What Manchester United Means to Me

Manchester United.

Those two words inspire so much emotion across the globe that it’s hard to tell it’s just a football team. Love, hate, anger, despair, euphoria, disbelief or just plain old envy are just few of the many emotions that one associates with United, depending on which side you’re on.

The first time that I heard the name was while overhearing a couple of seniors at school. One of them had purchased a CD from London titled ‘King Cantona.’ I didn’t think much of the latter but the name of the club stuck on.

The mid/late 90s was a tough time to follow United with live match telecasts few & far between while the internet was nowhere near where it is today. David Beckham struck a chord with almost everyone back then but my first football heroes were Ryan Giggs, Roy Keane & especially Paul Scholes. It’s no coincidence that two of the three are from United’s academy. The best things in life are truly priceless!

It’s hard to understand how people (roughly 35 million in India) swear by the club & develop an emotional bond despite largely having no connection with Manchester. Anand Jhaveri, a fellow old-timer at MUFCM says, “I think that can’t be answered by the laws of Universe. Connection is a weird surreal thing, but once you do get passionate about something, it feels like YOUR wins and losses. Comparing it to something, it’s like faith, can’t be seen but only felt.”

Faith. What else can explain the feeling sitting with 200 Reds at Avon Ruby on 21st May, 2008. Cristiano Ronaldo had just missed his penalty in the shoot-out & there was silence all around. Somehow, I was still very confident, to the point of madness, that there was another twist in the plot. John Terry slipped & the rest is history.

Travellers & locals celebrating United’s 19th title in a pub in Bangkok
Celebrating United’s 19th league title to surpass Liverpool

The story repeats itself everywhere on the globe. I found myself at a pub in Thailand when United visited Blackburn in 2011 to lift the 19th league title. The atmosphere was euphoric when the final whistle was blown. Sikhs from Toronto, Sheikhs from Riyadh, Germans settled in the United States, a Portugese couple from Madeira, politicians from Ivory Coast, it seemed every nationality was present in that vintage outlet in Bangkok.

The scenes repeat itself wherever you go. Europe, Africa, Americas, Oceania, there’s no country where United is absent. Having said that, there is no United without football & the global fanbase of the club speaks volumes about the overarching popularity of the sport itself.

Is there any one word that defines the club? “Believe. The club is built on that. Busby Babes, Owen 4–3, Moscow 2008 … It all came down to that”, says Abhishek Iyer, who has just come back from the pilgrimage to Old Trafford.

United means different things to different people. For some, it is an obsession that occupies many hours a day. For others, the matchday is a time to forget about all the troubles in life & just support the team they love. For everyone, it is a way of life, a part of their identity which they cannot do without.

The questions is often asked, is it all worth it in the end? The anticipation, pain, agony & plain depression that avid United followers go through year after year.

Perhaps, a quote on the back of that CD of ‘King Cantona’ from the school senior has an answer:

“I’m so proud the fans still sing my name, but I fear tomorrow they will stop. I fear it because I love it. And everything you love, you fear you will lose.”

If Le Roi feels that way, who are we to complain?