The Agony and the Ecstasy
A toast to the Manyoos. The seedy, hilarious, and wildly entertaining underbelly of support that props up the world's greatest football club
A toast to the Manyoos. The seedy, hilarious, and wildly entertaining underbelly of support that props up the world’s greatest football club
Football is the biggest sport in the world. In 2010, 3.2 billion people watched the World Cup. It was broadcast in every single country & region on Earth, including Antarctica, the Arctic Circle and Gurgaon. That’s thrice the number of people that watched the T20 world cup, and 3.2 billion times the number of people that watched Himmatwala.
For more perspective, Pune Warriors India’s owners poured roughly $310 mn (player-purchases included) into a black hole so vast that astronomers attend games just to learn the secrets of the universe from it. But that figure wilts in comparison to the $2 billion that Roman Abramovich has spent on Chelsea, who are currently at LOLth position in the English Premier League. On second thoughts, football isn’t the biggest sport in the world, it’s the biggest thing in it.
Like all sport, football has its own little charms and rituals that pad out the myth. For example, each club gets a slogan, like ‘You’ll never walk alone’(Liverpool), ‘Victoria Concordia Crescit’ (Arsenal), and ‘Winter is Coming’ (House Stark). And then there’s the pre-game ritual where captains exchange team pennants as a gesture of good faith. Unless India and Pakistan are playing, in which case we use prisoners instead.
And then there is that greatest of charms: the football fan. Loyal to the point of slavishness, with a penchant for arcane statistics that borders on the theological, and vocal chords per manently set to (Arnab x Manish Tewari)2. Which brings us to the mutant gene in this DNA pattern, the Manchester United fan.
The United fan is as distinctive as a malodorous skunk, and often just as reviled. That’s not an insult, it’s a fact. Full-disclosure: I’m one, a fan, not a skunk; unless you make me go outside on a summer day. As a United fan, you’re the scourge of purists. The assumption is that you knew the brand (football’s biggest, along with Real Madrid, and Jose Mourinho’s ego) before you knew the game. In the 10-point Bluffer’s Guide to Football, United straddles the first 9 spots, and whoever won the World Cup last occupies the 10th. In 11th place is Liverpool, because aukaat.
The Manyoo (cue NatGeo voice) is a curious creature. He’s sucked into the game’s orbit one night when all his footy-literate friends are discussing the season and he’s sitting silent in a corner, until he’s as irrelevant as a fact in Indian politics. Unable to take it anymore, the creature is sighted at last, using his distinctive mating call to boldly assert that “Manyoo will take it but bro.” When you break it to him that you’re talking about the Bundesliga, he retreats with a trite “Oh. Yes. Bundesliga. But personally, I prefer mishti doi.”
I submit to you though, that the Manyoo is no more or less annoying than any anorak who knows every statistic, who splits hairs over pedantic details, who is convinced that he knows more about team strategy than Pep Guardiola, and then spends all 94 minutes of the game ruining my evening by outlining his vision for a utopian future where he’d use his imaginary millions to buy players with entirely too many consonants in their name (does ANYONE need that many z’s in a name, Blaszczykowski? Anyone at all?), and lead his club to glory they’ll eulogize in song (composed by Pritam, stolen from Goal.com)
But if you want to diss the might of the Manyoo, do it at your own risk. His fandom may seem frivolous, but it has as much impact as your religious fervour. Consider this week, when after 27 years at the helm, Sir Alex Ferguson announced that he was stepping down as United’s manager to be chief minister of Karnataka. (One-minute silence for all the ignorant people who read that sentence and thought “Christian-sounding fellow. Typical community appeasement politics this Congress plays”)
Within 24 hours of his retirement, Sir Alex was mentioned 6 million times on Twitter, almost as much as the new Pope (still not on Jellybean) on the day of his appointment. As one of the game’s most charismatic managers, that was to be expected, but the Manyoos had as much to do with it as anybody else.
But in typical Manyoo fashion, some went overboard with the gaudy excess usually reserved for Yashraj movies. One outlet compared United and Ferguson to Apple and Steve Jobs, thus taking a steaming dump on the Busby Babes and the rest of the club’s pre-Fergie legacy. The comparison is also false because while its products are undoubtedly beautiful, Apple has still never produced anything as glorious as the Treble in ’99.
The dark side of the Manyoo caricature is the assumption, on the part of others, that they are the only sort of fans United has: glory-hunters, placing a safe bet on a port in a storm they don’t fully comprehend. Sorry, but for every one of them is one of us, the ones who came into the Red fold on the path of light, by watching slack-jawed at age nine, as gods like Cantona, Keane, Solskjaer and Schmeichel tore apart and re-forged an entire league in their image. The Manyoos can keep the glory. Some of us prefer the story.
Rohan Joshi is a writer and stand-up comedian who likes reading, films and people who do not use the SMS lingo. You can also contact him on facebook.com/therohanjoshi