Anlässlich der zweiten Einladung zum Freundschaftsspiel nach Winterthur, erstellte der Klub Sender Schützi TV eine Dokumentation über unseren FC auf Deutsch.
Chapter 4 The 70’s Fan fury and passion
For many older fans, including myself, this was a decade like no other.
It was 1972, and a mate at Christ Church Primary School in Heaton Norris, Stockport who I played footie with, alongside half the school it seemed, made me a “Dare”
He said, if I was at the bus stop on the A6 Wellington Road at 1 O’clock on Saturday we would set off together to Old Trafford to see United.
In those days life was relatively innocent, and although I was only 10, my parents let me go to many local places on my own, but there was no way they would let me go to Old Trafford. My Dad had a season ticket in previous years, but the building trade was in a bit of a slump and he had given it up.
So I started a lie that Saturday, which carried on for several years, telling my Mum that I was going to the park to play footie all afternoon.
My mate from school never showed up, undeterred, I caught the 192 to Lloyd Road, Levenshulme, bus fares for kids was just 2p however far you travelled, then the 94 which meandered across South Manchester passing close by the most appalling flats I had ever seen, the Crescents in Hulme, also known as the Bull Ring, before arriving at the Old Trafford bus stop, which was in fact about half a mile from the ground.
It didn’t take a genius to work out once I arrived that if I followed all the good folk wearing United scarves that I would find my way to the ground, once there I found the cheapest entry for a kid, 20p in the Stretford End Juniors and made my way inside.
I had no idea where to stand and I was there quite early, just after 2.00pm I think, I’m not 100% sure of our opponents that day but something tells me it was Ipswich Town, who were doing well at the time managed by Bobby Robson if memory serves.
The football however was very much a secondary diversion, the singing, the humour even the smell of the beer and burgers all created an intoxicating mix which once inside my brain has remained ever since.
The awkward thing for me was, in order to stand any chance of getting home close to my 5 O’clock curfew I had to leave the game 10 minutes into the second half, run like an idiot for the bus and take a minor telling off from my Mum for being 10-15 minutes late, before bursting into the living room and breathlessly asking my Dad if we had won.
I only confessed to these young adventures when I was 19 and my Dad had passed away, I was alone with my Mum and we had a bit of a heart to heart –a very rare thing in the Simpson household!
I seem to remember my Dad’s golden rule back in the 70’s was that I had to be shoulder height to him, in order to be allowed to go to a game, so I could see between the shoulders of the people stood in front. The problem was I was a bit of a short arse as a kid so it was about 1977, and I was 15 before I was “legally” allowed to go to matches with my mates!
In the Boardroom Louis Edwards spent the whole of the 1970’s acquiring by various means more and more shares in the club, by the end of the decade between the father and his son Martin, who had been rubber stamped as a Director of the club at the tender age of 24, the Edwards family owned 74% of the shares.
Martin Edwards took out a total loan of £600,000 to fund the acquisition and the first rights issues. Directors and shareholders were allowed up to 15% dividend, and not surprisingly this was paid out from 1980 onwards, when under rule changes directors were allowed to be paid.
Relationships between the Chairman and Sir Matt deteriorated rapidly not least as Louis had reneged on a promise to make Sir Matt’s son Sandy, a director of the club.
The overwhelming majority of fans could not give a hoot with regard to ownership and the running of the club so long as the team progressed and the manager had funds to buy players.
coverage was still in its infancy with Match of the Day and the ITV equivalent The Big Match, presenting highly edited highlights and only very rare live matches. The idea of games being moved to satisfy TV audiences was unthinkable.
Pay on the gate and eventually League Match Ticket Books along with Season Tickets were still affordable for the vast majority of those wished to attend, so much so that many of the Red Army became home and away regulars.
Season Standing Seating LMTB Season Ticket
1970-71 30p 75p £11 £14.50
1971-72 30p 75p £11 £14.50
1972-73 40p 90p £12.50 £17.50
1973-74 40p £1 £13.75 £19.25
1974-75 45p £1 £13.75 £19.25
1975-76 65p £1.30 £25.50 £26
1976-77 70p £1.60 £30 £32
1977-78 80p £1.80 £34 £36
1978-79 £1 £2.30 £42 £45
1979-80 £1.20 £2.70 £47 £50
As can be seen from the table above, provided courtesy of red11.org, the prices were relatively stable until promotion in 75/76, when season tickets in particular jumped a bit, the bottom line though is that whether standing or sitting watching the world’s greatest football team, well, in our one eyed opinion at least, was affordable!
Sir Matt stood down as Manager in late 1969 and one of his coaching staff Wilf McGuiness took over, but a classic lack of renewal and investment while United were at the top would ultimately cause a significant downfall none had foreseen.
Over the following seasons it was a manager merry-go-round with Sit Matt briefly back, followed by Frank O’Farrell and finally Tommy Docherty taking over in 1972.
The holy trinity of Best, Law and Charlton were ageing and it was left to the courageous and self-confident Scotsman to show the three United legends the door.
I was at Old Trafford for Charlton’s last ever appearance at the end of the 72/73 season and emotions were on open show for this great player, his last game away at Chelsea was even more heart breaking as it seemed that all the great Sir Matt had achieved in terms of playing staff at least, was now finally confined to history.
Dennis Law was sold controversially to Manchester City, and few from either club could forget the result of that decision 12 months later.
The metaphor of United being a barometer of the wellbeing of the country could scarcely of been more accurate, the club was relegated in 1974 and although the support averaged nearly 48,000 in the Second Division, Britain was in a near revolutionary state and the violence at away matches in particular was not always avoidable, it was becoming all too common place.
And yet despite all the tribalism and passion involved following your team, trust of those in charge to do the right thing was unquestioned by almost every fan. They were more concerned about having the right amount of tokens on their programme sheet so they could get a semi or even final ticket than they were about the less than ethical means by which some business transactions may have been carried out, or how capable the FA and their nemesis the Football League, were of governing the game and the new challenges fans faced simply watching their team.
Although the relegation was a huge shock to the Red army, they quickly embraced the new towns and cities that could and would be virtually taken over by the five or ten thousand regular travelling fans. With a few notable exceptions –Cardiff City springs to mind, no local team would seriously try to take on the marauding Mancunians.
It is probably fair to say that this was an evolving situation and what started as just random fans gathering in town centres in a haphazard manner gradually became more and more organised.
These were the day’s pre video, mobile phones and cctv, so if some of the travelling fans went with the explicit purpose of inter-city warfare, enjoying the adrenalin rush and running battles it was by and large without the fear of being caught unless you were stupid or unlucky.
For the vast majority at home matches in particular the problems of violence was a complete side issue and one that only concerned those who went looking for trouble, for this majority the enormous excitement of just going to the game was front and centre, as explained by Dave Cullen from Salford.
“For the first few years of my attendance at Old Trafford I would stand in a queue (Stretford End Juniors) from 12 noon onwards ‘getting excited’, then the gates would open at 1-1:30pm (can’t remember which) and the excitement grew as we inched forward. All the time, the smell of the nearby factory (don’t know if it was glue or what) reminded your nasal senses that you were at OT. Inside the ground and the viewing spot was claimed (as a short-arse, I had to make sure that I didn’t give enough space for a lanky git to get in front of me), the programme, and ‘Football League Review’ were read from cover to cover. The rest of the ground started to fill along with the increasingly loud choruses of songs from the Stretford End, some dying before getting going, the rest generating full, blooded backing from the wings (like where I usually stood, in ‘the gap’ next to the cantilever). The odd swapping of ‘duelling chants’ between different parts of the ground was heard, and even more noise when a decent opposition crowd sang their songs and the Stretford End tried to shout/chant it down.
By 2:30pm the teams were ready to be announced. Before ‘the addicator’ (as the original electronic scoreboard was known) was there, the teams were announced over the tannoy, to cheers and expressions of surprise for the Reds, and silence or boos for the opposition. When the scoreboard gave the teams there was an expectant wait for the higher numbers (7,8,9,10,11) to see if there were any big surprises, to be honest, it was only those numbers that we were really interested in
The excitement and anticipation continued to grow until 2:50pm, when all eyes were trained on the tunnel awaiting an eruption as the teams came out (either raucous cheers for the Reds, or boos for the opposition and referee/linesmen).
All of this was ‘normal’ even during the sad days of relegation and lower attendances. For the bigger games, there was an omnipresent noise level, the buzz, which continued irrespective of any songs and chants for at least 30
minutes before kick-off.
So … a goal (for United). All I can say is that it was met by absolute mayhem! Standing in or near a gangway (as I usually did), I would find myself falling forward down the terrace for at least 10 steps, then having to retreat, off balance, immediately back up the terrace before falling down and coming up again a few more times. In the bigger games there were definitely ‘man-hugs’ aplenty, with total strangers, as the passion flooded through the crowd.
The immediate reaction to a goal conceded was also standard … within 5 seconds the chants of ‘United, United, …’ would go up from the Stretford End followed by a roar of encouragement to get back into it. No matter how poor the performance, it was extremely rare for anything other than encouragement and backing to come from the Stretford End.
Even the half time scores going up presented the opportunity for roars of delight or groans of disappointment. Back in the day, the process of memorising the letters and teams from the programme in preparation for the updates on the old manual scoreboard really raised the tension, when the door was opened and the numbers put in before being shown to the crowd. I think that we lost something with the introduction of the electronic scoreboard (when it worked!) and, of course, the current days of ‘instant availability” has totally taken away that excitement.
For the big games it was a complete feeling of excitement from start to end with heightened senses”
Prior to relegation in 1974 things had become so bad for United that if a rare penalty was awarded then the Stretford End would immediately start chanting “Stepney, Stepney” as our long serving keeper and one of the last members of the European cup winning side of 68 was encouraged to make the long walk up to the opposing penalty area and more often than not score!
It was funny, but not a great compliment to the team mates around him.
Gradually under Tommy Docherty’s shrewd stewardship the old school was replaced with a new vibrant team with pace and that much loved basic requirement for many years at United, two wingers.
But all this came too late to save United from relegation and that memorable Derby against Manchester City. The record books will show that due to a very poor season, United were beyond redemption on that final day unless other results went our way, but ask a blue or bitter as United fans christened them, and they will tell you with absolute confidence that Denis Law’s instinctive back heel sent United down.
That was not factually correct, but since when have facts dictated any fans recall of history amongst the swirl of passion and emotion sending all rational reasoning into the junk folder!
That day I couldn’t make it to the game and was indeed playing footie in the local park, I raced to get home, as 12 year old kids we didn’t have anything as sophisticated as a radio to keep up to date with developments, as I burst into my living room the first images on the telly was the Stretford End in full voice singing “You’ll never walk alone”.
I assumed that by some miracle we had stayed up, the fans had invaded the pitch and the police were doing their best to maintain some kind of order when the person reporting the scenes said United were relegated.
I burst into tears and ran upstairs, how was this possible just 6 years after Wembley 68?
My Dad, I think it safe to say was not the most compassionate of people, his upbringing during the War had affected him like many of his generation, but he could see I was distraught and even though he had given up his precious season ticket that season, he promised to take me to some home games in the Second Division, as he thought it would be easier to get in and I was now 12, although still a bit on the short side!
He was never to know that I had been surreptitiously raiding his cash tin in his bedroom drawer to the tune of 50p or sometimes a whole £1 to fund my secret journeys to United for nearly 3 years!
Besides, once I was 13 I had a paper round so I had my own means of getting there and back, for me the 74/75 season was a real turning point and I saw more united games than ever and would try different parts of the ground for atmosphere.
One game my Dad did take me to during that season was the home game against Sunderland, who the previous season had beaten the hated Leeds United in the FA Cup Final, a major upset at the time as the great Revie team of Bremner, Lorrimer and Johnny Giles has threatened to dismantle all before them for the previous 5 or so years.
We went to buy tickets from the cricket club not far from Old Trafford, off a tout I think, either way we ended up in the Scoreboard end terrace which was seriously chock a block.
I can honestly say that for the best part of two hours I did not stay in the same place for more than a few moments as the crowd would surge in response to action on the pitch or as more fans pushed in from the back. I’m not sure what the official capacity was but we must have been over in that section at least.
If you look at videos of the game which we eventually won, you will see that the 60,000 packed in that day were loud and raucous as ever and there were a few Sunderland fans in the seats at the top of the main stand with a few sporadic fisticuffs going off now and then.
My Dad, who had suffered a slipped disc several years earlier and was on the slight side build wise, I could see, was close to panic due to the chaotic movements, over which no one had any control.
He was I remember very quiet on the car journey home and NEVER stood up at a game again, although I think we did go in the seats a couple more times that year.
Regardless, I had absolutely loved the Sunderland game and as most 12/13 year olds would have been, was cheerily oblivious to any potential dangers of crushing or the like. There but……..
As my 13th Birthday passed I got a paper round and I remember one of my deliveries was to a social club in Heaton Moor owned by Fairey Engineering. At this time the Doc, a Jock himself was turning United into a minor Scottish colony with great players like Lou Macari, Alex Forsth, Gordan McQueen, Martin Buchan from Aberdeen and several more.
It got to the stage that going to United was a bit like going to see the biggest pop group of the time, the Bay City Rollers, there was Tartan everywhere, with Saltire’s a plenty on the Stretford End.
As I approached Fairey Social Club I noticed they had amongst other flags a Gold and Red Lion Rampant flag, it was half six in the morning and …confession time, I shimmied up on to the roof…and nicked it. Sorry!
