Five Games That Changed Me: Rainbow Devils' Eric Najib

Thursday 14 December 2023 09:00

It’s so easy to focus on the goals and the glory when invited to come up with five standout United games from decades of match-going.

But one of our new Fans’ Forum representatives, Eric Najib – who chairs United’s first LGBTQ+ supporters’ club, Rainbow Devils – has opted for a different approach. One which gets to the heart of what it means to be a Red. What it means to be human, even.
“It wasn’t easy!” he tells us. “I’ve tried to steer away from the obvious, but I’ve identified five games that shaped me as a United fan. As someone who was at both games, the two greatest nights of your life will always be Moscow and Barcelona. I think we can all say that. 
“But if we’re talking about games that define you as a person, and if you want interesting stories, you have to scratch beneath the surface...”
Eric (left) and friends stop for a photograph beneath Old Trafford's Rainbow Devils flag.
FA Cup final | Wembley | 18 May 1985
“The first United game I ever went to really taught me about what it is to support United. My dad got us tickets and we happened to be with the United fans. But what I loved about it was that it taught me the love/hate relationship United has within football, and the siege mentality that exists within the club. I don’t think any other club would have got a red card for Kevin Moran’s challenge. 
“There’s a United tax on everything: when we buy a player, when we sell a player, when the FA give a punishment out... whether it’s the Cantona punishment, the Rio punishment, or when Rooney had to miss the FA Cup semi-final against Manchester City because he swore while celebrating a goal! The FA chairman then was an ex-City chairman, not that I’m suggesting anything...
“But Everton were media darlings at this time, going for a treble, and we were the underdogs, down to 10 men. Our backs were against the wall, and then Norman Whiteside comes up with that phenomenal goal from 20 yards. That memory sticks forever, because it showed me from a very early age that you either love United or you hate United, and that we’re often best when we have that siege mentality that Fergie used to our strength so often.”
First Division | Old Trafford | 10 September 1988
“My dad had some business contacts in Manchester, so we’d go two or three times a season and sit in the executive boxes, behind the glass. I’d been pestering my dad for ages: ‘I want to go in the crowd!’ ‘No, you’re too young.’ It was an interesting dynamic I had with my dad because in most families football is passed down. In mine it was passed up. My dad didn’t have a huge interest in football, being from the Middle East. But I was fanatical about United from a very young age, and it was me that got him into them.
“On this occasion, on the way to Old Trafford, my dad said: ‘If you want to stand in the Stretford End, then we’ll drop you there and pick you up afterwards.’ It was a terrible game of football, but you felt the history of the Stretford End. You felt everything that people had said about it. The noise, the smell, the atmosphere. 
“I didn’t experience it at its height, but you only have to look at the old videos – it’s the heartbeat of the club. It was almost cathartic. Forget football, I felt like a man. I would have been 12 years old, and it was the first time I was trusted to be on my own. From that moment, it felt like something changed. I’d almost gone from a supporter to a fan. Liberating is the word.”
The magic of the old Stretford End was a big part of the magic behind Naj's first game at Old Trafford.
First Division | Upton Park | 22 April 1992
“I wasn’t unfortunate enough to be at Anfield when we lost the league in ’92, but I was at Upton Park four days earlier. Again, seeing the vitriol from an already-relegated West Ham showed this hatred of United that people had. We lost 1-0, and that’s when I realised what United meant to me. Coming out of West Ham, the pain... we genuinely thought that if we weren’t going to win it in ’92 that we were never going to.
“It was the first time I literally didn’t want to leave the house for days. I didn’t want to do anything. But I really felt it, that this meant something. I always said to myself: I’ll never forget this moment. Because whatever good that we do in football, however many trophies we win, you have to remember the moments that don’t go your way. Similarly, I love the fact that I was one of only 2,000 people at Sunderland when we thought we’d won the league before that Aguero calamity happened. Without that kind of hurt, you don’t feel the joy.”
A painful night at Upton Park handed control of the 1991/92 title race to Leeds.
Premier League | Bramall Lane | 15 August 1992
