What it’s like to be a Red – 30 January 2020


A week is a long time in Politics, as Harold Wilson is always quoted as saying, with a frequency that if you weren’t my age would make you think he never said anything else. Have we already forgotten the white-hot heat of technology?

But a week can be a long time in practically anything if conditions changed rapidly in a short space of time. This week, it’s a long time in football.

Wednesday last week, I got home from work in time to see most of the Premier League game at Old Trafford between Manchester United and Burnley. Three points would have put United right on the tail of Chelsea in fourth place. Instead, we played with abysmal cluelessness and lost 2-0. To Burnley. At home. For the first time in 58 years.

Let me put off reliving that experience for a few moments longer. Since then, United have played away at Tranmere Rovers in the FA Cup Fourth Round and won 6-0, the biggest FA Cup win since the same round in 1972 when George Best scored six on returning from suspension to lead United to an 8-2 win at Northampton Town (who, incidentally, we may play in the Fifth Round). And this Wednesday, despite being knocked out of the League Cup Semi-Final on aggregate, we beat the Bitters on their own ground for the second time this season.

Two good, encouraging wins in the space of four days. None of which serves to change in any respect the feelings I underwent last Wednesday, watching United bow down to Burnley.

It’s not just that we lost. They scored two good goals, the second one an absolute cracker. Things like that can happen. I’ve seen united beaten by teams they’ve outplayed before now, and I’ve seen us beat teams who have played us off the par before now. The relative strength and form of the two teams playing is only usually a guide to the result.

What hurt last week was the way United played. Since Fergie retired, I’ve seen some horrendous performances, whether it be under Moyes, van Gaal or Mourinho. I’ve watched a team that used o be supercharged in its speed of thought and movement lose all of that ability, I’ve seen regimented passing, sideways and back, I have seen games dominated by pointless passing, which comes when a pass is made to a teamm-mate who immediately delivers the ball back to exactly where the first player was standing.

I have seen United stumble against organised defences, where van Gaal’s strict instructions have relieved them from the ability to improvise, or Mourinho’s crabbed style placing them in a state of fear where they simply cannot risk shifting their shackles.

And I have seen them, more than once, play as if they are completely clueless, as if they have no idea what to do in a match, and that is how they were against Burnley. But this was one match too many. As individuals, as a collective, they simply did not have one idea of how to get themselves back in the match. Against Burnley. Burnley, at Old Trafford.

I wanted to switch off. I didn’t want to watch this any more. And I began to think what is the biggest heresy any fan can ever think about his team. I started to wonder if there is a point, really a point, at which you are allowed to stop caring about your team. A point at which you are permitted to turn your back and say, ‘I don’t care’. Can you stop supporting your team?

It’s supposed to be for life. It’s supposed to be an even bigger betrayal than cheating on your wife, walking out on your team. But last Wednesday, against Burnley, I started questioning whether you can do that.

That was a week ago There have been two wins since then, two good wins. The question no longer applies. But will that moment come again?

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.

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.

Shameful


It’s enough that Manchester United are now going to appoint Jose Mourinho as Manager, a decision as wrong-headed as Brian Clough’s takeover at Leeds United all those years ago, but to break that news within minutes of yesterday’s FA Cup win was an utter disgrace. I may not like Louis van Gaal or what he has done with United – after all, most of United’s play last night was the same slow, dull, turgid, passion- and inspiration-less football we’ve suffered all season – but he deserved to enjoy his triumph at least until this morning.

As did I , and those United fans who think like me. I didn’t even get to relish being the Cup holders. Mourinho is poison,in so many ways. He will cause chaos, he will bring disaster. He will leave things worse than when Fergie left. I can’t support a Mourinho-led club. I have to step back.

It makes an already shitty life even shittier. It puts a wall between me and the club I support. By their shittiness shall ye recognise them. Until he’s gone, I’m gone.

What it’s like to be a Red?: The view from 1 May 2016


The goal I couldn’t celebrate

I had a new experience watching the potential title-deciding match this afternoon between Manchester United and Leicester City, and I didn’t like it.

