Friday, November 05, 1999
MU supporters for all seasons
By Quah Seng Sun
Let's face it; whether you like it or not, there are only two groups of people in this world. Either you are a fan of Manchester United, or you are not.
For me, the choice is simple. Through thick and thin, regardless of the results on the field, I am a fan of the world's most famous football club.
I have been one since 1968. That was the year when they .... wait a second, I mean WE .... won the European Cup, beating Benfica of Portugal in the finals at Wembley Stadium, London.
We? To a diehard Manchester United fan, the team is always referred to in the first person plural. It is always "we won" or "we lost", never "they won" or "they lost". That is how possessive we are about the Manchester United name.
In Malaysia, fans of Manchester United, or the Red Devils as we are commonly referred to, are united through the Manchester United Supporters' Club.
From the ordinary man-in-the street to prominent business figures, senior government officials and even a former cabinet minister, they are the people who make up the members of the club.
Membership currently stands at about 6,000 with about 10 per cent estimated to be from Penang and the other northern states. This figure only reflects the official, registered supporters. What about the non-members who are also Red Devils fans?
The supporters' club was formed mainly through the efforts of one man, Laurence How, 51, whose passion for the Red Devils began in 1965 during his student days.
How ... the man
responsible for setting up
In 1974, he painted his car in the colours of Manchester United and decorated it with drawings of red devils on the doors and rooftop.
Talk about making a statement!
A photograph of this bedevilled Mini even made it to the Manchester Evening News, a British newspaper.
The supporters' club was launched officially in April 1993 after more than a year of waiting for approval from the Manchester United membership office at Old Trafford.
The first clubhouse was set up in Petaling Jaya's Section 14 but it was later relocated to a bigger place in SS2.
More recently, the clubhouse expanded to two floors.
The upper floor, dubbed as the Chamber of Dreams, was opened by British High Commissioner Graham Fry on Oct 10.
There are rooms dedicated to us winning the Champions League and also to United legends like Eric Cantona.
The clubhouse is air-conditioned and equipped with the latest audio-visual systems. On match days, whenever a United game is telecast live over Astro, a full-house is guaranteed regardless of the time the game kicks off.
There is an extensive library comprising books and hard-to-find imported magazines about our team.
Some of the magazines are collector's items and the earliest reading material in the library dated as far back as the 1950s.
Anything and everything about United can be obtained here.
Small wonder then that students and journalists are known to use the library as a resource centre!
Besides reading material, the clubhouse also has a big collection of video tapes that are screened regularly for the members.
The club publishes a regular newsletter highlighting its various activities and recording the adventures and sometimes misadventures of members during their trips abroad in quest of the Red Devils.
Trips to Old Trafford in Manchester are organised annually, normally at the end of a season.
For many members, it is the chance of a lifetime to watch our team play in the United stadium, nicknamed Theatre of Dreams.
The training ground is called The Cliff and often, the club also arranges for members to meet the players.
A tour of the merchandising megastore at Old Trafford is also a must, if not for anything else but to pick up some momentoes of the visit.
However, this does not mean that only the lucky few who visit Manchester get to buy momentoes. Merchandising is also an important side activity of the local supporters' club.
Some of the items which How and his staff bring back regularly from Old Trafford are original football jerseys, T-shirts, scarves, ties, caps, trading cards, audio compact discs, flags and buntings, bags, pouches, watches and mugs.
"These are genuine United merchandise," claims How. "My staff and I bring them back personally whenever we go to Old Trafford. Our prices are affordable, unlike what you will need to pay through mail order from England."
"We know there are many imitation goods in circulation, but we will never sell them. We want our members to stand tall using real Manchester United products," he said.
"These items are available from the clubhouse and also our two outposts (or branch offices) at the Central Market Annex in Kuala Lumpur and the Amcorp Mall in Petaling Jaya."
To cater to the needs of outstation members, the supporters' club organises regular trips to Ipoh and Penang like when "we won the European Champions League in May when we went north to celebrate with members."
"However, our subsequent visit in September was a washout because most of the island was flooded," he said.
[The Manchester United Supporters' Club is located at 47-A Jalan SS2/75, 47300 Petaling Jaya.
It is open from 3pm to 7pm on Tuesdays to Thursdays, from 11am to 7pm on Fridays, and 11am to 5pm on Saturdays and Sundays. For details call 03-78773070 and 03-78775339.]
Quah Seng Sun can be contacted at email@example.com
Club gets a 'treasured' letter
One of the most valued letters ever received by Laurence How was one postmarked from London last year.
It was from a Mrs Mary Francis with the rather unassuming designation of an assistant private secretary.
The letter reads: "I would like to thank you and the members of the Malaysian Branch of the Manchester United Supporters' Club for your kind help in making the visit by Her Majesty Queen elizabeth II and His Royal Highness The Duke Of Edinburgh to the Suria KLCC on 22nd September such an enjoyable and memorable occasion.
"I know that Her Majesty and His Royal Highness very much enjoyed meeting you and the other supporters and were delighted by the warm welcome that they received. Please pass on my thanks and best wishes to all concerned."
The letter from Buckingham Palace was a milestone in the short existence of the supporters' club.
VIP TOUCH ... Queen Elizabeth II autographed a football for the supporters' club during her visit to Suria KLCC. With her are How (left) and Sir Bobby (right)
The club basked in 15 minutes of fame when it was given clearance to meet the visiting royalty at the world's tallest building in conjunction with the 16th Commonwealth Games, in September last year,
To mark the occasion, the queen and the duke signed two footballs for the club.
