Manchester United’s whirlwind North American tour begins in earnest tonight, when Six Alex Ferguson’s bunch square off against Scottish giants Celtic FC at the Rogers Centre in Toronto. With all eyes fixed North of the Border, the Soap Box this week had to give the guests of honor the floor. We spoke with Michael Singer, an Irish-born head of the Manchester United Supporters Club of Canada, about how they’re celebrating in Toronto and what this tour means to the biggest club in the world.
MLSsoccer.com: What’s the excitement like among Manchester United supporters in Toronto right now?
MS: It’s incredible. We toured with them in 2003 and 2004, which was the last time they came over, but this time, having them right in Toronto, it’s unbelievable. We have fans coming in from all over North America and Europe, and we had a big shindig last night at our pub. We had two former players and some folks from Manchester United come to our pub. It was an incredible time.
MLSsoccer.com: Anyone we would know?
MS: I think so. Dennis Irwin and Paddy Crerand, both of whom won European Cups with Manchester United. Dennis Irwin won in 1999 and Patty Crerand won in 1968. It’s really things like that that make Manchester United what it is, that you see the team go out of their way to reach out to their fans and make former players accessible. It was an unbelievable evening, and everyone had a great time—our pub was absolutely packed. It’s like when Manchester United plays a big match against Liverpool or Manchester City, the place is crazy.
MLSsoccer.com: What other plans does the group have surrounding the game?
MS: We had the big evening last night, and today we’ll go to our pub when it opens at 11 a.m. and start singing and chanting and having pints of beer with our friends and fellow fans. The game by itself will be incidental, by the way. It’s the first preseason game, so that’s like watching preseason hockey or baseball. Who cares? But we’ll pack them into the stadium and keep singing; it will be great.
MLSsoccer.com: When the tour was announced, were you surprised at all that Toronto made the list?
MS: Not at all, but we were very excited. Toronto is a great city with a great stadium in the Rogers Centre, and there are wonderful fans here for football. Quite honestly, I wouldn’t be surprised if they came back very soon.
MLSsoccer.com: How did you lock onto Manchester United as a fan, and why do you think folks who have no ties back to England become such strong supporters?
MS: I was living in Ireland as a kid, and when kids would graduate high school they would leave for Liverpool or Manchester. Fortunately, my friends’ brothers went to Manchester and I became a Manchester United supporter back in 1957. I don’t know what it is about Manchester United … everyone was floating on cloud nine last night thinking how wonderful it is to be a Manchester United supporter. It’s a religion, a brotherhood. I can’t explain what it is, but thanks to MLS and that they’re televising so many games in America, we’re gaining more and more fans all the time.
MLSsoccer.com: What do you think of the lineup coming over on this tour?
MS: I think it’s a great group, with some great players. You’ve got Ryan Giggs, Paul Scholes, John O’Shea, Wes Brown, the da Silva brothers, Darren Fletcher. We’re quite happy to see the group of players they’re bringing over.
MLSsoccer.com: How much stock do you think they’ll put in winning these games?
MS: They’ll come over to play, that’s for sure. I guarantee they’ll put on a performance. In 2004 I went to see them at Giants Stadium, and they never, ever fill that stadium for football. And they filled it for Manchester United, and they played incredible and beat Juventus 4-1. We had some Italian fans sitting in front of us and they congratulated us, and said, “Wow, your guys came over to play.” English teams play—they’re going to give you your money’s worth.
MLSsoccer.com: Then do the results matter on this tour?
MS: Not at all. They’ll use this for the opportunity to get into shape for the season and to put on a show for their fans.
MLSsoccer.com: And to give you a reason to get together at the pub.
MS: Of course.