Available Fall 2017

LIFE, LIBERTY AND THE PURSUIT OF UNITED

An Englishman’s Quest to Remain Connected to “His”
Team from the Other Side of The Pond

by Gary B. France

GARY B. FRANCE has been a Manchester United fanatic for over forty years.

He has worked as physical therapist since 1987. His professional career has provided him the opportunity to aid thousands of patients in their rehabilitation from injury. As he states: “there has never been a dull moment.”

Gary has a passion for music, which led him to becoming a radio DJ in Ann Arbor, MI in the mid-90s, with his Saturday morning show “The British Invasion.”

An avid writer, Gary has always maintained a diary to reflect on his journey. He has turned many of these recollections into his first book “LIFE, LIBERTY, AND THE PURSUIT OF UNITED,” a labor of love for the past twenty years.

Every journey has its own story . . .

On August 2nd 2014, I sat with close to 110,000 fellow fans packed into the University of Michigan’s “Big House” in Ann Arbor, Michigan watching Manchester United take on Real Madrid. Can anyone say that soccer has not truly arrived in the USA?!

But it wasn’t always this way!

The playgrounds of rural northern England in the early 1970s are where I first fell in love with soccer—more specifically Manchester United. Surviving the dominance of Liverpool FC during my teenage years and launching into adulthood, I plot my wanderlust around Britain, eventually making it “across the Pond” to Michigan, USA.

I leave Britain for the U.S. the morning after Manchester United loses the English Premier League title to Blackburn Rovers. Not exactly the “high” I was hoping for as I am about to detach from all that is familiar and from the team about which I am fanatical.

Arriving in the USA in 1995, a week-old English newspaper (which cost me an arm and a leg), the “hiss and crackle” of a small shortwave radio, or a Saturday afternoon transatlantic phone call to my father were my only initial options for keeping up with “the beautiful game”—and my obsession with Manchester United.

“LIFE, LIBERTY, AND THE PURSUIT OF UNITED” is a vivid account of the lengths to which soccer fans went to watch games from abroad while living in the “land of the free” prior to the internet and the countless global options we now take for granted. The twists and turns throughout each soccer season, both on and off the field, ignite and inspire me as I tell the tale through the eyes of an expat soccer-loving Brit initially deprived of my “fix.” Being suddenly sucked into a subculture of “underground” soccer fanatics watching the English Premier League during one of the most successful periods in Manchester United’s history made for an unforgettable time “away from home.”

Every journey has its own story. This is mine.

Whether you are new to soccer or a diehard fan—a Manchester United fan or not— “LIFE, LIBERTY, AND THE PURSUIT OF UNITED” will leave you enthralled and inspired by the extremes one fan can go to for the “Glory Glory” of his team.

At what point did you decide to document your adventures and write a book?

I had landed in a foreign country, detached from the familiar. Pretty soon into my adventure, I realized that I was living in a land seemingly devoid of interest for “the beautiful game.” I had to be determined in my quest to remain “United” with the soccer team about which I was fanatical. The dramatic conclusion to Manchester United’s historic Treble season in 1998–99 and experiencing the 1999 Champions League final in a packed bar in the American midwest (in stark contrast to four years prior when I first landed in America) provided the real catalyst for my decision to write “Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of United.” As I began to reflect back on the unique experiences of my journey to that point, I knew that I had plenty of ammunition: the incredible characters I had met; the unforgettable moments; the striking contrasts to my homeland; and of course watching the games with soccer fans from such a wide variety of backgrounds. As I began to write I became more and more convinced about the story that I knew I wanted to tell. Being a stranger in a strange land often makes for interesting and fun reading as I hope “Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of United” will testify.

How quickly did it all come together?

As I chronicled the characters I met, their experiences, and my own experiences over a 4–5 year period, I began to sense a story. Once I felt confident that it was indeed a story worth telling, it became important to provide a strong narrative and remain fluid in the delivery. There then followed a very patient process, revisiting and revising the draft manuscript over the subsequent years. All in all, I have been working on this project for close to two decades.

What were your favorite chapters to write?

