It’s easy to see why David Blatt had amassed quite a following amongst Manchester United supporters. His unbridled and unapologetic passion for the club is instantly relatable. Mix in a straightforward, honest and witty writing style that evokes early Anthony Bourdain, and a jet-setting world-traveler lifestyle that evokes late Anthony Bourdain, and his readers find themselves living vicariously through his page-turning adventures.
David is the author of two great books that humorously detail the massive collisions that take place at the intersection of club support and family life. His most recent book, The Red Eye, chronicles a year-long trip around the world with his football-loathing wife, Helene, and his secret mission to watch as many United matches as possible along the way.
Inexplicably, he managed to survive his ordeal, and he was gracious enough to sit down for an interview with us the day before the Derby.
WIL: David, I want to begin by thanking you for agreeing to this interview, espcially with your busy schedule. It’s hard to keep up with you sometimes. Where in the world are you today and how did you watch the last Manchester United match?
DAVID: It’s 3:15 pm and I am sitting on my bed in Auckland, New Zealand, a fantastic country. We came here to be with our eldest daughter, Melanie, and celebrate her 40th birthday together. She is currently a judge on The X Factor New Zealand. You may have read about the controversy over two other judges that were sacked for vicious remarks over a contestant. Melanie stood up for her prodigy and she’s now the “Lady Di” of New Zealand. We’re so proud of her. Melanie’s daughter, Lilyella and younger sister, Jasmine arrived last week. We’ve just come back from three mind blowing days, and nights, in Queenstown. Absolutely fantastic!
However, my mission now is to try and catch the derby game live, which means 3:00 AM New Zealand time, so if you think you’ve got it bad in LA, imagine what Kiwi Reds have to go through.
I failed to catch the Villa game live as the steaming channel on my laptop totally ****** up my computer and I have to visit an authorized Mac dealer here in Auckland to clean it up. Surprisingly, there is no Mac Store in Auckland so I kept in touch with bbc.co.uk/sport and their 2 minute updates. It looks like we are finally getting our heads and feet around van Gaal’s “philosophy”
Therefore, my last match was Liverpool v United in your home town. I had organised a 3-day stopover in Venice Beach, as the thought of an almost 24 hour non-stop flight from London to Auckland was worse than going to the dentist without an anesthetic. I’d researched various venues in LA that would be showing the match live, and the neatest to my accommodation was the Cock ‘n Bull in Santa Monica. Little did I know it was owned by a Scouser, but more of that later.
Much to my wife’s annoyance I got up at 5:15 AM, got dressed and took a taxi to the pub. I was early. There were a few Reds outside so naturally we got chatting. Once inside I ordered an English breakfast as the place began to fill up. I have to say it was 65/35 in Liverpool’s favour amongst the supporters who were almost entirely American Reds, very few ex-pats. One guy came up to me and asked if I was David Blatt. It was too late to put on a false moustache so I answered in the affirmative. He told me he’d bought my first book, “Manchester United Ruined My Wife” when it first came out and he really enjoyed it. Honest!
By now a crowd had gathered and I was answering questions about both my books, what it’s like to watch matches at the centre of the universe, et cetera. At this moment the scouse owner came up, took me to one side and quite aggressively told me to stop promoting my United books. I told him I was just having amiable conversations. He sure put out a bad vibe. Scouse wit? He must have had a humour by-pass.
I couldn’t have written a better script for the match itself. We all know what happened. The previous week Tottenham had decided to play their worst match of the season, giving United space and time to settle into our most flowing football of the season. It could’ve easily been more than 3-0, I’m sure you’ll agree. Most importantly it gave our players the belief that maybe Louis van Gaal’s philosophy might finally begin to pay dividends.
As each of our two goals went in I stood up and let out an almighty roar, given more ammunition due to the confrontation with the owner, and the atmosphere and banter took on new heights. Outnumbered by the disbelieving Liverpool supporters we roared the Reds home. My head said Sterling’s goal would only be a consolation, but my underwear was constantly changing colour until we heard the final whistle. Even Wayne’s penalty miss faded into the ether. For his introduction to the crowd, Pele actually stayed on the pitch longer than Gerrard. What a ****. Gerrard that is.
I left the pub with a Cheshire/Lancashire grin on my face. What a wonderful way to start the day, which, incidentally, finished gloriously by attending the 2CELLOS concert at Club Nokia. You could say that was one of my better days on planet Earth.
WIL: You have been quite the world traveler these past few years. As amatter of fact, your most recent book, The Red Eye, chronicles a year-long trip around the world that you describe as “365 days, 90,000 miles, 4 continents, 25 countries, 60 matches… and 1 wife who hates football.” Why did you decide to make that trip and when did you realize it would make an outstanding book?
