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?

Depressing Reading


https://www.theguardian.com/football/2019/oct/17/glazers-legacy-manchester-united-liverpool

The above story appeared in the Guardian on Thursday. David Conn is actually a City fan, but he is also a very thorough and very impartial writer, especially about football economics. What he’s written is very depressing to a United fan, if our current form this season were not enough on its own, but it also has the ring of truth throughout.

United play Liverpool on Sunday afternoon. Recent United games have been the low point of the weekend, offering nothing of entertainment, of inspiration and especially excitement. On paper, Liverpool, with a 100% record over eight games and a very high standard of play, ought to absolutely hammer us. The only shred of hope I have to rely upon is that United-Liverpool games have never observed the form book.

Conn’s article however presents a horribly dismal prospect. Focussing on the Glazers’ ownership, it present a vision of United never recovering from the past years of malaise, post-Alex Ferguson. The club is subject to owners who are only interested in taking money out, and not in putting money in, something many of us said back in 2005. The ground is falling into disrepair, recruitment of players is in the hands of Ed Woodward, who has failed to appoint a Director of Football who might be able to set a viable direction/detract from his power.

And the Glazers are irremovable and will be as long as their cash cow sustains them.

I confronted this very position six and a half years ago, when Fergie stepped down, and I was defiant about accepting a period of no longer being a dominant force. I was naive however, in imagining a maybe four year lull, before we started being a challenge again, but then I lacked the imagination to understand that those who run Manchester United would be so prepared for decline and mismanagement to bring my club as low as it has. Talk of relegation seems monstrously improbable, but if Liverpool do defeat us on Sunday, we may find ourselves in 17th, one place – just one place – above the drop zone.

And if we find ourselves in that place, then it will be for one reason and one reason only: we deserve to be there. I remember relegation in 1974 and the resurgence United went through after that, though it still wasn’t enough to regain the League title for nearly another twenty years. Maybe we need that to make the people in control see what is really going on.

I don’t know what will happen, and when or if we will turn the corner. I keep thinking that it just needs a little bit of luck, a spark, a moment, something that goes right, and lifts the team’s spirit, the player’s spirit, and suddenly their confidence will start to return.

But until and if, I have to remember my defiance of six and a half years ago. I was with United for all that 23 years, from the FA Cup in 1990 to the Premier League in 2013, and what a glorious thing it was. And it all happened, and no matter what happens now or next week or next year, IT HAPPENED, and nothing can uncreate it. I WAS at Wembley for three Doubles, I WAS in Barcelona, all those matches I saw, live or on TV, I had every minute of that, and if I’m fated not to experience anything like that again, I experienced those twenty-three years. Twenty-three years of the taste of Gold (apologies Steve Engelhart), and I refuse to forget a second of that. What United are now cannot and will not destroy that.

So blow winds and crack your cheeks. Rage on, blow. And I’ll just close my eyes and be in the Nou Camp again. You cannot take that away.

Our Sorrow


After mourning the passing of Leicester owner and Chairman, Vichai Srivaddhanaprabha, I’m back marking the passing of one of our own, a Manchester United man, former Manchester Evening News United correspondent David Meek, aged 88.

Meek became a football writer by accident, pressed into service in emergency, from news and politics, when the MEN’s United correspondent was amongst those killed at Munich. He took to the job, holding the position for 37 years and, what’s more, earning the trust of Alex Ferguson and holding that for 26 years. Meek was never a flashy writer, but he was solid, reliable and faithful to the Club, which makes him one of us and ours. David Meek never betrayed Manchester United, and his favourite moment was a George Best goal.

The Football Pink of Heaven has gained a new correspondent.

A.F.D. – I Wish I Wasn’t Right


The new Premier League season starts on Friday night, with Manchester United, last season’s runners-up, at home to Leicester City, the 2016 Champions. And after much thought, I’ve worked out that you’d have to go back to the early Eighties, the period when my gorge rose over Football’s insouciant bandying around of large monies when their primary audience was getting deeply embroiled in the first Thatcher Recession, before you could find a time when I felt less interested in the new season.

The explanation for this is very simple: Jose Mourinho.

