Monday afternoon in town – the City supporters were ecstatic because their team had won the League for the first time in 44 years. But so much money has been injected into the club by its super-rich owners that surely a degree of success was inevitable?
The huge disconnect between fans’ emotional investment and the reality of what they are investing in is alarming, I think – it suggests a kind of mass insanity…
The house where I grew up was just a couple of miles from both the big Manchester stadiums, but most of our Chorlton neighbours were United supporters, especially the Irish Catholic contingent.
My dad took me to a match only once, when I was about 6, and he never made that mistake again.
Football seemed to me to be as dull and ordinary as wallpaper… the subject of a thousand choreographed adult conversations, overheard outside church or on the street corner… and a constant theme of playground banter.
Every Saturday there’d be Grandstand, the scores and the score-draws for the Pools, Match of the Day, and then there were all the international games as well. I watched some of these dutifully on telly, carried along by my dad’s infectious enthusiasm… but I remain living proof that ‘exposure’ to a subject does not automatically lead to expert opinion or even mild interest.
At the age of about 8, I noticed that MUFC and MCFC were scrawled on every surface at school. I asked the boys on my table what it meant:
‘MCFC means Man City Fu Ckoff!’ said Martin, without hesitation.
I was confused:
‘That would be MCFO, wouldn’t it?’
‘So does MUFC mean Man United Fu Ckoff then?’
This was a genuine query; the boys laughed, and I was none the wiser.
It was only when I repeated this conversation at home that I understood the ‘Fu Ckoff’ bit was made up.
At secondary school, there were fans of both teams amongst the boys; I don’t recall this causing any major friction in spite of all the bluster and rhetoric.
Meanwhile, the girls in my class were fixated by the ‘glamour’ of Old Trafford’s Executive Suite, where one girl’s father had a box; this enabled them to loiter there on a regular basis. One girl even dated an actual United player briefly.
I was completely unimpressed; this achievement was so transparently groupie-like, it seemed almost gauche. How desperate would you have to be to do your courting in front of your dad and his mates, in the brightly-lit, hideously-carpeted Old Trafford social rooms, surrounded by a choking fog of male chauvinism? Certainly not an experience to be envied.
How strange it seems, that Manchester’s football teams, which seemed so parochial to me growing up, are now considered by marketing people to be the city’s greatest asset in its ‘struggle for distinctiveness’ on the global stage:
“…United is the biggest sporting brand in the world… and all the rest of the other sporting assets that we have …really help businesses …our image and our marketing, to give Manchester a place in that global community…”
Baron Frankal talking to Andrew Bomford on PM on April 30th 2012.
And what does this really say about our city? That its greatest asset is a sporting tradition which transforms men into gods, and which offers women no active role (due to the lack of respect/coverage accorded to the womens’ game.)
In this way our sporting culture chimes with our music culture and religious traditions. It’s hard to square the strength of the Suffragette movement in this city over a century ago with the lack of opportunities for women to shine within our local culture in recent decades.