Almost a year ago, the scene outside Old Trafford was very different. Underneath the statue of Sir Bobby Charlton, George Best and Denis Law, grown men blinked back tears as they explained why life would never be the same again now that Sir Alex Ferguson had retired. Inside the club shop, fans spent ￡80 (US$135) on replica shirts saying “Thanks SAF” on the back.
On Tuesday morning, the forecourt was deserted, the store almost empty. Security guards in high-visibility jackets told journalists outside the ground that they were not welcome — on orders of the management. Any interviews with fans had to be done either in the car park or down by the Bridgewater canal.
There was no weeping this time round. Just the odd hard-nosed fan passing through and saying, for the most part, that David Moyes had to go.
“He had his chance,” said Daniel Moran, 19, from nearby Eccles. “We’ve given him almost a full season. I do feel a little bit sorry for David Moyes and the grief he’s been getting, but the fans didn’t like him and he had to go.”
A United fan since birth, Moran has been used to supporting a winning team his entire life. It has been difficult adjusting to the Moyes era, he admitted.
“I’ve gone off football a little bit,” he said.
Because loyalty has gone out of the game?
“Because we’re losing,” he said.
The Basford family, from Sheffield, visiting to buy Ethan, 10, and Leon, five, a few holiday treats from the club shop, welcomed the news.
“I think it’s a good thing,” mother Gemma said. “Moyes didn’t have the experience before he came and it shows, as now we’re not in the Champions League. I don’t think he showed enough enthusiasm and I don’t think he got on with the players. The players ruled the team — he wasn’t strong enough to stand up to them.”
As ever, some of those around the ground had come from halfway around the world.
Australian tourist John Keenan, at Old Trafford for the stadium tour, said: “I think it’s about time — he has been given a fair while and the results are just not very good at all. Giggs will do well, he’s got the respect of the other players.”
However, they were not all without sympathy.
James MacDonald, 18, thought that only a minority of fans really wanted Moyes out — such as those who paid to fly a plane over the ground last month trailing the banner declaring Moyes was “the wrong one.”
MacDonald disapproved of such stunts, but conceded: “I suppose their money didn’t get wasted. They were heard.”
Although many fans wanted Moyes out after such a woeful season by the club’s standards, the Manchester United Supporters Trust were angry at how the news leaked out.
“It’s a PR shambles,” vice chairman Sean Bones said. “Manchester United’s history shows they deal with things with class and dignity, but that has not been the case here. The story leaked before David Moyes has been spoken to and that’s not the Manchester United way. There was no dignity or class in the way they went about it.”
Appointing Moyes was always going to be a gamble considering that the Scot’s only previous experience came managing Everton and Preston North End, Bones said.
“The appointment of David Moyes was seen by a lot of supporters as a risk. Moyes wasn’t proven at the very highest level, and Manchester United should be attracting the best and most proven managers in the world,” he said.