Manchester United have had a troubled decade with few highlights and a lot of low-lights.
Fans’ frustration is understandable. Every summer there are new signings and fresh hope of the Red Devils taking another step toward the pinnacle of football that they occupied for so long.
But when seasons start as this one has, that hope crumbles away and United’s ability to put a smile on those fans’ faces and give them 90 minutes respite from their cares and troubles metamorphoses into an added care and trouble to deal with.
Fans watching on TV can turn off the set and do something else if they so choose. They can shout and swear at the TV. They are not a part of what is going on.
But fans in the stadium do not, or should not, have this luxury. They are the 12th man in the United side. Their actions are hugely important to the outcome of the game.
Back in the day, United fans were considered among the most loyal and positive in the world. We would be shocked at some clubs whose fans booed their team or their manager and, honestly, we would feel sorry for them. Now and again, Sir Alex or one of his predecessors would make an unpopular substitution and a few boos could be heard, followed by a 20-times louder “shhh” to silence the dissent and several rousing choruses of “United!”
Besides protests and boycotts there is little fans can do to remove the parasitic owners, the Glazers, from the club. There is nothing they can do to affect the transfer budget or transfer choices or team selection. So many things are out of the fans’ control, but the one thing that they have almost total control over is the atmosphere inside the stadium.
The culture of booing at Old Trafford is getting worse and every fan that joins in with it should know that they are partially responsible for United’s struggles.
Every fan that walks out in disgust is walking off the battlefield and leaving other soldiers to try to recover on their own.
It feels anathema to say the words “Brendan Rodgers is right”, but when he said that it was United’s own fans that set the tone for the abuse received by Harry Maguire at international level, he is right. Whatever we think when we see Maguire come on the pitch, no matter how pessimistic we are, no matter how much we might disagree that he should be given that chance, if we are in the stadium we have to keep it to ourselves. We have to do our best to encourage him, and the rest of the team, and show our faith.
The booing yesterday when Rasmus Hojlund was substituted is another case in point. And, by the way, it was loud; it’s starting to sound like this insidious disease has spread to the majority of the crowd now, not a minority.
Ten Hag tried to spin it in his post-match interview, saying it was positive because it showed how much the fans wanted Hojlund to stay on the pitch and that they didn’t understand that he wasn’t fit enough to play the whole game. But there was nothing positive about that booing. There is never anything positive about booing. The 12th man was turning on the manager for making a decision and also indicating to one of their own, Anthony Martial, that they have no faith in him.
Football is war. Imagine being on the warfield and an injured fellow soldier – maybe one of your best fighters – has to be replaced by a reservist. Of course, your heart might be sinking a little but would you boo the replacement soldier? Would you show him what little faith you have in him? Would that be helpful to the cause?
Look at the papers after the match. All the headlines are about how Ten Hag was booed. He, and the players read those headlines. Opposition fans, managers and players read those headlines and it gives them confidence to play United. It sets up United to be laughed at and ridiculed. The United fans have scored a bad and unnecessary own goal.
The Old Trafford crowd (and our travelling fans) are a part of the team. It’s not just something that’s said to make fans feel special. It is a fact. It is the reason why teams win so many more home games than away games. It’s the reason why home field is an advantage. The Glazers have a lot to answer for. Maybe Erik ten Hag had a lot to answer for yesterday and maybe the players did too. But the 73,592 fans inside Old Trafford were also partly responsible for the defeat.
We have seen occasions where teams have been roundly beaten or even relegated and loyal fans remain in full voice, singing that they will stay true to their club until they die. We marvel at those fans and we hear players and coaches saying that they owe it to them to keep the faith themselves and find their fighting spirit. That is what we need at United now, but we are getting the opposite.
Shape up, United fans. You are supposed to be the “Old Trafford Faithful”. Yesterday, you were anything but.