How did you end up becoming a Manchester United fan?
For some, it might’ve represented a glimpse behind the adult curtain that family members went behind at weekends. A rite of passage that you had to see for yourself.
Maybe your love of the club was sealed the moment you walked out into the brightness of Old Trafford and felt yourself being swallowed up by that immense bowl of colour and noise.
Maybe you were lucky enough to witness a special late goal from Eric Cantona, Ryan Giggs or Cristiano Ronaldo and have been chasing that pure hit of euphoria and release ever since.
Maybe it’s the smell of cigarettes, burger stalls, beer and farts that makes up the unique matchday aroma. A smell complex enough to trigger immediate excitement in some deep recess of the brain.
After all, who doesn’t love the smell of matchday in the morning? Smells like…victory.
Whatever the answer – and part of the fun of being a fan is opinions – it’s likely your favourite ever football memory happened on the pitch. Maybe it was Ole in ’99, Van der Sar in ’08 or Hughes in ’85.
Last night another famous victory took place at Old Trafford. It wasn’t perfect – far from it – but it had enough of that magical mixture of anxiety, hope and joy to live long in the memory.
Before the game, it was hard to avoid the feeling that obituaries were being written for Ole Gunnar Solskjaer.
After a summer of big investment, a large proportion of the fan base had been justified in asking what – if any – improvements had been made.
Last night, Solskjaer’s men rose above the negativity to give a stirring demonstration of support for the manager. In the first-half they arguably played some of their better attacking football of the season.
And the Old Trafford crowd had shown their loyalties within 30 seconds of kick-off by serenading the manager with a hearty rendition of ‘You are my Solskjaer’.
It was a defiant signal that – whatever is said elsewhere – he still has their support.
Even so, the Red Devils’ inability to deny the opposition chances sorely tested the home fans’ resolve. Despite looking bright in the opening exchanges they conceded first, Atalanta breezing through static red shirts to tee up Pasalic, who steered home from close range.
Despite carrying a threat, the Red Devils found themselves two down within half an hour, Merih Demiral scoring from a corner.
The crowd was stunned into silence.
However, there was a feeling that goals would come if the defence could manage to keep the swinging back door closed for 45 minutes.
Within 10 minutes of the restart, Rashford latched onto Bruno Fernandes‘ superb pass to race clear and slide a neat finish into the bottom corner from a tight angle. Game on. Volume up.
United continued to probe but didn’t find a deserved equaliser until the 75th minute, Maguire sweetly striking a far-post cross past Juan Musso to send Old Trafford into delirium.
Five minutes later the decibels rocketed further still as Ronaldo towered above the Atalanta defence to powerfully head Luke Shaw‘s in-swinging delivery into the bottom corner.
It would prove to be the decisive moment in the match and possibly a defining one in the season.
As United fans tumbled out of Old Trafford into the night, they quickly found that their exhilaration about another famous comeback wasn’t entirely shared by the rest of the fan base.
The media was full of stories of cracks being papered over and – even worse – not enjoying a win that would keep the current manager in the job.
Even United legend Paul Scholes fell prey to the contagious misery. With all the reserve of one of his famous tackles, he observed, “I get the excitement, but that first half put me off the second half.
“…People are going to say I’m miserable and maybe I’ll be slagged off…but I looked at that game thinking about the Liverpool game.”
Well Paul, you’re right about something. You are miserable.
The most cherished football memories don’t have anything to do with the conjecture that now orbits the game. There’s little satisfaction to be had in being proved right about a manager’s failings or being the first to notice that Player X will never make the grade at United.
So, it’s true that there’s no ‘right’ way to support a football team. But if you’d rather be part of the dissenting voice than enjoy a bracing European comeback, you’ve probably forgotten what led you to the club in the first place.