Trading carrots for chocolate pudding since 2012.
Much to the chagrin of YetiVedder and numerous other Americans who don’t care about the Beautiful Game, this post is soccer-related. However, it goes deeper than that. For anyone who is to read it, a warning: It’s long. Please bear with me.
I am a Manchester United supporter. I became a fan of the Red Devils back in 1994, when a former friend of mine (I still know the guy, but I’m not sure “friend” is the appropriate word anymore) went to England as a foreign-exchange student. When we spoke a few times while he was there, he always mentioned this football side from Manchester, so I checked them out a few times when I could (European club soccer wasn’t nearly as popular in the U.S. back then as it is now) and became a fan almost instantly.
Over the past 18 years watching United, I’ve seen more good than bad: 10 English Premier League championships, two Champions League titles, including the best match I’ve ever witnessed — I’ll save that for another post — and a slew of other cups. I saw United play live in Los Angeles in 2003 and even had a chance to chat with midfielder Paul Scholes (still with the club) for a few minutes after the match.
Overall, it’s been a great run.
Well, a friend of mine who eats, sleeps, shits and breathes EPL soccer (he’s a diehard Liverpool fan) is telling me I should seriously “check myself” and reconsider my loyalty to United.
It started about two weeks ago with a usual friendly text about a player United picked up and another they were going after, followed by some friendly banter over a few more texts. However, over the next four hours (in spurts, not continuous), lighthearted chatter turned into remarks of bandwagon riding, racism and classism. He spoke of how I’d “identify” more with Arsenal (a rival of United), how “brothas” on United don’t shine and are “Uncle Toms,” and how the team’s fans in England make monkey chants toward their own black players, which prompted comments like, “Would you disrespect Jackie Robinson?” and “Malcolm (X) is rolling over in his grave.”
In closing, he said United and rival Chelsea are “privileged, upper class” and he would never drink from that cup of tea.
I’ve never been to England myself, so I’m not totally aware of the culture behind United fans. On being “upper class,” judging by the payroll, he may have a point. Still, his Liverpool squad is up there, too, so it’s not like they’re poor.
I’m not sure what upset me more: The veiled bandwagon comments or the blatant talk about race. It’s hard to give credence to the race issue because I’ve never dealt with it firsthand, nor do I know anyone who has. In fact, a player from his beloved Liverpool was banned for eight games for allegedly making racist remarks toward a black Man U player. Still, I know some people who follow other teams that have spoke racially. One example: I know this white, DIEHARD Raiders fan who, when he thought I was out of earshot, once said to a friend how he “hated that n—– JaMarcus Russell.” Really!? When questioned, he denied it. Anyway, back to the point.
Part of me wants to call it (and hopes that it is) sour grapes. United won its 19th top-flight title in 2010-11, passing Liverpool for the most in English history. United are clearly the most popular English club worldwide, so, being the huge soccer fan he is, I’m sure he’s had to deal with a ton of fresh-on-the-bandwagon fans of United and other popular clubs.
When compared to him, I admit I’m not on his level in terms of fanaticism. Why? I don’t know much about United before I became a fan. I can tell you about a handful of former players and a little about a 1958 airplane accident that killed eight players, but that’s pretty much it without having to look it up. I don’t sing or even know the chants, I’ve never been to Old Trafford and I don’t wake up at 4:30 a.m. Saturdays or Sundays to watch every match. (Sometimes I do but not often. It depends on how hard in the paint I went the night before; that’s what DVR is for.) Still, anyone who knows me knows I can’t stand to be called a bandwagon fan. Just look at the rest of the teams I follow and the titles they’ve won since I became a fan — Sacramento Kings (0), Chargers (0), Braves (1), Penguins (3) — and you can clearly see I don’t just hop on with winning teams. Yes, United have been called the Yankees of soccer, but the team is really all I know. I tried MLS, even going as far as buying a Los Angeles Galaxy shirt before the league’s inaugural season, but the style of play doesn’t hold my interest.
Still, the racial claims really bothered me, and still are, as I have come to this forum to vent. Could United fans, whether across the pond or here in the States, really be outright racist, especially against their own? If this is true, I can’t support that. If I’m out and about and I see anyone, no matter the race, wearing Chargers gear, I usually yell, “GO CHARGERS!” and, most of the time, a conversation ensues. It would be sad and pathetic if I heard monkey chants or worse if the situation involved United.
If he’s right, I’m not sure what to do. I’ve been putting it down for United for more than half my life, so it would be like breaking up with a longtime love if I looked elsewhere. I cannot and will not support a big rival, so Chelsea, Manchester City, Liverpool, Arsenal and, although not in the same country, Barcelona are definitely out. Do I give the MLS another try? That Portland crowd looks like a great time out. A guy I played a few rec games with in Lodi years ago is a defender with Seattle. San Jose is the closest team to where I live. I may still have that Galaxy shirt, but it would feel weird jumping on that train again.
First thing’s first: I must find out if his claims are true.
The dictionary defines the word united as “combined into a single entity” and “being in harmony.” For the sake of this fan and 18 years of backing, I hope that the harmony I’ve had with United will continue.