A Win for Manchester


I watched the Europe League Cup Final last night in a rather different frame of mind than I’d expected. The greyness of the season disappeared in the circumstances of what happened on Monday night, which still fills me with pain. I have learned this morning that the missing 14 year old girl from the Hebrides has now been confirmed to be among the dead, I learned yesterday that the bomber, may he be resurrected to die and be resurrected to die again again until he has suffered as many deaths as he caused, this bastard went to my old school.

So last night couldn’t be normal if it tried from here until eternity, and winning was both irrelevant and essential, and it wasn’t about United winning for me and my all the other Reds and our club, it was about our own and how we will never give in and we will not be stopped, no matter what you do, and instead of elation and excitement, I greeted the final whistle with sobbing, the release of tension.

It keeps welling up. I contain it at work, which consists of listening to people tell me that their broadband or their telephone isn’t working and it’s not good enough, and yesterday afternoon I came closer than I have done in over twenty years to losing my rag with a customer/client over the phone. I was shaking, physically, by the end.

Because I can’t let go at work. I’m not like that in real life either. I may rant and rave here but I don’t do it in person, I sit, I absorb, I am cool, laid-back, professional, so all the rawness has to happen once I’m back here and alone. And there’s stuff going on all over Manchester at the moment, in places and streets I know.

I have banned myself for a short time from a group of friends, a private political forum, that is discussing the implications of all this on the Election that takes place two weeks from today, who see conspiracy theories in how the Tories are reacting to this. In other circumstances, I would see exactly the same things as them, if this had happened/was happening in Leeds, or Newcastle, or Bristol or Nottingham, but it isn’t. I’m the only one from Manchester and I’m too near it.

Yesterday began early, with another Counselling session: good and helpful in many ways but it started with both of us, the Counsellor and I, in tears again about what had been done.

So winning last night was unimportant and important both. It was about standing up and not being phased by it. Had the finalists been our hated rivals Manchester City, I would have supported them to win, would have applauded their victory, would have still sobbed with relief.

I’m sorry. Allow me this self-indulgence. These are hard days to get through. I’ll try not to let this happen again.

A Severe Test of Patience: Manchester United 2016/2017


I know there’s still another game to go – and, boy oh boy, have I never felt so uninvolved about United being in a Final before – but today’s final League game felt like the long-awaited and much-wanted end of the season for me. We might have won a trophy and we may win another, to give us a complete set of all the trophies it’s possible for an English club to win, but the 2016/2017 season has severely tested my patience with Manchester United.

What is it now? Nearly forty years since I came out for the Red Devils. I endured Dave Sexton, I was up and down with Ron Atkinson, I was impatient with Alex Ferguson until the Resurrection Title, and after that came those impossibly long years of dominance, of being the best, of being *MANCHESTER UNITED*, including that night in Barcelona. I was faithful to Moyes until almost the bitter end, and I screamed and yelled and was utterly frustrated by van Gaal, yet was disgusted at the timing of his sacking and replacing with Jose Mourinho, before we’d even collected the FA Cup.

Jose Mourinho, eh? The one man I never wanted to see managing at Old Trafford and the man who sits in the Manager’s Chair, and guess what? He’s been exactly the dick I expected him to be, and more, publicly attacking players in the exact opposite of the Ferguson way, all but destroying Luke Shaw, mismanaging Anthony Martial and buggering up Marcus Rashford for such a long time.

Mourinho puts up a barrier between me and my team, loosens the ties. I’ve missed more matches this season than since the end of the Eighties, several because I work shifts that keep me in work until 9.00pm, four nights a week, but far too many due to indifference at the way Mourinho has United playing.

We are still too slow, of thought as well as of pace, and we spend too much time passing backwards and sideways, and we still play as if we have no idea how to get past a defence, and even less confidence at trying to go forward. Wednesday night’s game against Southampton was the perfect example: we were abject and dull. With the youngsters in the side this afternoon, we looked tons better, and Josh Harrop’s opening goal is one of not much more than a dozen that I’ve greeted with an open yell of delight. And even then we faded in the second half, albeit whilst staying in command.

It’s not like we can’t do it. The win over Chelsea was the only time this season we’ve looked like United, Manchester United, the team we all in our souls want us to be. But most of the time it’s been tedious and unenjoyable. I feel like asking those fans who welcomed Mourinho if this is what they really wanted? Do they really want this unending miserable negativity that Mourinho spreads relentlessly? Complaining about having to play Premier League games after qualifying for the Europa League Final? What the fuck do you think the Premier League is? Can clubs just decide not to bother playing games if the fancy tales them? You might as well complain that it rains too often: this is Manchester, what do you EXPECT?!

