Not too long ago, our committee member, Nigel, was interviewed by widely-known United fansite TalkOfTheDevils.com (“TOTD”) to talk about the formation of MUSCHK and his expectations on United’s tour in Hong Kong later this month.
We have now reversed our roles and performed an interview with Wayne Barton, the webmaster of TOTD, asking him questions about his own website, his views on Asian supporters, players and the club’s expansion in Asia, as well as his predictions on the coming season.
It is also worth noting that since we’ve last spoken to TOTD, former United defender Mike Duxbury, who many Hong Kong fans will remember for having played in the Hong Kong league before retiring from the professional game, has joined TOTD already impressive list of former players contributing to the website.
Hi Wayne, first of all thank you very much for our last interview which gave us an opportunity to introduce ourselves to fellow Reds around the world. Now, if I could start with a boring question – why are you a United supporter?
You’re very welcome. To answer your question, I really didn’t have a choice in the matter, I was born into it! One of my earliest memories is being at Wembley in 1985 for the FA Cup Final against Everton.
I understand you were from Sheffield. How was growing up as a United supporter outside of Manchester like? Did you get a lot of stick from your peers for not supporting your local side?
To be honest it was okay. My grandfather was really into football but my dad, not so much, so I couldn’t attend as much as I liked as I got past my childhood years, tickets were like gold dust, even living relatively close to Manchester! I got to every game it was possible for me to attend but they were few and far between. As for stick, yes I suppose I got quite a bit of stick from my schoolmates who thought I should follow Sheffield Wednesday or United, I remember a reserve game that I attended with a few of my friends at Hillsborough in about 95 or 96… we lost about 5-2 or 5-3, it was a high scoring game anyway. I just remember my schoolmates absolutely taking the mick out of me for ages after!!
Can you tell us something about how you started 7Cantonas.com and later TalkOfTheDevils.com, and what were your objectives in running the website?
I’d been blogging for another website for 3 years and after the owner of it fell out with me I decided it would be best to move on and set up my own. I didn’t really have an objective but I wanted to do something different than the million and one blogs you see about… I think I have managed to accomplish that, thanks to some very fantastic help from my friends who I want to mention here, Dan, Matt, Oyvind, Preben, Luke and Mart.
Your site stands out from many other supporters’ websites in that you were able to invite real ex-players to contribute. How were you able to achieve that? Do you have any stories working with one of the ex-players to share with us?
I suppose I just got lucky, I knew Kevin Pilkington and David May prior to starting the website and I just asked if I could include their input… they said yes very kindly to help out, but over the years that’s grown to a number of former players. There are FA Cup winners, Premier League winners, internationals, absolute legends on the website that I am so very fortunate to talk with on a daily basis.
As for stories, yes, there are a few. I was fortunate enough to interview Brian Greenhoff for the website and afterwards I just asked if he ever wanted to release an autobiography… to my eternal surprise and pleasure he said yes. So we spent the most part of 2012 working together and I must say it was one of the most incredible experiences of my life. I had always dreamed of being an author and Brian made that dream come true by allowing me to write his life story, he was an incredible man and I am still absolutely devastated that he is no longer with us. Because of Brian’s help I have since started work on at least 3 other books and it’s thanks to him that all the big name players that you see on my website are involved. Brian will be remembered as a legend to hundreds of thousands to millions of fans around the world but I’ll remember him as the man who made my dream come true. He was a brilliant person and like I say I will miss him so much.
It is obvious that United has a lot of supporters worldwide – 659 million according to believe in that study undertaken by United prior to their IPO in New York a year ago, many of them has never been to the UK, never mind Old Trafford. Do you think one has to be English or Mancunian to really appreciate what it means to be a “true” United supporter?
A blunt answer to your question is no. People have an affection and affinity with the club which is entirely personal, every individual has their own connection, and that should not or can not be challenged by anyone else. That support is real and when you see how long United have been going abroad and have enjoyed “Beatles” treatment – and I’m reliably informed that goes back to the Seventies – then how can you challenge the validity of that? Unfortunately when you are based overseas the best way of keeping in touch with what happens with the club is to do so online and in doing so you end up encountering the negative side, people who do believe in this sense of entitlement and think it’s OK to classify or demean others.
If anyone reading this has had any negative experiences and they think that’s what everyone thinks over here then please don’t worry – and to be honest, it’s not exclusive to overseas fans. There are plenty of people out there ready to have a go regardless of where you’re from, especially on social networks, you encounter a lot of people who get angry when they are not able to articulate a response. That’s the same in any situation, not just football. I was once “physically” threatened over the internet by someone who said they were a United fan just because I defended one of our own players! Take it with a pinch of salt, you feel the way you do about the team.
I have had some wonderful experiences meeting overseas supporters (and some bad) and I have made some great friends who I think will be lifelong friends, who follow United from as far as Australia or the United States. They’re every bit as “true” a fan as me.
