THERE was a time when the only accent you were likely hear on the terraces of the famous Stretford End at Old Trafford were purely Lancastrian Mancunian.
But these days you are just as likely to find a grandfather from Silverhill sitting next to a businessman from Hong Kong.
The huge draw of one of the world’s most successful clubs now extends to the shores of East Sussex.
In the late 1980s in the days when United were an average mid table side, a group of friends decided to form the Hastings branch of the Manchester United Supporter Club. It was 1989, Sir Alex Ferguson was still in the early stages of his red revolution when the branch was born. And if they had missed out on the Holy Trinity days of Best, Law and Charlton, they were on board in time to enjoy the most successful period of the club’s history.
And with two European Cups, 13 Premier League titles and five FA Cup wins to enjoy the branch has steadily grown in size. It now boasts 260 members based across 1066 Country. It receives an allocation of 28 tickets for each home game. The branch has also bought 30 season tickets. Other members of the branch have their own season tickets so most games the 70 seater coach is full.
Some fans have been supporting United since the 1950s. Tony Linscey, aged 72, from Silverhill, said: “I’ve been supporting United for 62 years. I went to school in Manchester. I’ve got all the sports packages on the TV but I still prefer the atmosphere and the buzz of seeing United play. Everyone gets on with each other and I get to see old friends once a fortnight. Sometimes I take my grandchildren with me. It’s a great day out.”
Steve Whitelaw, 57, from St Leonards, works as the usher on the coach. He said: “I’ve been following United since the mid 1960s.
“I am a regular now going to the matches. I go to the football because I get to know people and make lots of friends. “
Tim Martin was one of the founder members of the branch. He first started supporting United aged five. He claims his Uncle tried to take him to Arsenal but he refused. “I was only interested in United, “ he said. “I knew about Charlton from the 1966 World Cup and was in awe of him. He’d gone by the time I first went to Old Trafford aged 14. We used to travel up in an old van with mattresses in the back. There was no M25 then but there was far less cars on the road so it took about the same time as today’s coach. We used to go up almost every home game. It was just fantastic for a teenager.” Tim says the the game has changed beyond recognition since the halcyon days of the 1970s.
With the terraces gone and being unable to drink and smoke on coaches, the trips to Old Trafford have become much more of a family affair. “ And the advent of satellite TV and wall to wall football coverage has also had a knock on effect.
“One of the reasons why I struggle sometimes to fill some coaches is that most of the games are on television. There’s hardly been any United games that have not been televised this season. West Brom at home was the only one that’s not been televised live. It’s hard to encourage people to go when they know they can sit in a pub and watch it. The tickets costs are not too bad.
“We bought some cheap front row seats which cost £30 a game. When you consider the cost of the coach is costing £1,000 each trip. You’ve got to have quite a few people on the coach. You need it to be three quarters full. The games we struggle with is like Norwich in the Carling Cup on Tuesday. Only a dozen will want to go to that so it’s not economical. The support has changed, when we first started I went on the coach. I go up on the train the night before now quite often with my wife and kids and stay overnight.
“We used to have smoking and you could get a drink on the coach. It used to be a lad’s day out. But it’s gradually become more of a family day out now. The police can turn the coach around if they find any drink on board. It’s got harder over the years to sell it purely because of the TV. You know that we can watch the Man Utd games on a foreign satellite channel with a beer in the comfort of a cosy warm pub in Hastings. We still get people who live down here who don’t know we exist. We sometimes get called glory hunters but we spend lots of time and money going to these games. We’re not armychair supporters who sit in pubs cheering on their teams on the TV. I also support Hastings United and sponsor the club. I go and watch them when there’s no United game and of course I want them to do just as well.
“It is hard work running the branch but it’s a labour of love. We’re like one big family now and part of the biggest sprorting family in the world. And Hastings, like many other towns across the country, is playing its part in this amazing success story.”