Five stages of being supporting a big club in decline – for Manchester United fans

Supporting a big, successful club is a pretty damn easy way to enjoy football. Seeing your team trounce all on-comers week after week, watching the best players in world football play for and against your team, being able to brag that your side is the best at X, or holds the record for Y; it could be worse. That’s why so many people elect to support successful sides at a young age, rather than, or at least alongside, their local team.

However, being overindulged with such glory does have its drawbacks. After spending so long watching your side fly so high, it’s understandable that some fans find it hard to cope with the altitude drop.

For example, certain characters from the Arsenal and Liverpool Twitterati, two sides who have seen their teams decline in recent seasons, are some of the most deplorable individual supporters on any social media format (there’s no need to name names here, really). Some of these people are just awful, regardless of their sporting affinities; however, in some of the more football-obsessive cases their behaviour may be a result of a personal struggle to cope with their side’s underachievement. After all, they probably spent most of their lives watching their side enjoy success, so now they’re screaming like a teething toddler.

It’s a painful process, and, with David Moyes now in control at Old Trafford, one that Manchester United fans may have to experience this season. Elisabeth Kübler-Ross didn’t factor in the pain of a football fan when hypothesising her five stages of grief, but maybe she should have (she shouldn’t have):

1. Anger“WE’VE LOST AGAIN! Whose fault is it? Who can we blame? The referee? The FA? Our American owners? The Weatherman? Dave Kitson?”

After a pre-season of confidence and/or promise, your side slips to their third defeat in four games. After losing a couple of tricky away games against powerful opposition, your side hits the nadir of their season by losing an ostensibly straightforward home game. Naturally, and understandably, you are overcome by rage. This shouldn’t be happening to your club. This is something Newcastle fans go through, not you.

Don’t fret, help is at hand. Supressing this anger does no one any good. Let it out. Take to Twitter and vent. Vent your heart out.

Another method of release would be to call a football phone-in: BBC’s 606 and TalkSport are both more than happy to offer you a way to release your fury in a safer, more constructive environment, with either Adrian Durham or Ian Wright as your counsellor and confidant.

You may find the prospect of phoning one of these programmes embarrassing, but don’t worry. Football phone-ins are like dating websites – the only way someone you know can expose you is by incriminating themselves. Dial that premium-rate number and rage away.

2. Denial“He needs time, let’s be patient. It took Sir Alex Ferguson 40 years before winning a trophy with Manchester United, and this is actually the best start any new United manager has made since the Premier League began”

After throwing your lot in with this new patriarch, you find it hard to believe that he is anything else but The Chosen One. He’ll come good, won’t he? It’s a long-term project. Anakin Skywalker was “The Chosen One” too, and look how long it took him to kill off the Sith and bring balance to the force.

The concept of not challenging for the title may, at first, seem confusing to you. Having a controversial opinion has been in vogue for a number of years now, and pundits have declared your squad unfit for silverware-challenging in the past. After years of proving doubters wrong, and screaming “eff tha h8rz” at the end of every season, the prospect of actual failure seems, at best, rather far-fetched.

Coming to terms with these changes can be difficult. Even if you yourself question an action by the manager, you may well take the “He works in mysterious ways” route, disregarding your inferior opinion in comparison to his footballing omniscience. (For further reading on this subject, please refer to Liverpool fans’ staunch faith in Kenny Dalglish during the 2011/12 season.)

3. Bargaining“Maybe we could put him on gardening leave and bring Sir Alex back until the end of the season, just to steady the ship. Or maybe we could get Bayern Munich to swap Pep Guardiola for him. They would be okay with that, right?”

Whilst coming to the realisation there is indeed a problem, you may find yourself trying to concoct a cunning plan for your side to help them escape their downward spiral. You might even convince yourself that there is something you can do.

The negotiation is usually with a higher power – so, in the case of Manchester United, the Glazer family. This summer’s campaign to “Bring Ronaldo Home” was a strong example of this, with certain fans seemingly of the belief that buying replica shirts with Ronaldo’s name on the back would ensure his return to the club.

Of course, bargaining is futile. As you can see from the BringRonaldoHome campaign video, the narrator clearly believes it is within his power to make a change, despite conclusive evidence suggesting otherwise. Indeed, if you now check the domain, the page is now blank. As the transfer window slammed shut, fans finally understood that the direction of the club was completely out of their control. In dire scenarios, this often leads to…

4. Depression“We’re rubbish; we won’t win anything ever again. We won’t make the Champions League places, our best players will leave, and the club will fade into obscurity. What’s the point of even watching anymore? I hate football.”

This stage is where you understand the certainty of you club’s decline. Winning major European and league titles feels little more than a distant memory, while the future seems far, far bleaker in comparison. You may find yourself trying to ignore football altogether, focussing on other parts of your life which are, of course, equally miserable. You may even choose not to watch your side play – hey, you could do with the extra money, so working on Saturdays might be best.

5. Acceptance“The league might be beyond us, but let’s get behind the team, and hopefully we can push for a top 4 place.”

After a 2-0 home win against Hull, thanks to a couple of questionable penalty decisions, your side’s season isn’t looking quite as gloomy. Chelsea are too far in front for you to consider yourselves contenders, but you certainly won’t get relegated. Hoping for a Champions League spot is a tad optimistic, but certainly not a pipe-dream. Maybe at the end of the season your side can bring in some new players, and/or a new manager, and you’ll be back on track. This season won’t be easy, but it isn’t unrealistic to think that your team could again be quite good.

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