Waiting For The Worm Appeal – Manchester 30th of December 2012

Sir Alex Ferguson last Sunday said that Robin Van Persie could’ve been killed by Swansea skipper, Ashley Williams kicking the ball at the back of his head. Whilst theoretically true, the likelihood was a lot less to happen but here, Sir Alex had slipped up. Through his emotional and hyperbolic statement, it gave Williams an opportunity to give a glib and faux gracious interview after the game expressing all kinds of false apology whilst making Sir Alex looked dramatic. Out of the woodwork came people like Roberto Martinez, a man well known to be no friend of Ferguson’s, a chance to defend Williams whilst at the same time attempting to get up Ferguson’s nose for the forthcoming match on New Years day. This is the same Martinez whom his boss, Dave Whelan, ever so subtly tried palming off to Liverpool last summer so Whelan then wouldn’t have to pay up his contract by sacking him, sadly for Whelan, the ruse failed.

Memories are made of this: Pardew celebrates his dramatic winner against Liverpool in the 1990 FA Cup semi-final

Alan Pardew celebrates after scoring the winner against Liverpool in the 1990 FA Cup semi final at Villa Park. A goal that was rapturously received in the Grey Parrot in Hulme

A couple of days later, there was a lively exchange just prior to the second half of the Newcastle match between Sir Alex Ferguson, referee Mike Dean and linesman Jake Collin. A lot of people have assumed, but nobody has confirmed, that it was about Newcastle’s second goal. Whatever contentious things I find that Ferguson says nowadays, his press conference on Friday in what was supposed to be a lead up to yesterdays match saw him at his bullish and belligerent best. He simultaneously managed to incense the usually wrong but always self righteous ABU’s and cause the issue of a flood alert in Newcastle due to Geordies crying about his comments. I laughed heartily that the old bugger had done it again when I saw the general reaction from none United fans. Even Ant and Dec got in on the act. Apparently, Ferguson had lost it. Alan Pardew, a man who’s only memorable moment in football was in scoring the winner for Crystal Palace in the 1990 FA Cup semi final has picked on the wrong man by commenting on something that didn’t really have anything to do with him. Has Mike Ashley really given this clown an eight year contract? If so he’s been done like a kipper. After the way the thouroughly decent Chris Hughton was treated by this deluded big fish in a little pond club, it couldn’t happen to a nicer lot.

The first surprise we got was the news of a pitch inspection announced at 12.30. United haven’t had a match postponed at Old Trafford since Christmas 1991 when a match against Aston Villa was called off due to a frozen pitch. The rain in Manchester had been relentless over the Christmas period, the pitch on Boxing day looked in some parts dead. There were people wondering how could a match at Old Trafford be in any danger of postponement with all the technology available, but rain has no respect for technology. The pitch yesterday looked knackered, several times I saw what would normally be a good pass, particularly from the ever improving Tom Cleverley, get naused due to bobbles in the grass. I’m now waiting for the worm appeal that used to be issued by United in the Manchester Evening News when I was a kid via David Meek. The likelihood is though the pitch will be relaid in the new year as I can’t see Sir Alex Ferguson tolerating a playing surface like yesterdays for too long.

West Brom have done well this season for a team that were considered relegation fodder pre season. Whilst in no danger of winning the title, nor probably anything else for that matter, they have been no pushover this season. The way United have been playing this term and with the festive period famous for turning up surprise results, I wasn’t taking anything for granted before the match. Having now seen West Brom, I can’t believe how high up the table they are, I thought they were rubbish. It’s a credit to their quietly effective manager, Steve Clarke, that they are far further up the table than their ability is. Queens Park Rangers, whom are almost certain to go down, came to Old Trafford at the end of last month and gave United a better match. The most annoying thing about yesterdays game was that United should’ve been out of sight by half time but like the West Ham fixture, just over a month ago, suddenly West Brom found themselves only one down with 15 minutes to go and started giving United a game. The anxiety around Old Trafford before Robin Van Persie’s goal in injury time which sealed the result, was unbearable. With Van Persie one booking away from a suspension before the slate was wiped clear for New Year, Sir Alex Ferguson didn’t want to play him yesterday. It’s a sign of how uncomfortable Ferguson was during the match was that he substituted Shinji Kagawa on 66 minutes for Van Persie.

