It was the semi-finals of the FA Cup earlier this month and in these strange Covid times it was a pleasantly elegant pairing of clubs with both ties being London vs Manchester. Rather surprisingly perhaps Man City lost the first one to Arsenal and then Chelsea beat Man United in the second. So what?
I heard once that boys inherit two things from their fathers: male pattern baldness and the love of a particular football team. I’m not sure either applies to me. My father was bald and I don’t recall him supporting any particular football team. I’ve also heard that once you’ve established an allegiance with a team you carry it with you for ever. I can understand that but I’ve broken that rule. I grew up supporting Man United but we’ve drifted apart and so last weekend they lost an important game but ‘so what?’
I was a boy in the 50s and those were the days of the Busby Babes, the exciting football team nurtured by Matt Busby at Manchester United, which was so sadly decimated by the Munich air disaster in 1958. As an impressionable young boy I was naturally impressed by the team of Duncan Edwards et al and somehow my support for them was reinforced by the tragedy. They were not my local team, that would have been Chester or Wrexham, nor were they the closest team in the first division, that was Everton, but they were close enough. And they played in red.
It was an easy team to support in the 60s with Matt Busby having rebuilt a team that included stars like Bobby Charlton, Dennis Law and George Best and were league champions and FA cup winners. The 70s were more difficult. Matt Busby retired, the team aged, the club lacked managerial stablilty and was relegated to the second division. This of course was the time that I left the UK to work overseas but although my interest in its football lessened if asked I’d always say that my team was Manchester United.
The 80s to some extent were a repeat of the 70s but without the relegation. However in 1986 Alex Ferguson took charge and began to build the team for its subsequent stellar success. I moved back to the UK in 1994 and my employer at the time had season tickets for Old Trafford and I was able to witness first hand the team of Giggs, Cantona, Ince et al.
But then Alex Ferguson left and so did I. I’m not sure what started it but it was some combination of the acquisition of the club by the Glazier family, and my continuing discomfort with the fact that despite its riches the club never seemed to invest in its locality. In addition the clincher has been its choice of managers following Ferguson’s retirement. I’ll forgive them David Moyes and Louis van Gaal seems to have been a mistake but Jose Mourinho just seemed to be contrary to all that I’d been fond of. We just drifted apart.
At the same time football changed. The Premier League has moved away from one with at least a backbone of British and Irish players to one in which they have become a minority. The football is often brilliant but it’s entertainment and the money just follows the most successful teams. Why should I invest my emotional capital in a team which succeeds just because its wealthy? The domination of the Premier League by the big 5 just makes for a system which looks after itself. That’s why it was so refreshing when Leicester won the Premiership a few years ago and why I’m inclined to support any team but for one of the top 5.
There is an exception this year and that’s Liverpool. Manager Juergen Klop is everything that Mourinho isn’t: deeply thoughtful, polite and dignified. And for him, most importantly, he’s linked to the psyche of the club and its tradition. I have lent my support to Liverpool this season.
I still support football clubs. There’s the one of my youth, Connah’s Quay Nomads, which ended up top of the Welsh League after this shortened season, and there’s my local team, Histon FC, which ended mid-table in the Isthmian Senior North Division. I’m afraid I’ve lost touch with Wrexham after they dropped out of the league and I never supported Chester but they’ve gone the same way. In the league I ‘look out for’ Swansea and Cardiff who have both made the Championship play-offs and Leeds, because its manager lives in Wetherby, who are Championship champions.
But Man United? No they’re not my team any more. Almost anyone but.