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Pretty Vacant

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


Welcome To The Pleasuredome

So here we are again. After the protégé, the legend, the serial winner, the ex-player and the unknown German bloke, this time we’ve opted for a bald manager. Quite honestly, I’ve got no idea how this one will work out but I can take a wild guess. The “open heart surgery” as prescribed by Dr Ralf has predictably failed to materialise so ten Hag needs to try and get a tune out of the same set of chancers who failed his predecessors so spectacularly. Good luck with that one, Erik. 

The notion that Rangnick would take up a consultancy position was always highly suspect, especially given how everything unravelled towards the end of last season. It has to go down as one of the most bonkers appointments ever by an alleged top tier club. Expecting that group of players to adapt to a highly energetic, pressing style of play dictated by a man found holed up in Russia after spending 20 years kicking round mid-tier German clubs was quite deranged thinking. I’ll always respect Ralf for sticking his neck out and briefing against certain individuals, but that’s only because I feel nothing but disdain for them too. It all felt very liberating but as a motivational tool it was desperate stuff.

At least ten Hag has been spared the misfortune of having Paul Pogba to contend with. Once his departure was confirmed I toyed with the idea of sitting through the Pogmentary, thinking it might prove quite cathartic given how much I’ve grown to despise him. The reviews were universally terrible, making it sound every bit the ill-conceived, vanity project you’d expect from someone who considers a 280K weekly wage as derisory. The real mystery is why on earth he was offered any incentive to remain here at all given how he’s royally taken the piss for the last 5 years. I didn’t bother watching in the end. Much like the man himself, I just couldn’t be arsed. 

News arrived that the next biggest ego at the club was seeking an exit too. Other than commercial reasons, I’m not sure what the sense is in clinging on to Ronaldo if he does want out. United desperately need committed players, so it doesn’t bode well if your biggest name is hawking himself round Europe in the hope of securing another crack at the Champions League. I would rip the contact up and let him walk if he finds a willing suitor. It was one thing indulging the histrionics and persuading him to stay back in 2008 as he was the best player in Europe; doing the same for the 2022 version holds little appeal as it would only prolong the current circus. Thanks very much and see you later.

It was reassuring to see that ten Hag had clearly done his homework prior to taking charge at United. Within days of arrival he demonstrated huge respect for club traditions by confidently leading us into our traditional, fruitless summer transfer saga. This years target being fellow Dutchman, Frenkie de Jong. At the time of writing, United’s overtures remain very much unrequited but not to worry, we’ve only been plugging away for the last 10 weeks or so. We’ve still got another month and a half of banging our collective heads against a wall before the humiliation is complete for another year. 

In all seriousness, I expect this one will ultimately be resolved and Frenkie will indeed go to Manchester. I don’t blame the lad one bit for dragging his heels given that Barcelona reputedly owe him millions in deferred wages. Once again that shower have proven themselves to be utterly shameless in the way they conduct themselves; negotiating with United all summer whilst reneging on debts to sign new players on contracts they wont be able to honour. I reckon Lewandowski’s lawyers will be privately rubbing their hands together in preparation for everything going pear-shaped in a year or two. 

As soon as Pogba and 29 year old TikTok sensation Jesse Lingard left the club, the constant leaks we’ve become accustomed to in recent years seemed to dry up overnight. This was verified by the genial Richard Arnold in leaked footage of his pow wow with Max and Paddy of the 1958. It was just a pity that having been granted an audience with the newly incumbent CEO their line of questioning wasn’t a little more robust. Arnold’s claim that no club in the world could fund a new stadium without outside investment was a bit hollow when you consider the previous owners managed to re-build the Stretford End and then sign off on the gargantuan North Stand re-development completed in 1996. 

It would have been nice to see Arnold challenged on the reasons why the club needs to seek outside investors at all. If revenue streams weren’t being used to service the enormous debt and pay regular dividend payments to his bosses, with responsible financial management the club would still be the cash rich entity it was prior to them taking over. This might sound like an over simplification of something very complex but it isn’t really that complicated at all. Back in those days investment capital was generated organically through existing revenue streams. Transfer fees could be paid for up front and in full. There was no need for staggered payments and routinely buying players on tick like we see now.

Following the meeting I saw a number of comments along the lines of “fair play to him for sitting down and speaking candidly” as if some kind of seismic breakthrough had taken place. Unfortunately, the idea that Arnold is determined to usher in sweeping reforms is utter bollocks. People shouldn’t need reminding that he’s had his nose in the trough since 2007 and joined the board of directors in 2013. He’s just as culpable as his best mate Woodward and the Glazers themselves for overseeing the current mess in which the club finds itself. Arnold is simply doing his masters’ bidding, the fact he bought a couple of rounds and briefly paid lip service to supporters’ concerns means precisely nothing.

The fan survey sent out a couple of weeks ago is another example of the club making all the right noises whereas in reality there is no prospect of developing OT or building a new stadium. Plans were drawn up to extend the South Stand over a decade ago that would’ve taken the capacity over 90,000. Instead the ground has barely been touched since, barring extending the disabled section and a few cosmetic repairs when necessary. Personally, I’ve no interest in wider seats, fan zones, refreshed concourses and over-priced vegan food options. A modernised OT will only ever become a realistic prospect once the owners commit to paying down the current debt. Until then, any discussion is largely pointless and merely diverts attention from their continued misappropriation of the club’s finances.

