As every schoolboy knows, there are trillions of Manchester United supporters around the world and it is a gross calumny to suggest no more than about five per cent of them know where Manchester is. Salut! Sunderland has not been successful in its search for one of them to do Who are You? who has not done it before. Fortunately, my old pal Keith Hoggins* is brilliant interviewee and has come up with lots of new thoughts on a whole range of United, Sunderland and other issues.
Keith initially thought the game would end 0-0 but now goes for a narrow United win. A glance at the William Hill betting site will show you what most people, and therefore the bookies too, expect to happen. Louis Van Gaal may be having problems but United-style problems tend to be on a different scale to those experienced by Sunderland. …
Salut! Sunderland: Phrases that come back to haunt: “I believe that Moyes is the right man for the job.” (From your 2013 interview). Was that blind loyalty or has it come to be shown as a fair assessment?
Oh dear, I thought that one would be hurled back at me. I shall regard it as my personal “you-can’t-win-anything-with-kids” moment. I did think he was the right man for the job and that he would turn into the Manchester United manager. Instead he turned Manchester United into Everton … whack the ball up front to a man with sharp elbows, get to a cup semi-final and finish seventh in the league. Towards the end, he rather resembled a rabbit in the headlights. The highlight of his brief spell was his failure to get us into the ghastly Europa League.
And Van Gaal: the phone-ins after Swansea suggested a lot of United supporters have already lost patience with him. Could it be true, as one caller suggested, that he really doesn’t know what Manchester United’s about?
There are times when I wonder. I keep thinking they will explode into action – heaven knows the club has spent enough money to make a decent stab at entertaining football. The problem is that it all appears to be all about Van Gaal, rather than the team. He needs to forget about arguing with Sam Allardyce, decide what his best XI is and what his best formation is, stop faffing around and tell them to go out, have a go and play with pace. United should stick with him, although serious questions will be asked if they don’t make the top four.
After decades of arrogant expectation that every game and competition ought to end in victory, are you settling into a phase of relative ordinariness or is a resurgent United, rampant once more, just around the corner?
I partly answered this one in the question above. I must say I slightly bridled at the “arrogant expectation” remark – some of us were around in the days when memories of winning the league played out in our heads in black and white. I do think that true United fans will forgive failure as long as it’s glorious failure. It’s when they lose passing sideways that I get cross. I doubt that the trophy-laden days of Ferguson will ever return – remember those were primarily the days before Russian oligarchs and Arabian oil money. But they should always at least be in the mix.
Be honest. Was the Paris racist chanting a purely Chelsea disease or part of le vice anglais, ie something shared by United, Sunderland and other clubs on whatever minority scale?
Le vice anglais, I am afraid. It seems impossible to eradicate entirely that kind of behaviour at many of our clubs. Football crowds are the perfect raucous cover for the kind of mob mentality that leads people to behave in the most disgusting manner. It is surprising how often the perpetrators turn out to be family men who hold down good jobs.
A look at recent form suggests no likelihood of a repeat of our sensational win at Old Trafford last season. Are you expecting a romp?
No. We don’t seem to do romps these days. United have stopped playing without fear.
Another Hoggins quote: “I am one of those ghastly fans with no Manchester connection.” Since there are trillions out there, does it really matter any more?
Clearly, it matters to some because they never fail to mention it. But there isn’t really much that can be done. Once upon a time when studs were made of cork and dads knocked up rattles for their sons, the fans would pull on their cloth caps and go to the game on the same bus as the players. Those days are gone. No matter how much you may regret the passing of the eight-track cassette and the Betamax video, they ain’t coming back. Besides, who am I, you or anyone else to tell someone in Bexhill or Bangkok that they can’t follow the fortunes of a team because they weren’t born in the right place. Like it or not, it is a global game with a global following and successful teams will attract “supporters” who couldn’t find Manchester if you dropped them out of a plane over Old Trafford without a parachute.
If you don’t feel you have already dealt with this, what does it actually mean to be a United supporter and can you look back as easily at rare failure as at thrilling success?
Frequently it means being abused because you weren’t born in Stretford and having to explain that, yes, you can remember when Ralph Milne was considered to be a good signing. Seriously though, I can look back with ease on failure – which is not as rare as some may think – as long as the failure came trying to play the right way. I forgive them most things if they have a go.
But do you still see the team you followed and even played for as a lad, Sheppey United?
No. Botany Road, their home ground, so named because it was the route prisoners were taken to the docks for deportation to the colonies, was sold and is now a depressing housing estate. Initially, the club ground- shared 10 miles away with Sittingbourne and continued to play in the Kent League. The stated intention was to find a new home back on the Isle of Sheppey. Predictably, it never happened and the club folded. Sad. That was quite a few years ago. Sheppey United has since been reconstituted but at the moment it’s not much more than park football. It’s a long journey back.
