Devil in the Detail: Rodney McCain

Manchester United

Name:

Rodney McCain

Year of Birth:

1971

Home town & country:

Cookstown, Co. Tyrone, Northern Ireland.

How long have you supported United, and how did you first get interested?

Since 1977. My Dad was a huge United fan from back in the days when he used to watch Bestie, Denis & Sir Bobby destroy teams; he had the 1977 F.A. Cup Final on TV (back in those days watching the Cup Final was a British national pastime- I even remember total strangers stopping at our house, asking to come in and watch the game as they were traveling and didn’t want to miss it- in those days there were no video recorders, much less modern “cloud-based” DVR systems!) and I got sucked in to cheering on the underdogs (United) against the ‘evil Empire’ (Liverpool)!

First match you ever remember seeing?

See above! I only have a vague memory of that day, though. The first game I actually sat and focused on properly is the one that broke my young heart the most- the 1979 F.A. Cup Final, when United came storming back from 0-2 down against Arsenal to make it 2-2 with a few minutes to go, only for that swine Alan Sunderland to score a last-minute winner for the Gunners and deny us our fairy-tale ending. That’s the only football match I have ever cried tears of sorrow after.

First match you actually attended?

United v Liverpool, 1982-83 season, a game which we won 1-0 thanks to a goal from legendary Irish striker Frank Stapleton. I remember being in awe of all the songs rolling around the ground, the Stretford End in a constant “battle” for domination of the atmosphere, both with themselves (left side, right side!) and with the lads in the Scoreboard Paddocks (the old United Road terraces, where the Sir Alex Ferguson Stand now sits). As a 12 year-old, I was hooked instantly.

In relation to football, who influenced you the most growing up?

My Dad. He was & is United through-and-through, thanks largely to the Belfast Boy (Bestie) who inspired a generation of lads from Northern Ireland to become fans of the famous Manchester Reds. At school, there were only a few of us United fans in a sea of scouse glory-hunters, and we had a very hard time growing up, listening to their taunts & insults, since Liverpool hoovered the trophies up back then… little did they know how things would change once Sir Alex got to work!

Did you idolise any particular player as a kid?

My first hero was Stevie Coppell, since he played in the position I always wanted to play (right winger), but my absolute hero for most of my teenage years was Bryan Robson, a man who epitomized everything I admired in a player: supreme skill, fearless bravery, leadership, absolute commitment to the team, and Robbo was a ‘game-changer’, he could win a game for you almost on his own (the famous United 3 Barcelona 0, European Cup-Winners’ Cup, March 1984 game springs to mind… a masterclass of Robbo’s dogged determination not to lose).

Who is your current favourite player?

Antonio Valencia. The lad has made the long journey across the world from his homeland, battled to succeed at Wigan Athletic, got himself a big move to United, done well as a right-winger and then has almost seamlessly made the difficult transition to become one of the best right wing-backs in Europe; he gives 110% every week, never shirks a challenge, and is a model professional, never giving the manager any headaches about what sort of life he is leading off the pitch.

Who is your all-time United great, and why?

George Best is the greatest player to have ever played for the Club, but my all-time great would be Sir Bobby Charlton, a man who overcame the unimaginable trauma of losing some of his best friends so suddenly at Munich, had to be talked into coming back into football afterwards, yet went on to become a legend of the sport for both United and England, a masterful player who could dominate a game against anyone, scored some outrageous (and important) goals, and yet has never been anything less than an absolute gentleman. We will never see his like again.

Which non-United player from the past did you most admire, and why?

I could write a list here, but I guess the first player who made me ‘sit up’ and almost salivate at his abilities was Diego Maradona. The little man was an absolute genius, and I remember watching him almost single-handedly winning the World Cup for Argentina in Mexico in 1986, thinking: “Wow, he is unbelievable…how did he do that?!” In later years, Lionel Messi proved that Maradona wasn’t the only Argentinean capable of genius, and there have been others (Zico, Platini, Bergkamp, Zola, Baggio, Zidane) who make you smile when you recall their great moments.

Which current non-United Premier League player do you admire (or fear)?

David Silva (Manchester City). An absolute magician, can do anything with the ball, supreme vision, technique and skill, and I simply wish he wore Manchester red instead of Manchester sky blue. I’d pay good money to watch David in a training session, as I’m sure you could pick up tips and moves from just watching him in training, never mind a competitive match.

Most memorable occasion following United?

