Red Devils’ Stoke the crows’, Manchester, 31st of January 2012

A very strange and unusual build up to tonights match. I have never in my time of watching United viewed the visit of Stoke City to Old Trafford with any worry or trepidation. Over the last 24/36 hours an already depleted United have suffered injuries to senior goalkeepers David de Gea & Anders Lindergaard meaning that 21 year old Ben Amos was making his first start since the debacle against Crystal Palace two months ago (which wasn’t entirely his fault). A bone chilling cold night at Old Trafford with a patchwork United team playing what I thought, was a stubborn and awkward Stoke City team gave me cause to think that Stoke could’ve won at Old Trafford for the first time since 1976. As silly as that sounds now, a poor Blackburn came to Old Trafford on New Years and done a number on United. Continue reading Red Devils’ Stoke the crows’, Manchester, 31st of January 2012

Robbed at Anfield, Liverpool, Saturday 28th of January 2012

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)

Continue reading Robbed at Anfield, Liverpool, Saturday 28th of January 2012

Highbury Library Emulated At The Emirates, Ashburton Grove, 22nd Of January 2012

I spent Saturday night with Peter G, being served by David Bellamy lookalikes, all kinds of beer at a CAMRA festival in Miles Platting. The beer was going down my grid with an ease that past experience should’ve made me wary of but I carried on supping happily. Only on the way to Chorlton Street this morning to pick up the Red Issue/UWS monkey bus to Arsenal did I realise how leathered I was last night. Mercifully, the atmosphere on the coach was very appropriate for a Sunday morning where people were chatting happily, but quietly about life, love and United.

A pretty smooth ride to Ashburton Grove was wrapped up by about 1.30 where I then started searching for a ticket. Bumping into a couple of lads that I know who are ticket brokers outside Arsenal tube station, I was told that the ticket was costing for the United end, something between £250.00/£300.00. I met up with Red Peter in the Worlds End pub near Finsbury Park, he’d got hold of a ticket from an Arsenal mate of his, sat amongst gooners and was trying to find one for me. After watching the City match in a pub full of Arsenal fans, who greeted the City win with expected glee, I walked back to the ground to see what the score was. I got a phone call off davids who was working the ticket near the North Bank, telling me he had an Arsenal fan next to him who wanted £100.00 for his ticket. With tickets for the United end being like rocking horse shit and tickets elsewhere, hardly abundant, I told davids that I’ll have the ticket, sods law would dictate that I was at the polar opposite end of the ground from where he was but I raced round there as fast my slighly knackered 38 year old legs would let me. It was a surreal experience being sat like a trappist monk amongst Arsenal fans, I don’t as a rule, make a habit of watching the match with opposition supporters. In March 1993, I paid what was at the time, the astronomical sum of £20.00 to sit in the Kemlyn Road stand at Anfield among Liverpool fans. Mark Hughes scored with a header from a Ryan Giggs cross and I, with the wisdom that you can expect out of a 19 year lad, jumped up and down in celebration. Liverpool fans close to me were not in a very hospitable humour and in the ensuing confusion, a scouser who’d grabbed hold of me had somehow ended up with a busted nose. Nowadays, I’m a lot wider both mentally and alas, physically too.

United ran Arsenal ragged in the first half yesterday, Nani, Giggs and Valencia were cutting through the Arsenal defence, Johan Djourou in particular, like a hot knife through butter. It was murder trying to maintain a poker face whilst United were attacking Arsenal with such vigour but worse than that, a few times I wanted to scream at Nani over his sometimes abysmal final ball, but I’ve kept my mouth shut whilst Mount Vesuvius is spilling over in my chest. Arsenal had chances in the first half but due to Walcott’s ball control looking like he was playing with a rugby ball, they were wasted. Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain with the exuberance of his eighteen years, gave United’s defence an awkward time in the first half yesterday. In first half injury time, Giggs had so much time to look up and pick out Antonio Valencia, that he just stopped short of lighting up a cigar before delivering the ball. Around me, Arsenal fans were screaming in horror when they saw the space and time that Giggs had been allowed on the ball. There was a demeanour of resigned inevitability from the home support near me when Valencia, unusually for him, scored with a free header in the six yard box. Too easy was the cry from the gooners around me, it wasn’t the first, or the last time this afternoon they lamented with them words.

