March 26, 2010
There are very few things that would be enjoyable if you did them all the time; pleasure is partly relative. Thus Wizzard don't really want it to be Christmas every day any more than the ecstasy debutant wants to be high all of the time; the triumph of the instinctive over the realistic and the moralising is transient, or as Freud might put it, the ego and superego are balancing the Id.
At the basest level, the Id is the part of the psyche that football tickles, resulting in intense, disordered impulses that it's incredibly hard to restrain. So beating Liverpool is one of those very few things that can never become routine, as it's neither impractical nor overindulgent.
Unfortunately, this time there was no hiding, and also no last minute steal, but disposing of the scousers in such routine, perfunctory fashion is, though a different joy still a joy, and marvellously soul destroying in its own unique way. Even after United fell behind, thanks largely to the kind of gruesome defending that has spooked us all season, there was no panic. Rather, the players composed themselves, and though not at their best, made it very clear that superiority would translate into number of goals required to win the game.
March 19, 2010
It’s a beautiful sunny day high up in the French Alps, and the very first of my snowboarding career. The air is pure, the mountains spectacular, life good: what better to do than pace around a chalet in thermal underwear, listening to the United game down the telephone?
Although I appreciated the refuge from the aggressive slopes that had already left me a battered mess, and could also hide behind the excuse of work, the only legitimate explanation for such ridiculous behaviour is the obsession times addiction equation that identifies the truly sick.
As anyone who’s traipsed around foreign cities in search of football can testify, unfortunately – and to the vociferous chagrin of any travelling companions - there’s no other choice. Quite simply, the guilt at not seeing a game and the fear of what might be missed insist that no hassle is too great; I need United, and cling to the fanciful notion that somehow they need me.
And never is it easy. On this occasion I’d left open the possibility of getting on with my life, but predictably, as kick-off approached the panic set in, and I frantically flapped to the pub. Contingency kyboshed with the leaving of my laptop on the plane, when it turned out to be closed, the only option was to return to the chalet. But even this was a hassle, with the receptionist claiming a busyness so insanely intense that spending a few seconds passing me a spare key was impossible, necessitating a rather sharp conversation in order that she be convinced of the urgency of my need. It’s a long old while since I’ve listened to United on the radio, and it was almost a treat, the chance to imagine your own pictures offset by the anticlimax of celebrating a goal once it’s too late, the lonely, stilted shout one of relief rather than ecstasy.
Although a win against Fulham is no longer as predictable as it once was, I’ll refrain from joining the list of ignoramii to patronise ‘Terry Tibbs’ Hodgson, an obviously astute coach. Beaten twice in two seasons, United are more aware of this than most, and even though their performances were more craven than the Cottage itself, Fulham played very well in both games.
In the event, the points were secured fairly easily, though the first goal took a while to turn up. Created by Nani’s intelligent pass – not words I ever supposed I’d type – whilst less effective when not deployed on the right, he’s gradually learning to trust his left foot. The chance was, of course, greedily snaffled by Rooney, and though he’s attracted the majority of the plaudits, it’s noticeable that almost every goal he scores is celebrated with a run and a point in the direction of whoever’s made it easy for him; his finishing has been superb, but the service has been even better.
United’s recent attacking verve has left Fergie with something of a selection problem ahead of the Liverpool game, Park, Nani and Valencia all demanding inclusion and Giggs close to fitness. Berbatov is also playing well, earning extra points for the haughty way he handed Murphy his shirt, declining the one offered in return.
In theory having so many in form is a reason to be cheerful, but the reality is that I’m annoyed in advance at the multiple team changes that will no doubt ensue at a time when there is little margin for error - largely because of the selfsame indulgence. It’s all part of the fabled but untrue cliché, invented and perpetuated by Fergie, that United never get going until Christmas, as though taking half the season off is some kind of lovable quirk, rather than an insulting excuse for an unacceptable lack of intensity.
Consequently, as the season nears its end, that United are still in with a chance of winning the league is a significant piece of fortune. We can only trust that they’ll win when they have to, which last time around was the very finest route to success, tantalising Liverpool with the prospect of the title before cruelly destroying their hopes in the most gloriously demoralising fashion.
United suffered similar disappointment in 1992, but where they returned to win the league a year later, the Scousers have opted to indulge in the self-pity that has made their city famous. No one has embraced this tendency with greater alacrity than Rafael Benitez, whinging and comfort eating in equal measure. This week, he informed us that “everyone knows you can have a bad season every now and again”, but actually it’d make more sense to replace “bad” with “good”.
The fact is that Liverpool’s run in 2008-09 was anomalous, exceptional form from their two decent players combining with eightiesesque luck and decisions to make them look better than they were; now, they’re simply performing at their level. Though of course they’ve continued to enjoy the benefits of favourable judgments from the relevant bodies regardless of the evidence, the delightful Steven Gerrard in particular. Though it would be churlish to entirely castigate his latest infraction – you wait ages for Michael Brown to get a slap and then two come along at once – the decision not to suspend him is certainly worth another look.
Apparently, Gerrard can’t be punished for a forearm smash worthy of Johnny Cougar because the referee saw the event and dealt with it at the time. If that really is so – he witnessed the assault and deemed it worthy of nothing more than a talking to – then he should be granted a few weeks off too, for a quite appalling decision. But of course that’s not really what happened; rather, he’s unwilling to admit his mistake, so instead it all gets swept under the forehead. Gerrard may be a Phil Collins fan, but it appears that where he’s concerned, seeing isn’t believing.
Let’s hope that retribution is handed out on the pitch instead, via humiliating and richly merited defeat; how not to be addicted to that?
March 12, 2010
The older we get the less frequently life puts us in the kind of peculiar situations that make it worth the trouble, one of the many reasons going to the game endures when we think we've experienced it all. Thus I forced myself to be thankful when, relaxed in a cubicle at Molineux Asda, suddenly I was being stared at by a packed gallery of fat, sweaty men, the now-open door tantalisingly out of reach.
Not having been to Wolves for a while, I'd forgotten what a dive the ground is, and not in a good way, stands down the sides a totally unnecessary distance from the pitch. Neither they, nor the tactic of stationing away fans along the entire length of one of them, do anything for the atmosphere, though when the home fans are satisfied with karaoke Hi Ho Silver Lining, I suppose it's a losing battle.
Unfortunately the players no longer emerge from separate tunnels, Premier League self-importance dictating a slow march that I guarantee is practised in far fewer gardens and bedrooms than was the slightly inclined jog. But slow marches it is, preceding a "respect handshake" that ought really to be a fist bump. Then, trying to succeed where the crowd failed, the Wolves players indulged in a very long, very useless, very unintimidating huddle whilst Mick McLobanovski looked on, mind pregnant with innovation.
March 6, 2010
For more than fifteen years, philosophers have been vexed by what it was that Meatloaf wouldn’t do for love, but the reality is that he was deluding himself; if he’d really been serious, then "that" wouldn’t exist. Such is the price of true love, such is its distinction from self-interested love.
Many United supporters now find themselves in a similar quandary. Unfairly, perhaps, given the countless ruined relationships, lost jobs, missed parties and decimated bank accounts, but nonetheless "that" time may well have arrived.
This week, a consortium of wealthy Reds announced an intention to buy the club, the endgame that ownership be transferred to the fans. But seeking to buy United and actually buying United are two very different things; if, as expected, the Glazers refuse to sell, they’ll need to be forced. With no other financial squeezes obviously available, it may well turn out that the only way of getting rid is to boycott Old Trafford.