I was ridiculously proud going to the next United game draped almost head to toe in my 4ft newly acquired Scotland flag , I must of thought I was the Bees Knees!
After the five or six years of drastic downward spiral for United, to get back to winning ways, albeit in the Second Division was truly mesmerising with Steve Coppell and Gordon Hill rampaging down the wings crossing for Pancho Pearson to bury the ball in the back of the net, it has still got to be one of my all time highs watching United.
The” mammy” chant that we used to do for our centre forward bought from Hull for I think £100,000 was looking back, quite amusing —–wwwooaaahh Stuart……Stuart …I’ll walk a million miles for one of your goals by….Ssttuuuaaarrttt !
I was in the Stretty more often than not and we had a routine of going through the whole line up with a song for every player, before breaking out into a Celtic/Rangers shout off, then abuse those in other parts of the ground and quite often finishing it off with Middy, Middy Middy Middleton –SHIT!
I never quite got that one if I’m honest.
All this madness would take place before about twenty to three when our anticipation of the main event would go stratospheric, especially if a few away fans had ventured into the Scoreboard End.
It was always interesting to see the size of the away support, sometimes only a couple of hundred would occupy the Scoreboard terrace behind thick red metal fences, all the way up to perhaps half the end for one of the Cockney teams, with the Scousers and City sometimes having it all. More the merrier –better the hatred , better the passion. I was just a kid after all, and knew no better.
Both then and now I truly believe that the hatred and bile, as unpalatable and ugly as it is, is perhaps much better kept within the confines of a football ground where 99% of it caused absolutely no harm to anyone, other than middle class sensibilities.
People could get their anger and frustrations caused by any number of factors, most completely out of their control, out of their bodies and mind simply by shouting or singing their heads off.
Once the game was over all that negativity was left in the ether and most fans would go back to being rational friendly individuals, the steam had been let out of the pressure cooker!
The final game where promotion was I think already guaranteed was against Blackpool and I set off from home about 10.30 and arrived at the ground before noon, thinking it might be a bit busy.
I was wrong, it was mayhem, with huge queues everywhere as I circled the ground looking for the smallest one, I eventually settled on the Stretford Paddock, the turnstiles must of opened about 1.00pm and by 2.30 or so they were shut, it was a lockout with estimates of between 5-20,000 unable to get in!
Inside, the whole afternoon was electric, I think we won 4-2, but the game was almost a side issue, the fans were entertainment in their own right, a tremendous experience for anyone lucky enough to be there.
The following season United had a reasonable first year and ended up in the FA Cup Final against Southampton managed by a true gentleman in the form of Lawrie McMenemy.
Things did not turn out well and United lost, the next day I joined many thousands in the centre of Manchester outside the Town Hall where the “Doc” made what seemed at the time like a rash promise to go back to Wembley the following year and win it.
Around this time when United were a relatively ordinary team, the balance of power had shifted 30 miles down the East Lancs road to Merseyside and Liverpool, initially under the hugely likeable Bill Shankly, and then under Bob Paisley, they were going from strength to strength.
I knew as a fan that things were changing when towards the end of the season the Stretford End had as it had done for a the best part of 20 years broke into “You’ll never walk alone” and some had started to either not sing or boo the familiar anthem.
The more Liverpool were successful the greater the dislike of the song until we simply stopped singing it, the Toshack, Keegan, Emlyn Hughes team that the media had fallen in love with were a potent reminder of all we once had, and had now lost.
Needless to say the antipathy between the two clubs which had always been there was cranked up to a whole new level.
1977 and I was 15, United were playing exciting dynamic football and after winning another raucous semi-final at Hillsborough had made it to Wembley where Liverpool were expected to complete part two of an historic treble. In the lower section of what was meant to be the Liverpool End, thousands of United fans had found their way in.
In those days the FA Cup final was all about the regular fans having a huge day out, and when a deflected goal sealed a United victory thus denying an historic treble tens of thousands at Wembley and hundreds of thousands like me at home went ballistic.
The ill feeling between United and Liverpool went back as far as the industrial revolution and the fact that the finished cotton created at hundreds of mills in and around Manchester needed to travel via the docks at Liverpool to find the international markets, its final destination.
The dock workers and owners of the Liverpool docks ensured they absolutely maximised any revenue they could from this “fait a complis”, so when Peel Holdings in Manchester decided to build not only large scale docks on the Trafford/Salford border but construct a thirty five mile canal deep enough for ocean going ships to circumnavigate the Merseyside issue, resentment and bad feeling between the two cities escalated hugely.
A hundred years later this would escalate into bitter tribalism with both sides participating avidly.
In September 1978 I found myself in the grey concrete surroundings of Salford College of Technology. Although I had been bright enough to pass my Eleven plus exam and go to the last year of Mile End School in Stockport calling itself a grammar school , an all boys school, I did not have the will or perhaps wit to do well there.
As a result I had only passed 2 grade C’s at GCSE and my first option of studying Hotel Management had been taken off the table and I was offered a place doing City and Guilds in what was described as General Catering……I was going to train to be a Chef.
Something of a culture shock, the multicultural nature of Salford Tech was a long way from Stockport School Mile End which had from memory out of 1,200 boys, one black lad and one Asian lad.
There was something else I hadn’t really thought about, in those days cooking or cheffing was NOT a cool career path for a lad, so the class was about two thirds girls, a result.
After a few days of being very quiet one of the lads “Nesty “ I’ll call him started talking a lot about United, and he had some photographs from the pre- season tour of Germany including Cologne.
He said he had been over there with “the boys” and told a few tales about the fun and games that taken place.
He had some very smart clothes, Kicker and later Pod shoes’ jumbo cords Fred Perry shirts, for him and his mates the Denim and silk scarves were definitely a thing of the past. United had played St Ettiene a year earlier and fashion envy had struck a chord.
He started taking the piss out of the idea that singing “Your gonna get your fuckin heads kicked in” from a hundred yards away on the Stretford End was pretty meaningless, he had a point!
And so my education about the other side of watching United started, if you are 16 or seventeen and your eyes get opened all of a sudden to a world you did not know exist, it is hard not to be curious.
For clarity I never really became one the boys,or ICJ as they became known, I just hung on to the coat tails of those bigger and braver than I, and enjoyed the buzz.
This book is not about the violence, but it is a part of the experience of being a United fan that sometimes in those days was inevitable, especially if you watched United away, so I will share with you just one day when I was very happy indeed, to make it home in one piece.
Firstly though, this is the tale of the exact same day from a different pair of eyes.
Bob –a Whalley Range Red, in his words.
“The buzz of the semi v the Liverpool in 79 at Goodison always stands out. I’d been to the first game (2-2) as a cheeky 16 year old and there was carnage outside Maine Road as hundreds of reds (and a lot of blues) got together to destroy anyone who spoke in that stupid accent. They were planning revenge before the train even limped out of Manchester that night.
Four of us got the train from Victoria feeling bullish but not daft enough to take scarves. I seem to remember thinking this was it, on and off the pitch. I had been buzzing all week for the midweek game. I’d been asked to leave school at 15, so was knocking about with older lads (17-18) and we went down on our own earlier in the day.
The day in Liverpool was ok, didn’t see anything of note. We drank in town and got a taxi to Goodison. Fuelled by beer our excitement was getting the better of us as we approached the walk to the ground.
Shit, the place was swarming with mickeys looking to swoop on anyone looking vaguely Manc!
I remember feeling exhilarated but worried. The four of us vowed to stay together and our leader (RIP) said if any of them came to us he would smash him and we’d then leg it to the turnstile. Adrenaline was pumping and we must have looked like rabbits caught in headlights as we got to the ground. Anyway, we got in without a peep. The game itself, well, to this day that goal is a standout moment for me. Forget the 99 years, the other finals etc, only our first Premier League trophy comes close for me to the feeling it generated.
After the game, well, that was different.
The four of us were all split up and I guess we all thought the same, every man for himself getting back to Lime St. As soon as they opened the gates to let us out the initial cheers of UNITED soon died down. There were skirmishes everywhere that you looked and it was hard to see who was who in the dark. Nerves were all over the place, but I also recall the excitement of walking amongst the enemy towards where I thought the bus would get me back to town.
I saw a bus heading in the right direction and amongst the throbbing mass waiting I barged my way on. Right behind me a scrap broke out with 3 or 4 lads hitting a lad on his own, screaming and punching him. He fought back but was pretty battered. He did get on the bus and sat by me. We didn’t speak but I winked to acknowledge him.
On the bus some lads who had seen the fight came to him and said he was getting it when he got off on his own.
I said to him, you’re not on your own, and the journey to town was nervous but no one touched us.
The memory and joy of the game had vanished by now and all I could think of was getting into Lime St and on a train home.
As we got into town and I recognized St. Johns, me and my new mate tried to get off, but these twats around us had anticipated this and started all they could to stop us and tried a few sneaky slaps. We got off eventually and they jumped off after us and we were chased about ½ mile to the station where there was hundreds more of the bastards all over waiting for any reds! We ran past the station to the side entrance with about 7 lads now chasing us. We were knackered but not stopping.
We made onto the concourse and there were police all over who were happy to slap any United fan who approached them for no reason. We just stood around them till our pursuers gave up. By now more and more reds were arriving and the mickeys weren’t so keen to try picking people off.
After what seemed like the longest night we boarded the Manchester train and I met up with my mates back in Manchester who all had similar tales to tell.
Great excitement for a 16 year old. (This story is cut short as shit loads more happened that day).
From that day on every away day with United was fun, exciting and usually had some sort of fighting involved. At times it was a bit scary, but generally we marched into towns all over the country en masse and only a few came close to challenging our pomp.
Leeds, Millwall, Arsenal, Spurs, Everton, many others were always places you had to have your wits about you, but it was such a buzz for me personally as a 16 year old entering a mans world.”
I had also been at the first semi- final at Main Road, but as usual I was one step behind, certainly in the fashion stakes, I still wore a Levi jacket and amongst all the shenanigans pre match I probably stuck out because of it –but it shouldn’t of been a problem.
As kick off neared, Nesty and I tried desperately to blag a ticket, but it became clear that we were struggling, the game kicked off, when, as we made our way down one of the infamous ginnel’s, or passageways for southern readers, I guy offered us two face value tickets, great, but they were for the Liverpool part of the Kippax!
Undaunted we went in, desperate to see the match and keep our mouths shut, naturally, however my early 70’s throwback denim stood out in one mickey’s memory, and we were immediately sussed.
I tried to blag that I was from St Helens hence the lack of scouse in my accent, but almost immediately United scored, we both pretended to curse and then with a wink started to make our way to the back of the stand, within seconds half a dozen lads were chasing us, baying for blood.
Thank god the barriers separating the two lots of fans were relatively low and we were able to vault over them and once our fellow mancs were convinced we were united, safety was reached.
The return leg was for me the worst I ever saw –although I didn’t travel to as many places or as often as many other reds, so cannot comment on their experiences.
The journey to Goodison was by train then a large police escort walking us all the way through the valley, but there were hundreds of us and so it was a bit edgy but not too bad.
MAYHEM AND MADNESS. Then reality set in.
The singing as we left the ground died out almost immediately.
There were hundreds of lads waiting outside and we knew there was only one way to get back to Limey and that was to stick together, I spotted a well known lad from Gorton, with a decent group of 15 or 20 and going by their reputation thought it was a very good idea to stick pretty close to them.
It was kicking off literally every few yards, and the police were either unwilling or unable to keep the groups apart.
About half way back, a biggish scouser with a crew cut walked right into the middle of the group and offered anyone and everyone out-he was laughed at and ignored, which only went to wind him up even more –he was warned on several occasions, and carried on his antics 10 or 15 yards behind us, when next minute there was a scream of agony –he had pushed his luck too far, another of several dozen who would be visiting A & E that night.
We half walked and half ran all the way back to Limey with multiple attacks countered, I must of seen a dozen or so badly beat up United and Liverpool/Everton fans that night just lying at the side of the road, Liverpool and Everton had joined forces for sure, the sense of relief on making it to the platform at Lime Street was palpable with everyone checked if their mates had made it, as most fans had got split up in the chaos.
It was a night to remember,I had been at 17, both terrified and exhilarated in equal measure and for the next five or so years many scrapes were had or narrowly avoided, until an incident in the mid 80’s convinced me enough was enough and it was time to leave the edgier side of football behind.
Today as I type, the 21st January 2016 some shocking news came through, the death of Coco.
Gary Anthony Thompson aka Coco RIP
Around the same time as the semi final, I had made another slightly less dramatic trip to Goodison for a league game with Everton.
Peer pressure I guess you would call it nowadays, but Nesty had asked if I fancied going to a night game at Everton and he said we would be travelling not with the majority of straight goers, fans, surrounded by the police, but with the boys on a different train from Victoria.
I met a few interesting characters that night, from the lad who would constantly ask “ Have you got 10p mate” an innocent enough question if you were naïve. The problem was if you said yes he knew you were a soft touch and he would up the anti of what he could blag off you.
Then a large mixed race lad appeared in a very expensive looking leather jacket who was clearly one of the main lads, Coco had arrived.
Intriguingly by the time we had arrived at Lime Street he had an even better looking jacket on, someone had been taxed!
I cannot remember much about the game but on leaving the ground many of the original crew of a hundred or more had inevitably had got split up and there was probably only about 30 or so of us who stuck together.
The plan was to get a bus back into town, but Everton were waiting, at least a hundred of them and they were keen that we didn’t make the bus.