United are without any doubt very good when it comes to extending their supporter base all around the world. Do you think United’s attempt to penetrate themselves into new markets abroad has resulted in dragging the club away from its British-based supporters?
Hmm, a difficult one. Part yes, part no. I don’t think there’s an active dislike about it but it is rather irksome that the club makes itself more accessible for foreign supporters than it does for British based fans. For example, in the last couple of years, the tour to the USA saw the club give an opportunity to get supporters up close and personal with the players, and I’ve even been made aware of that happening with overseas trips to Manchester. That shouldn’t happen, and not because I’m a snob against foreign fans (as I’ve explained above) but locally based fans do not get the same privilege at all. The best we get is an open training session at Old Trafford or specially arranged promotional events at book stores or other businesses to promote merchandise where the club will send two or three players and you can only get things signed that are sold on the day. It’s very disappointing and it is alienating but the other side of it is that a lot of former players who aren’t involved with the club are only too eager to be friendly with fans. In a way, that’s what we try and do with TalkOfTheDevils.com, to make that connection.
United fans from the Far East are often considered as “bandwagon fans” or “gloryhunters”. City fans famously mock us as “the pride of Singapore”. Through your interactions with United supporters from different parts around the world, do you share such feelings?
No, I don’t… firstly because there are some who have been supporting the
club longer than I’ve been alive (I’m 32, just!), but secondly as I’ve said before I have made some great friends from following the club who come from countries far and wide. The club always get a feverish reception in the Far East and to be honest I wish they’d take that more seriously rather than trying to exploit it in a commercial sense.
In recent years, United have always gone on long-haul tours for pre-season, going to places like America, Africa and of course Asia & Australia. While in America they tend to play against other top European sides, when they come to Asia the opponents are usually “select” sides assembled for a one-off occasion, or teams of lower standard than top European sides. From a footballing perspective, do you think such pre-season tours bring any benefits to the team’s preparation for the new season, or are they purely doing these for commercial reasons? Would you prefer the team stay in Europe and participate in/host a tournament against other top European sides?
Wow, that’s a really good question. I don’t know if I’d be able to answer it all in here, I might actually steal it for a podcast! If I’m to give a short answer, then I feel that maybe it would be a good idea to do tours that are purely for commercial purposes immediately after the end of a season. Some may not remember but we used to do that a long time ago and if the purpose is only to go and pay lip service (with all due respect) to some overseas fans then it would be better if a full complement went out straight after the end of the season and played two or three games somewhere. Then they could concentrate their efforts at serious preparation for the pre-season. That used to be done in Scandinavian countries sometimes and it would at least make it less of a fuss when things happen like Rooney flying back the other day.
In the last 5 or 10 years, there seemed to be an influx of Asian players playing their trade in Europe. While Ji-Sung Park and Shinji Kagawa have both been reasonably successful at United, few others have really made it with the “biggest” teams in Europe. Do you think most European teams sign Asian players with the main objective to “sell shirts”? Do you expect to see more Asian players to make it at the very top level in the next few years?
If I’m being completely honest then when we first signed Park, a huge part of me felt it was for a commercial purpose. In terms of value he turned out to be one of Sir Alex’s best ever signings in my mind. I thought he was a brilliant player for us, maybe not one of the best ever, but considering what we paid for us and what he did for us, he was absolutely great. There were some happy when we sold him last year and while I thought his peak at the club had definitely been and gone, I couldn’t say I was happy. I was just thankful for his service. I guess, then, in answer to your question, I think it’s no longer the case that signing Asian players will be judged as cynically as it once was. You can’t predict the future but if you consider that clubs will now be looking beyond the stereotype of it being a purely commercial venture, they might start feeling that the market in the Far East has a few bargains.
Finally, looking ahead to the new season, who do you think will be United’s biggest rival for the title? With the changes in United’s backroom staff, do you expect a level of instability in the first few months of the season?
I certainly don’t want to predict instability so I will respectfully shy away from that question! We will definitely not find it easy because the opening fixtures look really difficult and of course if we have one or two bad results that will lead to speculation, but we can’t really judge what kind of influence David Moyes has had at the club until at least a season has passed. In terms of rivals, when you think of the changes that we, City and Chelsea have made, I actually feel that Arsenal have a great opportunity to exploit that, as long as they make the right signings. Still, I think that City and Chelsea will be as competitive as we will be, so I would say all three of them will be serious contenders.
We would like to thank Wayne for his time in having this interview with us, and we hope TOTD will go on to achieve even bigger success in connecting fans with former United players.
