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Manchester United; the relationship between players and fans, fans and fans, and the age of the internet

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  • Manchester United; the relationship between players and fans, fans and fans, and the age of the internet

    Manchester United; the relationship between players and fans, fans and fans, and the age of the internet

    this is the Reditorial from RedNews267 - a host of varied views each mag, you can support a different read in a fanzine with a subscription at

    A few weeks ago Marouane Fellaini made headlines with comments that: “You see some Utd players go straight into the dressing room after games and go straight onto social media, It's wrong.” I think we can all guess likely suspects, maximising their brand, marketing themselves ahead of their teams, but you'd like to think where common sense can sometimes, or often, be lacking, they have enough nous to turn off their notifications.

    Darron Gibson, remember him? In 2011 it was Rio Ferdinand who told his then 840,000 followers (it's now 10.6 million): ‘@dgibbo28 has joined twitterverse show him some love tweeps!’ It wasn't love that came his way. ‘biggest waste of space ever, ‘abysmal excuse for a footballer.’ And just 97 minutes later he was gone, deleted for good, soon to be followed by Tom Cleverley, and others who didn't even bother, bar those who now just leave it all to their agents.

    Fan anger at footballers is nothing new of course. The internet just leaves a wider mark, where faceless people can, possibly, make themselves feel better, ‘just banter’, when some of the time, it isn't really. It can become poisonous, and do the aims of the team no good. The last days of Big Fat Ron were unpleasant viewing from the stands. I remember one game when the Utd fans turned, as Peter Davenport and the manager were regaled with ‘You Scouse bastards’. Or when Colin Gibson turned to an abusing United Road and gave a less than pleasant hand signal back after setting up a goal (well, one of his crosses had to miss Row Z, K Stand, eventually...), and those early days of Fergie when groups would sing ‘Bryan Robson's Red & White Army’ at sporadic intervals. The atmosphere around the team then did not help.

    Powerful emotions at football is not a bad thing, but it may seem peculiar for a fanzine Editor to suggest it can be counter productive what with all the criticism we've handed out over the years (I presume the bottom of page 2 will wind some up as well). But rewind to one of those enjoyable player do's Old Trafford used to host after games (when the relationship wasn't as strained as now even though the football was worse) in the 80s, and I can remember the usual suspects of Norm, Robbo, McGrath being mobbed at one as Terry Gibson stood alone, no autograph requests, no nothing. Me and my mate approached and had a genuinely enjoyable 20 minute chat where he admitted how tough he was finding it, his lack of form, and the abuse he was getting: “I am not deliberately going out to play shit.” It left a mark that if a player is lacking confidence, perhaps the route to trying to get him out of it, isn't barracking him.

    Some, and during specific eras that might be many, might not be good enough for Manchester United, but it's not their fault, more to blame those above them, and this recent period has reminded me of those days as it all seems so poisonous at United right now. Reds abusing each other, even if they are strangers is pretty depressing, and now I dip my toes in on twitter much like a Thalassophobic. I get abused and back off to the safety of the real world. The spirit of fun has been lost, and whilst we are all angry about Utd's direction, it seems unless you have the default pitch fork in flames 24 hour a day, you are, somehow, the enemy too.

    Right on cue suggesting United was a toxic place last cover was met by online trolls abusing me in a toxic manner thus fulfilling the circle of irony, and I suppose my once thick skin has become a bit softer in old age, and though some may say grow a pair and all that, I go online now and find myself quickly off it, such is the venom directed at our own, from our own (well, so they claim). It was mentioned last issue that it unsettled one contributor seeing such venom aimed at Ole, after all he'd done for us, and though of course as a manager he doesn't get a blank cheque for feats 20 years ago, minds have been made up by some that he's not good enough just 11 months in, rather than seeing if his transfer positives can actually see something develop. We’ve tried other ways, and it’s not worked, so why not see how the next 12 months goes?

    Logs on; ‘i’ve never detested someone so much in my life’. ‘united fans, for me, the most brainwashed cunts out there.’ ‘Our fans singing “You are my Solskjær”, embarrassing cunts that feed the Glazers...they deserve 3 wins in every 15 PL games’, ‘Going to be absolutely beautiful when he finally gets the sack. Can’t wait for karma to hit this sellout.’ ‘Imagine how loud we’re gonna be when that fraud gets sacked. Scenes’. And so on. And then you have the demented few who suggest they'd like to see United lose games to hasten Ole's departure. Of course - I bloody hope - this is a minority, but it's hard to tell anymore such is the anger, often, misdirected, about everything. Utd twitter is depressing me.

    It's not just Ole though, is it? Marcus Rashford was promoting a homeless charity: ‘I’m Manchester born and bred. And this Christmas I want to give something back to this great city.’and one of the first responses was: ‘Try being a decent footballer’. There's a side argument that this is the fallout from Richard Arnold's whoring out Utd’s name and soul for global millions, so a falsely created and expanded fanbase lacking the community and spirit at games (and this isn't the dig at the many who get it miles away) throws their toys out in the most unappetizing and unedifying ways possible when they don’t get the good times the whole transaction is based upon. For lifers, it’s win or bust, for those attracted to the glimmer of silverware, it’s win or win. But fuck me, this wasn't what Tim Berners-Lee invented the internet for.

    Of course without sounding like a 1970s Open University lecturer - I have the beard if not the tweed jacket - Utd's internet is a reflection of the internet and the wider societal push towards something rather unhealthy. There is a tendency now to film violence in streets, rather than try and stop it, to laugh at people getting twatted, to joke about death, and call someone you disagree with a ‘nonce’, for spite to win over decency, which should not be considered a fucking dirty word, as people don't seem to have an attention span greater than a goldfish (or Phil Jones). This world is now six seconds of separation from being called a cunt by someone you've just started conversing with online. The internet, and parts of society, is a nasty, spiteful place these days. The terraces of Old Trafford, where communities and kinship was forged, and celebrated, and still needs to be, doesn't have to be.