I am so glad this season is over, and I can stop thinking about United, and I don’t have to groan despairingly as we give away another lead to end up with another draw, because we started backpedalling with fifteen minutes to go, ‘holding on to our lead’, like how many times has that blown up in our faces? We used to be the Club that played until the 96th minute, now we’re lucky to get to the 80th with a semblance of effort.

Ground down, that’s what I am. Football is supposed to excite you, to involve you, to awe you and thrill you. You’re supposed to watch the clock because you’re eking out a one-goal lead in a tight match, not because you’re bored to death and just want it to end, please.

And I think that the last few games, when Wayne Rooney has had a run of matches because that enables the resting of players who we do want to see play has proved my point. Have you ever seen so many instances of a player buggering up moves, losing the ball consistently, taking it backwards, slowing things down and constantly slinging forty yard passes out to the wing, because that’s the only thing he can still do correctly?

I shouldn’t be thinking that, because he has done some truly dazzling things for us, and he is our highest ever scorer, though I will go to my grave still insisting that Sir Bobby Charlton is a far more worthy holder of that honour. But if that was his last game at Old Trafford today, I won’t weep any tears. I won’t be nostalgic for him, like Eric, or Keano, or the little Scholesy Man, and I will be glad to see a different name occupy the number 10 shirt next season.

Which can bloody well take its time in arriving, thank you very much. I won’t be storing this one in my memories.

Crap Journalism: Why we must all hate Barcelona FC, or else


Crap Journalism is an occasional feature on this blog, when I take exception to a piece of shite written for the Guardian. Having deleted my profile there several years ago, I cannot leave comments BTL (in those rare cases where they permit comments), so I counterblast on here.

 

Like a great many football enthusiasts, I followed the Barcelona vs Paris St Germain second leg on Wednesday night with mounting astonishment, leading to incredulity when they scored the final goal, after 95 minutes, that completed one of the most amazing football comebacks of all time.

For non-Football fans, let me explain that this was a two-legged cup tie, in which the team with the hgher total of goals over the two games, would go on to the next round. Barcelona, playing at home, started 4-0 down, meaning they had to win by five clear goals to qualify.

This was not probable.

Nevertheless, after 50 minutes, Barcelona were 3-0 up and looking capable of doing the job. Then PSG scored, meaning Barca had to score another three goals, in thirty minutes. In most normal circumstances, it would have been game over. With three minutes left, and still needing all those three goals, it was functionally impossible.

Barca did it. They scored three times,the last of them in the fifth minute of time added on for stoppages. This was pure mainline Roy of the Rovers fantasy time.

Of course, the online comments were full of hate towards Barca, especially from Real Madrid fans. But that was BTL, where you expect such things.

Enter this ‘comment‘ piece, one of the most vicious poison pen pieces I have seen outside of the rabid redtops. There is no pretence at any semblance of neutrality. this guy has a bug up his butt (as our American cousins put it) about Barca, and he’s going to squeal like a stuck pig about it.

In a way, it’s funny, but that ignores the context. this is a supposedly major newspaper, not some sub-When Saturday Comes fanzine where bias is not merely allowed but encouraged to run rampant.

Firstly, there’s the tone of hysteria, the traditional Football fan’s acscription of every evil under the sun to the object of hate, as if they’re the only club in the known Universe who do things like that. As a Manchester United fan, I’m very used to that response.

But the specific bone of contention are the two penalties awarded to, and converted by Barcelona during the course of the game, one of which came in that astounding last eight minutes that won the game. According to our ‘journalist’, it seems that these were the two least credible non-penalties ever incorrectly awarded in the history of Football in this and any thirteen other dimensions, because they were Dives! Dives, I tell you! DIVES!!!!!

Now I’m going to admit at this point to having a soft spot for Barcelona, made in equal parts of my visit there for the 1999 Champions League Final and their extraordinarily beautiful football in recent years. Yes, they utterly embarrassed United in the 2011 Champions League Final, but hey, the way they played, it was no shame to be second best to THAT club.

Nevertheless, I still possess a critical eye, so let’s pass it over these two penalties. The first of these was a foul on Neymar, converted by Messi. Neymar had pushed the ball past Meunier into the area, run round him to chase it, Meunier turned, stumbled, fell, across Neymar’s path, and he went head over heels over Meunier.

