United Fan Culture Archive: 'A special time and place'

Thursday 16 March 2023 08:22

John Clarke can still recall the mad passion that hit him the first time he watched United at Old Trafford.

“It was love at first sight,” he smiles. “It was 8 September 1990, against QPR. Choccy scored an overhead kick in front of the Stretford End inside five minutes. United won 3-1.”
You can see a great picture of John and his brother, Michael, from that happy day further down this page.

But the photo we focus on during our chat with Clarke is a different one, hailing from before he and his brother were even born.
The Clarke family – minus John, who was born five years later – gather on the doorstep of their Trafford Park home to mark our ’77 FA Cup final win
The photo – one of the many outstanding images that features in the online United Fan Culture Archive – shows the jubilant Clarke family celebrating outside their home on Eleventh Street, Trafford Park, after United had defeated Liverpool 2-1 in the 1977 FA Cup final. For John, it stirs up a whole range of emotions.
“It makes me feel old, because my dad looks so young and I’m 40 now!” he laughs. “But it is very evocative. I was born in ’82, a few years later, and my mum and dad actually met at university in Huddersfield, which is where I grew up and still live.
“But Dad’s first game was when he watched United on telly for the ’63 Cup final. They watched it at a neighbours’ on Eleventh Street, and then he started going the following season. He went for 50 years, and went to Wembley many times before he passed away nine years ago. I’m not sure why he wasn’t there [for this game]. He was a student so he was probably a bit skint!
“My mum passed away when we were quite young, so Dad always loved to get the photo albums out. I’ve since rearranged them all chronologically, and this is the first that I could find of the family and United, so to speak.”
In the image, you can see John’s grandparents, Michael and Rose, his father and mother, James and Christine, and his uncles, Peter, Vincent and John.
“I think my uncle Vincent had played rugby in the morning as he’s wearing his school team’s shirt,” explains John, “and I never saw my grandad in anything other than a suit! The photo was posted on Twitter and someone joked: ‘Bill Shankly looks surprisingly happy!’
“Vincent told me they locked my mum out in the backyard at half-time – after she’d gone to use the outside toilet – because she was a Scouser! She was an Everton fan from a family of Toffees, so they let her back in for the second half...
“My uncle Peter told me how excited he was to see United in the Cup final again, after the heartbreak of the Southampton defeat the year before, which was his first season watching United. He remembered watching the build-up through the day – It’s a Knockout and other silly features.
“After the game he said there was euphoria in the area, with everyone out on the street. His first priority was to go out and recreate the game with his mates, and then all the locals headed to the newsagents, Johnny White’s, for 6pm, to get their hands on the Football Pink to read the report.”
John takes in his first match at Old Trafford alongside brother Michael – a memorable 3-1 win over QPR in September 1990, a fixture lit up by McClair's acrobatic opener
They are glorious memories of United’s greatest day in the 1970s. But for John, the photo is something more: a portal that gifts him a small glimpse into an unknowable period of his family’s life.
“They’d moved out of Trafford Park by the time I was born, but the family always talk about what a great community it was and how they were always out on the streets, always in each other’s houses. 
“I wouldn’t have been surprised if they’d had a load of the neighbours in there watching the final with them. Even after we’d moved away, we’d still come back for mass on a Sunday. It was clearly a really special time and place for them.”
The Clarke siblings join their dad for another momentous day in United’s proud history – the capture of a first Premier League title in May 1993.
Even now, John finds himself drawn back to the area his family once called home; the place that birthed their decades-long love for Manchester United.
“It all started with my dad. My grandparents moved over from Ireland to Trafford Park in ’52 and my dad was born the next year. He started going and then took my uncle Peter. Now my uncle’s kids go as well. My lad’s only four, but I dressed him in his United kit for World Book Day!
“I’ve had my season ticket for over 30 years. And I always still park in Trafford Park,” admits Clarke. “On Praed Road, opposite the adidas factory, near Kellogg’s. I always like to park there when I come off the M62 and walk that way, because that was what we always did in the ’90s when I first went to Old Trafford. 
“That walk... the smell of the Kellogg’s factory... that’s my link to the family and our history of going to United.”

The United Fan Culture Archive is a not-for-profit initiative that is partnered with Real Change MCR – a fund that helps homeless people to rebuild their lives away from the streets. Any revenue generated by the archive goes towards Real Change MCR, and fans are welcomed to make donations via the UFCA website.

For more, visit unitedfanculturearchive.com, Twitter (@utdfanculture), Instagram and Facebook (both @unitedfanculturearchive). For more on Real Change MCR click here