Most people who know me well will testify to my great love for football, and one team in particular Manchester United. Excluding the relationship I have had with my immediate family that has been the longest and most rewarding relationship I have had in my life. This relationship dates back to the early 90’s when the the irresistible panache of one particular Frenchman turned out to be the catalyst to a relationship that has lasted the better part of the last two decades. That Frenchman is non other than Eric “The King” Cantona. Cantona was an eclectic and enigmatic character both on and off the pitch. He was also Manchester United’s talisman when they began their dominance of the English game. A dominance that has spanned almost the entire period I have supported the club. Today I won’t bore you with the details of the genesis of that relationship and how it has evolved over the years. Besides I have already written about before HERE.
For many years Manchester United the team have been synonymous with a consistent culture of having a ‘never say die’ attitude , winning against the odds and conjuring up those late and most dramatic of comebacks. This culture has in no small part been due to the stewardship and influence of one manager who was at the helm for 26 years. This man is Sir Alex Ferguson. During his reign as manager of Manchester United football club , the club witness unprecedented levels of success. As a result most of us, the supporters of the club have been relatively spoiled, only having to fleetingly deal with disappointment. The rest of the time it was glory after glory every other season. As a result for most supporters their loyalty or commitment to the club was never tested. The closest were the emotional roller coasters that characterised most of Manchester United’s biggest matches. During the course of 90 minutes you would often find yourself cussing and biting your nails one moment and the next screaming in ecstasy. But even then they almost always won in the end, often leaving right to the very last kick of the game. It had all the hallmarks of those intense relationships that give us our greatest moments of joy as well as take us to our lowest ebbs. It was a tumultuous relationship in the most beautiful and gratifying way. Things always worked out in the end.
This season has been the most challenging that Manchester United have had in a long time. At the end of last season Sir Alex Ferguson retired. At that point no one imagined the depths the club would sink to after he had vacated the manager’s position. The team is pale shadow of itself. It has lost more games than I care to remember and often in humiliating and humbling fashion. That “never say die” attitude seems to be a thing of the past. As a supporter this has proved tasking. It’s an unfamiliar position and there has definitely been a shift in the dynamic of the relationship. Manchester United is no longer just a source of unbridled joy and bragging rights come Monday morning. Of late it has only served to heighten the traditional existential angst of Monday.
Like is often the case when the is a shift in a relationship dynamic introspection has been necessary. And I have surprised even myself with the conclusions that have arisen from that. Like I mentioned earlier because of the success the team has enjoyed over the years it has been relatively easy for most supporters to continue investing their time and resources on all things Manchester United. So much so that other supporter’s of other teams have accused Manchester United supporters of being glory hunters. Whilst I agree that this season has been emotional taxing and disappointing there is one caveat. It has only served to remind me how much I love the team . They have been a source of so much joy over the years and now it’s time to stand by them even more now. There is no guarantee that things will get better, or that we will return to our former glory. But I do know this as in an serious and committed relationship we have in our lives you never walk away at the first sign of trouble. You stick through it. You never stop believing. And sometimes when you just need to clear your head and get some clarity you write about it.
It has been tempting to try and put on the blame on the new manager. And a case can be made against his ability to lead the team back to it’s form former glory but for me this has been purely about learning to love my team in difficult times something I haven’t always been able to always do in all my other relationships. It’s a necessary evil and hopefully I will be able to apply the lessons I am learning in other areas of my life.