I don’t do ‘I Told You So’s, I do ‘I Wish I Wasn’t Right’s. Two years ago, from the first moment Mourinho was mooted as a replacement for Louis van Gaal, I was against it. To me, Mourinho was the wrong man, the incorrect fit for Manchester4 United, our history, our style, our way of doing things.

I wasn’t the only one, but we who doubted were outweighed by the greater number who looked only at Mourinho’s record: a winner at every club he’d managed. And that’s what they wanted: United winning things again. Now, two years on, all of the United fans where I work have the same opinion about United’s forthcoming season: it’s going to be an Absolute Fucking Disaster.

Much of the preconception about this is coming from none other than our sainted Manager who, from the start of a spectacularly unsuccessful USA Tour, has been talking down our prospects in a manner you would usually expect to hear coming from the mouths of Bitters and Scousers. To listen to Mourinho, you might get the impression that this summer’s World Cup, instead of being an international tournament played at four year intervals for the last 68 years was instead something specifically and maliciously designed to make Jose Mourinho’s job difficult.

Much has been made of how well Paul Pogba played at the World Cup, with especial reference to how much better than he plays for United. Now he wants a move to Barcelona, which every commentator has interpreted as a yearning to play for a manager who isn’t Mourinho, and I can’t blame him. Mourinho is also on the point of driving out Anthony Martial, and much as I think he’s a brilliant player, an exciting player, and I don’t want to see him go, I think he’d better for the sake of his career.

Mourinho’s having the same effect in every corner. He’s doing his best to destroy Marcus Rashford’s progress, and the crop of youngsters that van Gaal began bringing through, all of whom looked so promising, have stalled to say the least. United are famous for having had a homegrown player in every single matchday team/squad since before the Second World War: I dismally expect Mourinho to fuck that record over before season’s end.

But it’s the style of football we now play that is the most depressing, to the point where the word ‘style’ is seriously misleading. Famously, United are and since the appointment of Matt Busby in 1946 always have been a vibrant, attractive, attacking team. It’s not enough for United to win: that win’s got to be exciting. We can bore teams to death in a drab 1-0 game if we have to, but we don’t set out to do it that way. Not in our tradition.

That’s no longer the case. I have spent a lot of painful time with YouTube videos of United games under Fergie and what stands out is that the first instinct of every player, once they get the ball, is to move forward. The other half, the other penalty-box, that is the target. In contrast, Mourinho’s United team have a very different first instinct: don’t make a mistake. They play completely scared. Don’t fuck up or he’ll get on our backs.

It’s even more seriously depressing that the old rivalries can’t be sustained at the moment. Of course, the old bedrock animosities towards the Scousers and the Bitters never dissipate, but by common consensus, these two teams are playing the best football going at the moment, and what’s worse they are playing the football we would normally associate with United. We should be these teams: we are not and we are light years away from being able to match them over anything longer than possible 90 minutes of a Derby.

When the rivalry with hated rivals runs out of steam, maintaining the energy of support becomes proportionately more difficult.

By the time Friday comes round, the Transfer Window will have closed. Pogba may have gone. There’s talk today of shipping Juan Mata out. There does not seem to be talk of United bringing in any serious targets. The pursuit of Jerome Boateng, whose record as a centre back is no better than any of the coterie we already have, comes over as more of an urge to buy for the sake of buying. That’s not how United should be behaving.

It’s now been five years since the last title. The last time we went that long, it was twenty six years before the duck was broken. It’s beginning to look like we may have to go a lot longer. Already, the feel is that the big players are not keen to come to United, because they have a realistic appraisal of our chances to win the big trophies, and they don’t want to play football the way we play it.

That’s a death spiral. And we may be in one already, if Mourinho stays the whole season.

It begins again on Friday night. Emotionally, it hasn’t got me with it yet. Not since the early Eighties.

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.

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.

What’s it like to be a Red?: Crossing Over


Ok, I give in. I’ve been loyal all season, I’ve been patient. I’ve tolerated what has been happening at Manchester United, because I’ve long expected it, because I’ve been convinced that our success of the last three seasons has been based on the ability of Sir Alex Ferguson to conjure results out of a squad that, in so many areas, has just not been good enough.

