Tag Archives: atmosphere

Ball of Confusion

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Firstly, I’d better explain that this was written in the aftermath of Barcelona at home, so in case there was a repeat of the le miracle de Paris during the return leg, I’ll apologise now for not being psychic. As it is, I’m left to comment on what transpired at OT the other night and as you can probably guess, I wasn’t exactly blown away by the performance served up.

The night started with my old man accusing me of being ‘miserable’ because I expressly stated during our journey to the ground that I wasn’t particularly enthused by the prospect of seeing Messi again. My Dad loves football. As well as supporting United for 50+ years he’s got a genuine affinity with Celtic and Barca too. Whereas me on the other hand, I actively dislike any football team that isn’t Manchester United.

Why would I feel excited about seeing Messi again when I’ve already seen him play a handful of times including 2 x European Cup finals when he’s made us look like rank amateurs? I know he’s an all-time great who’s racked up 900+ career goals against Osasuna and Levante, but I would honestly rather he were out injured as I’m completely sick of the sight of him in a ‘versus MUFC’ context.

In the days preceding the game there were numerous clips floating about of the meeting with Barcelona back in 1984, when the 58,000 packed inside Old Trafford witnessed one of the greatest nights in the club’s history. As well as marvelling at the fact this game took place a full 35 years ago, I was left pondering the extent to which genuine big European nights have changed during that period.

We all know the atmosphere is routinely crap these days, but previously I consoled myself that OT could still rouse itself when the occasion demanded it. Sadly, Wednesday night confirmed the fact we just can’t do it anymore – regardless of who the opposition is. I know our current team isn’t the greatest but this was still a European Cup QF at home to Barcelona and the ground should have been rocking.

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Being totally honest now, the atmosphere was pretty dire. I’m not comparing it to that night back in ‘84 alone as that would be a ridiculously unfair comparison. We’ve had so many memorable days and nights during those intervening years, but I’m struggling to recall the last time the ground crackled with excitement and the noise generated meant your ears were still ringing the next day. Sadly, such occasions have gone for good now, they really have. We were privileged to have been around when Old Trafford was something special.

Watching the opposition dominate possession has become routine over the last few years. After taking an early lead, unlike PSG or Juventus, Barca didn’t attempt to rub our noses in it and instead seemed content with stopping us scoring. Not too onerous a task when considering we’d managed just a solitary goal in the 4 previous Champions League home games this season. Watching Barca keep the ball with zero fuss and routine efficiency demonstrated just how far United are from their level. Half of our players are utterly terrified of the ball and we were incapable of stringing 3 passes together for much of the evening.

Pogba, once again, was absolutely appalling and failed to make any impression whatsoever. Despite Solskjaer’s hopes of keeping this prize bellend onside and building a team around him, it would make far more sense to take whatever money is offered for him this summer. Unfortunately, my guess is that there’ll be no firm enquiries from either Madrid or Barca because neither are daft enough to spend £100M+ on a very average midfielder who delivers so little so consistently. If you think I’m being overly harsh then more fool you. Phil Neville was a more consistent big-game, midfield performer than this clown.

‘His excellency’ was merely anonymous, however. The most inept performance award yet again went to Ashley Young, who’s fast using up any goodwill he’s earned with his wholehearted yet typically underwhelming stint at fullback over the last few years. I’m so bored of watching Young toil away, squandering possession week after week after week. He’s now reached that same stage in his career where Gary Neville realised his time was up and promptly retired with credibility still intact. The penny hasn’t dropped with either Young or the United hierarchy, unfortunately. Christ knows why he’s been given a new contract because it’s only going to get even more embarrassing for all concerned from this point.

After 4 defeats in the last 5 games, the one positive bit of news this week was that Ander Herrera could be leaving at the end of the season. We might have worse players on the books but if the club don’t cave and reward a 29 year old with a 4 year, 200K per week deal then that’s a step in the right direction as far as I’m concerned. He’s nothing special and he never has been. Shipping him out as well as a few more of the 6/10 crew would make for a very positive summer’s business.