DAVID: My wife and I had always dreamed of travelling around the world, but as an ordinary working man, I was at a loss as to how to achieve this particular goal. Slowly the solution began to materialise in my brain and eventually came to fruition. We sold our property in London, paid back the naughty bank, and with some of the equity bought two round-the-world tickets. We knew that once off the London housing market we’d never be able to afford another property there, but first of all I don’t believe in re-encarnation, and second, unlike James Bond I believe we only live once. We decided to ‘go for it’ whilst most of our limbs were still in working order. And we’ll never regret that decision for as long as we live.
My not-so-secret mission whilst travelling was to watch as many of United’s 58 matches and England’s progress in the World Cup during the calendar year of February 2010 to February 2011 live, no matter where we were in the world or whatever unholy hour the match would be shown. Helene, as you can imagine, was no help to me in this matter. A combination of pubs, bars, sports cafes or simply streaming on my laptop were my priority.
I knew this was going to be a life-defining trip and with a football fanatic’s fervor I began to write a diary every day. I didn’t want to forget a single moment. I had to write it down, and as I was writing I thought this unique angle may have literature possibilities. However, it wasn’t until we got back home and I began to re-write some pieces and put them in some sort of cohesive order that the thought of a book took shape. Getting the book to market was another matter however. Publishers couldn’t decide if it was a football or travel book, or how to market it. Eventually I found a small sports book Manchester-based publisher and here we are.
As for the outcome, that’s not for me to say. As a combination of travel and football anecdotes I hope there’s enough for even a non-United fanatic to enjoy.
WIL: During your travels you made it a point to wear a United shirt almost every day in order to evoke a response from people you encountered along the way. You must have been stopped by plenty of fellow Reds. Tell us about your most memorable encounter.
DAVID: I’m happy to report that I saw more Manchester United shirts than any other Premiership team on my travels. Liverpool were a clear second with Chelsea and Arsenal neck-and-neck in third. However in South America, Barcelona were way ahead of Real Madrid, with us in third alongside a handful of Italian clubs, Inter, AC and Juventus.
I remember my wife and I were in Valparaiso in Chile. I was searching for a special shop that Lonely Planet recommended for over 30 varieties of empanadas [pies]. In the distance, I saw this horrendous polyester vision that could only be a fake United top, but United nonetheless. My wife whispered “Don’t you dare”. I ignored her advice. As this young, unsuspecting man drew near I let out a friendly “U-NI-TED” and clasped his hand. He looked at me in horror, like a rabbit caught in car headlights, murmured something and made as quick an exit as his remaining free hand and two legs could muster. My wife muttered “Told you so.” I reconciled myself that perhaps the lad’s lack of English warranted his response.
On a more memorable note, also in Chile, we’d arrived in La Serena for the start of our 3-day trek over the Bolivian Salt Flats. Amazing! I noticed a small group of football supporters holding up a banner. I wandered over and it turned out to be a group of Colo-Colo supporters attempting to raise funds for their club to build a new stadium. One of then wore a fake United shirt so immediately we bonded and much hand gestures and smiles ensued, followed by obligatory photos. My wife was bored rigid but I loved it, proving once again, as if anyone needed reminding that football, not English is the international language.
WIL: Of course, your fashion choices must have elicited some negative responses as well from the “Anyone But United” crowd. Which anti-United encounter stands out the most?
DAVID: I began by talking about my joy at beating Liverpool on their own patch. As any regular match-going Red will tell you, beating Liverpool ranks even higher than City. Why? Let me give you but one example. One of our worst experiences was having listened to Leeds beat Sheffield United 3-2 in 1992 on our coaches parked across Stanley Park from Anfield. We then had to endure one of our worst 90 minutes as the Kop chanted, “You lost the league on Merseyside” throughout the match which we lost 2-0. This was technically untrue of course, but that meant little to those lovable scousers. As the United team coach arrived for the game, waiting Liverpool fans threw tear gas at our players coming off the coach, also affecting younger Liverpool fans in the front. What *****! I could go on, but you get my drift. For any true United fan, Liverpool are THE enemy, so this year’s double is doubly sweet.
Many years ago my wife and I had friends living in Malpass, Cheshire. One year it coincided with United playing at the Victoria Ground, home of Stoke City. After the game our group all headed into town for a bite and watch the goal highlights. At around 6:30pm we left the cafe, I said goodbye to my Red mates and made my way to my parked car. As I walked along I spied a group of red and white wearing fans.
“U-NI-TED!” I cried.
Mistake! They were Stoke supporters looking out for stray United fans like me.