United made a great start to yesterdays game. Ashley Young played a pinball like cross forcing West Brom centre half Gareth McAuley into putting the ball into his own net. This is the second season in succesion that Ashley Young has forced a West Brom player into conceding an own goal after a similar cross in the opening fixture of last season caused Steven Reid to put the ball into his own net at the Hawthorns. West Brom didn’t have a shot on target until the 50th minute when Chris Brunt shot from 25 yards straight into David De Gea’s hands. West Brom played with more confidence as the game progressed, Gareth McAuley nearly repeated his goal into the Streford End in the 70th minute with a header that came off the bar.

Players walking off the pitch into the Stretford End paddock tunnel at half time (Photo James O’Neill)

The atmosphere for the match was probably the lowest key I’ve seen all season. United fans were lifted by the own goal in the 10th minute whilst the West Brom fans were probably the quietest away support I’ve seen at Old Trafford since Everton last April. All I remember from them apart from the usual drivel about supporting their local team, were them singing a song about their 5-3 win at Old Trafford, 34 years ago to the day. Since that day where West Brom won at Old Trafford for the (to date) last time and managed by future United manager Ron Atkinson, they’ve never since looked remotely like repeating the feat.

Thanks to Peter David Garton for his help in writing this and getting me thoroughly pissed yesterday and also, thanks to Andy Mitten from UWS for providing the information about the last match to be postponed at Old Trafford.

www.uwsonline.com

In the cold light of day – Norwich City V Manchester United, November 17th 2012

I could be all philosophical about this. In the cold light of day, we are (give or take) a third of the way through the season and two points off the leaders, having beaten both Liverpool and Chelsea away and Arsenal at home. All said though, after this performance, pragmatic philosophy is of no comfort. I was convinced before the season kicked off that Chelsea and Arsenal were all talk and the title race was between United and City. The results today haven’t changed anything; Chelsea won’t win the title and unless United do something dramatic in January, say bring Roy Keane out of retirement or something akin, then this title race is City’s to lose. Man City, who have been having a post title winning hangover that we ourselves experienced in 1999 are, for all that, still unbeaten in the league. United have lost three times this season and for two and half of those matches, United’s performances have been a disgrace.

 

 

Continue reading In the cold light of day – Norwich City V Manchester United, November 17th 2012

Double Glazers, forever in their debt

Not since the Summer of 2006 have I approached a forthcoming season with such precious little optimism. Then, Chelsea had just won the title at a canter and bolstered their squad with the signings of Ashley Cole and Andriy Shevchenko along with Michael Ballack and John Obi Mikel, who’d been swiped from under United’s nose. With a seemingly bottomless pit of money and Jose Mourinho as manager, they looked unstoppable. In second place during the 2005/6 season were United. The position was a misnomer; at no point during that season did anybody think United were going to win the title. During the close season of 2006 United had only signed Michael Carrick. United also had the hysteria whipped up by the British media of the supposed Rooney/Ronaldo fall out after Wayne Rooney was correctly sent off in Gelsenkirchen for stamping on Ricardo Carvalho’s testicles. Cristiano Ronaldo was subsequently blamed by the very balanced and fair minded English tabloid press for England’s exit from the tournament (not Sven-Göran Eriksson’s tactics, squad/team selection or choice of penalty takers). That Rooney and Ronaldo clicked so well the following season was just as big a kick in the nuts for the anti-United brigade as the one on Carvalho. United seizing the title from a previously unstoppable-looking Chelsea is to this day, for my money, Sir Alex Ferguson’s finest hour.

Wayne Rooney is so angry at Cristiano Ronaldo getting him sent off in the World Cup in 2006 that he’s shaking his hand as he walks off the pitch 

A few months after the controversial takeover by the Glazer family in May 2005, Sir Alex Ferguson had endorsed their running of the club. People who are wilfully blind, or believe what they want to believe, took this as proof positive that the protests that preceeded and greeted the Glazer takeover was not only futile but misguided too. That from season 2006/2007 to present day United have won the title four times and the European Cup once would, on the surface, make things look good. In 2010 United lost the title to Chelsea by one point and the season just passed lost the title to City on goal difference. Everything’s alright isn’t it ?

