1989, Cheshire – “Oi,” said Paul Wolfe, “Simon, you tosser, you wearing a United scarf?”
Simon looked down at his black, white, and red scarf, looked up and nodded, semi-apologetically.
To me, Wolfe’s remark, given in the cloakroom as he was showing me around on my first day of school at __________ High School, was literally no more intelligible than if he had been speaking another language. Tosser? United? United scarf? Does he mean a USA scarf? I had already heard several anti-USA slurs, most of which I didn’t mind, being the raving liberal I already was* but this one was unclear. First of all, a US scarf should involve red, white and blue, not black; second of all, do scarves mean anything? Do English schoolboys wear scarves according to some secret code? If I wear the wrong color, will I be shanked in the shower? It wasn’t until much later that I puzzled together what this all meant. Everything about professional soccer was a mystery to me. It existed, was the first weird aspect. I knew about the NASL, since the Portland Timbers had been semi-legendary, but I never knew that it was still going strong in other countries. And teams…didn’t have mascots (mostly)? There’s a team simply called Arsenal? And another one called Queens Park Rangers – but I thought they didn’t have mascots; don’t you call them the Rangers? No, that’s a team in Scotland? And their rival is the Celtics? I’m sorry, just one Celtic, please stop hitting me.
I went to school with a Spurs fan, a Millwall fan, an Arsenal fan – even a Leeds United fan, which I didn’t understand, since apparently they were in the Second Division; nevertheless this gentleman had no First Division team (Promotion? Relegation? What the fuck is relegation?) and was a staunch White. Also, there was a Wolverhampton Wanderers fan, the poor, poor bastard.
But most of all, I went to school with Manchester City fans. A lot, a lot of City fans. This former coal-mining village was Blue to the core, and wouldn’t be having with those wankers from Old Trafford. At the time, I didn’t know about the class issues that inform so many choices between City and United. All I saw was that the cool kids – the ones who were calling me a Yankee quentin** – were all supporting City.
And even then, my choice of team was only theoretical. I considered Arsenal, because I liked the badge. I thought Luton Town was sadly lacking in support. Nottingham Forest – well, you can imagine my thought process there. But all of this hardly mattered, since I didn’t really give a shit about football. I had played in school, of course, and was even serving as a passable goalie on the playground (which was weird in itself – even in 1989/90, no one in American played SPORTS during FREE TIME in High School.) But I didn’t really care about league football.
Until I saw [something along the lines of] this:
It was truly Bryan Robson who got me started on football fandom. Had I not seen what he could do on the pitch, I would not have believed it could be done. I mean, godDAMN. I was hooked right there, and so there was no real reason to flirt with other teams. Manchester United, that contrarian choice among my schoolmates, that team that would, despite finishing only 13th in the league (pipping City on goal difference, thankyouverymuch) manage to win the FA Cup – losing the league but winning a trophy? The hell? – seemed like just the little powerhouse that could. And I didn’t really air this opinion with my classmates, since they were all fucking Citeh fans, so I never really got enlightened as to some of the fallacies with that line of thinking.
And so I came back to the States, and fell out of touch with football for a couple years (my house wasn’t exactly swimming in satellite dishes.) And along came Schmeichel, and along came Cantona, and along came Keane, etc. etc. And as I was just getting ready to graduate from college, along came a satellite dish, and a better understanding of the internet, and I realized that the team whose shirt I still wore had won four titles in five years. And that I had basically backed into supporting, yes, the damn Yankees. But although the team was changed, I wasn’t going to give up my support just when I finally had another change to watch them on television. If bandwagon-jumping is ugly work, so would bandwagon-jumping-off be, no?
(Oh, and then they won the treble.)
So no, I don’t feel embarrassed about supporting United. I mean, I know I just wrote a several-paragraph exposition protesting too much, but nevertheless.
And no, I don’t think anyone else should feel embarrassed, either. There’s no law that says you have to support a losing team, nor is there any lack of negatives against supporting any other top-of-the-top-flight club. I mean, go ahead and support Wigan if it makes you feel better. Then you can start hating us immediately, since we took one of your best players just before the season started.
* Although, human nature being what it is, I would spend more time defending the USA as a country and a concept during that year in England than in any other time in my life. No, classmates, I don’t think Britain would have won WWII faster had the Americans not stuck their noses in.
** Some sort of home-spun combination of “queer” and “bent” – as in from the wrist. I swear to God.