One cold midweek evening in February 2007, United played Reading in an FA Cup 5th Round replay. I was then a first year Accounting student at the Jerusalem University, and had made my way from Mount Scopus to the city centre, where my usual football pub was situated. The Stardust pub is a small and cozy place just off Jaffa street. One of its owners back then was an Englishmen from Newcastle who argued with me on footballing matters whenever I would come. But the music there was good, the Brown Ale was great and the atmosphere was English; I was excited on that night, just as much as any, to go and watch United play.
I did not know that the way I supported United would forever change after that night.
I had been a supporter for nearly 11 years, since that FA Cup Semi Final triumph over Chelsea in March 1996, and had followed them through the frustration of losing out on the title in 98, the Treble, the total domination of 2000 and 2001, the pain of watching "fuckin'" Danny Murphy stun us at the 86th minute on January 22, 2002, after we had run them ragged all night long but failed to score, then the indescribable joy of beating them at Anfield 10 months later en route to bringing the trophy back. I was shocked when Becks left, wanted to break the TV when we were frustrated by violent Arsenal in September 03 at Old Trafford and wanted to bury myself when Rio got the ban… I watched us give Milan a fight and being robbed in the FA Cup Final of 2005, I was inconsolable when Roy Keane was gone from our club, and didn't know what to do with myself when Georgie Best passed away. I was shocked when we had lost to Benfica, but knew, when we'd played Fulham on February 4th 2006, that we were on our way back.
That night, as I was walking over to the pub wearing my United shirt, I heard someone shout to me, with a Mancunian accent- "Hey! Are you goin' to watch the game?" They were a group of kids, no older than 15, religious Jews, who'd come from Manchester to Israel for a visit and were looking for someplace to watch the game. Together we went to a pub, and all of the experience I had thought I had disintegrated, as I watched those Old Trafford regulars singing songs I was disappointed to have known no lyrics of. And I'm not talking of the rare songs, I'm talking about – "U-N-I-T-E-D"…
United had scored three goals in the opening six minutes of that game, and eventually won 3-2. Secretly, I had hoped the match would go into extra time so that this experience could last longer.
Not long after I had first met the blokes from Mancunia, they asked me the obvious question – having no connection to Manchester, what am I doing supporting this club? Unfortunately, I had no good answer. Frankly, I think anyone from outside of the greater Manchester area would not have a good answer. In fact, less the supporters who have the support of United run in their family, even those from Stockport, Bolton, Bury etc. would find that difficult to answer. But definitely, there is more justification for them supporting the club than people like me, or supporters from Russia or Indonesia, who may sing Scouser songs, but know nothing about what it's like to grow up in Manchester or Liverpool. I doubt if more than a few of them could say why, for instance, there is a ship on the club's badge.
So in that context, is it really that great that we can go to our English-style pub in downtown Tel-Aviv and sing how the ugly Scousers are only happy on Groundhog day (when most of us don't even know what that day is), and wave our One United membership cards and our formal branch status, or is it actually pathetic?
I think it's sad. Because the reason most of us do it is the lack of alternative as our local football is less than poor, so we have to look overseas to find the group of people and footballers that can make us feel like we belong. And it's also tragic, because we can never REALLY belong, we will always be considered as outsiders.
Do we make the club stronger or weaker? That is a valid question, at least in my eyes. Are we an asset or a burden or are we neither?
The earlier posts about the Glazer issue notwithstanding, and without considering me specifically, I would like to hear your thoughts.