Daniel Harris, author of the “blogumentary” book “On the Road” checked in for a chat with Yolkie about his recollections of the 09/10 season. You can buy the book at Waterstones - to find out more about the book and the opinions of the man himself on several controversial issues, read on.
Yolkie : Daniel, your story resonates with me just on the blurb alone. I know what the book’s about; admittedly, as I’ve told you, I’ve yet to fully read it. Could you perhaps share a little more just so I (and other United supporters reading this) can have our appetite whet?
Daniel : Nominally speaking, the book follows me as I follow United around, to aways only – I stopped going to OT in 2005. Hopefully, though, there’s a bit more to it than that – through stories, events and experiences, it also looks at why people love United, why people love football and why people love anything, as well as laying into the perpetrators of the hypocrisy, dishonesty and narcissism that make the modern game such a sorry mess of hatefulness. Oh, and hopefully it’s entertaining too, which I feel I have to mention given the rather earnest nature of much of what’s to follow..
Yolkie : As I said, from reading United Rant’s own review, from what I know about the book, and what it tells us about you, I know you were strongly opposed to the Glazer takeover, but moreover, a takeover of the club. It’s probably fair to say that the vast majority of supporters would like Glazer gone; how frustrating is it for yourself to see that “desire” become vocal on a widespread case only over the last few months?
Daniel : Of course it was frustrating that in 2005, so many preferred to “wait and see”, or “fight from within”, when it was clear exactly what the takeover meant for the club and us as supporters. But thanks to the bond documents – and it feels very peculiar to thank them for anything – it became impossible for anyone other than Gill and Fergie to declare nothing to be amiss, which is something to be harnessed, not railed against.
Yolkie : I read one blogger in particular say he “gave the Glazers a chance” when they took over because he thought they would finance success for the club in the short term. He (and many others, it must be said) made a stand against the newest shirt release (having bought every one since the Glazers took over) and turned on those that bought it, saying they weren’t true supporters. How damaging is that kind of opinion? For me, it undermines the very essence of any anti-Glazer protest.
Daniel : I’d take issue initially with the giving of the Glazers a chance. Every shred of evidence about both them and their business plan made it very clear that their sole desire was to bleed United of as much money as they could, and certainly not to put any in – they intended to “finance” nothing. I’d also challenge the relevance of success to any of it. Of course I want United to do well, but that’s not why the club was formed, nor why I got the bug, and certainly not why I care.
In terms of how one addresses those choosing to fund the occupation, it’s a tricky one. People are entitled to make their own decisions, but similarly, others are entitled to give an opinion about those decisions. In the specific situation you mention, I think perhaps the point is being missed: though it makes sense to deprive the Glazers of money by not buying kits, the only way it can make a difference is if people refuse to buy match tickets.
And apologies if you disagree with this, but the essence of any anti-Glazer protest isn’t to feel cosy, warm and United, nice though it may be – it’s to rid the club of the gimps, and that requires strong and painful action. If a few feelings are hurt along the way, then too bad – this is a war, after all, and we are United, after all – we shouldn’t be scared of expressing ourselves nor of offending those with delicate sensibilities, even if they reside amongst us. People might think I’m in the wrong for boycotting OT, supporting FC, or for criticising Fergie, but I understand that it’s neither personal nor out of order. And because I’m confident that boycotting OT is the right thing to do, I don’t baulk at criticism of my position in any event; if others don’t feel the same when they’re criticised, then perhaps they might re-evaluate whether they genuinely believe it’s right to keep going, or whether they’re simply not prepared to deprive themselves of watching the team. I’m not saying that to be judgmental or to score Top Red points, but there’s simply no escaping the crucial fact that if people don’t renew, the Glazers will be gone. Achieving that is the essence of any protest, and nothing else matters.
Yolkie : I made the decision to boycott Old Trafford in 2007 after becoming increasingly frustrated with the ownership and the clubs increasingly terrible treatment of the supporters. The book chronicles your own boycott; when did you decide to boycott?