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Still, all the usual gripes aside, we’re still in the game and we go to the Nou Camp with an outside chance of causing an upset. Stranger things have happened already this season as we’ve come away from both Turin and Paris with very unlikely victories having been given the run-around at Old Trafford. Surely it can’t happen again? Probably not, but I’ll be keeping everything crossed hoping for another freakish thunderbolt of divine intervention.

Leeds look like they’re getting promoted, City are set to win a domestic treble at the very least… and if they don’t then Liverpool will win the title. Both Liverpool and City are very well placed to reach the Champions League semi-finals. There’s a head-wrecking set of variables in place here that are pointing towards a testing next few weeks followed by a potentially horrific summer. It’s probably too late but we need to try and stop the unthinkable happening.

Help us, Ole Gunnar Solskjaer. You’re our only hope.

Copyright Red News – April 2019

www.rednews.co.uk

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A Child’s Claim To Fame

Diego

When the editor asked me to note down any recollections I had of United vs Barcelona in March 1984, I was shocked with the realisation that we were approaching the 30th anniversary of the game. THIRTY YEARS. Wow, where the fuck has that gone?

On reflection, 1984 was pretty miserable. My Dad’s work was sporadic at the time which meant there was very little spare cash floating about. Consequently, I was on free school dinners, rocking 4 stripe trainers off the market and riding round a purple Raleigh Chopper instead of the much-coveted Adidas Grand Slam and Mongoose BMX’s that my friends were enjoying. The news had stopped talking about imminent nuclear war and riots and was instead concerned with Torvill & Dean and the plight of the miners. Lionel Ritchie was Number 1 in the charts. None of this really registered with me to be honest, it was only background noise because I still had United to look forward to.

The Old Trafford of my childhood was nothing like the gigantic shrine to commercialism that stands in its place today. Back then, it was just a football ground that had barely changed in decades. If I had to sum up 1980’s OT in two words, they would probably be ‘faded glamour’. Paint peeling off rusty girders, cracked panes of glass, the stenches of chip fat, rancid burgers, bleach and perpetual under achievement – it was as grim as it was intoxicating.

United were doing pretty well by March, however. Unbeaten in 16 league games, we went top of the table 4 days prior to the Barca game after smashing Arsenal 4-0 at Old Trafford – a game notable for scores of people brandishing clipboards around the turnstiles, collecting signatures imploring the club not to sell Bryan Robson. It seems a quaint idea now, somewhat naive… but that’s how important Robbo was at the time. A figurehead, a leader, a genuine colossus – the sort of midfielder who comes along once in a generation. It was perhaps fitting then, that those United fans doing their best to persuade player and club to resist suitors from abroad, were rewarded days later with a performance that was probably the finest of his career.

Despite United possessing a genuine world class talent in Robson, Barcelona boasted an even greater star themselves in the shape of Diego Maradona – and just having the chance to see him in the flesh was a major event in itself. Back then there was no Champions League or televised football on the scale there is today – indeed I’d listened to the 1st leg, 2-0 reverse on the radio. The only time Maradona had ever really been seen was during the ’82 World Cup where he’d been largely anonymous and marked out of the tournament. Despite being this enigmatic, almost mythical figure, he was still generally considered to be the greatest player in the world – although he wouldn’t go on to prove that until the tournament in Mexico, 2 years later.

I’d been going to United for a couple of years by 1984 and had attended both previous European games that season, vs Dukla Prague (soon to be immortalised after being namechecked by legendary 80’s scouse pop-ironists Half Man Half Biscuit) and the never-again-to-be-heard-of Spartak Varna of Bulgaria. This was all very exciting in itself due to European football being all exotic and unknown and that, but drawing Barcelona in the QF was proper next level shit. It seemed about as big as it was ever gonna get.

