Long, Cold And Dark November Nights – Manchester, 19th Of November 2011

Two long, long weeks of of no club football but a couple of international friendlies for England, a storm over poppies, Sepp Blatters blarney and an embargo on transfers ’til January mean newspaper journalist get ever more desparate to fill their pages. The day after United beat Sunderland, a frenzy was brewing up over FIFA’s refusal to allow England players to wear poppies on their shirts for the forthcoming friendly against Spain. Amongst the usual knee jerk reaction of political correctness gone mad and such forth (waddya mean you’d forgotten about it ??). Exactly six years to the day before England played Spain, England played against Argentina without wearing poppies, there was no clamour for the team to wear poppies, can anybody tell me what’s changed in the last six years ? By sheer coincidence, prior to the poppy furore, England skipper John Terry, had been accused of racially abusing Queens Park Rangers centre half Anton Ferdinand. This allegation had taken up a lot of column inches in the national press and the FA, with admirable common sense had decided to adopt an innocent ’til proven guilty stance. I wonder why they didn’t take that stance with Johnathan Woodgate and Lee Bowyer in 2001 or with Rio Ferdinand in 2003? The problem the FA have with the John Terry allegation is that, like badly pasted wallpaper, the bubble gets pressed down, only to resurface, just as bad, pretty close by. Still the poppy fury sold a few papers, got an awful lot of people wound up about something they’d forget about a week later and ended up with the farcical gesture of players having poppies painted on their boots to circumnavigate a ban that had never existed in the first place.

With a few days ’til the players returned to their clubs, the press focused on Carlos Tevez, who’d gone back to Argentina without permission from Man City and just as they were zooming in on him, Sepp Blatter opened his stupid mouth, claiming that racism didn’t exist on the field of play and any possible incidence of it should be settled with a handshake at the end of the game. His timing was incredible, as the head of the world game, he must’ve been aware of the two high profile allegations swirling around the English FA headquarters at the moment which are akin to a grenade with the pin taken out. Maybe he was trying to make light of it but the flippant and offhand manner he spoke about it has caused more trouble than it will cease. It’s quite a spectacular achievement to get newspapers like The Sun, The Star, The Daily Express and The Daily Mail up in arms in self righteous indignation over ignorance of racism. All the above named newspapers, plus other national tabloids and broadsheets would’ve probably have turned a blind eye to a statement like this a year ago, like virtually the rest of the worlds press have now, but after the fiasco of England’s failed world cup hosting bid, the media in the UK will do whatever they can to create trouble for Blatter. I have as much respect and liking for Blatter as any other proper football fan and I believe the sooner he’s gone, the better, but does anybody seriously think that UK national press have created this frenzy out of moral duty?

To escape all this baloney, on a chilly Thursday night that’s just passed, I went to Moss Lane in Altrincham, the ground that has a tannoy system that reminds me of British Rail, to watch Uniteds reserves that included Rafael Da Silva, play the Wigan Athletic reserve team. Ravel Morrison scored two fantastic goals in the 16th and 54th minutes, Davide Petrucci made it 3-0 on 64 minutes with a shot that if the net wouldn’t have stopped the ball, could’ve took sombodies head off and Ezekiel Fryers made it 4-0 on 79 minutes with a deft glancing header. Nouha Dicko scored a consolation for Wigan, rising like a rocket into Ben Amos net a couple of minutes after Fryers goal to give a game and plucky team some respectability.

On Friday night prior to the England match, Ireland beat Estonia 4-0 in a Euro 2012 play off to virtually guarantee qualification for their first major tournament finals since the Japan/South Korea world cup in 2002. Next summer we’re gonna be serenaded and nauseated in equal measure on the television by the lovable losers that the Ireland team will inevitably be and the travelling Irish fans being happily patronised by SKY sports news presenters and espousing their charm, wisdom and melody upon us all. What I did notice for the first time ever, in the Ireland game was that there wasn’t a single United player in their team. The night after, England somehow beat a Spain side that had played them off the park in the first half and didn’t give them too much of the ball in the second. As a United fan, one encouraging thing I did notice was that on at least one occasion, Danny Welbeck skinned Gerard Pique, a defender I rate highly. All being said, a win’s a win and beating this Spain side is no mean feat, however, I’m not sure how the England team would get on against Spain if the game meant anything though.

Later on today, United’s first team return after this unwelcome break to play an away game at Swansea for the first time since since a goalless draw at the Vetch Field, in December 1982. Since United lost to City nearly a month ago, on paper, the results have been great, but four consecutive wins without conceding a goal conceals a whole multitude of sins. There’s an old saying that the sign of true champions or a great team, is to be winning games when not playing well. I’m hoping this is true of this United side and they find their form pretty quickly as the performances since the City match have at best, been listless but victorious. Today, playing a Swansea team who in their last match, drew away at Anfield, United are in for a tricky game against a side and a home support whom will be hyped up for our visit. Next weekend, United are playing an unbeaten, at the time of writing, Newcastle United side at Old Trafford. Now’s as good a time as any for United to snap out of the post derby match depression.

With a rampant looking City side winning their last game away at Loftus Road without playing brilliantly, this season is as big a test for United, as snatching the title off Jose Mourinho’s unstoppable looking Chelsea team was in 2006/2007. City have yet to have the blip that all good title chasing teams have (with the exception of the Arsenal team of 2003/2004). In the league, between now and January the 3rd, they have to play Newcastle and Arsenal at home, Liverpool home and away as well having to play Chelsea away plus, an away match in Naples and a home match against Bayern Munich in the European cup. This will obviously be a test of how strong their squad is and it’ll be interesting to see if by new year, City will again be showing the premier league table from 2nd down on their website, as they did in the run in to last seasons title race.

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