Rovers Return To Win At Old Trafford. Manchester, 31st Of December 2011

Consensus amongst Reds on the quiet was that there would be disappointment if United didn’t make a decent dent into City’s superior goal difference today. Last season, United put seven goals past a better Blackburn side that took to the pitch for this match. Before today’s match, Blackburn had won two league games all season although they had gone to Anfield on Boxing Day and surprised everybody by getting a draw there, everybody, Blackburn Rovers fans included, were expecting a comfortable win for United. After a busy but flat footed start from United, Blackburn’s first attack yielded a penalty when Dimitar Berbatov pulled Christopher Samba over, just inside the United area, on sixteen minutes, to help referee Mike Dean, make probably the only correct decision he made all day. Mike Dean had a stinker of a game, denying United a blatant penalty about five minutes later, when Evra was tripped up in the Blackburn box on an overlapping run and constantly allowing Blackburn goalkeeper, Mark Bunn, to waste time on goal kicks after Blackburn had scored. The fact that Blackburn were wasting time in the first half is a good guide to the mentality of this backward club. Continue reading Rovers Return To Win At Old Trafford. Manchester, 31st Of December 2011

No Banana Skin On Boxing Day, Manchester, 26th Of December 2011

Boxing day in Wigan is traditionally a fancy dress day. This explains why 200/300 of their travelling 1500 army came dressed as bananas yesterday, there were other more free thinking ones who came dressed as Bugs Bunny, Daffy Duck and Lennie the Lion. The rest of the Wigan fans just sat there, so much so that I was beginning to wonder if they’d borrowed some cast offs from Madame Tussauds in Blackpool to pad out the pathetically low turnout of away fans on a bank holiday for a match that is sixteen miles from their hometown. Wigan, like Leeds, is a rugby league town that just happens to have a football team attached to it. Leeds have found their true and correct place in the second flight and hopefully will stay there ad infinitum, I have a feeling that Wigan are gonna be joining them there this summer, having stayed in the Premier League with admirable resilience, since 2005. Wigan are beginning to remind me of Wimbledon, who had an abnormally long stay in the top flight before being relegated, moving fifty odd miles away to Milton Keynes and completly losing their identity in the process. Like Wimbledon, Wigan’s support in regards to numbers is lamentable, when a club can’t sell out their ground for the visit of United, Chelsea, Arsenal and Liverpool, then to my eyes, they have no business being in the top division. I could sit here all night taking the piss out of Wigan, but it’s a bit like kicking a puppy. At least the fans who came to Old Trafford yesterday dressed as bananas did try and create an atmosphere. They were, in the second half suddenly celebrating an imaginary goal, I was begining to think that they’d been on Ken Kesey’s favourite medication, then they tried riling a pretty bored K Stand by singing City’s Mancini song, to the tune of Volare and about City’s recent 6-1 win at Old Trafford. United fans ignored them in a way an adult would ignore a child jumping up and down saying look at me. United fans, myself included here, were looking forward to going back to the pub to carry on with the festive drinking session that always occurs on Boxing Day and which had been rudely interrupted by, unusually for United, a 3PM kick off.

Continue reading No Banana Skin On Boxing Day, Manchester, 26th Of December 2011

Rampant United Raid The Cottage, Manchester, 21st Of December 2011

At 11.15 Monday night, I got a text off a friend of a friend in Brighton, telling me there was three tickets available for the match at Craven Cottage on Wednesday at £50.00QPR apiece. I accepted at once and having made plans to go down to Fulham, I got a pretty underwhelming text off the same kid, telling me the tickets had actually been sold last night before he’d texted me, but he didn’t know this at the time. I could’ve gone down on spec, like I’d done for the game at QPR, but there’s a massive difference between going to London at the weekend without a ticket and all the hassle and mither of going there on a Wednesday night ticketless (going straight from work, Wednesbury at rush hour, getting home at 3am and up for work three hours later, etc).

This is the first United match this season that I’ve either not watched in the flesh or live on the television, SKY sports had decided tonight to show the goalless draw between Wigan Athletic & Liverpool live, I believe so as to get one of their quota of crap matches out of the way, satisfy a contractual obligation with the Premier League and maintain a veneer of equality. Having failed to get any kind stream on the internet showing the match, I kept in touch with the match via the very old fashioned method of listening to the commentary on Talksport for the first half. By half time United were 3-0 up with Danny Wellbeck, Nani and Ryan Giggs scoring. Giggs scored his first league goal of the season and also by doing that, scored for the 22nd consecutive season.

