Supporting a football team...and i mean REALLY supporting them.. (you will know what this means if you DO) is a labour of love. Sometimes painful, with varying degrees of intermittent joy, but generally with the mundanity of a maintenance job nobody would ever choose to do with a free will. Punch in, what time's the game? What do i have to cancel to get my United 'work' done? How long will it take to travel to this game? Will i get a chance to eat? Punch out.
Yes. a complete labour of love. Because if it wasn't....you just would not do it. Time consuming, and like a drug dependency. Emptying your wallet at every turn. And even at the end of that, the manager may not pick the exact eleven that you would demand he picked, after you spent 3 hours studying the opposition last night. Not pleasant.
But this is what really supporting your team means, United or otherwise. No aspiration. All perspiration.
So all in all, this raises the question about Manchester United's popularity beyond the shores of the United Kingdom. Millions of fans of the globe's favourite sport, all drawn like moths to a red coloured flame, that flickers in the North West of Merry England. A football team crowned "the worlds most popular club" with an unrivalled appeal from continental America across the planet to the Far East, and seemingly everywhere in between. (I was once on a camel trek in Egypt, when the young animal handler looked up to see my United top, and screamed with a huge smile "Yes sir yes sir ANDY COLE DWIGHT YORKE")
So the question is begged, can you be a real "proper" United supporter, if you can not physically embroid yourself in the fabric of club whose stadium sits plumb in the middle of Stretford's deprived Victorian streets?
The short answer is yes
United no longer belongs to Mancunians. United no longer belongs to the English. It has evolved. This evolution is vulgar to the die-hard United fans, the people the Italians would call our Ultras. The ones that travel with the club. The ones that sing songs about our players and spits abuse with chants about Liverpool, City, and Leeds. (Chelsea and Arsenal are not 'natural' rivals of the club) But the truth is the message to these die-hards, and i count myself as one of them, is "Get over yourselves!" The concept of the global club is with us.
Watching the crowds in Malaysia greet Rooney et al, and the mass hysteria just a training session causes, shows that the global branding of football needs these fans..and ultimately this means football needs Manchester United. In-spite of the vulgar spending of Real Madrid who are arguably the biggest club in the Latin World, United's allure shines just as bright today, even after losing "the best footballer in the world" TM and the Argentina bull himself. Who says people follow individual footballers now and not teams?? Pah!
These fans are just as relevant in this modern world of football as every United season ticket holder and myself...and if that's not acceptable to the man in the streets of Salford, as any Manc would say, "If ya don't like it pal, just do one!" With the creation of FC United, the splinter team formed as a reaction to the Glazer's acquisition of the club, i feel these "home" teams will give the outlet to the common English fan, who needs to feel that he can actually pat a player on the back when he scores, can walk from his home to watch his team play, and can drink in the local pub, where its more than likely that the team's centre forward's sister serves behind the bar.
For the rest of us...we have to go along with the evolution of the modern game. It is inevitable that the English league will be disbanded in its current format in the coming years (your guess is as good as mine) and that a breakaway European Super League will be created, with United at the centre of it. So the labour of love will be the same, just with slightly different rules. Punch in, what United work is there today? What time is my flight to Madrid? Will United sign that lad from our feeder youth team in Brazil?