Sir Alex Ferguson is to make a personal plea to Manchester United’s supporters to put an end to the sick chants that are aimed at Arsène Wenger whenever Arsenal visit Old Trafford.
United are so embarrassed by the nature of the songs Ferguson has decided to take the matter into his own hands to back the man he used to regard as a sworn enemy. The two managers share a cordial relationship these days and Ferguson believes the abuse the Frenchman has suffered at Old Trafford over the years goes beyond any legitimate form of terrace humour.
Ferguson will write about the subject in his programme notes for Arsenal’s visit on Monday night, imploring fans not to let down the club and pointing out that they should be backing their own team rather than abusing the opposition manager. He will also appeal for an end to the offensive chants during television and radio interviews before the game between the Premier League’s top two teams.
The hope at Old Trafford is that Ferguson’s voice is powerful enough to help prevent a repeat of previous matches when Wenger has been routinely subjected to songs such as “sit down you paedophile”.
Wenger has suffered the same abuse at other grounds but there is a sense it is even worse at Old Trafford than when Arsenal play at White Hart Lane, the home of their arch-rivals Tottenham Hotspur. It was particularly noticeable when he was banished from the dug-out in Arsenal’s 2-1 defeat at Old Trafford last season, leading to a complaint from an Arsenal supporters’ website and a pledge from United’s chief executive, David Gill, that he would bring it up with the club’s official fans’ forum.
The initial plan was for Ferguson to write an open letter to the club’s supporters and send it to the local press as well as the United fanzines and websites. That has not materialised but the United manager is collaborating with the club’s publicity department about the best way of getting the message heard while, behind the scenes, other plans are being put in place in case the songs persist.
Stewards will be instructed to take strong action with any supporters who are seen singing offensive chants. The club hope that ejecting fans and confiscating season tickets will spread the message that it will no longer be tolerated.
A United spokesman said: “We have gone on the record several times about this disgusting chant. We don’t condone it and have appealed to fans several times in the past but to no avail. There are many chants that opposing fans find objectionable and this is certainly one to which all decent supporters should object.
“We will take strong action against people who chant in that way. Season tickets will be revoked and we will remove people from the ground for it.”
Ferguson condemned the nature of the Wenger chants even when their relationship was at its lowest, describing them as “ridiculous” and stating that “the police should be doing more”. When he was last asked about it publicly he said: “Manchester United and its supporters should know very well the chants that have been levelled at us over the years – ie songs about Munich [the 1958 air disaster] – and understand the sensitivity that is felt. I don’t agree with it at all. There’s enough to think about and admire in the game without resorting to denigrating people.”
Andrew Mangan, of the Arseblog website, last night praised Ferguson’s efforts, but expressed misgivings about whether it would work.
“I think it’s very welcome but I wouldn’t be too confident it will stop. I think it’s been sung so long and so often at Old Trafford that people have become desensitised to it. It’s just another song, so they don’t think about what it means. When you see kids eagerly joining in a song, alongside parents who have brought them to the game, about someone being a paedophile then there’s something really wrong.
He added: “It’d be great if United fans didn’t sing it anymore and, given the trophy count over the last few seasons, it’s not as if they’d be short of material for a replacement song.”
Patrice Evra’s agent, Frederico Pastorello, has said the player will speak to United about a new contract at the end of the season. Evra’s current deal runs out in 2012 and United are keen to keep the Frenchman.
“Things are going great with United and Sir Alex,” Pastorello said. “We don’t want to speak about the future right now, as we are in the middle of the season, but we will talk in the summer.”