Ahead of our trip to Macedonia for the UEFA Super Cup, I spoke to some local fans who run the website Manchester is my Heaven (http://manchesterismyheaven.com). Here’s a copy of the Q&A I did with them which was first published (in Macedonian) – http://manchesterismyheaven.com/ekskluzivno-intervju-dzoni-penington
Hello Jonny, can you introduce your self to our followers first?
Thanks for inviting me to speak with you! My name’s Jonny and I’m a season ticket holder in the Stretford End – I’ve just received my gold ticket for 10 years and I’ve been going to games for 20 years. I get to most aways but what I enjoy most is the European trips; I’ve seen United play in 17 countries, soon to be 18, which I cover on a blog; Abroad Red.
How did you come up with the idea for your blog “Abroad Red” which is absolutely fantastic?
I started going on European aways when I was 19 and there really is nothing better than those trips, especially when the suns out and the beer is cheap. I work in digital marketing and I’d wanted to set up and manage a blog for a while, there’s always plenty of stories to share so when someone suggested I write about my trips it was an easy decision. I’ve been writing it for the past 2 years so it’s covered more Europa League than Champions League, but hopefully that’s now a thing of the past! There’s been suggestions that I share a likeness with Karl Pilkington, the star of the ‘An Idiot Abroad’ so the name is a slight ode to that.
Do you remember your first memory at Old Trafford and your first away game?
I’ll always remember my first game, I was 7 years old (it was ’97) and we beat Barnsley 7-0 – an Andy Cole hattrick. My first away was a bit of a baptism of fire, a defeat at Anfield, but there’s a great buzz about trips over to Liverpool. Thankfully I’ve been back and seen us win there a few times since, but I’ve yet to see Barnsley return to Old Trafford!
Which is your favourite Manchester United game you have ever been to?
The period we were doing so well in Europe (2007-11) had some great moments, the 7-1 against Roma and semi final win against Barcelona are two of the best atmospheres I’ve experienced at Old Trafford – I’d probably have to pick for the second of those two, Scholes’ goal is one of my favourite moments outside of any finals.
What is it like to be a born bred and red Manchester United fan, describe the rivalry with City and Liverpool?
Living and working in Manchester means we have to encounter city fans more often than you’d like, but it’s a great rivalry. I know plenty of decent blues but they’re the easiest to wind up, I’ve learnt how to tolerate them when they’re trying to do the same. Derby day is great as the city centre, everywhere really, is buzzing and for that reason those games are so important to win. Competing against them for trophies is unfortunately now the case but probably stepped things up in terms of the rivalry over the past 5-10 years. Liverpool is something else, it’s just so much more hostile and the history and success of both clubs mean that there’s constantly bragging rights and a belief from both sides that their club is bigger & better. I’ve never had to deal with the aggro experienced in Liverpool from years gone by, but trips over there still keep you on your toes and mean those games have an edge. Oh, we still hate Leeds too.
Which is your all time favourite Manchester United player?
I grew up watching United in the 90’s and back then it was all about Cantona and then the ’99 treble winners. For me though, the best player I’ve seen live has to be Ronaldo. He was winning games on his own for us and helped us to consecutive European Cup finals, scoring in Moscow. The Portsmouth free kick, counter attack against Arsenal and vital solo goal against Fulham stand out, and how often do we have a forward who scores 40+ goals a season?
If you had a chance to choose one player from the history to play for the first team today, which player would it be?
It’s a tricky one as there are obviously areas of the team that players from the past would massively improve. We’ve got a tougher midfield now than the last few years else it’d of been easy to say get Roy Keane in there. As I’ve already said Ronaldo was the best I’ve seen I guess I’d go for another great goal scorer and entertainer, George Best. It’d be amazing to see how they compare and by all accounts he was a top player and guy. I work near the Nags Head pub in Manchester which is as close to a shrine to Best as you’ll see – also great for matches.
Which player do you want to see in a Manchester United shirt and tell us your dream 5 a side team?
Honestly? It’d have been great to have pipped Chelsea to Hazard, he’s been a really dangerous player for them and one of the best in the league right now. For pace and power it’s be good to get Bale in, it might even happen at some point too and really add to our strengths. The one that won’t happen, but that I’d enjoy, is Messi. Him and Ronaldo are the two stand out players of this generation, wouldn’t it be something to say that both of them have played in the United shirt.
