Formed in 2005, Stretford End Flags (SEF) is an independent supporters group, which was initially set up to provide the banners that adorn the front of the Stretford End. The group has since branched out, often organising mosaics at Old Trafford and elsewhere, and is at the forefront of the campaign to develop a permanent ‘singing section’ at Old Trafford.
In a two-part interview occasional Rant writer Jonathan Shrager talks to SEF’s Andrew Kilduff, better known as ‘Tufty’, about the group’s work.
Jonathan Shrager: Following our recent interview regarding the Singing Section, I thought we could discuss your original MUFC supporters role, with Stretford End Flags. How did SEF come to be the official flag supplier at Old Trafford?
Andrew Kilduff: Following the takeover of the club in the summer of 2005 the supporters who looked after the Stretford End banners decided to take them down in a protest against the new owners. As the season approached some fans opposed the idea of the banners being taken down, especially as no consultation with the fanbase was sought. Fans who mainly posted on the Red News forum set up a group with the aim of putting up new banners. Some fans approached me to become part of the group and SEF was born. Most of the original banners were handed back to SEF and were retruned to the Stretford End, along with new banners designed by the fans. The original banners are still up to this day.
JS: How many people are involved with SEF, and what does this role entail?
AK: There are seven people involved with SEF. It’s a voluntary role and we combine it with our day jobs and our matchday support for the club. We do it as we feel it’s important that fans have an input into the atmosphere and what goes on inside Old Trafford. It’s easy to moan about things, but harder to put yourself forward and carry out ideas. We seek fans’ ideas and other supporters are always welcome to join us in improving and developing SEF. Mostly SEF takes care of itself, but we get busy when we produce a new banner or when we attend talks with the club about the singing section.
JS: Can you walk us through the process of how flags/banners come to fruition, from conception to execution? Do fans get a say in the concepts and design of the flags?
AK: SEF try and produce a new banner at least once a season in order to keep them fresh. We constantly seek fans’ ideas for designs, no matter where the fan is located, and all design ideas get considered. When produce a banner we make public that ideas are being sought and then form a shortlist, which we put up for a fans vote on our website. We also try and produce a banner for special occasions, such as marking certain player’s United career or to commemorate the death of a former player. Once fans vote on the banner to be made we then commission it and donations in order to pay for it. Most banners cost about £500 and they’re all funded by donations.
JS: What was the first ever flag produced by SEF and do you have a personal favourite?
AK: The first ever banner that SEF produced was “We’ll Never Die”; unfortunately this got lost when it was taken down in 2005 and was found. It’s hard to say which is my favourite, as they are all unique and carry different meanings. Sir Alex’ “25 years” banner was probably the most widely supported. This was the longest banner we have ever made and as a result was the most costly. Fans’ donations came in quickly from all around the world. Player banners always attract the most donations in the quickest time as fans always want to pay tribute to their heroes.
JS: What’s the flag that received the most opposition? Any flags you’ve ever had to remove or weren’t authorised by the club?
AK: The only banner we have been forced to remove was “United > ENGLAND”. This was on the Stretford End for the first home game that season against Spurs. The club received a complaint, which we are lead to believe was from the FA themselves, and as such it was removed. We actually auctioned the banner for charity and it’s still seen now and then at an away game.
We don’t seek permission from the club; we simply seek a design and have them made. We obviously know what will be allowed and what won’t, so banners protesting at the owners or being offensive won’t be permitted.
JS: Do you have a job outside of your role at Old Trafford?
AK: Yes, SEF is voluntarily, carried out in our spare time. Everybody involved in SEF has day jobs as do those who get involved in other supporters groups. I work as a sales engineer and usually try and keep football-related conversations out of my working life as most people either love United or hate them!
JS: Where do you normally sit at OT on matchday? Football aside, is match day a stressful affair for you, entailing a certain level of admin
AK: I sit in East Lower facing the Stretford End. Matchdays are usually like every other fans matchday, although I manage the Manchester United Supporters Team, so most Saturday mornings are usually spent with them before heading to the game. We try and play a match against other supporters’ teams before most United games. We also look to play some Euro teams depending on Champions league progression and draw.
The banners around the stadium – we use all the tiers now – stay up all year round. We try and rotate them occasionally, so this takes a little management. The club’s safety team hangs them all for us due to the way they have to be hung. Other than occasionally promoting new banners on MUTV, we go the pub and then the match much the same as other fans!
JS: Managing the Manchester United Supporters Team sounds great…
AK: The team is about building relations with other supporters, offering United fans a form of fitness and representing the club. The club helps with kits and training items. When we played CSKA Moscow Supporters at the Cliff, David May, Clayton Blackmore and Andy Ritchie played for us. Before the Champions League final in Moscow we took on Spartak Moscow Supporters at Spartak’s training stadium, watched by over 600 fans and attended by Paddy Crerand and Andrei Kanchelskis. Last Feb we played a team of Chinese soccer skills competition winners. Then last June we played in the annual Charity 7-a-side competition at Carrington, when Paddy Crerand and Blackmore came along.
