small increase.  In the three relegation seasons since then, they’ve consistently seen mass evacuation of St James’ Park that would only be reversed on return to the top division; over 20% deserted them in 1978, there was a small but notable decrease in 1989 and a fall of over five thousand in 2009, despite their team winning the Championship that year.

anfieldWhen Liverpool endured relegation in 1954, they managed to shave over 10% off their support during their first season in the second tier. And in case you’re thinking that smaller teams who pay a brief visit to the top division fare better, given their supporters’ familiarity with rougher times and thus what is again generally assumed by so many to be a greater resilience among them, think again. The evidence suggests that these clubs tend to pull a load of supporters out of the closet during their brief encounter with the big time who quickly depart when relegation occurs and mundane reality kicks in again.  Consider the cases of Bradford City in 1995 (14% of their support didn’t return the next season), Burnley in 2010 (over a quarter of their support deserted them on return to the championship) and Northampton in 1966 (in the year following their single season in the top division, a third of their fans found other things to do on Saturday afternoons).  Oldham Athletic also shed a third of its support when dropping down a division in 1994, while Swindon lost over 40% when returning from whence they came in 1994, and Carlisle said farewell to a similar number after their excursion to the top division in 1975.  And the most fickle of the lot?  Bristol City, who in 1980 were relegated from the top division and lost a mammoth 52% of their average crowd in the process.

The romantic image of the support of small clubs remaining resolutely with them through thick and thin is nonsense.  United’s fans are conspicuous in the strength of their support whatever fortunes befall their team, something that only clubs with a certain defined aura and comparable attachment to style can get close to emulating. It’s often been said by United fans that the true intensity of our support comes out in times of difficulty and I believe that’s true, tying it as it does with the peculiar attachment to pariah status we so enjoy.  Amid the disappointment of a defeat, I always experience a peculiar sensation of my attachment to the reds strengthening even further and it also seems to me that, when making my way along with thousands of others across Trafford Bridge and into Salford following a disappointing outcome, there’s a conscious swell of increased devotion to the club hanging in the air around us.  This is one reason why, if we’re going to have a bad result, I’d rather be there at the ground rather than watching it on the telly. The communality of the experience is overwhelming and in its own very singular way uplifting.

Manchester United fans waves their Green and Gold ScarvesOf course, the figures cited above rarely get referred to by a media that is only too contented with the stereotype of United’s supporters as fat cats who are only happy when there’s a full bowl of cream in front of us. They happily alight on the idiotic views of those armchair glory hunters who’ve only attached themselves to our club for shallow reasons and waste no opportunity on forums and phone-ins to tell us that Moyes is taking the club nowhere and unless we buy Fabregas, Ozil, Ronaldo and Usain Bolt in the January transfer window, they’re getting their coats.

Good riddance to them. Such individuals have no connection with the true spirit of my club and I could almost tolerate three years or so without winning anything just to see the back of them. Should this happen (and I don’t believe for a moment it will) I guarantee that you’ll hear the Old Trafford support getting behind its team as passionately as ever because they are, and always have been, the true voice of Manchester United.

(Information and statistics on supporter loyalty can be found in my book A Deeper Shade of Red, from which the above extract has been adapted.  The book is available in paperback here and for Kindle here.)

35 Comments

  1. Great piece. About time these things were made public. Sick of always having to defend the club from crap punditry and poor media coverage!

  2. After yesterday’s result let me say the following:
    – The team’s weaknesses over the last 3 years are becoming more visible having an average manager. We have to admit that Moyes was never the man for this job but not all is his fault. Quality changes in the team had to be long ago by Sir Alex. We need a few warriors in the team.
    – What happened during the summer showed people at United are complete ignorant and amateur on how to operate in the European transfer market.
    – My first game was back in 1981 when Norman Whiteside made his debut. Watched United through the 80’s and between 1990-1995 while living in Manchester I was a LMTB holder at K-stand. I’m very disappointed that the atmosphere inside Old Trafford over the last 3-4 (even in so called derbies) is a joke! No passion, no singing, nothing to make the opposition scared. And the latest joke is the return of the singing/standing section! I now prefer to watch 1-2 of the away games i.e. last year’s game at Fulham with 90 minutes standing and singing with the lads “kicking a blue”. I just wish we had the same support in every game at Old Trafford as it used to be in the past.

    Missing the old days!

  3. Superb article, all the glory hunters can go take a run and jump as far as i’m concerned. We are Manchester United, not some other soft shite team that herald from Beswick!

  4. kagawa krew – just read a comment by you on some other site, your an embarrassment of a united fan, probably a glory hunter. go support chelsea kid.
    ED- great piece, always put a united top on after a defeat and wear it with pride.
    i think moyes is the right man for the job, but will need a season to get used to all the players, and being united manager in general.

  5. Moyes please one again please don’t change these player rafael,vidic,evra,valencia,rooney,carrick these player keep man utd in balance and keep united strong you make mistake in west brom match by not playing rafael,vidic,evra,valencia but you had a chance to to cover your mistake in second half by bring valencia in second half when rooney equalised and evra also but you waste all them by wrong tactical strategies.for me anderson,buttner should have been bench but only good player you bring was januzaj only one and ferdinand should play next match vidic and evans should play all match.

