The Manchester United Who are You?: (2) ‘tremendous respect for Sunderland’

Jake demands answers
Jake demands answers

The first part of the MUFC vs SAFC ‘Who are You?’ appeared yesterday –
– with Pete Molyneux* telling us about that Ta Ra Fergie banner protest of his, back in 1989. United had gone five minutes, maybe even six, without winning, so he had good reason to be cross. He later mellowed and has a book to prove it. Here are Pete’s responses to questions that did not concern that banner. Stand by for some terrific thoughts on the club we support. Pete has a very soft spot for Sunderland …

Salut! Sunderland: Moyes is gone. What about the future. Tell me who you want – I realise an announcement may be made before this appears – and what he absolutely has to do to win United fans over?

Giggs is the right man for remaining four games. I’d still go for Mourinho but if not, then Van Gaal for a couple of years before the mantle passes to either Giggs or Guardiola. I’m not so much sitting on the fence as covering all bases there, I guess?

Whoever becomes manager he has the same remit as any United manager since Sir Matt Busby forged the mold. Ensure United play winning, attractive football that excites the common man (and of course woman!). If that leads to us being Champions of England and Europe then we build a statue and part of M16 will carry their name forever.

What was your own minimum expectation for this season and how do you feel about being out of the CL, out of PL contention and eliminated from the domestic cups?

Most United supporters thought (hoped) that Moyes might still win the title given he inherited a team of champions and champions by 11 points. So last winter was a big shock and a humbling experience. Perhaps we needed it, many younger Manchester United fans have had to man up quickly or attend counseling sessions. Ironically Moyes saved his best for Europe, getting further than Fergie had in the previous two seasons, but we were woefully found out by Bayern. I’ve never seen a United team defend so deep for 180 minutes. The League Cup was a good run and winning it might have kept Moyes his job for another season. But those cup games against Sunderland and Swansea (FA Cup) came during a period when the Theatre of Dreams turned into the Chamber of Torture for home fans.

We’ve had loads of shared links over recent seasons: Bruce, Keane, Evans, Welbeck, Dwight, O’Shea, Brown, Bardsley and Campbell (if hardly), even poor David Bellion. Do any stick out in the memory for reasons good or bad?

If you mean which players, then from a United perspective there are guys in that list who will always be legends at Old Trafford. In my book, which covers 50 years of following United home and abroad, I say that Keano’s performance in Turin against Juventus in 1999 is the greatest I’ve had the privilege to witness. EVERY time Roy took the field he embodied the spirit of Manchester United.

Bruce was the rock that started our renaissance in the ’90s and those two headed goals against Sheffield Wednesday in ’93 about an hour into injury time give me goose bumps even now. Dwight Yorke, the smiling striker from the glorious and unique Treble team of ’99, served United well until he decided the front pages suited him better than the back ones. John O’Shea provided us with a goal of orgasmic proportions with his last minute winner in front of the Kop in March 07 thwarting another attempt by the Scousers to cling to their perch. Wesley Brown, Manchester through and through, a European Cup winner and terrace hero. We still sing for these guys even when they’re playing for other clubs. Forever United legends. If this was MOTD 2’s Too Good Too Bad slot only Bellion would fall into the latter. I never understood what all the fuss was about. He did nothing at United yet we tried for so long to prise him away from you.

tara* Buy Pete’s book at the Salut! Sunderland Amazon link:

And did you take the SAFC Poznan thing in good heart or were you outraged?

Outraged? Come on, we’re not Scousers! No, I was too numb to be outraged. I was there that Sunday and experienced the whole gambit of emotions. My view is that Fergie used the “remember how those Sunderland fans behaved” to energise his troops into snatching back the trophy from City the following season, and it worked. So thanks! 🙂

City enjoy lording it over United,and claiming to be Manchester’s team. But am I right in thinking you hate it more that Liverpool are doing so well?

Gary Neville called it right when he said recently that deciding who we want to win the league this season is like choosing which fella should steal your wife. We have little love for City and Chelsea have joined them since 2003. Neither club has grown organically as a result of success. Both have bought their success with oil money and that will always taint their achievements. Liverpool, to be fair haven’t gone down that line. But, well, they’re Liverpool. If they’ve not been put on this earth to annoy us and be derided then I fail to see why they’ve been put here at all. A bit like wasps really?

I hope my wife will be moving to London soon.

Who have been the real greats in your many years as a supporter, who do you wish you’d seen but didn’t in United colours and who should never have been allowed near them?

I was nine in 1963 and my Dad took me to watch United’s Youth Cup matches. He felt I was too small to go to first team matches. There I saw a vision that would light up my life and provide me with my first hero – Georgie Best.

He’s the greatest player I’ve ever seen, and I think always will be. When I was old enough to watch the first team Bestie linked with Law, Charlton, Crerand, Stiles, Foulkes etc and United won the league title in ’65 and ’67. The following year my father took me to watch the European Cup Final at Wembley when we beat Benfica 4-1. I treasure those memories to this day.

