Jim White (United We Stand, 312)

It has become an article of faith among we United fans of a certain age that on 30 December 1978, we saw the future at Old Trafford. That was the day the reds were beaten 5-3 in a magnificent performance by West Bromwich Albion. The shape of what was to come was there in the visitors manager, Ron Atkinson, and the fact the team included Bryan Robson and Laurie Cunningham. All three of them, together with the incomparable Remi Moses, the proto Roy Keane, would eventually end up at Old Trafford, where they would deliver the kind of football that was the polar opposite to the stodgy pragmatism that was then on offer to us United fans under Dave Sexton. Looking back we tell each other that day we saw the future and liked what we saw.

Though in truth, looking back, what I recall more about being in the ground that afternoon was not so much the suggestion of better times as the sound of far, far worse. If United fans were in awe of what they were watching it certainly didn’t sound like it. The reaction of many in the ground to the presence in the West Brom side of Cunningham, Cyrille Regis and Brendan Batson, the pioneering trio of black players disparagingly named the Three Degrees, was actually stomach churning. Their every touch was booed, monkey noises were constant, the chant of “trigger, trigger, trigger, shoot that ******” frequently echoed round the stadium. And it was not sung by a few. But by many. It was disgusting. These were my fellow United followers behaving like scum.

After the game, discussing it with some mates in the pub, the response was unanimous: the West Brom players had shown the racists how wrong they were by performing at another level. That was the view of Big Ron, too: reality would eventually triumph over prejudice. Never mind that the authorities did nothing, that the police stood back and let it happen, that any black player who complained was accused of having a chip on their shoulder: the truth would ensure things would ultimately change.

It is what I believed even after I got set upon by a couple of fellow United supporters on the tube coming back from Wembley after the 1979 FA Cup final when they saw the lapel badge I was wearing which read: Reds Against Racism. Ultimately, as I picked myself off the floor of the carriage, I thought it was impossible to maintain such stupid views in the face of lived experience. The more fans saw the brilliance of players like Regis, Viv Anderson and John Barnes, the quicker such horrendous abuse would wither on the vine.

And for a while it seemed it had. Once the consensus shifted, once the majority found their voice to silence such poison, it began to disappear. So much so, I remember being shocked at seeing Spain supporters doing monkey dances in the Bernabeu in 2004 every time one of the black England players touched the ball. Still, I thought, at least I could find comfort in the belief we would never see that again in England.

How wrong I was. Hate like that may no longer be vocalised, but it never went away. Unleashed by the easy anonymity of social media, there appears to be a new generation who purport to be supporters of my club now regularly engaging in the basest of racist filth. Anthony Martial, Axel Tuanzebe, Marcus Rashford: all of them have been subjected to appalling abuse sent direct to their phones. After a United defeat it is routine for the impatient to voice their displeasure directly to individual players. Now the racists are joining in the pile-on, their pathetic emojis the online equivalent of the monkey chant.

And, as was the case back in 1978, it seems there are plenty of them. At every club it has become a growing issue, the abusers apparently emboldened by believing they are embarking on some kind of culture war against the Black Lives Matter campaign. To learn that self-identifying United fans are behaving like that is a matter of shame.

We have been here before. And what we need to learn from the last time is that merely believing it will go away as everyone becomes more accustomed to a diverse world is not going to work. We need action and we need it now. Social media companies need to understand their responsibility. Criminal action needs to be taken. It can't be hard to find out who these people are: telephone data is surely sufficient to track them down.

The truth is these days, just as it wasn't back then, wearing a lapel badge is not enough. We need to ensure these racists understand that their filth will not be tolerated not just by making patronising noises, but by uncovering and exposing, naming and shaming, fining and punishing. There is no time to wait around until they educate themselves. We need to root them out. Now. We don’t need people like this in our club. We have had enough.