Football: Simply red ecstasy on a happy Monday for United: Phil Shaw witnesses the fans' flag-waving party which greeted the champions at Old Trafford

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The Independent Online
FOR practically the first time this season Ryan Giggs looked lost and unable to find a way through last night - and there was still four hours to kick-off.

As each of the Manchester United players arrived at Old Trafford for Happy Monday they were engrossed by a heaving, swaying, flag-waving scrum of celebrating supporters. Chanting and pogoing, they beat out their rhythms on the roofs of the cars carrying the kings to their coronation, making the players grateful for the presence of mounted police.

All day the faithful had been converging on their shrine - from Jersey, Cornwall, Ireland and even a few from Manchester - to sing their hearts out for the champions. Giggs, as he was hustled through the players' entrance, was serenaded by the old 'Robin Hood' film song ('Feared by the Blues, Loved by the Reds'), while Eric Cantona received the full 'Ooh-Aah' treatment.

In Sir Matt Busby Way, some wore T- shirts proclaiming 'United Champions' - in the warehouse since last year, one purchaser quipped before happily parting with pounds 5.99 - while others sported tops mocking Merseyside for its 'Pantomime Season'.

Once their heroes were all safely inside, and a loudspeaker announcement asked the crowds to disperse, they left to a chorus of 'Hello, hello, we are the Busby Boys'; echoes of '67. Not all former United managers are similarly venerated, however, and this touching homage was instantly followed 'Are you watching, Big Fat Ron?'

After such a long march, the Red Army can be excused a little gloating and irreverence. Whether it was Best, Law and Charlton or Sartori, Sidebottom and Sivebaek out on the park in the red, white and black, they continued to turn out in unrivalled numbers.

In that last, distant title season, United averaged 57,000 for their First Division fixtures, overturning a record set by Newcastle in 1948. Even when they were relegated in 1974, the figure stood at 42,000 - and when Tommy Docherty brought them back up a year later, more than a million flocked to watch the Yorks and Orients for a staggering average of 48,500.

Initially, some United followers had difficulty in coming to terms with the decline which followed the Busby era. In 1971, the ground had to be closed for a fortnight after a knife-throwing incident; three years later when Denis Law, of all people, condemned them to the drop with a late winner for Manchester City, hundreds of youths in tank tops, baggy trousers and United scarves tied to their wrists cavorted on the pitch in a vain attempt to force an abandonment.

After United fans rioted at Derby and Norwich, Docherty advocated the return of the birch. Later, under the straight-laced stewardship of Dave Sexton, trouble at St-Etienne prompted Uefa to force United to play a European home tie at Plymouth.

The return to respectability coincided not only with the development of Old Trafford into a venue befitting Alex Ferguson's description of it as 'a theatre of dreams' but also, ironically, to the Atkinson-led rediscovery of United's traditional attacking principles.

That process reached its cacophonous conclusion yesterday evening, the only pity being that the Stretford End, the Red Army's barracks in years gone by, was not there to see it.

Fan's Eye View, page 28

(Photograph omitted)

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