The small group of long-suffering people I call “friends” will all attest to my well established dislike for Manchester United Football Club. For 20 odd years I railed against their relentless winning and their monotonous superiority. Then, in 2013, Sir Alex Ferguson, United’s all-conquering manager, hung up his hair dryer and called time on his 26 years in charge. Soon the wheels were off and United became just another club with banal players and a board of directors in the prawn sandwich seats who were concerned only with the bottom line.
Without an enemy to focus on, I began to fall out of love with football. I could see clearly now the rain had gone, I could see all obstacles in my way – namely the ridiculous profiteering and hype that goes with the game. But then, just as the dark skies had me blind, a bright (bright) sun shiny day arrived in the form of United’s new diminutive Spanish midfielder, Juan Mata.
On the pitch Mata is what Proper Football Lads would call “cultured” but it’s off the field where he’s proved himself unique among his peers who are forever “delighted to get/disappointed not to get the 3 points”. In 2017 he founded the charity Common Goal with the simple ambition of getting footballers* to pledge 1% of their earnings to a fund that supports organisations delivering the UN’s 17 “Global Goals” that include poverty reduction and gender equality. He has a couple of degrees, curates photography exhibitions and enjoys reciting poetry. In a recent BBC interview he also spoke eloquently about using football to effect positive change in society.
Mata is therefore the antithesis of what football has come to represent and more remarkably still, he’s got me not despising Man United – felicidades, Juan!
* As at March 2019 none of the England Men’s team are part of the initiative.
Rob Hamill is the host of "Nothing But Net" sports podcast.
Listen to more of him here.