  6. Can understand the fans,the way United are playing RUBBISH.If we remember from last season,United were not very convincing even if they won 1-0.Anyway I like to think of United as an English club,ok its American owned and with maybe not a pot full of gold like some.It,s a bizz like everything else.One thing I liked under Fergie was they bought young players to train up ,thats good for bizz but does it work.Christmas should be about the time to answer that,cause now United ARE stuck with Moyes unless they sack him.

  7. I am from India and so has never once been to Old Trafford. You can call me a glory hunter or whatever but for me Manchester United is my soul, my love and more than anything else in the world. We have had a torrid start to the season and there are many who criticize Moyes and rightly so. Young and Anderson, we should have sold. And this whole business of Cesc Fabregas has made us the laughing stock. But putting all that behind, i believe that despite all these difficulties, we shall rise again, higher, stronger and mightier. Adversities help you get stronger if you take it that way. In Moyes, we have a loyal and efficient manager. It’s a transition for the team and more so for Moyes himself. Coming from a club like Everton, where achieving a finish above Liverpool meant more than say a Champions League spot, to a club like Manchester United, where nothing short of a win would do. Its tough for him to change in a matter of days. This will take time and i have faith in Moyes, that he will turn this around. And as you said, i would only be too happy to see the backs of those “fans” who would only be supporting us if we are winning.

    Have faith, we have seen bad times before and have always bounced back stronger. We Will this time too, though it might take a wee bit longer than before.

    Cheers

    • well said bro…i am in the same brigade…united till death…no matter what…we are not glory hunters…we know that everyone wants us to fall…but we wont…this season we need to consolidate and build a base….throw out the dead wood and prepare for the future…i bet nxt season we wud win the double…

  8. i will always be a united fan.. Now and always.. The storm always comes to end not to stay. We just six games into the league and we trembling? Come on mates! Look at other top clubs,they are still yet to obtain their balance even with the crops of players they obtained.. We are United and we always fight for we never say die.

  9. David moyes cannot make good selection is because he doesn’t know the player well as his coaching staff also that a big mistake moyes done if sir alex staff was there he just have to direct the player only because the sir alex staff know how sir alex used the player in right timing if things going wrong. But now for moyes it seem very difficult to manage man utd.

  10. A lot of bollocks written in this article. We don’t have the greatest squad in the EPL but what we have is enough to brush aside the likes of Albion. Moyes selections & clueless subs prove his conservativeness & tactical ineptitude. We’ve lost 6-1 to city before but we were 10 men most of the game. Moyes’ defensive setup & failure to make obvious subs cost us the city game. Lack of tactics & using players out of position cost us the WBA game…he tries to hide the fact that he played Jones at rightback by playing blaming Kagawa(played out of position). Take out Kagawa & we lost the game.
    Moyes has done nothing to merit his appointment as Utd coach except for being Scottish & his longevity at Everton, where fans know him for negative football & tactical ineptitude. 11 yrs without a trophy tells it all (Dont give us the limited budget crap coz teams like Wigan,Swansea & Birmingham have won trophies with smaller budgets). Take a look at how Everton are playing under Martinez & we’d have been better off with Martinez.
    And mind you, the boos at OT were mainly directed at him & his wannabe technical bench. The players look unmotivated & that’s the work of a coach; but apparently, passion for your club is glory hunting. Peace.

    • “The players look unmotivated & that’s the work of a coach; but apparently, passion for your club is glory hunting.”

      .Agree 100% mate. The worrying factor is that the players are looking uninterested and lacking passion, and that’s Moyes’ department.

    • Agreed with EVERYTHING, Sir! We fear what Mr. David Moyes with his stubborn, ill-thought out decisions is doing to United – I feared the worst when he got rid of Mike Phelan, Eric Steele and Rene Meulensteen.

      Absolutely spot on with your analysis!!!

  11. Moyes decisions since taking charge

    Awful fucking training regime which has resulted in two muscle injuries already to Van Persie.
    Player Rio Ferdinand in every single fucking game. He’s nearly 35 for fucks sake.
    The main tactic being Classic United x10; get the ball out wide and cross it in. It doesn’t help when Ashley Young and Antonio Valencia have been the main fucking wingers.
    Buy absolutely nobody of note until 5 seconds before the transfer window closing, spending £4m more than he should have cost.
    Not give Wilfried Zaha, one of the most exciting English players around, a single fucking minute of football.
    Give Wayne Rooney, the man who has pissed all over the club, the captain’s armband.
    Get rid of Rene Meulensteen, Mike Phelan and Eric Steele, coaches with years of experience at United, in favour of two people with zero coaching experience in Phil Neville and Ryan Giggs.
    Piss all over the squad by saying to the media that they aren’t good enough.