Daniel : I’d always promised myself I’d boycott in the event of a takeover, which I did. I actually missed the first few away games of 2005/06 too, before relenting after deciding I needed my fix somehow.
Yolkie : From boycott to actually taking the conscious decision to log everything in a season is a bit of a leap. What inspired you to get everything down so you could share it with fellow supporters?
Daniel : I’m a writer/journo, and have been contributing to Redissue for years. Through Redissue’s Sanctuary, I came across the editor of ESPN Soccernet, and wrote a few pieces for him. He then asked me to do a weekly piece during the last season, and following United around was what we decided it should be about.
Yolkie : You write in the book about how you’ll “never forgive Fergie” for his role or stance, if you like, during the Glazers tenure, and that he will “not achieve Busby status”. We at Stretford-End.com are certainly nothing if not pro-Fergie but we’re also objective enough to know the man has his flaws. I recently interviewed David May for the site and spoke to other ex-players at the United Nights event in September; all were gushing in their praise for Fergie, but in particular, his protection of the players. Your objection, I presume, lies with his (so far) lack of stand against the Glazers and therefore seems to contradict his love for the actual club itself. Some United supporters would argue that protecting the players is what he is expected to do; others refer to his personal history as a staunch socialist. There is the other school of thought; mine, for example, that would suggest Fergie is maintaining stability as far as reasonably within his power to maintain the clubs history and current success so we remain a viable club for any prospective takeover, or just to keep us as strong as he can. What would your argument be against the United supporters on the other side of the fence, or those sitting on it?
Daniel : It’s something I stand by. In early 2005, and despite the unsued-upon allegations made by the BBC, I loved Fergie with devotion. This was compromised further after he destabilised the club by falling out with Coolmore over a horse – a quite ridiculous piece of selfish money-grabbing that drew even greater attention to his alleged indiscretions via the 99 Questions with which they retaliated. Still, at that point, supporting Fergie was supporting the club, so everyone did, and he promised never to forget the backing he’d received.
Also around that time, Fergie stated both publicly and privately that he would protect the club against the threat of the Glazers, but in the event, this was shown up to be an untruth. At the time, Fergie’s position was weaker than it had been since the early days – the team were shite, he’d needlessly antagonised major shareholders, and been accused of dipping his hands in the till. Allowing the Glazers in changed that, as they needed him more than he needed them – had he refused to work with them, there’s no way – in my opinion – the banks would have leant him the money.
Since then, he’s fellated “the owners” and denigrated FC whenever possible, and hearing it makes me sick to my soul. I’m grateful for all the success and much of the style, but in the context I can’t feel any love for him, and believe me, I’d love to. He’s actually done a pretty handy job of managing United since the takeover – though last season wasn’t a great one for him – but don’t for a second think it’s because he’s protecting the club, because if that were a serious concern, none of the above would have happened. As supporters, it’s natural that our interests, those of the club, and those of our manager largely intersect, but each time they haven’t, there’s been only one winner. Whether it’s threatening to resign over money on the eve of the 96 Cup Final, the various alleged financial dodginesses, the Rock of Gibraltar affair or the whole Glazer duplicity, I don’t think his priorities are unclear. I’m not saying people shouldn’t still love him despite it all – though you’d never hear anyone speaking of Sir Matt in the same way – just that I don’t.
Can you stomach a conversation with someone who will not accept Fergie has done nothing but good for United, or does that immediately get you on the wrong foot? I guess what I’m trying to say is, do you view yourself any differently to those supporters? Speaking from my own perspective; I have protested but don’t see myself as any different, despite having protested. I do however resent the Glazers primarily for forcing me to make the decision to not go and watch my club every week.
I can stomach a conversation with anyone, but the notion that Fergie has done only good isn’t a matter of opinion. The question is whether the good he’s done enables him to perpetrate whatever bad he chooses. I’d say not, but plenty disagree.
Yolkie : Does Ferguson’s “behaviour” during the Glazers tenure cheapen our achievements in those times, to you?
