On Monday just gone through sheer curiosity and the enticement of free entry, I went to United reserves/under 21s match against Tottenham Hotspur at Salford rugby league clubs new stadium on the other side of the Barton Bridge. Sir Alex Ferguson was in a crowd of 2,183 for a match United won 1-0 with a second half goal from Ryan Tunnicliffe. Before the winning goal, there was a floodlight failure on 38 minutes and the referee stopped play. I was thinking surely the far Eastern betting syndicates haven’t nobbled this match? Three minutes later, the match resumed with the lights still out. Seconds before half time, we had a tannoy announcement which said there had been a power cut locally. It had me thinking of what it must have been like in the early 1970s and just as another train of thought came to me, I saw a pitchside advert promoting BRUT aftershave. I began to think I was in an episode of ‘Life on Mars’, maybe there was more to David Bowie’s recent comeback than first met the eye and since then I’ve been waiting for the announcement of another three day week in this era of austerity. At the weekend we also had the revelation from the excellent reds away website (please see bottom of the page), who had procured the GMP attendance figure from a freedom of information request which ‘revealed’, amongst many other things, that there was 5,000 empty seats for the Liverpool fixture at Old Trafford in January just passed. With this information, blues and scousers gleefully gloated on the radio and internet about the exaggeration of United’s attendances at Old Trafford. Blues, bless ’em, I’d forgive. In recent times they have been as excitable as a fourteen year old lad who’s just been smiled at by the pretty girl in the year above but scousers really should know better than to take these figures as gospel. For twenty four years, they have been correctly fighting and contesting the deceitful police account over what happened at Owlerton in April 1989, but when the police say something they want to be true then lo and behold it suddenly is incontestably so.
United players applauding the traveling reds in the Trevor Brooking stand (photograph courtesy of Lee Thomas)
In the run up to tonight’s match at the Boleyn Ground, there was nothing like the anxiety which hung thick in the air before the Stoke City match last Sunday. There was a calm confidence amongst reds walking down Barking Road tonight as United were readying to play a side who haven’t beaten them in the league since December 2007. Unlike the pathetic Stoke side though, West Ham were, unsurprisingly up for this game. In the 16th minute, West Ham went 1-0 in front with a goal from Portuguese forward Ricardo Vaz Tê on the counter attack who diverted an Andy Carroll header into the net. Fifteen minutes later, United equalised after brilliant work from an unflappable Shinji Kagawa found Antonio Valencia unmarked for him to score his first goal since that belter at Ewood Park just over a year ago. Valencia seemed to grow two inches after that goal. Suddenly, he was hungry and confident buzzing all around the pitch and resembling the player he was last season when he was the supporters player of the season. Valencia isn’t quiet back to his best yet but the signs tonight were promising after a very stop start season (mostly stop) from the popular Ecuadorian winger. Just before half time, Andy Carroll came in on David De Gea like a revved up carthorse which when all is said and done, is all he is. I saw this last season at Anfield in the FA Cup match where Carroll terrorised De Gea and caused Liverpool’s first goal in that match by legitimately hassling De Gea. What Carroll did tonight though was outrageous, it looked like Peter McPartlands infamous attack on Ray Wood in the 1957 FA Cup final between United and Aston Villa. Everytime I see Carroll play football, I piss myself laughing that Liverpool paid £35,000,000 for him. That’s £11,000,000 more than United paid Arsenal for Robin Van Persie and only £3,000,000 less than City paid for Sergio Aguero. If I find it incredible that Kenny Dalglish thought he was worth that much, Mike Ashley at Newcastle must still be pinching himself in disbelief that he got that amount of money for a modern day Vinnie Jones. One great thing to come out of both tonight and last Sunday is seeing the increasing confidence and assertion of David De Gea. A year or so ago, coming up against somebody like Andy Carroll visibly rattled him, now he’s got that big lumps measure and is no longer intimidated by him.
A bloke who I swear could be Al Murray’s bastard brother was giving it the big one during the match. Inviting United fans to meet him outside the chicken run at half time, as if anybody’s gonna be daft enough to walk out at half time. He done one five minutes before the end of the game without even a whimper. A classic example now of what was once a genuinely moody place to visit. West Ham as an away trip has changed dramatically over the years, it’s now full of wannabe’s trying to live up to an exaggerated folklore. Walking down Green Street pre match, there were a plethora of local early 20 somethings walking around trying to look like a firm whilst the police were everywhere nearby. I can remember a time when West Ham’s boys would be mooching about well offside away from owe biww but these kids tonight were just poseurs. They would’ve been better off having an early night, going to bed and inducing a sleep the way young lads traditionally do for all the aura of menace they possessed. Tonight, was like being in a ground full of people that I am convinced cannot see the irony of ‘Til Death Do Us Part’ or the rantings of Alf Garnett. Is there really Life on Mars?
Thanks to Lee Thomas for his help in writing this blog