Tag Archives: summer

Summertime Blues

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Gutted. Again. Although we went in as underdogs, it was still a mightily humbling experience to be given a football lesson like that. I went into full-on gloom mode in the immediate aftermath of the final, attempting a half-hearted media blackout in the hope of swerving all TV, radio and newspapers for the next fortnight.

Writing last time out, just prior to the Barca final, I took a cautiously optimistic view as to what might unfold – in retrospect, a doomed attempt to spare my feelings should we receive another arse-kicking. Didn’t work.

Barcelona are currently on a different level. One that I’ve never come across before – they knocked the ball around like it was a Monday night 5 a side at the JJB, not a European Cup final at Wembley. Bollocks to your mid-90’s AC Milan or Brazil ‘82 or whoever, this lot are simply better. We tried, we had a plan, and for what it’s worth – I think we picked the right team. Sadly, we got nowhere near them. Xavi, Iniesta, Messi, Busquets….just too good. They deserve all the success they get. The fuckers.

The dismal bank holiday Monday following the final saw the victory parade we should have been granted back in 2008 finally take place. Thousands turned out, yet in nothing like the numbers witnessed following the treble win in’99. I feared the occasion might be a damp squib from the moment it was first mooted  – these events need to be announced spontaneously, no matter what plans are in place behind the scenes.

What we were left with was the sight of (Bebe aside) pretend-exultant footballers brandishing a trophy won over 2 weeks previously. Call me a misery-arse, but that sort of posturing and staged-fun should be the preserve of City – now it sadly turns out that they’re capable of winning things again. Anyway, it’s done now.

The summer break affords us all the opportunity to adopt the appearance of well-rounded humans with a broad range of interests other than football. In my case, ‘broad range of interests’, actually translates as ‘half-heartedly catching up with a few other, less-important sports’.

Lancashire (stuck on Merseyside currently) have made a storming start to the cricket season, though were given a recent hammering by an even stronger-looking Durham side. The Grand Prix in Canada became very watchable due to a two hour rain delay that led to comically inept efforts to dry out a waterlogged track with yard brushes and cars with kitchen roll. Andy Murray looks poised to reach the later stages of Wimbledon before inevitable failure and fellow red Rory McIlroy was in superlative form as he destroyed the rest of the field to win his first major at the US Open golf. None of this is football though, is it?

I attempted to pull myself back into real life by tentatively switching on England’s opener vs Spain in the Under 21s Championship. Wellbeck, Jones, Cleverley, De Gea and Smallers all on view, well worth a look…. I lasted about 15 minutes. Watching a team of dashing young Spaniards playing keep ball around a willing but less able team from these isles brought it all flooding back. Too soon. I later heard it got slightly better as the game went on but I wouldn’t know. ‘Canal Walks with Julia Bradbury’ was on BBC4 instead, nothing to upset me there. Julia was in Birmingham and it was raining – which suited my mood.

The most entertaining aspect of the Under 21s brief appearance in the tournament was the chance to revel once more in the unrivalled fuckwittery of Stuart ‘Psycho’ Pearce – a man whose qualifications for managing at international level appear to consist of chest-beating rhetoric, a nice line in cliches and sharing the same haplessly deluded love of his country as demonstrated by those who somehow feel compelled to line the streets of London and wave at royal weddings.

Back in 1992, I enjoyed a brief dalliance with a girl from Nottingham. I fancied her like mad, despite the fact she had a long-term boyfriend and was a rabid Forest fan – season ticket holder and all that. Forest girl was at University round here but hailed from the outskirts of Nottingham somewhere and when United played there that season, (the 1-0 defeat that was the start of the big slump) I took up an offer to travel down with her. We had to call in at her folks’ gaff for some reason and as we neared their house, she pointed out Stuart Pearce’s place. The clown only had a 30ft pole in his garden, proudly flying an enormous flag of St George. ‘What the fuck is that?’, I enquired. ‘Oh yeah, it’s his flag’, she smiled…‘his wife bought him it for his birthday.’