United players applauding the travelling support after the final whistle (Photo courtesy of Neil Meehan)

Half time and early second half was a real eye opener, I reckon when the second half kicked off, a third of the home supporters were down in the concourse. At Old Trafford, I don’t expect everybody to return to their seats on the nose for second half kick off but I wouldn’t expect that many to be not watching. The middle tier of the Emirates stadium was virtually empty for the first five minutes of the second half. Then we have the Arsenal fans themselves. It’s no lazy stereotype that Highbury was known as the library for it’s atmosphere. Whilst the seats, view and facilities at Highbury made it one of the best stadia I’ve ever been to, Arsenal fans have always had the too cool for school attitude when it comes to supporting their team. It dosen’t help their cause that they have clueless bigots like alleged comedians Alan Davies and Rory McGrath plus Piers “the truth” Morgan as their most famous fans. Whilst I came across one or two genuine and decent Arsenal fans yesterday in the pub, most of the people who occupy the Emirates stadium appear to be the kind of people who host dinner parties in their Islington townhouse whilst having Lighthouse Family CDs as background music, drinking mid priced red wine and swopping spouses.

United players and fans celebrate Danny Wellbeck’s winner (Photo courtesy of Neil Meehan)

I was in the top tier of the Clock end, literally just above the United fans on the bottom tier. The noise volume coming from the United end was very disapointing especially as United have always had a very boisterous travelling support. According my friend Neil who was in that part of the ground, the regular away faces spread out too much behind the goal. A load of tourist’s were in the United end, the type of people that Roy Keane famously lambasted after a Champions League game at Old Trafford in 2000 against Dynamo Kyiv.

On 51 minutes Robin Van Persie missed a sitter after Tomáš Rosický had capitalised on Chris Smalling falling over, he made no mistake twenty minutes later, sweeping the ball past a despairing Anders Lindegaard for Arsenal’s equaliser. All around me, Arsenal fans erupted whilst I’m stood clapping my hands through gritted teeth that must have made me look like a horse. I couldn’t believe that United had conceded an equaliser yet again in a game we should’ve been out of sight in. Arsenal, while they ain’t going to win the league anytime soon are no mugs, they beat one of the best teams I’ve ever seen, Barcelona, in the first leg of a European Cup match last March and in the process, completely naused up my betting slip. They’re a fragile team but one that when their confidence is up. are a real danger. I quietly feared yesterday that they’d now take control of the game but next thing I remember was a chorus of boos from the home support over the introduction of the well known feminist, Andrei Arshavin brought on in place of the lively Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain. Seconds later, Antonio Valencia goes past Arshavin like he’s invisble before crossing the ball for Danny Wellbeck to slam into the Arsenal net from ten yards. There is definetly a growing undercurrent of discontent amongst the Arsenal fans with Wenger. It won’t get to the disgraceful campaign that Blackburn fans have waged against Steve Kean, at least I hope it dosen’t, but there was a lot of people calling for Arsene Wengers head walking out of the stadium yesterday. Like last August, United could’ve made it a cricket score against Arsenal but despite that minor quibble, a win at Arsenal is always a great result.

Scholes Is Back In Town, Manchester 14th Of January 2012

Another erratic performance today from United against a poor Bolton side that hopefully, will go down at the end of this season and take their three eyed, six fingured inbred fans with them back to where they belong. Before last weekend, I watched United play poorly against Blackburn Rovers and Newcastle United and I genuinely feared of what could’ve happened against City. United were outstanding in the first half at City and brilliantly weathered a predictable storm in the second half from a City side playing kamikaze football. If United had played the same way against City last weekend as they did against Bolton today, United would’ve lost. It’s a given that United fans have difficulty bothering to engage in the inane banter for matches against opposition who have followers as risible as Bolton Wanderers. The more worrying thing is that United players appear to have a similar approach. Last week proved that United are more organised, disciplined and motivated in a bigger game than they are against the poor calibre of opposition that they played today. Blackburn exposed this on NewYears eve and Newcastle made it worse a couple of days later.

 After a blatant trip on Danny Wellbeck by Zat Knight on 21 minutes, Wayne Rooney forced a great save from Bolton Hungarian goalkeeper, Ádám Bogdán from the resulting penalty. This was Rooneys second penalty miss in a week and this was just symbolic of the day he had. Wayne Rooney had a one of them days where he couldn’t do anything right. Flicks and passes weren’t coming off and his first touch was wayward. As bad a game as Rooney had the great thing is that he never once went missing. Always available, always harrying and always chasing the ball, it was just one of them days. In first half injury time, the other half of United’s home guard, Paul Scholes, scored his first goal for United since a scorcher at Craven Cottage in August 2010. This goal was a more like a goal Javier Hernandez would score than Paul Scholes. It actually reminded me of a goal he scored against the same opposition in September 1995. I saw Scholes make three top class tackles today. There’s been all kinds of things said about his tackling, I’ve winced and squinted myself once or twice when he’s gone for 50/50 ball over the years. It’s as if in retirement, he’s somehow learned to tackle. Whether he could/can tackle or not, Paul Scholes is one of the best footballers I’ve ever seen, if he could have tackled like Roy Keane, Bryan Robson or Remi Moses, he would’ve been the best player I ever saw. There’s been a lot of moaning about Scholes coming out of retirement and I like the circumstances of him coming back as much as anybody else does. The fact is, desperation or not, Tom Cleverley is too inexperienced to take on his mantle at the moment and Scholes, whether he’s 27, 37 or 47 is by some distance, United’s best player on the ball.