The Glazers being escorted out of Old Trafford in June 2005

Since United sold Cristiano Ronaldo in 2009 for £80,000,000, things have been clearly far from alright. That summer, United also lost the services of Carlos Tevez having previously promised that the “permanent” transfer would be taken care of. Whatever people think of Carlos Tevez the man, he was as a centre forward for United, sensational. The reasoning emanating was that he was too expensive and that he’d left his United owned house in Alderley Edge a mess. On that basis, I was relieved he’d left Old Trafford, I can’t overemphasise the importance it is as United player to keep a tidy house. We were assured by David “manning the barricades” Gill that the money United received for Ronaldo in 2009 was waiting to be used on the right player. Sir Alex Ferguson claimed the money had not been used because there was no value in the market. That money could’ve been used to buy somebody like Ya-Ya Toure, a player who’d had a blinder against United in the Rome hosted European Cup final of 2009 but he obviously didn’t fit into the category of value. That Ronaldo money has now vanished. As for value in the market, if Dimitar Berbatov is representative of value then I’m looking at a completely different market.

Sir Alex Ferguson espousing his brand of socialism with the Glazers in 2006

Over the years, Sir Alex Ferguson has sporadically spoken well of the Glazers. Personally I was disappointed in this stance but I conveniently took a moderate position on these pronouncements due to him being “the man with the plan” (to borrow a phrase from UWS). This summer has seen Sir Alex Ferguson’s most aggressive display of support for the Glazers yet. What was once a feeling of disappointment and disillusion towards Ferguson from me has now turned into a naked disdain. I’m to the way of thinking how dare he question the loyalty and commitment of United fans who are unhappy with the blatant robbery of the club by his employers. This from a proud Govanite shop steward. The people who are expressing concern that he so disparages are the same people who with a loyalty that was blind and now apparently one-sided, were disrupting horse race meetings involving Coolmore nags when he was in dispute with Coolmore owner John Magnier, who along with J P McManus, also happened to be the major shareholders at Old Trafford. The dispute revolved around the stud rights to a horse that had been gifted to Sir Alex Ferguson, a horse that he’d not put a penny of his own money into (like his present bosses at Old Trafford come to think of it) and a horse that he’d drawn a healthy stipend off for basically having his photograph taken next to. Ferguson’s badly advised fight with such a powerful opponent as Magnier was only going to end up with one result (no matter what face saving bullshit was peddled by Ferguson’s PR people). It had echoes of Terry Venables’ battle with Alan Sugar approximately ten years prior, the only difference in outcome was that Ferguson kept his job.

Sir Alex Ferguson with jockey Michael Kinane and Rock of Gibraltar

 I’ve no doubt that the actions of a well meaning but more militant faction of United fans (M.E.C) coupled with the action of Sir Alex Ferguson in his litigation over the stud rights lead to the chain of events which left the Glazers in charge at Old Trafford. People have said that Magnier and McManus would have sold out to the Glazers come what may due to the offer they received but I believe that to be rubbish. United were turning over a tidy profit for Coolmore/Cubic Expression every year which was an added bonus to the kudos of having a major share in such a world famous sporting institution. All the trouble from the Ferguson affair coupled with a very good offer from the Glazers (with borrowed money at crippling interest) have lead Coolmore to basically say, fuck this, give us the money and we’re out.

Sir Alex Ferguson with Susan Magnier, his partner in ownership of Rock of Gibraltar along with John Magnier in more harmonious times

Many people warned in the Summer of 2005 what the implications of this takeover were. Andy Walsh, Sean Bones, Duncan Drasdo, the three main fanzines around Old Trafford (Red News, Red Issue & United We Stand) and organistions like Shareholders United and IMUSA were pilloried for being scaremongers. Basically what they were saying in 2005 is very close now to coming true.

