The former defender discusses what it means to don the colours of the UK’s biggest football club as they prepare to embark on a new era with shirt sponsor Chevrolet
Manchester United have worn red shirts at home matches for the last 80 years, during which time they have become arguably the most iconic jerseys of any sports team in history.
The size and influence of the club is difficult to quantify, not least for the players trusted to represent millions of supporters across the globe by donning the colours.
For Gary Pallister, a United legend signed in 1989 just five years after playing non-league football with Billingham Town, it did not take long for the enormity of what surrounded him to hit home.
“You’re not quite prepared for what Manchester United is when you get there,” said Pallister. “You go on your first trip abroad to somewhere like Asia and you get an understanding of how big the club is.
“I didn’t expect in my career to get a call from possibly the biggest club in the world. I got into the game late - at 19 I was still playing non-league football - and I was just pleased to be playing professionally at any kind of level [at Middlesbrough].
“It just spiralled all the way to Manchester United, so it was one of those ‘pinch me’ moments. I couldn’t believe it had happened but I was made up that they put a bid in for me.”
To mark the start of Chevrolet’s seven-year Manchester United shirt sponsorship, Pallister joined a host of club legends to shoot a video paying homage to the history of iconic club shirts.
The Chevrolet film features United fans throughout history marching through the streets of Manchester with current players and legends singing the ‘Glory, Glory Man Utd’ anthem.
Taking part brought back special memories of wearing red at Old Trafford for Pallister – what it meant to him and how much the shirt really matters to fans. “To actually put the jersey on [for the first time] to go out and play was one of those surreal moments,” he said.
“There’s a lot of things going through your head - a few years back I’d been playing for Billingham Town, then Middlesbrough, so I was thinking about the journey I’d been on, and there you are putting on this iconic shirt. It sends a bit of a shiver down your spine.”
Club history is an important part of the education of any United footballer but Pallister insists he did not dwell on the famous players who had worn the No.6 shirt before him. He took good care of it; years later, in 2011, Jonny Evans shared a conversation he had with Alex Bruce, the Hull player and son of Pallister’s central defensive partner Steve, in which they talked of Evans inheriting ‘Pally’s number’.
“The number was personal to me,” said Pallister. “Six was the number I’d always worn at Middlesbrough and I was delighted to be able to wear it at Manchester United. It’s a superstitious thing I guess, but I wasn’t thinking so much about the players of the past. My mind was in the present and focusing on playing in the shirt and trying to prove to the fans that I was worth the money and a place in the Manchester United team.”
United introduced a yellow and green away shirt in 1992-93 to celebrate the 100-year anniversary of the first Football League match played by Newton Heath, the club which became Manchester United. In one of those fitting twists of fate, United won their first league championship - the inaugural Premier League title - since 1967.
A lot has changed since 1892, but at United, as much as any major club in the country, many things stay the same. An appreciation of where the club has been, from the glory of the European Cup to the relationship with the local community, is non-negotiable. “When you’re around the club you understand [its significance],” said Pallister.
“One thing you get taught about straight away is the history and traditions, and what Manchester United means to so many people. You’re aware of that, the history plays a massive part in what Manchester United is all about. It’s part of your schooling.”
The new Manchester United shirt, sponsored by Chevrolet, will be unveiled on July 7