Pete Holland, a Manchester lad who would pay one and six in old money to watch the Red Devils from the Stretford End, has built one of the biggest fan groups on the planetBy Paul Clennam
The appeal of Manchester United is unrivalled across the globe, with fans coming from far and wide to be a part of one of England's grandest institutions.
You do not have to be at Old Trafford for long before you realise just how many lives this club has touched. People do not fly for thousands of miles in the middle of the week for no reason, they do it because of the love they have for Manchester United.
There is perhaps no greater example of how United's reach spread around the world than that of Pete Holland, the Manchester lad who has established one of the biggest supporters' groups on the planet. His organisation, 'One United USA', has grown hand in hand with United over the last 20 years.
Goal caught up with Pete in the Red Cafe at Old Trafford during a cup of coffee with Manchester United stadium announcer Alan Keegan. Pete had flown in to Manchester from the States that morning, and after a quick stop off at the Aon Training Centre to meet David Moyes, he was at Old Trafford for some lunch and another look at the club's famous museum.
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"We're the official Manchester United supporters' club of America, we're like the governing body for memberships," he told Goal. "We're officially recognised since the 1992-93 season.
"I founded the organisation and I'm a local lad from Manchester, I went to America in the 70s to play some football, I knew some people in America so I contacted them and then I contacted the club to see if we could have some kind of association.
"I got in touch with Sharp, the big sponsors at the time, I met the chairman of the board in New Jersey, he said he'd do whatever he could to help, I got in touch with Barry Moore, who was the membership secretary here at Old Trafford, I sent him a simple proposal and before you know it the connection was formed. They put in the programme for Manchester United v Portsmouth in 1992-93 and from there it's grown and grown and grown over the years."
Pete is in town for Manchester United's key clash with fierce rivals Liverpool on March 15, and he is not alone.
"We've brought 17 people across for the Liverpool game. Sometimes we've brought as many as 75, and we do this about four or five times a season. We have six season tickets here at United that are used on a weekly basis, so if they don't come in a group they can use the season tickets.
"Of our members, 99% are Americans. When I first started the organisation it was 90% ex-pats, like myself, but now our stats say 99.9% are American."
That kind of massive expansion is certainly not limited to the United States, or just Manchester United fans. Mark Wylie, the curator of the Old Trafford museum, tells of how supporters of all clubs flock to his little corner of Manchester.
"It's a regular thing. Whenever City, or Liverpool, or Everton are playing in Europe that's when you find their opponents' fans coming here. All the fans come here to Old Trafford, because Manchester United's name is known throughout Europe and the world. It's quite astonishing, because you come in and you think, "City must be playing somebody tonight," and suddenly we've got a whole load of Belgians, or a whole load of Poles, coming through the museum.
"We have a substantial number of visitors from abroad. When I started here 22 years ago most of the people that came were British. As the year progressed you could see when the schools were on holiday in Scotland, because suddenly the museum was full of Scots. You knew when the schools were off in certain areas of the country because people were coming from London, or from the south west, or from Yorkshire.
"But now we're getting fans from all over the world. Lots and lots from the Far East. Japan, Malaysia, South Korea, China. We've always had quite a lot from Ireland and Scandanavia, and we get a lot of school visits from France and Spain. There are fans from all over the place now, it is really quite a dramatic change from 20 years ago."
Alan Keegan, the voice of Old Trafford, knows how important his role is in the match day experience of United's global fanbase.
"I am a Manchester United fan, and I always try to treat every game as if it is your first," he insists. "We always welcome everybody at the beginning, when you come into the stadium, because there will be people in the stadium who are coming for the first time.
"So I think from that point of view my job is important. It has taken on a slightly more significant role now with regards to sponsorship and announcements for the sponsor, too. That’s an integral part of English football now. The way sponsors are actively engaged with the club, so it’s important to get the message over.
"That’s why it’s great to have Chevrolet coming on board, obviously they take over in the summer, and the unveiling will be in America, so it all fits together."
At the end of our chat, two Norwegian fans recognised Alan and asked for a photograph with him.
The three men Goal spoke to in the heart of Old Trafford have all forged unlikely relationships with the club, and have played important roles in its global expansion.
"When I was growing up here in Manchester I used to be in the Stretford End all the time," Paul added. "...when I could catch the money off my mum and dad - it used to be one and six [in old English currency] in those days."
From those humble routes he has developed lifelong bonds with the biggest names at the club: "It's all about relationships and trust. I've met Sir Alex Ferguson many many times, I've met the laundry laides many many times, and we have that unique relationship with everybody here. I can't say enough about the club, they've been very very good to us."
The back of Pete's business card says it all: "A vast ocean lies between the United States and Old Trafford. We built the bridge."
For more information on Chevrolet's 'What do you #PlayFor campaign?' visit ChevroletFC.com.