Cult- an instance of great veneration of a person, ideal, or thing, esp. as manifested by a body of admirers: the physical fitness cult.
Manchester United over the course of its 100 year old illustrious history has seen many a mortals turning into heroes and some into legends. However there will always be a few, who thought differently, acted out of league and just walked on their own path. Their charismatic persona and flamboyance infected the masses in such a way that they became objects of unparalleled adulation and cult following. They weren’t everyday heroes fighting injustice, nor were they championing the cause of the good versus the evil, but were normal people who just didn’t give a damn. There’s a mystery about bad boys, the anti-heroes as some may call them, that is always magnetic in its appeal. “Good guys go to heaven, bad boys go everywhere”, they sure do.
I’ll turn you on and switch you right off.
I’ll make sure you like what you see.
Forget all that you once believed.
Now you will believe in me!
Here’s a nostalgic look back at the men who crossed the Cult barrier!
George Best: The” Fifth Beatle”, as he was affectionately called by United fanatics, was the quintessential bad boy of English football. “O Quinto Beatle” was an outstanding football player probably the greatest of his generation and most certainly United’s pole star. However he was quite the ladies man in every sense of the word. On the night he won the 1968 European Footballer of the Year award, Best was quoted “Me and a mate picked up two darling birds and they took us back to their flat .I went into the bedroom with my bird and she started getting undressed. I was that drunk I was standing there wondering how to get undressed without letting go of the award”.
George had it all but he liked living on the edge, always on the brink of giving it all away. His love for booze at times outgrew his love for the game. Bestie once famously said “I have stopped drinking, but only while I am asleep”. One mention of George best had ladies going week in their knees and fans craving for more. They don’t make them like Best any more, and all Manchester United fans have just one thing to say about him “Pele good, Maradona better, George BEST!”
Remi Moses: The 50’s were the era of the ‘Busby Babes”, 60’s dominated by the holy trinity, 70’s was the era of romance while the 90’s the era of the great triumphs. However the forgotten 80’s had the midfield of Robson, Moses and Whiteside, which was as good as any in Europe those days. Remi’s nickname was ‘Dogsh*t”, because he got everywhere and stuck, not flattering but amusing nevertheless.
Sir Alex mentions Remi in his autobiography, “Managing My Life, as a player he had much emotional involvement with, someone whose dreams of a big future in the game were taken away by injury.” He holds the distinction of being the first ever black player to score for the Red Devils at a time when race discriminations in Europe were alarmingly high. The huge puff of hair was a style statement in its own and the “Remi Moses t-shirt are an iconic piece adorned by Old Trafford faithful even today.
Moses was a different person altogether after stepping on to a football pitch, be it a big European clash or a regular practice session. The legend has it that once United Winger Olsen made a hard challenge on him in a practice session. Moses lost his temper and laid in to Olsen with a few punches that left the Dane needing stitches. Remi had to incur fines and issue an apology for the same but that wasn’t the last of his misadventures. Had Sky Sports been around during his times, the Makelele position could possibly be called the Remi Moses pit.
Norman Whiteside: The Apocalypse of the Merseyside, Whiteside was well on his way to emulate his great compatriot George Best but sadly destiny delivered a fateful blow to his career in the form of a career ending injury. The moniker “The Scourge of the Scousers” was attached as he delivered time and again against United’s most hated rivals.
“He had self-assurance that was remarkable in a 21-year-old. The excellence of his technique was an island of composure, looking up and unhurriedly making his decisions. He rarely surrendered possession and increased the angle and weight of his passes so well that the receiver never had to fight the ball. His eyes were as cold as steel and he displayed the temperament to match. As a player he was close to the genius category”- Sir Alex on Whiteside after yet another match winning performance against you know who.
The trouble with genius is the ability to self destruct, and with a drinking culture prevalent at the club during the 80’s Whiteside too fell pray. Whiteside will also be remembered for the match against Arsenal in which he gave the Gunners a crash course at the school of hard knocks, in a match remembered for its intensity and sheer brutality. Years later Ferguson was quoted saying “Big Norman Whiteside kicked everybody up and down the pitch for 90 minutes and didn’t even get booked!“. Old Trafford had found an icon, but sadly the tragedy with romance is that heartbreak is always around the corner. Whiteside’s career succumbed to injuries and to his love for the “good life” outside the pitch.
Eric Cantona: No piece on United cult figures could ever be complete without the mention of the one Eric Cantona. It’s impossible to say something that hasn’t already been said about the Frenchmen; personally I have always thought that I was an atheist but then Cantona happened. Yes, such was the charm, appeal and aura of Eric that he sucked everyone to follow him and be enamoured by the magnetism of his personality. Old Trafford had found a new religion.
The Pied Piper of Manchester has left such an everlasting impact on the psyche of every Red Devil that years after his departure “Ohh aah Cantona” can easily be heard echoing on the terraces of the ’Theatre of dreams’. He was the leader of the red army, with the collar turned up and the chest pumped out with pride, Cantona was the symbol of Man Utd of the 90’s. That unforgettable night at Selhust Park is still alive in our minds, the hooligan got what he deserved, he was Cantona’ed and nobody would have it any other way.
Seagulls still follow the trawler for their share of sardines; yes King Eric we are still looking for you. Years later generations of United fans remember that historic day at the Old Wembley when Cantona scored that mind numbing volley to clinch a second ‘double’ that still haunts the red half of Merseyside, stuff of legends and mark of a genius.
Years have passed since these Icons graced the Old Trafford pitch, but the void of their absence can still be felt. These gentlemen weren’t searching for adulation or god like worship; then again they didn’t have to try for it – intoxicated by their effervescence, we just gave in. Old Trafford could do with a new hero, someone who will make us believe again, the one into whom we will lose ourselves and find our faith again.