Are Man United fans football’s equivalent of Cheddar cheese? For years, it seemed you could buy Cheddar made just about anywhere – New Zealand, Canada, Australia, even France for heaven’s sake – except Cheddar. And if I remember correctly, there was a bit of a local fuss when someone decided to resume cheesemaking in Cheddar itself.
And so it is, we are routinely led to believe, with supporters of Brand ManU. Wander round any housing estate from East Belfast to East Cheam, look around you in John o’Groats or Land’s End, study the replica tops of choice in Bangkok and Bangalore, and what do you see? Fervent followers of the Red Devils, who have never set foot in Manchester, let alone been inside Old Trafford.
Where does Matt Slater fit into this global jigsaw of support? If Dubai, his current home, seems to confirm the stereotype, think again. Matt* is of impeccable Manc stock. He even hates Liverpool more than Citeh (which may have something to do with his passion for Oasis; why, he even looks like some lost brother of the Gallaghers). For Salut! Sunderland, he previews our game at Old Trafford, describes his adulation of Keano ad Eric Cantona and admits to a soft spot for our own success-starved club. Saturday’s result? Brand followers expect to win every game and Matt – who, as news editor of The National in Abu Dhabi, plays an emphatically straight bat on Man City stories – duly predicts another day at the office for his men…
Games between United and Sunderland always conjure great memories for me, especially when they are playing at Old Trafford.
It was the first match I ever went to – a 2-2 draw in the 1984/85 season. The events of that day come back to me in small snatches but I remember that, as with many United contests in the 80s, we were only saved by a rampaging display in the middle of the park from Bryan Robson.
Other than that I can only really recall feeling intimidated as we navigated our way past huge police horses whilst trying to avoid their muck, struggling to cope with a man-size meat and potato pie and jumping on my dad’s shoulders when Robbo netted for the Reds.
United are a vastly different club these days, in some good ways and in some bad, but for me a home game against Sunderland will always take me back to being a seven-year-old lad and because of that I hope we don’t hammer you too badly on Saturday and that you stay up this year.
The other reason I hope you hang around the top flight for a bit longer is Roy Keane. One of the very few United players who will never, under any circumstances, get anything less than total support on a return to Old Trafford, it has been a real pity to see him struggle with his self-belief this season.
Hopefully, he will turn it around and manage to find a razor blade to get rid of that ridiculous beard. It is also a credit to the Sunderland faithful they embraced a United star who was at one time the most hated player in the country. That certainly would not have happened at your North East rivals Newcastle who, for a couple of seasons, saw us as long standing bitter enemies who were competing at the top of the English game. Ridiculous.
That said, Sunderland fans I know do have one big fault: the regularity with which they trot out the accusation that United fans are from anywhere other than Manchester.
It is true that we have gathered a following from around the world but this suggestion that that City is the team of the people is a load of old twaddle. The school I went to was split almost down the middle but the truth is that United is more popular in Manchester than our rivals in blue.
The reason this myth has spread is two-fold – City need some form of honour to cling on to and they have celebrity supporters who love shouting their mouths off. I am a big fan of Oasis but Liam and Noel Gallagher are the chief protagonists.
Often pictured wearing City shirts, they use interviews to run down United and have need known to let it be known on many an occasion that “real Mancs support City”.
But the real truth is the sharpest Mancs – Ian Brown, Morrissey, Tony Wilson – are all Reds, but don’t feel the need to let the world know about it every five seconds.
…and Manchester Matt got so carried away that he mislaid our actual questions and answered those he could remember plus a few of his own…..
Prospects this year?
I thought Sunderland would finish comfortably in the top half this season. Roy looked to have made some buys with proven experience to help build on the season before. But unless Jones starts firing I think you will struggle as both Hull and Stoke – who looked certs to go back down – are pulling out results. As for us, it was always going to be the problem of a hangover from last season’s success. But once Berbatov settles in we will improve and be there at the end, although I think the European cup is the more likely silverware for us this season.
Last game seen between us?
The last time I saw them play was in the mid 90s when we did you 5-0. It is usually a very attacking game at Old Trafford with Sunderland not being one of those teams who come and shut up shop although there was a 0-0 a few years ago.
I never went to Roker Park but have been to the Stadium of Light and it’s a ground I quite like. The atmosphere, unlike other new grounds like The Riverside, is decent and it’s a piece of cake to get to. As for Sunderland itself, the only thing I really know is that the beer is cheap and that’s always a good thing
Berbatov is a great player but all this talk about him being the new Cantona is nonsense. There will only ever be one Eric and putting that pressure on him is similar to the way in which every new winger we got would be called “the new George Best”. I hope he doesn’t let it bother him. Keano’s buys are a mixed bag. Diouf is, and has always been, a complete waste of space and Richardson is one of those players who flatters to deceive on a weekly basis. He may be an oddball but Cisse, when he wants, is a handful and Anton Ferdinand will eventually become a great centre back.
Nobody has United as their second team but our main rivals are, in no particular order, City, Liverpool and Leeds. To see Liverpool on top of the league is becoming a real concern but as a friend says, the longer they are optimistic the sweeter it will become to see them fail. Leeds are thankfully in their rightful place in the lower division so that just leaves our city rivals. They have an ex-Red in charge so they are not all bad but even with all the cash I cannot see many top players choosing them over us.
The word is over used but Keano is a United legend. It is not just for goals in Turin or mammoth displays against Arsenal – he turned it on week in, week out. But the way in which he left United shows he won’t hang around if he feels anything less than 100 per cent wanted and that is something which must worry Sunderland fans looking for him to guide the club into the future.
Aside from Keane there are plenty of other recent links between the two clubs. Richardson, Yorke and Bardsley have all been at Old Trafford but the one thing that surprised me was Paul McShane going out on loan to Hull. He is doing well there and was always rated at United so it might be the case, if he can, of Roy getting him back before the season is out. In my lifetime Sunderland have bounced around the top two divisions but the strikeforce of Niall Quinn and Kevin Philips was first class and there was at one time talk of Marco Gabbiadini going to Old Trafford.
Club vs Country?
I think United will win 2-0 with Rooney and Berbatov getting one each. I will be watching it in a pub in Dubai with a few expat United fans.
* Matt Slater, pictured as a nipper (top) and in Dubai with Peter Schmeichel (above) on Matt Slater:
I have been going to United games since the age of seven. As with most people, I began supporting them because my dad did. The rest of my family, especially my Nan, are Reds although we sadly have a couple of blue sheep letting the side down. In my teens I was a regular but after getting a job away from Manchester I went less often. Now that I live in the UAE, I am restricted to a few trips a season.