I’m writing this week from Manchester (cue dozens of you guffawing and browser tabs being closed because someone close to the League of Ireland shouldn’t dabble with the Premier League) and I won’t hide from the fact that I’m looking forward to tomorrow’s game at Old Trafford. This isn’t really an admission of guilt (well because I’ve nothing to be guilty for), more of a ‘get things off my chest’ moment.
First of all, shock horror, I grew up supporting United. In the 90s and on the northside of Cork City where there isn’t much else to do for kids apart from sports, my weekend usually entailed, like many other youngsters who had only one thing on their mind, listening to a poor quality Five Live on the radio on Saturday afternoon before watching Match of the Day, though for some reason I always fell asleep before the end when Southampton v Coventry came on.
My Sunday afternoon would then be spent in Bishopstown or Turner’s Cross to see some live action. I might have known Ronnie Wallwork’s date of birth and the name of Ronny Johnsen’s first club (September 10 1977 and Sem, in case you were wondering), but it was no substitute for freezing my arse off down the Cross, watching stars like Cormac Cotter and, ehm, Mel Capleton show us their skills.
When it comes to United, I have always drawn the line at saying ‘we’. It just doesn’t seem right. I spend quite a lot of money travelling to a handful of games every season but even though I’ve been going for 10 years now, it still doesn’t feel like it’s my club.
The geographical difference means my true attachment to United will never reach its potential. Of course, I still harbour a dream of being able to afford a Season Ticket, but only when the Glazer family have long departed, and I’d love to one day be in a position to go to games every week. However, even at that point I still won’t be able to say 'we'. It just wouldn’t feel right.
I distinctly remember going to my bedroom and crying when United were beaten by Bayer Leverkusen in the Champions League semi-final over a decade ago. I was 11 but it felt like they would never ever reach another European final. Yet despite my emotional instability, I always felt a small bit more distanced from it all.
Sure, I was envious of the born and bred Mancunians who are allowed to call United ‘we’, but then again I wouldn’t swap my own position for anything. We might not have 70000 people going to games in Ireland and we might not have worldwide attention, but our league is special in its own little way.
I can name several chairmen of clubs in the league who are big supporters of cross-channel football. Does that make them less committed to their roles?
Those completely ignorant of the league, however, don’t deserve the time of day.
Tomorrow, I can guarantee you that I’ll cringe in embarrassment when I see one of those ‘fans’, clad in their county GAA colours and ridiculous jester hat. If I had my way the sentence for wearing a jester would be lethal injection.
They are the most ridiculous piece of matchday attire known to football fans and if you see someone wearing them at a ground near you next Friday, I urge you to take it from them and burn it.
Anyway, back to my point: 90% of us have a team we support away from the league. Quite a few deny it, maybe some are even afraid of the wrath they could feel in front of their peers for revealing an allegiance outside of the country, but it’s nothing to be ashamed of.
The problem, as we all know by, are those who badmouth the league while bigging up the Premier League. Usually, these are the sort who have never set foot inside a ground in England either. The know f*ck-alls, I like to call them personally.
At the moment, for many of these peculiar creatures the cool thing to do is talk about how great Spanish football is, while, as my good friend Sam Griffin states, unleashing a torrent of meaningless statistics down the pub to impress their equally gormless friends.
Without me sounding like the descendant of a preacher, the message is don’t hate those who support both a LoI club and a team cross-channel. The targets of your derision should be those who are completely ignorant to what’s on their doorstep. Their own pitiful lack of awareness about a sometimes flawed but always entertaining product in their own town should be reason enough for us to point and laugh.
Another 568km have been added to my tally in the past three weeks, bringing the total to 2961.
Alan Smith has been writing for ExtraTime since 2008. He works as a full-time journalist based in Cork, working as a sub-editor for TCM and freelancing for a range of national titles. Follow him on twitter @alansmith90.