The final score of 3-0 made it look at more comfortable for United than it was. There were a few anxious moments in the second half, standout moment being Rafael’s goalline clearance from a Petrov header five minutes before Danny Wellbeck put everybody’s mind to rest on 74 minutes with an excellent finish from a pass from Rooney. The move to the goal managed to temporarily injure both Rooney and Wellbeck. A clumsy challenge from Adam Ricketts injured Danny Wellbeck and he was down for a couple of minutes before Javier Hernandez replaced him five minutes later. Ten minutes later, Michael Carrick seized on a fantastic pass from Ryan Giggs to casually pass the ball into the Bolton net for his first goal at Old Trafford since February 2010. Carrick is a confidence player, I don’t think he’s been the same since United were well beaten by Barcelona in Rome, May 2009. With two excellent goals in the last four weeks and with United’s wafer thin resources, this would be a good time for him to start playing well again.

Moral Victory For The Perenial Losers In The FA Cup, Manchester, 10th of January 2012

The Police were having a quiet day yesterday in town, obviously disapointed that there was virtually no trouble so they did what they’re the best in the world at and tried creating trouble to give justification for their heavy presence in town. All the baloney pre-match from the GMP about every copper near the Etihad stadium “being in riot equipment” was shown for the rubbish it was on approach to the ground. There was a line of police outside the away fans turnstliles and approximately 30 police across Ashton New Road togged up in riot gear scratching their arses outside the Kippax chippy. In town, the Police unilaterally closed the Paramount pub on Oxford road to a group of peaceful fans five minutes before kick off. With the timing of the closure, a person of a more cynical disposition may think they’d done that to wind up a pub full of lads waiting for the match to kick off by forcing them to find somewhere else at such short notice, maybe create a disturbance. In my view, anybody who has that train of thought is spot on.

As we all now know, United ran rampant in the first half yesterday at the Etihad stadium. Rooney made it 1-0 when City still had eleven men on the pitch. City skipper and Centre half Vincent Kompany was sent off a couple of minutes later. When I was growing up, watching and playing football, the tackle that Kompany did would’ve been at worse a booking and a free kick. Most referee’s would’ve ignored it and called it a fair challenge, but whether it’s 1982, 1992 or 2012, a two footed tackle was the same then as it is now, the only difference is, now it’s an automatic red card. I don’t believe Vincent Kompany did that tackle yesterday with any malice, but malicious or not is not really the point. A footballer of Kompany’s skill and a man of his intelligence knew what he was risking when he went in two footed on Nani. How low his feet were to the ground, whether he got the ball or not or intent is a complete irrelevance. The most alarming thing to me about the whole thing was Wayne Rooney running to the referee, Chris Foy, like a schoolyard grass pointing out the two footed challenge. I don’t like seeing that from any footballer, but when a United player does it, it disgusts me. Rooney, we all love as a player and for his commitment on the pitch but for Christ sake, I hope he turn’s that in.

On Twitter last night, Vincent Kompany said “The fans, the players and every single person involved with Man City FC were incredible today. Definitely the moral winners of this game”. It was a surprise to absolutely nobody that City tried claiming a “moral victory” yesterday. The mentality of the club is of one constantly used to losing so they’ve been claiming all kinds of moral victories since 1976. The only people who ever claim a moral victory are the perenial losers. City won the FA cup last season, they look a good bet for both the Premier League and the League cup this season yet they’re still trying to claim moral victories in matches that they’ve lost. Can anybody remember the last time United tried claiming a moral victory or more accurately, the moral high ground after losing a match. United played Arsenal off the pitch in the 2005 FA Cup final in Cardiff but lost, on penalties. Not one player, fan or official of United claimed a moral victory after Patrick Viera slotted the winning penalty in for Arsenal that afternoon. It would’ve been deeply embarrasing if anybody had, United just went home, correctly feeling robbed but ultimately knowing that Arsenal won, United had lost and C’est la vie. City appear to want the respect, kudos and sympathy from every angle. In City’s world, there’s no such thing as a defeat, just victories and moral victories. When a player from an opposing side to them gets sent off, rightly or wrongly then that’s just how it goes. When one of their players get sent off, at best, it’s incompetence of the worst level or at worst, a conspiracy against them. City now want to be known as a club on the up, a club that’s gonna get used to winning things on a regular basis, a club that’s going to be mentioned in world footballing circles in the same breath as United, Liverpool and Arsenal. They also want to retain the affection of the English public that they’ve picked up over the years through losing games in pretty hilarious circunstances sometimes and as such, they’ve become much lionised for their gallows humour. One thing they’re going to learn is that if they do start winning things, with the regularity that they intend is that they’re going to come up against a lot of hostility in this country. The English mentality is to depise winners, take ’em down a peg or two. It’s based on envy and resentment but when City players and fans start noticing these emotions will be when they can call themselves succesful. It’s one or the other.

