A perfect answer to the bearers of envy

FAN'S EYE VIEW No111: Manchsete United
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The Independent Online
The long journey back to Manchester on Sunday following the frustrating draw at Upton Park gave us United fans plenty of time to dwell on the season that was.

There I was contemplating the highs and lows of a thoroughly eventful season when a coach-load of Aston Villa supporters returning from Norwich passed us on the M6.

Recognising that we were Manchester United supporters, their faces lit up in a manner which they probably hadn't done watching the Villans this season. Had Villa just won the league? No, Manchester United had just lost it and, like the rest of the country, these Villa fans were delighted.

We've seen it all this season. Barcelona and Gothenburg scarves at almost every away game, East Enders directing their six-year-old kids to shout "Judas" at Paul Ince last Sunday. Even Galatasaray fans managed to fly a Leeds banner in the cauldron of noise that was the Ali Sami Yen stadium.

What surprised me most was Liverpool fans cheering when Blackburn scored on Sunday. Do all these people really despise Manchester United more than they love their own club? Are they really Manchester City fans in disguise? Just consider, for a moment, these losers have actually gone out and spent good money on Blackburn Rovers or Barcelona clobber. Sad people.

As a Manchester United fan I love it, though. While the rest of the country sing about Barcelona, Reds actually go to Barcelona. That's the difference. Just as Blackburn deserve to be champions, so Manchester United deserve their success. No club has a divine right to win trophies, and the loyal fans of the club appreciate that. The club is almost unrecognisable from the one Alex Ferguson took over in November 1986. The trophies in the cabinet speak for themselves: two championships, three FA Cups by Saturday, one Cup-Winners' Cup, one League Cup.

However, it is not just the first team who are successful. Ferguson has instilled a quality which runs right through the playing side of the club. Any of the 20,000-plus at Old Trafford on Monday evening who saw a second FA Youth Cup win in four years will bear testimony to that: youthful quality on a seemingly endless conveyor belt of talent.

The future is as blindingly bright as the hard-core fan is blindingly loyal, and there is plenty to look forward to. More European jaunts, Eric returning, young players maturing, a new stand seating 26,000, an FA Cup final this Saturday. We're happy - and yet we are hated.

Sure, we've picked up glory-hunting fans by the thousand, people who measure their loyalty in till receipts from the official mega-store (Ryan Giggs' modelling calendar, pounds 4.99) and that's if they can find Manchester on the map. But they are only here for a glory ride and will disappear before you can say "Blackburn are champions".

People think it is easy being a United fan and I suppose the magic of Cantona et al does compensate for universal abuse, two-hour ticket queues for most away games and discrimination on ticket prices because we happen to follow the happening club. When the release of a third strip makes national news, you realise just how big Manchester United have become. The media got it wrong with the new strip, though. The club can bring out a new kit every week if it means we can buy the likes of Andy Cole for pounds 7m. People may complain that the shirts are a "rip-off" - yet they still buy them.

A siege mentality may have been developed by manager and fans alike, but we are only supporting the club we love. "Who the hell are Man United?" they sing. To ask the question is to supply the answer.