Former chair of the Independent Manchester United Supporters Association, now General Manager of FC United, Andy Walsh

When Paul Scholes came out of retirement last January, he was truly brilliant and I’m glad he’s signed on for another year. That said, as good as he was, does anybody believe that Scholes would have returned in those circumstances pre-Glazer? Scholes would’ve probably gone to Everton as United would’ve already replaced him (don’t give me Tom Cleverley!) Towards the end of the season where United blew an eight point lead with six games to go, they needed a midfield general to marshal the team and maintain discipline, coupled with a player who could take a corner. City had Ya-Ya Toure, United had Ji Sung Park. God bless the lad, Park did some great work at Old Trafford, never moaned and was a particular thorn in Arsenal’s side but it was painful watching him against Toure at the tripe colony in April. At the time of writing, United have signed Nick Powell from Crewe Alexandra (their young players traditionally used to go to Liverpool) and Japanese midfielder Shinji Kagawa from Borussia Dortmund. I don’t know much about Kagawa, I’ve heard good things about him from people whose opinion I respect and he was highly thought of at Dortmund. Nick Powell looks good but it’s too early to say how so especially after everybody getting giddy (myself included) about Phil Jones this time last year.

Roy Keane and Alex Ferguson

Sir Alex Ferguson and Roy Keane happily reminisce at Old Trafford in August 2007

As for Sir Alex Ferguson, only time will tell if he’s pulled off a masterstroke and made another silk purse out of a sow’s ear. He’s seen off better and more shrewd managers than the likeable Robert Mancini. Wenger and Mourinho immediately spring to mind. From a sheerly pragmatic view, his past record should buy him time should he want it but his attitude to United fans, which is getting more like Marie Antoinette every passing year, means that patience is wearing thin from people like me who’ve previously devoutly defended him against all kinds of criticism over the last twenty six years. That he so virulently defends a regime that should be abhorrent to what he’s supposed to believe in is the greatest paradox. Whilst Roy Keane may be embittered (a recurring incidence with people who’ve had close professional dealings with Sir Alex), what he said last December about Sir Alex looking primarily after himself appears as accurate as any pass he made during his distinguished twelve years at Old Trafford. In the winter of 1990, Red Issue columnist Zar wrote that time was running out for Ferguson and despite United’s convenient denials over the years, it probably was. Then, he turned things round to a degree which nobody in their wildest dreams or a scouser’s biggest nightmare could’ve envisaged. He might do it again, only a fool would bet against him, but now, time really is running out for obvious reasons. Sir Alex Ferguson came to United when they were in a complete mess and was given time which would now be unthinkable to sort the mess out. That he did so is the greatest achievement of his professional life. Due to his lamentable endorsement of the Glazer ownership and the obvious decline in United’s squad and resources, he could end up leaving at least as big a mess as the one he inherited from Ron Atkinson. For that to be his legacy would be a crying shame, there’s no question about that.

Bye Bye Blackburn – A review of all teams Man United have played 2011/2012

In alphabetical order, a review of the teams United have played this season.

Aldershot Town

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

Continue reading Bye Bye Blackburn – A review of all teams Man United have played 2011/2012

Fergie Time: 25 Years ago 1986/1987

United made a terrible start to the 1986-1987 season, apparently still in a state of depressed inertia after blowing a ten point lead the previous season. The reds didn’t win ’til the 13th of September, beating Southampton 5-1 but United were only out of the relegation zone on goal difference. The discontent on the terraces towards Ron Atkinson was now coming to the fore. Ron Atkinson never had the hearts and minds at Old Trafford with the fans the way Sir Matt Busby or Tommy Docherty possesed, despite being very popular with the media. The United team were suddenly looking old and tired, players who should have never have pulled on the red shirt, like Graeme Hogg, Colin Gibson & Johnny Sivebaek were getting regular games. The main problem with the midfield of Bryan Robson, Norman Whiteside and Paul McGrath was trying to keep them out of the pub. Up front, we had a forward line of an ageing Frank Stapleton, the incredible Terry Gibson, a man who was signed from Coventry in exchange for Alan Brazil, he had the physical build of Diego Maradona and the footballing skill of Madonna and the hard working but not good enough signing from Nottingham Forest, Peter Davenport.

United drawing at Filbert Street in September 1986

United were drawn against Southampton for the 3rd round of the League Cup and six weeks after beating them 5-1 at Old Trafford, drew 0-0 meaning a replay at the Dell. Just over a week later, Southampton beat United 4-1 to knock United out of the league cup in what was Atkinsons’ last match as United manager.