After sweating on whether or not I’d actually get a ticket – my Dad was often lax in buying the requisite two programmes per game for the tokens – there was much relief when he confirmed it was all sorted. I had a ticket in my hand: Stretford Groundside Junior, for the scarcely credible by today’s standards sum of £1.20.

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Although we always paid into the Stretford End (a season ticket or LMTB wasn’t a necessity back then), we never watched the game there because being sub-5ft and weighing about 5 stone at the time, I’d probably have been trampled to death. Instead we had a regular arrangement going with the old boy on the gate, who was paid £1 per game to let us through to the seats upstairs in E-Stand. Not that we ever sat down, our spec was right behind the goal at the top – stood up against the handrail.

That handrail was the bane of my life for a couple of years, since its height was exactly level with my line of sight. This meant I had two options: either I could watch the game on tiptoes with my chin resting on top or more comfortably, with my brow resting on the bar whilst peering underneath. As a result, I’d usually leave the match sporting a horizontal indent on my forehead that would remain visible for the next couple of hours.

The game, as has been recounted many times since that night, was absolutely incredible. I’ve been at pretty much every big match in the intervening 30 years and nothing, perhaps only the white noise madness of that five minutes in the Nou Camp in ’99, comes close to the atmosphere generated. As a kid, I just recall being absolutely ecstatic to have experienced it first-hand and almost overwhelmed with happiness and relief following the final whistle. Before writing this I watched the 10 minute highlights clip on YouTube again and it genuinely makes the hairs on the back of your neck stand up.

It’s the 3rd goal that does it. Wilkins picking the ball up in his own half and wheeling his arm, signalling for everyone to bomb forward. Robson clips a glorious ball out wide that’s met by Arthur Albiston and by the time his cross enters the box, the Stretford End are already celebrating the goal. Just listen to it, it’s mad. The cross comes in and the strangulated “YESSSSSSSS…” starts whilst the ball is still in the air. Whiteside heads it back across the penalty area and then Stapleton buries it. Bedlam. The cheering starts about 3 seconds before the ball hits the net.

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It was Robson’s night. Footage shows him absolutely exhausted at the end as he’s chaired off the pitch by hoards of cavorting wedge haircuts in stonewashed denim and Pringle jumpers. He staggers up the tunnel and is first gripped by Ron Atkinson, then looks in dire need of oxygen as he’s interviewed by Elton Welsby. Sadly, and typically for the era, our campaign fell to pieces after that. Arnold Muhren never kicked another ball that season, Robson was crucially injured for the 2nd leg of the Juventus semi and United limped home in the league, scoring only 8 goals and winning twice in our final 10 games. At least Robbo stayed though, with the board deciding to cash in on Ray Wilkins instead.

Despite being present as a 10 year old kid, I was fully aware of the night’s significance as it just felt absolutely huge in comparison to any game I’d attended previously. To this day, my Dad still describes it as “the best ever” and he’s been going to the match since the early 60’s – so that will do for me too. “Barcelona, Real Madrid, they will make a gallant bid, but United are the greatest team of all.” Damn right.

It was, quite simply, the greatest of the great Old Trafford nights.

Copyright Red News – March 2014

www.rednews.co.uk

Diamonds Are Forever

It’s been a stop-start beginning to the season, both in terms of the incessant international breaks that dictate the calendar at this time of year and the stuttering football we’ve witnessed. On the whole though, with some dodgy looking away games already out of the way – things aren’t looking too bad with us sat in 2nd place, 4 points behind Chelsea.

Though he’d never admit it, Howard Webb must dread being allocated our games. Despite seeing off Newcastle quite comfortably, you just knew that the next day’s headlines were going be made by some perceived injustice stemming from the fact he was in charge. This time it was a stray Van Persie elbow and the fact that Webb had the temerity to rule out a Newcastle goal because it HADN’T fully crossed the line. Pathetically, Radio 5 actually opened their sports coverage with this story the next morning. Talk about playing to the masses…

Despite ultimately ending in defeat, the Tottenham game a week earlier was a stormer – such a shame that it it took us being 0-2 down to garner any kind of response from the players or the crowd. It’s become a familiar script: we start off slowly and seem content to simply sit and contain – the tempo only increases once the realisation dawns we’ve fallen behind and oh shit, now we’ve suddenly got a game to chase.