Listening to the match on the radio is definetly more stressful than watching it on the telly or in the ground as you can obviously only use your imagination to picture what’s going on. In my formative years of being a United fan, in the 1980s, there wasn’t the saturation television coverage of football that we get now, we’d get something like five/six games a season live on television, seven or eight in a good year. Myself and fellow reds of my age were at the mercy of Piccadilly radio’s United correspondant , Tom Tyrell. A man so biased that he makes Paddy Crerand sound like Bob Wilson, he’s the only man I’ve ever come across who could induce heart failure in an eleven year old boy. With United running rampant by half time, there was none of the heart stopping moments that radio commentary gives you and by sixty minutes, I’d managed to find a stop/start stream of the match and United were in cruise control. On 88 minutes, Wayne Rooney let fly with a scorcher of shot, the kind a striker plays when his team’s winning 3-0. It was, to then, easily the best goal of the night and it was a nice way to wrap up a comfortable win. Dimitar Berbatov though had other ideas when a couple of minutes later, he backheeled an Antonio Valencia cross in the bottom left hand corner of the Fulham net to score a goal very similar to the famous one Denis Law scored for City in front of the Scoreboard End of Old Trafford in 1974.

The only other thing I can remember from tonight of significance was when Phil Jones was clobbered by Clint Dempsey’s elbow in the second minute. Having seen the replay, I genuinely think it was an accident. Dempsey is an honest lad, he looked pretty gutted to have done what he’d done. Jones, hard bastard that he is, played on for twenty minutes but was obviously not right, I’m just hoping it won’t cause his absence from the United team for too long. With the physios room at the moment at Old Trafford resembling the M62 rush hour, he’ll be badly missed if he’s out too long.

Happy Christmas

Cold Feet In The Warm Snow At White City, Shepherds Bush, 18th Of December, 2011

A rarity in that Manchester United haven’t had a match in eight days. Today was a potentially tricky match against a Queens Park Rangers side who’ve given Manchester City a hard game recently. They’ve also beaten Chelsea in a game that has since been remembered better for the allegation of racial abuse levelled against England captain John Terry, something that the FA are no doubt investigating thoroughly, bearing in mind the amount of time they’re taking to conclude.

I first went to Loftus Road as a young adult in January 1991 and paid £6.00 on the gate to stand on the terrace, in what is now known as the School End. Despite the small allocation of tickets granted to United in today’s game, I went down “on spec” and managed to get two tickets at face value for £60.00 each, for myself and our kid. In twenty years, the face value of a ticket at Loftus road has gone up tenfold, my net wages haven’t. What hasn’t changed in the slightest in the last twenty years is the layout at Loftus road. The stadium is by top league standards, tiny. Even allowing for the compact nature of Loftus Road, the view of the pitch, from wherever you are in the ground is spot on and due to the way the roof’s configured, amenable to an excellent atmosphere. The atmosphere today from the United end was raucous and lively.

When the match kicked off, United immediately went on the attack and within 52 seconds, Wayne Rooney had scored. The goal had not only caught the QPR defence cold, it had caught the United fans cold too. There was a split second delay in the United fans reaction to the goal, nobody had believed that United had actually scored until they’d seen the United players leaping in celebration. The header that Rooney had guided into the QPR net seemed to have been a pretty weak one but it outfoxed the  goalkeeper, Radek Cerny. Whilst that might have been a soft goal for Cerny to concede, he more than made amends for it later, with two saves in particular, the first one on 31 minutes from Antonio Valencia one of the best saves I’ve ever seen. United should’ve been out of sight by then but the linesman made a wrong offside call on a Danny Wellbeck goal on 23 minutes and an open net miss from Jonny Evans four minutes later. To my eyes, it was the only thing Evans got wrong today in what else was, an excellent performance from him. On 60 minutes, Michael Carrick scored for the first time since January 2010 when he capitalised on a Joey Barton mistake and ran through unchallenged, to slot the ball past Cerny, in the bottom left hand corner of the net in front of disbelieving and ecstatic United fans. We were stood there open mouthed at how he was able to run through the QPR midfield without a single attempt of a tackle on him. Knowing Neil Warnock the way I do, I’d love to know what he said to his players in the home changing room after the match, especially after that goal. All in all, a great result and comfortable performance from a stadium where United have sometimes struggled in the past. The only gripe I have from what was an excellent performance was United’s profligate finishing/final ball in a match where United could’ve made a good dent in City’s superior goal difference and the fact that I didn’t put two pairs of socks on as my bleedin’ feet were freezing, as I stood watching the match.

United fans, as per usual were in great voice away from home. Rooney’s goal in the first minute put the reds in a great humour too. New chants of “Thursday nights in Amsterdam”, “Channel 5 is wonderful, it’s full of…” & “Warnock for England” were added to the festive staple of “Twelve days of Cantona”, “Giggs will tear you apart” and “Jingle bells…”.

