United fans reveal how they've coped in lockdown
It’s now been over 12 months since any United fans officially watched a match in person, the last time being the derby at Old Trafford in March 2020.
We reflect on this surreal milestone by asking a range of official Manchester United Supporters Clubs what effect these pandemic times have had on them...
MUSC Iraq Chairman Alaa Al Shawi tells us how their branch negotiated the last year – and you have to see their Glory Glory video…
“The effect of COVID-19 was very bad on our club, as we were obliged to cancel all events from March 2020 and depend on social media to stay connected. This period was very strange to us, because in the last three seasons our events were organised 95% around United fixtures.
“In the first months of COVID-19 we stopped all our events for six months. But in the beginning of this season we started to organise events again, partially. We’ve organised only 15 events until now, with strict health procedures. At our first event of this season we prayed for all the souls we lost over the last year because of COVID-19.
“For matches where we didn’t organise events, we held video conference calls with our members using apps like Zoom, Skype and Google Meet, to analyse our team and listen to fans’ predictions before the match, and their reactions after the game as well.
“During the time people were quarantined at home, we made a video featuring more than 70 supporters and their families, singing Glory Glory Man United together. It was appreciated by all the fans around the Middle East and also published on United social media because the video has so much love and passion.
“When life gets back to normal, our events will come back stronger, with big screens for all United fixtures and with larger attendance. Old Trafford is our Theatre of Dreams for sure – we dream and wish to visit it one day, in spite of all the difficulties that face all the Iraqi supporters to make it happen.”
BRISTOL, BATH & DISTRICT
For Ashley Powell and members, match trips from the West Country to Old Trafford are the number one priority – so it’s largely a case of waiting it out...
“No fans at matches means a core part of all our members coming together isn’t obviously happening, because as a supporters club we travel to the majority of home matches at Old Trafford, which is when our members mainly come together.
“Due to COVID-19 restrictions we’ve not been able to gather in person at all, including travelling to matches, so all future plans, like everyone else’s, are currently on hold. On matchdays we’ve been able to take advantage of modern technology by staying in touch via social media such as Facebook, WhatsApp etc – and of course the good old fashioned way by speaking to each other on the telephone!
“Some of our members have been able to get together on Zoom calls where we have been able to reminisce on stories and events which have happened while travelling to home and away matches following United in the past, and of course sharing our thoughts and opinions on the current performance from the team.
“When things get back to how they were, we will not take for granted the simple things in life when following football, such as just getting together in a group and travelling to home and away matches. Some of our members have not gone more than a year without watching matches at grounds for some decades, so after the long break from attending matches that fans are currently experiencing, it will be something quite special when all fans can return to their clubs’ grounds.”
Ismaeel Tayyab describes MUSC Pakistan’s switch to an online existence – boosted by some famous United faces!
“It has been a really tough time, as it has been all over the world. All our activities have been adjusted to being online. I have had to keep fans engaged using quiz shows, and asking ex-United legends to come on Zoom and talk to us. Amazingly, we’ve had 16 of them come on, including Tony Whelan from the Academy. In that sense it has been a unique experience that we have enjoyed and which has brought us closer to the club.
“Unfortunately, we’ve only a handful of match screenings owing to various lockdown restrictions in the country. Our last major match screening was the Manchester derby pre-lockdown, the last match at OT with Scott McTominay pouring sauce in Ederson’s goal! After that we have had three or four screenings, but none as memorable. We did hold one for the Liverpool match in the FA Cup when we knocked them out. It was a great initiative from the club and the Premier League to have Fan Walls for the matches, and the club graciously invited us to take part. It was an experience of a lifetime, being shown on TV and inside OT. Apart from that, we have held Zoom match screenings where members got together to watch matches and share our views on call. That was fun as well.
“Our initial plan, especially during the first three-month lockdown, was to keep fans engaged. We did so by holding FIFA online tournaments, after which we started a show called The Devils Talk where we invited ex-MUFC players and journalists to provide us varying views. I don’t think this would have happened without lockdown happening, but we got so many amazing memories through that. From Lou Macari to Alan Keegan to Brian McClair, a lot of them graced us with their presence and we got to hear a lot of fascinating stories from their times at the club. We also go to know in-depth the fantastic work Lou Macari is doing with his homeless shelter and wish him all the best.
“Thanks to MU Foundation, we had an experience of a lifetime being involved with the club and having the inspiration from them to help out our local communities. We raised a huge amount and the signed shirt which MU Foundation sent for auction fetched 200,000 rupees, which was an amazing amount that helped us give back to the community of which we are a part. We were also able to help out a cancer charity in MUSC Lebanon following a tragic situation they suffered last year.
“All of us took football and the joy it brings for granted. The lockdown made us realise that. But once it is back and normal, we plan to cherish this grand sport more than ever and celebrate it more than we have had in the past. Especially with the team performing well, there were so many matches where I thought, ‘This match needs the crowd. Such fantastic football with no fans there to show their appreciation.’
“The sacrifices the players have made to make football possible for us in these challenging times is something fans should never forget. I want to thank Ole and his team for putting smiles back on our faces and once all is normal, we plan to visit Manchester and show our appreciation.”
Rok Saje explains that there is a strong tradition of attending matches within their branch, so membership levels have been affected...