"It was the first and only time that the Queen had gone anywhere near a football. We have been very lucky. I don't believe there will ever be any other occasion for her to do the same again," said How.
To know more about the excitement of meeting the queen, visit http://www.geocities.com/Colosseum/Lodge/9754 for details.
Apart from British royalty, the club also has had its share of visits from past and present Manchester United celebrities.
Sir Bobby Charlton, one of the heroes from the team which won the then European Cup in the 1967/68 season, visited the clubhouse several times, the latest being just some weeks ago.
Manchester United chief executive Martin Edwards and the whole United team also met with supporters when they visited Malaysia in 1995.
Separately, Eric Cantona and the legendary George Best have also visited the clubhouse.
United in their love for Red Devils
You do not find many 15-year-olds who can tell you that they have met their favourite football heroes face to face.
Rueben Clarke is one of them, and he is the envy of his schoolmates at the St Xavier's Institution.
He has been to the Theatre Of Dreams to watch the Red Devils play and The Cliff to watch them train.
ON HOME GROUND ... Rueben with manchester United defender Gary Neville at The Cliff, the club's training ground
Among the footballers he met were Ole Gunnar (Baby-faced Asassin) Solskjaer, Gary Neville, David (Mr Posh Spice) Beckham and Raimond Van Der Gouw.
There were many more, whose names Rueben would be more than keen to rattle off.
Rueben, elder sister Candice, mother Chooi Ean and father Philip joined the supporters' club to watch Manchester United play Borussia Dortmund of Germany in the semi-finals of the Champions League in April 1997.
The Red Devils went down that day by a solitary goal and although Rueben was disappointed that his team lost, he was still glad for the opportunity to see them play.
"My family is football crazy and we support no other team except the Red Devils. I was very happy that we finally won the Champions League this year," he said.
Rueben has been a big fan since 1995 when his father joined the supporters' club in Petaling Jaya.
"I went to see Laurence How at the clubhouse and immediately signed up my whole family. I have been a Red Devils' supporter for the past 37 years and to find a place where local supporters could get together is really wonderful," said Philip.
In the early days, he used to frequent second-hand bookstores in Tek Soon Street to pick up football magazines that were discarded by the British and Australian servicemen.
Another local United fan who managed to meet his idols is Andrew Chee, a fan for the last 15 years.
"The football team was touring Australia in July," said Andrew, 29, a graphics designer in Penang "and I joined a group of local supporters for a trip to Sydney to watch the game.
"Although it was quite boring and Manchester United beat the Australian selection by a 1-0 score, it was thrilling to be part of the occasion.
UNITED FANS ... Andrew (centre) with other supporters who travelled to watch their favourite team's match against the Australian selection at Sydney's Olympic Stadium
"When we left the Sydney Olympic Stadium after the game, we met a group of Australian fans in the train. There was fun, laughter and singing all the way - the different nationalities sharing a similar bond -love of the Red Devils," Andrew said.
Andrew's ambition is to visit Old Trafford itself.
"Old Trafford is the heart of Manchester United. I hope to be there with the club next year," he said, adding that his mother is also a fan and would join him to watch the team play irrespective of the hour of the day.
Meanwhile, it was evident to regular diners at the Halim Nasi Dalca stall at the Komtar Food Court that the proprietor is a die-hard Red Devils fan.
Indeed, very few people in Penang can claim to be as fanatical as 37-year-old Abdul Halim Mohamed.
As proof of his devotion, one of the rooms in his house in Bandar Baru Air Itam is dedicated to United.
It is painted in red, white and black - the colours of the club.
Mementos of every kind hang on the four walls of the room. Pride of place goes to a flag bearing the countenance of "King" Eric Cantona.
You will be hard put to find an empty place on the walls. If there is no poster, then there are the picture frames and football jerseys (Manchester United, of course) adorning the room. One of them shows Halim posing with one of his heroes, Steve Bruce.
DIE-HARD SUPPORTER ... Halim, who has a room dedicated to the Red Devils, with his prized collection
An oddity is an ordinary white T-shirt on display in the room. It seems out of place among the other Manchester United paraphernalia but turn the T-shirt over and there are the autographs of some eight or nine United players.
"It has not been washed since October 1993," Halim proclaimed proudly. He was wearing it when visiting Old Trafford that year with a group of Malaysian fans.
"I panicked when we were taken to meet the players. I wanted their autographs badly but had no writing material with me. So, I asked them to sign on the back of the T-shirt I was wearing," he said.
Halim's love affair with the Red Devils began in 1976 when he watched Manchester United lose 0-1 to Southampton in the English FA Cup final. He began collecting Shoot magazines just to read about English football and his favourite team.
"At that time, the cost of the magazine was only worth 90 cents. Now, it is more than RM7 per issue," he said, recalling that when he was 18, he travelled to Kuala Lumpur just to watch the visiting Manchester United team play a friendly game with Selangor.
By 1993, Halim discovered the Manchester United Supporters' Club in Petaling Jaya and realised his dream of visiting Old Trafford for the Red Devils' game against Tottenham Hotspurs.
"It was the trip of a lifetime, very exciting," said Halim. "Not only did I meet the players and see them beat Spurs 2-1, we were even mentioned in the Manchester Evening News and on Granada TV."
Today, Halim makes it a point to watch every Manchester United game on Astro with his wife and five children - all supporters of daddy's favourite team.