26th May 1999. It will never be bettered. I was stuck doing a work course in Peterborough, England at the time; my sister was teaching in Spalding, Lincs., and I went with a couple of her friends (lads I didn’t know from Adam…) to a bar in Spalding to watch the game- when Sheringham equalised I started dancing around the bar…when Solskjaer scored a minute later, I was dancing ON TOP OF THE TABLE! My biggest regret was not catching a train to Manchester the following morning to welcome the team home with the trophy, but it’s a night that will never be forgotten. Incredible scenes. I almost (almost) felt sorry for the Bayern players, they simply couldn’t believe what had just happened to them!

Worst memory following United?

We’ve had a few lows (losing the last ever 1st Division title in 1992 to (in my opinion) an inferior Leeds United team; missing both parts of a “Double” at the end of the 1994-95 season because West Ham played out of their skins in the final league game; Aguero stealing the league title from us in the dying seconds in 2012 after Q.P.R. stopped playing early….) but for me personally, it’s 1979, and bloody Alan Sunderland. It was a crushing blow for an 8-year-old, losing a Cup Final in such a dramatic manner, and toughened me up to the reality that football could hurt, really hurt, and that you needed to keep some perspective on it if you could. The bad times make the good times all the sweeter!

If you had unlimited funds, which current player would you buy for United?

It would be easy to say Lionel Messi, since he is the most skilled player I’ve ever seen, but at his age now I’d go for a ‘younger’ model, so it would be Kylian Mbappe (P.S.G. & France), who looks to have everything you need to be the top player of your generation. Keep an eye on Leon Goretzka (Schalke 04 & Germany) too; he is a lad who will almost certainly move to Bayern next summer and has talent in spade-loads….

Do you support any other team(s) in the UK or Europe?

Yes, Linfield (Belfast), my ‘home’ team, with whom I held a season ticket for many years before I emigrated to the United States in late 2012. There is no ‘clash’ with my support for United since (thanks to UEFA) the clubs are never likely to meet up in a competitive match. I’m also, obviously, a huge fan of my country, and am so proud of what Michael O’Neill and the Norn Iron boys have achieved over the past couple of years; they have massively over-achieved, given the limited talent in the squad.

What is the best United goal you have ever seen?

Very difficult to say, as there have been so many fabulous goals over the past 40 years! For importance, Solskjaer’s winner against Bayern in 1999 is the obvious choice, but for unbelievable technical skill, probably Ryan Giggs’ “slalom” run and bullet finish past David Seaman in the F.A. Cup Semi-Final replay win over Arsenal at Villa Park that season… I still sometimes watch it, expecting one of the Arsenal defenders to make that last-ditch tackle and stop Giggsy in his tracks! A wonderful goal to win a wonderful match, in a wonderful season.

What is the best thing about being a Red Devil?

Knowing you are part of a much bigger global ‘family’, a family of very different people from different walks of life who all get taught to KNOW our history (as special as it is), know what it means to be a true Manchester United fan, and pledge to follow the Reds ‘from Rome to Mandalay’, through thick & thin. If you’re not prepared to accept the ‘thin’, then don’t come to us just to enjoy the ‘thick’…. that’s what Chelsea are for. The bad times make the good times even more special; we’ve no divine right to win anything, everything has to be earned, do your bit to support the boys. No United fan should ever be anything less than supportive of the players and the manager while you are IN the ground- that’s what you are there to do, support. Keep your moans for the pub afterwards.

Which rival club(s) do you despise the most, and why?

Liverpool. They ruined my childhood years, they dashed so many hopes and dreams during the 1980s, they represented ‘evil’, a team that played ‘functional’ football very successfully. It would be churlish to say they weren’t a good team: they were often a great team…but that only made them even more despicable for United fans! The ironic thing was that we usually managed to beat them in head-to-head games during the 1980s because our lads would ‘raise their game’ for that match, but we couldn’t sustain a season-long challenge for a league title. Other clubs (City, Leeds United, Chelsea) wish they were our rivals, but only Liverpool truly are.

Have you had any chance encounters with players/managers/celebrity fans? Tell us about it.

I’ve met Norman Whiteside, Bryan Robson, Roy Keane, Paddy Crerand and the King of Old Trafford (Denis Law) either at Old Trafford after games, or (in Denis’ case) at a charity dinner he was the guest speaker at. Ironically (given his ‘hard man’ reputation), ‘Keano’ was the nicest of them all, couldn’t sign enough autographs for us… I even got a laugh out of him when I told him I was going to turn my back on him (so he could sign the back of my shirt!) The legendary Harry Gregg was the President of the United Supporters’ Club I was a member of for many years back home in Northern Ireland, so I have been in his company a few times.

Do/did you play football to any sort of standard yourself?

