When it comes to conversations about football, a common question that comes up is when you started supporting your favoured team. For me personally, I have to say that I simply don’t know.
My Dad and his family were and are Manchester United supporters. Well mainly. Being one of nine kids, all of whom are now grown with kids and in many cases grandkids of their own, the extended family includes some fans of other teams. Most notably, one of my Uncles (and through blood, not marriage – he’s my Dad’s brother) decided to support Liverpool. You have to admire his guts even if his taste was lacking.
Anyhoo, needless to say (and yet I will anyway) support of Manchester United was urged from the start. My birth coming mere days after United winning the 1977 FA Cup meant that my Dad chose Stuart as my middle name, after Pearson who scored United’s first goal. I won’t cover the details of that match here other than to say Uncle Willy wasn’t happy.
So, Man United fandom imprinted from day one, I have no recollection of making that decision. Like eating, breathing and the magnificence of Tom Seleck’s mustache, it just was.
The two earliest memories I have retained of watching United don’t actually involve goals, skill, or results. The first vague memory I have is of sitting on my Dad’s lap (I’ve probably outlined this previously) and him eagerly informing me that we wanted the team in the red shirts to win.
The other is far more striking and thinking about it now, is my earliest recollection of feeling admiration for someone. It may not actually be the earliest occurrence of that feeling, but the moment has been with me for most of my life.
I was five years old. I didn’t actually remember that fact, who we were playing, what the occasion was or even whether we won. I had to look that up years later.
What I do remember is Kevin Moran. He’s got a massive gash in his forehead. It seems like every time there is a break in play, he runs off to have it tended to. Then he runs back on and keeps playing.
This continues for what seemed to me like an age.
Eventually, inevitably, the injury finally takes its toll. Weak from bleeding, he is placed on a stretcher and carried off. As the physios ferry him to the touchline he does something I’ve never forgotten: he lifts his arm and gives the United faithful a thumbs up.
The game it turns out, was the 1983 FA Cup Semi-Final. The venue was the neutral Villa Park, the opponents Arsenal. Typically, United won the game with goals from Bryan Robson and Norman Whiteside.
United went on to win the Cup, beating Brighton & Hove Albion 4-0 in a replay, after the first match ended 2-2.
While history readily records all that information, it was Moran’s guts, determination and tenacity that have endured in my memory.