When Nabokov said “caress the detail, the divine detail”, he may have been advising other writers, but at the same time he was making a transferable point. Both pleasure and distress are characterised not via general and unspecific feelings, but by precise aspects that explain to us why we feel as we do.
Thus on the way to Sunderland, what was winding me up wasn’t the prospect of United no longer being champions, but the way Steven Gerrard’s errant backpass had suddenly woven itself into both Liverpool and Chelsea’s history, a quirk of circumstance giving colour and uniqueness to something I was desperate be nondescript.
So before the game, excitement at seeing United play was for once as much reliant on the cognitive as the instinctive. It wasn’t that anyone expected anything more from Liverpool - not because they’re untrustworthy, although they are, but because they’re rubbish. And not rubbish like a scrunched up piece of paper is rubbish, but in the way of a sewer full of festering flesh, food and effluence. United deserve shames and hand-wagglings galore for losing to such an inept bunch of malcoordinated nonentities.
If only we’d been able to teleport George Courtney over to Anfield from nearby Spennymoor. A bedrock of Liverpool’s 80s success, having him reprise his uncanny knack for rescuing them one last time would have been well worth the trade-off of being permanently accessible to your parents and significant other.
Luckily the locals were on hand to lighten the mood, and what a joy it was to watch them do runway for us, smizing, finding the light and modelling H2T; Miss Jay Alexander would’ve been in raptures.
Kicking it first were a group of street cornered youths lunching on White Lightning and dispensing casual racism in the direction of any passing Asians. Closer to the ground, the crowd was a particularly dense shade of fat and a testament to many lifetimes of lipid abuse, the exception a value pack of badly tanned, haphazardly made-up, improbably thin young girls, apparently there to publicise Sunderland’s backing of England’s World Cup bid. I’m absolutely certain FIFA is taking note.
Other characters worthy of record included girls in evening dresses, girls with blue snooker chalk on their noses, many men sporting the muscles-tattoos-no hair combo, and several of the fastest eaters in the world. Though perhaps the weirdest sight was a middle-aged lady in a specially prepared half-Sunderland half-Chelsea shirt. Matching her half-and-half yellow-black hair and equally hybrid man-woman appearance, perhaps it was some kind of fancy dress theme, and certainly showed a quite remarkable level of effort, along with an equally astounding ability to care about other people’s business.
A friend of mine who watches Sunderland has often commented that, ideally, he’d do so in grounds empty save for him and a few selected family members, and it was easy to see why. And this position was only given further credence as the afternoon progressed, chants of Chelsea accompanied by strains of You’ll Never Walk Alone - smalltime to the very nth degree.
Hearing the teams, there was an enjoyable symmetry in discovering that both brothers Ferdinand adorned their respective benches, the younger model - in the loosest possible sense - not even brought on when Mensah went off, despite his formidable IQ.
The players at Sunderland walk out to what we now know as The Apprentice theme tune, about as stirring as Alan Sugar. Once the game began, United performed very well considering the circumstances, playing with authority and composure and producing the kind of getting it done show that has served them so well over the years. If only they’d have mustered the same at Blackburn.
For the second time in three weeks, the game was run by Paul Scholes, who after a ropey period has relocated his genius. Feted as a man of the people for his play the game, get showered, go home attitude, how many of us can honestly say that given such extravagant gifts, success and exchequer, we would behave in similarly unassuming fashion?
Scholes was ably supported by those around him, Vidic, Evans, Rooney and Evra playing particularly well, Giggs hampered by his own carelessness and the ineptitude of the slug-ish O’Shea behind him. Meanwhile, Nani was a constant threat and has even added tackling back to his repertoire of excellence, also meriting specific praise for the hard time he gave the horrible Richardson, now banished to left back along with the number 10 shirt he so obliviously requested.
Meanwhile, after an excellent afternoon against Spurs, Berbatov seized a bout of terrible form from nowhere, displaying the sort of Sadim effect that made it seem like losses need cutting. It’s harsh to boil down two years of being messed about in this way, but the late chances missed against Chelsea and Blackburn were his moments and he failed to embrace them, the second in particular showing a lack of composure that is the last thing you’d expect of him.
Even as the game wound down and United settled for a single goal, Sunderland could muster no real threat, the roond mooth excitement that produces such a peculiar pitch restricted to a few isolated moments. To protect the lead, Fergie brought on Ferdinand, the introduction of someone tall yet rubbish in the air a role usually filled (and then devoured) by O’Shea. And with a minute to go, on came none other than Owen Hargreaves, hair and beard exactly as you’d expect from someone who’s had a gap year or two. I wonder what a United shirt would look like in tie-dye.
Talking of the idle, it would be remiss not to mention that the 90 minutes was punctuated by bursts of police trotting up the stairs in the away end to no apparent purpose, unless there was some sort of skiver’s social club at the top of the stand. The amount of money spent on unnecessary boy dem is a gravy train that really ought to be explained: this season, for example, the only hint of trouble I’ve seen was initiated by the police and, at a game where the away allocation was cut to 1,700, you have to wonder what they can possibly have expected to unfold.
Thus it was with particular resentment that I read Greater Manchester Police’s statement this week, responding to criticism of the way they’ve treated those voicing displeasure with the Glazers. Apparently, it “has a policy of allowing peaceful protest to take place”. How very good of it! Gosh, what even-handed liberalism! But how about this: actually, it shouldn’t matter a single iota what the GMP’s “policy” is. The right to protest peacefully is enshrined in law, not within the gift of some jumped-up police chief, and anyone who suggests different can caress my divine detail.
On The Road will be available in book form as soon as possible, from www.danielharriswriter.co.uk