Er, I played right-back for my high school team, which was enjoyable. I went to a ‘hockey school’, so we had hockey sticks thrust into our hands on ‘Day One’ of First Year, and most of us grew to love that sport (it is basically set up exactly the same as football, eleven players on each team, same positions as football…and ULTRA competitive!), so I played hockey for quite a few years when I could have been playing football instead. I had some decent ability with my right foot, but nothing like enough to ‘stand out’ in a crowd. I’m now involved with part-time coaching over here in the U.S.

Favourite football-related media outlet (other than FMG obviously!)?

For coverage of United, I enjoy watching the lads on “Full Time Devils”, particularly Adam McKola & Stephen Howson- they provide “informed” fans’ views on the issues surrounding the Club. For news stories, I go to the BBC Sports website or several newspaper sites (The Guardian, Telegraph).

Favourite food/drink?

Food: My mum’s mince steak pie, with chips & beans or Chinese/Italian. Drink: Guinness or Murphy’s Irish Stout (I can’t get Murphy’s in the United States….sigh)

Favourite TV show?

Aside from “Match of The Day”, it would be “Frasier”- easily the greatest American comedy show ever made; my wife & I watch it ‘on repeat’! My favourite show of all time is still “Only Fools & Horses”, comic genius. Loved “Blackadder” too- Rowan Atkinson is a great comedic actor.

Favourite movie/movie star?

Probably “The Lord of the Rings” trilogy, which was a brilliant story, very well acted and directed. Mentions also to the original “Star Wars” trilogy, and “Lock, Stock & Two Smoking Barrels”, one of the best British films ever made.

I’ve watched everything that John Wayne and Clint Eastwood ever did, two all-time great actors.

My favourite female star growing up was Meg Ryan, whom I (like so many teenage lads!) had a serious ‘crush’ on…. She was the girl you wished lived just next door, so you could pester her for a date every day!

Favourite book/author?

The Lord of the Rings” trilogy by J.R.R. Tolkien; anything by American author John Sandford, especially his series on fictional detectives Lucas Davenport and Virgil Flowers.

Football-based: “Provided You Don’t Kiss Me- 20 Years With Brian Clough” by Duncan Hamilton– a superb biography of one of my all-time heroes, Cloughie, by a man who shadowed him during his successes at Nottingham Forest, achievements that will never be repeated nor bettered.

Best holiday destination you’ve been to, and why?

Either Australia (a wonderful country with tons to see, and the Aussies are great people with a very dry sense of humour) or Hawaii (we spent our honeymoon on Kauai, which is simply paradise…we never wanted to come home again.)

If you were single and could have a date with anyone, she would be?

Right now, probably someone like Eniola Aluko, Rebecca Lowe (NBCSN presenter), Alison Bender (ESPN presenter) or Jules Breach (BT Sport presenter), all beautiful girls who know a thing or two about the game and probably have plenty of stories to share over a nice bottle of Italian or French red wine…I should be so lucky!

Name three guests (dead or alive) you’d love to invite round for dinner & conversation?

Sir Winston Churchill (talk about having stories to tell….he could just regale us with tales from 1939-1945!);

Brian Clough (surely the greatest ‘character’ to ever emerge from British football, a man with an outspoken opinion on absolutely everything… he’d be fascinating)

Dave Allen (the greatest comedian of all time, in my opinion, and if conversation started to ‘dry up’, Dave could simply pour himself a whiskey, light a cigar and start to make us all laugh!)

Where will United finish this year in the league? And in Europe?

I’d love to say we’ll finish the season as Champions of England, but that looks to be a big ask from here, given the form and squad depth of our ‘noisy neighbours’, but I’m hopeful we can at least push them all the way and finish in 2nd place… anything more would be fantastic, anything less disappointing. The European Cup is very difficult to win, and if we get beyond the Quarter-Final stage that would be great, and will certainly depend on favourable draws and very good performances on the night. We could certainly win the F.A. Cup if we avoid ties at top rival clubs until the later stages.

Pick your all-time favourite United XI from players you have seen play (so unless you were alive to see big Duncan Edwards play, you can’t include him).

Note: not necessarily the ‘best’, but my favourite side in a 4-4-2: Schmeichel; G. Neville, Ferdinand, Stam, Irwin; Ronaldo, Robson, Scholes, Giggs; van Nistelrooy, Whiteside.

About the Author

Rodney McCain
A passionate supporter of Manchester United since I was 6 years old. In life I'm a consulting civil engineer, but that's only to pay the bills. Originally from Northern Ireland, I was a regular at Old Trafford for many years, but now reside in the United States, which makes getting to games a tad difficult.... I love to write about football, which hopefully comes across to readers on these sites.