I’ve been a United fan for closing in on forty years now, through glorious triumph and hideous failure as we’ll agree to call the football the team has played since the Boss stepped down.

On the other hand, sometime around November last year, I declared myself a Leicester City supporter for the season, cheerfully backing them in their improbable campaign for a first ever League title that would restore faith in football, the game of glorious uncertainty.

Nobody believed it possible then, when Leicester first hit the top. Everybody knew it wouldn’t last.  Even I didn’t, really, believe it would. But I did remember hearing each and every single thing said about the Foxes not sustaining their challenge as being said, word for word, about Nottingham Forest in the 1977/78 season.

For an exact parallel, you’d have had to find me working in Leicester the past month, but otherwise it’s been close enough so far.

When it began, I half-joked that after thirty-odd years of being called a glory-hunter, I felt deserved to do some hunting, but it’s not been like that. I’m not a Leicester fan at heart, and never can be. A League title cannot possibly mean to me what it means to a true fan. The dream I’m living is not my own: I’m living the dreams of people that I understand, hoping and praying for glory that will make their hearts swell, their memories endure. I’m just one of the millions of us who, once we step outside the narrow tribalism of our day-to-day loyalties, know that we’re looking at something we would dearly love to have for ourselves. The support we offer, the urging towards the sheer romance of everything, the excitement we’ll feel when they do it still doesn’t bring us within the magic circle. We are only ever outside the light of the fires burning, but we will point to the Foxes and their faithful and say that you stand for all of us.

Today was the day, the first day, when it could happen. All Leicester City have to do now is win one game. They have three chances at it.

It reminds me of a long ago Sunday League season, 1990, where Lancashire were left needing a single win to take the League, and three matches left, all at home. It was as good as done, but it took until the last over of the last of those games before the winning six soared over the Warwick Road End fences.

Today, a win at Old Trafford would bring home the glory, turn the potential into actual, the romance into the gloriously implausible reality. I wanted to see that happen.

But Old Trafford is the home of my team, Manchester United. Though I wouldn’t, for once, take amiss at a defeat, I still couldn’t want it. Not really. Besides, United still have designs upon a top 4 place, the Champions League next year, plus the pleasure of pushing out either the Arses or the Bitters. Something in the game for us?

Can’t really compare the two ambitions, though, can you? Especially as the Arses’ fluky and undeserved win yesterday makes the top 4 at their expense highly unlikely. Even if we, suddenly, have started to play something like properly again. You know, like Manchester United.

I’ve spoken elsewhere of avoiding games where I want both teams to lose. Never before, and I hope never again, have I watched a game that I wanted both teams to win.

It was a strange feeling and a miserable one. United scored a superbly made and executed early goal, and I couldn’t celebrate it because I wanted Leicester to win. The Foxes equalised, ten minutes later, and I couldn’t celebrate it because I wanted United to win. It was the same throughout an excellent first half: I could take no excitement in anything, was paralysed in response, because anything that was good football, was exciting, might lead to a goal, was a strike against a team I wanted to see win.

The second half was less draining, in large part because I found myself watching a Sky broadcast in which vision and sound were wildly out of sync: the soundtrack, the crowd noise, the commentator’s lines were at least ten seconds behind the action I was watching. Shots, fouls and crowd surges took place without verbal excitement, which would then arrive long after the action had moved on.

A draw was also unsatisfactory. It served no-one, it settled nothing. If Leicester are to do it, they deserved to do it off their own bat, on their feet, striving to complete their own destiny. Instead, like United’s Resurrection Title, in 1993, it might come whilst they’re sat down: Tottenham Hotspur have to win at a ground where they haven’t won a League match since before Alex Ferguson won his first United trophy.

That’s tomorrow night, when they kick-off at 8.00pm and I finish work at 9.00pm, with a half hour journey home. Far less dramatic, far less satisfactory a triumph, if triumph it be (though I doubt any Leicester fan will care, any more than we Reds cared, that long Sunday afternoon waiting to see if Oldham Athletic could keep their unlikely one goal lead).

