Born in 1961 in North London, Tony Hughes has been obsessed with United since the late 1960’s.
“I love watching Manchester United,” he says. “We’re the biggest club in the world with more stories than Coronation Street!”
Tony moved to the USA in 1992 and now lives in San Diego, California – where he helps run the official United supporter’s club in the city.
In this interview, this legendary Cockney Red joined us from the other side of the pond to look back at his early United years and share a few magical photos for old times sake.
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We start by asking Tony about his first time watching United, which he comments is tough to pin-point:
“I first started watching us in the European Cup as a kid in the late 1960’s, and then started going to games in London at places like Spurs, Arsenal and West Ham between 1968 and 1970,” he says. “But I really fell in love after the European Cup Final in ’68.”
“We were on holiday in Italy at the time (terrible planning by my Mum), where we watched the final in a bar full of Italians.”
“I remember Renato the ice cream man giving me free ice cream and pinching my cheeks calling me ‘Bobby Charlton,’ ‘Nobby Stiles’ and ‘George Best.’”
“The bar was packed that night as we watched us lift the European Cup at Wembley, and after that it was United all the way!”
“Watching United live growing up was like watching the Beatles,” Tony remarks beaming with pride.
“When George Best came to London, we’d greet the team as heroes with another 15,000 supporters at Euston and then everyone would walk to the ground.”
“We’d usually get to the stadium for about 11:30 for a 3 o’clock kick-off. If you weren’t in the ground by then, you’d get locked out.”
Impressively, Tony only ever got locked out once, at Tottenham’s White Hart Lane.
“All because my Mum was getting her hair done,” he says. “I refused to move on when the police horses came and just stood outside the gates all game devastated!”
Tony first started travelling to Manchester in 1972/’73 with different pockets of Cockney Reds… and Mum!
“I had a junior season ticket in the Stretford End in the ’73/’74 season. It cost £8.00,” he says.
“I can’t even begin to tell people how unbelievable that place was back then. It was swaying, it was moving. It was absolutely packed with characters. It was very noisy and very unrehearsed (unlike at Anfield!)”
“My Mum would get the train with me from London back then. It cost £1.60 up to Manchester Piccadilly.”
“I can remember one time they wouldn’t serve us beer on the train, so the Cockney Reds (no names mentioned) stole all the food and drink from the buffet and hid it behind Mum’s seat.”
“The police got on the train and asked her who it was. She said she had no idea and instantly became a United hero!”
The Red Army’s invasion of English towns and cities in the 1970’s is well documented, and Tony was there to experience it first hand as a teenager.
United spent the ’74-’75 season in Division 2, and he fondly recalls visiting new towns like “Bristol, Oldham, York and Oxford.”
“When you’re 13 getting off the train in random places and everyone wants to kill you, it’s an eye opener!”
“It was packed with United fans when we stepped off the train. Everybody dressed like Bay City rollers with turned-up jeans, Dr. Martins and scarves on their wrists,”
“All you heard was ‘UNITED’ ‘UNITED’ ‘UNITED’,” he shouts.
“I know it’s only a one-word song, but the echo and sound of that one song in a railway station with a low hanging roof must have terrified a lot of people!”
Having always had his own business, Tony has been privileged to travel to watch the reds around the world throughout most of his life.
For the record, he dislikes the word ‘brand’, but is grateful for the work the club has done over the years to grow the international fan base.
“You don’t become as big as United without doing the right things,” he says. “The club has made it easy for us as fans to be appreciated across the globe.”
“To really understand how big Manchester United are, you really need to go to places like Bangkok, Hong Kong, Singapore.”
Speaking of Bangkok, Tony remembers a story from the 1989 pre-season tour of Thailand.
“I’d managed to climb the fence after our final game and get onto the pitch to celebrate with Bryan Robson and the pre-season trophy we won. We got into the dressing rooms after and met all the players, it was incredible.”
“Back in the hotel after, one of the staff says to me – ‘You’re in the newspaper.’”
“You could get away with anything travelling the world with United back then.”
“Sometimes we’d receive celebrity status from the locals. I remember one year in South Africa we ended up on stage singing with a boy band, and got introduced as “Manchester United.”
“The locals thought we were the players and asked for our autographs. We went along with it, of course!”
One of Tony’s fondest memories came in Tokyo in 1999 just after United were crowned World Champions.
“I remember running through the streets of Tokyo chanting ‘We are the champions of the world,’” he says.
“I don’t think it gets any bigger than that!”
Amen to that Tony!