This is part 2 in a several part series. For part 1, click here.
If you are picking a Premier League team to root for, Manchester will be all over your radar. And for good reason. The two Manchester teams are the most-high profile (and well-supported) in the Premier League.
But it wasn't always like this. In fact, twenty years ago, when I started following English football, it REALLY wasn't like this.
Open on: Spring, Y2K, a train from London to Lincolnshire. Your American hero (me) strikes up a conversation with a rough-around-the-edges, leather-jacket-clad, thirty-something Mancunian (from Manchester) fellow, who looked like a member of the band Oasis. He wasn't in Oasis, but Manchester City superfans Liam and Noel were.)
Back to my train ride. Despite this charming man's clear unease in being involved in a conversation with an American student (my North Face fleece gave me away), I strove to connect, armed with my limited regional knowledge.
"Whoa," I exclaimed. "You live in Manchester. You must love Manchester United!"
But no, he didn't love Manchester United, at all. He explained (with genuine passion bordering on anger) that "Manchester locals back City". Then he rattled his wallet chain at me and went to find the train car devoid of Americans. I just shrugged and went back to listening to my shock-proof cd player, slightly confused about the idea of a second Manchester soccer team.
Maybe this next story is more to the point: A British guy (in America) once explained to me (apologetically) that he grew up rooting for Man U, despite his own father actually having had played for City. 😬
This kind of thing wouldn't happen anymore. These days, deciding between the two Manchester teams as a foreigner is a real conundrum, with many of this generation's young fans choosing City to back over their traditional rivals.
But we'll get to that. First, let's talk about the most famous team in the world, Manchester United.
Nickname: Red Devils, Man U, United. Derogatory: "The Rags."
There's something you should know about Manchester United. For a certain period of time, they were the ONLY team. They were so vastly talented and consistent at WINNING that for so many years, it was hard not to like them. People compared them to the New York Yankees, but I think the numbers bear out that United is more popular than the Red Sox, Dodgers, and Yankees all put together.
American baseball comparisons actually downplay the sheer popularity of world football, so let's go for a basketball comparison here. Many of you may remember the 1990s Chicago Bulls. Similar thing. It was impossible to be a fan of basketball and NOT root for the Bulls on some level. They were so damn entertaining, graceful, and dominant. They were playing beautiful, winning basketball with transcendently talented players. That's what Manchester United was from the late 1990s to the early 2010s. (In essence, the entirety of the Alex Ferguson era). Ferguson managed the team during this dominant stretch and is acknowledged to be one of the most successful managers ever.
So basically Man U. was always kicking everybody's butt, for a long time. But then a couple of things happened:
- Fergusen retired. In terms of organizational effectiveness, this is akin to the Emperor in Star Wars retiring from the Empire— and handing things over to Admiral Piett.
- Man U started making questionable personnel decisions, opting for overpriced, big-name established players over home-grown talent (like Beckham, Scholes, Neville, and Giggs.)
- Other teams caught up talent-wise after being purchased by ultra-wealthy owners who broke the bank for great players.
- Some other things with people and things and whatnots and whozits happened, but I'm not an analyst, and you really don't care.
United is Still One of The Biggies
But to all that...so what? Despite that not-that-precipitous fall from grace, Man U retains its swagger and tradition. It's definitely one of the top 3 teams I would recommend rooting for.
Sure, they aren't the "hot" choice for a newbie American fan at the present moment.
Sure they just had their worst season in a long long time.
Sure a huge amount of the people that root for Manchester United are actually from other places, like London.
But that's ok. If you start following Manchester United, you won't be disappointed overall. Even if they do keep finishing 3rd or 4th or even 5th for the foreseeable future. They at least have the expectation of winning. And when competing for a top 4 spot every year is their idea of mediocrity, things will never be THAT bad.
American Manchester United Fans Are:
Well-informed, knowledgeable about football, and slightly cynical. If you see somebody wearing Man U. gear at the farmers market and you chase them down to talk about football, you can count on a decent conversation. Also, there are Man. U clubs and pubs everywhere, making for a nice community.
Uniform rating: 10/10 on field, 7/10 jersey only.
United has one of the best kits in the Premier League, taken as a unit. The whole red shirt/white shorts/black socks thing is so money.
However, the jersey shirt itself isn't great to wear around as a fan repping the Red Devils. It's just one of those shirts that looks way too soccery on a mere mortal, in a bad way. It was PEAK bad when Chevy was the shirt sponsor, making Man U fans look like ads for car dealerships. But luckily those days are over.
At-Home Stadium Viewing Experience: 10/10
Man U has one of the best stadiums in the Premier League, which is evident on television. While watching at home, every game seems like a big game. That's one of the reasons I get sucked into watching Man U every week even though I'm not a supporter.
Should I root for Manchester United?
You have my eternal blessing.
Nicknames: Man City, City, the Citizens, the Sky Blues. Derogatory: "The Noisy Neighbors"
We've been through this, but let's revisit. Once upon a time, Oasis and townies from Manchester were the only people who rooted for City. They were well-chronicled as the "noisy neighbors", the gritty underperforming underdog home team. But luck changes! For all intents and purposes the team won the proverbial lottery, and now The Citizens currently field the best, most innovative, most entertaining team in the League. And that run of form looks to continue for the near future.
Manchester City has Modernized Football
This team is fun to watch, and although they don't have a storied past per se, they actually do have a good & longstanding tradition of football. They are a modern team in all senses of the word, and on the pitch, they've been tactically innovative while other large clubs struggle to keep up. Current trends like the keeper obsessively playing the ball out of the back and ignoring "traditional #9" are byproducts of City's recent success.
I should mention here that Man City is one of the teams that has benefitted from a large infusion of cash from wealthy wealthy superwealthy owners. That doesn't bother me– it's the reality of modern football at the highest levels. The truth is, from a football standpoint City has used that money very very wisely, investing in the best coach in the world and building a system of players who are some of the most tactically adept and skillful in the game.
Should you root for Manchester City?
Are you going to be a casual fan? Go for it.
If you want a good fun team to root for that will be at the top of the league for the foreseeable future, Manchester City is the team for you.
If you want to watch the best players in the universe working together in perfect unison like a team of 5'8 goal-scoring assassin robots, Manchester City is the team for you.
If you like sky blue, and who doesn't, Manchester City is the team for you.
However, if you are an American looking to become a die-hard fan of English football so you can enjoy camaraderie, esprit de corps, and rooting for your team at the pub with other folks of the same ilk, Manchester City is not for you. Although the Citizens field what is arguably the best team in the world, if you want to really live that football fan life, I would go for another team. Your going to be hard-pressed to find City fans in America who are more than casual watchers.
Uniform rating 8/10
Saying this ad nauseam, sky blue is never a bad jam, go Tarheels. The only beef I really have with City's kits is that the actual designs of the shirts vary wildly from year to year with swings-and-missed like bad gradients, weird patterns, and strange fits.
At home viewing experience: 5/10
Tough for me as a foreign viewer. Watching their home games doesn't really inspire. The stadium seems modern but doesn't have the on-tv vibe of an Arsenal or even Spurs game, even though the stadiums are similarly contemporary. I suspect this has more to do with the on-tv presentation than the energy in the stadium itself, but that's what we are talking about here, isn't it?
Also, one time I was watching a game with a Manchester City season ticket holder in a soccer-friendly American pub, and he sheepishly told me his favorite place to watch a game is as an away supporter visiting Old Trafford. Mabye that sums it up.
American Manchester City Fans Are:
Under the age of 30.