Hurt and Anger


I’m hurt and I’m angry about England’s World Cup semi-final defeat to Croatia last night, and it’s colouring my feelings about everything today, and will likely do so for some time yet.

I know that I shouldn’t be. That reaching the semi-final was a triumph over expectation in itself. That this squad of contented players, bonded as a team, under a manager who has shown a high level of tactical awareness has gone further than any cold analysis of England’s chances beforehand would have suggested. Rah-rah England, it didn’t come home after all, but it had got as far as the runway.

But I’m one of that diminishing number who saw that one back in 1966, and despite my careful dispassion, my refusal to get excited or dream too highly, I’d started to think that I might get to see another. For the first time since, well, probably 1970, it felt like it could be on.

And I don’t do excitement much these days, because to get excited about something you’ve got to admit to yourself that it matters and that you have the emotional energy to care, and I don’t get edgy about things because that is that one line from John Cleese’s Clockwise that anyone ever remembers, which has been on my mind a lot lately: I don’t mind the despair, I can live with the despair, it’s the hope I can’t stand.

England scored early. The hope started. I began to think about where I would watch the Final, if we got there, because we were leading, we’d done the hard part, we’d gone ahead and if needed, all we had to do was not let them score. Then the second half began, and hope dissolved early, and I began to shrivel, and shout at the screen, and swear and moan.

Because I’ve seen it all before, so many times, with United, since Fergie stood down and especially since fucking Jose Dickhead Mourinho took over. It was there from the start of the second half. It wasn’t just Croatia getting their act together, it was England abdicating the very idea of scoring a second.

We just stopped trying to go forward seriously. It wasn’t that we weren’t able to, but that we didn’t want to. Attacks didn’t break down because of strong Croatian defending but because we didn’t want to try. Promising advanced positions kept turning into retreats into our own half. Don’t move forward, don’t keep the ball in the Croatian third, bring it back, back, back all the fucking time, into our own half, play it across our back line. Going forward wasn’t going forward. Play it to the wide man on the flank, who immediately passes it straight back. Pointless passing. Louis van Gaal’s United were particularly good at that. Don’t look for ways through. Was Harry bleeding Kane, Golden Boot candidate, even on the field that second half? He sure as shit wasn’t keen on getting near the penalty area.

I know it’s being professional, I know it’s being street-wise. Why take a risk by playing forward when you might lose the ball to the opposition? How much better is it though to play backwards and sideways and backwards again, then another sideways pass, and then lose the ball anyway? Yes, it uses up time, but it gives the opposition strength. They know you’re not going to come at them so they can come at you. Was Dele Ali playing at all?

So, having spent all this time pissing around on a lead that can be wiped out by just one goal, instead of merely being reduced if you’ve, bloody radical idea I know but some teams used to try it, gone and scored again, when that lead is wiped out, you’re fucked. You’ve conditioned yourselves into being crap, into being backwards and sideways and you’ve no fucking idea how to go forward, how to attack, how to get past a defence that suddenly is charged up, because they’re no longer losing, they’re no longer staring at a cliff-edge getting nearer at every second.

Why were we so stupid? Why are United so stupid, time and time and time and time and time again? United used to score last-minute equalisers, now they concede them with monotonous regularity, all because Dickhead doesn’t like us attacking after 75 minutes if we’re ahead. As for England, well, it’s not like the same thing happened only two bloody games earlier, is it?

That’s why I’m angry. That’s why I’m hurt. Maybe we were never good enough, maybe Croatia would always have beaten us. I wanted to face Russia for that very reason. But maybe, if we hadn’t been so fucking passive in that second half, and only tried to score when we had to, we might have been in the World Cup Final again. I might have had a second bite at the cherry. Who knows if we’ll ever come this close again in my lifetime?

And for many reasons and many years I haven’t had anything that makes me happy. Real, serious, unalloyed happiness. A World Cup Final. And against France when I feared Belgium more. Who knows? I wouldn’t have watched it alone. I’d have gone into bloody work on a day when I’m not working and watched it there, in the midst.

But we had to go and kick ourselves in our own heads out of sheer stupidity again, and I am so sick of seeing that, and I cannot celebrate what we have achieved, and I can’t be philosophical about it because I am angry and I am hurt, and because I forgot to despair. And despair is good, despair is comfortable, despair is your friend.