United fans of my age and above, should be able to remember a time when United were the most popular second choice team of a large section of the English population. In them days, particularly of teams fielded by Tommy Docherty and Ron Atkinson, United played exciting, swashbuckling football, won the odd cup, even more friends but more often than not lost agonisingly to teams that didn’t play with United’s flair or free spirited abandon but with more professionalism and discipline. It was OK to like United then because they were relatively harmless. Liverpool were the big bad dull ogre in them days, in 1982, they won the title with such ease, that when presented with the title at Anfield, instead of players passing the trophy along to their teammates, they nonchelantly tossed the cup to each other.

The day that Oldham won at Villa Park in May 1993, to hand the title to United for the first time in 26 years was the day that everything changed. Suddenly, resentment and jealousy reared it’s head from all kinds of unexpected avenues. It reached an hysterical crescendo less than two years later, in January 1995, when Eric Cantona took the law into his own hands at Selhurst Park and provoked a public and media outcry so severe that I was begining to think that England was a massive outdoor lunatic asylum. It was even worse when David Beckham got sent off for a petulant kick at Diego Simeone in St Etienne at the World Cup in 1998. The English public, heavily aided and abetted by a shit stirring tabloid press, decided that not only did Beckham cost England the match, but also the World Cup itself. I can see their point, the England team of 1998 would’ve made mincemeat of the winning French Team of Zinedine Zidane, David Trezeguet, Emmanuel Petit, et al, should they have met. There was police escorts for Beckham for nearly six months after that incident with panic alarms installed in his house. There was efigies of him hanging off a lampost in East London and hundreds, if not thousands of t-shirts printed informing Beckham that “He’s let himself and his country down”, just in case nobody had informed him earlier.

At about 5.45 yesterday afternoon, all United fans found out that our reward for beating City in the third round was going to be an away trip to Anfield. Whilst a shaken and stirred Jim Rosenthal was openly salivating at the outcome of this draw, there were wry smiles and grins all around me. Despite Joleon Lescotts attempted sage, but wildly innacurate and desperate assertion on Friday that City were now our biggest match, we’d now been drawn against our greatest enemy and rival. This is a match that in times of relative civility is a big one but after the recent affair of Luis Suarez racially abusing Patrice Evra at Anfield, this is bigger than ever. No doubt Merseyside police, Liverpool FC and the local council will come up with some spurious health & saftey excuse to deny United their right to 15% of match tickets. After United’s allocation for Anfield was slashed by a third for the league match in October on similar grounds, I’m confident it will happen again this month. it’s about time United hit these bastards tit for tat.

Luis Suarez’s comical defence has been made funnier by the chicken mourning followers of his club suddenly becoming knowledgable authority’s on the quirks and nuances of Uruguayan dialect. Suarez’s claim of terms of endearment whilst saying to Evra after kicking him on the knee  “Porque tu eres negro” (“Because you are black”), “Dale, negro…negro…negro” (“Bring it on, blackie”) and “No hablo con los negros” (“I don’t speak to blacks”) whilst pinching his arm was obviously a touching display of misunderstood bonhomie, to use Evra’s mother tongue for once. Since the guilty verdict was announced, Liverpool went on a robust defensive. Alluding without explicitly saying they’d appeal, wearing t-shirts at Wigan in support of a proven racist and once they’d seen the damning evidence against Suarez released, reluctantly and aggresively accepting the suspension without appeal but hinting at some sinster agendum and misunderstanding which, presumably down to the official secrets act, they’re not allowed to disclose.

What Liverpool have done is the classic default defence of the victim. It is not the first time they’ve done it. At the 1985 European cup final in Brussels, a faction of Liverpool followers were responsible for the deaths of 39 Juventus fans. Nowadays, if you hear any scousers reminisce about that night, you’d think that Liverpool were the injured party and not the club who’s fans had got all English clubs banned from Europe indefinetly, it ended up being five years. In the aftermath of the Heysel disaster, senior officials at Anfield tried blaming a gang of Chelsea fans (whom were never identified) who’d decided to go to Brussels for a Liverpool match against Juventus just so they could have a fight with the Italians.