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Still presenting a United front . . .

PEOPLE are paying a lot of attention to the way Manchester United fans are reacting during what - for them - is a period of unusual stress.

Together they fall: there have been a number of unpalatable results since he took over this season but supporters have refused to turn on David Moyes. Picture: PA
Together they fall: there have been a number of unpalatable results since he took over this season but supporters have refused to turn on David Moyes. Picture: PA

There was great fun being had yesterday at the expense of the boozy supporter who telephoned Greater Manchester police within minutes of United crashing out of the Capital One Cup because of their incompetent penalties against Sunderland.

"A man from the Crumpsall area of North Manchester rang 999 in a drunken state demanding to speak to Sir Alex Ferguson about last night's result," said the police in a statement carried on Twitter. "If you would like to speak to Sir Alex about recent football results we here at GMP Manchester North can only suggest you try ringing Manchester United FC directly as you will probably (not definitely) have a much better chance of getting through to him."

The poor souls manning United's switchboard will not thank the cops for that. If punters reckoned they really could get through to Fergie, or to anyone else capable of making sense of the way their season's going, they would be bombarding the Old Trafford phones in their thousands. Club officials have been busy enough, with a move to sign Juan Mata from Chelsea for £40m expected to be completed today.

Yet two things are notable from the audio (also released by the police) of the drunk fan on the phone: commendably he gets through the whole call without being abusive or swearing and he also gets through the entire conversation without blaming or even mentioning David Moyes.

Crumpsall man might have reacted uniquely by getting on the blower to the police but he might have plenty in common with much of the United support, which has refused to distance itself from Moyes. One of the few things worthy of admiration about United this season has been the patience and respect shown by fans to the manager.

It is hardly a matter for great praise that a fanbase which suckled off Britain's best manager for 26 years has not transformed itself into a pitchfork-wielding lynch mob at the first sign of some bother. But supporters in the modern era are not noted for tolerance or patience, especially at a club as big as United going through the sort of decline and public embarrassments being visited on Old Trafford.

Had they turned, Moyes' life would be even more stressful than it already is, perhaps to an intolerable level.

Earlier this month the popular fanzine Red Issue polled its readers on how long Moyes should get if things did not improve. The options were 'no longer: get rid now', 'end of this season' and 'next season' (even the most general of those alternatives would take Moyes only two years into his five year contract). The results were encouragingly level-headed: 79% said he should get next season.

When Ferguson bowed out last season he delivered one last team-talk to 76,000 men, women and children: "I would like to remind you this club stood by me in bad times," he said into a microphone after his final game at Old Trafford. "Your job now is to stand by the new manager."

So far they have done so and regulars say songs personalised for Moyes are sung more often than ones for Ferguson were. Moyes has made a point of praising the support he has had, and with good reason. At away games the backing has been particularly vocal.

There is not much for United fans to cling to as the season breaks apart around them - they are out of both domestic cups, sit 14 points behind Arsenal in seventh place in the Barclays Premier League, and are ninth in betting to win the Champions League - but their attitude to a struggling manager can elevate them above others.

United supporters have shown they will buy into the club's long-termism by singing so enthusiastically about Moyes. There has been almost a wilful defiance from them. They refuse to give other fans the satisfaction of watching them turn on Moyes.

Manager and fans remain, for the time being at least, united.

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