The early chapters recounting my younger years growing up in Lancashire and first becoming besotted with the game of football and Manchester United were great fun to write. This was where it all began. I wanted to take the reader back to their very own moments when a soccer ball, a few buddies and four jackets was all that was required for hours of enjoyment. My initial transition over to living in Michigan was also fun to write. The characters and the experiences became real again as I trundled down an ‘American memory lane.’ It goes without saying that the chapters leading up to Manchester United’s Treble success were terrific to recount too. The first time I walked into Connor O’Neill’s pub in Ann Arbor and observing the Irish den in the making resonates too. Early one Saturday morning, prior to the pub’s opening date, I had taken a pen and paper with me contemplating the significance of the moment to an expat starved of his “fix.” Quietly walking through the building documenting the various sights and artifacts that were to decorate the wonderful structure gave me a sense that I had finally found my soccer salvation abroad.

What do you want readers to take away from reading “Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of United”?

The sense of an honest and enthusiastic journey of one person taking a chance and challenging himself to move forward in life yet at the same time remaining very much attached to the things that matter the most—the roots of family, friends, and, of course, his soccer team! A chance for the reader to appreciate a fan’s passion for his team and for the game of soccer itself borne out of a certain time and place in a young man’s life, giving the reader an opportunity to connect with the writer and the realization that if you allow yourself to be open wonderful experiences and friendships can evolve.

What’s so important about soccer in the UK?

Short answer: Everything!

Longer answer:

Britain has staunch tribal roots, centuries old, strongly embedded into the fabric of its culture; fervent, bitter cross-town rivalries that have evolved throughout its history. The tight geography of England lends itself to the intense competitiveness between its regions. There is pride of place; the sense of belonging, tying people together. And what better way to affirm such roots than at a soccer match—the community using its voice, fully resplendent in the colors of “our” team and “our” town, colors uniting; identifying and aligning with “our own.”

Soccer allegiances continue to be passed down from generation to generation; dad a City supporter; mum a United fan; brother versus brother, one wearing a Liverpool scarf the other an Everton shirt. The match is the ritual—the epicenter of a soccer fan’s world, talked about all week in its build up.

The Christmas period, to me, further epitomizes soccer’s relevance in the UK. Nowhere else in the world does a single sport dominate during such an important time in the calendar, when, despite obvious distractions—religious, family and otherwise—that two-week period of English Premier League matches serves up four to five fixtures for each team in short succession, fueling the Festive fervor even more.

Can you be considered a “true” fan without going to games?

Once you fall in love with “the one,” that’s it, right?

I recently read an article stating that the number of Manchester United fans worldwide at last count was estimated to be somewhere in the region of 330 million. Obviously, the vast majority of these fans will never be able to grace the stadium at any time in their lives. But these fans are every bit as relevant and committed to the cause; fans that live and breathe United.

The last match at Old Trafford that I attended was a 2-0 victory for United against Bury in the third round of the 1992/93 FA Cup. I have spent pretty much most of my life since that last personal homage living abroad in the United States. However, whatever my circumstance or geographical location, I continue to attempt to be fully in the moment with Manchester United and their current quest. Indeed my wife still teases me as I grab my old tattered United scarf before I retire to bed and carefully wrap it around the TV screen any night prior to a United match.

As “Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of United” will hopefully portray, no matter where life’s journey takes you, there is always a way to remain a ‘true fan’ of your team.

I fell in love with Manchester United in 1975 and we have been inseparable ever since.

Do you feel that soccer has truly arrived in the U.S.?

As I sat in the University of Michigan Stadium on August 2, 2014, as one of the 109,318 fans present to watch Manchester United take on Real Madrid, the only answer to that question is an unequivocal “YES!” The opportunity for the current soccer fan in America to be able to sit down on any given Saturday or Sunday and choose from any number of English Premier League, Spanish La Liga, Italian Serie A, or German Bundesliga live games on television tells its own story. The growth and expansion of the MLS, America’s soccer league, is most evident too. Couple that with midweek European Champions League and Europa League coverage along with a Sirius/XM satellite radio channel exclusively committed to 24/7 soccer debates and live coverage—then absolutely the answer has to be a most definite YES!