Insults flew from either side and they were just about to avoid the few coppers knocking around and have a go when Coco charged across the road straight into them, and put two or three straight on to their backs, the coppers dived in, he was only a few feet away when he said the immortal words “Whats the matter officoh, I was only getting me programme out of me pocket and me hand slipped” in his nasal broad mancunian.
We all laughed but also made the most of the mayhem by charging through the gap Coco’s programme mishap had created and made a dash for the bus.
Most if not all of us made it back in one piece that night, and time and again through various means Coco would show quite how game he was, and often save his fellow reds from a kicking.
Perhaps older reds will eventually get organised and put down on paper many more of his escapades, but the only other one I will share for now was the Chelsea away trip of 78/79 when United were banned.
I was not there, so this is heresay and quite probably a bit innacurate, but it has gone down in United legend.
After various other problems at United games that year and in truth for the last decade the authorities had decided to ban all away support for the Chelsea /United game, never the less somewhat inevitably the lads had decided they were going, exact numbers are hard to say but between 100-200.
As the tube pulls in to either Edgware Road or Fulham Broadway it becomes clear that a large Chelsea firm are on the platform waiting. The tube driver wisely refuses to open the door and the two sets of lads scream abuse at each other, at this point Coco has had enough, takes a Fire Extinguisher out of its cradle and smashes it through the glass doors before launching himself straight after into the baying mob, reports about what happened next vary, especially if you ask a red or a Chelsea fan, but it is fair to say this secured Coco’s position as one of, if not the main lads of United’s soon to be renowned ICJ (Inter City Jibbers), later to become the MIB (Men in Black)
As a last tale and direct from todays reissued forum is how Coco’s immaculate (usually) sense of style could sometimes work to his advantage
Courtesy of “cockers”
“Some of the gear he wore was pushing it, it has to be said. My abiding memory is on Euston Road, early 00’s or late 90’s, it going off everywhere, I think with West Ham in the Euston flyer.
Police vans came from nowhere and everyone walked swiftly away from the scene of the crime. A couple of police dived into the throng and grabbed Coco and pulled him away.
They explained to him that he was surrounded by Manchester United football hooligans and that they would get him away from the area, thinking that his foppish garb, complete with manbag and umbrella meant he could not have possibly been involved in the preceding shenannigans.
Little did they know that he’s been leathering cockneys with his beautiful umbrella thirty seconds earlier.”
An incident which at the time received little if any media attention would sadly act as a warning for a tragedy on huge scale ten years later, and change British football forever, if not for better.
Prior to the infamous semi- final ties against Liverpool, United had played Spurs away at White Hart Lane and I had managed to get a ticket.
TV reports said that some gates were locked 75 minutes prior to kick off with nearly 52,000 crammed inside.
I got into the ground just after 2.00 but it was packed solid already, I couldn’t understand quite why it was so full, then the guy next to me explained that him and loads of his mates had paid the guy on one of the turnstile cash –I think about a tenner, rather than using official tickets and had been clicked through.
This may or may not be true, I do know that on at least two or three occasions I had done the same, once word had got round at various grounds that one of the turnstile operators was bent.
So it is easy to argue that we the fans were partially to blame for the fact that by 2.15 the lower terrace was so full that I was getting crushed..and scared. Soon afterwards the United fans in the upper section who could see quite how bad it was were putting their hands down and pulling people up into the top section, by the dozen.
It was no good I could not see a thing I was getting tired from fighting for space to breathe, I jumped up to grab an arm offering assistance to rescue me from this chaos …when another huge arm grabbed my shoulder and a copper said words to the effect of, your nicked!
I was taken through the ground to a Sargeant who asked my name and address, given a caution and thrown out behind the main stand straight into the midst of the Spurs fans.
I was determined to get back in, if memory serves I did the old thumb nail fold trick!
As we entered the ground first time the end quarter of the ticket which had been partially perforated was handed in and we kept the rest, so, as I was to do on two subsequent occasions at Wembley I simply folded over the opposite quarter and using my thumb nail ensured it was well folded, I then tore the first quarter of an inch.
Once at the turnstile and this must have been later on with most reds already inside I played the fool and as I breathlessly went through said which bit do you have mate, the big bit or little bit –little bit he helpfully replies with that I tore off the rest of the fold handed it over and was through before the guy noticed…if he even noticed at all.
The game was a 1-1 draw with Spurs easily the best in the first half including a stonewall penalty for them not given by another referee who wanted the limelight, Keith Hackett.
In the second half United sprung to life and were unlucky not to grab a winner, I ended up at the railings nearest the shelf and hundreds of coins rained down on us throughout the match, to little effect fortunately.
So a potential life threatening situation was narrowly averted more by luck than judgement, fans had become a victim of their own actions arguably, by finding their way in by any means, particularly a greedy employee on a turnstile, resulting in totally unsafe numbers in a standing pen.
The authorities be it the media, the FA, or the police had all come to regard fans as sub human, to be treated literally like animals.
Rather than ensuring the safety of fans who simply wanted to watch a football match by correctly managing any given situation they allowed chaos on numerous occasions, sadly a decade later the inevitable happened.
It was a classic chicken and egg scenario, did the fans act like animals because they felt as though they were treated like that, or did their mob, tribal behaviour of the past decade cause the establishment and authorities to sanction their appalling treatment.
Football was to go on wrestling with this dilemma, creating ever more secure, caged environments for another decade until finally the perhaps inevitable happened.
The trust between the fans and those governing the game in the late 1970’s and continuing for the next decade would evaporate completely, the people’s game was moving out of control on a pathway to disaster.
Chapter 3 -Bonfire night in Rochdale
Every few seasons many teams create a night which will last in the memory of everyone associated with it for many, many years.
5th November, Bonfire Night in 2010 was to be such a night for FC United.
For FC, merely reaching this stage of the FA Cup was a minor miracle, but after several earlier round victories and a superb performance to beat Barrow inspired by the diminutive Carlos (feet like lightnin!) Roca they had been drawn against near neighbours Rochdale.
After genuine consultation between ESPN the broadcasters covering this stage of the competition at the time, Rochdale and Board officials at FC, it was agreed the game could be played on the Friday night facilitating broadcast and causing minimum disruption for all those wishing to attend.
Many naysayers have pointed to this fixture change in an accusatory manner saying FC sold their soul and credibility by agreeing to this change at the behest of TV, well as just one co-owner of the club I cannot speak for the wider membership but my attitude was that we were not totally against ANY coverage of football on television, but that the two clubs and in the case of FC, naturally, the co-owners and fans MUST be at the heart of that discussion and not an afterthought.
This game was a case in point, and as a result the 4,000 tickets offered to us were sold double quick and as they were all in the same seating area running the length of the pitch we were looking forward to the evening with fanatical relish, there was always going to be virtually zero chance of anyone actually using their seat!
As I approached the ground by car and then on foot it had the inexplicable electrical energy in the air that made your senses that bit extra alert, and the couple of pubs that were heaving with reds passed en route were full of song and optimism.
This was not a kind of blind optimism that we could get any kind of a result, after all Rochdale were a full 4 leagues above us with full time professionals, compared to our assortment of ground keepers and tilers, no the joyous mood amongst our fans was that we would make this a night to remember win lose or draw, simply by doing what we did best , loud, passionate singing, non stop for 90 minutes.
As I entered through the turnstiles the bedlam only increased, many it was clear had started this particular celebration at midday and had not let up since, everywhere people were grinning and singing and swearing all with a shared feeling of gathering euphoria.
15 minutes prior to kick off 70-80% of the 4,000 FC fans were in place and “Bring on United” our standard pre match chant, was getting louder and louder. The match commentators for ESPN were only yards from the stand which FC were occupying and thankfully the atmosphere was being transmitted not just all over the UK but as I was to learn later, over much of Europe.
The full FC and Man United songbook was getting a serious airing and as the teams emerged a crescendo we all thought was reached, the next 90 minutes however were to emphasise that great quote by Sir Alex Ferguson at the end of the insane final minutes of the Champions League Final in ’99………”Football, Bloody Hell”
Once the game was underway the singing continued and the team responded playing as if their lives depended on it, and as FC pressed and cajoled it became obvious that this was not going to be an easy night for the Rochdale professionals, then a few minutes before half time Nicky Platt found some space and calmly lifted the ball over the advancing keeper!
Different fans have different names for types of celebrations and when things went really mad at big or little United it was and is described as a top goon. Well the 30 seconds after the goal was probably only matched at a few big United games I had been to in the previous nearly 40 years, it was manic.
Half time passed in no time with continuous renditions of the Carpenters tune –On top of the World, a raucous “Are you watching David Gill”, a reference to the snidy senior United exec who had miraculously changed his mind about the wisdom of the Glazer takeover and other tunes too numerous to mention.
A link to our song book, much copied it has to be said in the following years is in the back of the book.
A few minutes into the second half and Jake Cottrell created yet more delirium, Nicky Platt had put a pass on a plate for Jake to pile drive into the top corner from all of 25 yards out –unbelievable.
This was now a fully blown party for the reds and it must be said that at least half of the 4,000 FC fans were far from regular attendees, the majority being United fans who may of come for a season or two or just perhaps a couple of games since the clubs formation in 2005. Regardless, despite the home team eventually showing composure alongside their natural quality and pulling two goals back the noise and joy refused to abate, it simply got louder and louder.
With many Rochdale and FC fans slowly starting to contemplate a replay, and it has to be said a much needed extra pay day for the club with only a few minutes remaining Mike Norton did what he had done every time he pulled on a football shirt, he grafted until he had literally given his all, a pass was being shepherded out of play for a harmless goal kick to the home side, but Mike had not got the email about just letting the defender have an easy ride as a replay was ..well ok , oh no Norton brushed the defender aside, the keeper had committed himself thinking all was fine and dandy and Mike Norton deservedly wrote himself into FC United of Manchester legend and simply slotted the ball into an empty net.
I have no words, no really, the FC contingent myself included erupted into a yelling, hugging, mass of hysteria that continued straight through the final whistle and for a good half hour afterwards. No one wanted to leave as we knew how rare this feeling was likely to be once we had made the impossibly heart breaking decision to leave the Premiership behind several years before.
This was a Bonfire night that all those present would reminisce over for years to come , and rightly so, it was that special.
Chapter 2 -The three Kings and tribal beginnings 1965-1970
It is 1965, United are going well, the Beatles have conquered the charts, on the Kop the scousers are singing a song fro¬m a musical, nicked from the immediate post Munich games of 1958, but re-popularised by a Mersey beat combo, and the world seems to of turned from monochrome to full blown technicolour in ten minutes flat.
Something barely heard of ten or fifteen years earlier in the form of youth culture was sweeping Britain and everyone under the age of 25 seemingly wanted to identify with a group of one sort or another.
One of these groups was football fans, who used their passionate support of their team as their badge of honour and identity. Britain was very much a manufacturing economy and whilst the privileged and educated few were leading exciting and carefree lives, for the majority, working life was somewhat more mundane, life was all about the weekend.
Matt Busby was in the midst of his second period of triumph, and many were hoping he could, perhaps, even produce a team to rival the legendary Babes of a decade earlier.
Two thirds of a beautiful jig saw had already found their correct place at the centre of this new and incredibly exciting attack minded team. Bobby Charlton, powerful survivor from Munich and Denis Law the gifted and crafty Scotsman, and now a slight shy young lad from Belfast was already making tongues wag salaciously around Manchester, both male and female. George Best was adding glamour and showmanship to the new footballing world.
In the mid 1960,s the opportunity had started to arise for fans all over Britain to not only get along to their local ground to follow home games, which hundreds of thousands were doing every Saturday, but coaches and trains were increasingly being used to get to away matches as well.
Initially the novelty of fans from Newcastle or Birmingham turning up on a match day at a pub near your local ground was well received and many older fans talked about having many a good drink and laugh with opposing fans. But as the decade wore on the novelty factor wore off, and tribal instincts gradually crept in.
From its roots and heritage the game had been most ardently and vociferously supported by the working class, although to say that the support base was entirely of this nature would be wrong. Most of Britain perhaps with the exception of the genuine middle and upper class had fallen in love with the game, certainly Rugby, both league and union had their hotbeds and for some nothing could rival a summer’s day watching cricket, but football had crossed geographical and social divides like no other sport, eventually it was to go on to conquer the world.
Then as now football means different things to different people and they choose to experience it in a manner that suits them best. For some a comfortable seat, with a good view ideally with half time refreshments was what was required.
But for many it was the noise, the singing, the movement of the crowd, the sarcasm and humour which made the game, more than a game.
There was at the time one significant difference between the United support base and that of the overwhelming majority of other clubs, and that was the Munich factor.
As mentioned in the introduction, the tragedy had catapulted a medium to large Mancunian institution into the national consciousness and perhaps nowhere else was this more noticeable than amongst a group of London and South East based reds who as the 60’s ended and 1970’s began, became to be known simply as, the Cockney Reds.
Before we can explore further the establishment of what was to become, affectionately or otherwise, known as the “Red Army” with recruits from near and far, Salford to London and way beyond it is important that we understand the significant changes that had occurred at Board level between the nightmare of Munich and the zenith of joy and achievement that balmy spring evening at Wembley in May 1968.
The arrival of King Louis
An insight into how a butcher from Salford came to be the owner of one of football’s greatest club can be much better understood by taking the story back ten years.
It is rather ironical really, that but for the sad events of the first week in February 1958, it is more than likely that Louis Edwards would never have been invited to become a director of Manchester United Football Club and that his son Martin, would never have known any involvement with the club at all.