I’ve backed David Moyes for many reasons. Because I trusted Ferguson’s judgement in choosing a manager to build upon what we had. Because I believed that, given proper time and the chance to build his own side, he could succeed. Because I wasn’t the kind of shallow fan who started screaming the moment we struggled for the first time. Because I didn’t believe we were entitled to be top of the pile forever. Because the mighty and blatant anti-Moyes, anti-United agenda of the press, decided upon before the season started and continued by blatant lies and fact-twisting, got right up my nose. Because United don’t turn on their managers like that, don’t tip them overboard at the first sign of trouble.

Like I said, I’ve been loyal. And now I’ve crossed over. Now I’m giving up and adding my voice to the chorus of Moyes out.

The catalyst was, naturally, this afternoon’s game away to Everton, which ended in a 2-0 victory for the Merseysiders, and which could have ended double that score without United having any grounds for complaint.

The biggest single factor was that this was Everton, the club David Moyes managed for 11 years, successfully so given their current status and their limited financial resources in comparison to the Premiership’s leading teams. It was Past vs Present, a team still solidly comprised of the players Moyes bought or brought through, versus a team still solidly the creation of Alex Ferguson, with only one Moyes-introduced player in the fourteen that featured.

Moyes’ team are now under the control of a manager whose track record in the League involved taking a Premiership club into relegation, albeit just after winning the FA Cup. Ferguson’s team are now under the control of David Moyes. Everton were, by far, the more committed, enthusiastic, disciplined, tactically aware, faster (mentally and physically) and determined team on the pitch. United dominated possession, but in safe areas, with no penetration into scoring positions, let alone actual shots. They played an intricate, sometimes elegant, short passing game that, no matter how quickly the ball was laid-off, made forward progress a slow motion affair, giving Everton ample time to build a defensive formation that offered no gaps through which passes might be made.

Not that it would have been any different had there been any gaps, since for the first hour United played without a striker. They were supposed to have Wayne Rooney in that role, but Rooney is having no truck with that kind of fucking nonsense. No matter how well Mata and Kagawa performed, building intricate little triangles, finding spaces close to the penalty area, they had no-one to pass the ball to, because Rooney lacked any sense of discipline, continually wandering all over the field, getting in their way but primarily leaving them with no-one to pass the ball to!

Only when Hernandez came on as a substitute did United finally have a striker looking for the ball in front of goal. Then, with twenty minutes left, two goals behind and in need of scoring soon if there were to be any prospect of saving something from the game, Moyes introduced a second striker, Danny Wellbeck, but insisted on him playing on the right wing, and not getting anywhere near goal.

Add to that such things as allowing Nani to remain on the field for an hour when he had long since proved that the only aspect of his once considerable skills that he still possesses is that which sees him tumble artistically to the ground and take himself out of play for minutes on end whilst he sulks that the referee hasn’t bought it.

Yet Rooney was allowed to remain on the pitch for all its overlong 90 minutes, despite the fact that he was never where he ought to be and in fact was everywhere else, that he lost the ball to an Everton player every single time he tried to take it past him, that he squandered United’s only two serious chances of scoring, the first by simply not trying to shoot but gyrating mindlesly in the hope he would create space when he had miserably failed to do so before that point in the match, and the other, far too late in the game to matter, by simply not being smart enough to kick the ball past the keeper instead of against him.

I did not believe at any time that United had any chance of scoring, not if the game were continuing yet, the floodlights switched off, the Everton team blinded and United playing in infra-red night vision goggles. Moyes does not know what to do. He has never known what to do. And he has yoked our future to the over-inflated ego and the self-indulgent mindset of the World’s worst World Class Player I have ever known.

So make room for me, I’ve come across. Moyes out, preferably on the back of Rooney. We would have been far better off going for Roberto Martinez ourselves: hell, it’s looking like a bad idea not to have at least considered Tony Pulis.

And it’s now only a matter of time before Liverpool win the League. We went 26 years without, 1967 to 1993, and it has long been my insistence that Liverpool HAD to go at least 27. For it to have got to 24, to have got so close and slipped in under the wire, and for it to be in this season will be the ultimate dagger-through-the-heart pain, no matter how dulled I am to things now.