Thirty Years


I am a Manchester United fan and proud of it.Both as a Club and a City, our most intense rivalry is with Liverpool. So much so that at the moment I am willing on our local rivals to win the Premier League, rather than the Scousers.

But all that animosity fades away to nothingness in one area. That is Hillsborough, and wanted happened there thirty years ago today.

Like those of my parent’s generation, for whom it was the Kennedy Assassination, I will never forget where I was when I learned about Hillsborough. I will never forget putting on my car radio, an hour after the match, unknown to me, had been abandoned, and the first thing I heard was silence. No-one was speaking. All I could hear was the crowd. I had an instant, sick feeling that something had gone horrbly wrong. It was the same sound that I had heard when I’d put on the TV for the European Cup Final at the Heysel.

Rivalry was forgotten then. These were people I understood, people who but for their affiliation were me, with a different scarf, different badges.

Thirty years on, the loss remains undiminished, an awful disruption to lives and loves. Justice has come to the 96 and their families, but even now the bastard who was responsible, who allowed it to happen, has escaped conviction. Given thirty years, he may end up escaping permanently, without suffering the least punishment for his craven stupidity.

Thirty years today. Our hearts are on the ground for our brothers and sisters.

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Olllliiiieeee!


Biggest and best news of the wake-up day: Ole Gunnar Solkjaer has been formally appointed manager of Manchester United. Get in there! Come on you Reds!

 

Last Night in Paris…


I’ve been a Manchester United fan for forty years now, for most of that time an Armchair Red, but for a not-quite decade – 1990 to 1999 – an active fan, a regular at Old Trafford and a handful of away games, not to mention six Cup Finals at the old Wembley, the Empire Stadium: three League Cups, one won, three FA Cups, all Doubles. And I was there in Barcelona, on that night.

Along the way, there have been some astonishing moments, astonishing games, none more so than the Champions League Final in 1999, my last game, about which I’ve written separately. But before that was the semi-final, second leg, against Juventus in Turin, Juventus, with an away goal from the first leg at Old Trafford and seconds away from a win there and two up inside eleven minutes.

We came back from that, we beat them, we took it to the last minute, we won.

It’s not been much fun since Fergie retired. Many of us expected it. You can’t let go of one of the most decorated managers of all time, who stamped his personality on the club for over a quarter of a century and expect it to just go on as if nothing had happened. But it was worse than we feared, not just the defeats but the victories as well, because a succession of crabbed, fearful, negative managers not only cost us success, but made United into a dull, tedious, hopeless side. They made watching United a chore and, what’s worse, a bore.

I never wanted Mourinho. I said so before he was appointed, and I don’t go around saying ‘I told you so’ (usually, it’s ‘I wish I wasn’t right’), but I fucking well told you so. Of all the replacement managers, short or long term, I never expected them to call on Ollie, Ollie who put the ball in the German’s net, ‘And Solksjaer has won it!’

But I have been back inside that old dream again, the Theatre of Dreams, the belief that somehow, some way, but most of all by playing fluid, flowing, attacking football, Manchester United will come out on top. At the moment, Ole Gunnar Solksjaer has managed United for seventeen games. We have won fourteen, drawn two and lost only one. We have won every single away game under Ollie, that’s nine in a row, a run that according to one source United have never, that’s never done before, and according to another, have only done once before, under Sir Matt Busby.

We’re fourth in the League, with a good chance of staying there and a reasonable chance of going third. We’re in the FA Cup Sixth Round, after putting out both Arsenal and Chelsea on their own grounds. We’re one of the two strongest teams left in the competition, beside our Bitter neighbours. We should both go through to the Semi-Finals where, on all previous occasions we’ve both got there, history and preversity requires us to be drawn together, but I’ve got a funny feeling that this time, it we’re in the draw, we’ll be kept apart. I’m anticipating the possibility of a Manchester Derby Final.

Wouldn’t that be something? Just wouldn’t that be something?

