Dobbin the Red would be proud
A little Liverbird informed me a group of Liverpool fans were plotting to travel to the FA Cup game at Old Trafford next month on a boat up the Manchester Ship Canal. Before any talk of the vessel needing a naval escort and of getting HMS Bronington back into action took hold, the Scousers abandoned their plans much like their team have wrecked their own ideas to win the title for the past two decades. When players speak in cliches about the fans being great, they don't really know what being a match-going fan entails because they've seldom been one themselves. If you're good enough to make it as a pro, you tend to spend the weekends of your youth playing football rather than travelling to watch it. When they do make it, the players' view of fans is jaundiced by the ones they meet asking for autographs or mithering them when they walk around the Trafford Centre with their families. Some do get it. I know of one former England international so infatuated by fan culture that he has little interest in talking about the game, but gets excited when he hears that United took 6,000 to Barnsley. David Beckham, who sat in the United away end at places like Leicester, commented last week that: Nowhere has the support that we (England) have. I played in Spain for four years and a certain amount of fans travel to games, but not like in England. United took nearly 6,000 to West Ham last week. That didn't matter to the media there, but it was a major talking point among fans six thousand to a game 200 miles away on a snowy Tuesday night in December. Beckham was right to mention Spain. Rochdale, Bury, Oldham, Stockport, FC United and Macclesfield all regularly take more away than the 300 Real Madrid fans who travelled to Barcelona recently. Fan culture is seldom celebrated because it's rarely understood. If you formed your opinions of fans by those excitable clowns interviewed outside the ground then you'd think no United fans came from Manchester and all wear garish jesters' hats. While you'd have Blues down as face-painted fools in Arab headgear. They don't reflect the reality, which is of mostly normal people with a smattering of characters who everyone knows. Fans of all clubs have them they're every bit as notable as players and for very different reasons. At United, a character called Paraffin Pete used to hitch to matches with barely a pound in his pocket. He once hitched to Torquay for a friendly and slept rough in a hedge en-route. The game was postponed. One United fan Mike Dobbin missed a handful of games from the mid-60s until his death last year. At one point he watched more than 1,000 consecutive games including friendlies, seeing the Reds at more than 250 different grounds. In 2008, he watched United play a friendly in South Africa, flew back to London overnight to see a United XI at Oxford and then drove back to Heathrow to catch a flight to see a friendly in Nigeria. The loyalty, irrationality and ingenuity of some fans staggers and the excitement of arranging trips is as important as the games themselves. So when Reds tune in to hear the Champions League draw or Blues to hear the Europa League draw this Friday, the destination and likely trip will be as important at the opponents. Do you know any legendary fan stories? Have your say.
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