On Friday, January 31st 1958, the Manchester United team, officials, and directors, travelled down to London in readiness for the team’s fixture against Arsenal which was to be played at Highbury the following afternoon.
On Saturday morning, February 1st 1958, one of the Manchester United directors, Mr. George Whittaker, a Manchester business man, was found dead in bed in his hotel room. He had passed away in his sleep during the night. That afternoon, as a mark of respect, players from both teams wore black armbands, and a minutes silence was observed by teams, and the 55,000 fans attending, prior to the match kicking off.
The game itself is widely remembered, even today, by those present because that cold, grey, February afternoon, United triumphed in a feast of football and goals, by 5-4.
Sadly, for some United players, it was to be the last game of football that they ever played on their home soil.
The party travelled back to Manchester by train immediately after the game, and the players and manager were in a buoyant mood given their display at Highbury just a few hours earlier.
Accompanying the party that day was a supporter, a Manchester businessman by the name of Willie Satinoff.
Mr. Satinoff had made his money in the cotton trade in and around the Manchester area. Outside of his business interests, his main pass time was following Manchester United Football Club, and he was fanatical in his support for his beloved club.
Willie was close to Matt Busby.
So close in fact, that he had travelled with the United team on all of their European exploits since their journey began in the 1956/57 season. So it was that on February 3rd, 1958, he was the only fan traveling with the team out to Belgrade for the forthcoming return European Cup Quarter Final tie against Red Star Belgrade. At that time, it was commonly known within Manchester football circles, that Willie was being tipped to soon become a director at the Club which he was so fanatical about.
Sadly, his hopes and dreams of attaining this position were shattered by the events of Thursday, February 6th, 1958. Willie paid the ultimate price for following his beloved United when he perished in that terrible accident on a snowy afternoon on the runway of the airport in Munich, Germany.
Since that date, Willie Satinoff has become the forgotten man of Munich.
Reams of paper have been written about events; radio and TV Documentaries have covered the incident in great detail, but apart from Willie Satinoff’s name being listed amongst those that perished, he never, ever, gets a mention.
His resting place is passed by every day without notice, as hundreds of people make their way by various means along one of Manchester’s busiest thoroughfares. Many I suspect are fervent Manchester United fans, who today, given the length of time that has passed since the accident happened, wouldn’t even know who Willie Satinoff was.
For those of you that may be interested, he rests in the Jewish section of the Southern Cemetery, Manchester, almost adjacent to the Manchester Crematorium. As you walk down Barlow Moor Road towards Princess Parkway, and pass by the Crematorium, there is a little gate which allows you entrance into the Jewish section of Southern Cemetery. Willie’s resting place is just down on the right hand side of the path, after you have passed through the gate. Unpretentious, just a plain black marble stone, sadly highlighting the details of the date, and where, this United fan passed away.
That Willie has never ever been recognized in any way, by the Club, or anybody else for that matter, is highly regrettable. But then again, why ever would he be? He was just a fan!
But, he is an integral part of the Munich story, and one day, it would be good to see some kind of plaque erected to his memory at Old Trafford.
At the time of the disaster, there was another local businessman who was like a butterfly around people and players connected with Manchester United. He was what people would now a day’s term a ‘hanger on.’
That this person was a fan of Manchester United could not be doubted. He had grown up in the 20’s and 30’s in Salford, not far from Old Trafford football ground. His father was a butcher, and at the age of 14, he had entered the family business. He worked long hours and his escape from his dreary, daily working routine was Manchester United. They became his passion, and later, as he grew older, his obsession.
In 1943, his father died, and together with his brother, they took over the running of the family’s butcher business. After the war of 1939-45, rationing was still rife in Britain, and they made their money through expanding the number of shops that they had, and by winning a number of lucrative wholesale meat contracts. The business gained considerable strength and he began to get a little bit of a reputation especially in social circles, He coveted being associated with Manchester United and everything that brought with it.
In pursuit of this goal, he began to court anyone, and everybody connected with the club. He liked to be seen with players, especially the young men who were to become so famously known as the ‘Busby Babes.’
Through a mutual friend, much to his delight he was introduced to Matt Busby, and he was even more delighted when every now and again, Busby would invite him and his wife to watch a game from the director’s box at Old Trafford. It whetted his appetite, and his butterfly approach to anything and anybody connected to Manchester United earned him a hangers-on touch of fame, and the nickname, ‘Champagne Louis.’ With his business looking exceptionally strong, he had his sights set on gaining a place on the Manchester United Board, the local butcher with his eye on the throne was of course, Louis Edwards
But for all of Edward’s ambition, he was never really a candidate whilst Willie Satinoff was around.
Sadly, tragically in more ways than one, Munich happened. Within a day of the tragedy, with not only the board and the Club shocked and grief stricken, but the whole of Manchester and Britain as well, Louis Edwards was appointed as a director of Manchester United Football Club, and his first ambition had been fulfilled. In fairness it may well have been that he wanted to add some stability to a very rocky ship.
In the initial period after his appointment, Edwards was happy with his role at the Club. His total shareholding at that time was just 17 shares out of a total of 4,132.
In the early 1960’s, his company, Louis Edwards and Son, was floated on the Stock Exchange. Edwards made an enormous amount of money from this, and it was from this point onwards that he began to set his sights even higher, and wanted nothing less than total control of Manchester United Football Club.
Surreptitiously, and with the help of a Conservative Manchester City Councillor, yes there was such a thing at the time, Frank Farrington, he began to acquire more shares in Manchester United Football Club.
Nobody at the Club realised what he was up to.
By 1963, just five years after his elevation to the United Boardroom, Edwards was the club’s largest shareholder. Unfortunately for him, the other two large shareholders at that time, Harold Hardman (the Chairman) and Alan Gibson, the son of James W Gibson who had transformed the club 20 years earlier and who was also a Director, woke up as to what was going on.
They forbade any share dealing by either three of them in order to preserve some kind of democracy, and tried to prevent Manchester United coming under the control of any one person who could then do as he liked with the club.
Undaunted, Edwards carried on amassing shares by any means possible. With the help of his brother, and also his brother-in-law, a certain Denzil Haroun (who was later to become a director at Manchester United) they continued to acquire through various means, Manchester United shares.
In late 1963, even Alan Gibson gave in and sold some of his shares to Edwards, being paid 25 pounds for each of 500 shares. By the early part of 1964 ‘Champagne Louis’ had amassed a total of 2,223 shares and owned over 50% of the club over which, he now had personal control.
In total, the whole exercise had cost Edwards between £30-40,000!
In 1965, Harold Hardman died, and this left little or no opposition to Louis Edwards appointment as Chairman of Manchester United Football Club. His lifelong ambition and dream had been at last, fulfilled.
Initially, Edwards’ heart and soul were in Manchester United Football Club. He loved the prestige, the trappings and the power of the position that he held.
Football was in his blood, and he was Chairman during the second glorious part of United’s history.
United were Champions in 1965 and 1967 and finally, the ultimate accolade, European Cup Winner’s for the first time in 1968. Life for Edwards and his family was good. He’d seen Old Trafford redeveloped with the building of the famous ‘cantilever stand’ complete with ‘executive boxes’ which was built in readiness to coincide with the opening of the 1966 World Cup
It was implied by the club that the new executive boxes along with the dining facilities which were relatively basic would help subsidise other ticket prices around the ground, the rich helping out the not so well off as it were, within three decades of course the tail would start to wag the dog. The prestige customers would be the only fans the club or business really cared about. But in the spring sunshine of the late 60’s those thoughts were a million miles away.
Unfortunately for Edwards, after 1968 things began to slowly go wrong, especially in his business life. The family business started losing money, and there were scandals surrounding it.
Many of Edwards’s shops were in poorer areas of Manchester and at the Manchester Abattoir and wholesalers he had a reputation for buying the leftovers, once all the prime meat had been bought by other more selective butchers. This was partially understandable as his customers had limited budgets, however as this reputation became known by many of his larger customers, goodwill gradually disappeared; the business was in downward spiral.
King Louis was in trouble.
However the fan on the terrace lived in blissful ignorance of any boardroom shenanigans, United were flying high, the terraces were bulging at the seams and support from near and far was ever more colourful, ever more passionate.
The good natured rivalry which had typified games in the first half of the 1960’s was slowly changing, and not for the better.
200 miles and a universe of life experience away in May 1968, two cockney lads made their way up Wembley Way.
Their route to the momentous May evening had been similar in some ways although the reasons why Steve Prentice and Mickey O’Farrell were reds at all were quite different.
Mickey explains “I Came to support Man United for a totally obscure and trivial reason, I was brought up in a football family particularly on my mother’s side, who was one of 10 children in Camden, North London, and her family were all Arsenal, she used to go to Arsenal, her Grandad, everybody in the family .
I didn’t get into sport at an early age, I wasn’t into football, then I started playing and found I was ok with it, and started to develop a bit of love for the game, and I knew I had to support a team. I read the Victor comic in 1961/62 and they used to do an article about the lives of famous footballers, and I read one on Bobby Charlton and I liked the name, thought it was a really cool name! So I asked my mother who does Bobby Charlton play for and she said Manchester United, so I said that’s it then, I support Man United.
For Steve Prentice it was a different journey, although like Mickey, to develop and maintain his passion for a team from Manchester whilst living in Steve’s case in South London surrounded by Chelsea and other London teams fans was no mean feat, as he put it himself with a little understatement “I took my lumps”
“It was 1954 and I was born in Salford Infirmary, my mum was from Scotland and was heading down to London to live, but she was in labour and couldn’t make the whole trip to London, where we moved to 2 weeks after I was born, I had an Italian Father but my parents separated for various reasons.
My mum married for a second time in London to an Arsenal fan and he dragged me along to go and see them, it just so happened that they played United, and we lost 4-2-Dennis Law played and I was astonished at the United support, my mouth was open.
There were thousands there, Law scored one I think, but it was everything else, it was packed, that was 1964.”
To put their early experiences into perspective it is worth detailing the away fan involvement in the early 1960’s.
Mickey explains “London is a big place, people come from all over the country to live there and as a result there were London based supporters branches for several clubs, Newcastle, Wolves and a few more, not as many as there was for United, and one of the reasons was the culture, that really got me totally engrossed in it, embroiled in it, I mean, I would say I was a United fan since the Leicester City Cup final but that was just talk really.
I lived on an overspill estate 20 miles north of London and part of our rights of passage as a kid was going into London to watch games, you would all go together, between six and ten of us, and we would have only been between about 8 and 12 years of age!
I was 9 or 10 at the time and tagging along, I went to a Tottenham/Nottingham Forrest game, a Chelsea/ Northampton game, a couple of games at Highbury all before I had been to United.
At the Spurs /Forrest game I didn’t see a single Nottingham Forrest fan all day, there was a small group of Northampton fans down at Chelsea, but literally a coach full, there was a group of Leicester fans at Highbury who were in the schoolboy enclosure, basically it wasn’t very common to have large numbers of away fans at games.
I went to my first United game at Highbury in 1965, it was mind blowing, it was sensory overload, it seemed like thousands of United were there, this had a huge impact on me.
An overwhelming impact.
Up until then it had been a case of, “yeah I’m a Manchester United fan, who do you support”, but after that trip to Highbury, then it was wow, there is something going on here!
At the game, I was in the schoolboy section, at the front, down the side of the pitch, United were all in the North Bank as usual in London and because in those days every fan without exception wore colours and even though both teams were red and white it was clear there wasn’t a coach full, there were thousands of United fans, it seemed every ground in those days, we took over.”
But as alluded to earlier it wasn’t simply the numbers of United fans following the team that so impressed Mickey and Steve but the sub culture which had developed since the start of the 60’s alongside the music revolution that had taken place.
No longer as Mickey put it, in the 1940’s and 50’s, did a fourteen year old lad leave school, take over his dad’s flat cap and gabardine coat and go to work in a factory or pit, something changed drastically, teenagers were born.
Mickey maintains that in terms of a rapidly developing sub culture United was some way ahead of most, if not all other clubs
“It wasn’t just the number of supporters, which was huge, it was the colour, the dress code was Combat jackets, a bit like punk rockers wore years later, you would see quite a few bikers there as well, greasers, it was all post teddy boy fashions, there would be slogans all over the back of the combat jackets, some guys would have Denis Law with the chess emblem of a king above it, this was all pre-butchers coats of course, that was years later, with the combat jacket another part of the dress code was wearing, dangling from their arms, all the opponent scarves they had stolen, worn like an apache might wear the scalps of the defeated!
One guy I got to know very well in later years, he had about a dozen opponents scarves on him”
It was obvious that rivalry was already moving from friendly to confrontational.
The numbing austerity and poverty of the previous two decades was gradually subsiding and young people who still had relatively little money in their pocket wanted a bit more out of life than their parents had experienced, and a bit more fun and excitement than the establishment was prepared to offer.
Rebelliousness and resentment was in the air and one of the means to express this was going to football with your mates and having a good time, by whatever means was available to you.
A game that is mentioned more than most from the mid to late 1960’s was the visit to Upton Park in the East End by United.
Mickey remembers it well “I remember West Ham in 1967-I was 13 I got there dead early. It seemed there was thousands of United but it was only because every single United fan wore their colours. The previous years United fans had lost 3-1 and chucked bottles down on the West Ham fans below!
So the following year I was there at 11am and in the ground before midday which wasn’t uncommon at the time.