As a Red, I still have the Cup Final to live for. Though I could do without the name of Jose Mourinho rearing its ugly head yet again: if United don’t finish in the Top 4, I expect to be contacted. Well, if that’s what it takes, come on Louis van Gaal: I can wait another season of him if it means I don’t have to suffer two seasons and a disaster of Mourinho.

What it’s like to be a Red? – The view from April 21st 2016


There is, yet again, yet a-bleeding-gain, an article in the Guardian about the managership of Manchester United. Here’s a link – http://www.theguardian.com/football/blog/2016/apr/20/manchester-united-fans-louis-van-gaal-champions-league – go and read it if you can stand the tedium: there are a minimum of three per week, not counting match reports, which also drone on about the subject. By now, the Guardian has written more words on this topic than it did on last year’s General Election, and there hasn’t been a one worth reading.

Today’s piece has been written by Paul Wilson under the heading, “Do Manchester United fans want fourth if it means Louis van Gaal stays?” The answer to this is yes. And no.

Because there are hundreds of thousands of Manchester United fans out there, many more than the 70,000 or so who go to home matches. And, guess what, you fucking moronic mealy-mouthed gits of football writers at the Guardian, WE DON’T ALL THINK EXACTLY ALIKE.

There are Manchester United fans out there who would forego any form of success this season if it meant Louis van Gaal got sacked.

There are Manchester United fans out there who are desperate to finish top 4 and still see van Gaal go.

There are Manchester United fans out there who are desperate to finish top 4 and would put up with van Gaal staying if that’s what it took.

There are Manchester United fans out there who are desperate to finish top 4 and who believe that van Gaal has been building a new team that will come to flower next season.

There are Manchester United fans – and I’m one of them – who still love the FA Cup and who dream of taking that trophy back, above all else.

Speaking for myself, I long since lost faith in van Gaal. I watched United play and win last night, comfortably, easily, boringly. I want him out. But I would rather he stay than Mourinho come in, so van Gaal remains acceptable to me for as long as he keeps Mourinho at bay: once Mourinho commits to somewhere else, let him go.

But I work with United fans who cannot understand why United haven’t grabbed Mourinho as soon as he came free. And with United fans who are desperately worried about him.

We  are not a fucking monolith with one mind between us, yet the Guardian treats us as if we all of us agree on one single course. And I am getting more and more pissed off with every day that I read another fatuous piece with some fat-headed tower of the Guardian line who cannot understand why United haven’t taken their instructions to take on board a manager who guarantees them stories. I mean, the future success of the club is of no fucking moment compared to that, is it?

To all of you at the Guardian, will you leave the fuck off? The paper is haemorrhaging readers constantly, and I wouldn’t mind betting that thousands of them are united fans sick to their stomachs at the coverage. And I’m getting ever closer to being one of them.

What it’s like to be a Red: the View from 11 April 2016


A random thought crossed my mind this afternoon: is there actually an upside to Jose Mourinho taking over as Manchester United manager? For me, I mean, personally: I stick by my belief that he would be a disaster for the club and would leaves things even worse after a very short-term period of possible success. I have sworn that, if United do take Mourinho on, I will turn my back and walk away for as long as he is there. There isn’t room for both of us, and it’s not like I have any scintilla of power to influence the situation, positively or negatively.

I watched yesterday’s game against Tottenham Hotspur, though I switched it off the moment the final whistle went, and I was close to doing so as soon as the amount of additional time was announced, since that seemed a cruel and unfair punishment to undergo after ninety minutes.

United had coped, defensively, with Spurs, for seventy minutes. Young Timothy Fosu-Mensah had been a beast in defence, locking up everything. He gets injured, United concede three in six minutes from that side of the field. Three was unnecessary: thre latter two were soup and nuts, one was all that was needed. United weren’t going to score if the game had gone on all night and spurs had gone home to sleep and left eleven dustbins on the pitch in a 4-1-4-1 formation.