You once played against Steve Bruce. He’s remained a hero of yours. Are Sunderland fans being petulant, tribal or just normal supporters in harbouring such hostile thoughts towards him?
Yes they are being petulant and tribal, but there’s nothing wrong with that. Following football has always involved petulance and tribalism. It’s part of the attraction as long as you can take it as well as dish it out
In the present side, who holds a candle to the Laws, Bests and Charltons of long ago? Or even to more recent high achievers such as Cantona, Scholes and Giggs? Does your answer begin and end at De Gea?
With all due respect, I think Cantona, Giggs and Scholes are a bit more than “high achievers”. All three would have been United greats in any era. The simple answer to your question is yes. De Gea and Rooney are probably the only two of the current crop who would get a sniff in a squad of United’s best over the premier league era. I emphasise the word squad. Of course, the Best, Law and Charlton team didn’t really need a goalkeeper, which was just as well because it was Alex Stepney (only joking). I do like the look of Herrera – probably more so than Van Gaal does. I’d sell Fellaini to Real Sociedad at the first available opportunity.
We are in the mire again. Can you honestly imagine supporting a team like Sunderland for which stability is a foreign country, continuous battles either against relegation or for promotion the norm?
Yes I can. I love the passion of the fans and the traditions of the club. Rechristen the ground Roker Park and I might even pop along. There is an argument that being involved in a battle is more interesting than being mid-table with nothing to play for.
Do you rate Poyet and is there a single player in Sunderland’s squad who catches the eye and never played for United?
I like Poyet and genuinely hope that he is successful with and for Sunderland. However, it must be said that they are a little tedious to watch at the moment. I like players with heart and therefore I like Cattermole. Not to everyone’s taste but always looks like he’s playing for the shirt and he’s a better footballer than many give him credit for.
Is it absurd to believe in the Premier as the best league in the world?
It depends on your definition of best. To think that it is best technically is absurd. It probably is the most entertaining, which is not necessarily the same thing.
What should be done to improve the status of English football?
If by that you mean the national team, I fear that it would take structural reforms, which ain’t going to happen. If you can’t get a game in your club side, you are not going to become a decent international player. All the while clubs like United can and do spend £60 million on a ready-made international then the chances of a Giggs coming through from the youth team are diminished. Having said that, one of the things I like about Van Gaal is that he does seem in tune with United’s tradition of giving the home-growns a chance (Blackett, Wilson and McNair).
And the lot of the ordinary fan?
Cut prices and sponsor away travel – after all at least some of the £5 billion should go somewhere other than in players’ and agents’ pockets. Put the fans who go through the turnstiles first, ahead of the demands of the TV men. That ain’t going to happen either.
I usually ask interviewees whether we should think seriously about giving up the ghost of diving and other forms of cheating. Assuming you still wouldn’t just write them up in coaching manuals, where would you start in trying to stamp it out?
Retrospective bans for cheating if conclusively proved by video evidence would be a start, I guess. I would also dearly love to watch a game in which the referee showed some courage and, without warning, gave a dozen penalties for holding in the box.
Top four this season? Bottom three. Where, if not mentioned, will United and Sunderland end up?
United top four .. just, although they need to get their fingers out. Sunderland to survive much more comfortably than last season.
And a scoreline for Saturday – I take it you won’t be able to make it to the game
2-1. You don’t score many goals and we always concede.
* Keith Hoggins on himself: I have been a United fan for more than 40 years. I am a newspaper sub-editor, which, for the uninitiated, means I butcher and introduce errors into copy written by great reporters such as Colin Randall. In my precious few spare hours, I watch football from park to Premier level, spend an inordinate amount of time in long grass looking for my golf ball, captain the England smoking team and get taken for long walks on the beach by Archie the Basset hound. Don’t panic about the accompanying picture. It’s not the latest United reject signed by Sunderland – it’s me having pulled on a pair of boots for the first (and last) time in 20 years to play for my brother’s veterans team. He captioned it “Der Kaiser”. You may laugh at the mockery, but I see similarities … we both abdicated after crushing defeats. Hardly ever go nowadays. Expense, weekend working, general decrepitude and bone idleness have all taken their toll
** See also:Keith’s first outing, if that’s not an unfortunate term, on these pages: https://safc.blog/2013/10/the-manchester-united-who-are-you-good-grief-id-forgotten-david-bellion/
Interview: Colin Randall
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