In blogs, nobody can hear you scream. Which is a good job for you lot at the moment because I’d blow your eardrums out.

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Wem-ber-ley!


Remember this?

Nothing’s ever like it used to be, and I’m at the age where mostly it was better back then, especially if ‘back then’ is being measured in decades and I was considerably younger and fitter. Especially fitter.

Sadly, FA Cup Final Day is one such thing. I mean, it used to be sacrosanct. Seriously. Cup Final Day was Cup Final Day and nothing stood in its way. No-one would have dreamed of organising a major event for the same day (I’m looking at you, Windsors, or rather I’m not looking at you because I am not interested). It was the showpiece day, the only Football game to be televised all year, and on both channels too – I go back to the days when BBC1 was BBC, full stop – and the entire day’s coverage was devoted to Cup Final preparations. From about 9.30am. On each channel.

Nowadays, we’re lucky it gets televised at all, and the days of that immovable 3.00pm kick-off are as dead as the Twin Towers Wembley. 5.30pm on a Saturday afternoon is complete crap. But that’s an argument that has been lost: I work with a guy in his twenties, football fan, rugby player, cricket lover,total enthusiast, and he has said, openly, that he doesn’t care about the FA Cup, that it doesn’t mean a thing to him.

He’s the future, I’m the past.

Several things are depressing my eagerness for the game today: the excessive wait for the bloody thing to even get started, hanging around to avoid that wedding, Jose Mourinho, the prospect of the actual game being as shitty to watch as the one in 2007 even if we win, Jose Mourinho.

Then again, if we win this, we go level with Arsenal again, 13 wins. Only one other team that has once held the record for FA Cup wins has come back to draw level after losing that record, and that was Blackburn Rovers, who never held that record exclusively but only shared it (albeit for decades). No team has done that twice. No team that has once held the record for FA Cup wins has come back to regain that record. Let’s see if United can do it first.

There’s already something special about this game, as this is only the second time the same two teams have contested the Final three times: Arsenal and Newcastle United are the only others.

This in Manchester United’s twentieth Cup Final. All bar two of these have taken place in my life-time, and it will be the fifteenth I have watched, either on TV or at the old Wembley. Wem-ber-ley, Wem-ber-ley, We’re the famous Man United and we’re going to Wem-ber-ley. Recollections in brief:

1976: disappointment as a semi-neutral, more concerned with Droylsden than any other team.

1977: elation. You can’t not get excited about beating Liverpool, especially when you’re busting up their Treble.

1979: my first as a fully-fledged, albeit Armchair Red. The ignorant call it a classic but it was a dull, one-sided affair for 85 minutes and only that last five, from United’s consolation goal, through Sammy Mac’s equaliser to the kicker of Sunderland’s winning goal, was memorable. I nearly broke the TV switch turning it off.

1983: watching the Final at poor dear Rose’s, a terrible ordeal, watching the Replay at home and bursting with glee. Stevie Foster, what a difference you have made!

1985: sitting on the floor, my back against the armchair, and nearly hitting the roof when Norman Whiteside scored that incredible goal!

1990: watching the Final at my girlfriend’s, seeing her daughter – who I’d taken to her first United game only four months earlier – silently crying when we were 3-2 down, and squeezing her shoulder in sympathy, just before Sparky scored the equaliser, watching the Replay at home and wanting to kick Jimmy Hill’s head in for the way he tried to make United share the blame for Palace’s fouling tactics.

1994: watching in Wembley itself, not having to hear John Motson’s commentary, forgetting we’d won the Double until we were 3-0 up because this – THIS! – was the Cup Final and I WAS THERE!

1995: feeling bloody miserable, but at least I wasn’t there.

1996: in Wembley again, the Double Double, the guy who scored that hat-trick against Droylsden and Eric’s goal, the net bulging suddenly when I hadn’t seen the ball move!

1999: perfect sunshine, the diamond mowing, sitting with Shirley and Lynette, right behind the line of Teddie’s goal, the Third Double, and the middle leg of the Treble, the middle of that incredible eleven days.

2004: at home, en famille, Ronnie and Rudy, not the same from Cardiff.

2005: the horror of being the first Cup Final to be settled on a penalty shoot-out, and no, it wouldn’t have been any better if we’d won it, but after battering them for 120 minutes, argh!

