City’s not entirely unexpected defeat at White Hart Lane yesterday meant that t-shirt printers were frenzedly printing up champions t-shirts from this morning, ready for the baying masses at Old Trafford tonight. After the final whistle, listening to the United fans trying to reach the high bits of We Are the Champions by Queen still brings a wry smile to my face. The post match celebration on the forecourt near the statue of the Holy Trinity was one that I will remember for a long time. Flags were flying high, there was a football being kicked high and wild into the celebrating crowd and a joie de vivre amongst reds that was infectious. Even the coppers, not usually people to encourage a good time, were laughing. The swagmen were walking round doing steady business and the fanzine sellers were trying to sell me a fanzine I’d already bought when United played City a couple of weeks ago. Over the years United fans have at certain times been a bit blasé about winning the title but tonight was not one of them occasions. It obviously takes a despised rival winning the league to remind us just how special it is. We can only be grateful that Liverpool haven’t won the title since 1990, that would be unbearable. It is even sweeter that the scousers blew a good chance of winning the league in 2009. City won the title deservedly last season even if the circumstances were a little bit painful, there’s no doubt in my mind that the right team won it. It meant that I’ve not wanted a league title as badly as this since 1993. This season, the right team again have won the title, it nearly always is. (Blackburn in 1995 being the obvious exception).
Scoreboard tells everybody in the ground who wasn’t aware that United are now champions (Photo courtesy of Gareth Jones)
United fans were in loud and boisterous voice at a virtually full Stadium of Light. When Wayne Rooney scored a header from a Phil Jones cross on 20 minutes after some shocking marking by Sunderland, it was no more than United deserved. Ten minutes later, Rooney hit the bar from 18 yards and then four minutes later, missed one of the easiest chances he’ll ever have from an Antonio Valencia cross. Apart from a period early in the second half, United were full control of this game but there’s always a feeling of vulnerability when only a goal in front. Today was actually United’s best performance in a few weeks; there was a professionalism to the defending and midfield play that if it had been observed in recent matches would have probably given United the title.
There was a similar potential ending in season 2009/2010 when Wigan Athletic went to Chelsea on the last day of the season and we were hoping Chelsea would drop points while United played Stoke City at Old Trafford. As expected, United beat Stoke comfortably (4-0) but what I clearly remember is Chelsea having the decency to wrap the game up against Wigan good and early, eventually winning 8-0 to extinguish any vain hope that might have been travelling around Old Trafford. This didn’t happen today. Going into injury time with United winning 1-0 and City losing 2-1, I wasn’t getting carried away with any premature celebrations. I’ve seen United recover too many impossible positions over the years to take anything for granted in football. We dared to dream but when word got back that Edin Dzeko had equalised for City, I had a feeling that with City throwing the kitchen sink against a beleaguered QPR, who’d been reduced to ten men, they would score. One thing that does make me proud is that SKY TV desperately searched around the United section in the Stadium of Light looking for somebody squawking – well done to all the lads and lasses who went their today and kept their bottle and dignity.
So now it comes to pass, the moment I felt in my guts coming after the Everton match at Old Trafford. This is the day I never thought I’d see, City are champions. It’s almost a relief. As John Cleese said in the 1986 film Clockwise, It’s not the despair, I cantake the despair. It’s the hopeIcan‘tstand. The Sergio Aguero goal was a sickener but to me, the real kick in the balls came with Steven Pienaar’s late equaliser at Old Trafford three weeks ago. Despite United blowing an eight point lead, only the most red eyed United fan would deny that City aren’t worthy champions. The most annoying thing to me was that in the early part of this calendar year, United had done the hard bit and come early March, compared to City, had a very favourable run in. Having said that, any team that puts six past United at Old Trafford would deserve the title. Any title chasing team that blows a two goal lead in a home match, so close to the season’s end deserves what they ended up getting. It’s been pointed out repeatedly recently by people in the pub and on the internet that if it wasn’t for refereeing mistakes, United would’ve been four points clear of City going into this weekend. That may be true but to be clinging to straws like that is embarrassing and to my mind, the kind of behaviour that we’ve been taking the piss out of City fans for years. This is not like Blackburn Rovers in 1995 or Chelsea in 2010 when United were robbed of the title by a side who had no right winning it, this season United have only themselves to blame. All those City fans we saw jumping around outside Eastlands four years ago with tea towels wrapped around their heads have finally seen what they were dreaming of. No longer can City have the peculiar affection that the English are so good at giving to the eternal losers and that their fans have inadvertantly thrived on for years, in compensation for being shit. Welcome to our world Berties, try not to embarrass our proud city too much, from what I’ve seen over the years, I fear you will. Just remember one thing, you’ll no longer be the darling of the neutrals.