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Wednesday, April 19, 2006

Karma Karma Karma United Road

Flick back to the centre-spread you've just passed and look on the faces of the kids in the crowd. What do you notice?
That they are standing? Possibly. Their emotion (or hatred) preceeding a big game against the old enemy? Or, as I do, that they are just that, kids, alone, care-free and wanting to get as close to the action (not the pitch but the barrage of hostility from Mancs and Scousers going back and forth towards each other) as they can.

If the abolition of terracing was the one damning change above all others in our culture which led to the sanitised spectacle we now witness, its consequences caused much that is wrong with the game. Gone were kids being able to leave their dads at the turnstiles as the old man headed to the seats and the son to the 'action' of United Road, but gone too was the chance of pure spontaneity on the part of young Reds' decision making process - not just in whether to go to a game and pay on the day, but where to stand in the ground, where to 'mix it'.

Of course time romanticises memories and United Road could be a dull and boring place when half full or an angry, immature spectacle when calling for Fergie's head and singing 'Bryan Robson's Red & White Army', but though many more saw the Stretford End as their home, United Road for developing kids was a rites of passage. For many people, their formative years on it were crucial to their United development. It was their 'patch'.

It is nothing short of tragic that kids can't attend games at Old Trafford like they used to, and I would welcome a move from the club when the new quadrants open where even a small number of seats were pay on the gate; for young and older Reds. Yes there are a few hundred kid seats away from the family stand but as in the United Road, though they like to stand together with their mates, they also want to be close enough to the older, harder lads so they can act big and hard and boast about it in school all week. They don't want to be lumped in all together.

If some fans have deserted Old Trafford, and attendances do decline, then the good thing will be that the club will hopefully have no choice but to open the gates, literally, and allow anyone in. In allowing anyone, not just those with a bank balance, a credit card, or a dad willing to help out, maybe our mix of support will flourish as it once did. Old Trafford needs new faces in it. And not the face painted tourists we've got. There are a few kids about now, but look at the photo again and it's nothing like it was in those days. Old Trafford is an old place at the moment.

Of course 'Karma, Karma, Karma, Karma, Karmaaaaaa United Road' became an United anthem, but gone were the days, by the time it was sung there, when away or home fans really would just get up over the fences and steam into their rivals' end, so much of it was of course bravado. But it is sung to this day because it is a loud and vocal reminder of a legendary end at Old Trafford. Brash, young and up for it. Fashion mistakes took place, as is the right of any youngster, but would any of us have had it any other way?Altogether now: 'KAAAAARRRMMMMMAAAAAAA...'

ChorltonWheelie remembers: "I always wanted to be with the visible mentalists, and there was only one place for it...United Rd. When I got too big for my boots I went with the cool/hard lads in K-stand (no tittering) but half way through the game ran and dropped down into United Road because it always looked like the best FUN. Never stopped singing, never stopped goading (or worse) the away fans. My first ground ejection took place in United Road for what the german called: "Being a dick". Thank God we grow up but United Road (Scoreboard End) was and always will be an unforgettable part of that. "The Stretford End’s a Playground!"

Another reader recalls: "I've only ever been locked out of a football ground once. Been close a few times, but always managed to get in before they shut the gates. The exception happened in 1971 (2 October to be precise), when United had got off to a flying start, and were playing the equally high-flying Sheffield United. For some reason I'd chosen to join a long queue to get in the United Road Paddock (there were no concessions in that part of the ground, and I don't know why I queued there). For an hour or more I seemed to stand still in the street outside the turnstiles, going nowhere, and facing the inevitable lock-out. Had it been any other occasion I'd have let it pass long ago, but on this day George Best scored 'that' beautiful goal at the Scoreboard End, running across the Sheffield defence to the right, and whipping the ball home, before closing his eyes and relishing the moment that is replayed on TV every time Best's genius is depicted. As the ball hit the net I was back at the house, having walked home. Match of the Day showed me what I'd missed. And I've been reminded of it ever since."

salfordmg 1177 wrote: "As the years have gone by, my memory isn't quite as sharp as some but I do remember that my Dad had taken me to my first game (when I was aged 8) there in 1967 vs West Ham when the Holy Trinity scored and boy was I hooked. I don't recall too much of the occasion but I do the excitement of attending a game to see the Red heroes my dad had so often talked about and the noise of the crowd. And I couldn't wait to go again. I do recall going to my first European home game vs Gornik in 1968. I had a proper football rattle and my dad had brought along a little box that I could stand on as we positioned ourselves against one of the barriers as we stood half way between the Scoreboard End and the half way line. Again I was mesmerised by the whole set up - the noise, the floodlights, the pitch, the players (my favourite Georgie Best who in my mind scored that night, although I think it was credited as an own goal). Everything seemed so vivid. I was on a high for ages. For the next couple of years I only got to go a few times before becoming a regular. They were good times, I still get a buzz 4 walking down the Warwick Road, and used to get in the ground anywhere we could. I've probably stood/sat in all parts of the ground at some point, even going "posh" in the wooden Cantilever seats. The Scoreboard Paddock was another favourite until we acquired 2 LMTB seats in the new K stand in 1972. But United Road will always have a special place in my heart.”

Another reader told us: “I went to games with dad in '72 and '73 and in '74 made that big jump to going alone. Saw a couple in the Scoreboard End and on Feb 9th 1974, made my United Road debut against Leeds. The sheep won the league that year and it was the first 60,000 crowd I had been in. 60,025 to be exact.