United supporters are very lucky, we’ve seen some fantastic footballers over the years Willie Morgan, big Jim Holton (another SAFC/MUFC link), Stuart Pearson, Steve Coppell, Gordon Hill, Joe Jordan, The Greenhoff brothers, Norman Whiteside, Bryan Robson, Hughesie, Cantona, Kanchelskis, Scholes, Giggs, Beckham, all The Treble team and more lately Rooney and Ronaldo

If I had to pick out the real greats it would be Best, Law, Charlton, Robson, Cantona, Ronaldo, Scholes and the living legend that is….Ryan Giggs. I wish I’d been old enough to see the Busby Babes play then I guess I would have seen it all. As regards those who didn’t come to us but should, well Mike England in the 60s when Foulkes was getting too old. There was talk of Busby getting Jimmy Johnstone from Celtic to pep up the European Cup winning team, that would have been special. McGuiness should have been allowed to buy David Nish, Mick Mills and Malcolm McDonald as he requested. Docherty should have got Shilton and Fergie should have moved heaven and earth to bring in Gascoigne.

Now here’s a controversial one. When Keane’s powers were waning in 2005, and some say we’ve still not replaced him, I would like to have seen Steve Gerrard join our midfield. I think we’d have had a couple more European Cups by now. Never gonna happen that though eh?

And your own highs and lows of supporting your club?

I’ve seen United win the European Cup three times, ’68, ’99 and ’08. The memories of Wembley, Barcelona and Moscow are priceless. That competition is always in the hearts of United fans probably because of Busby’s pioneering ventures that incorporated the tragedy of Munich. I’ve witnessed some of the greatest football matches of the last 50 years, seen some of the finest players, travelled extensively and met friends for life. I was a member of Doc’s Red Army during some of the wildest and colourful years for a United supporter on and off the pitch and I’ve seen Alex Ferguson put United ate the pinnacle of club football once again.

The downs include relegation in 1974, although I did enjoy visiting all those new grounds the following season. The Sexton Years were pretty bland. Losing the Cup to Arsenal in the last minute of ’79 Final after coming back from 0-2 down. Handing the title to Leeds on a plate in ’92. On a personal note, I was involved in a car crash coming back from Ipswich in January 1977 which had pretty serious consequences. The details aren’t for these pages but it was, and still is, the saddest time I’ve known.

You’re a Manchester lad. Cynics would say that makes you a rarity! But does it bother you that so many see United as more a brand than a club, with millions of fans who could barely place Manchester on a map?

It is of course an urban myth that Man United fans don’t come from Manchester, isn’t it? Believe me, Manchester is full of genuine, loyal Reds. Plus, United have always had a faithful following around the UK.

In the ’70s coaches arrived at Old Trafford from Torbay, Carlise, East Anglia and there’s always been the “Cockney Reds”. But of course in the last 20 years the club has gone global. Winning the Treble accelerated that. I reluctantly started using Twitter and Facebook a year ago, just for football stuff. It’s opened my eyes to how many committed United supporters are out there outside the UK and not just ex-pats. They gather round there TV screens at all hours and follow the team with a passion, some of the videos from Indonesia are incredible. My view is that as long as they DO know where Manchester is on a map [sounds like the basis of an interesting Gallup poll – ed], know something of United’s history and watch us regularly then they can call themselves United supporters.

Any thoughts on Sunderland – the club, the fans, the city, the region?

I appreciate by now that the first course of this feast has been all about United and may be causing a little nausea. This next bit should be more palatable to your readers. When I was that young primary school lad I didn’t just fall in love with MUFC, I fell in love with football.

I guess we all trod a similar path. I couldn’t get enough of it, playing (poorly but enthusiastically) watching and reading whatever I could. I loved to read about the history and the records books. I was aware then of Sunderland’s great tradition. How they dominated the early years of the Football League and the six league titles they won. I knew of the fanatical support on Wearside, the great players such as Len Shackleton, Raich Carter and Charlie Buchan. I knew they were known as the “Bank of England” club and that they never suffered relegation from the top flight until 1958.

Whilst I was going to those Youth Cup matches my Dad went to all the first team games. I remember him coming home one Saturday in February ’64 and telling me he’d just seen an amazing FA Cup 6th Round tie. Second Division Sunderland came to Old Trafford and led 3-1 with minutes to go. United scraped a draw in the last seconds. The same night as the replay at Roker we were watching a youth team game but most ears were glued to transistors. Sunderland were the better side again and led 2-1 in extra time only for Law to equalise again at the death. A crowd of 68,000 squeezed into Roker Park that night with roads blocked hours before the match. In a 3rd game at Huddersfield United ran out 5-1 winners but Sunderland had made their mark against a great United team that would rule the roost for the next four years.

