I wrote this shortly after Sir Alex announced his retirement a year ago, but I never did hit publish. In light of today’s news about David Moyes, this piece feels especially apt.
Just like that Sir Alex Ferguson has retired. And a million voices did cry out in terror. 659 million fans to be exact.
Football fandom is a weird beast. I grew up 6800 miles from Manchester. Why should I even care what goes on there?
Humans are complex social creatures. The random bonding with strangers for 90 minutes. The shared emotions that come with winning and losing. The sense of purpose that comes with weekly matches. We are, by evolution, tribal and competitive by nature. Club support feeds those instincts.
So how does one decide which club to support? Apart from the obvious reasons like geographic location or family tradition, I dare say it’s because we find aspects of the club that we resonate with. We see ourselves in a club’s character, its values, and the way the team plays.
And when things are going well, fans don’t want change.
What I believe scares United fans the most is that they finally have to grow up to 21st century football. It is a world where long term planning typically takes a backseat in pursuit of success. Fans watched managerial musical chairs played season after season, only to take heart that all is stable back home. Not any more.
Club owners and managers often preach that no man is above the club. But when that man has been there for 26 years, we don’t bother drawing the line. As far as the world remembers, Sir Alex is Manchester United. Never, in the history of sport, has there been or will there be another figure like Sir Alex. And now, fans have to face the reality and decide what truly makes Manchester United.