6th February 1958. A defining moment in the history of Manchester United, one that would shape the future of the club forever. Talking to older relatives, it was clear that no matter which team you supported or where you lived, the grief that followed the disaster was felt all over the country. United became the team that everyone was rooting for, seeing how they bravely came through such adversity to reach the 1958 FA Cup Final. It was at that very match some say, that a touch of resentment started to surface about United’s new found popularity with fans of other teams. Bolton Wanderers won the final 2-0, but the whole country was behind United. Some Bolton fans felt that it took away some of the shine to their victory, and perhaps they weren’t given enough credit for their triumph. Certainly Bolton fans in the modern day dislike United intensely, but how much of that is deep rooted from 1958 and how much of it is just the overriding dislike that so many fans seem to have for us, we will probably never know.
I started going to United matches 15 years ago at home, and then started going to away games too 3 years later. I would say back then, there would be a very small handful of teams’ fans who you would expect to hear Munich references coming from- Leeds United being the most likely. It was almost a shock to the system to hear anyone talking about it in that way. Then little by little, I noticed it creeping more and more into ‘banter’ as if it were an acceptable put down to use. I remember being shocked to my very core at Derby County of all places in 2001, when I came out of the ground after a handsome 3-0 win and being confronted by an enraged Derby fan who hurled all kinds of abuse at me, including numerous Munich references. When I talked to a policeman nearby who witnessed the whole thing, his response was, ‘Well what do you expect? You’re wearing a United hat’.
Now in the current climate, it is prevalent. It is almost a shock when visiting teams now come to Old Trafford and don’t sing about it, or aim aeroplane impressions in our direction. Some City fans now seem to sing it even when we’re not playing them, and one of their collective names for United fans is ‘Munichs’. At the FA Cup tie at Old Trafford vs Liverpool last month, I was sat in my car reading when a Liverpool mini bus came past. Someone leaned out of the window and shouted vile abuse at me, calling me ‘Munich scum’. Even before the recent FA Cup tie with Crawley Town, the video that they made to accompany their Cup Song had to be removed, because of a fan doing aeroplane impressions in it. I mean, Crawley Town?! How has it become so socially acceptable to use Munich as a fair taunt that even non-league fans are doing it?! Praise must go to Crawley Town FC for their prompt action in removing the video and banning that particular fan for life. It sets an excellent example, but one that very, very few other clubs if any, will follow.
What concerns me now, is the way things are going, And by this, I want to include a minority of United fans. There are some (and thankfully few from the games that I have been to) that think because opposition fans might be singing about Munich, that allows them retorts about Hillsborough. What is even more worrying is that I see from both sides, these things being said by young lads in their teens who won’t have seen the horrors of Hillsborough and certainly not the horrors of Munich. And therein lies the problem. Is it becoming more acceptable nowadays because less and less fans are of an age where they can remember the disasters? Does it not strike a chord with the majority anymore, so the true meaning of what some of these fans are singing is lost? One thing’s for sure- this current trend for using tragic events as a way to rile opposition fans cannot continue like it is or one day, there will be a tragic modern day event for those fans to reflect on.