As a Leeds United fan, my sole motivation for watching any Man U game on TV is to see them lose, as heavily as possible. The enlightenment provided for me by being a fan of the One True United from Elland Road enables me to see things as they are. Thus I know for certain that Man U – the club, the hype, the glory-hunting “fans” – embody all that is worst about the game of football. It is right and proper that they should be despised. I’ve written before about the futility of hating a club because of mere geographical proximity – Newcastle and Sunderland fans waste such a lot of passion in this way. Hatred should be reserved for those who earn it on merit. Man U are intrinsically detestable, by any empirical standards – always have been, always will be. So, although there are other clubs I’m not keen on, I only really hate Man U – and even there the hatred is tempered by the fact that I find them such a kitsch club, so utterly ridiculous.
Some find this rather odd. With all of the goings-on at Elland Road – our decade of decline, the farcical situation surrounding successive takeovers – my beloved Leeds are, after all, not in much of a position to point the finger and laugh at an undeniably bigger and more successful club – are they? Well, yes, they are. WE are. I’ll explain.
The thing about Man U, you see, is that despite the extensive honours list, the huge stadium, the supporters clubs on far-flung planets orbiting distant suns – they are simply a joke of a football club. They are actually just as funny as they are detestable – especially now, when the evil influence of the Dark One from Govan is fading into the past. Before, the determination to win at all costs, eschewing the innate class of clubs like Liverpool and Arsenal – this was easy both to hate and laugh at. The comical desperation to be “biggest and best”, the feverish preoccupation with being Number One – it all smacked dismally of the psychiatrist’s couch and the inner yearnings of tragically inadequate and unfulfilled people. Herr Doktor Sigmund Freud would have had such a lot to say about this motley collection of hang-ups and insecurities. But, enough of the fans.
Now, in the post-Ferguson era, the reactions of those on the moral high-ground – i.e. myself and every other football fan who despises Man U – are somewhat different as compared to those Taggart days. Then, when they let in a goal or slumped to the odd defeat, I and others like me would clench the fist in vicarious triumph, relishing the temporary discomfiture of the media’s champions. Now, on the other hand, when poor David “Gollum” Moyes’ harrowed and failure-ravaged features grow more haggard with every passing defeat, when his helpless eyes grow ever more prominently buggy in that haunted, hunted face, the skin stretched as tight as his nerves, the lines of worry and insecurity etched ever deeper – it’s not quite as easy to feel triumphant glee. Now, the reaction tends to be one of amusement, though sometimes tinged with an uncomfortably unfamiliar pity. It’s stopped being a matter of fierce satisfaction when Man U fail. It’s simply become funny, in an ever-so-slightly pitiful way.
My own reaction to two recent goals against them has brought this sharply home to me. When Sunderland scored late on in the Capital One Cup semi at the Theatre of Hollow Myths – I simply collapsed laughing. There were tears rolling down my face, my sides ached with mirth. Alright, the nature of the goal was risible, de Gea flapping on his line like some nervous chorus girl – but then the same thing happened when Fulham got their late equaliser the other night. I just could not stop laughing – it took the appearance of the twitching, suffering Moyes to tone down my riotous good humour into something more approaching sympathy for a man so clearly on the edge.
So what is it about the Pride of Devon that – despite everything they’ve won, and all of the damage they’ve inflicted on their rivals, by fair means and foul – they are still such an object of ridicule and derision? And let’s not forget, this goes back even over their last couple of decades of success. Their fans have grown wary even of admitting who they support, fearful of betraying themselves with wurzelly or cockney accents, scared of being laughed at as “glory-hunters” or plastic, armchair types from Devon or Kent. All those trophies, all that gutter press adulation – and yet so little real pride. That’s tragic. But what’s really behind it?
Part of the answer might be the pathological need that the whole shebang still has, despite a current status of also-rans, to promote and parade itself as God’s gift to sport and the last word in hugeness and greatness. It applies to the club from the very top, this immense self-delusion, right down to those troubled people who are drawn to “support” them. The most recent example of the lengths they will go to in order to give the outer appearance of confidence and attitude, is pictured below. This, ladies and gentlemen, is (allegedly) the song sheet for the “Man U Singing Section“.
As you will see, it is full of earnest advice on how best for their well-drilled singers to comport themselves, with finger-wagging dos and don’ts and even a schedule minute-by-minute of exactly when each distinct song should be sung. No advice is given as to what should happen if some event on the pitch should threaten to grab fans’ attention; perhaps this is deemed unlikely. There are stern admonitions about the singing of undesirable, “offensive” songs – don’t do it, chaps, it’s not nice. The songs and timings cited “must be adhered to”. Have a look at it. Some will ask whether it’s genuine – and part of even me hopes that it’s a wind-up. For football fans to be shackled so, their spontaneous reactions crushed beneath a list of rules and regulations, with a script to rule them? It’s got to be a sick joke, surely. But judge for yourselves. Fake or not, it is funny. Let’s not kid ourselves either – there’s no smoke without fire. This sort of thing, if it is a fake, needs a bit of reality to be hung on to; for a club that reckons itself to be the “biggest and best”, with fans to match, even the perceived need for a singing section is rank humiliation. Do the bulk of the Man U fans really need this sort of sugar-coated reassurance, this spoon-fed “Don’t look at the League Table, guys, we’re still the best”?
At Leeds, the only thing that ever came even close to the ridiculous idea of a singing section was an ill-fated move to introduce a “band” shortly after that laughable notion had flourished into bizarre reality at Sheffield Wendies. The idea was to get a bit of atmosphere going – which at Leeds was like pouring petrol on a blazing fire. There may well have been a wistful undertone that the Board wished the Elland Road crowd was as “nice” as those simple Wendy souls at Hillsborough – the rank folly of that! The Leeds fans wouldn’t have it, of course. A few peeps were heard, immediately drowned out by a raucous “Stand up if you hate the band”, and the experiment died an early and unlamented death.
Now, if anyone had the sheer brass cojones to try the introduction of an actual singing section at Elland Road, one suspects they would be led firmly away by the throat – for those cojones to be removed with a blunt and rusty knife, braised lightly over a grill and fed to them morsel by morsel as they dangled helpless from the East Stand superstructure. And quite right too. There’s just something deeply inadequate and plain wrong about any club which needs such artificial backing – you can understand it happening at the Wendies. But at Man U? There used to be some grudging respect there, back in the day, but can any vestige of that survive such a laughable, pitiful initiative as this?
So, yes – Leeds may be a crisis club, we may just have gone through a month which makes a pantomime look like profoundly cerebral entertainment – but we can be tolerably certain that we’d never sink this low. Whatever else may happen, we’ll still have our spontaneity, our pride. These things tend to flourish in adversity – and we have plenty of that. And I do even feel a bit sorry for the genuine Man U fans – there’s a hard core of them out there, somewhere, after all – though it’s much more fun, and better for my health too, that I can now simply laugh at them instead of resenting and hating them. And of course I still do hate them, just in a different and mercifully less rabid way. I still keenly want them to lose – but now that this happens with such metronomic frequency, the intensity of the actual hate is diluted to some degree.
And do you know what? I really don’t miss that intensity. I actually enjoy my football more now that I’m not feeling all anxious; now that I can usually rely upon them to fail. And the continuing self-delusion of the whole lot of them – the club, the fans, their media lapdogs – makes it all the more sweetly satisfying every time those blessed defeats happen.
Let’s face it – pity and empathy notwithstanding – it’s still a hell of a lot of fun to laugh at Man U.