Was it a dive? No, there was clear and substantial contact. Did Neymar run into Meunier? In the sense that, did he alter his course, change his body shape, do anything to bring the contact on (as Aslhey Young has, notoriously, done more than once for United), no: Meunier fell right across him, from right to left, and was rolling across him.

Could Neymar have avoided the contact? This is a little more subjective, but I don’t think so. he’s running full-tilt after a loose ball, close to the goal-lie, when his course is obstructed by a falling body, right under his feet. Did he have enough room to swerve, to his left, maintaining his momentum, and curve back around Meunier’s body, to return to the ball? Maybe, maybe not. It’s a judgement call, and I didn’t think the margins were that blatant that Neymar could, without disadvantaging his attempts to get to the ball, where Meunier was unable to play it, avoid the contact.

The second penalty is a bit more clear cut. Our journalist accuses Suarez of diving: he does. Hell’s bells, everybody knows that Suarez dives, it’s not exactly the Fifth Revelation. PSG can argue a certain degree of being hard done to here, especially as the referee had already seen through one example of Suarez diving and yellow carded him for it.

So, if it’s as blatant as that, with a referee who’s already seen through a diver, why did he give it?

More importantly, and completely ignored by the ‘journalist’, the defender Marquinhos does make contact. Soft contact, marginal contact, absolutely, contact insufficient to bring Suarez down as he did, agreed. But he put his arm out, across Suarez’s clavicles, almost as high as his face. This is a player going past him, attempting to play a ball close to goal, a ball the defender is not going to reach. Why did he throw his arm out across Suarez if it were not to stop him from getting to the ball, in the penalty area?

Could it possibly be that Marquinhos intended to stop Suarez in an illegal manner that would have justified a penalty? The moral is, don’t throw your arms across opposition forwards in the penalty area if you don’t want to give away penalties.

A rather more balanced piece, shorn of the one-handed Barcelona-are-the-devil aspect, may well have been broad-minded enough to have considered this. But then it wouldn’t have been crap journalism if it had.

Ave, Lisbon Lion: hail Tommy Gemmell


Long before Manchester United stirred up so much fervour about winning the Treble, an unlikely team secured not only that signal success, but one better. In 1967, Glasgow Celtic won not just theĀ  Scottish League, the Scottish FA Cup and the European Cup in the same season, but they also won the Scottish League Cup. In fact, that season Celtic won every trophy they entered. Top that!

What’s more, when it came to that splendid European Cup Final against AC Milan in Portugal, and I’ve no doubt for the majority of the season, this being in days of your where rotation was a concept that applied only to crops and a winning team only changed when someone was injured, Celtic did it all with eleven players who were born within a thirty mile radius of their ground. Ten of them were born within ten miles.

Celtic had to come from behind, to an Italian team well-practiced in the art of defence: score a goal, shut up shop. But Celtic did it. First, left back Tommy Gemmell drove a twenty yard equaliser past the Milan keeper, then another of his raids forward created the chance that Stevie Chalmers turned in for the winner.

They called them the Lisbon Lions, and what they did will never be achieved again in football as we experience it today.

Now the Lisbon Lions have been reduced in number by one, for Tommy Gemmell has died, after a long illness, aged 73. Age cannot wither him, nor custom stale his infinite variety. Tommy Gemmell plays forever under a hot Lisbon sun, driving on his team-mates to glory.

Ave.

A few words of thanks to Claudio Ranieri


The news has just broken that Claudio Ranieri has just been sacked by Leicester City, only ten months since leading them to the most improbable, unbelievable, astonishing and life-affirming League title of all time. The sacking comes as Leicester face the serious prospect of depriving Manchester City of their unique record as the only club to be Champions one year and relegated the next.

There are a lot of ways to describe this decision, starting with unromantic, ungrateful, callous, miserable, heartless and continuing across that sector of the emotional spectrum ad infinitum. And these words would all be true and accurate and correct.

Yet, were it not for that unforgettable, joyous rampage last year, that overturning of probability, likelihood, form and history, we would be looking at Leicester’s record this season, their lack of wins, their lack of goals, and the words we would be using would be expected, understandable, inevitable.

And I speak as someone for whom last season was a delight, because Leicester City did something that you only dream of seeing happen. That can’t be taken away, even if relegation follows, though I desperately hope it won’t. But I see the logic, I understand the necessity, I am not surprised, merely saddened. To protest this decision is like protesting that the sun goes down at night.

