August 28, 2009
On the way to Wigan last week, the chatter was whether we'd cede the points if it meant that United were forced to spend some money in what remained of the transfer window, the rationale being that not adding a bit more class in midfield would be more damaging than a defeat. In the event, the win amounted to more than a papering-over-the-cracks job, even if, to paraphrase Pulp Fiction's Mr Wolf, there's no need for fellatio just yet.
Things didn't look especially great watching the players warm up. Usually it reminds you of how ridiculously good they are, and there were times when it was worth getting in the ground early to watch. This was particularly so in the days of Beckham and Veron, who'd stand the width of the pitch apart, and ping passes (as Jamie Redknapp would say) over the heads of everyone in between. However Saturday's shooting practice was amongst the very worst I've seen, and it didn't bode well for a successful afternoon. The man behind me had the right idea, leaning back in his seat, eyes firmly closed, and he turned out to be someone regularly seen apparently sleeping in various stadia around Europe, spawning his own parlour game, "Drunk, Narcoleptic or Blind".
Anyway, back to the warm-up, there's this game United play, which I believe is called boxes. The starting eleven, save the goalie, gather in a small square, and divided into two teams, compete to retain possession. For the times when it runs out of play, there's a large cluster of replacements kept at one corner of the pitch. Fair enough, no point them wasting their time chasing around. What's quite remarkable, though, is that there's someone whose job it is to stand adjacent to this cluster and roll the new ball to the nearest player when required, lest one of them have to move a couple of yards to get it for himself. That same someone is also responsible for putting bench coats on those substituted, again to ensure that no unnecessary effort is expended; I wonder how handy he is with the loofah.
Gleaming DeLorean at the ready, poised to drive into the future, Marty McFly receives some last-minute instruction from Doc Emmet Brown. "When this baby hits 88 miles per hour... you'll see some serious sh*t".
Well at Burnley on Wednesday night, we saw the future United-style; less style and speed, but the sh*t is every bit as serious.
Walking towards Turf Moor, things didn't look promising. Hot, sunny, decidedly un-United weather, with bicep-hugging t-shirts and fashion-victim pedal-pushers to the fore. And when they suddenly become chic, things are very wrong. But chic they were, set alongside replica shirts with "Owen" on them, worn both by adults who should know better and kids who rely on adults to know better for them.
"Pain", wrote Naomi Wolf, "is real when you get other people to believe in it. If no one believes in it but you, your pain is madness or hysteria". Although she wasn't talking about following a football club, she could have been; the pain must be real because others endure it simultaneously, but because each experience is unique, the madness and hysteria remain.
As a Manchester United supporter, some may think I'm a hypochondriac with no conception of what it is to suffer, but I can assure you, I have and then some. Even if we discount a childhood blighted by Liverpool's pre-backpass law success, every present-day celebration is tainted by the sadness of absent friends.
After the 2005 Glazer takeover in that blackest of Mays - dire football, cup final defeat and a European Cup for Liverpool (at least you can't win the league on penalties) - a significant number of time-served Reds were forced into proving that they really did mean it when they said that they weren't for sale.