    Dare I again say it from a fanzine that is completely Manchester United focussed, but talking about nothing else than football for 24 hours non stop can actually be unhealthy. Watch a great tv series, have a glass of red, it doesn't have to be 365-24 hours a day if it's so negative all the time as it will all become dark. From team news junkies, to sickly yellow 24 hour a day sports news channels when in truth, you could cover non matchday news across all Premier League clubs in 30 minutes. Less can be more.

    When we first started, and were highly critical of the players, Alex Ferguson wrote to me in September 1989 and said: “My stance is as it always has been. My job is to support the players, give them belief in their playing abilities and if anyone criticises them then I see that as an obstacle in my aims to bring out the best in players. I have to prepare my players to play football, and have them in the best possible frame of mind.” Whilst we always have a right to air concerns over players, managers and especially owners and suits, he had a point that turning on our own players did not help his siege mentality nor help him get the best out of them.

    There is a Roy Keane point when Manchester United players should be Manchester United players because they can handle criticism, and swim not sink (but do we contribute in pushing some under?). But not this era; with so many younger players needing that confidence, so many average players in the squad who perhaps need any kind of support. Not everyone can be like Darren Fletcher who once said: “I have been through situations of not having success and being written off. I am telling the younger ones that we have been here before. You have to keep that belief inside yourself and use it as a fuel to prove them wrong. That is what I tried to do.”

    I don't know if Ole will succeed, I am even less certain he will get the time to show us either way because I don't trust those incompetent suits and owners above him, and I don't know if Rashford and Martial, for example, can become our 50 goals a season men between them, but I'd like to find out, because Utd should be as much about dreaming as is it to damn, and write off. We ask our players to be more down to earth and human and in response some of us are quite inhumane by kicking them when they are down.

    A few short months ago we said there were no players who felt like they were Utd heroes anymore, so few we seemed to like, but that's slowly started to change. We shouldn't become another Arsenal with an out of control, mess of a support, where a soap opera on the pitch is mirrored by one off it too, all eyes watching on for entertainment. Thankfully booing during games has never taken hold at Old Trafford (apart from in the brains of morons), but maybe if you have a point to make and feel so strongly about where Utd are right now, instead of calling a player a cunt, maybe doing something in the 78th minute (see the letters page) might be a better focus.

    Gareth Bale finally said something interesting when he touched upon the impact on players: “There’s people talking negatively all the time. It loses that childlike feeling. I still enjoy it but the higher the level, the enjoyment is less.” After one solitary game this was written about Chong: ‘Chong doesn’t deserve to kick a ball in a United shirt again.’ All those years of trying, and 90 minutes is enough to judge (if that were the case how many times would we all have been wrong over players over the years?).

    I think we forget players have their issues, like us all. Depression, family life, ups, downs. The pedestal we elevate them to is a fake one. We just expect them to be robots. It's an impossible demand. As Michael Carrick said when he talked about his own depression: “You look at players who are off form and there’s a general disappointment, their confidence goes low and their whole demeanour can change. It’s difficult to know what’s really going on inside someone’s mind. As a footballer, you are expected to be that machine that just churns out results after results, performance after performance, You are paid well and you play for a big club, so why can't he be good every week? It's just not like that. It's not easy to do that and it's easy to forget that. There could be all sorts going on that you don't know about.: The abuse Jack Wilshire received when his form dipped at Arsenal, only to recently admit during one period that his son was having seizures and they were spending most nights in a hospital.

    My era loved its Utd heroes, but I will accept they'd get pissed up, which sometimes affected their playing, or had incidents like drink driving, so why, and is it because we felt closer to them, do we seem less tolerant to those now who are more focussed about being in their best shape and condition? Rashford is written off, yet is it his fault he's carried more than a load he should have at an age way before he will peak. As Ole said: “Marcus is still developing, you’ve got to remember he’s just 22 years of age. I hadn’t even made my debut for Molde at that age.”

    I'm not absolving United players of the responsibility that comes with the shirt, but I think we're heading somewhere quite nasty, and it'll do United's chances of getting out of the mess we're in more harm if we don't give our heads a wobble, and tone down the spite, because I honestly don't think all these technological advances are making any of us happier than we were before it arrived. Football fans will always dance through a mix of emotions supporting their team, I was livid after Bournemouth for example. But going to the game is about entertainment and enjoyment (remember that?), and supporting Manchester United is about supporting the efforts of the team even if you dislike those who are running the show and don’t think that the players are good enough. We have enough enemies, we don't need to turn on each other. Fergie once said: “I don't understand twitter, to be honest with you. I don't have the time to do it. There are a million things you can do with your life other than that. Go to a library and read a book. I'm serious. What a waste of time.” As ever, he had a point.

    It seems strange typing this as someone who admits to having United fixtures dictate their life and weekends and much more besides for the past 40 years with this obsession cum addiction, to then urge time away from it, but I don’t mean about games, or reading, ahem, fanzines, just that the unhealthy 24-7 approach that every crumb has to be debated and shouted about isn’t working. That there doesn’t have to be an argument about pretty much everything, and that it doesn’t always have to be so negative, all of the time. We can have fun, but still demand the best, and demand better than this.

    Xg is a living example that football needs sometimes to have a fucking day off.

    this is the Reditorial from RedNews267 - a host of varied views each mag, you can support a different read in a fanzine with a subscription at
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