But amongst all this there is one single thing that matters to me. Not winning anything, which would be great, but even more important than that, against which all else pales. It’s fun again. I want to watch United again. I am excited to watch them again, and how much I have missed that these past five and a half years. One simple point: I was so sunk in the misery of oursterile, hapless, negative football that I have forgotten how to scream at goals. Not every time, there were certain ones that demanded I burn my throat: Tony Valencia’s screamer against Everton being a case in point. I had lost the raw enthusiasm, the urge to celebrate. Thank you, Ole Gunner Solksjaer, for giving that back to me.

Let’s go back to that one lost game. It was at Old Trafford, the Champions League first knock-out round, Paris Saint Germain, the big French team, the buyers of stars. We lost 2-0. We were going out. In the history of the European Cup and the Champions League, 106 teams had lost first home legs 2-0 and 106 teams had failed to overcome thedeficit and gone out. PSG don’t lose at home much, and had only done so to an English team once. We were going out. With a full team, we were going out, but with ten first team players out,injured, ill, suspended, this was the line in the sand we didn’t get to cross.

Ole was positive, like he has been from the start. Never say die. You don’t concede in January. Nobody I spoke to thought we could do it. I didn’t think we could do it. But I said, yesterday, that if we did do it, it wouldn’t surprise me.

And it turned out to be one of THOSE nights, another Turin, another Barcelona, another of those nights when reality can tread where fiction doesn’t dare go. Ahead in under two minutes, a predatory Lukaku. Hammered unmercifully, carved open for an equaliser, a failed right-sided defence. Less than twenty per cent possession.

But it isn’t, and never has been possession that wins games. Only goals count, and we got a second, Rashford’s swervy shot, Buffon’s failure to grasp, Lukaku the predator again. Only one goal needed.

It’s PSG that get it, the killer, but no, Angel di Maria was offside. Exquisite execution, and execution it would have been, United’s vulnerability exposed, bt if di Maria had stayed onside, not gain that extra yard, maybe two, that fraction of extra space gained by Smalling and de Gea, would he still have scored. We don’t know. Anyone can ‘expose’ a defence from an offside position.

2-1 was good enoughfor pride, for a good showing, but that othergfoal wouldn’t come, it wouldn’t line up. It’s injury-time, a wild shot by Dalot deflected out, maaybe aa chance for the corner, a flick on buried by 17 year old substitute Mason Greenwood, who puts them away for fun in the U21s.

And then the referee calls for VAR. it’s hit the defender’s arm, it’s inside the box, OMG, could this be a penalty? And on the tide of a rising controversy, with footnsallers lining up to say no way, and referres lining up to say that under the laws of the game, and we for only the second time ever in my life taking the referee’s opinion assuperior to mine, IT IS A PENALTY! Oh my.

Obviously Lukaku will take it, complete hisfirst everr hat trick for United. Except Marcus Rashford, the kid who’s never taken a penalty for United before and he’s going to start with this one, he’s got the ball, he’s so calm through all the efforts to distract him, divide his concentration.

And a 66 year, 106 game history falls over at a push because he absolutely buries it and this is Barcelona and Turin again, only with absolute fucking ages before the final whistle in which PSG could prop history up and push it over onto us, but the whistle goes and every United player races to the away end to celebrate with the fans.

And if it all goes pear-shaped from here, from this moment, so what? I have had last night, I have had that all over again, the euphoria and hasn’t it been solongsince I last felt that? And isn’t it so so good?

It won’t go pear-shaped, that’s the best bit of it. Ollie must have tthe job full-time now, what mote evidence do we need? We won. We went through. We didwhat nobody else has ever done. ABUs accuse us of arrogance, well, after last night in Paris, bring it on pal. We are entitled to be arrogant. We deserve arrogant. We are Manchester United. Again.

The Man Who… R.I.P. Eric Harrison


Youth team coaches are rarely famous outside the specislist interest of football club fans. Eric Harrison, who has died aged 81, was the glorious exception. He was the youth team coach at Manchester United from 1981 to 1999, and that makes him the man who brought through the Famous Five, the Class of ’92, the Can’t-Win-Anything-With Kids. Gary Neville, Phil Neville, David Beckham, Nicky Butt, Paul Scholes. And, let’s not forget, their slightly senior team-mate Ryan Wilson, who then took his Mum’s surname, of Giggs.