What a fucking nutcase. Remember this was pre-Euro ‘96 – the tipping point after which every lunatic nationwide now sees it as their civic duty to fly the flag at every available opportunity. This bellend was one of the originals! Despite concerted efforts, I never did manage to get into Forest girl’s knickers – though we did later sign her hero at that time, Roy Keane. Win some, lose some.

Based on the evidence seen in England’s performances in the tournament, Pearce’s footballing ideologies appear to mirror his oft-recounted love of 1970s punk  – ie predictable, lacking in subtlety and years out of date. ‘Psycho’ still inhabits a world when the first priority is to ‘knock it long’ or if feeling particularly adventurous, ‘get it out wide’ – bollocks to that ‘actually stringing a few passes together’ stuff.

During his last season in charge at City they managed 10 league goals at home all season, and none after New Years Day 2007. None. So the FA’s response is to parachute him into the Under 21s job and task him with nurturing the next generation of English football’s brightest prospects. He’s been in charge for over 50 games now. God help them.

Once upon a time, back when the average transfer fee reflected the sum most Premier League players earn in a week nowadays, summer transfer speculation was something that was played out furtively. The football fan then had to seek out gossip, it wasn’t mainlined into your brain 24 hours a day via SSN and ITK twitter gobshites. The only real sources available were teletext, the papers and what your mate had heard. I recall being stuck on the Med during the summer of 1987, dutifully trotting out with a few Pesetas each morning to buy a two day old Daily Mirror, desperately seeking confirmation of Brian McClair’s much-anticipated arrival.

Nowadays it’s incessant, and a fair amount of self-discipline is required not to be sucked into the vast quantities of endless bullshit on offer. Writing in mid-June I can guarantee this much: some deals will happen, others will not. We’ll sign some players, so will our rivals. Yes and maybe, if we’re lucky, we’ll end up with a much-needed creative midfield player – maybe even one with a foreign sounding name who’s cost a shitload of money. In the meantime, until we do, just do me a favour…put the cricket on and shut the fuck up.

Roll on August…

Copyright Red News – July 2011

www.rednews.co.uk

A Stones Throw Away

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What a glorious afternoon the Chelsea game turned out to be. I’d spent so much time during the preceding week imagining all the possibilities that I could only offer a shrug of the shoulders and a stupefied silence when faced with the ‘well, what do you reckon?’ question in the pub, pre-match.

It was always gonna be a nervy afternoon but well, Javier Hernandez (I still refuse to say ‘Chicharito’), what more can be said about the lad? That 1st minute defines his contribution during the last 9 months. The dramatic ‘point towards Pat’ at kick-off, hares around for a bit, measured run, composed finish, ecstatic celebration. Beautiful. The kid is most certainly the real deal and here’s hoping his big smile continues to light up Old Trafford for many years to come. What a signing.

In a season where we’ve only clicked on odd occasions and for the most part have stumbled onwards via character, habit and sheer bloody-mindedness – it’s fitting that we saved our best performance for the biggest game. Ji-Sung Park and Tony Valencia stood out but everyone played well – the cutting and incisive football played during that first half was pure United.

I have to mention Howard Webb though. I don’t subscribe to the modern day pre-occupation with referees and the decisions they do and don’t give – the old cliché of ‘things even themselves out’ will do for me. But what on earth was he on? The Ivanovic challenge on Rooney was as blatant a 2nd yellow card as you’ll ever see. Nothing given, not even a glance in his direction.

This incident came up during post-match discussions, but as a mate rightly pointed out to me – we should take comfort from that fact he wasn’t sent off because then there’re no excuses from anyone. We beat them 11 v 11 and as a bonus, didn’t have to endure another reminder of Gary Neville’s non-reds at Stoke and West Brom. Did you hear Martin Tyler (alluding to the missed handball the previous Sunday) suggest Vidic ‘was lucky to be playing’ after he scored? How bitter can you get?

So alright then, we may not have exactly played like champions for much of the season, but like the ‘You’ll win nothing with kids’ double winning year of 1995/96 – there’s a lot of enjoyment to be had from watching a team grind out results and over-achieve. I don’t really care whether the current side is considered ‘vintage’ or not, there’ve been some classic moments during this league campaign. Berbatov’s hat-trick v Liverpool, Rooney’s winner v City, the comebacks at Blackpool and West Ham, Bebe’s performance v Wolves…all will live long in the memory.