“Most notably, we noticed that the number of our members has decreased. The idea of organising trips to Old Trafford to see Manchester United is deeply ingrained in our club. We have a strong core of loyal members but there are also approximately 20% of those who join us for one season only, with a trip to Old Trafford in mind. So we definitely noticed a decrease in the number of those members.
“After every football season in the summer we organise traditional gatherings for all members, with food and drinks. In 2020 this has been cancelled for the first time since 2008. Due to the lockdown restriction, the pub in Ljubljana where we watch all United matches is closed, so unfortunately those meetings have been cancelled as well.
“We organised a big group video call with over 50 members joining it back in November – the call was organised to give people an update on the charity event we hold in collaboration with the Manchester United Foundation, and to have a ballot for awards for people who donated the money. We haven’t watched any games together on group video calls, but it is an idea that we might try.
“We have a group chat that has existed for years – however, the group has never been so active before. It was established with the idea to see who is coming to the pub to watch United games and it has expanded since then. We have people posting and commenting everything that relates to Manchester United and also some other unrelated things, like jokes and banter. One member is regularly posting pictures from his trips and sightseeing in Slovenia – Slovenia is a beautiful country and with travel restrictions abroad in place during lockdown, this has somehow ‘forced’ people to go out and explore their own local communities.
“I will probably struggle to accommodate all requests for tickets and organising trips to Manchester once things go back to normal. We already have people who have expressed that they would like to go to the first match when it is possible. I believe people will appreciate the trips to Manchester more, as this was something that has been taken for granted before COVID times.”
UAE RED MANIACS
HQ: Abu Dhabi/Dubai
Osama Khalid reports in from the United Arab Emirates, where the Red Maniacs are having to channel their passion online for now...
“We continue to watch and support our beloved club remotely, following the pandemic safety rules and measures guided by our government authorities in UAE. Our events, meetings and all related activities are on hold, depending upon further update on the pandemic situation
“We do our pre/post-game gatherings online, which we share on our social media platforms to encourage the endless passion we have for United. We have bi-weekly online gathering as well, in addition to our main WhatsApp messaging group. We discuss the club progress, transfer news, predictions, merchandise and games analysis almost on a daily basis. Also we had a joint-initiative between our club and our brothers from MUSC Saudi Arabia, which was their idea.
“We will be roaring with chants at the Stretford End once life is back to normal, inshaAllah – ‘In God’s will’.”
NEW SOUTH WALES
Club secretary Emma Fitzgerald maps out the situation in their part of Australia over the last year… the highlight of which was a ‘derby’ win!
“In mid-March 2020 Australia locked down. We held our last members meeting before lockdown in early March and didn’t hold another one face-to-face until November (but have been able to hold them ever since). When we realised that the health restrictions were going to be in place for a while, we started using Zoom for our monthly member meetings and our AGM.
“While there was no EPL or other football to entertain us, we started sending out a digital version of our club magazine to members. We also utilised social media and were running trivia every Wednesday night with members via Facebook. These were hotly contested and created some great banter!
“Once the Premier League returned in mid-June, though we couldn’t go to the pub to watch matches we used Zoom and had pre-game and post-game catch-ups if the match was on at a reasonable time in Sydney. In July 2020 the health restrictions eased in NSW and we were able to hold a match gathering for the Bournemouth match for up to 20 members. We needed to remain seated with our group in the pub and keep our distance from other groups, but it did feel good to watch a match with fellow Reds again.
“We were lucky to get honorary MUSC of NSW member Mark Bosnich to join in our online post-match analysis catch up after the Brighton game in September. We were able to hold another breakfast match physical gathering in late November for the West Brom match, but unfortunately the two we had planned around Christmas had to be cancelled when several suburbs of Sydney went in to lockdown.
“Community sports were allowed to restart in July in NSW and we held a charity football match in November against the Manchester City Sydney Supporters Club. In light of the great work Marcus Rashford has been doing lately, both supporters’ clubs thought it would be fitting to come together and support the joint MUFC & MCFC Fans Foodbank appeal supporting those across Manchester who need it during these challenging times. We notified Marcus Rashford via Twitter about the match and were honoured to receive a response with his thanks.
“The game fell on a day that was over 40°C (104°F) so we were very grateful to have plenty of subs! It was a great game with a true derby feel, despite the challenging conditions. Many tackles were flying in, but all within the spirit of the game. I’m pleased to report that just like Manchester, Sydney is Red! We came out on top 6-3. Pulling on the United red shirt and beating a rival supporters club is always a special feeling, but even more so when we managed to raise $1,250 for the joint MUFC & MCFC Fans Foodbank appeal.
“We also accepted the challenge set by the MU Foundation in May to raise money for a local children’s charity. Australia was only just emerging from months of bushfires and drought when the coronavirus struck. These successive crises delayed bushfire recovery efforts in local communities and left young people affected still requiring support to bounce back, so we nominated the UNICEF Australia Bushfire & Drought Response Appeal. With the £500 donation from the MU Foundation and the online donations collected from members, we were able to raise $2,900 to support young Australians.
“I’m sure I’m not the only member who can’t wait to make the 10,000+ mile trip to Manchester to watch United play. Many of our members travelled to Perth in July 2019 and got to meet United players, coaches and legends and enjoy a week with fellow Reds from all over Australia and the world. We can’t wait for United to be able to go on pre-season trips again and return to Australia.”