'My thing is going to as many games as possible'
The United Review handshake has featured many truly dedicated Reds over the years. Supporters who travel home, away and abroad with the club, and represent the very best of our hardcore fan base. But our latest cover star, Deb Henry, might just be the most hard-working yet.
She follows the men’s team, home and away, and does the same for the women’s side. As if that was not enough, she also represents the Manchester United Women’s Supporters’ Club on the Fans’ Forum.
“When the women’s team was reformed, it wasn’t me saying ‘let’s go’ – it was my husband!” she chuckles. “He was saying: ‘It’s £39 for a season ticket, let’s do it.’ At the time, I was thinking: that might mean a game every Saturday and Sunday. Now in hindsight I realise that’s actually a good thing! For me, it’s really just about going to as many games [as possible]. That’s my thing. Home and away, domestic, abroad, as many as we can.
“I don’t really remember a time when I didn’t know about United,” she explains. “I grew up in a half-red, half-blue family actually, but the United side was always more dominant. It was indoctrinated in me: you will be a Red, you support United. That’s the way it was. I’m not complaining!”
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Deb attended games with family members through the ’80s and ’90s, and finally picked up season tickets towards the end of the Sir Alex Ferguson era. But she admits to being caught off guard by the intensity of her feelings once the women’s team started competing again in 2018.
“A lot of us have said we didn’t expect to be taken with the team as quickly as we have been,” says Henry. “There was a moment very early on, just realising how much it meant to me, how much it meant to us all. It caught me out.”
There was no formal supporters’ group initially, but one grew organically from the need to sort out simple issues like travel to away games. And a strong fan culture has emerged too.
“The group that formed were people who came over from the men’s game,” she remembers. “We got some criticism, because we didn’t go along with the way women’s football support is. To us, it didn’t matter if it was men’s, women’s, academy... we support United the way we support United.
“But we’ve changed some things. We put a songbook together and took the swear words out of the chants, for example, because that’s the atmosphere at a women’s game. And in time, the group has grown to incorporate people who might never attend a men’s match. But we like to think every fan can get the experience that they want. Whether that’s sitting quietly with your family, standing on your own, or singing along with people.”
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The Lionesses’ success at Euro 2022 is widely hoped to be a turning point for the women’s game in this country, and Henry wants to see more people heading to Leigh Sports Village to follow Marc Skinner’s exciting side this season.
“A great number of tickets have been sold for the first home game at Leigh [v Reading, Saturday 17 September]. Thankfully now there is a shuttle bus that runs between Old Trafford and Leigh, so that will really help people. But it’s about sustaining that: getting people in the door and getting them to come back again.”
The supporters’ group now has a voice on the Fans’ Forum too, where Deb is helping to put concerns forward and raise awareness.
“It’s about having that one-club mentality. Putting the women’s team in people’s minds and making sure it’s always considered. I always encourage people: forward your questions on. They have to be raised and, because it’s minuted, the responses matter. If you don’t feel you’ve got a voice, make it heard. Submit a question, put yourself forward as a candidate.
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“There’s a lot more the Fans’ Forum can do, and there’s still a way to go to include more people. But it’s valuable. You’ve got an opportunity to sit down with the very top people in the club.”
It’s inspiring listening to Deb speak passionately about both of the club’s senior teams – plus the Fans’ Forum – and it’s the club’s hope that many more supporters will be similarly inspired to watch United Women live during their 2022/23 Women’s Super League campaign.
“It’s probably the most affordable, accessible top-level football,” enthuses Henry. “People say, ‘let’s get little girls to games and inspire them.’ But let’s not limit it. Let’s get little boys there too, so they can see that women’s football is enjoyable and that watching it is normal.”