HOW WAS IT FOR YOU?
January 2021 4: Darren Fletcher has returned to Manchester United. You didn’t know he’d been away? Nor did he, as he’s been working around Carrington for some time, but he’s officially “returned” in the role of first-team coach and will work under Ole alongside Kieran McKenna, Michael Carrick, Mike Phelan and the rest of the specialist coaches. Never mind the fact he is a passionate Red, the most important point of his appointment is that it gives me the chance to tell my Darren Fletcher story. Leverkusen away, 2002, and on the morning of our game our youth team were playing on an open pitch by the main stadium and a few of us were watching, stood on the touchline with the coaching staff, including Brian McClair. Towards the end of the game, a young blond lad runs over from the far side of the pitch during a break in play, saying he’d noticed they’d changed tactics and formation and asked if he could do x/y/z. Choccy agreed, he did, and we scored. We asked his name. “Fletcher.” A student of the game even then, he has a great reputation and will be a great asset to the club, I’m sure. 6: Marcus Rashford has been named the world’s most valuable player, and millions of pounds ahead of fellow youngsters Kylian Mbappe and Erling Haaland. According to the CIES Football Observatory (Centre International d’Etude du Sport), an independent research and education organisation in Switzerland, Rashford is valued at £150m, ahead of Haaland in second place (£138m). How’ve they come to that conclusion? There’s an algorithm of course, taking into account performance, age, contract length, the status of their club and international honours. The overrated Liverpool defender Trent (so good you no longer need to use his surname, but we will) Alexander-Arnold somehow is equal third with Bruno Fernandes, just £1m behind Haaland, with Mbappe only fifth at £135m, perhaps understandably, given his contract expires at the end
JIM WHITE The Telegraph’s resident red on all things United
It has become an article of faith among we United fans of a certain age that on 30 December 1978, we saw the future at Old Trafford. That was the day the Reds were beaten 5-3 in a magnificent performance by West Bromwich Albion. The shape of what was to come was there in the visitors’ manager, Ron Atkinson, and the fact the team included Bryan Robson and Laurie Cunningham. All three of them, together with the incomparable Remi Moses, the proto-Roy Keane, would eventually end up at Old Trafford, where they would deliver the kind of football that was the polar opposite to the stodgy pragmatism that was then on offer to us United fans under Dave Sexton. Looking back, we tell each other that day we saw the future and liked what we saw.
Though in truth, looking back, what I recall more about being in the ground that afternoon was not so much the suggestion of better times as the sound of far, far worse. If United fans were in awe of what they were watching, it certainly didn’t sound like it. The reaction of many in the ground to the presence in the West Brom side of Cunningham, Cyrille Regis and Brendon Batson, the pioneering trio of black players disparagingly named “the Three Degrees”, was actually stomach churning. Their every touch was booed, monkey noises were constant, and the chant of “trigger, trigger, trigger, shoot that ******” frequently echoed round the stadium. And it was not sung by a few. But by many. It was disgusting. These were my fellow United followers behaving like scum.
After the game, discussing it with some mates in the pub, the response was unanimous: the West Brom players had shown the racists how wrong they were by performing at another level. That was the view of Big Ron, too: reality would eventually triumph over prejudice. Never mind that the authorities did nothing, that the police stood back and let it happen, that any black player who complained was accused of having a chip on their shoulder – the truth would ensure things would ultimately change.
It is what I believed, too, even after I got set upon by a couple of fellow United supporters on the Tube coming back from Wembley after the 1979 FA Cup final, when they saw the lapel badge I was wearing which read: Reds Against Racism. Ultimately, as I picked myself off the floor of the carriage, I thought it was impossible to maintain such stupid views in the face of lived experience. The more fans saw the brilliance of players like Regis, Viv Anderson and John Barnes, the quicker such horrendous abuse would wither on the vine. And for a while it seemed it had. Once the consensus shifted, once the majority found their voice to silence such poison, it began to disappear. So much so, I remember being shocked at seeing Spain supporters doing monkey dances in the Bernabeu in 2004 every time one of the black England players touched the ball. Still, I thought, at least I could find comfort in the belief we would never see that again in England.
How wrong I was. Hate like that may no longer be vocalised, but it never went away. Unleashed by the easy anonymity of social media, there appears to be a new generation who purport to be supporters of my club now regularly engaging in the basest of racist filth. Anthony Martial, Axel Tuanzebe, Marcus Rashford – all of them have been subjected to appalling abuse sent direct to their phones. After a United defeat, it is routine for the impatient to voice their displeasure directly to individual players. Now the racists are joining in the pile-on; their pathetic emojis the online equivalent of the monkey chant. And, as was the case back in 1978, it seems there are plenty of them. At every club it has become a growing issue, the abusers apparently emboldened by believing they