Ron Atkinson’s last match as manager at The Dell

We’ve since learned that Bobby Charlton sounded Alex Ferguson out about the United managers job at 1986 World Cup in Mexico whilst he was there as Scotlands’ caretaker manager.

Alex Ferguson who’d nearly become Tottenham Hotspur manager when Keith Burkenshaw resigned in 1985, had been a phonemenal success in Scotland as Aberdeen manager and he had a clause in his Aberdeen contract that if Manchester United expressed an interest in him, he could talk to them. The talks which ended up in Ferguson becoming United manager were conducted in such a clandestine way as to bless a novel by Ian Fleming. On the 5th of November 1986, Ron Atkinson was dismissed as Uniteds’ manager, he walked away with a dignity which Tommy Docherty would’ve done well to witness and emulate. The following day, Alex Ferguson was announced as Uniteds’ new manager. He had two days to prepare for his first match against Oxford United at the Manor Ground. United lost 2-0 to Oxford, Ferguson claimed later that the enormity of what he’d taken on became apparent that day.

United lose 2-0 at the Manor Ground on the 8th November 1986. Alex Ferguson’s first match in charge

Following a goalless draw at Carrow Road, United won for the first time under Alex Ferguson when Johnny Sivabeck scored against Queens Park Rangers in a 1-0 win two weeks after he took over the reigns. Following a 1-0 defeat to newly promoted Wimbledon and two consecutive 3-3 draws against Spurs and Aston Villa, United went to Anfield to play the previous seasons double winners, Liverpool. If there was one game United didn’t need at this moment it was to be playing away to a Liverpool team whom in my opinion, at that time, would’ve given any team in the world a good game. As per usual in this fixture during the 1980s, Norman Whiteside upset the scousers and the form book whilst delighting the bookmakers to give United an unexpected win and as an added bonus, incur the wrath of the legendary John Peel on Radio 1. United only won one away league game all season, it would be typical that of all the places to get that win, it would be Anfield where it happened. Everything that symbolised United during that era occurred the following day when United lost at home to a Norwich City who in those days, were no mugs, but they shouldn’t have been beating United at Old Trafford.

Norman Whiteside scores the winner at Anfield on Boxing Day 1986

In early February and in a game where Terry Gibson scored his only goal for the reds, United won 2-0 against a title challenging Arsenal side who’d been taken over by George Graham the previous summer. This was the first sign of the steel Ferguson had instilled in the United side. Norman Whiteside wound up Arsenal midfielder Paul Davis and full back Viv Anderson to a frenzy and alongside Bryan Robson, ran the midfield imperiously. It wouldn’t be the last time during Fergusons reign that a match involving United and Arsenal became heated. Ferguson steadied the United side for the rest of the season to achieve mid table safety by March. On Easter Monday, with a last minute goal from Peter Davenport, United completed their first league double over Liverpool since 1969/1970.

United beat Liverpool 1-0 on Easter Monday 1987 with a late goal from Peter Davenport. Look out for Alan Hansen in the run to the goal. “Dreadful defending Des”

United finished the season in 11th place and with a 3-1 win over Aston Villa. In the FA cup, United beat Man City in the third round with a goal by Whiteside before losing to eventual winners, Coventry City in the fourth round. After the start to the season United made, the fans were generally happy with the placing but were hoping on a quick improvement. What United fans didn’t then realise was that the charismatic and likeable Atkinson had left the club in a shambles. In them days, City had a pretty decent youth side and were getting the best kids off the streets of Manchester, Uniteds’ youth side, despite reaching the youth cup final in 1986, losing over two legs to City, was a mess. This along with sorting out the active social lives and bonding sessions that Uniteds best players indulged in was Fergusons overriding priority which came to a head during the hilarious and now infamous interview with Norman Whiteside and Paul McGrath, on Granadas Kick off programme where both of them had clearly had a good day, just prior to an away match at Loftus road. This new policy was implemented much to the chagrin of pub landlords in Hulme, Salford, Altrincham…

United are knocked out of the FA Cup by eventual winners, Coventry City on the January 31st 1987. Look at the state of the pitch…