United went 4-0 up by Half time so it was obvious everyone was going on the pitch, so I got down to the front, the West Ham fans had vacated before the final whistle, so I got on the pitch, Busby came out and gave a speech, the crowd were singing back “For he’s a jolly good fellow”
But it was far from a peaceful day, it was also one of Steve’s first games without adult supervision and as he puts it after seeing the red army as it was becoming known in full effect “I was bit by the bug”
Violence at football in the 60’s was rare but not unknown, there are stories about Everton going in the Stretford End, but in truth for the vast majority going to the match was an inexpensive, exciting and passionate day out with little if any underlying sense of unease, but as both Mickey and Steve can testify the watershed was United’s greatest triumph to date.
May 29th 1968…Wembley
Just ten years and three months after the team lay decimated in the Munich snow, the near impossible had been achieved, after a slight Irishman with a huge natural ability had run rings round Real Madrid earning him the nickname of “El Beatle” due to his trendy mop of hair in the semi-final tie, United had reached the pinnacle of European Football the final at Wembley no less.
Alongside a huge movement of Mancunians, United fans from the south, east and all points of the compass descended on North London.
Both Steve and Mickey made it to Wembley and this is how Mickey remembers what even now he describes as the greatest ever sporting event on the planet!
“The biggest game I ever went to was the European Cup Final in 1968, there will never be a sporting event like that again, I was 14 years old and because Everton fans had climbed over some fencing to get in to a game a week earlier my Mum had declared that I wouldn’t be going. That was never going to be the case!
The morning of the game there was something in the paper saying Benfica had sent back 2,000 tickets. They were to go on sale at the Wembley Arena, I rushed downstairs to my pot of money that I had saved up from caddying on the local golf course, I had about a Fiver in there and my mum insisted I didn’t take it all so I took £4 and went dashing out the front door, got my Combat jacket on, got down to London then worried that the Bakerloo line wasn’t going to stop at Wembley.
I remember seeing the twin towers so I knew I was on the right tube.
When I got off I went bounding down the road to the Wembley Pool, it turned out it was all bullshit, and there were no tickets on sale!
I walked off and found a spiv selling tickets, they were 50p-Ten shillings face value, and he was selling them for £3, so I had one straight away. It sounds cheap but bear in mind that my first game at Old Trafford, a few weeks earlier I had paid 1’6-or 7.5pence or 3 shillings for an adult, so that gives you some kind of an idea.
Walking round all day after that there was loads of young Manchester lads running up and down Wembley way, after a bit of mither some Hot Dog sellers stall got turned over, so I grabbed some bread rolls, put them in a bag cos I heard if there was a draw that night the replay would be at Highbury, tickets would go on sale the next morning, so if that happened I was going straight over there and at least with my bread rolls I had something to eat!
6 O’clock I found my tickets were for the downstairs section once I got in the ground, I thought I’m not having that, so I sneaked into the upstairs section, right at the front above the tunnel where the players come out. I’ve never seen myself on the telly but…I can pin point exactly where I’am, and then I just watched the game, brilliant view I had, I remember the extra time and the drama and the emotion of it, then I remember Charlton going up to get the cup and it was so fucking big, it was huge.
I started crying and the girl next to me was crying as well, then Busby walked back down the tunnel below, for me there will never another sporting occasion like that, with the post Munich thing.
And it all happened at a time when youth culture was emerging, it was an incredible night.”
My own recollections are a little vague as I was 6 years old at the time, but it does stay in the memory. We watched it on a black and white telly, I had no idea until years later that United wore dark blue that night, but my Dad was there and my rather strict Mum had allowed me to stay up, so I did, and I loved it.
At 3 or 4am the next morning me, my elder brother, sister and Mum of course were all woken by the sound of scratching outside our front door, it was my Dad, he couldn’t get the key in the lock!
To give a small insight into just how big Best, Law and Charlton had become in the mid 60’s, we were living in rural Lincolnshire in 1967, my father was a Quantity Surveyor working on contracts to build the huge cooling towers, that are now regarded as a blot on the landscape and my Mum was a staff nurse. One day we were all sat down, I was the youngest and it was announced that we were all to move to Manchester as my parents believed there would be more opportunities for us in a large city than in a small rural village.
It was perhaps no coincidence that my mums love for classical music could find a new outlet as Sir John Barbirolli was the much acclaimed conductor at the Halle Orchestra and my dad could go and watch the holy trinity play at Old Trafford.
Both my parents were from relatively humble backgrounds, my Father’s family lived in a terrace house, he was denied going to University as the family simply could not afford it, and my Mum’s father was a master plasterer ( if you ever visit Grantham Town Hall look up, all the decorative plaster work is his!)
They, as with all parents wanted the best for their kids, so in 1967 we moved to the Old Moat area of Fallowfield, Manchester.
It was a neat and tidy but never the less working class area, but Dad got his prized season ticket in the newly built Cantilever Stand at Old Trafford, he was dead proud, dead being a new word that I had not heard before moving to Manchester, meaning very, quite weird to my young yokel ears.
So on the morning of the 30th May 1968 when my Dad did eventually get the key in the keyhole he burst in the house with a grin from ear to ear and at that moment I remember thinking anything that can make my Dad this happy must be something pretty special.
I may have been right, as he suffered with depression once the building slump kicked in the early 70’s, and struggled to find the self fullfilment he craved with dire consequences years later.
The 1968/69 season was one that can best be described as “After the Lord Mayor’s Parade”, a huge burden of achievement had been lifted from the shoulders of not only the soon to be knighted Matt Busby, but with hindsight also from everyone associated with the club from players, staff, even the supporters.
One unforeseen result of the triumph at Wembley was the way in which United was viewed by our opposition. It is perhaps a classic piece of British mentality that many clubs and their supporters are deeply resentful of success. This was certainly true 10 years later as Liverpool came to dominate, our hatred and rivalry grew with their every victory, well in 1968 a lot of grounds that had not been openly hostile to United fans previously, became very much so.
Mickey explains “After the 68 cup final it was noticeable, it was the first year we didn’t go in the shed at Chelsea, or the North Bank at Arsenal, there was a different feeling, football culture was developing and you had to watch your back.
The first time I got a bit of a kicking was at Chelsea in 69, we were just disliked cos we were United fans, but the worst places to go were Merseyside and Tyneside, you had to watch yourself, right up until the 70’s there used to be more Cockney Reds on the Chelsea or West Ham specials to Manchester than there was their own, but times were changing, now it was getting a bit more serious.
In 69 I went to Newcastle, after the Cup final, there was a palpable lull, a sense of achievement both on and off the pitch, right up until the Docherty days, a real lull for about 4 years, we didn’t go on the Leazes that year, we went in the Gallowgate End and still got chased all over the place, it was a rough place”.
Steve remembers this period as the start of what was to be described years later as the “English disease”, violence was increasing and for guys like him, young and passionate it was all about the craic, being “tested” as he would put it.
As other clubs fans found their feet and became more organised things were changing rapidly for what was initially a small percentage of United fans.
“It started in 69 I would say, there was always United support, but we started going as a firm, no colours, the “Bongles” as we called them, the straight fans, would turn right getting on the train, and we would turn left.
We didn’t want to be with them because they attracted the Old Bill, I remember us going to West Brom and taking their end entirely, nobody was a soft touch, but in those days the coppers used to just let us get on with it!”
As the decade that changed Britain into the modern era came to a close, being a United fan meant many different things to many different people, for the vast majority it was all about the football, but for a significant minority it was clear that the coming decade would take the phrase “going to the match” in a whole different direction.
With its general social unrest, genuine poverty, poor housing and limited employment opportunities the next decade would be a challenging one, but there was at least one brilliant thing to look forward every Saturday at 3.00pm, no matter how you chose to experience it, being a Red!
Chapter 1 ….Bloody Barwell!
A footballing world away from Old Trafford, Zurich or Jack Warner in the Caribbean, the temperature is hovering around freezing, in fact as Tom my 14 year old lad and I make our way round the Stalybridge ground, in the shadow of the Pennines, large parts of the side lines have the silver shimmer of ground frost.
The date is December 3rd 2014, it is half time in the FA Trophy game between FC United of Manchester, or more simply FC, as we all call our team, and Barwell a large village or small town, if you are feeling generous, in Leicestershire.
They have become a bit of a bogey team.
The away team are leading 0-1, and even the most optimistic amongst us has seen little in the first half to persuade us that our team will be able to shrug off the air of defeat that was hanging over them as they went in to the sparse dressing room of our latest nomadic home.
But, was I particularly bothered about us trailing yet again, in all honesty, not that much, after all I was with my lad at an FC game, and only six months before the likelihood of me being able to say that sentence was extremely low.
Tom, like his older brother was diagnosed as being on the Autistic Spectrum, fortunately Tom who was a millennium child, had his condition diagnosed when he was just 3 years old by our speech and language therapist, the fact that Tom had next to no speech at three, my wife and I had initially mentally swept under the carpet, well to be completely honest, I had.
Ben his older brother by 6 years did not get a diagnosis until 10 years of age.
A mum sometimes has more of a gut instinct for these things than a Dad does and Cheryl my wife had for some time, it transpired been convinced that Ben, Tom’s older brother also had more issues than just being a bit well, different. For my part I just thought he was stubborn and badly behaved, perhaps I was just a crap Dad!
But once Tom’s mastery of lining up tank engines in unfeasibly straight and uniform lines and Ben’s ability to memorise in minute detail every episode of Dr Who had gained a label, it was clear that our job was to fight for every bit of help we could get and put any thoughts of career progression to one side and devote all our time and energy to the boys. Continuity is essential to give our boys a sense of confidence and security.
This we did for ten years, and the transformation in both our amazing lads was little short of miraculous, there were a great many factors and people contributing towards this, and we had only done what most parents would of, given the circumstances.
Then, in early August 2014 after watching quite a few world Cup games on the telly and sharing a plethora of player statistics and gossip over his headphone on line with his mates, Tom said something I thought I would never hear.
“Dad, are you going to watch FC again this year”
I was tempted to ask him if the pope was catholic, but similies and metaphors did not always work that well with our lads so I played a straight bat.
“Yes, of course”
Dad ……..can I come”
Indescribable joy, masked not for the first time by my best poker face
“Great, I will let you know when the first game is”
So it was that we were two of the 503 people present that freezing December night, six months after Tom had watched England fail yet again in the stifling heat of Brasil, this was an exceptionally low turnout, with numerous factors contributing, but as I always say, forget the quantity, focus on the quality of the support provided. In reality though, the poor play and freezing conditions meant that our usual high level of vocal support was somewhat muted that evening.
Ten or fifteen minutes into the second half the visitors are leading 0-2, and we are behind the goal FC are attacking, to little avail, and I have noticed that a small group of the main stand singers have remained in the place they were during the first half and are attempting to keep up a wall of noise, which was some achievement when there were not much more than a dozen or so of them.
That was it
“C’mon Tom lets go and join the barmy army, they need a little help”
Tom smiled, he got the joke, they were quite possibly a little barmy, although determined and passionate were other adjectives that work well, but they certainly weren’t an army!
We walked round and for the next half hour continuously went through the not inconsiderable FC and United song book, perhaps coincidentally, almost immediately the team got one back, then another.
With about two minutes to full time and despite multiple layers and long johns I could tell Tom who is slim to say the least, was freezing, so I said, come on we’ll go behind the goal for the last couple of minutes, intending to head straight back to a warm car on the final whistle.
I waved good bye to Mack, Philnevlegend (that was his social media moniker, the only name I knew him by) and the other guys in our small but perfectly formed platoon, and we headed behind the goal, no sooner had we got there than Matty Walwyn I believe it was, nicked a winner, bedlam, mayhem, random people hugging random people, and me picking up Tom and spinning him around on a Pennine hillside, all over a division 7 non-league team playing in a tournament most people have never heard of.
How had a lifetime supporting one of the richest, most successful, yet marmite teams in the world been cast aside for this, and more importantly how could it feel this good.
Well that is a story worth telling, it is unique in many ways and yet if people were able to be dispassionate about football it was the most logical thing to do.
A quote I have come to love and which only true fans can understand is “Anyone who thinks football is all about football, knows nothing about football”
The simple fact is that this thing is ours, we will make the decisions about our clubs future, we will shape it and nurture it and quite often fall out over it ,we may perhaps learn from our own mistakes, we don’t care, at least we have got something vital back into our lives….CONTROL.
Go to the site for highlights…… Fcum.tv…..FC United vs Barwell FC – FA Trophy – Goals – 03/12/14
Divided re-United: History 1878-1960’s
Many fans of sports institutes up and down the country are likely to use the term “their” football, rugby or other club. It is difficult to explain how or why this largely inaccurate phrase comes from, other than somewhere within us.
Sports fans feel a huge sense of identity with what have often morphed over many years into huge corporate operations, with the fans at the very bottom of the pyramid of influence, the result is that the sense of ownership has been evaporated, but at perhaps the largest football club in Britain, a small percentage of the fans who took matters into their own hands in 2005, can rightfully say for just £12, they own the club, it is by definition “theirs”
Less than mile away from the rail yards where Newton Heath was formed in 1878, on the 29th May 2015, four thousand bloody minded individuals cheered their hearts out during the inaugural match at Broadhurst Park, Moston, against a Benfica 11, the ground had been built and paid for largely by the 3,000 co-owners, it is the brand new home of FC United of Manchester.
The club had been formed by a belligerent minority after the hostile and debt laden takeover of United in May 2005 by the Florida based Glazer family.
I’m proud to be part of that minority, but fully understand the equally Mancunain attitude of “No one is going to take my club away from me” that was the argument for the vast majority who stayed and tried to mount a fight from within.