From leaving White City tube station on the Central line, for the five minute walk up South Africa Road to Loftus Road, there was a real excitement from the QPR fans for the match today. QPR fans are by London standards, a load of teddy bears. There’s no moody paranoia on South Africa Road as there would be if you were walking down Kings Road to Chelsea, Seven Sisters Road to Tottingham or the Old Kent Road to Millwall. Bryan Robson was walking down South Africa Road alongside Sam Allardyce and he was constantly asked for autographs and photographs whilst Allardyce was ignored. Robbo was geniality personified with everybody’s request. Outside the Springbok Pub, I asked an alternative ticket trader that I’m acquainted with, how it was going on the brief. Worryingly for me, he said he had none and it was nigh on impossible getting one for the United end. Hovering around the incoming United fans coaches shouting any spare tickets, yielded a big fat foxtrot alpha and half an hour before kick off, I’m making contingency plans to watch the match in a pub in Shepherds Bush. My luck changed at 11.45 when a UWS seller who’d just plotted up, guided me to a feller with a  spare who wanted face value. If I see that UWS seller at Old Trafford anytime soon, he’s getting a pint off me.

Crying Wolves Slayed By The Red Devils, Manchester, 10th of December, 2011

This is just the oposition United needed after recent setbacks. Wolves are a typical Mick McCarthy team, plenty of bottle, fight, heart but also like every Mick McCarthy team I can remember, both as a player and as a manager, shit. That United only scored four is down to some sloppy finishing from the reds and some great saves from Wolves keeper, Wayne Hennessy. This was as comfortable a performance as was possible for United under the circumstances. On 17 minutes, Nani scored a goal that was almost a carbon copy of the goal he scored against Liverpool in front of the Stretford End in March 2008. Ten minutes later, Wayne Rooney scored his first goal in open play since his goal in first half injury time, against Chelsea in September. With three senior United strikers out injured at the moment, this was a great time to pick up his scoring form.

With United cruising nicely against the toothless Wolves up to half time, it was a little surprise in the 47th minute when Steven Fletcher headed high into the United net in the old Scoreboard End. With this being Wolves though, there was no onslaught or pressure forthcoming in search of an equaliser, I believe both the players and the fans of Wolves were equally as gobsmacked as the United fans that they’d scored. Just in case there was any worry of a Wolves comeback, Nani made the game safe nine minutes later and Wayne Rooney got another five minutes later. United were comfortable enough to bring on Ezekiel Fryers on 67 minutes for Patrice Evra and Federico Macheda on 75 minutes for Danny Welbeck.

The other thing I noticed in this game was Nani making a “reverse pass” to Danny Welbeck on 65 minutes. I saw Ryan Giggs do the same pass on Wednesday, proving that you can teach an old dog new tricks. This is a pass which is David Silva’s speciality, I first saw him do it in the Old Trafford derby last February and it created chaos amongst United’s defence, he did the same thing to more devastating effect in October. The look on defenders’ faces, who are running out trying to play opposing forwards offside, only to be confronted with this pass is a picture.

The atmosphere today was a massive improvement on recent games. United fans rallied well to encourage the team from the off. The Stretford End and the K Stand really found their voices to provide a warm, sometimes hot atmosphere on a freezing day. The Wolves fans, were noisy for their big day out to Old Trafford. They sang the hurtful and cutting *Fuuurzdi noyts, shannul foiv (English translation below) and **du blik kun-troy buoyzz, (translated below), listening to this lot sing, it’s hard to comprehend or believe that this part of the world gifted us the singer that is Robert Plant. I will give the Wolves fans one thing, they had a refreshing attitude to supporting their team, instead of singing the tedious self celebrating we support our local team that I normally hear from opposing fans at Old Trafford, they actually adopted the novel idea of actually supporting their team. Points docked though for doing the piss poor look at us, aren’t we wacky Poznan dance.

There are certain clubs who have such history and substance that the footballing romantic/sentimentalist in me believes belong in the top division, Blackpool are one, Notts County another, Wolverhampton Wanderers also belong in that company. Despite not having won a trophy since winning the League cup in 1980, when Andy Gray capitalised on a rare and comical howler from Nottingham Forest goalkeeper Peter Shilton to score into an empty net against the reigning European champions. Alongside Matt Busby, Stan Cullis, Wolves manager from 1948 to 1964, was a pioneer in European football. After Wolves won the title in 1954, Cullis arranged friendlies against teams like Real Madrid, Borrusia Dortmund and the “magical Magyars” of Honved from Hungary. These games gave president Ebbe Schwartz, from the newly formed UEFA, the idea of European Cup. Wolves have made a contribution to the football we watch today that no amount of money can buy. They were the “glamour” club of the 50s, a club which a young George Best in Cregagh, Belfast was a fan of.

* Thursday nights, Channel Five

** The black country boys