I was only a nipper of 10 and must have been about 4 foot tall. So I got in early (it was pay on the gate) and went to the front. The ground kept filling up and I looked at the mass of people, scarves and butcher coats in the Stretford End and wondered when I'd be big enough to go in there. My mam and dad let me go to the game but the Stret was not OK. We lost 2-0 to the scum that day but what I'll always remember is being so small among all these big people.
I made my way to the front, directly in front of the left tunnel (nearest the Scoreboard) to sit behind the advertising hoardings. OT was so full that day that I ended up on the pitch, behind the said hoardings. Half time comes round and no chance of getting through the mass of people to the bog. So I took it out and pissed on the pitch, as did all the wee nippers near me. Was quite a funny sight and one which, today, would be unthinkable.

Spent all of the 2nd division in United Road and the first few years back up in the late 70s - great years of entertaining football watching Martin Buchan, Stevie Coppell, Gordon Hill, the Greenhoffs, Ashley Grimes and the rest of the Doc's Red Army. The United Road wasn't truly barmy in those days - that would have been the Scoreboard End. I never became a regular in the Stret - eventually made my way to the Scoreboard Paddock in the 80s but the United Road was where United became seared to my soul and it will always have a special place in my heart.”


My first venture in United Road wasn’t a happy one. It was the 17th December 1977 and although thrilled at going to watch United play I like any other seven year old kid wanted to be in the Stretford End with the noise, colour and fervour it possessed them days. Sadly the Stretford End was full and the turnstiles locked so my Dad took us into the United Road paddock. I was further disappointed as a very good Forest team hammered us four nil and of course went to win the championship.

Although I considered myself a Stretford End left sider my shock transfer to United Road came about because of boredom in truth. The Stretford End undoubtedly was glorious in the sixties and seventies but by the early eighties it had become a little bit tame and mellow by the standards it had set from the previous two decades.

On November 27th 1992 Eric Cantona joined United from Leeds. Ten years earlier to the day United played Norwich City at Old Trafford in front of just under 35,000 fans. Half way through the game I walked around the front of the Stretford End towards where the corner flag was. There was a big fence separating the Stretford End to United Road Paddock but all the jibbers of that era claimed if you weren’t too fat you could squeeze through a gap at the bottom of the fence. Believe it or not I wasn’t actually that fat in those days and I managed to negotiate the gap, although I admit it was tight and I only just got through.

I made my way straight along the stand until I was in the last pen, which was of course as close as you could get to visiting supporters. On looking up this fixture I noted we won three nil but quite honestly I don’t remember one thing about the actual game. All I remember was the banter and abuse of visiting fans from the Reds in United Road. I was now hooked and although there was no child concessions in United Road I paid £2.80 every game instead of £1.10 in the Stretford End and didn’t mind one bit. I stayed a regular in United Road until they put seats in there and felt a real tinge of sadness when the terraces there went. I actually sit at Old Trafford now in what was the last pen near visiting fans all those years ago and although the ground is totally unrecognisable I still have flashbacks to those enjoyable days and the characters around.
Every set of away fans was abused in various ways. Attractive women were wolf whistled at before: “Get your tits out for the lads” was aired. If they waved they were cruelly serenaded with: “She’s a slag, she’s a slag etc”. A big chorus of “Billy Bunter, Billy, Billy Bunter” for the fat fans and of course we had the legendary copper Smiley. One game as the police were walking around the front of the pitch somebody noticed one of the coppers grinning like a Cheshire cat. “Smiley, Smiley give us a wave”. To our surprise he duly obliged. Every home game for at least a couple of seasons we sang the song and he would wave with a big grin on his face. The other coppers must have been jealous as fuck. If one of the away fans was cheeky we would adapt the song: “Smiley, Smiley sort ‘em out” and he often did.

Once some visiting fans sang, “Where’s your famous Stretford End?”. We didn’t care and launched into lots of United Road songs. “Karma, Karma” being the most well known one but believe me there was others. Indeed we used to sing “Scoreboard” then “K Stand” then “Paddock” give us a song. Then we sang “Stretford, Stretford, Fuck of home”. The Stretford End had had its day, we were the boys now, well we thought so anyway.

Just after the infamous ICF hooligan documentary was aired on TV we played West Ham at Old Trafford. We spotted several faces in their end and launched into: “We saw you run on the tele”. Oh such memories. We would often mock people for ridiculous reasons like, err, soap operas. Yes, we hate Brookside as it’s Scousers and Crossroads if we played a team from the West Midlands. The best one was probably “He shot, he cum, all over Angies bum, Dirty Den, Dirty Den”. Genius and not even one of mine!
Being in United Road did however see a young me first start a song off. Not my own just one of the established songs of the day. I have always looked older than my years so when a 13-year-old Boyle bawled out “Pride of all Europe”, I actually probably looked about 18. Whenever we played a team from somewhere further than an hour away and we went ahead, there was a rush to see who could break into: “All this way for nothing” first. Once it was me and guess what? Nobody joined in. Now that may have emotionally scarred many a person but clearly in my case it just made me even more determined to get fans singing.

People go on about being too young to witness the punk era or the Stretford End or even the Madchester era but really I feel for any young Reds that never witnessed the United Road Paddock during the eighties. We’ve had some good banter between J & K stand in recent years but nothing will come close to those days in United Road.
Pete Boyle

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