To cap it all, we’ve only gone and reached another European Cup Final too. Bizarrely, Shalke proving less of a match than either Crawley or Scunthorpe did this season. Not taking anything away from United’s performances, but both legs of the tie were an absolute stroll. 6-1 up on aggregate in a European semi-final? That was just…weird. Not how we usually do our business at all. Where was the gut-wrenching fear and headache-inducing last 10 minutes? Not very us, that.

No such shocks emanating from elsewhere within the club, however. If they weren’t so depressingly predictable in their thinking, you’d almost have to admire the chutzpah of the ticket office. The day after the Shalke 2nd leg they were right on the case – season ticket renewal letters announcing a price increase despatched to the rank and file, exec members contacted individually being offered an increased allocation of final tickets in return for early renewal. Nice work. Given the reported struggle they had in shifting corporate facilities last summer, a European final on home soil has arrived like manna from heaven for the ‘MU Hospitality’ sales team.

Anyway, let’s not spoil the mood! North London may not be the most exotic location for a Euro final, but what a day next Saturday promises to be. Those of us not lucky or old enough to have attended the final back in ‘68 grew up watching grainy black and white images of Benfica’s defeat and can only imagine what it must have been like. I’m not suggesting victory v Barca would eclipse that achievement or that nu-Wembley is anything other than a sterile monument to financial mis-management – but I can’t wait for next weekend.

I don’t think any of us is bold enough to be wholly confident of victory. For starters, I just hope there’s no repeat of the humiliation suffered in Rome 2009. I’ll be there with my usual European final head on – not exactly expecting victory but cautiously optimistic and ready to enjoy the occasion.

If we are to upset the formbook, then recent games have surely demonstrated the way forward. Our current strongest XL now picks itself. Hernandez needs to start and Valencia gets the nod ahead of Nani. Rooney is given the freedom to play in his true No.10 role and will provide additional midfield cover if required and please – if those Latin lessons are to be heeded, no Anderson this time out. Yes, there’s been a marked improvement from the portly Brazilian this season, but leave him on the bench…bring him on if it goes to penalties.

At first glance 25,000 tickets appears to be a decent allocation – though given our numbers, the ticket prices and the way these are allocated, thousands will have to make do with the telly rather than being there.

As we’re all aware, many long-standing reds have sacked their ST in recent years and given up on the 21st century OT matchday ‘experience’. Lots still continue to watch United on Euro-aways via a membership, however – the pills, thrills and bellyaches these foreign excursions provide, offering a complete contrast to the sanitised atmosphere found at routine home games. This group (thankfully) remain the antithesis of the ‘sandwiches and flasked-up’ punters travelling with Thomas Cook.

The clubs position regarding these old-skool, red army veterans is clear and each knows the score – they won’t be able to apply for a ticket should we reach the final. The message from the club is clear: give us your money each summer and buy a season ticket. Their priority lies with looking after execs and ST holders – and rightly so, many would argue.

It seems that the vast majority meeting the minimum, official criteria for applying (season ticket and ACS) appear to have been successful via the club ballot  – plenty have got tickets despite not being pre-registered with the travel club and having no previous euro away applications to their name. It’s a shame therefore, a small percentage of our allocation can’t be put aside to sort out those who’ve attended multiple euro aways despite not holding a season ticket. 1000 or so tickets (only 4% of our total allocation) would have comfortably taken care of this group.

Bearing all this in mind, one could possibly suggest this’ll be the most middle-class cup final ever. It’s a sad indictment of modern football when the outrageous sum of £80 is being asked for the cheapest ‘Subbuteo view’ brief. Starting price via the tout option is reportedly an eyewatering £1200 – I seriously don’t know anyone who would even contemplate spending that on a single football ticket. Plenty of loons will happily pay out though, I’d imagine – expect a few touts to be paying their mortgages off over the coming weeks.

Whether you’ve got lucky or not, have a cracking day next Saturday and enjoy the summer.

Copyright Red News – May 2011

www.rednews.co.uk