Joining the Prawn Sandwich Brigade

by Ian Ford

Thursday, October 21st, 2010

There’s been enough column inches filed about Wayne Rooney in recent days to fill Old Trafford five times over (how the Glazers must wish they could charge those columns entry). So, relax, I’m not going to add my two cents here. Rather, I’m going to relate my experience of going to the game last night with ‘corporate executives’ and mull over how this relates to United’s current woes.

I’ve been going to see the team play since I was little, but always as a casual fan. Last night was different; last night I mixed it with attendees from the competition’s sponsors such as Ford, Heineken, and Sony at the “Champions Club”.  My dad had managed to swindle some tickets from work (via favours of friends of friends etc), so we got the whole thing for free. I’m told that, if the ordinary fan wants to attend something similar, they have to shell out over £200 for the privilege.

Anyway, for somebody used to parking miles away from the ground, grabbing a cheap burger from a greasy spoon stand en route, and rocking up in and amongst the Stretford End, it was a curious experience.

You get a space in the official car park, within throwing distance of where the players get in and out of their Mercedes and Ferraris . You then enter through the executive doors, and saunter up along a corridor lined with United legends of the past playing in famous European ties. I passed Sanli Tuncay walking in the other direction (not implying he will ever be a United player, never mind legend). He ended up sat just a few rows away from me.

When you get to the lounge, a swanky affair nestled in the South Stand, you take free beer from attractive young ladies balancing trays on their arms, and then queue up for buffet food. There was, truly, prawns on offer.

While we ate, the compère announced an ex-player would shortly be joining us. I joked to my dad that could be Rooney, which stuck in the throat. In truth I was expecting a c-list reserve. It actually turned out to be Dennis Irwin; one of my heroes.

I’m listing all this, not to boast, but to illustrate just how incongruous it is with the general fan experience. Besides hearing from Irwin, and his reassurances that the club would battle on regardless of what happened regarding the player I said I wouldn’t mention, I found it all a bit dispiriting.

There seemed to be no chat about football from other guests there. No enthusiasm.

That was nothing compared to when we got into the stand and the game actually started though. I’m used to sections of the crowd being quiet — and, it’s true, last night was generally a quiet affair all round — but this one was practically mute. There was no chanting, barely any cheers. In fact, I felt people starting at me as I joined in anti-Tevez chants and anti-Glazer ones emanating from the Stretford End to our left.

The lack of noise is explained, I think, by the fact that so few people there appeared to be United fans. The guy sat directly behind me was as cockney as they come and started the night by ringing his daughter to ensure she was taping the Spurs game.

That’s nothing though, some of the people there I overheard asking questions that made me question if they’d even seen a football game before, never mind a United one.

The point is, somewhere along the way, United has lost its soul. The Glazer’s need the revenue produced from these corporate enterprises just to stay afloat, but it makes for a crap atmosphere and minimal support for the side.

Pundits keep saying the only way real United fans can oust the Glazers is to hit them in the pocket by not attending games. I’m not convinced. Quite apart from the terrible atmosphere that would ensue — almost certainly hurting the team’s performance —  who’s to say they won’t just plug the gap by upping the price of prawns to a Spurs Fan executive from Sony.

The future’s Rooneyless. The future’s bleak. I think I’ll go lie down.

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