'The Spanish think I'm crazy!'
Every season-ticket holder deserves respect.
Many have been loyally attending games for decades, whether they live round the corner or hail from the remotest corners of the country.
But we think the latest Red to appear in UR’s iconic handshake illustration, Dave Martin, is entitled to an especially fulsome pat on the back.
Why? Because his journey to the match starts not in Salford, Sheffield, or even Southampton, but Spain! As he puts it, with a chuckle: “The home games are my Euro aways!”
Dave (right) has remained a steadfast United match-goer, even since moving to Spain in 2003.
Though it hasn’t always been like this. Dave grew up in Mouldsworth, Cheshire, and started going to Old Trafford in 1986, when he was about 12. A 5-1 win over Southampton was ‘probably’ his first game.
“I’d get on the train from Mouldsworth station and go to what was Warwick Road station, where the Metro is now, and walk up Warwick Road,” he remembers. “I used to go in the Scoreboard Paddock, and got my first season ticket in the ’87/88 season. In those days it was actually a League Match Ticket Book.
“It used to be a pound or 80p to go in as a junior. But it was everything: the day out, getting on the train. My parents were quite liberal!”
The only season Martin has missed in 35 years was the last one, due to uncertainty around Covid. But typically, he makes the trip from Spain around 10-14 times a season.
“I moved to Spain in 2003, for work. I planned to be here two years, and basically ended up staying,” Dave explains. “I also worked in Dubai for four years, which was much more difficult in terms of getting to United games!
“We live in a little village called Canyelles. It’s next to Sitges, which is a touristy town and probably more famous. It’s actually where United stayed in ’99 [before the
Champions League final]. There’s a few of us [Reds], though I’m the only one with a season ticket.”
Martin believes that Spanish football, despite its excellence, cannot match the passion present in the British game.
So why not simply watch United on TV, and get that live football fix at the Nou Camp or Espanyol?
“The culture of going to the game religiously isn’t here,” he reveals. “They think I’m crazy for getting on the plane to watch United at home to Watford or something! But I’ve always done it since I was a kid. You get brought up with it in the north-west. And it’s also about keeping in touch with friends who still go.
“In Spain, they’ll watch it on the TV rather than go to the stadium, even if they live 10km away. Generally, the stadium at Barcelona is not full and the atmosphere is not so great. Quite a lot of people at those games are generally tourists. There just isn’t the same fan culture.”
Dave (left) sees matchdays as a great way to catch-up with UK-based friends like Charlie (right).
And despite the time-consuming travel, Martin analyses that he might even have it easier than some UK-based fans.
“It’s a little bit of hassle, travel-wise, but there’s loads of flights and it’s not super-expensive.
“I work for a company whose headquarters are in the UK, so I have quite a few meetings here. And my dad still lives in Helsby, near Chester. So I’ll stay with him over the weekend and go to the games.
“The difficulties are more about when the fixtures are firmed up. You can’t plan too far ahead. I’ll try and make sure I’m there Friday night to Monday morning, so if the fixture does get moved it’s okay.”
Dave's sons, Alistair and Benedict, are keen football and United enthusiasts.
A bigger problem might be ensuring his two sons aren’t seduced by the lure of FC Barcelona – and peer pressure from classmates!
“My two sons were born in Dubai, but they’re both Manchester United fans. My eldest, Alistair, he’s especially into the football now. I said to him: ‘I’m not going to take you to United until you can sit through a full game, because I don’t want you to be bored after 20 minutes.’ But he’s really into it, and I took him to Burnley last season, around Christmas. He’ll be here for the Forest match.
“The youngest, Benedict, is getting into it, running around in his Bruno Fernandes shirt,” laughs Martin. “He’s a bit worried about the Barcelona match, because all his schoolmates are Barcelona fans.
“I’m trying to stress that the result isn’t the most important thing, so he doesn’t get too upset if they’re all giving him a bit of a ribbing!”
As for his own support? Well, that is showing no signs of sliding, despite the daunting geographical distance from M16.
“I’ve no plans to stop,” he says, smiling. “I’ll probably carry on until the day I drop!”