They’re called “Man United,” “United” or, by Indonesians, “MU,” but using the nickname “Man U” to refer to Manchester United is not politically correct because of its derogatory origin. But out of ignorance, even some United fans still do it.
These days “Man U” is widely used by supporters of rival clubs as an insult to Manchester United. The origin of the term can be traced back to the 1950s, not so long after the Munich air disaster that claimed the lives of more than half of Manchester United’s squad. The club was flying home after playing Bayern Munich in the European Cup when the plane crashed following an abortive takeoff on a snowy night.
The United team of that era was affectionately known as the Busby Babes because manager Sir Matt Busby collected an array of fine young talent and nurtured them into a formidable power in English football. Among them was an outstanding striker named Duncan Edwards, who was said to be the next great English striker. His colossal physique earned him the nickname “Big Dunc” and instilled fear in defenders. Sadly, Edwards, who was only 21, was one of the Munich casualties.
England and United lost what could have been their brightest striker of all time, but for rival supporters it meant that their potential tormentor wouldn't be around to score goals at their expense. So rival fans, most notably supporters of West Bromwich Albion, which was a prominent club in the ’50s, began to taunt United over Edwards’s death with their terrace song.
“Duncan Edwards is manure, rotting in his grave. Man you are manure, rotting in your grave,” so the song goes. Rival fans derived the derogatory “Man U” nickname from the song and began to use it as an insult.
Fans of two of United’s fiercest rivals, Liverpool and Leeds United, made sure they didn't miss the chance to wind up United and jumped on the mocking bandwagon. They had their own renditions of “Man U” songs.
“Man U, Man U went on a plane. Man U, Man U never came back again.”
“Man U Never Intended Coming Home.” (Note the first letter of each word combines to spell “Munich.”)
“Who’s that dying on the runway? Who’s that dying on the snow? It’s Matt Busby and all his babes.”
This clearly shows that the term “Man U” was meant to be an insult, and anyone who calls themselves United fans shouldn’t use it to refer to their beloved club.
But there’s been a debate recently among native Man United fans about whether “Man U” contains a foul intention. One argument says that “Man U” had been used long before the Munich disaster, particularly by journalists in the ’40s and early ’50s who were looking to abbreviate the lengthy club name to fit it in the paper.
Manchester United was too long so they would shorten the club’s name to “Man Utd” or “Man U.” The same thing happened to Birmingham City, which was shortend to “B’ham City,” and Sheffield Wednesday, which became “Sheff W.”
When the television era emerged, the abbreviated names were also used in on-screen scoreboards. Every time United plays, you can see “ManU” on the top left of your TV screen, although I’m sure B’ham City is no longer used because “BIR” is much shorter.
A handful of ignorant United fans aside, these days the term “Man U” is only used by rivals and those who delight in seeing United lose regardless of the club they support, known as ABU (Anything But United, another derogatory term).
As for me, I wouldn’t object to the idea of using the term — especially after recent findings showing that it had been used before without disrespect — but when I remembered how loathsome some people could be by making fun of the deceased, I’d give it a second thought.