'I lost my shoes on the Stretford End!'

Wednesday 05 January 2022 15:50

Female supporters have always been a big part of the Manchester United fan base, but their experiences have not been given the same attention as those of male fans. Until now.

A new project called ‘Forgotten Voices of the Terraces’ – a collaboration between historian Michala Hulme and the Manchester United Museum – has begun collating the memories of women who followed the Reds between 1960-2000. 

And one of the first fans to get involved was Sue McGranaghan, the latest star of United Review’s iconic handshake illustration. “It was lovely, the questions they asked,” Sue told us last month. “And it was so nice talking about the highs and the lows and all the changes in the ground, the chants that we used to sing that we don’t anymore, my favourite players... 

“I don’t ever remember thinking, ‘oh, there’s not a lot of girls here’,” she says, of the 1970s and 1980s. “But a lot of people would say, ‘oh, you like football? How can you like football?’ It was very much a man’s game and people were like, ‘what are you doing here?’ I had to drag friends to come with me! We were very much outnumbered.” 
Sue (right), pictured with friend Margaret Wallis, features on the latest cover of United Review.
Thankfully, women are much more prominent at Old Trafford today. But the new project is looking to dig deeper into the cultural changes of the latter half of the 20th century that led us to this point. And the museum and Michala are hoping to talk to more and more people like Sue, who had a first-hand view of a significant period in British football history. 

“Being from Salford, Mum and Dad were obviously United fans,” explains Sue, “but we couldn’t afford to go when I was younger. So we’d listen on the radio. You could hear the crowd from our front door in Ordsall. It was amazing! 

“My earliest memory is ’76, when I was nine. FA Cup final day. Me and my friend hanging upside down on this climbing frame, saying [after United had lost], ‘oh, we’re going to support Southampton!’ 

“But when we beat Liverpool in ’77, it was just incredible. Street parties, posters in the windows, flags out. They brought the FA Cup down Deansgate. We were all stood there in our scarves, cheering them on.” 
A few years later, she attended her first match which – for reasons you’ll come to understand – was fairly unforgettable. “My first game would have been ’81 or ’82. When we scored, the whole ground erupted and I was lifted from the floor. I lost my shoes, and had to go home with nothing on my feet. I went to my grandma’s because I was so frightened of telling my mum I’d lost my shoes! All these people behind me were saying, ‘oh, maybe she’s got something wrong with her feet...

“I didn’t get a season ticket until I was much older, but if I had 75p or whatever I would go. We’d queue up at the Stretford End really early. We’d be there three hours before and would stand in the middle of the Stretford End against the bars. Come three o’clock you were all crushed in like sardines! But it was incredible.” 

Heroes like Martin Buchan, Bryan Robson and Gary Bailey inspired a lifelong affection which lasts to this day, and Sue still comes to matches 40 years on. Her children are also big Reds, despite McGranaghan marrying a Belfast-born Arsenal fan. 

“He doesn’t have a good word to say about United,” she laughs, “though I did leave him at home on our 25th wedding anniversary to go to Wayne Rooney’s testimonial!” 
Sue (right) and friend Mary Rule.
The early rush of those heady days on the Stretford End have since taken her to Barcelona, Moscow and beyond – though she can’t decide between the 1999 Champions League final, the 1984 win over Barcelona or the ’99 FA Cup semi-final replay against Arsenal when it comes to her favourite game. 

“We ran on the pitch at the end of that one!” she says of the latter. “My friend who I go to the match with, Margaret, she’s 20 years older than me. She’s 77 now. At the Villa Park game, she would have been nearly 60, and even she was on the pitch! We didn’t do any harm; emotions just overtake you. But I soon got off!” 

It’s been a rollercoaster of emotions and great memories, and it’s vital that the experiences of more women like Sue are preserved for future generations. 

‘Forgotten Voices from the Terraces’ is up and running now, and the Manchester United Museum and Michala Hulme would love to hear from as many female fans as possible that followed the Reds between 1960-2000.

Got a story to tell? Get in touch now via @drmichalahulme on Twitter or email m.hulme.1@bham.ac.uk.