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Friday, December 3, 2021

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Manchester United fans have few reasons for optimism. What happens next?

Waves battered the British coastline all weekend, waves so big they made headlines. On the last ferry from Ullapool to Stornaway in Scotland’s Outer Hebrides, Euan Macdonald, 16 and his father William were completing the last leg of their journey from Old Trafford which had started on the Friday morning before the game. After driving to the ferry port on the remote island of Lewis that they call home, they took a two and a half hour ferry to the mainland, then drove for almost six hours to Carlisle just across the border in England. They drove the final couple of hours to Manchester, watched United get outclassed by City, then made the return journey after the match. 

“The ferry was a bit rocky,” said Euan with some understatement. He’s a lone United fan in a small community where almost all his friends support Glasgow Rangers. He gets his love of United from his father, who adored Aberdeen and their manager Alex Ferguson in the 1980s. When Ferguson moved, William’s long interest in United started and they regularly make the complicated journey.

I spoke to fans from around the world before and after the derby, season ticket holders from Norway, the Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland, France too. Then there was the Syrian Red, Amer. He’d long loved United but, closer to home, started a website to cover matches of his hometown team in 2009. War meant he had to stop in 2011. 

From the vast supporters’ clubs of Malta to Scandinavia, United’s global support is renowned and longstanding, through thick and thin. And it’s thin right now. 

The team can (and have) sold out the biggest stadiums in Perth, Pretoria or Philadelphia, but United also have a huge local support. Few are happy.

Clive Brunskill/Getty“This is the lowest I’ve felt since Partizan Belgrade in ’66 when we were knocked out of the European Cup semi-final,” Nigel from Cheadle told me on Sunday afternoon in Manchester. He’s been a fan since 1957. “Going out of the European Cup to Leverkusen and Monaco was bad and getting relegated too, but the football on the journey back up was exciting. I just can’t see where we’re going right now.”  

Everyone has their low points with their club and only they know how they feel – I heard it said several times on Saturday that the City defeat felt worse than conceding five to Liverpool. Your lowest moment as a fan might be an individual result or the sustained dull football towards the end of the time under Louis van Gaal or Jose Mourinho, the hammerings at the end of David Moyes’ ten months. Older Reds shudder to recall similar under Dave Sexton, but the early Sir Alex Ferguson years were awful. Each situation has its own variables, but right now a United side stocked with world class names has been battered at home by their biggest rivals Liverpool and City inside a few weeks. It’s so disappointing.

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