Wednesday, 12 February 2014

Why I hate Manchester United so much

I had something of an epiphany around September 2010. For many years I had attended Arsenal matches and gone home raging when Arsenal failed to win, moaning about refereeing conspiracies and how the other team cheated. To this day, my mother continues to check the football scores to find out what my state of mind will be like.

But that autumn I started going to the pub after matches. This might seem like a benign addition to the matchday experience, but it actually fundamentally altered it. From being pretty much the only part of going to the football, the actual match became relatively insignificant. Sure, I prefer it if Arsenal win but ultimately I acknowledge that football is played by 22 mercenaries kicking a bit of rubber around some grass, and that they probably only play for my team because they cannot earn more elsewhere.

I accept that any meaning football has is purely constructed and so while I derive enormous enjoyment from seeing my team win, I also enjoy seeing them draw or lose. Afterwards, I go and have three or four pints with a group of friends and by the time you’ve been chatting for two or three hours, it’s unlikely we’re even discussing football anymore and the result has probably become incidental. So I’m far less likely to go home angry and moan about referees, even if I still do the latter quite a lot.

Except with Manchester United it’s different. The visceral hatred remains. It’s hard to put my finger on exactly why. For other Gooners, they hate Tottenham or Chelsea the most but for me it will always be Manchester United. For one thing I’m a child of the 90s and the first seven or eight years I spent attending matches involved Arsenal and United being by far the best teams in the country.

But I think much more importantly, the hatred has always been spurred on by knowing a comical amount of United fans. Coming from a Jewish family in North London, you’d probably expect me to know many more Spurs fans than United fans but that’s genuinely not the case. It might seem like a tired joke about United fans coming from the South – hey, it is a tired joke – but it also remains true. Not only do they come from the South, but they make up absurd reasons for supporting their team rather than just accepting they’re glory hunters: “It doesn’t matter I lived in South Africa until I was 8 and then moved to North London because Great Uncle Herbert once flew over Manchester and was so captivated by the view of Old Trafford from 30,000 feet that it was simply impossible for the whole family not to support United. Despite broadband internet not existing then and a lack of satellite TV, I remember watching every single of the treble-winning season”.

I’m not even exaggerating and it’s enough to make anybody retch. It’s the same with the wearing of the yellow and green scarves until they continued to do quite well under the Glazers. Manchester United fans literally do not care about anything as long as their team wins.

And that’s probably the second reason I hate Manchester United so much: the countless refereeing decisions that have gone in their favour. If you’re tired of being told that Arsenal haven’t won anything in eight seasons, just remember the comical penalty and free-kick United were awarded at Old Trafford in the title-deciding game in 2007/08. Or the impact Wayne Rooney’s dive had on the 2004-05 season.

More generally, Patrick Vieira was right to call Ruud Van Nistelrooy a cheat and when Arsenal and United were the two best teams in the country, United repeatedly set out to cheat against us. Witness the Neville brothers’ malicious attack on José Reyes, Ole Solskjaer feigning an elbow from Sol Campbell to get him sent off, and the general attitude of United players that it was okay and within the rules to kick Arsenal players, an attitude encouraged by the consistently favourable refereeing United received in matches against Arsenal. And this is without even mentioning the number of questionable decisions United have consistently been given against other teams.

This is why when we play Manchester United I still care enormously. Patrice Evra continues to irritate me more than anybody else in football and there is something particularly satisfying about beating United, as well as enjoying their demise this season.

If nothing else, even fifteen years on, I still have nightmares about Ryan Giggs’ phallic chest-hair design. That alone is enough to make anybody hate Manchester United.

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