2007: the first Final at New Wembley, shite game, the Fourth Double denied: I have witnesses to the fact that after eighty minutes I said that if the FA had any guts, they’d walk onto the pitch, confiscate the ball and abandon the Cup, unawarded, on the grounds that neither team deserved to win it.

2016: a 5.30pm kick-off is shite, Pardew’s stupid dance, extra-time again, that unexpected winner and the whole thing marred by the announcement, before we even went up for the Cup, that Mourinho was taking over: I wanted van Gaal gone, but he deserved to at least have this moment of glory before they shat on him.

2018: memories yet to be made.

I hope that, by 5.30pm, I can summon at least some of the proper enthusiasm, but the way Mourinho has got the team playing leaves me bored and depressed. I know that my usual statement on occasions like this is, “Sod enjoying the game, I wanna enjoy the result!”, but for a very long time under Fergie, you were pretty much guaranteed both. Today, the chances are… debatable, at best.

Let’s see what follow-up I post tonight.

And then there were eight…


Eleven men on a golden afternoon in the memories of anyone who was there to see. The Golden Boy who captained the team, the youngest man, and now the graceful left-back who didn’t allow a mistake anyone could have made to faze him.

It’s astonishing, indeed magical, that over fifty years later, eight of England’s only World Cup winning team remain with us. Ray Wilson made it nine until yesterday.

The glory will surround him forever.

Munich 60 years after


It’s the middle of the afternoon whilst I write this, I’m supposed to be having a one-to-one session with my manager, except that he’s not come in today. It’s snowing, thin, weedy stuff, which is not sticking anywhere near the main road on which our office building stands, though I wonder what I will find on my side-street in another six hours time.

Snow is fitting, snow to mark the anniversary, now sixty years, of the Munich Air Disaster, to mark the end of the possibilities represented by the Manchester United team of the late Fifties, the famous Busby Babes.

There’s been some wonderfully sensitive writing about this matter over the last couple of days, none more so than Paul Wilson, in the Guardian . For all the wonderful career he has had, everybody knows that Sir Bobby Charlton would hand all of it back to have had his mates live on with him, to not have to be the survivor flooded with the guilt and the bemusement of why they have been selected to live.

Some of the comments below the line are as you might fear, and they can go to hell. Some of them rightly point to how United has neglected its responsibilities, not only to the survivors but to Jimmy Murphy, without whom the club might easily have collapsed. Most of them are from human beings, who refuse to be tribal on a day when tribes are irrelevant, who recognise that fans have more in common with each other than with the outsiders who don’t get enthused about our game.

To all of you and all of us, this is the saddest day of the football year. To those two remaining survivors of the crash, I can only begin to guess at how unbearable a day this must be, and how they will never know peace about this until the team is back together, those heavy boots, those heavy laced-up footballs, and the numbers one to eleven on fresh, bright red shirts.

What time is kick-off on Saturday?

 

Kenny Dalglish


I have never liked him. A lot of it is that he played for and managed Liverpool, but at least half of it is that I just don’t like him. It happens like that sometimes.

There was an interview with him in the Guardian yesterday, on the eve of the premiere of a film about him, a film I won’t be going to see. In many ways, responding to the questions, he was the Dalglish I simply don’t like. But the subject came to Hillsborough. I learned, for the first time, that his then-15 year old son Paul was on the Leppings Lane End, though thankfully he was unhurt. Then they asked him about ‘closure’, in the light of the long-overdue exoneration of the fans from the decades of lies by the Scum newspaper. And he said this:

“I don’t know what closure would be for us,(…) As long as we’re living we will support the families. So … we wouldn’t have a closure. I wouldn’t have a closure. At least the families have been totally exonerated. The families have been punished doubly by losing their loved ones and by spending the rest of their lives trying to get justice and solace.”

I am still not going to like him. But the responsibility he took when that happened was unflinchingly to be admired, and this admission that there can never be a point at which he can put this behind him… I am relieved to admit that I cannot imagine what that must be like. But it changes and enhances my respect for Kenny Dalglish, and I can only hope that one day he can discover a kind of piece that comes without leaving this life behind.

And my implacable hatred for all the bastards responsible, and those who still wriggle to avoid the consequences of that responsibility, grows even hotter.