Since then I’ve enjoyed many stirring battles against Sunderland in League and Cup. David Herd scoring a hat-trick against 3 different Black Cat ‘keepers in one game in ’66, Sunderland winning 2-1 at Old Trafford in ’68 on the final day to give Man City the title (what is it with you and City?). Another trio of cup games in 1976 (League Cup). United’s last visit to Roker in March ’97 and of course the recent encounters that haven’t ended too well for United. But the most memorable match I’ve seen between the two clubs was in the Second Divison in November 1974. Over 60,000 crammed into Old Trafford, 5-7k Sunderland supporters along the United Road and the Scoreboard End and a singing, swaying atmosphere to die for. The roof almost came off as United and Sunderland gave a superb exhibition of attacking football. Billy Hughes in particular showed off his skills that day with two goals. United won 3-2 but if you can get past that, it’s worth a look on Youtube.

Of course, most of Manchester became Sunderland fans for a day in May 1973 when you played Leeds in the FA Cup Final. If you had done an open top bus ride round our famous city on the way home there would have been as big a reception as in the North-East.

I have tremendous respect for Sunderland fans. They know their football, are passionate about it and fiercely loyal. Those are three qualities I can relate too. You can always enjoy a good footie chat with a Sunderland fan. The Fulwell Road used to make plenty of noise and it’s design/colouring always reminded me of our own Stretford End.

Were you surprised that we did so badly this season and is it a measure of MUFC’s decline that we beat you in the Capital One Cup semis?

Yes. I thought Di Canio’s appointment was a worthwhile risk but he turned out to be too divisive. Poyet seems to have brought harmony, belief and unlock the precocious talent of Johnson. From a distance it seems the Cup runs were a double-edged sword? Welcome and exciting but in the end a distraction? I thought you’d be out of bottom three before now but it’s a tough league. I was at both semi final games and wouldn’t take anything away from Sunderland who deserved to go through. What was disappointing from United’s perspective is we never came back at you once we’d equalised at the Stadium of Light. Fergie’s teams would have battered the door down. Moyes’s team never did.

Name this season’s top four in order and the bottom three. United’s finishing position, this season and next?

City 84 (win on goal difference)
Liverpool 84
Chelsea 84
Arsenal 79

Fulham 34
Norwich 32
Cardiff 30

United 7th. Next season – Champions!

What single step would you take to improve the lot of ordinary fans?

Reduce ticket prices, especially for away fans. Clubs show contempt for the loyalist supporters. It’s wrong.

Brazil: getting excited or too much of a club man to be too bothered?

Yeah, it’s United for me. England don’t come close to evoking the same emotions but I hope we do well and I’ll watch the games. Can’t see World Cup going to anyone but Brazil or Argentina.

Will you be at our game? What will be the score?

I’ll be there Saturday. 2-1 to United I’m afraid but it will be a battle. After that I hope Sunderland win the last two home matches and stay up. I think next season you will make progress under Poyet. Good manager.

Interview: Colin Randall

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5 thoughts on “The Manchester United Who are You?: (2) ‘tremendous respect for Sunderland’”

  1. Genuinely good WAY. Pete certainly knows he’s stuff and could educate a good few United fans about the true history of their club and a few mags about ours.

  2. Agreed Mickyb – Pete comes across a good bloke who knows his footy and would be a decent sort to have a chat with over a pint or three. Unfortunately I can’t say that about the majority I’ve met who claim to be United fans. For once I’ve enjoyed reading a Manchester United WAY.

  3. Well hopefully that takes the myth away about some Man U fans, here’s a proper supporter who just happens to follow a Team which has done better than us over the past 60 years but you can tell reading his replies he knows his football, absolutely great article. I started watching the Lads in 1967 as a 9 year old, been going away from 1973 and been at most of our major games for nearly the past 50 years.
    Like Pete that match in 1974 is something that stands out, the whole experience, things we take for granted now, a ground that had a couple of the corners filled in, a PA System you could hear, even an Electronic Scoreboard in the corner and what a game 1-0 down, 2-1 up to lose 3-2. Voted match of the season on MOTD with the highest league crowd for quite a number of years and we were in the Second Division ,was that really 40 years ago, Oh happy days

  4. Nicely balanced article; one point that I’d like to correct though – Sunderland’s win at Old Trafford in ’68 didn’t present the championship to City: the other Manchester team had won at St James’ and, having a better goal average, that result made Sunderland’s win irrelevant (except to our own fans.)

  5. I well remember the match in 1974, United went 1 up and the home fans started singing “How did you win the cup, How did you win the cup…….” then Billy Hughes scored two cracking goals and the Sunderland fans hit back with “That’s how we won the cup, that’s how we won the cup……”. After the game the United manager said that he had never seen anybody hit a ball as hard as Billy Hughes did for those two goals, he commented that it was the first time he had seen the whole Stretford End duck. Shortly after that Hughesy got his first cap for Scotland.
    I also remember the 1968 game, with Sunderland playing in their light blue shirts and black shorts when MOTD introduced the game by saying “and Sunderland must realise that they are only here to make up the numbers.”- how wrong were they?
    Happy Days

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