FC United of Manchester and The romance of Football ( a personal story)
I have never been much of a football rebel . Actually, I have never been much of a die hard football fan either. My father first took me to football when i was about 10. It was The hague (Scheveningen to be precise) in the 60s, the club was called Holland Sport and they were the second team in The Hague, behind ADO- their great rivals. I remember the team being average, and sometimes well below that. But the big teams never liked coming to Holland Sport, probably because the team always raised their game against the best opponents. Especially Feyenoord always had a tough time away at Holland Sport. The atmosphere was always raucious, with hilarious banter and well meant deprecations of our own players, sometimes deservedly since the defenders used to make mistakes that 3 year old toddlers do not make. Their keeper was about 5.8 and with every low ball we knew there was panic and occasion to despair.
When I was 11 my loyalty was split, since I had started playing for ADO u 12. I divided my time between going to Holland Sport with my father and to ADO with my uncle. My father would never set a foot inside the ADO stadium, I never found out why. It must have been the tribal virus particular of so many football fans. However , Holland Sport quietly passed away in the seventies and their ground was turned into tennis courts and some non league pitches. There is nothing quite as emotionally painful for a supporter as the slow breakdown of a former football ground. All memories appear and disappear with each stone that is being removed.
So that left only ADO as the club to watch, standing at the Zuiderpark end with some mates, keeping as far away as possible from the hooligan other end. The Zuiderpark saw some strange sights in those days, police with horses on the north stand, numerous pitch invasions, pyro stopping a number of games, it all happened and nobody was surprised. Games against Feyenoord and especially Ajax always produced loads of overwork for the local constables. But watching it from a distance there was also a lot fun and the Hague humour, the fans always inventing new banter, the most original in the country by far.
Nowadays, football in Holland has changed, as in many countries. ADO has moved to an all seater stadium at the edge of the city, where the local hooligans have no chance to meet their rivals, since they are cordoned of from them. They play there on Fridays, Saturdays, Sundays and occasionally other days of the week all depending on the whims of the Dutch FA and Murdoch’s FOX TV. The stadium is safe, clean but entirely without atmosphere. The new North Side fans still refuse to sit down ( which is a good thing), are still inventive in their banter and banners, but when a game is not exciting for the full 90 minutes – which it seldom is in The Hague – it is like watching a movie in an open air theatre. You can hear the coaches and players shout and the thuds as they kick the ball. And to put the icing on the cake artifial 3G grass has reached Den Haag. As the fourth team in the eredivisie ADO play on 3G and after their surprise win vs. FC Twente nobody is moaning about it. Most fans are chauvinists and if your team wins on 3G, it is 3G that is the best. However, for me it was the final stage in getting away from modern football. In my house I do not want posters, but real paintings and I want my football to be on real grass.
When I was at Gigg Lane in August I retrieved a big part of my lost football soul. The people, the setting – especially the stench of the urinoirs – brought back memories of my first days at Holland Sport. The singing and the banter took me back to real football for the fun of watching. Since then I have intensified my love of the game, but in a very different sense. I scour the internet for interesting football stories and clips, far away from the spotlights of top flight football. Of course I keep one eye open for the Messis and Ronaldos of this world, but the true feeling comes when reading about the worst team in England, cult clubs like SKt Pauli and Hapoel Karamon or the exploits of the Soccermen in football’s underdeveloped spots in the world. Already it has given me so much fun and facebook friends from all places in the world that it has turned into a sometimes over- zealous passion. Then my wife and daughter remind me that they are still there and that there is more than a hobby. However, they understand me and will be there the next time in the new ground. Where Iwill hopefully meet with many people that I only know from facebook. And where we will hopefully discuss the amazing club that binds people from Siberia, Denmark, Germany, Holland, Spain and a lot of other countries, not as football tourists, but as genuine long distance supporters. YES, I’VE TURNED REBEL AFTER ALL. Bring on United, for the Romance of Football.