A new book penned by a Manchester United fan from Northern Ireland explores the role a local supporters’ club had in bringing together people from unionist and nationalists backgrounds during the worst years of the Troubles.
Now boasting 350 members, the Carryduff MUSC has a history unlike most other Red Devils fan bases.
Its story is told by John White, originally from the predominantly nationalist Short Strand area.
He said he became a fan of Manchester United as a young boy after the team which, included George Best, won the European Cup in 1968.
“I couldn’t understand that somebody from here had won the European Cup playing for Man Utd,” he said.
“That led on to me supporting United all through my school days – even in the second division – and getting the chance to go over and see them.”
Mr White lived in Short Strand up until he was 26 and experienced the worst of the Troubles in an area that was a regular zone of conflict. “There were no lights because all the older boys broke the lights, because if you could see in you could shoot in. That’s the way it was then,” he said.
He said his abiding memory of the Troubles was as a teenager being shot at on the way to the shop and running for his life as sparks flew around his feet.
“When I left the Short Strand I moved to Carryduff. It’s quite a mixed area,” he said.
The more neutral location led Mr White in 1991 to the idea of a club which united people from both sides of the community in their love for Manchester United.
“The Good Friday Agreement was a long way off, the Troubles were still prevalent, and it was against this backdrop that I put an ad in the paper for any Man Utd fans to attend a meeting in Maysfield Leisure Centre with a view to setting up a new supporters’ club,” he said.
“The ad said ‘calling all Man Utd fans’, it didn’t even say what the branch would be called. Carryduff is where I lived and that suited because it wasn’t like saying West Belfast or Londonderry. Carryduff is neither green not orange, it’s red – Man Utd red.
“When I stood up at that first meeting I said, ‘I don’t care what side of the fence you’re on, what foot you kick with or what your political aspirations are, so long as you’re a Man Utd fan that’s all I want to know’.”
He added: “United told me I had to get 40 people minimum to join their membership scheme. That was a big leap of faith for people to hand over money for a club that hadn’t been set up. Within two weeks we had the 40 and we got affiliated. We’ve gone from strength to strength. I don’t think there were many clubs as integrated as we were during the Troubles.
“We’ve had Sir Alex over four times, Ferdinand, Giggs, Neville, Scholes. We’ve had the three trophies over when we won the treble in 1999.”
Mr White explained how he had forged a friendship with Manchester United’s longest-serving manager.
“Sir Alex’s mother was born around Portadown. He set up the Elizabeth Hardie Ferguson Charitable Trust Fund after she died. I looked after his mum’s trust fund here. It opened up a lot of doors. Anytime we needed to do a fundraiser if Sir Alex couldn’t go he sent a player.
“We’d got one of the strongest Man Utd teams over here for Harry Gregg’s testimonial. I realised that one of the heroes of Munich had never had a testimonial 35 years after leaving the club,
“I wrote to the boss – I always called him (Sir Alex) the boss – and he put the wheels in motion.”
His highlights as a Manchester United fan were winning their first Premier League title in 1993 and 10 days in 1999 where he travelled to Manchester, London and Barcelona to watch his team win the Premier League, FA Cup and Champions League.
“I’ll never forget those 10 days as long as I live,” he said.
The book’s author has also appealed for help in identifying the location of the picture used on the front cover.
Manchester United fanatic and former Short Strand resident John White said: “Unbelievably we’ve still not been able to identify the pic on the front cover.
“I can see why the publisher chose it, it’s iconic.
“It sums up perfectly what it was like at the time in Northern Ireland.
“However we still haven’t nailed it down. Some people think it’s north Belfast, others think it’s somewhere in Derry – that’s world’s apart.”
Mr White has asked any readers who can positively name this street or the child in the photo to contact him via his Facebook page www.facebook.com/kickingthrough.
‘Kicking Through the Troubles: how Manchester United helped to heal a divided community’ is out on October 1.
Upon release it will be available in Waterstones however copies can be pre-ordered now via publisher Empire (www.empire-uk.com/kicking.html) or Amazon. The book costs £10 which includes postage and packaging.
Author John White has also written a Premier League quiz book.