Manchester United's Decline Not All Bad News for Fans

Mark Tidey@@marktideyFeatured ColumnistJanuary 8, 2014

MANCHESTER, ENGLAND - JANUARY 05:  Rio Ferdinand of Manchester United and his team-mates react after conceding the first goal during the FA Cup with Budweiser Third round match between Manchester United and Swansea City at Old Trafford on January 5, 2014 in Manchester, England.  (Photo by Alex Livesey/Getty Images)
Alex Livesey/Getty Images

Some may say it’s a grim time for Manchester United supporters.

Languishing 11 points behind Arsenal in the Premier League, out of the FA Cup at the first hurdle, a mountain to climb to progress very far in the Champions League and now a goal down after the first leg in the League Cup semi-final. How quickly things have changed since the league triumph of last season.

It would be easy to become pessimistic about their future prospects and to dwell morbidly on a season which seems unlikely to produce any silverware.

As a lifelong, much persecuted Red living in the south of England, I—perversely perhaps—take a slightly different view on proceedings.

MANCHESTER, ENGLAND - JANUARY 05:  Manchester United Manager David Moyes reacts during the FA Cup with Budweiser Third round match between Manchester United and Swansea City at Old Trafford on January 5, 2014 in Manchester, England.  (Photo by Alex Livese
Alex Livesey/Getty Images

For the past 20 or so years, United’s domestic dominance has led to fans of rival clubs continually claiming that United’s supporters follow them because of their success. At times it seemed easier and perhaps more fashionable to support a perennial struggler such as West Brom, Wigan or Sunderland.

No one hates them (apart from perhaps local rivals) and expectations from their fans are often limited to survival at the top level.

A run in one of the cups is icing on the cake and the odd victory against one of the high fliers can sustain their joy for months. Not for them agonising midweek Champions League defeats against supposedly inferior opposition.

No one will ever claim that you follow them because of their success and somehow it seems more legitimate and honourable to support a no-hoper. I am old enough to remember the time when United dropped to the old Second Division for a season in 1974.

Although they bounced back immediately, it somehow weirdly helped our street cred at the time to support a relegated club. We could rightly claim that we now supported a struggling team and we don’t only "sing when we’re winning."

During that relatively unsuccessful period, Liverpool dominated the scene in this country and were subject to the same envy-based hatred from neutral supporters that has been afforded to United in recent years.

Maybe we will begin to "feel the love" from opponents now things are beginning to take on the shape of a pear, although I won’t be putting my house on it.

Don’t get me wrong, I would swap our existing predicament with Chelsea’s or Manchester City’s in an instant. They have the strength in depth and solid league standings that David Moyes must crave.

The Etihad and Stamford Bridge have now become fortresses that rivals fear, whereas Christmas was extended at Old Trafford with points being the presents liberally distributed to visiting teams.

Everyone loves the underdog and while I am not suggesting that United have sunk to rock bottom, you wonder whether their decline will eventually soften the enmity of rival supporters—I exclude Manchester City and Liverpool supporters in particular from this supposition!

In Shakespeare’s plays and throughout Greek mythology, the further a character falls from grace, the greater appears the tragedy.

United could not have reached a loftier position in the Premier League pecking order so, by implication, have further to fall, thus magnifying the tragedy of their demise and maybe accentuating the sympathy for them within the game.

Claims from rival managers and supporters that United get favoured decisions from referees have now morphed into Moyes and his players playing the victim card by suggesting that they are getting nothing from referees.

This has resulted in claims that they have had a legitimate penalty appeal in their favour turned down against Spurs and a harsh penalty awarded to Sunderland in the League Cup semi-final. Everything seems stacked against the new manager as we enter the second half of the season.

Of course, football has a strange habit of turning things on its head and we could all be sitting here at the end of the season wondering what all the fuss was about as United lift yet another League trophy and triumph in the Champions League.

Let’s hope so, but in the mean time, let’s appreciate our time in the shadows.

Lowering expectations can have its benefits, particularly on your blood pressure. Just as long as it doesn’t last too long!