Last season after the bizzare 6-1 loss to City at Old Trafford, United had a match at Aldershot two nights later where they could get the derby match out of their systems. Partial catharsis if you like before normal service resumed the following weekend with a hard earned 1-0 win at Goodison Park. This season following another home derby defeat, there’s been six days of reflection following what was to my eyes a substandard home performance. Stoke City, like Everton, is not the most forgiving of places to go to when you need three points to re-assert confidence. The statisticians have been out this week, working out all the permutations of how United could make a town halls of the run in, just like they did last season. Stoke’s an horrible place to go to and a horrible team to play when confidence has been rattled and there’s no doubt that behind all the bravado, last Monday and the way United lost had left United fans with all kinds of mad things running through their heads (something that’ll be conveniently denied now).
Teams coming out to a windswept fanfare
Leaving Piccadilly station on the 12.15 to Euston yesterday, which en-route was stopping at Stoke, was a small faction of blues who were getting the train to London with some confidence. Pulling into Stockport station ten minutes later, about 50/70 blues were on the platform singing Blue Moon with boisterous abandon which mysteriously vanished once they boarded the train and found the clientele on their were mostly getting off at Stoke. Once at Stoke, the £3.00 return busses outside the train station were very conveniently placed meaning that we wouldn’t have to work too hard trying to make something decent of this place. Everywhere I go, I like to travel independently of virtually any organised travel, see it for myself in other words. I’ve seen Stoke enough times in my forty years to know that it makes Warrington look like Manhattan. I couldn’t wait to get to the ground so I could stand in a police guarded compound at the South Stand of the stadium and await the arrival of Pete Gartona surrounded by industrial units that were closed for the day. It was a far more alluring prospect than spending the day sharing the air with a load of local sister worriers turning out for their one match a season supporting Stoke City. Inside the ground, I found myself in the nearby company of genuine genius. Terry Hall, erstwhile singer of the Fun Boy Three, The Colourfield and most famously, The Specials was stood right behind me cheering United on with as much fervour as everybody else near me. In this week of the passing of Margaret Thatcher, it was heavily resonant to meet the singer of the song, Ghost Town, which to me, perfectly encapsulated the desperate and desolate mood prevalent in her divisive premiership. He was at the game to deliver an important message to you Rooney and as per usual, he delivered the message exquisitely. Wayne Rooney had his best game yesterday since I can’t remember when. Playing deeper, his advanced midfield play and some of his long passes, particularly one crossfield/switch pass to Patrice Evra in the middle of first half reminded me of David Beckham. His short passing left a bit to desired but one very impressive thing he quickly worked out early in the second half was the dramatic effect the wind in the corner (over the players tunnel) of the West and South stands was having on the flight of the ball. He amended his passing quickly through that. With three wide open corners in Stokes building society sponsored/monikered stadium, it can make football the way we know it to be a bit of a lottery. To a team like Stoke and their unfortunately seven fingered support, it’s perfect. Stoke play football like a feisty second division pub side and their fans, bless ’em, don’t know any different. Today, again they were like a pub side but without the heart for the fight. We all expected a hard game today but they looked to me like a side who’d given up, such was the lack of fire or desire in their play.
United fans at the final whistle in a mood of relieved celebration (photograph courtesy of Pete Gorton)
United haven’t lost a league match to Stoke City since a 2-1 loss at the old Victoria ground on Boxing Day 1984. On the Boxing Day of this season, Stoke City beat Liverpool 3-1 and for the next fixture three days later at home to Southampton, the local swagmen had and sold out a commemorative scarf made for the Liverpool result. It doesn’t bear thinking about what kind of stuff would’ve been made if they had got a result against United. It quickly became apparent that it wouldn’t be the case when Michael Carrick poked United in the lead in a goal mouth scramble from a Robin Van Persie corner in the third minute. There was a delayed reaction in the United section as nobody could see what had happened at the other end of the pitch with any clarity. The sight of the United players converging on Carrick is what alerted us to the fact it was a goal. Stoke hardly threatened the United goal but there was always the fear that something mad could happen whilst only a goal in front. Any lingering anxiety amongst the red ranks were extinguished in the 65th minute when Robin Van Persie converted a penalty he won from being fouled by Andy Wilkinson. Stoke’s Bosnian goalkeeper Asmir Begovic went the right way but by putting the ball low and into the corner of the net, the recently goal starved centre forward scored the perfect penalty.
Robin Van Persie about to score his first goal in ten games and seal the match for United in the 65th minute (photograph courtesy of Gete Parton)
Stoke City fans hate United with a zeal that is hilarious. In the 14th minute of yesterdays match, they had a minutes applause for what I later found out was in memoriam for Kameron Bourne, a local fourteen year lad who had recently died in his sleep. Stoke fans to my immediate right were absolutely incandescent that United fans didn’t join in the applause but two things immediately occurred to me in the immediate aftermath with Stoke fans singing the old Who’s that Lying on the Runway and No Respect. These are the kind of people who thrive on finding something to get upset and self righteous about. Singing a song mocking the Munich dead (who never disrespected anybody) cheapened whatever respect or decency was in the original gesture of the minutes applause. In the second half, there were three United fans sat amongst Stoke fans nearby to us who were pointed out to Police and security by the Stoke fans in their midst. Once the Police turned up, there was suddenly a surge of primal aggression towards these three reds and loads of ‘let me at ‘im’ rhetoric coming out of the snide Stone Island attired locals nearby. In the exec boxes in the West Stand, a legendary Old Trafford terrace figure was winding Stoke fans up to an apoplectic fever, trying to teach them the Michael Carrick song. Under normal circumstances, I’d be glad to see the back of a team, a collective of fans and a shithole town like Stoke out of the Premier League but I make an exception for Stoke. Not through any sense of affection or compassion but because of the comedy value their club and supporters provide. The next time they play at Old Trafford, they should play the theme music to the Beverly Hillbillies.
Many thanks to Chris from www.jamiesoncontracting.co.uk for his help in getting the tickets for todays match