Terry Christian: Sing When You're Winning

“I grew up about a quarter of a mile away from Old Trafford,” gleams broadcaster, presenter, writer and life-long Manchester United fan, Terry Christian. If living outside Manchester makes you a ‘plastic‘, then Terry’s as rigid a supporter as they come.

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“Being one of six kids, three of us had to share a room,” says Terry. “We didn’t even have a wardrobe, but there was a little wooden trestle table with drawers, and that was filled with my older brother’s United programmes and little bits of memorabilia.

“Every picture on the wall was of Denis Law and the Busby Babes; his first full season at United was the 1958-59 season [the season after the Munich air disaster], so it was a very emotional time to be a part of the club.”
Under his brother’s wing, Christian first ventured to reserve games - an arena for both young-pretenders and seasoned pros.

“My brother used to take me when I was four or five years old,” he recalls. “We had the likes of Carlo Sartori in the reserves, Johnny Aston coming back from a broken leg and Brian Kidd trying to get fit. Jimmy Rimmer was always in net, ended up playing for Aston Villa didn’t he?

“Reserve team football isn’t really the same anymore; it used to be a great place for younger players to step-up and play with and against seasoned professionals. As a result, the central leagues were very competitive and of a great enough standard that youngsters could step up to the first-team with minimal fuss. Nowadays the reserves are just a glorified youth-side, and the gap between them and the proper side is huge.”

Despite the club now being synonymous with success, Manchester United regularly struggled during Terry’s first 10 years at Old Trafford; a period which saw one solitary FA Cup and relegation from the First Division. “My first full-season at Old Trafford was the 1969-70 season and it was the beginning of an era where football became very defensive. None of the really attacking sides like ourselves, City, Ipswich Town, Tottenham or QPR won the league in that period – that’s just the way it was. It was a very different time, where teams would pay striker-type money for defenders.”

While the support of most United fans, particularly those further afield, is dismissed merely as a love for trophies and success, it is clear that Terry Christian’s love of the club was enhanced by the team’s expansive attitude.

“I can remember the crowd at Old Trafford, when Ron Atkninson was manager, booing if there were more than three passes between the back-four. Tommy Docherty’s Man Utd side of the 70s were breathtaking – it was completely gung-ho. Almost suicidal!

“I get bored of all this talk of out-of-towners at United; we had a fan-club of 15,000 in London and that was in 1967. That’s nothing new.  I remember when we were in Division Two, we had kids at United running around in those horrible red acrylic jumpers with ‘Manchester United Walsall Supporters Association’ written across them. When you’ve played the kind of football that United always have then that will attract people and there will always be that glamour about the club.”

Talk moves on to United's rivals Manchester City, their renaissance on and off the pitch, and a much anticipated title charge next season. The subject brings about a change in tone from Terry, but more out of nostalgia than worry.

“My younger brother’s a City fan, and I think they were very unlucky not to win league in the 1976-77 season when they finished runners-up to Liverpool. City were big when I was growing up, and it was only really when John Bond took over that they lost their way. He was a mid-table manager at a top eight side and it was never going to work out. Sure they’ll have big plans next year, but it cost them £350 mi�llion to win a trophy worth £2 million!

“It’s funny, the first game my dad ever took me to was City in the quarter final of the League Cup, where City beat QPR 3-0! In fact, it was the only game he ever took me to. The thing about City, no matter how well they do, they’ll never get the crowds. The irony is City’s ground Eastlands – sorry, Wastelands – is in an area that is about 90% red. You couldn’t pick a more United area!”

This weekend sees Manchester United face Spanish giants Barcelona in the Champions League Final at Wembley (where both sides recorded their first of three European Cup successes). Now with MUTV, and working for Radio Five Live for this weekend’s showpiece event, Terry sees no reason why United cannot triumph at the end of a surprisingly successful domestic campaign.

“We’re a team in transition this season,” says Terry. “I’ll be honest, I didn’t fancy us - I thought Chelsea would win the league by 15 clear points. To be honest with you, if you look at the top four this year, if Alex Ferguson had managed any of them then they’d have won the league.

“We were wobbly to start with but I think it just goes to show that the other teams weren’t up for it. Our team spirit is really something special this year; there was a grit and determination this season. Of course Barcelona are favourites, but I just hope we give a better account of ourselves than last time. I look at Barca and think the only way we can beat them is to play four players in their half and give them a lot to think about.

“That being said, that Messi isn’t bad, is he? I get nervous at the sight of him…”

Terry Christian is backing a campaign to get a new unofficial Manchester United iPhone Application to get to No.1 in the iTunes App charts for the weekend of the Champions League Final. Check out the promotional video here and visit Terry's official website here.

Interview: Vithushan Ehantharajah, May 2011