One of the main signs that you’ve finally reached that fully grown, adult stage of your life comes when you’re absent-mindedly listening to Radio 1 or Key 103 or whatever radio station pumps out generic chart fodder these days, and realise you haven’t got the foggiest what you’re listening to.

When I was younger, this situation seemed impossible. Despite hating the vast majority of music in the charts, I’d await the weekly run-down and study them with the same intensity that I’d pore over league tables and football results with. The charts seemed important and served as a barometer as to what was going on. I’d regularly hear adults claim to be unaware as to who or what comprised the top 40 singles, I couldn’t believe their ignorance and never envisaged that would be me, years later.

As a kid in the mid-eighties I considered myself pretty tuned-in musically and quickly developed an ear for what I considered cool and what clearly wasn’t. Half an hour of TOTP on a Thursday presented all the evidence required. Culture Club, Thompson Twins, Wham!, Spandau Ballet – painful stuff. The Jam, Dexy’s, UB40, Madness on the other hand…now you’re talking.

Every now and again, an act would come along which I’d really take issue with – Frankie Goes To Hollywood being a prime example. As well as considering their music ‘shite’ and knowing they were (as the vernacular of the times had it) ‘benders’ – following one revelatory edition of Saturday Superstore, I discovered they were scousers as well. From that moment forward, I loathed Holly Johnson with a passion I’d normally reserve for Rush, Dalglish and Souness.

May 1985 saw Paul Hardcastle’s ‘19’ top the charts for 5 weeks…and it did my head in. Hardcastle’s case wasn’t helped by the fact he looked like Leo Sayer Jnr and tended to wear his jackets with the sleeves rolled up. I mean, c’mon Paul – it’s Elstree Studios, not Miami Vice.

Nowadays I can appreciate ‘19’ for what it is – catchy, sample-laden, Kraftwerk inspired British electro with a powerful anti-war message – it’s aged surprisingly well. Yet to my musically receptive yet somewhat underdeveloped, Simple Minds-loving brain – I just wanted him to fuck off.

26 years on, and I can’t get that Hardcastle tune out of my head. It’s been there for months now, an annoying mental soundtrack I’m carrying in anticipation of the moment we finally overtake Liverpool in terms of league titles won.

‘N-n-n-n-nineteen, nineteen, n-n-n-n-nineteen’ – that refrain is always there, every time 19 is mentioned in conversation (ie constantly) or I read any reference to what we stand on the brink of.

Like many of us mid-thirties types, the FA cup successes of the mid-eighties were the crowning moments of my formative years watching United – the league title proving maddeningly elusive until we finally bagged one in 1993. Just to witness one championship was enough for me back then, though those expectations were quickly raised as it became apparent that Fergie hadn’t just built us a title winning team – he’d constructed the foundations of a dynasty that was going to challenge for years.

All of the titles we’ve amassed since 1993 have been rightly celebrated, but the next one will carry a special resonance for those of us who experienced the drought years – a golden period to watch the reds which contains many cherished memories – but one which brought about numerous false dawns title-wise, culminating in a devastating trio of defeats vs Forest, West Ham and Liverpool that comprised our spectacular implosion in April 1992.

Though that afternoon at Anfield still stings now, it was our visit in January 1994 for the 3-3 that saw them display their infamous ‘Au Revoir Cantona and Man United…Come Back When You’ve Won 18!’ banner. It was a defining moment where the possibility of one day usurping them came into focus. The scousers started this modern day obsession with numbers and statistics, as that was all they had left to cling to – and it was concrete evidence that we’d finally become the dominant force.

Fast-forward to 2011 and with just a handful of games to go this term, a 19th league title is now tantalisingly within reach. N-n-n-n-nineteen. The desire to reach this milestone is so great that even typing out these words feels wrong somehow – I’m writing with the awareness that committing this to print at this stage, might curse us yet. So if it goes tits-up, I can only apologise in advance.

This title run in feels naggingly reminiscent of 1993. I’m finding myself counting the days in-between games and struggling to fully focus on real-life, pressing engagements. As the games get ticked off and we edge closer to the finish line, it’s become all-consuming.

Despite us hovering titles up with gleeful abandon over the last 18 years, it remains a difficult thing to win. Ask Liverpool, or Newcastle, or even City now. Say if we were to repeat the heroics of 99 or 08 and collect another European cup next month – who’s to say that Ferguson wouldn’t then decide to call an abrupt end to his time in charge? Yes, given what’s been hinted at (another 2-3 years yet) it remains unlikely – though not beyond the realms of possibility. 3 European cups in the bag and Liverpool properly de-perched, what a way to bow out.

Where would that leave us? With a new man in charge, new backroom staff and facing the perennial question as to how we’re going to replace Giggs and Scholes when they ultimately call it a day. I know we’ve got this £100M+ cash reserves sat in the bank waiting for a rainy day – but I’m not expecting to see that splashed on replacements any time soon. No, the ‘value’ line is sure to be reeled out again – and any silverware won this season used as justification for United’s relative parsimony.

Given we’re top of the table and have reached the semis of the European cup again, it could be seen as churlish to be questioning the make-up of the squad at this point – but lets not kid ourselves. We all know our shortcomings, the lack of creative midfield options has been terrifyingly obvious for much of the season – yet we’ve somehow survived and managed to kick on. By the way, Michael Carrick – it’s good to have you back, where the fuck have you been?

So in spite of the period of upheaval that could be looming, the financial black-hole we inhabit and us looking anything but convincing all season, we find ourselves on the verge of footballing immortality…again. It’s testament to Sir Alex that the ability to confound, surprise and over-achieve is now firmly a part of this club’s DNA, it’s now almost expected of us. Have no doubt, these are great days – we’re watching history in the making.

So my wish for the coming weeks is to see Paul Hardcastle’s ‘19’ make a surprise return to the charts, just as ‘Always Look On The Bright Side Of Life’ re-emerged into popular consciousness post-Rotterdam. Expect the tune to get hammered in the montages and video clips produced to hail this seasons champions. No.19. N-n-n-n-nineteen.

This time around, it won’t make my teeth itch in the slightest.

Copyright Red News – April 2011


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