With the World Cup approaching, the most exciting thing for many Manchester United fans is the anticipation of seeing how Marcus Rashford and Jesse Lingard get on. As two lads who have been in our youth teams since they were seven, they are the latest players off our academy conveyor belt who will represent England at an international tournament.
There’s no love lost between many United supporters and the national team though, for a whole host of reasons, but their fans’ treatment of our players hasn’t helped.
Gary Neville has spoken out on the issue before, when fans at Wembley targeted United players for abuse.
“Phil and I went straight out to have a look at the Wembley pitch and were greeted by a chorus of ‘Stand Up If You Hate Man U’,” said Gary Neville in 1998. “We’ve had this abuse before playing for England, but over the last year it’s got worse.”
The Neville brothers, Paul Scholes, David Beckham and Nicky Butt could be wearing their England shirts, listening to choruses of anti-United songs from the Wembley crowd, yet were expected to put a shift in for their country.
Beckham is probably the most famous example though, who had effigies of him hung up in the capital following his sending off at the ’98 World Cup.
Three years later, donning the captain’s armband, he scored the goal that booked England’s place in the following World Cup. It was this goal which lead to our taunting chants of “did you cheer when Beckham scored?” when we played against clubs with a strong England contingent in their fanbase. Beckham is now a national hero, having played 115 games for his country, but the only unconditional support he’s ever received is from us.
“It hurt at the time, but what I really think about when I look back to that time is the way Man United fans were to me,” Beckham said in 2006.
“Every time I took a corner for two years – two years! – the United fans were on their feet, clapping me, cheering me, singing my name. That support was amazing. Being at a club that supported me the way it did after what had happened, and having the support of the fans, meant the world to me.”
Opposition supporters would sing about Wayne Rooney being a “fat granny shagger” every time he went near the ball, but when it got to an international tournament, all their hopes were pinned on him and they were furious when he questioned their support for booing the team off the pitch.
It’s totally understandable that rival club supporters, who are also England fans, hated Rooney. We’ve experienced the same. From John Terry to Ashley Cole, Steven Gerrard to Jamie Carragher, and that’s why it is so difficult for many to get behind a team consisting of players we were desperate to see fail. Speaking for myself, I could never take any joy from watching Gerrard score a goal.
So, who would we support in an international tournament? We’d go to away games with Portugal flags. “He plays on the left, he plays on the right, that boy Ronaldo makes England look sh*te.”
We would chant “Argentina!” on repeat, much to the horror of fans of teams like West Ham and Chelsea, in honour of our very own Argie bastards.
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The loyalty for many of our fans has always been to the club, not the country, with our “United > England” banner (that apparently the FA complained to the club about resulting in it being banned) and chants about how many times we’ve been crowned world champions in comparison to them. This is a mentality that was shared by our players, according to Rio Ferdinand, who explained why the Golden Generation failed to succeed.
“It killed that England team, that generation,” he said
“One year we would have been fighting Liverpool to win the league, another year it would be Chelsea. So I was never going to walk into the England dressing room and open up to Frank Lampard, Ashley Cole, John Terry or Joe Cole at Chelsea, or Steven Gerrard or Jamie Carragher at Liverpool. I wouldn’t open up because of the fear they would take something back to their club and use it against us, to make them better than us. I didn’t really want to engage with them. I was so engrossed, so obsessed with winning with United – nothing else mattered.”
The FA haven’t helped with our relationship either, with their one rule for United and a different rule for everyone else approach. They banned Wayne Rooney for two games for swearing, as well as him and Scholes for red cards they picked up on a pre-season tour. Ferdinand’s ban was the most ridiculous of the lot, getting banned for eight months the same offence a Manchester City player was guilty of a year earlier but was punished with just a £2000 fine.
It was later revealed that 240 drugs tests were “abandoned” between 2007 and 2010 yet none of these resulted in bans.
“The FA may realise who has produced more players for their country than any club in the world,”
Ferguson said in 2012 after eight United players were called up to the squad.
“Maybe they will get some joy from it and realise how important we are to England instead of treating us like sh*t.”
This isn’t to say that supporting England and United have to be mutually exclusive. Of course people can love their club and their country. But there are still plenty who resent the national team, the FA and England fans.
I’ll be looking forward to the World Cup, but no doubt come the end of it, the same mantra will still be in place. Once more than England, world champions twice!