David Herman takes a prominent role in the running of the official Manchester United supporters group in the United States, One United USA and was kind enough to speak to us and answer a few questions regarding the group’s foundation and future plans.
Chris Winterburn (Chris): Firstly David, how did One United USA form as a supporters club and were there any early difficulties, which the group faced shortly after its inception during the 1991/1992 season?
David Herman (David): The Group’s founder Peter Holland left Manchester for the States to play football and the difficulties are no less dissimilar now than they were twenty years ago.
Peter Holland’s colleague was producing diaries for the club and made inquiries via personal and professional relations, outlining what would benefit the Manchester United by having a dedicated presence on the other side of the pond as soccer was growing across America. The official sponsor of the club at the time, Sharp’s chairman added creditability to the conception by distributing a picture of Peter and sponsor presenting one another with signed shirt and ball, eventually appearing in the match day program in March 1992 entitled “The American Connection”.
Chris: With the supporters club now enjoying its 23rd season associated with Manchester United, just how many members does the group currently have within their ranks and what would be the benefits for new members looking to join the group at this time?
David: The United States has the third largest membership subscription base globally and as we continue to raise awareness of the supporters clubs and our individual chapters across the country due to United’s return visits to the States and of course, social media, we’ve grown to over 15,000 registered supporters with a smaller number who subscribe to the official global (UK) membership.
In terms of benefits for new members, we’ve been allowed to enhance the official membership with an American supplement that affords supporters a valued addition to their package with decidedly more USA-like benefits. Typically, we include a season review, but after last season and the interest in the historical success of the Class of 92, we’ve included the documentary alongside our official ‘Supporters on Tour’ scarf, badge, pen and legends card to commemorate the recent summer tour.
As a member, those supporters seeking home match tickets can apply via us and/or use our own season tickets throughout the season.
Like this past Summer, membership privileges include access to training sessions, sponsor and legends events, only for members.
Chris: As I’ve previously mentioned One United USA has been active since the early 90’s, in that time there must have been a fair share of interesting stories and anecdotes involving members. Are there any which particularly stand out for you personally?
David: The relationships that have been cultivated over the years stand out the most, from the manager and players to the laundry ladies and everyone in between, our access to the United family has also been enriched by the hundreds of supporter who join our tours, from every conceivable background and demographic, from nine to 82. Friendships and business relationships are formed and ultimately we have a one united USA Family. One of our tours included those attending taking on the United Staff (both at the old training grounds, The Cliff and at Carrington) in a friendly match. The Club kitted us out and MUTV filmed the match and even though we lost, the respect gained from the Club was that the Yanks can play! We have come a long way since the inception when the first 40 members were all Brits, and now it’s 95% American.
Chris: Having such a significant involvement at the head of the group, there must certainly be a lot of work for you to get through on a weekly basis, just how many hours would you say on average you dedicate to One United USA matters in a normal working week?
David: Through the return visits of United to the States, we’ve been able to find fellow, ardent and committed supporters to contribute to our social communications and keep the flag flying high in predominate markets across the country – from NY Reds to MUFChicago, Dallas Reds and MULA, (Manchester United Los Angeles) who all help contribute to the awareness of an official branch and our Old Trafford tours each season. Personally, as much as any supporter of a football club, it’s an extension of your own enthusiasm, so I suspect it’s more than 20-30 hours a week in keeping up with the latest news, rumours and shared enthusiasm. This doesn’t include tasks completed on match days.
Chris: I know One United USA offers numerous supporters tours to matches at Old Trafford during the course of the season with packages on offer for the upcoming fixtures against both Chelsea and Liverpool. What is the demand like for these trips and just how long do they take to organise?
David: When the fixture list is announced, we choose brief visits around the biggest matches of the year (that often coincide with holidays and in previous seasons, Champions League knockout stages). Having secured official status for each season, we have the ability to petition for as many tickets as those choosing to join our exclusive tours.
To keep our tours intimate and the experience worthwhile, we cap participation to around 20-25 people per tour. From individuals to entire families, each tour reflects the cross-swatch of United, and soccer enthusiasts, in America. About 20% of our tour attendees have joined us for previous tours.
Because of our long-standing relationship with the club, we are able to secure former players and ambassadors to meet us at the hotel and have known the ‘legends’ for years, thus creating a unique Old Trafford experience not found on their own.
Very unique to our travels to Manchester, we reside in the rival team’s hotel, thus match morning experiences provide interesting asides to breakfast, as players join our tour attendees prior to the match that day.
We also take in another Barclays Premier League match on their other weekend afternoon somewhere in the midlands and often leverage our relationship with the club to attend other exclusive events surrounding match days.
Chris: Obviously there have been sizable changes both on and off the pitch at Manchester United over the course of the last four months, with the club breaking the British transfer record once again to bring Angel Di Maria to the club for £59.7milllion as well as the appointment of Louis van Gaal, with this in mind has there been a discernible change in atmosphere amongst members of One United USA this season as opposed to last year?
David: Interest in United will always be high, based on recent successes and the history of the Club. Despite the somewhat dramatic changes and loss of captains (Rio, Vidic and Evra) and youth players (Welbeck, Cleverley) and even legends such as Giggs and Scholes, more recently, the familiar tie to the long history of success at United has been a bit dramatic, but we’ve always bought big and the club still is a preeminent destination and for the top players.
The reaction from One United USA’s recent newcomers reflect the ebb-and-flow of success over-the-years and the recent interest in the sport in the States, but often don’t place historical evidence
The FIFA (video game) generation, so-to-speak. Of which, our club seemingly has become with the whirligig transfer business so far this year.
Chris: With the vast majority of One United USA’s members being American citizens and given the monumental success of Manchester United’s pre-season tour to the United States this summer, are you hopeful that the club will look to build on the momentum created by the match against Real Madrid in front of 109,000 fans in Michigan, to pick just one example, and return to the country on a more regular basis? Would this create even more opportunities for One United USA to possibly link with the club and be able to offer members opportunities to meet players or attend open training sessions?
David: Being the officially recognized branch of the club and one of the longest standing affiliations on the World, we do have opportunities to bring the club closer to our most ardent supporters. However, with the commercial commitments that come with building a successful club, the pecking order of access to highly-desired areas has been more limited, however, the club has been cognizant of our efforts and afforded us the ability to announce arrivals and itinerary access to alert our supporters of accessibility to their heroes.
Chris: Just one final question David, in terms of Manchester United on the pitch, as a supporter what would you feel would represent a successful season for the club in the Premier League and what is the feeling you get from members with regards to that same question?
David: Despite all that’s transpired since Sir Alex’s departure with the task to fill the void left by the most storied tenure of any modern manager undoubtedly significant, the recent acquisitions of arguably two more world-class players in Falcao and Di Maria, even despite the comical injury bug that’s infected the team, Van Gaal’s ability to cultivate atmosphere of success will eventually transpire and nothing less than third would be as much as we can expect in another transitional year. It’s Chelsea’s season to lose and the fight for third will be the most drama of the remainder of the season.
To learn more about One United USA or to become a member, visit their website at manutdusa.com
Read other interviews with Premier League supporters clubs in the United States including Arsenal America and Everton USA. If you’d like your supporters group to be interviewed by World Soccer Talk, please email [email protected] with your contact details.