How 'TRA' is inspiring United's next generation
Sixteen-year-old home-and-away Red Luca Black is the very definition of ‘a chip off the old block’.
The teenager’s dad, Steve Black, has been a match-goer since the 1970s and a regular in the pages of the United We Stand fanzine since the publication’s early days.
And like his father, Luca is already highly involved in the fan culture that surrounds our club – as a member of The Red Army (TRA) section in the Stretford End, and as the Fans’ Forum representative for supporters under the age of 21.
“My first-ever game? I was two years old,” he tells us. “When [Federico] Macheda scored the winner in the 3-2 win over Aston Villa. Obviously, that was very special. I don’t really remember much from being two, three or four years old... just a few memories like sitting under my seat and pooing in my nappy!
“I got my season ticket in my name just before we last won the league. That was the starting origins of me going to Old Trafford regularly. I used to go with my dad and my uncle, and then my little brother started coming, but, as I’ve grown up into my teenage years, my experience has become much different. You get more obsessed as time goes on, I’d say!”
Luca with his dad Steve (left) at Wembley for the Carabao Cup final back in February.
And this is where The Red Army comes in.
First formed by a group of Reds keen to instigate an improvement in the atmosphere at Old Trafford, TRA now occupies its own section of the Stretford End. The aim is to create a loud, relentless culture of support by bringing friends and like-minded Reds together who want to stand and sing for 90 minutes.
And Black says the noise and “away-day” experience it creates is driving United’s appeal to a new generation of match-goers.
“I’d hear all these stories of the electric atmospheres [from the past] and the Stretford End absolutely rocking but, before TRA came about, it just lacked that atmosphere and that feeling about it.
“But the first time I went in with TRA, I just thought: ‘The atmosphere’s there.’
“Everyone stands next to their mates and it just creates such a better atmosphere. Even down in the concourse, before the game and at half-time, everybody’s singing. It really is the football day out that you want.”
Luca grew up watching legendary players like Nemanja Vidic, who was part of our last title-winning side in 2012/13.
While most young Reds pick up the match-going habit from going with their parents during childhood, Luca believes teenagers thrive off being part of a community, and developing a social circle, as they get older.
“I’ve brought mates in with me that support United but had never ever been before, and they’ve just absolutely loved it. More and more of my mates have become regulars. They’ve signed up to the TRA app and apply for every game they can in there, because they just love it. They’ve created their own rhythm of going to games and becoming a match-going Manchester United fan.
“The thing for me is, being 16, you meet other people as well,” he continues. “You might bump into someone who’s a brief friend and they’re with their group of mates, then you get on with them and you network and you get to know more and more people. Eventually, you come into the TRA [section] and you’re shaking everyone’s hand before you even get to your seat.”
Standing shoulder-to-shoulder in the Stretford End is the ultimate way to take in matchday, says Luca.
The average age of United’s season-ticket holders has been creeping up for many years, so engaging younger fans like Luca is an investment in the future of the club’s support.
“I think TRA’s really increased people my age just wanting to go and building that habit of going and enjoying it, because it is not just about the 90 minutes of football. It’s that social thing around it as well. It’s definitely increased the number of youth I’ve seen go to the games and enjoy it.
“I barely remember the last time we won a league title, and my dad’s seen so much, but there are still so many kids that are wanting to go and love to go. I think that’s just Manchester United for you. We’re such a big club with a great history, and the fans that go make it as well. It’s a nice environment to be part of, whether we’re winning, losing or drawing. I just love going and being with my mates and my dad.”
The future looks bright on the terraces, with an increasing number of young Reds like Luca falling in love with following United home and away. The Red Army deserves plenty of credit for encouraging that – and making a wall of noise at Old Trafford, of course.
But hopefully, there is so much more still to come. And plenty more Reds – both young and old – ready to be seduced by the idea of boosting the Old Trafford atmosphere to its absolute maximum.