We are taking a team of 18 up to Livingston for the weekend on the 22nd February to play in the British Supporters Cup. Each man is paying £50 for the trip – we finance our own pitches and refs each game.
JS: When playing against other supporters’ teams, how do you generally fare? I just hope City haven’t invested in buying supporters who are also talented at football!
AK: City have now got a team in the supporters league. When we played them earlier in the season we beat them 9-2 and we are scheduled to play them against at Platt Lane on the weekend of the 1st March. City haven’t bought any players as yet, but Shaun Goater has trained with them!
The United supporters team is of a decent standard, with a great set of lads. For the last two seasons we have reached the North West supporters Cup final, sadly losing to Preston North End and Blackpool – a team of ex pro ringers – respectively. During the summer we won the Plate competition at the annual Worldnet tournament, which hosts 40 supporters’ teams. So far this season we have played eight games, winning six, drawing one and losing one, with the best goals per game ratio in the league.
JS: Crikey; sounds like Moyesey will soon be scouting your team for inspiration. What are your opinions on David Moyes so far and who would you like to see us sign in January?
AK: I’ve no issues with David Moyes, it was an impossible job for him to take on, one that not many people could ever find a winning situation from. The media always wanted him to fail and some of their gripes, which they couldn’t attack Sir Alex Ferguson for, have fallen on Moyes’ lap. He wasn’t helped by the squad he inherited or the timing of coming into the club. Yes United won the league, but we did that crying out for a midfielder or two, with wingers who had lost any attacking instinct, and players such as Rio and Giggs who are on their last legs.
What Moyes has done is give every player a chance. Sometimes that works and players respond to a new challenge, and the new manager. Unfortunately it has not worked, and players haven’t performed. The dead wood is still at the club and we need to invest. The summer window wasn’t helped by Moyes’ July start date, along with the overseas summer tour schedule that took the team away for over three weeks. January windows are always hard to deal in, but given the results to date, we desperately need to bring some more quality into the squad. I don’t envisage more than one signing, if any, during January.
I think we will make the top four, and call me daft, but I’ve said since the day Moyes took over that I fancy us for the European Cup (stop laughing!). I just have a feeling that he can do something within 10 months, that Fergie couldn’t do that often in nearly 27 years. Sometimes you don’t have to be the best side to win the European Cup; Liverpool showed that in 2005 and Porto did the same. What you do need is luck on your side, key decisions going your way, injuries or suspensions not taking their toll and the luck of the draw. Moyes hasn’t had that luck to date, especially in the league and it has to change sooner or later.
JS: As a well-known Red, how do you generally find Twitter? Do you get a lot of stick from opposing fans?
AK: To be honest I try and keep Twitter United-related. I don’t use it like some; as a general platform for discussing any old subject or for general football debate. I try and sift out followers as well; if I spot a City or a Liverpool fan following me then they get blocked! Following City winning the FA Cup a couple of years back, I got bombarded by City fans calling for the ticker banner to come down. Some got quite nasty about it and personal details got put on the internet that resulted in phone calls to my house. That didn’t go down very well with the wife!
I tend to find I get more stick from United fans. The problem with Twitter is that any idiot can fabricate a story or say you’ve done something and within minutes its retweeted and believed. There’s a small little clique of cyber reds who tweet about other fans, in most cases they’ve never met me, but they think it makes them look cool with their mates.
That seems to be the case with other fans who go out of their way to do things for the supporters or the clubs. Pete Boyle has taken stick from jealous reds, but he takes it on the chin and in most cases ignores it. It’s easier to moan or slate someone than to get up out the chair and carry ideas forward. It’s sad really and is probably more a reflection on the overall cyber society and new levels of bullying. It’s just a pity that we can’t be more United as a fan base at times and that’s the worse thing which came out of the Glazer takeover in 2005; it split the fans and it still splits the fans.
JS: I spotted a picture on your Twitter of you at Carrington. Has your role for SEF over the years afforded you any privileges with the club? Do you have any amusing anecdotes, involving the club and/or its players?
AK: The pics on twitter from Carrington are from being involved with the supporters’ team. We don’t get any privileges for helping with SEF. I’ve been to Carrington a few times when the players have been there to pick up kit, but no real stories of interest. I’ve a few pictures on Twitter from the Unicef event that the club ran in December. We were sat by Nemanja Vidic, Patrice Evra, Bobby Charlton, Moyes and Peter Andre!
When SEF did the very first BELIEVE mosaic for the Barca game, it was run by Ryan Giggs. Giggs asked “what happens if we lose 5-0 in the first leg in Barcelona”?. We replied that we’d still believe so the mosaic was made!
JS: Loved “Mysterious Girl” myself. Well, thank you Andrew for being generous with your time.
AK: Thanks Jonny. For those interested here are some upcoming Manchester United Supporters Team:
Saturday 11th January v Southport Supporters at Partington Sports Village, 11am
Saturday 25th January v Rochdale Supporters at Partington Sports Village 11am – quarter final of the NW Supporters Cup
Saturday 1st February v Stoke City Supporters at Michelin Sports Centre near the Britannia stadium, 11am