How do you spot a Manchester United fan? Pat comes the joke: “Just look for the guy who isn’t from Manchester.” That’s how the deal goes for a band of supporters who are known as ABU’s (Anyone but UNITED), for whom there lies unity in the exercise of not being a Manchester United fan!! Though the concept can well be applied to most footballing nations (bury the ranking and acknowledge the passion for the sport here) India, undeniably, has one of the largest fan bases of Man U in the world. The testimony for my above sentence dwells in the surfacing of the swish MAN U CAFÉ bars in Bengaluru and Mumbai, with more to follow.Now, the soon-to-end mystery begins here, with neither of the demigods, Pele and Maradona( they enjoy some delirious devotion in this part of the world) ever donning the shirt of this hallowed club, there had to be something unique that keeps attracting the football lovers of the world’s largest and most populous democracy ( communist China is also under threat in this race!!) by the millions.
Economics and everything else apart: Here is the list of 5 reasons (in no particular order) why, I think, most Indians are fans of Manchester United
1. TRAGEDY a.k.a. the dard ka rishta:
Be it for the B grade SRK starrers or the brilliant ANAND or the applesauce Dard e Disco, Indians are most fascinated by tragedy. Post the tragic Munich ’58 air crash, our forefathers picked up the Red Devil baton which has changed hands over generations slowly evolving into a community of sorts. Seven of the Busby Babes, a talented bunch of team players, were to die in the snowy wastes of Munich airport that day, and an eighth, Duncan Edwards, the greatest of them all, lost his battle a fortnight later. It was an air disaster that sent shock waves around the world. The tragedy moved everyone. This wasn’t just a young, vibrant team, it should have been the team.
Need one say more?? Each of the aforementioned names are big enough to inspire a generation of fans, leave alone 4 such. Beguiling looks along with dollops of awe inspiring footballing skills make for a heady mixture sure enough to propel the fan base of an English club in India.
3. BRAND UNITED:
Manchester United has the ability to take players that may not look the best and seemingly turn them into winning machines. Recall Scholes, Giggs, Neville, Yorke, Solskjaer; players with immense Manchester United Value and less about adding value to Manchester United. Manchester United is known to build players’ reputation, much different from how things are with other clubs where it’s a high value player constructing the club’s repute. Just ask Park Ji Sung for further details.
4. Sir ALEX FERGUSON:
24 years, 12 League titles, 2 Champions League and 35 Silverware in total!! Anything else? For a continent where managers change more frequently than seasons, Fergusson’s record is nothing short of mind boggling. For most of the younger generation, Sir Alex Ferguson IS Manchester United.
5. 1998/99 Champions League Final:
1 Match, 2 minutes, 2 Goals, A TREBLE. The stoppage time of the ’99 CL final could well be the most important “2 minutes” in the history of United and NO exaggeration here. A frightful(depending on which you were rooting for!) turnaround of fortunes with two clinical touches so typical of United and here was another INDIAN generation waiting in the wings to catch the UNITED flight.
Irrespective of whatever happened on that fateful night at Wembley against the spellbinding Barcelona, United’s lustre remains as intact as ever. For some, it’s a bond that goes back to Munich. For others, it might be a fleeting obsession with Hernandez’s latest poke. Many won’t have heard of the Babes or of Bryan Robson, the 80′s Captain Marvel, but that won’t stop them rooting for the Red Devils. As aBarcelona fan, my respect for Ferguson and what he managed to do remain untarnished.
P.S. For the record, there are an estimated 25 million Manchester United supporters in India.