You Don’t Sing When You’re Winning

Over the next little while, I’m going to be posting up a few of the articles that I have previously written for the website Lovely Left Foot, which is currently undergoing a hiatus of sorts. They may eventually be hosted on LLF again someday, but for now I felt that they were good enough examples of my writing that they should be up somewhere.

The original publication date for this piece was September 22nd 2012.

Deep into the second half of their first Champions League game of the season, Manchester United’s big summer signing, Robin Van Persie, heads across the pitch to take a corner kick.

It’s a big game in Old Trafford, a big year. The two key failures of last season – crashing out of the Champions League at the group stage and losing the title to Manchester City of all teams – have combined to make the current edition of the English top tier a critical one in the clubs history. This has to be considered a big, big year for the Old Trafford faithful, a time to really get behind the team and help drive them on. Here, especially, as Manchester United defend a one goal lead over the hard fighting Turkish champions, and seek to kill the game off with a second goal, to break out of what has been a somewhat disappointing show of form.

As Robin Van Persie takes his corner kick, he does so to a chorus of boos and jeers. They come from the visiting fans.

The United fans, somewhere in the region of 70’000 of them, are silent. Van Persie takes his corner. As play continues, he may be wondering just why the people who are supposed to be cheering him and the other red shirts on seem so morose. On Wednesday night, it is the Galatasaray legion who are loud and boisterous, while the United supporters reserve their loudest cheers (save for Carrick’s goal) for the returning Darren Fletcher.

When the United team needed a boost, needed to hear 70k people encouraging them, singing their name, proclaiming their love for the club and their belief that this season can again be a winning one, Old Trafford came up lacking. Maybe it was performance, though when the team is playing poorly is when they most need the 12th man. Maybe it was those pesky Galatasaray fans who steal the show and wouldn’t let the red crowd in edgeways. Doesn’t stop the United away fans from outcheering other clubs elsewhere. Maybe it’s the acoustics, though it’s hard to blame that when you have so many seats filled. Maybe we only sing we we’re winning…but we were winning.

The final insult came in the end, as a tense, nervy game remained on a knife edge as injury time began. As the United defence tried to weather the storm and Hernandez tried to finish it off, many fans decided the team didn’t need any more support – or maybe eyes watching them would be a better way of putting it, since support necessitates noise in my opinion – and headed home, leaving many an empty seat in the theatre of dreams, six or seven minutes before full time was called.

I know this is nothing new. The taunting of away fans has been accurate for a while now. The taunting of the more hardcore Manc – “Where were you when we were s**t?” – has been true for a while now.

It seemed, with Manchester United becoming the mega rich outfit that it has become since the start of the Premier League, since becoming a fashionable destination for the support of several new generations of football fans, since it has started to attract, as much as I dislike the term, “glory-hunters”, that a certain lack of noise has to be accepted. Gone are the days when every person paying into the stadium counted themselves among the “hardcore”. Old Trafford today is more inclined to welcome the day-tripper and a higher class of clientele.

There is nothing inherently wrong with this, in my view. People like Manchester United, want to see them play, are willing to pay the outrageous prices, then more power to them. It doesn’t matter if they’ve supported the team for 50 years or 50 days, in my view.

But anybody – the hardcore, the glory-hunters, the day-trippers, the young lads, the WAGs, the rich, the poor, whoever – can make noise.

You can sing songs. They aren’t hard to learn. You can chant names. You can shout encouragement, advice, whatever. You can jeer the other team if it takes your fancy, though I’d like if you limited that to when they actually deserve it, not just when they have a corner kick.

You can make noise.

It was a Champions League game, a big game. The team, despite the millions they are being paid, are still human. A crowd’s support helps, we all know this. We’ve all been in a game where the atmosphere was rocking, where it was clear that the team was responding to that noise, to that well of emotion.

Galatasaray had some of that on Wednesday. They were the under-dogs, in the lion’s den, but they had those 3’000 or so men, women and children in their corner, urging them on, letting them know that they believed they could do it. Galatasaray went a goal down early, but did not stop trying to equalise for the rest of the game. I think the kind of support they get helps with that.

But when United, still struggling to get pre-season nerves out of the way, the pressure of expectation to deal with, fluffing their lines on many occasions, needed that kind of support, needed that belief to be shouted at them from all around…they got nothing instead.

70’000 people paid in to watch a game of football and listen to some Turkish cheering. Not much else. That was, literally, the worst atmosphere I’ve heard at Old Trafford in years. God knows I don’t get to be there much (financial impairments) but when I do I usually enjoy a better atmosphere than the mute reception people took part in on Wednesday.

I know it isn’t just a United thing. I can see the empty seats in St Mary’s. But we have the exceptional point of having the second largest stadium in the country, which is rarely empty on match days.

I know that the Turkish support has undesirable traits. I don’t want an “Ultra” culture in English football, or a return to hooligan days. But I know that it doesn’t have to be a straight choice between that that what we have now.

I know that when United make the news for the songs its fans sings, it typically isn’t positive.  But that is a small section of the fanbase, just as it is for Liverpool, Leeds and everyone else.

I know that they’re experimenting with moving away fans around the stadium to different points, with the possible goal of eliminating visiting noise as much as possible. But that isn’t working (and it shouldn’t have to be a resort).

Manchester United has a problem. For whatever reason or reasons, our support, when the team is down, when it isn’t a truly big game (hear the crowd in the first half of Wigan last weekend?) does not make the same amount of noise as other clubs.

Maybe the club can officially start encouraging more noise, through lyrics on the big board. Maybe the supporters club needs to step up and do more. Maybe we need to install megaphones.

But I think, genuinely, it comes down to personal effort. Do you want to help the team? Are you proud in the club you support? Do you want to be part of the matchday football experience? If not, why the hell are you here?

Anybody can get things going. But they don’t.

“You only sing when you’re winning”? Not United. Sometimes we don’t sing at all.

We can change that. The next time Galatasaray, or a team like them, in the league, in Europe, in the Capital One Cup or whatever they’re calling it nowadays, if each of the supporters make that effort, myself among them if I’m lucky enough to get admittance, make that personal commitment to not let the minority jeer our players when they have the temerity to take a corner in their own ground, it will be a happy day. Sing a song, chant a name, scream your heart out. Let the team you support know you are there. Let the away fans know where they are, which is not in a funeral or a studio for their singing practice. It’s Old Trafford.

It’s all been said before of course. But, for the sake of excusing the repetitiveness of the message, if enough people take heed, it won’t have to be said anymore.

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