By: Leander Schaerlaeckens
The way Dion Dublin looks at it, this is all kind of his doing. The red hue of Terminal 5’s music hall in Manhattan’s Hell’s Kitchen neighborhood on a misty Saturday morning, a heaving mass of two thousand Manchester United fans, bounds and sings and chants. They are, argues Dublin, the upshot of his interference in the course of United’s history.
“I am the catalyst of Man United’s success,” Dublin says with an endearingly self-deprecating smirk, “I break my leg on my Old Trafford debut and Sir Alex Ferguson goes and buys Eric Cantona. The rest is history. Man United become a great club.”
“If it wasn’t for me,” – another smile denoting sarcasm crinkles his face – “they’d be nowhere.” It’s English to find humor in the absurd.
The day United bought Cantona to replace the injured Dublin on the forward line, club folklore dictates, its fortunes turned around. In that 1992-93 season, a 26-year title drought – with an unthinkable relegation to boot – was usurped by a bountiful harvest that yielded 12 league titles and two Champions League cups in the last 20 seasons. United became the foremost soccer brand in England and perhaps worldwide.
Dublin’s telling of his inadvertent assist to United history is strangely irrefutable. His bad luck served the club well, as evidenced by the 12,000 New Yorkers who applied for tickets for Saturday morning’s “I Am United” event, a screening of the club’s home game against the ever tricky kick-and-rushers of Stoke City. Officially, United’s Ferguson had challenged the club’s stateside fans to match the noise produced at Old Trafford.
It’s because of Dublin’s actions – or rather, his inaction – that United became a mega-brand. And that Cantona’s name is invoked several times in the merry melodies emanating from the increasingly hoarse throats of the Red Devils faithful, whose fervent consumption of alcohol at this unconventional hour is justified only in the context of Premier League soccer’s bizarre space-time zone continuum.
Such a scene was probably unimaginable way back when Dublin’s leg was still blissfully unbroken and unaware of its gnarly fate. English football was, by and large, of and for the English then, and not much seen or heard of beyond its borders. But the world shrunk, and United grew.
Hearing his name chanted an ocean from where he dutifully plied his trade, Bryan Robson, United’s longest-ever serving captain, who took in the game alongside the affable Dublin, surveyed the surreal tableau. “It’s a bit weird in a way,” he confessed. “When I played in the 80s, America was just sort of growing as far as soccer was concerned. But it’s fantastic when you come into a venue like this and you see so many Man United fans in New York.”
“I’ve seen over the last three of four years our support in America has grown enormously,” said Robson.
Many people eagerly anticipated an event like “I Am United” to legitimize and reward their distant devotion. Anderson Fariss is 27 and works in a wine business. He’s one of a 100 or so New York Reds who assemble at Legends across from the Empire State Building on weekend mornings to watch United’s games. “It’s huge, man,” he says. “People get together to watch the games every week but when you realize that there is this many people out there that support United but don’t really have as much of an outlet to watch United games together, it’s good to get together.”
“It can be kind of a lonely road in the US watching soccer games,” said Fariss. “So it’s good for everyone to commune together and sing, so it’s a lot of fun.”
“It gets them recognized,” Dublin said of the event and the New York Reds. “I’m sure that the supporters of Man United in New York have to spend a lot of money to get to Manchester to watch a game every now and again so you’ve got to give them something back for their dedication to the club.”
To the uproarious crowd’s delight, United won 4-2 in an entertaining game. Their post-goal celebratory bellows were at times ear-splitting.
Re-capping the match up on stage, Dublin perhaps summed it up best. “New York City,” he said with a fully intended sneer at cross-town rivals Manchester City, “is now New York United.”