“It’s Christmas time, there’s no need to be afraid”, sang perma-leather trousered, 80’s pop heartthrob Paul Young in the opening line of Band Aid’s 1984 chart topper. A bold claim in a song that’ll forever evoke haunting images of starving, African children; and soothing words over a quarter of a century later for reds, bearing in mind Fergie’s predilection for festive squad rotation.
This year the fixture calendar looked to have been relatively kind to us. Swansea away, Newcastle and West Brom at home, followed by a short trip to Wigan on New Year’s Day. All pretty routine sounding, but then this season has been anything but routine thus far. Instead, marvellously, madness reigns supreme. Fergie seemed to signal as much pre-Swansea, despite holding a 6 point lead and with an (on paper) easy run of games, the goal was, we were told, to “make sure we are top of the league come New Year’s Day.” It sounded like he was almost anticipating dropped points.
The ‘4 games in 10 days’ barrage of football over Christmas presents a major hurdle in any title challenge, of course. The opportunity to get a shedful of points racked up before the league fixtures start to thin out a little and cup competitions come into play. Then tick the games off one by one, pray that rivals fuck up, try and keep everyone fit – before hopefully getting to the stage where you’ve got, say, an 8 point lead with 6 games to go. Ahem. Well, moving on swiftly…
Whereas the rest of Europe gets a few weeks off from the hassle and expense, football fans in this country are still required to schlepp up and down the country with transport links totally fucked, only to be greeted with a short-notice postponement if you’re really unlucky. At least we didn’t have snow and arctic winds to contend with this year, instead the weather threw up nothing more sinister than a 2 week-long monsoon.
Despite most of South Wales being under water, the pitch at the Liberty Stadium was still in decent nick and the game went ahead as scheduled. Swansea were played off the pitch in truth, with Cleverley and the outstanding Carrick running tings proper. Van Persie was unlucky not to score the winner and also, according to his manager, fortunate to escape with his life still intact. All in all, 2 points dropped but a decent enough performance…we’ll play much worse this season and win. Oh and congratulations must go to Swansea for winning the World Cup.
To nobody’s great surprise, the tombola was out on Boxing Day with Fergie aiming to ‘freshen things up’ for the visit of Newcastle. To everyone’s despair though, it meant Giggs and Scholes on the team sheet together. The fact the pair were to start in tandem was greeted by my group of mates with the now customary reaction this news brings – a chorus of sighs, tuts and ‘oh for fuck’s sake’s. All was forgiven a couple of hours later, naturally, as what we had witnessed was something of a minor classic.
Despite all the whinges and whines we share about watching football these days, there is still no greater place on earth than Old Trafford on a shitty, rain sodden day when we’re a goal down with 20 minutes to go. The crowd wakes up, everyone’s on their feet, the collective desire gets transmitted to the players and you know, you just know what’s gonna happen. It’s fucking awesome. Even having experienced it countless times, it never gets old. An afternoon like that, coupled with news of City’s defeat at Sunderland, made for a very good day indeed.
The buzz of the Geordies game had barely subsided a couple of days later, when news came in of a stellar turn by Fergie at his morning presser. First swatting aside the bleatings of the unctuous Pardew, he then went on to quite splendidly dismiss Newcastle as a “wee club in the North East”. A line delivered with none of the histrionics witnessed on the touchline two days previous, this was Fergie at his calm, considered, yet wilfully inflammatory best – absolutely marvellous stuff.
The following Saturday’s defeat of West Brom proved to be much more routine with a rare clean sheet achieved and yet another Van Persie goal. Everyone knew he was a top player prior to his arrival, but I don’t think many of us appreciated just how good. Yeah, it was obvious he was a goalscorer – but his all-round touch, strength and ability to spot a player are attributes we’ve only come to realise watching the guy week-in, week-out. He’s top class, seeing him stick his arse out and hold off 3 defenders reminds me of Mark Hughes in his prime; but he’s arguably got a better touch than Sparky had and is certainly more consistent in front of goal – just pray he doesn’t get injured for any length of time.
The holiday fixture program was concluded with the New Year’s Day Wigan visit. The pub we frequent was relatively subdued before the game, the excesses of the previous night being felt with pints being nursed as opposed to drained. Respect is due, however, to one Red News seller who confidently ordered himself a double Amaretto livener before getting stuck into the Guinness. Numerous others only made the game at all due to the miraculous, restorative powers of Imodium and/or MDMA.
A trip to the DW has always offered a nailed-on 3 points – at least it did until last season’s visit that depressingly resulted in the start of the end of the world. This year, thankfully, saw no such repeat as United won at a stroll, Van Persie and Hernandez each bagging another brace with the pie fanatics barely registering a shot on target.
Despite a repeat of their snidey ticket scam of flogging 1000 of our tickets (with a meal chucked in at £125 a pop) via their own website, I cant help but like Wigan. There’s none of that ABU nonsense you used to get from Jack Walker, in fact where Dave Whelan is concerned it’s just the opposite. Considering the size of the place, it’s a small miracle they manage to command the respectable crowds they do, never mind survive in the Premier League year-on-year. They play good football, operate on a budget without over-stretching themselves and their excellent scouting set up consistently manages to unearth players who they can sell on for a tidy profit – I hope they defy the odds again and manage to stay up.
So with 10 points out of 12 achieved and a lead of 7 points, we look remarkably well placed at present. The season so far has been bonkers, quite frankly…we’ve looked utterly abject on occasion yet some of the football and the numerous comebacks witnessed render gripes about the state of the midfield and individuals players’ form quite redundant. Whilst not always pretty, there’s a definite spirit about the team that points to a shared determination to banish the pain experienced last May. Yep, the last few months have been a blast – here’s hoping it continues…
Copyright Red News – January 2013