不久之前，本會幹事之一 Nigel 接受了英國知名球迷網站 TalkOfTheDevils.com (“TOTD”) 的訪問，分享了本會的成立過程與及我們對今個月曼聯香港之旅的期望。
今次我們和 TOTD 調換了角色，由網主 Wayne Barton 接受我們訪問，介紹一下 TOTD 網站和討論了他對亞洲球迷、球員，和曼聯在亞洲區擴展的看法，與及對今個球季的預測。
值得一提的是，自從上次完成了我們和 TOTD 的訪問之後，曾來港效力好易通，在港甲上陣的前曼聯後衛德士貝利 (Mike Duxbury) 也加入了 TOTD 的前曼聯球員團隊，未來將在 TOTD 網站上與球迷分享意見。
Wayne，首先多謝你早前訪問我們，讓我們有機會向世界各地的曼聯球迷介紹我們的球迷會。容許我先問你一條沉悶的問題 – 你為何支持曼聯？
別客氣！這個問題嘛，其實我別無他選 – 我生下來就是曼聯球迷！ 我對曼聯最早的印象，是來自1985 年在溫布萊看曼聯對愛華頓的足總盃決賽。
我知道你本人來自錫菲 (Sheffield)。可以告訴我們，在你成長過程中，作為居住在曼徹斯特地區以外的曼聯球迷是怎麼樣的一回事？你選擇支持曼聯而不是錫菲的球會 (錫週三和錫菲聯)，你在朋輩間應該不太討好吧？
老實說，其實情況不太壞。我祖父是一個狂熱球迷，但我爸爸對足球的興趣卻不大，就算錫菲離曼徹斯特不遠，小時候我也不常看到曼聯的比賽。至於在朋輩間，讀書時的確有不少同學認為我應該支持錫週三或是錫菲聯，記得在 95 或 96 年，有次我們去了希斯堡路球場 (錫週三主場) 看一場曼聯預備組的賽事，那場曼聯應該是輸了 5-2 或是 5-3 吧，那次之後，我被同學們恥笑了很久！
你是如何設立 7Cantonas.com 和後來的 TalkOfTheDevils.com? 你開設球迷網站有沒有任何目標?
我之前曾在另一個網站寫了三年部落格，但後來因事和該網站網主之間有點不快，便決定自己建立一個網站。其實談不上有甚麼目標，只是想建立一個與別不同的網站而已。這方面，在一群很好的朋友的幫忙下，我想我算是做得到了。我想在此特別對 Dan, Matt, Oyvind, Preben, Luke 和 Mart 說聲謝謝。
眾所週知，曼聯世界每一個角落都有極多球迷。一年前，曼聯在紐約交易所掛牌上市時所公布的全球球迷數目共有 6.59 億！當中不少更從來未踏足過英國，更遑論是奧脫福球場。你認為要稱得上”真正”的曼聯球迷，必定要是來自英格蘭或曼徹斯特嗎？
我認識不少外地的曼聯球迷，有很不錯的體驗 (也有些不太好的)， 也結識了很多遠至澳洲和美國的曼聯球迷，並和他們成為了很好的朋友。其實大家沒有分別，都是真真正正的曼聯球迷。
這條問題有點難答…作為英國本土的曼聯球迷，我不認為太多人會對曼聯向外擴展反感，但有些時候，海外球迷有更廣泛接觸接觸的機會，作為本土球迷看在眼裡實在有點不是味兒。舉個例，近幾年曼聯季前往美國進行集訓，曼聯提供了不少機會給當地球迷近距離接觸球員，甚至邀請他們來到曼徹斯特。我對海外曼聯球迷沒有任何敵意 (上面也談過了)，但本土球迷卻沒有這種待遇。我們最多只能觀看在奧脫福球場進行的公開操練，或是在書店之類的商戶舉辦的一些曼聯商品宣傳活動，而通常這些活動只會有兩三名球員出席，更規定只能在現場購買的指定商品才可簽名。對本土的球迷來說，我們難免會感到失望和與球會的疏離。但另一方面，亦有很多現時與曼聯沒直接連繫的前球員，其實是很有意思和球迷作進一步的接觸。某程度上，這也是我現時在 TalkOfTheDevils.com 中所希望做到的事情：把球迷和前曼聯球員連繫起來。
這種說法我絕不同意。首先, 有不少來自遠東區的曼聯球迷，他們在我還沒來到人世就已經支持曼聯了(我今年 32歲)。其次，就如我之前提到，我認識很多來自世界各地的曼聯球迷，他們對曼聯的支持度絕不比任何人低。曼聯一向在遠東區都受到很熱烈的支持，說句實話，我也希望曼聯方面可以更認真地看待亞洲的球迷，而不是純粹從商業角度出法去對待他們。
這個問題問得真好！我未必能夠很詳盡的去分享我的看法， 可能我要把這個問題用來做我下一集 podcast 的討論題目！或者我試試淺談一下吧。我認為一些商業味道比較濃厚，主要目的是為和海外球迷見見面的旅程，可能在球季完結後進行會較為有利。或許很多人未必記得起，但很久以前這是曼聯的慣常做法。這個做法好處是既能讓球隊和海外球迷見面，也能給予球隊在歇暑完畢後更
感謝Wayne 抽空進行今次訪問，我們亦祝願 TOTD 在連繫球員和球迷方面取得更大的成功。