I would like to start off this piece with the following statement: I am not English. I am an American, and proud to be so. And therefore, how I came to support United is fundamentally different from the way that most in England have done. In the United States, football (or soccer as we call it) is a sport for little kids. Nearly all of my mates growing up were involved in some sort of organized football. Even those for whom football would always remain as mystifying complex as the ending of a Christopher Nolan film. Most abandon football when their parents lose their primacy over what sort of recreational activities their children participate in. It was not that way for me.
I remember purchasing FIFA 98 for my N64, being very excited to play as the Brazilian national team and score goals with Ronaldo. The game also had these club teams on it, whose names I had never heard before. It would automatically assume that I would want to play Arsenal versus Manchester United. I recall picking United because I was fascinated by the name Ole Gunnar Solskjaer, specifically the manner in which Clive Tyldesley would belt it whenever I shot with the Baby Faced Assassin (I was only nine years old).
Everything changed for me when it was announced that Manchester United would be coming to my hometown of Seattle, Washington in 2003. My father was the manager of the stadium United would be playing at and I knew that I would be able to go. I remember the day my father came home with a beautiful red Manchester United jersey. I begged him to let me have it, I was entranced by it. As my excitement for the match
began to build, it was announced that one of my favourite players, David Beckham, would be sold to Real Madrid. I, like many reds at the time, was gutted. To say I was excited to see Becks would be putting it mildly. As much as I had begun to like Manchester United, I began to resent those sentiments.
Growing up in the United States, one is taught to hate the New York Yankees because of how many World Series Championships they have won and the way they seem to buy all of their players. Was I really going to let myself root for the Yankees of football? I remember that when I boarded the ferry to go to the match with my family, I was set on supporting Celtic. One of my mates that I was going to the game with had family from Glasgow and had persuaded me to root for the Bhoys. When we arrived at the stadium I was shocked by how many United fans were in attendance, wearing the kits of my video game heroes Paul Scholes, Ryan Giggs and Ruud Van Nistelrooy.
The atmosphere at the stadium was electric. Englishmen seated behind me began to sing the United chants and I was on the edge of my seat as the official blew the whistle to begin the match. Even though it was only a preseason match, the skill that the United players possessed was immediately apparent. And in next to no time, on a brilliant attacking move between Scholes and Giggs, resulting in a Van Nistelrooy goal, the team I would support for the rest of my life was chosen for me. I stood up and cheered as loudly as I knew how, saluting the beauty I had just witnessed on the pitch. Immediately cries of “Giggs! Giggs will tear you apart, again!” thundered around me and I thought to myself “Yeah, I will support that team.” And from that moment on United consumed me. Exposure to the game increased with ESPN televising Champions League matches and Fox Sports televising Premier League games. I remember convincing my mother that I was sick so that I could say home and watch United play Benfica in a Champions League group match. I would read the match reports online and do my best to watch highlights.
I eventually became a full-fledged United supporter when I left home to go to university in New York City. Until this point, I had never met anyone else who was as into football as I was (my family never understood why I loved football) and all of a sudden I met people who were as enthusiastic about the game as me. I began to frequent local pubs, who put up with my antics in spite of me being underage. The first one I went to was a Liverpool bar, where I watched us win our seventeenth title. It would be an understatement to say I was not the most liked person in the bar. And I met my co-blogger Daniel Meola at university through United. Daniel was in my American History course, and he was wearing a Louis Saha kit. I walked up to him and asked if he thought Saha would be fit that season (Saha‘s last at United). We were mates from then on.
Football in the United States is at perhaps an unprecedented level of popularity. Americans everywhere are picking up on a game many had once described as “boring” due at least in part to the United States’ improved performances at World Cups. We flock to pubs much in the same way that the English do, and some of my American United supporting friends are as knowledgeable about the game as any Englishman. I am proud to support a club like Manchester United. There has never been a day that I regret my decision to obsessively follow England’s most famous club. Players come and go, but my loyalty to the badge will never change. Glory glory Man United.