To be honest, it didn’t even hurt. I was looking to keep Spurs out, do Leicester a two-point favour, maybe, by some fluke late on, nick an undeserved goal and three points. But once the first goal went in, it was over and I knew it.

I lost faith in van Gaal a long time ago (link) and though I’ve welcomed and enjoyed some results since then – Arsenal, the Bitters – I’ve never been seduced into thinking that maybe it’s working, maybe next season it will finally start to come together, maybe I’ll have to apologise for being so badly wrong (some apologies are easier to make than others).

No, I want van Gaal out. He has only one use at present, one purpose for me, as a placeholder, keeping Mourinho’s arse out of the Old Trafford dugout.

I didn’t just watch the United game yesterday. For a second successive Sunday, I also watched the Leicester game that kicked off at 1.30pm. It took me back to the 1995/96 season, when I followed both Droylsden and United. At the back end of the season, I got very used to double match weekends, with the Bloods on the Saturday and the Reds on the Sunday, and even a few double match days, most notably when I was at Anfield at 11.30am on the Saturday, and back to the Butchers Arms for 3.00pm.

Two games in a day takes a fair chunk out of it for the little things, like food-shopping at supermarkets with no direct public transport access. Though I’m backing the Foxes for the title, it doesn’t mean I can watch them with anything like the fervour I bring to United.

But there was no fervour in that game. If we’d scored, I’d have roared, but this season I have only rarely been able to muster the full-throated bellow that normally accompanies a goal. Watching United has become a chore, not a pleasure. There is no anticipation, no expectation. It’s a ritual without pleasure or excitement.

And if Mourinho were to come to Old Trafford next season, it’s a ritual I would have to deny myself. Just at the moment, that has its kind of attractive aspect. I mean, it’s soul-destroying to watch United this season, to try to support and believe in a team whose victories are never deserved in the way to which I became too used.

The slow tempo, the constant lack of imagination, the instinct to turn back, to play the ball away from the opposition’s goal rather than towards it, the insistence on playing so many players out of position – I mean, Ashley Young, yesterday, what was that? The inability to see where a goal might come from, the loss of confidence and commitment in the team, no football fan can bear to see that from the team he supports, and the long years when such things were quite simply unthinkable make watching United a pain. Two to three years off becomes appealing.

What it’s like to be a Red: The view from 1 April 2016


It’s not been a good month of late for Manchester United fans who cannot stomach the thought of our club being managed by Jose Mourinho, given the claims – as yet, unconfirmed officially, but also undenied officially – that United have signed a pre-Contract with the man, committing themselves to paying him £15,000,000 if we don’t offer him the managership.

Despite the recent win over the bitter Bitters (Marcus Rashford! Marcus Rashford!) I remain committed to seeing the back of Louis van Gaal, sooner rather than later, but if he’s the only one standing between us and Mourinho, then I’m more than happy for him to stay as long as is necessary.

Which, according to the latest reports, is only until the end of the month. Apparently, Mourinho has been refusing job offers, preferring to install himself at Old Trafford, but if we haven’t made a serious offer by 1 May, then he’s going to look elsewhere.

So, we know there’s an end-date. One month, thirty days, to have or have not. Countdown.

What it’s like to be a Red? The View from March 15th


There’s something peculiarly evil about agreeing with an opposition fan over a moment of controversy affecting their team. You can see it getting under their skin and undermining their world view.

My ex-team boss is a Liverpool fan and he was on our floor this afternoon to speak to someone. Naturally, he couldn’t resist the chance to have a gloat over me for last Thursday’s Europa League tie, not to mention the return leg coming up in a couple of days. It didn’t half take the wind out of his sails when I cheerfully described out performance as ‘crap’.

We had more of a serious argument about the return leg, especially when I said I could see us turning them over 3-0. He just rejected it as a possibility at all. Mind you, I said I could also see us being hammered again, which he naturally agreed with. I don’t take his opinion seriously, anyway. There are some Liverpool fans you can have a serious conversation with, and then there’s the majority, like my ex-Team leader.