Daniel : United’s achievements are certainly less pleasurable, though Fergie’s behaviour is only a part of the reason why and certainly not the principal factor. Being pedantic, I’d say tainted describes my feelings more than cheapened, but either way, during every celebration, there are moments when our plight, and the absence of those who deserve to be there refreshes itself in my mind, and it’s depressing. Similarly, with every success, the occupation is sustained and the pain prolonged, the reality that each trophy is celebrated with a dribble somewhere in Tampa as much a dampener as the dribble itself.
It is, though, worth mentioning that in purely footballing terms, the recent triumphs are in a sense even more noteworthy, as Fergie and the players have succeeded despite the financial strictures – and, of course, the importance of sticking it to the scousers in 08/09 simply cannot be overstated.
Yolkie : To move away from the aggravational questioning (and let’s be frank; you don’t question Fergie out of enjoyment, it’s clearly not pleasant); even though last season was ultimately considered unsuccessful on the pitch (we won a trophy – how expectations are crazy!), there were still some outstanding memories. Aside from the 3 last minute derby wins, which was your fondest memory of the season?
Daniel : Yes, thanks for that – as I hope I’ve made clear, it’s a book about love not hate. My fondest memory of last season is a personal one – on my own, celebrating Rooney’s first goal in the San Siro by racing up and down the Curva Sud arms aloft, right in front of the Milan ultras, and having no idea how the fuck I came to be there, nor what the fuck I was doing. Then doing it again when he scored the second.
Yolkie : And your most memorable game in terms of content for the book?
Daniel : Probably the first derby – idiots like Bellamy, Garry Cook, Hughes (ouch, that hurt) made for very good copy, and the game itself encapsulated all that’s great about United, football and life.
Yolkie : On introspective moments (more often these days) I find myself challenging my own actions which considering my own boycott. I imagine that every United supporter performing their own protest, however big or small, goes through these moments. Explain if you do; and how you get through those moments of self-doubt (if that’s what you’d call it!)
Daniel : I’ve never really doubted that boycotting was the right thing to do, both for the selfish need to pander to my conscience, and the practical need to save United. The crucial thing to remember is that we all love United, and the Glazers do not. Similarly, we all feel the compulsion to go and watch the team play and feel odd when we’re not there, but similarly, we want our kids and grandkids to feel all that too.
Yolkie : Are you doing anything similar for this season? Or any other plans in the pipeline?
Daniel : No, not for now – it’s back to the day job. I’ve just submitted my first novel to a publisher, and am spending most of my time hoping I’ve done as he wanted, the rest starting work on my second.
Yolkie : Finally, how do you see this season panning out? Is the 19th title too unrealistic to expect for a team comprised of inconsistent, promising talent and aging and not always available legs?
Daniel : It may be unrealistic to expect another title, but it’s not unreasonable, especially as the competition’s not up to much – United should have won the league last season, and but for excessive tinkering and bad selections at crucial moments, would have done. So far this season, there’s not been as much messing around, and if that continues, we’ll be close (NB I wrote that prior to the Sunderland game).
As with Nani last season, we need to discover whether Anderson can channel his obvious talent, and the only way of doing that is for him to play every week. If he can’t, then the midfield will let us down. Otherwise, the principal worry is the defence – O’Shea is gash and yet somehow first-choice right-back, and though Evans is good, he’s young, so will make mistakes. By way of comparison, Ferdinand, was 26 before he was half-decent, so for Evans to have done as well as he has is notable, but he needs to toughen up quickly. The sending of Cleverley to Wigan was a disappointment, and it’d be nice if some of the other young players were given a go in situations when we’ll be forced to endure yet more Park.
The over-riding thing I have discovered from getting to know Daniel is how passionate he is about United; but also, his fondness of schadenfreude and, at times, abstract humour, are definite qualities that can be found in his book. As well as Waterstones, it can be found at Amazon. More than just a light read; something to make you actually think about your own role as a supporter, but also afford yourself a laugh at the absurdity of this love we give. And, at a decent price (no, I’m not on the payroll..).
You can follow Daniel Harris on Twitter. I would recommend it.