This book tells that story, not of exploits on the pitch but of the long road to empowerment off the pitch, but we need to understand in depth the story of how we got here.
Although this is the story that I can only tell about, what I laughably used to call “my club” it has echoes right across top flight football in Britain and much further afield.
Much of the information for the Introduction was sourced from a friend from Germany, Sebastian Kristen who wrote about the history of United for his Bachelors degree.
In Victorian Britain the city of Manchester had exploded in terms of population and employment, and one of the key areas of this expansion was in the field of transport and in particular Steam Railways.
A large freight and waggon depot had evolved in the Newton Heath area owned by the Lancashire and Yorkshire Railway company, and with an eye to better health for their employees along with the benefits of workforce cohesion and community links, the company had agreed to the setting up of an Association Football team.
On the 5th March 1878 Newton Heath LYR was formed and initially played games against similar yard and depot teams, home games were played at North Road, the club colours were yellow and green to compliment the company colours.
The North Road stadium was owned by the church and was rented by Lancashire and Yorkshire Railways; it had a capacity of approximately 12,000.
Four years after formation the club were ready to participate in the Lancashire Cup, it was not an auspicious beginning losing 2-7 to Blackburn Olympic reserves! This was also the first official game at North Road and admission was 3d, equivalent to around £1 today
Steadily in East Manchester, along with towns up and down the country the popularity of both playing and supporting football among the working classes had grown and admission prices started to rise, it should be remembered that football was initially played by the gentry attending the elite public schools such as Eton and Harrow, but once the working man had fallen in love with the game they embraced it as their own.
Soon it become an open secret that although the game was supposed to be played on a purely amateur basis, with competition and rivalry steadily growing, many teams including Newton Heath were using part of their admission fee to engage the best players they could find.
In 1885 the Football Association allowed the game to become professional and their own Challenge, or FA Cup had proven a very successful means to drive the popularity of the game since the official rules were established in 1871.
The game was becoming ever more competitive and in order to be a force to be reckoned with the admission price had doubled in 6 years to 6d or £2 in current value, but this had enabled the club to sign players such as Jack Powell and Tom Burke and reach the clubs first FA Cup final.
As was to become something of a benchmark for the radical nature of the Mancunian temperament, when the score reached 2-2 Jack Powell the Newton Heath captain refused to play extra time ……with the result that the club was barred from the FA Cup for the next three years!
The Football league was formally founded in 1888 with two Divisions , Newton Heath LYR was not invited to join, instead forming a combination league with other clubs. This did not work out too well and was disbanded after 3 years during which crowds only averaged around 3,000 compared to the 10,000 average in the more established and organised football league.
To make matters worse due to the high costs of maintenance and improvements at the North Road stadium the Railway Company no longer wanted to support the team and so the new club name became Newton Heath FC dropping the Lancashire and Yorkshire Railway reference.
In the 1891/92 season there was an agreement that the top two clubs from the Alliance combination as the league was now known were to gain promotion to the Football League and at the end of that season, Nottingham Forrest and Newton Heath were duly promoted.
Through the sale of shares at £1 each the newly named Newton Heath FC were able to clear their debts, but since the new landlord decided to raise the rent on the North End Road stadium, as it had become known, the club decided it needed a new home.
The 1893/4 season was a significant one in the short history of the club, they had moved not too far away to Bank Street with a potential capacity of 50,000, equally as important was the fact that they were now part of the Football League and crowds increased significantly to average 8,000 which was a huge increase especially considering the clubs main rivals Ardwick AFC later to become Manchester City, averaged around 3,000, it seems little has changed in the intervening 130 years.
The teams that occupied the First and Second division were almost exclusively from the working towns of the Midlands and Northern England, the one exception being Woolwich Arsenal who joined in 1893/4.
After the first season Newton Heath maintained their place in Division One, in the following season however they were relegated and although they had developed a loyal support amongst many in East Manchester, after 8 years in division two average spectator numbers had dropped to around 4,400.
By 1902 the club was bankrupt with debts of £2,600, or a quarter of a million pounds equivalent, they could scarcely afford to keep playing, the club was at a crossroads once again.
At this point a brewery owner, John Henry Davies headed a group of businessmen who acquired the club and renamed it Manchester United FC.
Although some of the long term fans may have been sad at the renaming of the club and a break with the links to the Railway workers, many it is believed, would of welcomed the significant investment that was immediately made in the club and quickly this provided an upturn in the fortunes of …..United.
Only three years after bankruptcy the new players brought in delivered promotion to Division One with an impressive average home crowd of 16,000.
The spectacular rise of United continued and with new players who were some of the very best around at the time including Billy Meredith, Alec Turnbull and Herbert Burgess the team went on to win their first Division One Championship in 1907/8 and a year later in 1909 the FA Cup. The team was welcomed home by a parade in front of 300,000 people, and the average gate in the championship season was 22,500.
Another significant event took place in 1907 and it is very likely that most if not all of the new United supporters took no notice of it whatsoever!
United became a Limited Liability Company, which in lay man terms meant that John Davies as a Director of the new company could borrow money through the company without any personal responsibility. Indeed to this day the same Limited nature exists for many businesses including football clubs, for better or worse.
Manchester United was by no means unique in this development, many had gone down the same Limited Company route, football clubs had become companies and were managed accordingly.
In 1896 the FA had restricted the payment of dividends to 5%, and the investors were mostly well meaning local business people, who wanted to give something back to their community with their investments.
Without changing the football clubs into Limited Liability Companies the commercialisation of football would have been impossible. As a result people were no longer members of Manchester United but partners or shareholders.
Football at the start of the 20th century had attracted the interest of the general public like no other sport and in terms of actual match attendance no other game could equal Football’s popularity, primarily, but not exclusively, amongst the working classes.
The reasons lie in the simplicity of the sport. The enthusiasm of the players and the passion of the spectators, the game was a regulated competition which takes place through its rules in a relatively civilised way.
Add to this the colours of the jersey and the very strong community links, the sport became a huge pressure release valve for tens of thousands of very hard working people who in their day to day existence had little or no social life or entertainment, along with next to no control over their lives and working conditions. Their team through achieving success gave the working men and women a genuine sense of achievement and pride, which they could express loudly and raucously cheering on their heroes on the field of play.
Football can be played without a great deal of equipment, and more or less anywhere in rudimentary form, it has simple rules which, apart from offside require little or no explanation.
In addition football promotes and demands solidarity and a feeling of togetherness.
The move to Old Trafford-1909
The high increase in spectators and the bad ground conditions in Bank Street caused the board and John Davies to reach the momentous decision that the club should move to the opposite side of Manchester, adjacent to the huge and growing employment area of Trafford Park, and so in 1909 a further milestone occurred and he provided £60,000 to build Old Trafford.
The new stadium site is still Manchester United’s home today and initially offered space for 80,000 spectators. The sum of £60,000 corresponds to around £5 million today.
John Davies would not have been a businessman, had he not derived some extra benefit from the larger stadium. As a brewery owner he had each weekend a large number of potential customers, who bought his beer at Old Trafford and thus brought significant extra profits. But just as today when a new facility is provided in an area many other local businesses also benefitted from the development of Old Trafford.
The financial support of John Davies brought Manchester United the nickname, Moneybags United from their rivals, but their success was a genuine source of pride for the working class Mancunians who were the bedrock of the clubs support.
The first game in the new stadium on 19 February 1910 against Liverpool was lost 3-4 in front of 45,000 spectators, but the period from 1907 until 1911 was to be the first “Golden Era” of Manchester United.
Under Ernest Mangnall, the first team manager, the championship was won twice and the Charity Shield and the FA Cup once each.
Mangnall left however in 1912 to manage their city rivals and arch-enemy Manchester City.
This was a significant blow from which the club took some time to recover.
In spite of the lack of success in the seasons after Mangnall’s departure the average spectator numbers remained over 20,000 in the first season and 13,000 prior to the outbreak of the Great War in 1914.
However the diminishing spectator receipts and the falling away of any kind of income during the First World War brought Manchester United into a tense financial position, since the running costs for Old Trafford still had to be paid.
The Football League was interrupted between 1914 and 1918 because of World War I. In the last complete season Manchester United narrowly escaped relegation to Division Two.
As was however later established, the game between Manchester United and Liverpool had been manipulated by the players. The United players Alec Turnbull, Arthur Walley and Enoch West had sought to top up their wages, at that time around £5 per week, with bets on the result, but they were discovered, reported and banned for life.
The ban on Arthur Walley however was lifted 4 years later at the end of the First World War because of his military service to the country. Enoch West’s ban was not and his descendants still challenge this decision to the present day.
Alec Turnbull died during World War I.
On 30 August 1919 the Football League started its regular programme again. After the break due to the war the popularity of football raised again rapidly, the population naturally desperate to put the horrors of war behind them.
Manchester United in the first season after the war had an average crowd of around 28,000, although the team only finished twelfth. It was not just spectator numbers that grew significantly in the post war era but also playing participation rocketed, with the resultant expansion of the number of semi or professional clubs.
In 1921/22 there were 74 leagues and over 200 football clubs under the administration of the Lancashire FA alone!
The public who made up these large post war crowds at games were a broad range from the lower middle class down to the most poorly paid factory worker, but they all equally embraced what they regarded as “their” team.
On the pitch Manchester United had a difficult time after the First World War. Only two players from the pre-war period were in the starting eleven of the first league game of the 1919/20 season and Billy Meredith had his best days behind him. Unsurprisingly Manchester United was relegated to Division Two and did not manage to return to Division One until the summer of 1925.
The first successful period in the history of Manchester United was over. The fans despite this remained faithful to the club. 24,000 spectators on average attended during the three years in Division Two, this level of determined support would not be tested again for a further 50 years.
A video clip showing the Captains of United from early days.
The years between the wars were not only hard for Manchester United in a sporting sense, as the club had deep financial problems as well. After the death of the principal shareholder John Henry Davies in 1927 the club desperately sought a new source of finance.
In December 1931 James W. Gibson, a Manchester businessman took an interest in Manchester United and declared himself prepared to pay all the outstanding bills of the club. In addition he had himself nominated as president and asked the board to resign. The board, having little or no option, agreed to this request.
Gibson set up a new board, the limit of dividend pay-outs had already been raised from 5% to 7.5% by 1920.
However this was just one way a Director of any club could, and did, profit from being on the board. Depending on which type of business one had, the main shareholder firms may produce the jerseys, build new stands, awarding contracts to their own or closely tied companies or looked after the provision of food and drink, and thus create a variety of significant extra revenues in addition to the dividend.
The start of the 1930s brought the Depression, especially to the industrial workers’ of cities like Manchester and this had a real effect. The unemployment rate for men was around 17.5% in the early 1930s.
Not until the renewed rearmament programme before the Second World War did unemployment fall back to around 10% in 1940. As the clubs site is adjacent to Trafford Park it was something of a barometer for the economic health of the nation.
The 1930’s was a difficult time for both United and the country in general and it is fair to say that their great local rivals, City, enjoyed greater success and at times, support during this era, but United’s new owner was determined to reverse this situation.
Gibson was however not just a source of money for United but also a visionary. It was due to him that Old Trafford had its own railway stop directly behind the main stand.
James W. Gibson is also co-responsible for the success after the Second World War.
Together with Manchester United fans, Gibson founded the Manchester United Junior Athletic Club, the club’s first youth section. The MUJAC was led by club secretary Walter Crickmer, who had brought Gibson to United, and by former co-trainer Louis Rocca.
Also in the 1930’s the start of Radio transmissions of football matches in England began and became popular with those who could afford this new luxury item.
BBC radio had been transmitting football matches and other sports events live since the 1920s. In 1936 the BBC for the first time regularly transmitted a sports programme and only two years later followed the first worldwide live broadcast of pictures of a football match. Sport in general, but especially football, was thus made available to an even broader mass of people and brought in more spectators to clubs like Manchester United.
The Birth of the Busby Babes
With young talents from the youth programme Manchester United managed to be promoted in 1938 to Division One, in which United were to stay for 36 years, interrupted only by WW2.
The promotion had been achieved, notably, with a large number of young talented players like the Irishman Johnny Carey. The spectator income had also increased again thanks to the improved sporting performances. In the last two complete seasons before the start of the war an average 28,500 spectators came to the home games at Old Trafford.
The war left its mark on the whole of Europe, nor was the industrial city of Manchester spared. During an air raid German bombers had destroyed Old Trafford, which had been used as a depot and was adjacent to a prime target, Trafford Park, this made an immediate return after the war impossible with repair costs of around £22,500.
The first game back at Old Trafford would not take place until 24th August 1949 in front of 41,748 spectators, Manchester United won against Bolton Wanderers.
Between 1945 and 1949 Manchester United carried out their home games in the stadium of rivals Manchester City. Per year they had to pay a fee of £5,000 as well as a percentage of ticket sales as costs.
With the restart of the Football League in 1946 there was a new coach at Manchester United, Matt Busby.
Busby, who had joined the club straight after the War in 1945, immediately started a new and revolutionary way to build and run a team as Manager and first team coach.
He took an active part in team training, wanted to decide himself about buying and selling players and negotiated a five year contract for himself. The 36 year old did not rely on established players but gave the club a new, young face.
The systematic youth work quickly paid off. Between 1947 and 1951 Manchester United were four times runners-up in the Football League Division 1 and secured the FA Cup for the first time in the club’s history in 1948.
“You have fulfilled my greatest ambition.” said James W. Gibson after the FA Cup triumph to Matt Busby.