Copyright Red News – July 2022


Lucifer Sam

There’s just no let up is there? I foolishly assumed we’d witnessed the season’s nadir at the Etihad and the team would amble towards the finish line at their consistently inconsistent best. Unfortunately not. You really do have to marvel at the audacity of the players and their collective response to widespread criticism. Instead of trying to salvage something… anything, it appears they’ve downed tools completely. Actually no, scrub that. It seems they’ve put the tools back in the shed, locked it and disappeared off on holiday a month early. Chance of top four and Champions League next season? No? Europa Conference it is then. Fair enough then, lads – see you in August.

Some of the performances recently have been utterly pathetic. I got in early at Everton and witnessed the warm up; seriously, you see a greater level of intensity on Sunday at your local park. I’m pretty immune to results at this stage, they stopped stinging a few years ago when half-arsed mediocrity became the norm. Everyone knows the script by now. As a fanbase we’ve become resigned to the team’s complacency and an almost routine lack of effort. Nobody takes any responsibility and half of them don’t even look bothered. So many of these players… it’s incredible how they’ve got away with it for so long and continue to do so. They’re absolutely shameless.

Given the utter slop being served up on the pitch, the club should be thankful that people are still bothering to turn up in huge numbers. Home games continue to sell out and any dissenting voices remain in the minority. There have been a few instances of players being jeered recently but the OT crowd, buoyed by a noisy singing section and never ending hordes of awestruck day trippers, remains overwhelming positive in spite of the miserable football. I’ve never known so many spares floating about for home games though. Just from my own perspective, plenty of folk seem content to give the game a miss these days as many regulars aren’t there every game like they used to be.

Away games remain the place where the hardcore congregate and day trippers tend to stand out like a sore thumb. The club could suffer successive relegations and these would still be sold out with the same faces there who have been attending games for decades. This situation isn’t unique to United, it’s how all football clubs function for the most part. Some people treat it like a hobby (like the family behind me recently thrilled to have seen “the GOAT” in the flesh) whereas to others it’s their calling in life. My own position on this is I now regard watching United as both a curse and something that still just about motivates me to leave the house on occasion.

Most other football clubs have a healthy respect for their hardcore support. I mean, this is only logical, isn’t it? Businesses tend to engage with their loyal customers, they cherish them and they embrace them. Football supporters demonstrate brand loyalty to extreme levels, regardless of their teams’ fluctuating form or performance level. United’s away loyalty pot is representative of this, a group that’s been around since 2004 when the club announced its existence – members had to have applied for every game in the first half of that season. Initially comprising of around 1,300 people, this group now numbers around 500 so everyone left in is pretty much guaranteed an away ticket these days.

With demand exceeding supply dramatically, access to away tickets is limited for the vast majority of people. This makes United a very attractive proposition for ticket touts. These aren’t the fellas in sheepskin coats and stonewashed jeans stood outside turnstiles back in the 80’s, instead it’s gone digital with faceless accounts offering tickets via DM on social media. Not quite sure who’s buying them as the prices being quoted via screenshots I’ve seen are truly laughable. £400 for Leeds, anyone? Quite rightly, the club has made some noises in recent months about wanting to investigate this practice. Perhaps unsurprisingly, their methods in going about this task appear to have an ulterior motive as well as proving wholly ineffective.

It should be a pretty simple process, really. If you want to identify the source of a ticket being offered at inflated prices, it would make sense to pose as a prospective buyer and purchase it. That way you have the ticket in hand meaning you have confirmation of both the re-seller’s identity and the person who supplied it in the first place. Unfortunately, this kind of simple logic appears to be beyond the ticket office. Instead of seeking out touts themselves, it’s being used as an opportunity to inconvenience long-term supporters with ID checks required at away grounds. More specifically, loyalty pot members appear to be the main focus of their investigation.

It’s probably very true that not every loyalty pot member attends every game themselves, I don’t think anyone could seriously claim otherwise. What I would argue though, is that the loyalty pot isn’t the source of any tickets being sold on for profit. United supporters are a close-knit community and the unwritten code of conduct dictates that tickets are passed on to fellow reds at face value. This is why you see the same faces week-in, week-out at away games. The people there aren’t paying over the odds, they are there because they are being sorted out by friends who they’ve known for years.

I suspect that the club’s failure to target individual touts is down to the fact that such enquiries might uncover some unpalatable truths. A sizeable number of tickets are passed on to players and sponsors every game, are we supposed to accept that there’s no chance whatsoever this isn’t the source of tickets ending up on the black market? From my point of view, anecdotally at least, I would strongly argue that this is indeed the case. There are obviously going to be exceptions, but I don’t know of any season ticket holder successful in a ballot whose first instinct is to sell on for profit. I could however, cite the countless times I’ve seen tickets passed around at face value – a practice that happens at every single game and has done forever.

Under the pretence of eradicating touts, what we’re really seeing is an attempt to break up United’s traditional hardcore by jeopardising their access to tickets. United’s away support remains far removed from the Disneyfied fan experience™ that’s on offer at Old Trafford. It must be intimidating for groups of sponsors clad in matching tracksuits when confronted by groups of feral pisscans blocking the aisles, singing loudly and oblivious to the concept of designated seat numbers. Despite claims to the contrary, that’s the real motivation behind these ticket collections. They want to make things as difficult as possible for the group of supporters who’ll turn up despite the quality of football on offer. As has been noted once or twice already this season, the club is rotten from top to bottom.

Copyright Red News – April 2022