I happened to step outside my office yesterday afternoon to walk to Millenium Park. Something was seriously amiss. I couldn’t put my finger on it. The sidewalks and park were thronged with red shirts. Whole families, large groups of friends. Some had Chevrolet logos on them. Some had Aon logos. By the time it dawned on me, it was too late. I was amongst them. They were milling around waiting for Soldier Field to open in advance of the game against PSG. And some of them were looking at me that way. Like they knew. I was seriously outnumbered. I started to panic.
I saw the names on the jerseys. Rooney. Chicharito. Van Persie. Then I saw one that made me relax. Giggs? Who on God’s green earth would wear a Giggs jersey? These people weren’t dangerous. Probably just confused.
It’s been said that Republicans and Democrats can’t understand each other because their brains are wired differently. No matter how much they might talk, they just can’t comprehend each other’s point of view. Being exposed to each other forces further polarization. But is the same true for football fans?
I emailed my husband’s childhood friend, Guy, a long-time Manchester United fan and Pastor by profession. Maybe Republicans and Democrats just hadn’t talked enough. Maybe I could study Guy and somehow see eye to eye with him.
I share our conversation in the interest of World Peace.
WholeArsed: Guy, how long have you been a Man U supporter?
Guy: I started watching international football in the early ’70’s, enough to know of Pele’s magic, and that the Dutch got done wrong by the German’s in ’74. We used to get a tv show that would broadcast hour-long highlights of German matches and Bayern Munich with Der Kaiser, the immortal Franz, became my favorite. But you can’t really love the Germans. So one needs to find a club in England (as hard as it is for a Welshman to write THAT sentence!). From the time I was 14 until I left for university I worked with a German Jewish fellow named Ernie Grunwald, whose family was fortunate enough to escape the Holocaust by fleeing to England in ’38. He grew up in Manchester during the war before emigrating to NYC in the late 40’s. He was a lifelong fan and introduced me to the glories of the Red Devils. So I’ve been a Scouse-hating United fan since the George Best days.
WholeArsed: And what would you say attracted you to the team and keeps you committed?
Guy: What attracted me was United wasn’t one of those posh London clubs. Then it became the commitment to excellence under Sir Alex, his brilliance, and the sheer majesty of Giggs.
WholeArsed: Majesty eh? (coughs) Guy, what was your happiest moment as a fan?
Guy: 2011 vs. Gunners 8 – 2 need I say more?!
WholeArsed: Please. Don’t. And your saddest?
Guy: The 1958 Munich air disaster
WholeArsed, wishing that the saddest moment was a little more trivial and recent: Guy, you are a man of the cloth. Do you understand that God is an Arsenal fan?
Guy: God and I have spoken about this very matter. I reminded the Lord that repentance is good for the soul; God now resides in the Theatre of Dreams.
WholeArsed: Guy, what’s your biggest fear entering into this season?
Guy: Louis Van Gaal
WholeArsed: Let’s do a bit of Word Association. What’s the first thing you think of when I say “Louis Van Gaal”?
Guy: He’s not Sir Alex.
WholeArsed: Old Trafford?
Guy: Theatre of Dreams
Guy: Sublime! Best thing to come from Wales to England since the Tudors.
And there you have it. We dress differently, we chant differently. One of us was afraid to know Louis Van Gaal was in Chicago, the other fears his presence at Old Trafford. One of us enjoyed an 8-2 score line, the other less so.
But when you get to the heart of our support, we’re not so very different after all. We both sometimes wear red. We both think Rooney looks like a bulldog. We agree that Louis Van Gaal is not Sir Alex. We love our Welshmen. We agree that, with regard to football, God can be fickle.
Kum ba ya.