In 1952 Manchester United won the English championship for the second time after 4 years. This title would not have been possible without the work of James W. Gibson
Tragically, Gibson died in 1951, a few months before Manchester United became champions.
His death ended a period with few trophies, but of immense importance for the further development of Manchester United. His son Alan, a member of the board, and his wife Lillian retained the family shares in Manchester United.
The hunt for titles and the attractive way of playing, brought the fans back to Old Trafford. In season 1947/48 more than one million spectators came to the Manchester United home games, which freed the club from its debts. At the time prior to almost all forms of commercial activity, attendance at matches was almost the sole form of income, and so it was the positive vibrant football provided by Matt Busby’s team which created a spiral of growth and success for the club, a very sharp contrast to some modern day football successes!
The rise in spectator numbers can also be attributed to the economic situation in post-war England. Unemployment was low, people had money, but few possibilities of spending it. Also after the war years the desire for entertainment and pleasant leisure activities was understandably high, with many United fans employed in large factories carrying out repetitive mundane work.
No wonder once Saturday came the chance to watch their team and perhaps have a glass of beer or two with your mates was very inviting. Although football supporters were largely male this was not the whole story and women and girls attended in significant numbers.
As quickly however as the boom had come, it gradually subsided. At the start of the 1950’s the spectator average at United had fallen to around 40,000. This can be explained by the fact that television played an increasingly important role and that the BBC in 1954 began the programme “Sportsview”, which showed the highlights of all games, and thus going to the actual live match for the first time ever was no longer the only way to follow your team.
The team, around coach Matt Busby was once again rejuvenated after the 1951 championship.
Instead of investing a lot of money in established players, Matt Busby brought in young, hungry players and formed a new team.
The “Busby Babes” were born. Two further championships in seasons 1955/56 and 1956/57 followed with a team whose average age was 22 and the pride of Matt Busby. As he said “In all modesty ,my summing up of 1955/6 and 1956/7 must be that no club in the country could live with Manchester United. “
The championship title of season 1955/56 made Manchester United the first English team to take part in the European Cup of Champions. The competition had been held for the first time in season 1954/55, but the Football League had forbidden champions Chelsea from taking part.
The introduction of the European Champions Cup made an invention vital, without which football today would be inconceivable: floodlights.
Only with the installation of a floodlight system in the broad area of the stadium was it possible to carry out this competition.
The officials of the Football League did not agree with the participation of Manchester United, but Matt Busby had convinced the club’s board of the potential importance of the tournament and it overruled the Football League and in the first year United went out in the semi-final to Real Madrid.
From a sporting and financial point of view the European Champions’ Cup was a success for Manchester United. For the home games in the main round against Borussia Dortmund, Athletic Bilbao and Real Madrid, Old Trafford with an average of around 70,000 was well filled and brought money into the club.
Through its title defence Manchester United took part once again the following season in the European Cup of Champions, but failed to get past AC Milan in the semi-final. However Manchester United’s sporting performance became secondary.
The away games in the European Cup could only be reached by air, as the European Cup games were always held on Wednesday evenings, and United had to play in the First Division on Saturdays. Air traffic was at this time still in its infancy and a thoroughly risky business.
On the return flight from the quarter-final in Belgrade on 6 February 1958 the Manchester United plane landed for a fuel stop in Munich. The take-off had to be twice interrupted because of snow and slush on the runway, the pilot carried out a third take-off attempt. The plane did not reach the necessary speed, shot across the runway through a fence, brushed the side of a house and came to rest at a hut in which a commercial vehicle exploded because of the crash.
Eight players and press representatives, the club secretary Walter Crickmer, two members of the coaching staff as well two further passengers, one of whom could of changed the future history of the club, died in the disaster, which achieved a sad celebrity as the “Munich Air Disaster”.
Matt Busby himself nearly died, and was so seriously injured that he abandoned coaching for the rest of the season.
Out of tragedy – a new United emerged.
Up until the events at Munich, United were a large and successful club with strong support throughout the City of Manchester and probably stretching as far as Cheshire, up into Lancashire and maybe even into West Yorkshire, but that was the extent of the fan base.
This was the 1950’s, road and transport links were rudimentary and somewhat unreliable, besides, every town and City in England had their own club whom the locals would get passionately behind, so they had no need or desire to look further afield for a club to support.
The 6th February 1958 saw all this change, the outpouring of grief and sympathy spread not just across Britain but even into Europe itself.
How could this majestic team so full of pride, ambition and youthful vibrancy have been so quickly destroyed. Over the months and years following the tragedy many people from London to Berlin and Stockholm would follow the story of United with a new interest, and in many cases, genuine passion.
This book is primarily concerned with all matters around United off the pitch, and there can be no doubt that the experience of either the contributors themselves or their parents after the Munich Air Disaster was at least partially responsible for their lifelong passion for all things United.
The club released the following statement
“United will go on…the club has a duty to the public and a duty to football. We shall carry on even if it means that we are heavily defeated. Although we mourn our dead and grieve for our wounded, we believe that our great days are not done for us. The road back may be long and hard but with the memory of those who died at Munich, of their stirring achievements and wonderful sportsmanship ever with us, Manchester United will rise again.“
Manchester United’s Busby Babes were all but obliterated in the tragedy, but football much as life in general is not about purely physical presence and supreme talent, although now legendary players such as the peerless Duncan Edwards had died, something completely new was born, a passion, belief and sheer desire to achieve, not just amongst Matt Busby, or the indomitable Welshmen Jimmy Murphy who had took over the reins at the moment of the disaster but perhaps more importantly amongst all those both within Manchester and across Britain who were forever deeply connected with the club through their incredible support.
Although he took much persuasion once he was on the road to recovery Matt Busby became convinced that his plan of bringing young talent through the ranks alongside seasoned top professionals could once again yield rich rewards for the club, so alongside Bobby Charlton, a Munich survivor, in 1960 Denis Law was added, bought from Torino.
Success inevitably was far from instant, indeed in 1962/63 Manchester United were almost relegated, but in the same season they reached and won the FA Cup Final in front of 100,000 spectators against Leicester City.
Matt Busby’s ideas and hard work bore more fruit over the following five years, the first glorious period of the post war era for United.
Manchester United were runners up in season 1963/64, the previous year’s FA Cup success presumably giving the squad the confidence to challenge well, but also thanks to no less than 46 goals from Denis Law, the newly crowned King of the Stretford End!
After two championship in the years 1964/65 and 1966/67 as well as a fourth place in 1965/66, there followed the culmination of what should have been an impossible dream on a balmy May evening in 1968 for Matt Busby, soon afterwards Sir Matt Busby.
United beat Benfica by 4 goals to 1…….as recalled in this often sung song by the United faithful.
We went down to Wembley one fine day in May
The united fans were all gathered, so happy and gay
And when it was over, and when it was done
We’d beaten Benfica by 4 goals to 1
The first came from Bobby, he out jumped the rest
The second was scored, by wee George best
A roaring, a roaring, and a roaring we did
When the third was scored by young Brain Kidd
A roaring, a roaring, a roaring for more
When Bobby obliged with goal number 4
The team to remember, the team to recall
Is the Great Man United, the best of them all
So ends the history lesson, with only scant detail regarding the lives and social conditions of the fans who stood by the club during the previous ninety years of turmoil and success.
Although inevitably events on the field will enter into the contexts of the periods discussed in the next 50 years from 1966-2016, it is the experiences and changing nature of the fans, and how they interact with the club and Football authorities that will be focused on, these people, it should be remembered were often the grandsons and daughters of those who were at Bank Street or pre war Old Trafford, “their” story about “their” club has for too long remained ignored or untold.
Divided re-United: Info
I have taken the decision to publish in this blog the story- off the pitch, of Manchester United from the eyes of the fans, focusing on the half century between 1966-2016.
I hope many United fans and non-United fans find it of interest -below is a general summary of what you can expect to read over the next 6 months or so.
I will add clips from youtube etc, to bring some of the times past back to life -one big advantage to sharing a story online-if you have anything to contribute in terms of content or videos please email me direct…email@example.com….and if I think it adds to the overall content I will happily add both the content and your name to the list of contributors. Thanks
If you find it interesting please share -far and wide-thanks Rick aka politico
Many thanks to the following contributors, Sebastian Kristen, Mickey O’Farrell, Steve Prentice, Tony Wood, David Blatt, Tim Worrall, Dave Cullen, Bob-Whalley Range Red, without whom there would be no blogbook.
An anonymous quote which best sums up this obsession is “Anyone who thinks football is all about football, knows nothing about football”
The book will be published one Chapter at a time-every every 2 weeks approximately.
The Introduction -History of United from 1878-1966 will be published 1st June 2016
At ten years of age in 1972, I paid my 20p admission into the Stretford End juniors turnstile and from that moment my whole world changed, not by the action on the pitch, United were in the last throes of Busby’s great reign before relegation, no it was the noise, the movement, the passion and the hostility of the crowd around me which gave me an adrenalin rush which has not quite subsided 44 years later.
In May 2005, with countless other issues on my mind and purse strings tight, I donated £75, all the spare cash I had, to an idea, that ridiculous idea was the creation of a brand new football club, FC United of Manchester, 11 years later, the living embodiment, although far from perfect as I will detail towards the end of my book, is thriving well, and has international admiration as a fan owned club.
There have been countless numbers of books and articles discussing the action on the game side of the touchline, several covering ownership, and a fair few discussing the violence on the terraces.
What this book offers is to bridge the gap and explain the ever changing way that a supporter or fanatic interacts with the club. After an introduction covering the history from 1878-1966, the main body of the book covers the period from 1966-2016. Although this book is ostensibly about just United, the journey that we have been enduring over the last half century can be recognisably mirrored across many top football clubs in the UK, indeed across Europe.
What the book is about and Why it needs to be written?
In 2016 who cares about the fans, FIFA, UEFA the FA, in truth, we the fans are at the very bottom of the pyramid of importance and influence, and as it is we the fans who have built the clubs over the last 135 years, it is time our voices were listened to and acted upon.
I can only honestly and passionately write about the club which not only matters hugely to me, but to many, many people, yes in Manchester but also across England and much further afield.
By interviewing several lifelong reds I aim to capture not only my own views but intend to broaden out the fans own stories with the open and honest views of a variety of United fans both Mancunian and Southern based on a variety of issues regarding ownership and the uneasy relationship with the authorities governing the country and supposedly administering the game.
These are people who have lived through all or part of the 50 year period from 1966-2016 when the greatest changes in fans experiences have occurred. These are individuals who enjoyed their experiences in the raw, with likeminded reds who were only too aware that it is not always easy following United.
From a time when, if only in our minds we all felt United was ours, through the troubled days of the 70’s and 80’s when problems off the pitch made headlines for all the wrong reasons, whilst most United fans gave ownership of the club barely a thought, to the new millennia when we as a community realised that people with dollar signs in their eyes were ready to prey on the monster we had created.
Lastly, how and why did the United support base become divided in 2005, following the Glazer takeover and the creation of FC United, and are we becoming slowly Re-United as large parts of the huge United fan base learn to co-exist. FCUM and MUFC.
I want to engage with the reader on another level, because although this is broadly speaking a book about a community, a group, all these are made up of individuals with their own challenges and dilemma’s. My own experiences as a father of two sons on the Autistic Spectrum are fed into the story post 1994 when my eldest son was born.
I hope that I can transmit that the public perception of a “Football fan” as if they are a separate and unique species to be often dismissed and ridiculed is both shallow and unfair.
Why write the book?
I went to my first game at Old Trafford aged 10, without my parent’s knowledge let alone blessing, my interest with all things United has never subsided even at 54. But I was always more fascinated and intrigued by the people attending the game than those playing it. Odd many would think, perhaps rightly, it was the gradual realisation that all that they, the fans, thought was “theirs” was in fact a means of financial enrichment for people only rarely put in front of the cameras which helped shape my views of the once beautiful game.
I have long held political views which are on the face of it, perhaps a little more towards the political centre than the deeply entrenched left wing views of many fans from that last bastion of socialism-Manchester.
Or perhaps as events unfolded at the dawn of the new Millennia and through the noughties, my innate sense of what I considered right or wrong should not be classified by the old fashioned ideas of left or right, if something is just plain wrong, like a businessman being able to buy a football club by in effect dumping the fees and interest on the vehicle purchased, back onto the customers i.e. the fans, then politics play no part whatsoever, it is morally indefensible.
I invested both cash but more important commitment into FC United from its inception in 2005, my certificate on the wall above where I write this states proudly I’m one of 900 or so Founding Members of the club.
I took my eldest son for the first 2 years, volunteered running a bar for the following 6 years, and offered my time and knowledge from my background in catering to design the kitchen that was installed at our new home Broadhurst Park. Like any organisation that evolves, cliques and factions often grow beyond what is healthy, and I have first-hand insight into some of the issues at the top of the club, which despite its ongoing challenges is a huge beacon of light in an ever more disenfranchised football supporter’s world.
A chapter outline, with a paragraph or two explaining what will be addressed in each chapter.
This may vary slightly over the period of publishing -ie 6 months.
The History of Manchester United 1878-1968
Approximately 15 pages explaining the formation of the club, it’s rocky path from East Manchester to Trafford Park, the ownership, the triumphs and calamitous disaster of Munich in 1958 and how this event completely altered the clubs history up to the present day
1. Bloody Barwell – short chapter
A large part of the books mission is to compare and contrast my own experience of supporting the mighty Manchester United with a brand new fan owned football club FC United, initially plying its trade in Division 10, this brief chapter immediately summarises the chalk and cheese nature of that experience and why it felt so good!