“Without this game, I’m not sitting here. I’m not chairing Rainbow Devils. I would have been 15 at the time, and I didn’t have a ticket, I didn’t know anyone. I just thought: I’ll get a train to Sheffield and wing it. I got onto the train, and there were loads of Man United fans at Euston. So I walked up and down the train asking people if they had any tickets. 
“I spotted a lady of a certain age giving out loads, so I said: ‘Oh, excuse me, you wouldn’t happen to have a spare ticket?’ She said: ‘Come back in 10-15 minutes.’ That turned out to be Teresa McDonald, my dear, dear friend. My second mum. Someone who I grew so close to in my childhood. Someone who knew that I was gay years before anyone else at football did.
“She got me a ticket for the game, introduced me to a few people... she actually allocated a couple of people to look after me for the day, who I still see at games now. She basically introduced me to the Manchester United London Association, which I later chaired for many years. It all started from there. By the end of that season, through the Man United London Association, I’d got my first League Match Ticket Book. I got to know Barney [Chilton, Teresa’s son and editor of the Red News fanzine], who I’m still very good friends with. 
“Without this game, I might not have joined the supporters’ club and taken over from Teresa, which gave me the confidence, and the contacts at the club, to push for an LGBTQ+ supporters’ club. Teresa was such an influential person, and what a fantastic human being. She so absolutely shaped so many people’s United support, mine included, as a human being – never mind being gay, straight or anything. So many people had Teresa as a second mum at football.”
United's first game in the rebranded top flight, the Premier League, was a personal landmark for Naj.
Premier League | Anfield | 5 May 1999
“This was defining because it was the night I came out. A 100 per cent despair game. Even though we were still in a decent position, there was a feeling that we’d blown the Treble that night. It all got rather feisty on the coach back – perhaps it was the magnitude of the season, the fact that it was Liverpool, the fact that it was Paul Ince [who scored the equaliser]. Everything. People started arguing among themselves, raised voices, and I got involved. Of course, a lot of alcohol had been consumed. I don’t know why, but because everyone was arguing, I just thought: I’ll throw a spanner into the works.
“There were one or two people I’d already told, very close friends, and some of their advice was: ‘Don’t tell people at football – it’s not the same as other friendship groups, it’s a different mentality.’ But with everyone arguing, I just thought: sod this. I basically shouted everyone down and said: ‘Well you can all stop f***ing arguing, I’ve got something to tell you all: by the way, I’m gay.’ 
“There was stunned silence for about 10-15 seconds. And then this voice from the back of the bus just turned around and said: ‘I couldn’t give a toss, as long as I’ve got my train ticket on Saturday morning.’ And that was the end of the conversation. But the reaction I got was so positive.
“Even now, people that find out will come up to me and say, ‘I never knew you were involved in Rainbow Devils – I saw you on TV,’ and shake my hand. It happened at Arsenal recently. There was a Tottenham away game a year or so later, and everyone ended up chatting away to me, about my life, the physical side of it, the mental side of it... everything. It was brilliant. And it all stems from that Liverpool away game. 
“This game means a lot to me, and I reflect on it so much. That reaction could have gone badly, and that’s a credit to the club’s support. So many clubs have issues with far-right supporters, but United has never been that way. Our support has always been so good at self-policing.
“I’ve never been made to feel unwelcome at a game. I know that’s not the same for everyone within Rainbow Devils, but I can only speak on my behalf. I’ve always been made to feel welcome; I’ve always been made to feel part of the fan base. I know there are people who haven’t had that experience, and I’m not suggesting there are no bad apples among United’s support, but I think it’s significantly less than at other clubs.”

The Manchester United Fans’ Forum brings together representatives from all across the United fan base, providing an open forum for both the club and supporters to maintain constructive dialogue.

Eric is the Rainbow Devils representative, and is one of six new members of the forum announced this month, with new fans also representing the Family Stand, Season Ticket holders, Official Members, Under-21s and local residents. To find out more about the Fans’ Forum – including how you can contact your representatives with any concerns or questions – head to