Any one of these would be worth an entire career, but all of them? And at once?

Oh yes, United, and we, and Eric were all blessed that this quintet/sextet came along at the same time, that they had both the talent and the application to makewhere others of their generation, equally and in some cases reportedly better talented, never broke through for one reason or another. But Eric Harrison was the one who coached them, developed them, directed and enabled those talents to the extent we all saw and we all rejoiced in.

We owe you, Eric Harrison, and I owe you all those times I marvelled and shouted and jumped up and roared, and for the magic that was the ginger genius, the small, asthmatic who might not have made it, I owe you the memory of Paul Scholes, and I thank you and I promise you that yours is one of the names that will always be legends in our club’s story. Thanl you, and may whatever gods you believed in grant you peace and happiness.

A Then and Now Wierdness


As I post this, Manchester City are entertaining Burton Albion in the semi-final, first leg of the League Cup. There is something truly weird about this for me. Just over a decade ago, when Burton carpet-bagged themselves into the Northern Premier League in order to win it at the first attempt and progress into the Football Conference, I saw them play at Droylsden.

They won 7-0. In my match report, I gave our goalkeeper 10 out of 10 (you have to imagine the score without him) and refused to rate anybody else because it would have been meaningless.

Now they’re playing Manchester City. At the Etihad Stadium. In a serious Cup semi-final. It feels seriously weird to imagine that. It also gives me a problem. I don’t which of the two bastards I most want to see tonked!

The Best Bit Was…


…Not just scoring five in a Premier League game for the first time since Fergie’s last match. Not just winning comprehensively and comfortably. not just Athony Martial’s brilliant goal.

But we were in white shorts.

Not the fucking black shorts we’ve been wearing under The Departed One all season, even in home games. Red and white. That’s Manchester United’s colours, not red and black.

Red and white. Forever.

Glad to be Red again


Then and Now

The defenstration of Mourinho and the appointment in a caretaker capacity of Ole Gunnar Solskjaer (Ollie!!!), assisted by another old Red in Mike Phelan has seen me in a happier frame of mind about my favourite club than I’ve been for a long time.

We have Ole, the hero of the third greatest moment of my life, in Barcelona, and Mickey Phelan, who never impressed me as a player but who turned out to be a bloody good coach: two men experienced in working at Old Trafford, steeped in the culture and traditions of the Club and I am now confident that, for the remainder of this shitty season, whether we do better or not in terms of results, we will be a lot more fun to watch.

That’s the thing. I prophecied three years ago that whatever he might achieve as Manager, Mourinho would leave is in tatters, worse than when he started. At work I make a big thing of how I don’t do ‘I told you so’s, I do ‘I wish I wasn’t right.’ Well, I TOLD YOU SO!!

I think the majority of United fans are going to be reasnable and sensible about the rest of this season, not that anyone outside our circle is going to accept that. We’ll still be painted as obnoxious and self-entitled.

There’s plenty of people willing to point out that Mourinho isn’t solely to blame, and they’re not wrong, but I’m amazed to find there’s still a strong contingent that are blaming everybody but Mourinho, as if after all the evidence we’ve seen, he only wants to be left alone to do what he wants and it’ll all come good. I can’t believe that, but maybe I should.

What does amaze me is the ones who are going on that appointing a caretaker manager is wrong, we should have kept Mourinho till the end of the season and sacked him them. I mean, apart from asking ifthey’ve ever heard of the Law of Diminishing Returns, do you seriously want five more months of this tortuous crap? And do you really want to give Mourinho an extra five months to fuck things up even worse than they already are?

From hereon in I don’t want to know from Mourinho. It’s over, it’s done, it was a fuck-up, let’s just concentrate on improving in any way we can from here to May, if we can pull off the FA Cup, wow, brilliant, but for God’s sake, let us play like Manchester United, that’s all I ask. Let’s die trying, let’s die being excited, let’s die going for it. And maybe we won’t die at all.