2. 1960’s – the three kings and tribal beginnings – long chapter
Starting by covering the period of the mid 1960’s I interview United fans who are typically 10 years older than myself and gain an insight into the turbulent new world and what brought in particular people from the London area into the United fold, to an extent whereby one legendary United fan who has composed several United terrace favourite songs, describes himself as “ethnically red”
3. Bonfire night in Rochdale – short chapter
To continue my theme of enabling the reader to relate the experiences of decades ago with the modern era I again have a flash forward to an FA Cup tie in 2010, that was shown on live TV and drew in a new audience and fan base for FC from around Britain and perhaps more remarkably across Europe.
4. 1970’s fan fury and passion – long chapter
As the issues on the terraces begin to escalate I use numerous stories from a variety of United fans to explain the growing tensions both between rival fans and equally as destructive between authorities and the fans. One interviewee is a member of the British Transport Police who can add an extra perspective from the other side of the tracks.
5. Derby and Harrogate – short chapter
In my final jump from historical events back to the present day I aim to explain the complex reasons why a part of society has been partly air brushed out of the media promoted, happy clappy, jester hat wearing, modern football fan. And how, just occasionally the game is reclaimed by its working class roots
6. 1980’s off the pitch, violence heading towards meltdown – medium chapter
This chapter will deal with the growth of organised football violence and how the ever more desperate Authorities categorised not a minority as being thugs, out of control, but instead treated all fans as sub humans to be controlled at all costs, all costs!
7. 1989 Inevitable disaster – not yet complete
The antipathy between United and Liverpool fans is well known, but in this chapter I will explain how there was a genuine sense from many fans across the country, if they were completely honest with themselves whilst watching those horrific images in April 1989 from Hillsborough that “There but for the grace of God go I”
8. 1992 Sky and the “Premier League” take over football – not yet complete
After meetings in 1990 between the supremo’s of the 5 largest clubs and LWT headed up by their then Chairman Greg Dyke (now ironically Chair of the FA) the Football League sought to have a more structured administration with a new board to include the FA, but the 2 competing authorities behaved like sulky juveniles with the disastrous result that the 1st Division as it was called was sold lock stock and barrel to a new breakaway company called the Premier League, designed partly to help shift SKY satellite dishes. The match going fans loyalty from this point onwards was milked mercilessly.
9. New Millennium, New Football World, a rich man’s game – not yet complete
From the creation of the Premiership in 1992 through to the Euros of 1996 the media and middle England once again fell in love with football. Not only that, but the financial whizz kids started to realise that genuine monetization was possible due to the nature of fans one eyed support, they had a captive audience. With the ever increasing revenues from TV, numerous individuals and even state’s recognised that owning a club could be very useful indeed, as for the old grass roots fans, and their ability to afford to watch or travel to the games, this was a mere afterthought. Manchester United was not immune from this!
10. 2005 No Longer United – not yet complete
May 12th 2005, after months of turmoil, claim and counter claim, tales of ego’s hurt and stallion rights, the unthinkable became reality. Manchester United shares exchanged hands and a hugely wealthy former trailer park owner who had never visited the City became the new owner of Manchester United. Meanwhile in a curry house in Rusholme a ridiculous response that to quote one ex-player “Would not last until Christmas” was vaunted, the creation of a club owned and run by United fans – FC United of Manchester –I have the inside story, including the aborted attempt to build a new ground on the edge of the new Mancunian football giants backed by immeasurable amounts of oil soaked money.
11. 29th May 2015, Chaos and Control – not yet complete
Ten years after its creation an inaugural game was held at the brand new Broadhurst Park, Moston, in a stadium largely financed by their own membership, between FC United and Benfica, the Portuguese giants faced by Manchester United in 1968. Much had happened at Old Trafford in the intervening decade and FC had endured the growing pains inevitable for a football club without a home, created by headstrong individuals with their own agendas, and political beliefs that became over powering to some club founders.
12. Can fans reclaim the game? – not yet complete
To conclude, the 2015-16 season has finished, football from the outside looking in, is as healthy as it has ever been, but below the surface there have been huge changes, with many traditional fans simply priced out of the game and many stadiums a stagnant hollow shell of what once they were. So what practical and financial measures might be implemented to help return the beautiful game to its historic heartlands so the next generation can share the passion and sense of community we the older fans have enjoyed
Kommerz? Komm, Herz!
In der Berliner Tageszeitung “Berliner Kurier” erschien am 6.12.15 ein Artikel über unseren FC: Link zum vollständigen Artikel des Berliner Kurier
Football Club or Superbrand
Football Club or Superbrand?
The Lost Generation by Rick Simpson aka politico
The following article was printed in the FC United fanzine –Under the Boardwalk in March 2008-I have made minor amendments-but with the growth in importance of Fan owned football clubs in the UK and elsewhere, and the role they have to play in ensuring that football is truly affordable, it is as relevant now as it was 7 years ago –if not more so.
In 1990 a Division One supporter on the UK average wage who wished to follow his or her team on a regular basis would need to spend 3% of their annual income.
By 2008 a Premier league supporter who wished to watch the same number of matches would have to spend a minimum of minimum of 7.5%.
Many have grumbled in the pub or elsewhere for years about the increase in ticket prices and how many fans that grew up watching their favourite teams with their parents have been gradually priced out of reciprocating that same experience with the next generation.
This article will address not only the cold hard facts and numbers, but also the shocking way that an important slice of our shared cultural heritage has been systematically removed from the adolescent experience in many parts of our community and the real danger for society that may result. The lost Generation
The Way we Were
The authors first experience of attending a big football match was in 1972 when I was 10 years old and my weekly spends given to me by my parents was 25p. With that I could catch a bus across South Manchester, run to the ground, pay my 20p into the Stretford End Juniors and get home again. This is no fable from three Yorkshiremen –but a simple fact.
Fast forward to 1990 and approximately 40-50% of First Division ground capacity was standing terraces. This is where many young supporters first experienced top class football, either with their mates or with other members of their family.
Going to a game was a simple and affordable experience which did not require the planning of a military campaign, ordering tickets 2 months in advance etc. The excitement of being in a large crowd, joining in the songs and sharing a sense of belonging stays with many all their lives. To say it was a religious experience may be a step too far, but on a big match day against fierce rivals the raw passion and emotion was both palpable and moving.
The logistics of actually going to the game was simple, turn up at the turnstile pay yourmoney and go in. For those who wanted, a season ticket for seating was available, though waiting lists were sometimes long and a league match ticket book to stand cost about £110.00.
For a committed fan the adult expenses would work out roughly as follows:-
LMTB-Standing Season Ticket-£110.00- Match Day Expenses for 25 games x £10.00 -£250.00 4 away trips x £20.00-£80.00-so the total cost is £440.00-UK average wage was £15k therefore total cost of following a First Division team was approx 3% of the average income.
The Modern Day Match Experience
1992 was a momentous year in English football, following the Taylor report on the tragedy of Hillsborough, terraces were being ripped up and replaced by all seating stadiums, of course as we all know from the Warrington Inquiry it was not terraces that was responsible for the death of 96 Liverpool fans that day –but poor crowd management. But such a loss of life inevitably prompted a greater desire for control from the authorities and in the same year SKY had rewritten the rules concerning the scheduling of football matches.
It was a brave new world and with the nightmare of Sheffield still relatively fresh in every fans mind –no one dare question the direction in which top flight football was travelling.
Interestingly in the Taylor report he specifically stated that there need be little or no increase in ticket prices as a result of all seater stadia.
However some, both inside and outside the game began to envisage a very different future for the game than that famously espoused by giants of the past such as Sir Matt Busby. He would tell his young players “see those guys working in Trafford Park all week in poor jobs on low wages, our job is to give them something to look forward to on a Saturday afternoon”
So things started to change, it started with small scale pre-match corporate hospitality, a good way the clubs would tell the time served fans of the wealthier supporters subsidising the rest of the tickets.
Over the next ten years however the tail truly started to wag the dog-the corporate high spending super consumers became the main target of the clubs. There was nothing they woud’nt do to entice the new middle class fan –high on the success of Euro 96 to the plethora of newly created Executive suites. Ex players were used as part of the packages to woo the corporate market which all of a sudden had embraced football and was trendy once more.
In the meantime SKY went into overdrive with matches taking place on all days and at all hours with never a thought as to how the traditional fans felt about these arrangements or the massive inconvenience of actually attending Monday Night Football.
Merchandising grew exponentially and what used to be ramshackle stores with bare essentials turned into the Magastores we now see at every large club.
Each year witnessed price increases for season ticket holders, and at the more successful clubs the ONLY way to see your team was to possess one.
By 2006 a mere 10-20% of tickets available were at the lowest price range and match day pay at the turnstile became the exception rather than the rule.
Inside the ground heaven help the fan who wanted to get passionately involved in the match and sing a few songs. Unless you are in a singing section then you are likely to be told to shut up and sit down by your fellow consumers or an over zealous steward.
The typical price to be paid in 2008 for the most widely available season ticket at the top 10 clubs was £700.00 So to update the calculation from the 3% expenditure of average wage in 1990-the figures in 2008 are Season Ticket is £700.00 –Match Day expenses of 25 games x £25 = £625.00-plus for just 4 selected away matches –match ticket plus usual expenses now approx. £80.00 =£320.00 giving a total of £1,645-with an average then of £22,000 that is 7.5% or two and half times the 1990 figure.
The Bigger Picture
Some may take the view that football is simply a sporting event, at which two teams compete and spectators pay to watch. If that is the case either you have never been to a match between bitter rivals or you were so far removed from the raw passion in an executive or corporate area that you failed to connect with the true nature of football.
Mankind is by it’s very nature tribalistic and football allows, particularly for adolescent youths, the opportunity to live out this basic instinct without resorting to physical violence.
Most fans will shout, sing and swear during matches and purge themselves to a large extent of this natural pent up aggression, it is vital that there exists this pressure valve release-a place where in 99.9% of cases there is no need to resort to actual violence.
In decades past football was the ideal place for this basic behaviour to exist, everybody was aware of it and prepared for it and if excesses occurred they could be dealt with-much better than people having no outlet for their natural instincts and instead expressing this behaviour randomly where the authorities are not equipped to deal with excess. But with working class youths increasingly priced out it is no surprise that the non football related gang culture has grown exponentially over recent years with dire consequences in many areas.
The support of football has traditionally been a generational event –but with many youths now priced out the Premier league, and unable or unlikely to attend with older family members for financial reasons, many club owners have happily and deliberately cast aside the working class youth and replaced them with day trippers and middle class consumers who are much more likely to have a higher match day budget.
The modern support the Premier League club’s it seems would prefer is affluent, middle class and well behaved, this has always been a part of the support base of all clubs and rightfully so- the difference now is that the clubs seem to want only this demographic as their entire support/customer base.
The few fans on average or below average wage who’s families have watched the same team from generation to generation are obliged to pay 10-15% of their income to watch their team. This many of them will desperately struggle to manage until it becomes a financial impossibility. This who still manage to support their team will provide an atmosphere live or die for their team, but in return be regarded by other supporters and the media much like a goldfish in a bowl to be stared at, a quaint reminder of the past without being truly valued by anyone.
A large swathe of the next generation will not and cannot afford to become the new customers that some of the clubs would like.
For many it is –Game over
In 1980 the average age of a Stretford Ender was below 20 –now it is 42.
Where is the next generation of passionate youthful fans going to come from. They have been priced out of regular match going and if you do not get the habit in your teens or early twenties then, given the vast array of leisure opportunities out there it is unlikely you will start going regularly in later life.
It is this short term dash for profits that risk in the long term killing the goose that laid the golden egg.
It seems that some at Premiership towers would like to turn the competition into a global jamboree with games in Dubai and Melbourne-football runs the risk of losing it heartland and moral compass forever.
Time to Reclaim the Game
Most football clubs are more than 120 years old and have been bought and paid for in reality many times over by their supporters, generation after generation have shared the passion and sense of belonging that being a real fan meant.
In a single generation we are in danger of breaking that bond between club and fan.
It would be simplistic and naïve to think that all club owners in the past were purely altruistic but most realised who their core support was and ensured a long term pricing structure for the benefit of all.
Unless there is a drastic change of course by the largest clubs in England in particular but across Europe in general, the next generation will be lost to match going football.
However thank goodness some fans have already seen the light –the rise of fan owned football which was in it’s infancy in 2008 when this article was originally penned has grown not only in the UK but across Europe and even further afield.
It is hoped that these homes of affordable football, with a strong sense of tradition and a real affinity for the communities in which they are based can offer a true match day experiences for many of the young fans driven away or taken for granted by the footballing elite.
Football should be a fun and life enhancing experience-if football fans can put aside age old rivalries and put pressure on Premiership club owners into re-thinking their long term plans rather than selling our collective souls to the highest bidder, then there is still hope for football.
If not then the fan owned movement must continue to grow and show the football community that fans not businessmen do have what it takes to create both affordable football and success measured in achievements both on and off the field.
Football without REAL fans is nothing
A summary of the Charity Bike Ride
A memory of my charity bike ride from Uppsala (Sweden) to Broadhurst Park (Manchester, UK) in the summer of 2014.
A big thanks goes out to everyone who donated, to all the wonderful people I met on the way (FC fans or not), to all my hosts and to FC United for a very nice welcoming. Special thanks goes to Richard Simpson and Graham Voaden who rode with me from Ashbourne and London respectively.
The photos from Stalybridge was taken by Mick Dean. The rest are mine.
Cheers guys! See you in a week!