Right at the beginning of the 90s I started supporting Manchester United.
Probably not for any other reason than I was just a kid and my older brother who I worshipped supported them. I guess I was lucky that I started watching them at the beginning of dynasty, it could quite easily have been Liverpool who was just about at the end of theirs.
I quickly started to realize that this club was different to most other teams I had been a supporter of. It seemed as a player it demanded more of you, it demanded a level of commitment to excellence that I’d seen few other times before in my life.
Quickly my walls were coated with players like Bryan Mcclair, Dennis Irwin, Lee Sharpe, Bryan Robson & Mark Hughs! I had team photos, I bought the magazines and I watched every game I possibly could. I saw an empire being created led by a dynamic and passionate general in, at the time, just Alex Ferguson and on the solid cornerstones of giants among men like Steve Bruce, Gary Pallister and Peter Schmeichel and on the creative talents of Paul Ince and strength of Roy Keane in midfield. I had the priveladge of witnessing the magic that was Eric Cantona. I saw the birth of the team they said were merely ‘kids’ that eventually went on to take the treble together! I’ve seen almost 20 years of Ryan Giggs and will have the memory of him tearing solo through Arsenal on-route to part of that treble winning season, I’ve seen the genius of David Beckhams right foot and strike partners of Andy Cole, Dwight York and solo strikers like Ruud Van Nistelrooy. I’ve been through the best of goalkeepers and those that made my stomach turn whenever they got close to the ball like Fabien Barthez and the other 9 including an aussie and a tourettes spewing yank before sanity returned in the form of the gracious Dane Edwin. Ive watched in awe as a little ginger kid called Paul carved passing lines through defenses like a sniper. I saw the birth of Wayne Rooney as a United legend and the metamorphosis of a scrawny Portuguese winger who turned into a worldwide phenomenon called Ronaldo! The list of truly magnificent footballers than I have been honored to watch goes on and on.
I’ve experienced wins, draws and losses in the hundreds. I’ve seen the greatest heights in Europe when the baby faced assassin Ole Gunner Solskjaer scored and then Teddy Sheringham the second to bring us the Champions league for the first time in my life. I’ve seen captains hold up Carlings Cup, UEFA cups, Super cups, FA cups and Premier league trophies and I’ve seen our fearless leader being knighted by the Queen for his services. I’ve gotten drunk on success and I’ve thrown furniture around my house in anger.
The reason I tell you this is for no reason other than to establish myself as a fairly knowledgeable United fan.
Throughout my twenty years of supporting one thing has always been abundantly clear, our manager, our players and our fans have always demanded more! We are and have always strived to win and although it’s not always possible to do so, there was always a burning desire for it! Every player who has ever pulled on a United jersey has given their heart and soul on that field and THAT is the reason I watch them day in and day out for twenty seasons. That is the reason that I cheer and cry and praise year after year.
On Wednesday it is the first time since 2005/6 that I’ve felt that heart slipping slightly. Back then the world called for Sir Alex’s head, they said he was too old, not hungry enough and it was time for a new leader. I’ve never felt that way – the man has built something that I can’t ever imagine will ever be equaled in my lifetime and regardless of results he should be able to go on his own terms. He is, for me, the embodiment of greatness and my only regret is a I sadly will never get to take him a great bottle of red and talk football with a man who has stood on the front lines and won battle after battle with dignity, strength and courage.
For me, I felt for the first time we started to expect to win instead of fighting tooth and nail for every inch of it! That made me sadder than anything. On Thursday morning I woke up with a very sore head and a sadness in my heart that I haven’t felt in a long time, not anger not depression but sadness that for the first time in a long time this team of men, this club and this dynasty that I have spent most of my 29 years being a part of seems to be battling and what aches most of all is I don’t see the players hurting.
By no means do I think this is anything near the end, all I can say is that I hope when those men, who get to put on that sacred jersey, are all alone late at night, without twitter, newspapers, annoying reporters and loud mouthed fans of their own and other teams, that they think about the honour they have of wearing that crest over their hearts. I hope they dig deep down and they find the fight that MY United have always had.
I hope those men take the pain of bitter bitter defeat and turn it into the pride and spirit that I’ve seen shown through my years and years watching this glorious club.
I hope to see MY MANCHESTER UNITED again . . .