  12. Good article Mark and some good comments from fans following the article. Guys we are all dissappointed and it hurts because we havent been in this situation for a long time. But let me add this -We are Family. It doesnt matter what happens .i for one said from day 1, if Moyes doesnt win anything for three years ,its ok, so long as we build and consolidate and hopefully qualify for the CL. New managers need time to make and evolve their own team. We have been given the Chosen one ,so let him be and, support him & United for ever more. Having said that its still very early stages and a long way to go. GGMU.

  13. Really engaging read Mark. All the fans who booed, those jumping on the panic bandwagon and those either (laughably) calling for Moyes’ head or claiming he should never have got the job, I pity you. You have no idea what it is to truly love United. I’ve often being tagged as a glory hunter. Being 30, I started supporting United the season after we won the 1991 European Cup Winners Cup. I’m not from Manchester and my dad didn’t support United but I don’t consider myself to be a glory fan. I’ve never really experienced a sustained period without success but I’m not one of these idiots now slating Moyes or the team and bemoaning our failure to land a big name in the summer. I’m a season ticket holder at Old Trafford and have even noticed in my short four seasons going to matches the decline in the atmosphere. I’m always chanting, swearing and singing at matches and it winds me up that a lot of the people who now go to the games are just on a day out or there to be entertained, and have no real passion or knowledge of what the club is really all about. We’ve had a shocking start but like Mark, I believe it will take a full season for Moyes to make his imprint at the club and get to grips with the team and the enormity of the club. I think he is the right man for the job. We might not win anything this year but I still believe we’ve got a good enough squad to bounce back and compete.

  14. I have seen fans saying that they want united to stop winning trophies just to get rid of glory hunters…but they will come back once we will start winning trophies again pretending that they never left…
    Have seen that happened during 2003-2007
    Its best to just ignore them

  15. Excellent article, as you say the media only ever dwell on any negativity surrounding the club. And as the saying goes don’t let the truth get in the way of a good story !

  16. as a match going red for 47 years I am no glory hunter but I have never witnessed a worse performance than the defeat at city sack the manager now hes another ofarrell

    • Then surely after 47 years you would have seen the highs and lows. Seen enough to know that things will change. If you are a moyeshater as you labelled your self, I suspect you are a troll pal

    • ”I have never witnessed a worse performance than the defeat at city”

      What ? It was 4-1 yes ? yes. Remember 1-6 ? or 5-0 City ? If you have been going for 47 years then you would realise that losing 4-1 wasn’t a worse performance than when we lost 1-6 … To be honest , what was more worse was the time we lost 1-4 AT HOME to Liverpool. Ive been a ST holder for 5 years now and the worst i’ve seen United play was 1-6 home defeat to City. You really need to reconsider your comment mate. It makes no sense at all. And if that really is your opinion then maybe you should sort your head out !

  17. Great article and agree with most of what’s said..

    I’m a ST holder and at the age of 31 if only known good times… I’m fully 100% behind moyes and he was my no1 choice… Who would you want? Go down the city route and get some foreign guy in who does not give a shit about the club it’s history and bringing the youth into the team.
    In all honesty our team has not been great for 2 years and it’s obvious that we are lacking in midfield.. Fellini the answer? No.. But who do we get? All the best players are at the best clubs… It’s not like Munich who get to cherry pick the best of what in Germany! Even taken dortmands best players! Like us going to Chelsea and getting matta and oscar! 5years ago bale would of been a united player just like berba but now there is 5-6 cash rich clubs that don’t need to sell.. Where do you get another Scholes? You can’t..!
    Let’s all move on and support the lads that wear the shirt…

    Ps the singing section is a great idea…

  18. Im a ST holder and have been for the past 5 years. Moyes IS the man for United. I’d much rather have Moyes than Mourinho ! Look at Mourinho so far , not done anything and all he has done is spend spend spend and he will most likely leave Chelsea in 2 years but anyway.

    United do need at least 4 new players ( world class level ). A backup LB for Evra but could easily replace evra if he gets injured or leaves e.g. Baines/ Coentrao. Need a new LW/LM because Nani and Young on the LW ? Not for me ! Kagawa shouldnt have to play LW either ! We need a new CM that’s will create everything alongside Wayne Rooney. I don’t believe playing Fellaini and Carrick at the same time is good enough , they’re both too defensive for me and provide NOTHING going forward and attacking ( which we are lacking heavily at the moment ) and we need a new CB .. A young and quality defender! Unless you’re prepared to pay big money you wont get a quality world class CB but we have spend big on players like Hummels , Subotic and players of that caliber !

    Also , the singing section will only make OT a much more atmospheric place to be on match days .. quality idea ! Sick to death of getting stick for OT being referred to as a ‘graveyard’…

    Over and out.

  19. Whose paying for the show,who,s spending lots of Money to away games.Is it free to Watch it on telly anymore,who,s buying the shirts.I am not pointing a finger at anyone,but there is a limit for what is acceptable or value of entertainment or understanding of football.WHAT have we got to be dulled Down Zombies and devoted morons.United are not good enough yet and they do deserve the fans loyale chants of RUBBISH.

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