Giggs was awful yet again and the reasons for starting him get less and less clear as the months/years tick by. I mean, starting Giggs and Scholes together was clocked by most of us as a big no-no 3 or 4 years ago, yet we’re still persisting with the idea now. Just play The Brand, that useless lump Anderson even, get the tombola out to see what that throws out…just not Giggs and Scholes in tandem anymore. Next month they’ll have a combined age of 77. SEVENTY SEVEN. Enough now. Please.

Still, it was a great 2nd half after Rooney’s introduction – very nice to see him bang on it with his touch seemingly back in place. The OT crowd woke up briefly too, for the 1st time in ages it actually felt like I was at a football match. Once upon a time the schrill sound of school kids was only heard at reserve games or pre-season friendlies; nowadays it’s a weekly occurrence…and a fairly welcome one as at least it punctuates the silence from the home crowd and the incessant ‘who are ya’s and ‘Fergie’s right, your fans are shite’s emanating from the away section.

Having been ripped to shreds by Spurs during that 1st half, we’ve managed to get back on track via the introduction of what Fergie has proudly christened ‘the diamond’ – without getting too ‘zonal marking’ about things, it basically looks like we’ve temporarily abandoned ‘the doughnut’ to experiment with the novel idea of playing midfielders…in midfield. I know, amazing isn’t it?

The diamond got its first outing in the (urgh) Capital One cup tie at home to Newcastle – and what an utter shitcunt of a competition that is these days. How United manage to get away with charging nigh on full price for reserve games is nothing short of scandalous – but they’ll continue to do so knowing most ST holders are obliged to buy a ticket regardless of whether they actually want to go…the prospect of not wanting to miss out on a Cup Final ticket is surely the only explanation why any non-masochist would subscribe to the ACS and willingly pay to watch such garbage.

I don’t know anyone who looks forward to these games and whatever minor relevance the competition might have enjoyed in years passed has long since expired. All season ticket holders I know watch the draw hoping we’re handed an away tie so their card isn’t charged another £40…there’s something very, very wrong when that’s the case. Ditto the amount of people who buy a ticket and can’t face attending…and those like yours truly who are brainless enough to pay, turn up, then disappear at HT for the more appealing prospect of watching the 2nd half in the pub. I guess if we’re daft enough to offer up our credit card details to the club, then we’re also daft enough to merit the routine shafting we’re dealt.

Talk of routine shaftings brings us to the first European away trip of the season. I’m too old and my mortgage is too big to contemplate a 4 day, autumnal jolly to Transylvania, but a good time was enjoyed by all who made it, I’m reliably informed. Nice weather, friendly locals, beer at 60p a pint, far enough away to put off the knobhead contingent…Cluj was always destined to be a good trip.

“None of our lot arrested, 2 hours sleep out of 55, got banned for life by Jet2.com…just a good piss up really”, was how a younger family member succinctly summed up his experience. Oh and if you were confused and somewhat disturbed like I was about the large amount of shirtless ballooning going on – that was mainly down to 50 odd Polish barmies who turned up in our end, apparently. Thankfully they didn’t start Poznaning and lower the tone further still.

Watching at home on telly only hammers home how deathly dull the group stages of the Champions League have become – even Tyldesley and Townsend in the commentary box were struggling to sound remotely enthused during the 2nd half. Like last year, we’ve been beneficiaries of a ridiculously easy draw that virtually guarantees progression to the knock-out stages. Unlike last year, it doesn’t look like we’re going to contrive to fuck things up spectacularly this time round. Progress of sorts, then – perhaps another routine final humiliation at the hands of Barca isn’t out of the question?

Copyright Red News – October 2012

www.rednews.co.uk