After a summer of discontent featuring a squad re-build progressing at a glacial pace, it was important that United got off to a good start this season. If ten Hag was disappointed after the opening day Brighton defeat, he must have felt almost suicidal when the half time whistle blew at Brentford. I’ve been going a long time now and I can’t recall seeing anything quite as bad as that opening 45 minutes. The mood was downbeat in the pub beforehand but I don’t think anyone anticipated the absolute horror show we were about to witness. I walked out at HT as did many others.
Of course, it never helps when your goalie starts throwing the ball in his own net. Everyone has their own take on De Gea but the consensus amongst people whose opinion I value is that he should have been binned off a long time ago. Whether Henderson was a good enough replacement is debatable, but in my opinion he should have been given a 6 month run in the team once he’d regained fitness last season. We all know De Gea has numerous weaknesses, but crucially it’s no longer enough to merit his place simply “because he’s a good shot stopper”. Christ, all Premier League keepers are good shot stoppers, aren’t they?
It’s far too early to be questioning the new manager’s methods, but watching De Gea’s feeble attempts at playing out from the back as opposed to launching a goal kick upfield was excruciating. When a keeper isn’t comfortable with the ball at his feet, he’s unlikely to develop this facet to his game at 31 years old. Brentford had clearly done their homework and exploited this in the most brutal manner imaginable. It might sound harsh and there’s no doubt De Gea has been a tremendous servant to the club over the last decade, but he needs replacing if we’re going to progress. It was a deeply embarrassing day all round.
As pretty much all pre-season optimism had dissipated at this point, several highly vocal, self-reverential nutcases on twitter had a plan. Pausing momentarily from working themselves into a frenzy about players they’d never heard of 3 days previously, the idea of #emptyoldtrafford was born. Apparently if this hashtag was RT’ed enough times, Old Trafford would be deserted for the forthcoming Liverpool game and the Glazer’s resolve would miraculously crumble. The legions outside would carry Jim Ratcliffe into the stadium where he would by interviewed pitchside by Jamie Carragher and Gary Neville, presumably.
With 70,000 match-goers lined up outside OT, one could only assume that the twitter lads planned to stand outside their bedrooms in solidarity. The only certainty was that the campaign was doomed to failure from the moment it was conceived and that internet gobshites posing as United fans vastly overestimate the influence they have over actual United fans. Instead, a real-life protest organised by real-life supporters attracted huge numbers and widespread media attention all by itself. Who would have thought such a thing possible?
The twitter reds constantly bang on about division and toxicity amongst the “fanbase” but what they fail to grasp is that despite the numbers they attract, their influence on people in and around the club is negligible. They might consider themselves knowledgeable, but ultimately their experiences amount to little more than arguing on the internet about their favourite tv show. These individuals are never going to effect change because they possess zero credibility amongst match-goers. United supporters’ feelings are probably more aligned now than they have been at any time since the Glazers took over. At this point you’d struggle to find anyone with something positive to say about the club’s owners.
To be clear, I don’t think the idea of emptying the ground at some point should be disregarded entirely. The idea has the potential to be a highly effective protest but you’re not going to achieve this with only 5 days notice and nobody of any substance on board. Get MUST, the fanzines, TRA and The 1958 behind it and with proper publicity the idea might have a decent chance. As unpalatable as it might sound to those of a ‘burn it all down now’ disposition, Liverpool at home so early in the season was never a realistic prospect for orchestrating a mass boycott.
The fervour of the pre-match protest led to one of the best atmospheres OT has seen in a long time. The place was rocking during the first half and the team responded with a performance that was a vast improvement on the dire effort shown the previous weekend. For the first time in months we saw evidence of the basics in place. Every player looked focused, committed and willing to put in a full shift for 90 minutes. We know they’re some distance from challenging for the top prizes but if the players can maintain a level of effort somewhere above bare minimum, I expect our fortunes might improve quickly.
As is customary following the Liverpool game, there was another debate about the ‘murderers’ chant and whether or not it’s a reference to Hillsborough. It’s getting really tiresome now. Firstly, there’s no doubt the antipathy between the two sets of supporters gives the fixture an edge that nobody wants to lose. However, the ‘murderers’ insult is aired more frequently and vociferously now than it ever was previously. People point to Liverpool fans singing about Munich in the past as some sort of justification but honestly, it’s straw clutching in the extreme. It’s 2022 and we should be doing better.
I’m not suggesting that reparations need to be made and we should start handing out garlands of flowers to each other, I just find it very sad. In the past I’ve caught myself trying to explain the nuances to people as if the song actually being a reference to Heysel validates it somehow, but in truth it doesn’t. The tit-for-tat nonsense needs to stop. There can still be a rivalry and a mutual loathing without celebrating tragedies that have befallen the respective clubs. In simple terms, singing ‘murderers’ doesn’t reflect well on United fans and it makes us look and sound like dickheads.
After such a positive performance and result against Liverpool, Southampton away suddenly felt like a big game. United have been abject for months but we seem to be particularly awful at early kick offs, not to mention the fact we hadn’t seen back-to-back league wins since February. A scruffy 1-0 win was more than acceptable despite the fact that all composure went out of the window after taking the lead. The last half hour was desperate at times and we seemed determined to give the ball away at every opportunity. It’s far too early to say whether a recovery is underway but I’m taking solace from the fact the players at least look slightly interested again. That will do for now.
Copyright Red News – September 2022