But the thing is that I genuinely don’t know what to expect from United when I sit down to watch a match this season. Most of the time, no expectation has been the order of things: no goals, no chances, no creation, no expectation.

Yet there is another United, one that comes out unexpectedly, plays serious, purposeful, exciting football, wins and wins in style. It’s like the anti-van Gaal United, the one that rejects utterly everything he tells them and instead plays unlike a Manchester United team, indeed makes a mockery of him and his ‘three-year-plan-is-exactly-on-track’ (insert ironic link to Talking Heads’ ‘Road to Nowhere’ at this point).

If they play on Thursday, I can see us overcoming the scousers and going through. And I may be dropping down to the floor on which my ex-Team Leader works on the Friday, if that should come to pass.

Everybody’s still arguing about who should manage United next season. There’s an overwhelming consensus among the ABUs of the entire country that it should still be van Gaal, and there are still a sizable number of people I work with who would commit at least Grievous Bodily Harm to secure Mourinho. I think they’re short-sighted. I keep saying that we might have two years of success with him, and then we’d be worse off than we are now.

Even the Guardian seemed to have cooled on their endless campaign to force Mourinho into the hot seat at Old Trafford, if nothing else out of sheer horrified embarrassment at coming out with an article (by the otherwise usually intelligent Barney Ronay) pushing the case for van Gaal and Mourinho to work together, with Jose as the junior partner.

Let’s be honest, I’m in the vast majority that wants van Gaal out. It is clear beyond measure that he hasn’t the faintest idea what to do and he cannot establish United as a successful club again, least of all attractive. But I would take him as manager again next season in one circumstance only: to keep Mourinho out.

Though the FA Cup is still within United’s possibilities (I have a quiet suspicion that we will make West Ham’s last ever cup tie at Upton Park into a miserable affair for them), I’ve long since written off this season. It’s great to see so many youngsters coming through and the unexpected bonus of Rooney’s injury this last month has demonstrated clearly that we do not relay on him anything remotely like as much as van Gaal imagines: ‘he is the captain, he will always play when he is fit’: what manager with any brains makes that kind of promise? (Lionel Messi’s, that’s who).

But this is a nowhere year. A new United is required next season, ideally with a new manager. Laurent Blanc is in the frame. Bryan Robson says Giggsy is ready now. The current United isn’t fit for purpose. Support is a habit, a loyalty born of decades.

I’ll still get more pleasure out of Leicester city winning the Premier League than anything else this season.

What’s it like to be a Red?: the view from 6 February 2016


So, after things had gone quiet and I’d almost started to relax again, there’s a massive claim that Manchester United have entered negotiations to bring Jose Mourinho in as manager at the end of the season. This is apparently on the basis that, having more or less demonstrated that they weren’t interested in all the many drawbacks having Mourinho around the place (which tend to outlast his every two-and-a-bit seasons reign), the news that Guardiola is taking over the Bitters this summer means we have to try a retaliatory strike.

That United have refused to comment instead of rejecting the notion out of hand fills me with fear that there is some truth behind this claim. My apprehension is further stirred by Louis van Gaal’s decision on the very same day that United’s recent upsurge, and the sudden arrival of six goals in the last two games, does not constitute any change in direction, or philosophy, or a relaxing of the rigidity with which the manager has been operating these last two years.

What he’s doing is claiming that both Wayne Rooney and Jessie Lingard are lying when they both say they’ve been encouraged to play with more freedom, and that playing Juan Mata in his best position instead of on the right wing is because he’s playing better, and not the other way round.

In short, Louis’s making himself look a complete idiot, given that anyone who knows a thing about football can tell exactly why United’s performance has brightened in the last couple of games, and it’s not the natural extension of van Gaal’s philosophy, finally working.

I repeat: if Mourinho comes in, I go out. Once again I’m starting to fear that that may be going to happen.