“I support Chelsea. I hate Manchester United.”
This is the average ice-breaker I have with most football fans who don’t support Man United. I’m certain this observation will be endorsed by fellow United fans across the world. Over the last few years, especially since Jose Mourinho’s Chelsea reigned supreme over the league for two long years, there seems to be a staunch feeling of hatred towards the red half of Manchester, which is, if I may point out, the most successful English club ever. And they don’t necessarily have to be Chelsea fans. They could be Gunners or Scousers alike. So what if you are crazy about Liverpool/Chelsea/Arsenal? It’s imperative that you hate Manchester United to become a proper football fan, apparently. I have lost count of the number of times I’ve heard something like “Man U sucks” or “United? Sheesh, that team is crap.” Never mind that these were in the middle of a Premier League hat-trick from 2006 to 2009.
When you sit down and give some thought about the hatred, you could probably find one big reason for it. The vast number of plastic fans Man United has. This is a fact which even club legend Roy Keane observed. He remarked-
“Fans? Half the crowd at Old Trafford doesn’t know the first thing about Manchester United. It’s just that, as a team, we only care about the chants that go on while we play.”
This comment was made in his trademark anger rant when he heard some United fans at a Liverpool match had mocked the tragic Hillsborough incident. As much as I despise those who hate United for no rhyme or reason, I loathe the United fans who disrespect an incident like that. The number of such seasonal fans are aplenty at the club. There are those who think Wayne Rooney is the club captain. Then there are those who want Sir Alex to be sacked because he’s old. Then there are those who think Cristiano Ronaldo is the best player ever. Worse, there are a lot of fans, and I repeat, a lot of them, who don’t know who Eric Cantona, Bobby Charlton or George Best are. You extend the benefit of doubt and think, “alright, he probably won’t know who Bryan Robson is, but surely, club legends?” A surprise, or shock if you will, awaits. Post the remarkable 8-2 victory over Arsenal last season, the home page of my account at a social networking site looked like a Manchester United forum. Of course, most of them don’t know why the club or the true fans don’t like it when you say ‘Man U’. As fate would have it, most of them don’t care. Supporting a club which won 8-2 is a bragging right for them. That night, I looked up to the heavens and thanked the Almighty for making us romantics realize that support is much beyond bragging. Yes, I used that term. If you follow football for the love of the game, aren’t you a football-romantic?
So I went ahead and asked the haters if this was the reason. Some of them answered in the affirmative while some of them claimed to have the hatred because according to them every title Manchester United win is out of sheer luck. Terry slipped. Arsenal had injuries. Liverpool were unlucky. Chelsea had a change of coach. And of course, how do you forget the referee? The realization that the hate isn’t for any specific reason strikes soon enough. What do you do? Well what options do you have? End the conversation.
This, however, is most certainly not meant to be targeted at all the fans of other clubs. I’ve been lucky to have interacted with a fair amount of knowledgeable and unbiased fans. Those who like their own club, but know that every team has weak links and it’s not Manchester United’s fault that there are so many plastics. Genuine lovers of the game, bless their souls. Unfortunately enough, I’ve had the ignominy of being part of umpteen conversations with fans who cannot tell a pass from a through ball.
If you’ve been part of such conversations, you’ve probably asked yourself the next few questions. What makes following a club worth it? What is the core reason that you started following the club anyway? Is it because you liked the football they played, or because you hate some other team? After all, support equals unflinching belief in the club, right? Or is there a vested parallel meaning which involves hating something else? How hard is it, to be open and unbiased? Soon enough, you probably realized that your definition of support is probably how it should be. Does this place you at a higher pedestal than those who garner a tremendous amount of hatred towards certain clubs, which probably outweighs their love for the club they support? Yes, it does. If you are a fan who doesn’t put a suffix of ‘I hate XYZ’ in your football CV, you’re part of the privileged class who understand what it means to love the game.
Privileged? Of course. Football has always been for the privileged. Those who have tears in their eyes when their team purges through testing times to emerge victorious. Those who sit back, have the courage to smile and say “They were the better team. We got outplayed” when their team encounters defeat to an opposition superior on the day. Those who see Xavi and Iniesta run rings around your midfield and go “Wow, those two!” in honest appreciation of contemporary football’s closest attempt at attaining a form of art. Those who are left with their jaws open as the commentator shouts “Aguerooooooo!”, but shake their head and say to themselves “Damn! This is probably why I love football” or similar situations, for other clubs. Experiencing these emotions in sport was never part of a common man’s life. It never will be.