Two stepped forward. One unleashed a punch but it was pretty poor and just hit me on the cheek. I stepped backwards but hit the back of my head against a lamppost. Cue the finest Hollywood method acting.
I fell to the ground crying, “I CAN’T SEE! I CAN’T SEE!”
I could make out muttering around me.
“Shit, he’s really hurt.” and they legged it. I let out the odd wail or two until I satisfied myself the coast was clear, then calmly got up and continued back to my car. It was only as I drove away that my underwear changed colour.
WIL: One of your personal goals for this trip was to catch as many live matches as possible. How easy is it for a Manchester United supporter to watch a match in virtually any corner of the globe?
DAVID: Not as easy as you imagine, although it’s been 5 years now and the availability of live streaming has come on leaps and bounds since then. We started our trip in India, an amazing country. So good, so bad, but a “must see” destination all the same. During our first month in Goa, for rest, recuperation and dentistry (so much cheaper than the UK) I thought this tourist-friendly destination would hold no worries for any English football supporter. Wrong! The IPL had just begun, which is the International Premier League….of Cricket! Most bars that normally showed Premiership football were all showing bloody cricket! Don’t get me wrong, I like cricket, but not at the expense of my beloved United.
The other problem was the time difference in the South Pacific islands and South America. We may think Premiership football is the best in the world, and the whole world loves watching Premiership football. Possibly, but not live.
As I write I’m waiting for the City game which works out at 3:00 AM New Zealand time. No venue has a license at this hour. The best I can find is The Fox by Viaduct Harbour which will screen the match at 8:00 AM on Monday 13 April. As long as I don’t switch on my mobile and check my e-mails, and that’s going to be hard.
On many occasions the only choice was to get up in the middle of the night and hope my streaming card worked, as many times it didn’t, which resulted in a stream…of genuine Anglo Saxon.
WIL: In your first book, Manchester United Ruined My Wife, you talk about the impact that your obsession with all things United has had on your wife and daughters. Share with us a time when you put the club over your family that you have yet to be forgiven for.
DAVID: In the beginning of our relationship, when I thought passion was at its height, I arranged a romantic weekend away with Helene and a mate of mine and his girlfriend, in a lovely picturesque hotel in the New Forest. I had told Helene that I would be away for a few hours on the Saturday afternoon as United were playing a FA Cup match at Watford but she thought I was joking. I wasn’t. I left her fuming as I drove back to London and out the other side until I got to Watford. Met up with my Red mates, walked around the allotments to the away end, only to watch us lose 1-0 in a miserable match, then drive back to the New Forest where Helene didn’t speak to me the rest of the weekend, and beyond. I never bring that incident up as I know she would still give me a right ear-bashing.
For the Champions League Final in Moscow in 2008, Melanie helped me out with the prohibitively high air fare (£800 for a one day return) only I spent our holiday money making up the balance. Damn Russians! I’m still paying in kind for that one.
WIL: You like to say that your wife, Helene, hates football with the same intensity that you love it. Helene likes to say that Manchester United would be named the “other woman” in future divorce proceedings. I’m sure there are quite a few couples that can relate to your particular situation. How have the two of you made it work?
DAVID: Helene’s a professional. You can’t see the marks!
In all honesty I wouldn’t say we have made it work. Not 100% anyway. Let’s just say we’ve agreed to an uneasy truce. She acknowledges my passion but fails to understand how a man could be seemingly more passionate, more demonstrative over an inanimate object such as a football club as opposed to a real live human being. As I wrote in “Manchester United Ruined My Wife, “How can a man love one woman, when he’s in love with eleven men?”
It really is a conundrum. I have to say United have taken me to higher high and lower lows that any other activity on the planet, including sex! I’m 65 years old. I was at Wembley on May 29, 1968 to see United beat Benfica 4-1. I was 18 years old. Imagine I had to live through every week of every season until 31 years later United played Bayern Munich in Barcelona. That’s 31 years of foreplay, plus 90 minutes of the game too far, until those famous 3 minutes of orgasm. Sex will never be as good, or as long, as those three minutes? Need I say more?
If I can’t get to watch United in person I watch games on TV or on my laptop. If I had my way I’d watch every live football match broadcast, but occasionally I have to make concessions so that I don’t miss vital United matches. Relationships are all about compromise, aren’t they?
Let me put it another way. What are the most important three words that any man or woman can say to another woman or man? The answer I often receive, and worthy of second place, is “I love you,” a worthy contender I’m sure you’ll agree. But surely at number one is “I was there!” Not only does that apply to watching United in the stadium, it could also apply to watching your favourite band or artist in concert. Even sex. TV, cinema, internet are all good, but “being there” is better. It’s that extra dimension that only “being there” can achieve.