My team: VDS, Rio, Scholes, Giggs, Ronaldo. Sub: Cantona
What do you think about Jose Mourinho and his leadership with Manchester United, do you think he’s the man to bring glory days back to Old Trafford?
Last season was great; in isolation perhaps not but given the dull and frustrating previous 3 it was pleasing to win a few trophies. Simply put, Jose is a winner and he’s setting himself up to take us back to where we should be. He’s still not got every fan convinced and his cageyness was evident in the way we approached that mass of drawn home games and the fixtures against Liverpool and City too. We’ve got to “play the way United should” which for me is that dominating side of the 90’s and early 00’s under Fergie. We had arrogance, excitement and were never short of goals. Jose knows what he needs to do; there’s no denying that players want to play for him and that upping our game just a little from last year will see us competing for the top honours. Maybe it’ll take another season for him to have his perfect setup but last season was a great platform from which to progress.
Are you satisfied with the summer transfer window, what do you think about Lindelof and Lukaku?
Jose knew what he needed last summer and he got all 4 of them. He’s approached it really well, not making wholesale changes to the squad (like LVG did) or trying to stick with what he inherited (as Moyes bizarrely did). He’s made it clear that he wants another 4 this year so we’re faring ok given there’s over a month left so sign those final 2; as I type this it’s looking like Matic will shortly be our 3rd new signing. I was a little underwhelmed with Lukaku, only because he’s not quite in that bracket of world class strikers, but there’s no denying that he’s a solid number 9 who’ll score goals, particularly with the pace and skill of the other forwards we have supporting him. Lindelof again looks like a good player and hopefully forms a great partnership with Bailly.
Who do you think will be our biggest opponent for the title in the upcoming season, of course, if we are considered title contenders.
Well the bookies have us up there with Chelsea and City and I wouldn’t really look past those two, especially given they’ve both spent well and got a 4-5 new players in each. Chelsea were solid last season and I’d expect them to continue that, but will (second choice) Morata do the business for them? City has their worst season for a while last year and Pep has tried to fix that with £100m+ of defence, you’d expect them to be up there though given their strength in attack. Right now I can’t see Liverpool, Spurs and Arsenal threatening, none of them seem any stronger than last year.
We are Premier League’s most successful team and we are European giants with three UEFA Champions League trophies, which one do you prefer, winning the Premier League or the Champions League?
It’s always got to be the League, further cementing us as the most successful team in England. Jose and this team need to win it, not just to get us back on top but to lay down their own marker to our other successful squads. The League is always number one, the icing. Winning the European Cup would be the cherry on top right now. Jose’s won the lot and he’ll surely be targeting both with United. The day will surely come when we over take the scousers on that front too.
Have you ever been to Skopje and Macedonia and are you looking forward to the game against Real Madrid?
No! Another new one for me so I’ve very much looking forward to the trip. I’ve not been to any of the previous Super Cup finals either so that’s another thing ticked off the list.
Do you think we can beat Real Madrid and win the UEFA Super Cup?
Yeah, why not. I think we’ve lost the last few super cup finals we’ve played but beating a top team like Madrid (even without Ronaldo) in a game like this would really make a point. It’ll be a more competitive game than the one in America but we’ve looked pretty sharp so far this summer.
How do you like our website (manchesterismyheaven.com) and what do you think about our upcoming Manchester United Fan Zone in addition to the UEFA Super Cup?
It’s always great to meet supporter groups from all over the world, so thanks for reaching out. I had a brilliant time in Moscow a few years ago with the Russian reds who’d put on a similar event, so the fan zone should be great. I’m really looking forward to seeing Skopje and speaking with the locals and fans so this should be perfect. Hopefully your readers enjoy this interview!
Finally, are you excited about meeting with the Macedonian Red Devils?
Can’t wait! Thanks for your help in regards to accommodation and with this fan zone. Looking forward to sharing a few beers with you all, and hopefully a victory too.
Thanks to Filip for the invitation to answer these questions, and I look forward to our game in Skopje!