Fan Stories: Following United is a father-son thing

Tuesday 08 June 2021 08:00

The son of Mauritian parents who moved to Manchester in the 1970s, Riyaz Assrafally’s love for United was first kindled by his father in the early ’90s. Thirty years later, United helps them maintain their close relationship, even though hundreds of miles separates them.

“I can’t ever remember being interested in any other team. Ever,” says Riyaz, who grew up around Withington and West Didsbury.

“My dad grew up watching United in Mauritius – his favourite players were Paul McGrath and Remi Moses – and my earliest memory is Dad coming home with the Manchester Evening News. They used to put a little advert in if you were able to pay at the turnstiles for certain games, and I’d be waiting for him to come home and say: ‘Yeah, we can go.’
“The first game I ever went to, we paid five quid on the turnstiles when Southampton knocked us out of the [FA] Cup on penalties [in 1992]. Since then, I’ve tried to get tickets as often as I could.”
Riyaz celebrates the 2011 title at Old Trafford with his dad, Reshad, and his sister, Farryah.
When the North Stand was extended in the ’90s, he managed to get himself a season ticket. “I didn’t meet the requirements, but I’d sent in all my ticket stubs!” he laughs. “Maybe I got lucky! I was about 15 or 16 and used to go on my own. But then Dad got a League Match Ticket Book. It became our thing: that me and Dad go to the games together. We have done ever since.”
Shortly after came a first memorable taste of the away experience. “I don’t know if it counts as an away,” he muses. “But it’s the best game I’ve been to: the semi-final [replay] against Arsenal at Villa Park [in 1999]. I drove down to that after college with a mate.
“We bunked a lesson to drive to Old Trafford to get tickets,” he recalls, wistfully. “Back to college, and then down to Villa Park. We ran on the pitch at the end! A few people spilled out when Giggs scored, then the final whistle went and it felt like our whole stand ran on the pitch. I remember looking at my mate saying, ‘shall we go?’ and we just ran on. Then we saw the police and stewards and ran back very quickly!”
But the match is now about something more important: quality family time. Riyaz has had to move to London for work, but still comes up for every home game. When they get away tickets, his dad travels to the capital.
“He works in the care industry so he’s constantly on the go – long hours, seven days a week,” says Riyaz.

“He misses a lot of things, but he makes time for watching the game with me, without fail. In the lockdown it’s been difficult, but we do a little video-call before the game, at half-time, then after.”
Highlights: Arsenal 1 United 2 (1999) Video

Highlights: Arsenal 1 United 2 (1999)

It's 23 years since THAT Giggs goal against Arsenal. Relive arguably the greatest game ever played on English soil...

Many years have passed since Riyaz grew up worshipping Mark Hughes – “I remember cutting a no.10 out of red paper and sellotaping it to my 1991 Cup Winners’ Cup final shirt!” – but United remains a focal point.
“It’s become a father-son thing, as much as it’s about supporting United,” he says. “It’s the thing for me and my dad. It’s our time together.”

This article first appeared in the Newcastle issue of United Review.