The Psychology of a United Fan: The Loss of a Loved One

For those United fans of a similar age to myself (late 20s), we have been spoiled. Like an only child used to getting their own way, we’ve pretty much had rule of the Premier League roost for the last 20 years.

We have had a father figure in Sir Alex who has pretty much serviced our footballing needs to a tee; a father who has nurtured the club and its fans with security, warmth, respect and, above all, love. We have, in all respects, developed an incredibly secure attachment to our adoptive Glaswegian father. So, what happens when you lose such a figure in your life? You suffer a bereavement.

As United fans, it could be argued we are progressing through the five stages of grief/bereavement as described by Kübler-Ross: Denial, Anger, Bargaining, Depression and Acceptance.

Here are just a few examples of how the stages may manifest:

Denial: Nah, he can’t be leaving. It’s all a joke, it’s just another fantastic Fergie mind game?!

Anger: That bastard! How could he leave us? We’ve just won the league! I bet it’s those fucking Glazers who have pushed him! 

Bargaining: I’ll drop United an email, that way he might stay. Maybe if the Glazers gave him more money to play with in the transfer market. Maybe if we picket his house. Maybe if we didn’t sing over his 2008/09 end of season speech asking to sign up a certain Argentinian troll.

Depression: It’s a little hard to explain this one as I’m still going through it. I feel like a vital organ of the club has been removed. Not its heart, as I believe that’s the fans – the spirit and ethos of the club – and that’s what continually beats to keep us going. The lungs? The stomach? The liver? For me, it’s probably the brain; right now, it sort of feels like we’re stumbling round the Premier League like shells of our former selves. As for the depression, I keep finding myself demonstrating certain symptoms, such as avoidance (not watching MOTD much due to losses and poor performance), irritability (self-explanatory), numbness, and staying in bed all day. The last two are also associated with heavy alcohol or drug use, which usually indicate unstable mental health… I guess it’s a vicious circle: chicken, egg, ketamine… You get the point.

Acceptance (?): I’m not sure about this one yet. The problem is, as soon as we lost our proper dad, we had a step-dad come right on in and try to arrange the house in his style, hanging up his own pictures (Steve Round) and some he thinks we might like (Phil Neville) in an attempt to placate us. A mediocre version of our father who quotes the classic “I’m not your dad little buddy, but I’m going to try really hard to get along and do my best for you.” It’s just not the same, is it? He promised loads of quality presents but just ends up giving us a plank with an afro. He failed at taking us to the fair (FA Cup) and we’ve been taken to see some shitty films at the cinema (League Cup), the last of which was a complete fail, but may be one of those better-the-second-time-round types. Let’s not even talk about the league at the moment – I’m going through a separate set of 5 stages about that.

It’s not that Mr. Moyes is a bad guy; he says the right things, understands the mantra of the club and tries to appease its millions of children. However, for whatever reason; he’s just not got it right yet. When we look around the playground, the other big kids’ dads seem much better. But we have to give it time. It’s not comfortable, and at points it’s plain unpleasant, but this is what we’ve got and we have to deal with it. Look at the poor kids… at least we’re not trapped in the continually broken home of Sunderland or stuck with Big Sam Allardyce as our new dad.

All in all, it’s a period of transition, and that usually brings inconsistency – something we’re not particularly used to. It’s been a bit of a culture shock – the bereavement of losing a loved one, the installation of a step-dad we’re still trying to feel comfortable with, and the stages of loss which the former comes with. Time is a great healer, unless you have a terminal disease…which I’m sure Moyes isn’t, is he?