Prick in your eye, thorn in your side
It’s nothing new that fans who do not support Manchester United, hate United. But the sport’s governing bodies also have a long and inglorious history of biased treatment towards the club too. The newly imposed touchline ban on manager Sir Alex Ferguson is just another example of the justice the World’s biggest club receives.
Fact is, there’s been one rule for United and one rule for everyone else for over a hundred years now.
United initially became the prick in the FA’s eyes when mustachioed winger Billy Meredith paved the way for players to earn today’s £100,000 weekly wages. Football’s first superstar chaired the PFA – football’s equivalent of a trade union – at its formation in 1907. The PFA’s first victory, won in 1923, saw the FA forced to acknowledge footballers’ right to organise.
The PFA also won important victories in the sixties; the first a court case came in 1961 when the PFA challenged the League Association, who aimed to force players already under contracts to accept wage cuts. A test case, won on appeal, pitted Henry Leddy against Chesterfield.
The maximum wage – just £20 per week – was abolished in 1963 after a campaign led by then PFA chairman Jimmy Hill. Players could not move freely between clubs when their contracts expired – incredible in hindsight – until the English ‘Retain and Transfer’ system found itself challenged by the union and ruled illegal in a 1974 High Court test case.
The succession of unfair decisions from sports governing bodies agaainst United since Meredith dared to challenge Soho Square’s power are all too regular.
Eric Cantona’s January ’95 attack on racist Crystal Palace supporter Matthew Symonds is a case in point. Sir Alex Ferguson revealed that the club’s self-imposed season-long ban on the player, deemed sufficient in private conversations with the FA, was overturned by the governing body. The FA increased The King’s ban to nine months rather than five. In contrast, Jamie Carragher received only a three match ban for throwing a coin into the crowd when the Dippers visited Highbury in the 2002 FA Cup fourth round.
Then there’s the 1999-2000 FA Cup, which United was not allowed to defend. The club, persuaded to withdraw from the competition in support of the FA’s desperate need to woo FIFA, was then left out to dry by the governing body. The FA believed that having United as standard bearers for their ability to organise a piss up in a brewery would win the body the 2006 World Cup. But Soho Square falsely claimed it was the club’s decision to withdraw from the competition, despite imploring United to play the inaugural FIFA Club World Cup in Brazil.
There are plenty of other examples.
Roy Keane, handed a five match ban and an astonishing £150,000 fine for writing a passage on the Alf Inge Haaland incident in his autobiography, for example. That Haaland played for Norway three days after Keane allegedly ”ruined his career” and that it was his other knee that forced him to hang up his boots was completely ignored. By comparrison, Alan Shearer stamped all over Neil Lennon at Leicester City’s Filbert Street just prior to the France ’98 World Cup but received no ban from the FA.
In 2002, Rio Ferdinand was daft enough to miss a mandatory drug test and received an eight month ban, whilst Mark Bosnich received a nine month ban for testing positive for cocaine. Adrian Mutu was then sentenced to a paltry seven month ban for failing a drugs test and in Italy both Jaap Stam and Edgar Davids tested positive for the performance enhancing drug nandrolone. Ex-Red Stam, initially banned for five months, and Davids who served less than four, both had sentences massively reduced on appeal.
The most infamous treatment from the sport’s governing body towards United – or any other club in history for that matter – came when UEFA offered United a ‘wild card’ to play in the European Cup after the 1958 Munich Air disaster. League Association chairman Alan Hardaker denied United the opportunity though, claiming the competition “a waste of time,” before founding the League Cup just two years later.
In fact, the Airspeed Ambassador G-ALZU containing the precious Busby Babes cargo only attempted take-off three times in the Munich snow because the aforementioned Hardaker had insisted United return to English soil at least three days before playing in the league. The players simply had to get home or forefit the game to their opponents.
As the saying goes: ‘Our history makes us strong. Their hate makes us stronger.’