Having picked a taxi up at the airport, I was lectured by a driver who sounded uncannily like Steve McLaren. “This is a city of 220,000 people, we have fantastic red light district and great shmokers’ cafes, why would you want to go to a shithole like Amsterdam?”
With this logic, it was hard to argue with a driver who had a similar physical presence to Wladimir Klitschko (and a similar barnet). It didn’t help this driver’s humour that the E27 was slowed almost to a standstill by a combined harvester that had a suspiciously yellow and green colouring. After all this time, I think Buckscanary has finally got his revenge.
Outside the Philips Stadion. This photo makes it look a little like Sunderland’s stadium, here though is where the comparison ends. Eindhoven’s a cracking place to visit, Sunderland… (photo courtesy of John O’Dea)
In alphabetical order, a review of the teams United have played this season.
Two days after the 6-1 defeat to City, United played Aldershot Town. The timing of the game was a godsend bearing in mind what had happened 48 hours earlier. Any outside hope that Aldershot would have had by pulling a shock off were evaporated by the City result. League Cup or not, there was no way Sir Alex Ferguson was going to tolerate a defeat to Aldershot in the aftermath of the City match. Everything went alright on the night. Travelling United fans weren’t extorted on the ticket price, United won 3-0 without getting into third gear and 4,000 loyal, salt of the earth and local club supporting Aldershot fans went to their first and last match for ten years.
A mock up picture of Sir Alex Ferguson outside Aldershot’s Recreation Ground
Against the bookies’ odds, but of no great surprise to me and needing only a draw to progress, United lost to Basle in early December to leave themselves playing in Europe’s secondary cup competition for the first time since the late summer of 1995. That season Rotor Volgograd knocked United out on away goals. There was a lot of disappointment when United were knocked out of the Champions League. While I wasn’t too happy about it, I was hardly distraught about the Reds being knocked out of a competition which looking at it realistically, United didn’t have a prayer of winning. Couple all that with the fact that United have never won the UEFA Cup/Europa League, my attitude is what the hell, there’s always next year (providing the Cristiano Ronaldo money gets spent this summer…)
There have been many friendly matches between United and Ajax but tonight is the first time the clubs have met competitively since 1976. When the draw was first made in the middle of December, my mobile phone was agog with incoming text messages, all basically saying the same thing,”What a draw, are you having it ?” Having been to Amsterdam several times, a couple of them involving United, I initially was going, come hell or high water. It’s only an hour flight from Ringway Airport to Schipol but, as is the way, flight prices suddenly went through the roof and United were only allocated 2000 (approx) tickets for the match. When I was younger, it wouldn’t have been a problem, I would have gone, ticket or no ticket confident in the knowledge that a jib would have been done easily enough, especially in Holland where, in days of yore, security was famously slack. Nowadays, I want the guarantee of entry to the game before spending at least £250.00 on a flight and going through all the rigmarole and expense of arranging digs. One thing I do know, anybody who didn’t get into the match, should be having a rare old time in Amsterdam tonight, smoking hand rolled cigarettes unique to the Netherlands, possibly enjoying the very gracious hospitalty and welcome that the some ladies in Amsterdam are world famous for providing.
United fans outside The Old Sailor on the Ouderzijds Achterburgwal
Ajax are a true giant of European football. Tonight, United were (correctly as it turned out) hot favourites to beat Ajax. All the British and Dutch media were predicting a comfortable victory for United with recent form in mind. I’ve too much respect for Ajax as a football club to take any victory against them as a given, no matter how poor their recent form is. We’ve all seen poor teams beat United. With Blackburn Rovers and Liverpool, I’ve seen two mediocre sides beat United since Christmas so I wasn’t taking anything for granted tonight. A 2-0 win, on paper looks like a comfortable win but Ajax, in the first half at least, gave United a scare or two, most memorably on 30minutes when David De Gea made another top class save, to prevent Siem De Jong from scoring.
Ryan Giggs, much to the chagrin of the British media, who’d been writing commemorative pieces for his expected 900th appearance for United tonight, the United fans who’d been singing Giggs is going to Amsterdam (to the tune of Love Will Tear UsApart) since the draw had been made and to the possible relief of his wife, didn’t travel with the United squad for this game. United could have used Giggs well tonight, particularly in the first half when Nani was having one of those nights, Nani’s corner on six minutes, which went straight out for a goal kick, being spectacularly poor even by his standards.
The second half kicked off with Ajax fans singing Bob Marley’s Three Little Birds at impressive volume. The atmosphere provided tonight by the Ajax fans was fantastic (at least it sounded so on the telly). As much for the noise as Ajax fans made, United started to get a grip on the game and after some sustained pressure, Ashley Young turned the Ajax defence inside out and back in again before putting the ball through Ajax goalkeeper, Kenneth Vermeer’s legs to put United 1-0 up on 59 minutes. The United goal flattened Ajax. After that, despite only being a goal behind, United were in complete control of the game. Ajax were mostly trying shots from distance, whenever they managed to get in the United half. On 86 minutes, United counter attacked again when Antonio Valencia pulled his hamstring winning the ball in midfield before feeding Wayne Rooney on the left flank. Rooney placed a perfect low cross for the oncoming Javier Hernandez to slide ball home for United.
“Thursday night, Channel 5” has been the ever-so-cutting chant from oposition fans since United were knocked out of the Champions League in December; most of the people who’ve been doing this chanting only get a taste of European/continental football when they’re watching England getting inevitably knocked out of tournaments every couple of years. I’ll forgive them, they know no better. The “Thursday night…” chants reached a nadir at Old Trafford a couple of weeks ago when fans of Stoke City were singing it at United fans. This is the same Stoke City who played tonight, this Thursday night, and lost at home to Valencia.
Some things never change, the standard of inane commentary of football matches in this country, no matter what channel it’s on is always the same. My favourite commentary passage tonight came on 35 minutes when the Channel 5 commentator see’s the camera zoom in on Sir Alex Ferguson and asks’ co-commentator Graham Taylor, if he’s sat in the same spot as he was for the Holland/England match in 1993. Graham Taylor wasn’t sure but did say that he was walking on the spot, just outside the penalty area where Ronald Koeman fouled David Platt in the same match prior to tonights match kicking off. What nobody pointed out was that the infamous Holland/England match in 1993 took place in Rotterdam.
Thanks to Rick Kelly ofwww.rkellyphoto.comfor the lend of his equipment and his help to me in typing this blog
For the third season in succesion, United have been knocked out of the FA cup by loathed rivals. The previous two defeats against Leeds in January 2010 and City in April 2011 were deserved. This loss at the home of the once mighty, once proud, Liverpool FC was not. United controlled this game almost throughout, yet blew it with poor communication at the end to gift the industrious but mediocre Dirk Kuyt the winner. I understand that Liverpool fans enjoy watching their team beat United as much as I and my fellow reds enjoy seeing United beat, preferably destroy, them but the Liverpool players’ reaction to the final whistle spoke volumes. With all their high fives, hugging and clenched fist gestures to the Anfield Road and Kemlyn Road stands, you would have though they had just won the cup rather than just knocked out their main rivals in the 4th, repeat 4th round. Could you imagine the great Liverpool sides of Souness, Dalglish, Hansen, McDermott et al celebrating a win in the 4th round of the FA Cup in the same manner? Liverpool of that era prided themselves on their business as usual attitude to any victory apart from a cup final or title clincher. I suggest the gleeful Scousers that were watching today’s match at Anfield dig out their Liverpool FC 1970s/1980s DVDs and get all dewy eyed over them as they will never see a team like that again.
United banner for Anfield yesterday (Photo courtesy of Gareth Edwards)