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As a West Ham United supporter I have only once had a personal interest in the top end of the top flight of English football going into the season's last weekend.

That was back in 1986 when only a mountainous backlog of end-of-season fixtures left by a wild winter prevented the Irons landing what would have been their only League Championship.

In the end they finished third behind Everton and Liverpool but a gratifying eight points clear of fourth-placed Manchester United. Since then the focus of West Ham's loyal but eternally disappointed fans has been relegation dogfights, promotion pushes and the occasional season of debate about what position in the Premiership constitutes mid-table respectability. (Seventh is respectable, 14th mediocre and 17th a massive relief).

So for almost 20 seasons I have not actively supported any club pushing for honours, but instead, like many others I suspect, have focused more on which team I did not want to win.

One sportswriter described this phenomenon as the growth of the “un-supporter”, a consequence of the fact that the number of football clubs capable of winning a trophy was narrowing to an elite few, leaving most fans nothing to cheer about other than the failure of the teams they love to hate.

Like many I quickly became an un-Manchester United fan. The club's wealth, swagger and success was just too much to take, particularly when Paul Ince a focal point of West Ham jealousy and discontent after leaving Upton Park in controversial circumstances in 1989 was playing such a prominent and irritating role. So there were some tough years in the early 1990s as hopeless West Ham yo-yoed up and down between the top two divisions while the self-styled “Guv'nor” paraded around Old Trafford with various bits of silverware.

But on Wednesday night as Wayne Rooney dismantled Fenerbahce, I found myself hoping that the performance marked a turnround in United's fortunes and presaged a push up the Premiership at the expense of Arsenal and Chelsea.

While there is still plenty for followers of the un-supporter route to dislike in Manchester United Roy Keane for a start, while Sir Alex Ferguson is not the easiest man to warm to over recent years there has been plenty to be grateful to the Red Devils for.

Firstly, Ince left, and that helped enormously. But more influential was the Champions League success. I have always belonged to the school that celebrates English success in Europe although it was difficult not to glory in Chelsea's serial defeats against sides that barely qualified for minnow status but that 1999 victory was of a higher order.

Principally that was because it was achieved with a core of young English players brought through the ranks by Ferguson. Those players have subsequently provided England with a team capable of challenging for international honours.

Although Ferguson has not replicated the crop of youngsters home-grown in the mid-1990s not least because changing European labour rules mean he does not have to he alone among top managers has continued to invest heavily in British talent, and he more than most is willing to throw kids into the fray.

If United were to replicate their Champions League triumph this year, it would be a British success. The same cannot be said for Francophone Arsenal, nor Chelsea. True, Claudio Ranieri showed a refreshing willingness to buy British mostly from West Ham but José Mourinho went shopping overseas immediately and there must be a danger that several young Englishmen will wither on the vine at Stamford Bridge.

So while my first port of call in the Sunday newspapers this season will be the League Championship results where I will doubtless discover what comedy of errors contributed to West Ham dropping more points in their promotion push after that I will be hoping to see Arsenal and Chelsea dropping points while United climb the table.

Copyright The Financial Times Limited 2017. All rights reserved.
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