As an Anglo-American I am—ironically—able to watch more live English Premier League soccer matches each weekend in America than my friends and family back in Britain.

Tell us a few weird and wacky facts about yourself.
  • At the age of seventeen I attended a party dressed as Gandhi. An unusual ‘Zen-like’ impulse I guess. The night ended with my being fortunate enough to woo a young lady while still wearing my apparently sufficiently seductive Father of India attire. On conclusion of my after party tryst, the only mode of transport available at 3:00 am was her father’s bicycle with its one fixed pedal due to his chronic polio affliction. En route home there is a supposed haunted hall on the A59 between Preston and Southport. At the cusp of dawn I must have displayed a rather distinct ghost-like quality as I emerged from the woods onto the dual carriageway at break neck speed. Bald skull cap still in place, wooden walking cane across the bicycle handle bars (goodness knows why) and wearing nothing but a white sheet trailing magnificently behind me in the early morning breeze, any car passing by at that time must have felt the presence from Bank Hall for sure. My father woke me later that morning with the words “good night was it, eh son?” rather confused at seeing a one-pedalled bicycle laying in our driveway and his son laying in bed with a bald head and raging bloodshot eyes. “Yep, certainly was Dad,” my tired reply.
  • Two summer seasons in succession I was commentator on the Kentucky Derby fairground race in Southport, England. On one occasion Dave Stewart of the Eurythmics sat down at our stall. After over an hour of his enthusiastic participation in race after race, and failing to win any, I took it upon myself to aid and abet his path to victory. For a good portion of the time, an aloof Annie Lennox, with her unmistakable orange hair, stood several yards away leaning against the fence of the Waltzers. I smiled to myself as, despite her distant posture, she wasn’t exactly incognito. The English musician and record producer did eventually hold aloft an apparently much sought after Southport Pleasureland Kentucky Derby Winner’s mug. He appeared so delighted that you would have been mistaken for thinking he had just won a Grammy. Before leaving our stall, he demonstrated an honest humility, down to earth and engaging, as we chatted for quite some time. Later that same night I stood just a few rows away from the stage at the Southport Theatre in awe of a guitarist from England’s northeast and a female singer from Scotland singing of ‘sweet dreams.’ A surreal day in the life for sure!
  • During my time as a homecare Physical Therapist serving Michigan’s remote northern area, I was helping an old Vietnam veteran who had suffered the misfortune of having his right leg amputated. He was wheelchair bound and required education on how to safely transfer onto his bed. After a few minutes discussing technique and correct methods of energy conservation during his approach to the bed, the man suddenly halted proceedings. He then leaned his trunk towards his pillow, reached under it and none too subtly fully extended his right arm pointing a sparkling silver Colt 45 about two inches from my face. “If that bastard black bear comes round here tonight, I am ready. He’ll get what’s coming to him, that’s for sure man,” he declared. I exclaimed my gratitude at being made aware of the man’s intentions and then suggested he kindly return the gun to its resting place. It was a moment that I fully realized that I was now providing health care in the United States of America and not a small town in rural northern England.
  • I have broadcast a live radio show from the roof of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in Cleveland, Ohio.
  • I have climbed the Three Peaks in England’s Yorkshire Dales national park in the middle of winter. It is one the hardest things I have ever done. The significance of this feat is accentuated by the fact that I was not best prepared clothing-wise. As temperatures plummeted atop “Whernside,” I ended up having to borrow a scarf from my college roommate. I am saddened to declare that if you look closely at the all-conquering photograph of the four of us, looking ashen and somewhat knackered, I actually have a Leeds United scarf wrapped around my neck. My roommate from Yorkshire, and ardent Leeds United fanatic, has never let this Manchester United fan live that one down.
  • I have held the Stanley Cup. It was heavy.
  • I have held the soccer boots of Wayne Rooney, Nani, and Chicharito. They were not heavy.
  • I was once interviewed for a job by Sir Alex Ferguson.