A rival fan’s guide on how not to hate Manchester United: Mata, kids, kits…

For several decades, Manchester United have been one of England’s most disliked teams. In the first of a new series aimed at rival fans, we’re here to tell you why the red side of Manchester isn’t actually so bad.

And I’ll tell you, honestly, I will love it if we beat them. Love it.

Those were the words of a cracked and broken Kevin Keegan, ranting at Sir Alex Ferguson as Manchester United sailed past Newcastle to win the 1995-96 Premier League.

It was a soundbite that became an important moment in the league’s history, exemplifying United and Ferguson’s ability to psychologically dominate their rivals.

But Keegan’s words expressed the feelings of those beyond Newcastle, too. During the 1990s and 2000s, everyone wanted to beat Ferguson’s United, a team that was as genuinely disliked as it was envied.

And although Ferguson announced his retirement back in 2013, United have retained their villainy, with the sulky and uninspiring reign of José Mourinho prolonging the club’s general unpopularity.

But is there really so much to dislike about them?

Planet Football aims to celebrate the great and the good of football, finding light where others see only darkness, so we’ve put together a list of reasons to love — or, at the very least, not hate — Manchester United.

You might not end up a diehard fan, but you might just discover a soft spot for Solskjær, Pogba and co.

1. Ole Gunnar Solskjær

Legends of the game though they are, there are many objective reasons to dislike Alex Ferguson and José Mourinho.

One harangued referees, pointing at his watch and intimidating officials in order to gain an advantage. The other hung his players out to dry, never admitting his own culpability.

In caretaker boss Solskjær, Man United have their first manager of the Premier League era neutrals can’t fail to like.

The babyfaced assassin was a great player to watch, and his positive attitude and delightful Scandi-Mancunian accent have already made him a popular manager.

Liverpool fan Steven Chicken even wrote a tribute to him, which means he must be likeable.

2. That green and yellow kit

In the late 19th century, when United were still known as ‘Newton Heath’, the club played in green and yellow.

For the 1993-94 season, some bright spark at Umbro had the idea to revive the colour scheme for United’s third kit. The likes of Ryan Giggs, Mark Hughes and Eric Cantona all donned the nostalgic jersey, which had a lace-up collar.

It wasn’t popular at the time, but the bizarre kit has become something of a cult favourite.

Sadly, we’re unlikely to see United in Norwich City’s colours again: in the late 2000s, fans wore green and yellow scarves to demonstrate their opposition to the Glazer family, United’s billionaire owners.

A reboot of the canary-flavoured tunic wouldn’t go down well with those at the top.

3. The class of ’92 and youth development

Throughout the Fergie years, the Neville brothers were some of United’s most vilified players, typifying the club’s snarling attitude toward opponents and referees.

But the likes of Gary and Phil, along with David Beckham, Paul Scholes, Nicky Butt and Ryan Giggs, are now widely regarded as one of the most talented groups of players to come through an academy in unison.

The club has continued to foster young talent better than many of its rivals. Jesse Lingard and Marcus Rashford, for example, have graduated from the academy to become important first-team players.

4. Juan Mata’s charity work

The current United squad contains its fair share of villains. The likes of Marouane Fellaini, Nemanja Matić and Ander Herrera are all happy to leave bruises on opponents.

But among the wrecking balls in United’s midfield is the delicate flower of Juan Mata, United’s lovely, smiley #8.

Mata is a joy to watch on the pitch and appears to be one of the nicest characters in the game.

It’s more than just his smile, too: Mata’s revolutionary ‘Common Goal’ initiative encourages professional footballers to donate 1% of their wages to charity.

It seems to be working. To date, the Spaniard has managed to persuade players like Mats Hummels, Giorgio Chiellini and Shinji Kagawa to sign up.

5. David Beckham’s goal against Wimbledon

The 1990s are memorable for a handful of reasons: the Spice Girls, Princess Diana and, most importantly, David Beckham caressing the ball over Neil Sullivan from the halfway line.

Whatever your allegiance, the goal remains one of the Premier League’s best moments.

6. Steve Bruce being top scorer in the early 1990s

Steve Bruce, the saddest-looking manager in the country, played for United between 1987 and 1996, forming a reliable defensive partnership with Gary Pallister for many of those years.

Incredibly, the centre-back was the club’s joint top league scorer in the 1990-91 season, netting a scarcely believable 13 goals in 31 games.

Yes, he took penalties. But given that the squad contained Mark Hughes, Bryan Robson and Denis Irwin, it’s impressive that he even got the chance.

7. Ticket prices

No, Old Trafford isn’t exclusively populated by local, working-class fans, but the BBC’s 2017 ‘Price of Football’ survey found United’s low-end tickets to be more affordable than those offered by Bournemouth, Southampton and Swansea.

The club’s most expensive tickets are £53, significantly cheaper than the £95.50 seats offered at Arsenal.

8. Paul Scholes’ long-range goals

They might have cost your team points or trophies, but Paul Scholes’ wondergoals — Bradford, Villa, Barcelona, etc. — were works of art.

They also produced one of football’s better chants: the ‘Paul Scholes, he scores goals’ number, sung to the tune of ‘Kum Ba Yah’.

9. Paul Pogba’s haircuts

Paul Pogba is a divisive figure. On the one hand, he’s a bona fide World Cup winner. On the other, pundits often question his work rate and the rapidity with which he changes hairstyles.

In the end, though, do you want to be on the side of fun, or on the side of Graeme Souness / Garth Crooks / your dad?

Pogba brings joy to football, and his colourful cuts are as entertaining as his pinpoint through-balls.

10. Recovery from the Munich air disaster

On February 6, 1958, British European Airways Flight 609 crashed during take-off at Munich-Riem Airport, killing eight Manchester United players, three members of staff and several others not associated with the club.

A decade later, crash survivor Matt Busby guided a rebuilt team to victory in the 1968 European Cup.

It’s hard not to get emotional at the sight of Bobby Charlton — one of two remaining survivors of the crash — observing remembrances of the occasion.

“I think of the miracle of my life, the things I went on to see and do after the lads I loved so much had been taken away, and I have to believe that even miracles have a price,” Charlton said last year. “For a little while, you see, football, all of life, had seemed to lose its meaning.

“Yes, it still touches me every day. Sometimes it fills me with a terrible regret and sadness — and guilt that I survived, walked away and found so much.”

You can hate United’s shithouse midfielders, but you can’t hate its history.

By Benedict O’Neill

More from Planet Football

13 of the most-liked players in PL history: Mata, Zola, Alonso, Crouch…

Can you name Man Utd’s 20 youngest Premier League debutants?

11 times supporters applauded the opposition: Ronaldo, Henry, Maradona…

A tribute to Ole Gunnar Solskjaer, Man Utd’s great bargain and Mr Reliable