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Manchester United fan John's book tells how club tackled sectarianism in Northern Ireland

By Cate McCurry

An avid Manchester United fan has penned a book of how the famous football club helped bring Northern Ireland supporters from across the political divide together during the height of the Troubles.

John White, a self-confessed Red Devils fanatic, has revealed his remarkable story in Kicking Through The Troubles, How Manchester United Helped To Heal A Divided Community.

It tells of how he grew up in Belfast's Short Strand, befriended long-term United boss Sir Alex Ferguson and founded a supporters' club that reached out to Catholics and Protestants.

The club has thousands of Northern Ireland fans, including celebrities such as TV's Eamonn Holmes and actor James Nesbitt.

It all began with George Best, when the east Belfast legend regularly turned out for Northern Ireland. These were the first big matches John watched as a child.

From there, the 55-year-old followed United's fortunes as he travelled to Old Trafford every two weeks over many years.

In 1991, after moving from Belfast to Carryduff, John founded the George Best Carryduff Manchester United Supporters' Club. The cross-community club had the express aim of uniting Catholics and Protestants and their shared passion for Man U.

It was in this role that he began hosting charity dinners in Belfast and befriending many club legends, including former boss Sir Alex Ferguson.

John was given the role of promoting Sir Alex's charity, The Elizabeth Hardie Ferguson Charitable Trust Fund, named after the manager's late mother - a job he did for 16 years.

"When Sir Alex left, it was the end of an era and, for me, the end of a close working relationship," he said.

"He helped open so many doors. When doing charity events I would always go to him for help and that was it done.

"When he left I decided that, while I wrote books on Manchester United, I have never written one about why I loved the club and how George Best was my idol.

"I opened up the supporters' club in 1991 when the Troubles were still going.

"Carryduff was a very mixed area, there were no flags.

"At that time supporters' clubs were either Catholic or Protestant.

"So I set the club up and said that I did not want religion to be part of it - only that members supported Manchester United. It blossomed from there. It's all about bringing both sides together. In many ways it's all about kicking through troubles."

The supporters' club has members from all over Northern Ireland. There are no emblems or flags - only club colours.

"We have very strict rules and people have responded well to that. We have over 300 members," he added.

"When we started we held meetings in very neutral venues and areas and we accept people from anywhere, not just Carryduff, we have members from Newcastle to Lifford."

John's book features forewords from major names including former Manchester United playing legend Paddy Crerand.

"John has more than expressed his love for Manchester United on countless occasions but what makes his relationship with the club so special is the fact that down the years he has helped out so many deserving causes through his energetic charitable work," he wrote.

The book will be published in October.

Belfast Telegraph

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