Belfast Telegraph

It's official, we are Manchester United mad - Quarter of top supporters' clubs worldwide based in Northern Ireland

Manchester United's large support in Northern Ireland has endured.
Manchester United's large support in Northern Ireland has endured.

Despite a few lean seasons on the pitch, the the love affair between Northern Ireland's football fans and Manchester United shows no signs of slowing down.

The latest figures from the club have revealed that nine of their top 40 official supporters' clubs are based in Northern Ireland.

Manchester United currently has 252,642 official fans signed up worldwide.

In a list of the top 40 groups by numbers, local supporters clubs featured prominently.

Northern Ireland has had a long affinity with Manchester United dating back to the days of Jackie Blanchflower, Harry Gregg and George Best.

A number of local international players have represented United throughout the years including Sammy McIlroy, Jimmy Nicholl, Norman Whiteside, Keith Gillespie, Roy Carroll and Jonny Evans.

During the season fans regularly travel from across Northern Ireland to watch their beloved Red Devils at Old Trafford.

Northern Ireland's biggest supporters club is based in the Co Down town of Carryduff.

It came in at fifth place in the list of overall supporters clubs.

Carryduff, with a population of around 7000 people, has more official Manchester United supporters than the nations of Bulgaria, Israel and Thailand.

John and Sir Alex
John and Sir Alex

Founding member of the Carryduff Manchester United Supporters Club John White said the club had grown to 347 members since 1991.

He expressed his disappointed that the club missed out on fourth place to Clare by one member, but said he was confident of claiming the spot as the biggest United supporters club in Ireland. 

"I'll sign them up if I have to pay for them myself," Mr White joked.

The club currently has 60 season tickets at Old Trafford which are available to members on a first come, first served basis.

In recent years they have been recognised for their support with multiple visits from Sir Alex Ferguson, Paul Scholes, Gary Neville and Ryan Giggs.

Mr White said that he believed the family atmosphere was a big part of the club's success.

United they stand: Young and old members of the Carryduff Manchester United supporters Club
United they stand: Young and old members of the Carryduff Manchester United supporters Club

"There is no drinking on our trips, we're completely cross community. There's no Celtic-Rangers, Linfield-Cliftonville stuff, we don't allow any colours of any other club. We're all about one team - Manchester United."

He explained that the club's Irish connection went back to the club's founding as Newton Heath.

"During the potato famine huge numbers of Irish moved to Manchester and they became among the club's first supporters," Mr White said.

"That link was strengthened by all the great Irish players who have represented the club over the years."

Mr White said that it was George Best, the Belfast boy regularly named as one of the game's all-time greats, that attracted him to United.

"My dad was a Wolves fan because he loved Derek Dougan, but once I saw George Best it was United for me, I was mesmerized."

He said that despite the criticism he was a fan of the Best statue recently unveiled at Windsor Park.

"It's a hard thing to do but I think he did capture the man, he got George in motion and that was him as a player, always in perpetual motion," Mr White said.

"I like that it's low down to the ground where people can enjoy it, we have the statues at Old Trafford of Sir Alex Ferguson and Sir Matt Busby and the one of Best, Law and Charlton but they are so high up, you can hardly see them."

The biggest United supporters club is based in Scandanavia, followed by Hong Kong, Iceland and County Clare in the Republic of Ireland.

Cookstown has the second biggest supporters club in Northern Ireland, coming in at 12th place in the overall list.

Next up is Dungannon in 15th, Muckamore Reds in 25th and Newry in 28th place.

Rounding out the list is Limavady in 34th, Portstewart in 35th, Downpatrick in 38th and Omagh in 39th.

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