So thank you Claudio Ranieri. I can’t say thank you like the real Foxes can, I can’t go deep enough in my heart to summon up that soul-centred conviction, but I cheered you on last year, and your achievement will always be a shining example for me of how life can still be unpredictable, can defy predictability, and can make you quite glad to be around to see it.

You are not disgraced by this. This cannot touch your achievement, cannot rock the pedestal on which you belong. Go with your head held high, this was achieved by you and you can never be shamed.

And good luck Leicester. May your first League match next season be a visit to Old Trafford, as proof you’re still here. No, wait, may it be the Emirates or the Etihad or Stamford Bridge or Anfield. Then I can cheer you on clean-heartedly to beat the bastards!

 

An FA Cup Rant


Steve McLaren, manager of the Derby County team defeated in Wednesday’s FA Cup Fourth Round replay by Leicester City, has called upon the FA to end replays in FA Cup games, because he doesn’t want them.

McLaren’s main concern is Derby’s attempt to win promotion from the Championship. In the other dugout, Leicester manager Claudio Ranieri’s priority is not being relegated to the Championship. The managers’ priorities were demonstrated by their making a total of 18 changes from the teams competing in the previous weekend’s League matches.

That’s their business. McLaren seems to think that it would be better to have games decided by extra-time and penalties, in the one instance. He dresses it up by claiming that it would make the first game more spectacular. We all know he’s lying through his teeth, because he’d make the same number of changes for a one-off tie if it suited him, and he’s just talking shit.

I say that Derby County, and the club of any manager who wants to express such opinions, should instantly be expelled from the FA Cup. They’re not wanted, they don’t add anything, they are just sad fuck-ups out to deny the fans. The FA Cup doesn’t need them, it already has too many people undermining it, and it sure as hell won’t miss them.

Paying the Penalty


The penalty conceded by Paul Pogba that gave Liverpool the lead at Old Trafford yesterday, for almost an hour, was the most stupid, wasteful, needless and ridiculous I have seen in many a year. In fact, the last time I saw so a penalty so idiotic, I was still at school in the Sixth Form.

I should know. I conceded it.

We were on the bottom pitch, the three-quarter size one immediately in front of the school, defending the left hand end as observed from the Headmaster’s study (not that he was observing, at least, I hope not). The ball was crossed in from the right, and it was coming towards me.

What I was doing in my own penalty area was a mystery. You were far more likely to find me in or near the opposition’s penalty area, sniffing for a chance, alert for an opportunity or, as we called it then, goalhanging.

The other reason it was unusual for me to be where I was was that I was useless. I couldn’t head the ball, I couldn’t trap it, tackle anyone who had it, or muscle anyone out of making contact. I was stood there, in the middle of the box, in space, with the ball coming just above my head and to my left.

So I jumped up and slapped it down with my left hand.

Why did I do that? Sheer devilment. I had never given away a penalty before, I had never given away a deliberate handball, I was incapable of doing anything constructive, so in order to find out what it was like, I did it.

I paid for it almost immediately. My side were disgusted with me, which was nothing new on the pitch. My mate Zak was in goal and, picking up the ball, drop-kicked it upfield. It nearly hit me in the face, but I jerked my head aside, my mouth falling open as the ball whistled past.

Unfortunately, Zak’s violent hoof was violent enough to detach a lump of pitch from the sole of his football boot, at a slightly different trajectory to the ball, one that took it straight into my face. No, not my face: my mouth. The lump of mud and dirt flew into my open mouth without touching the sides, and burst against the roof of my mouth. It tasted exactly like you’re imagining it to taste.

Coughing, spluttering, digging in my fingers to hook out what was hook-outable and being very unsuccessful, I stumbled from the field and raced off to the nearest toilets where I could stick my gob under the tap and wash myself out.

Then back to the field, where the penalty had been duly converted as I stumbled bog-wards, and where I was the subject of much adverse comment, not for giving away the penalty but because I’d abandoned the field of play to wash my face, just because I had gotten mud on it.

In vain, I pointed out that it wasn’t on my face but in my mouth, but such niceties were unimportant at an all boys school. I was called all sorts of names, most of which would, not all that long afterwards, be subsumed in the general title of ‘wimp’, once we’d learned it.

So my stupid, wasteful, idiotic and needless penalty carried with it an instant karma. Only the goal accompanied Pogba’s penalty, but then his karma already has a severe load to bear. I mean, did you look at his hair? At least I’ve never committed an atrocity like that, which makes me infinitely superior.