WIL: You spent more than a decade teaching English as a foreign language, and in your book you talk about bringing some of your international students to Old Trafford as part of their “Red”ucation. Can you share with our audience, most of whom are also Manchester United supporters who did not grow up in England, why it is so important to “red”ucate themselves in the history and traditions of the club?
DAVID: Manchester United have the biggest fan base in the world. Just look at yourselves. And why do you think that is? There’s triumph mixed with tragedy and glorious failure that captures the emotions like no other football club. Wonderful players, wonderful football intertwined with a loyalty that no other club can generate on such a scale. You either get it or you don’t. In all areas of activity, knowledge of the past helps you make better, more informed decisions in the present and for the future. New players are immersed in the history of the club, so that they feel they are part of something special. More than just a football club that pays stratospheric wages. It affects your heart and your soul. It’s almost undefinable. It’s pure emotion, and we wouldn’t have it any other way.
WIL: Speaking of the history of the club, you have been a Manchester United supporter for more than 50 years. Who is the greatest player to ever put on the red shirt?
Supporters today debate who is better, Ronaldo or Messi? Of course it’s Ronaldo, but I would say that, wouldn’t I?
A few years ago, it was Pele or Maradona, but in my living memory it just has to be George Best. I was privileged to see him week in and week out. He did it home and away. He did it despite hatchet men like Ron “Chopper” Harris, Stan Smith, Ron Yates, Billy Bremner, et cetera. He did it with a much heavier ball and on pitches that were often a quagmire compared to pitches today. Imagine if George had been playing today. Sigh. Cristiano who?
The only problem protecting George’s legacy is that during George’s era Northern Ireland never qualified for the World Cup finals, so fans in many parts of the world have little or no idea just how great he was. There were also less televised matches, but I advise any football supporter, not just United fans, to go onto You Tube and discover for yourselves the magic that was Best.
Has there ever been a better United player? People who played with him such as Bobby Charlton, Billy Write, Gordon Banks, and those that played against him, would say, the one and only Duncan Edwards. Tragically killed so young, by seventeen he was already a regular for United and England. If it wasn’t for the Munich Air Disaster, the team of Manchester United would be up there with Real Madrid at their majestic best. That’s how good he was and they were.
WIL: Sir Alex Ferguson wrote the foreward to Manchester United Ruined My Wife and the two of you have interacted many times over the years. What is one of your fondest memories of Fergie?
DAVID: My Red mates and I would take a day off work and travel up every year for the Manchester United Annual General Meeting. It was an opportunity, as shareholders, to say how we felt to the powers that be, the manager and the board, not just our mates in the pub. I would often stand up and question the parenthood of Martin Edwards and the board, yet the right mixture of venom and humour meant I was always able to speak one-on-one with the various board members once the official meeting was over and the media had departed. At the end we did the obligatory rounds of asking each of the board members to lunch, which they always refused (sensible men) but the first year of Sir Alex’s reign he said, “OK lads, I’ll be right with you.”
Underwear changing as we took in the enormity of the response, we followed the great man through the bowels of Old Trafford to one of the many staff restaurants. We waxed lyrically for over two hours. He asked us where we were from, how long we had supported United, et cetera. At one stage, his secretary came over and reminded him that Mr. and Mrs. Bosnich were waiting for him in his office, together with their son, Mark. He waved her away and we continued to converse. We were in Red heaven. He told us to keep our eyes out for a superb young prospect named Ryan Wilson that would be one to watch for the future.
Eventually it was yours truly that had to call an end to our lunch as I felt Mr. and Mrs. Bosnich would be feeling a little peeved. He stood up, wished us all the best, then he was gone. We looked at each other, digesting all the insider trading he had let on when the bill arrived. Being Scottish he had left without playing so it was a bunch of Cockney Reds that footed the bill. Money well spent I would say.
WIL: David, I could listen to your stories all day. I’m sure that by now our readers are very interested in your books. Where can they go to purchase them?
DAVID: I’ve just updated my first book, Manchester United Ruined My Wife as an e-book on Kindle. In the States it’s available on Amazon. CLICK HERE
The Red Eye – A United Fan’s Distorted View of the World is also available on Amazon as a paperback as well as an e-book. CLICK HERE
Just one last thing. Production costs meant that there were many stunning photos from our one-year, round the world trip that never made The Red Eye paperback. For a much greater selection, please feel free to go to my other Facebook page, entitled, not unsurprisingly, The Red Eye.
WIL: I really don’t want to end this interview, but I’d like to thank you for your time. Safe travels and we look forward to following you around the globe on both your Facebook page and your Twitter account.