How can a Manchester City supporter come to terms with the global brand that is Manchester United?by Howard Davies / October 20, 2001 / Leave a comment
Published in October 2001 issue of Prospect Magazine
The Sunday edition of the Straits Times of Singapore puts a weekly question to its readers. It is quite a serious broadsheet, so the questions can sometimes be high-minded. Should China be admitted to the WTO? Was George Bush right to reject the Kyoto treaty? Earnest Singaporeans e-mail their answers in large numbers.
A few weeks back, though, the Straits Times tried a different tack and asked its readers: “do you approve of David Beckham’s new haircut?” The number of responses was a record high (with a sizeable majority voting against the motion-mohicans are not yet acceptable in Lee Kuan Yew’s new model republic).
Cut to Beijing, where I boarded an internal flight a few months back-full to bursting with Chinese businessmen. As we stood on the tarmac, I leafed through the local in-flight magazine. In 80 pages there was one word only in Roman script-Vodafone, on the shirts of the players in a Manchester United team photograph.
Cut to Ho Chi Minh City, where the breakfast reading in our hotel was the Saigon Times Daily, which told me that David and Victoria Beckham had been voted (by someone-perhaps Viet Cong veterans) the most envied global couple.
Travelling in Asia is, you can see, a trying experience for a lifelong Manchester City supporter, who hasn’t felt the need to visit Old Trafford since April 1974, when Denis Law’s back-heel condemned United to relegation. Thirty-five years after Harold Wilson pulled us out of Malaya, Britain has a presence again east of Suez: it’s called Manchester United.
At Maine Road we proudly unfurl witty banners reading “We’re the pride of Manchester- You’re the pride of Singapore,” but it would be churlish not to recognise that something extraordinary is going on. Manchester United has become a brand name with global reach. It is, indeed, one of the very few British brands which achieves instant recognition almost everywhere-except, perhaps, in the US. And while many would ar…