United fans deserve credit, not criticism
It was surprising, to say the least, to see and hear Manchester United fans being criticised in certain sections of the media in the past week or so.
Newspaper columns and leading radio stations decided that Old Trafford should have been in uproar over the failure to beat an Arsenal side on a lengthy unbeaten run, a team that had just enjoyed the most morale-boosting of victories against their arch-rivals Tottenham Hotspur in a classic north London derby.
This was due, presumably, to the wider context of the Premier League table and the fact it was a missed opportunity to close the gap on a major top-four competitor. I feel sure there is nobody at United happy with the standings and the fact the team currently in fourth place, Chelsea, are eight points ahead of us - even after our convincing win over Fulham that followed the exciting 2-2 draw with the Gunners.
Yet there were clearly many reasons for optimism with the performances in both of the last two home outings. The fans responded to the increased intensity and, as Jose Mourinho said after the Cottagers were swatted aside, no supporter could point the finger at his team for any perceived lack of effort.
United played with a real sense of purpose on both occasions and, despite twice falling behind to Unai Emery's Arsenal side, the quick responses stifled any thoughts of a negative reaction from the crowd. So it is fair to say the supporters did their job. They supported the team and that, after all, is the primary purpose of being a Red. That's my view anyway.
In the social-media age, swift and over-exaggerated criticism has become the norm. So much so that it was deemed a negative when United fans were not complaining bitterly about the situation and in some kind of mutinous mood. Some writers suggested there was an acceptance that the Reds are not competing for the top slots which is premature, to say the least, when there are still so many matches to play and we did finish second last season. Of course, we are also safely through in the Champions League and in the campaign-before-last, we won the Europa League and EFL Cup.
We also contested the last major domestic final, only last May, even if we were narrowly beaten by Eden Hazard's penalty for Chelsea. Even this season, the travelling army of Reds had a night to remember in Turin by beating Juventus on their home patch. So I'm pretty sure other clubs might feel they are in a worse predicament with some justification.
So maybe having a degree of patience is something that should be applauded and will, hopefully, be rewarded in time. A number of football fans will say they don't necessarily care about winning things as long as the team is playing well but we all know, or at least suspect, this is untrue. Results do matter to everybody.
Yet there were encouraging moments against Arsenal and Fulham - something that generated a buzz among the crowd at Old Trafford. It is often acknowledged that the club's away support is second to none but those who attend the Theatre of Dreams also deserve a balanced response to the recent reports and phone-ins.
Backing the side has long been taken as a given but that is no longer the way things are being viewed in 2018. An angry minority will perhaps always pick up a greater deal of attention as it's a more interesting story than 'fans support the team they love'.
Nobody is perfect but I can remember other clubs booing their players off after dropping points towards the end of a title chase and when losing a long, long unbeaten home record. United's loyal followers, far from being spoilt rotten by success, do appear to be resolute and supportive.
In conclusion, fans are what make football the spectacle it is. They deserve recognition for backing their team through thick and thin - not just at Old Trafford but everywhere, in all divisions and all countries. It is literally the dictionary definition of being a supporter - giving encouragement and approval to someone or something.
Of course, frustration is vented when things do not go to plan and social media is the perfect platform for this. But nothing should be taken away from the fact that when we live up to our name, and we are united, we will always be better and emerge stronger. Thankfully, the match-going public understand that simple principle.
The opinions in this story are personal to the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of Manchester United Football Club.
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