1000 League Games of Sir Alex Ferguson: Some Matches He’d Rather Forget

Congratulations to Sir Alex Ferguson on reaching yet another incredible milestone. Whatever I may think of some of his actions whilst manager of Manchester United there is no denying that it is a tremendous achievement. I had the good fortune to be in the away end at St. Mary’s last Sunday (the 1000th game) and witnessed a late comeback that has become synonymous with Ferguson’s tenure at United. 12 league titles, goals galore and a never-ending obsession with the next trophy have contributed to the successful longevity of a man who first threatened retirement just over 10 years ago.

As Ferguson himself pointed out recently, his time at the club will probably never be equalled and when he eventually retires we will witness the last grandee of football exit the game. Tributes have rightly been flowing in the wake of his 1000th league game, 599 of which have ended in a victory. I’m sure Ferguson would look at that figure and think it probably should have been more, which brings me on to the subject today; games Sir Alex Ferguson would rather forget.

The list isn’t a big or definitive one (testament again to the achievement of Ferguson) and was compiled in a chronological format solely by me. Some may argue that I’ve overlooked games like the 5-0 drubbing by Newcastle United in 1996 but when you win the league the following May those games pale into insignificance. The criteria for me is the importance of the game and also the subsequent negative impact it had on the side. If you don’t like it go and read a Chelsea blog.

Oxford United 2-0 Manchester United, 8th November 1986

It might be surprising to hear that Sir Alex’s first league match in charge ended in defeat to Oxford United. A poor United side were turned over by an Oxford United team who only just survived relegation that season. The fortunes of both clubs have significantly differed since that day with Oxford only recently regaining their football league status. United’s first season under Sir Alex only returned one league win away from home, still he could have picked a worse venue than Anfield…

Manchester United 1-2 Crystal Palace, 9th December 1989

Ferguson’s first full season in charge saw United fall short to a rampant Liverpool but this was followed by three years of turgid football that eventually led to the famous “ta ra Fergie” banner at Old Trafford. Perhaps the nadir of Ferguson’s time in charge was reached at home to Crystal Palace. The United side was filled with names that would eventually help secure their 1990s dominance but on this depressing December night Ince, Bruce, Sharpe, McClair, Pallister and Robson were booed off the park by an increasingly impatient home crowd who watched their side slump to defeat against Palace. Some might argue the 5-1 away to Manchester City was the lowest point of Ferguson’s early years and to a certain degree that is hard to argue, however this game against Palace came near the start of an 11 game win-less run that saw United briefly flirt with relegation.

The run-in, 18th-26th April 1992

Until last season this was arguably the most crushing title loss United fans had ever witnessed. United looked odds-on at the turn of the year and entering the Easter Weekend many reds were plotting their next attendance on when the league would be won. The goals dried up and it wasn’t to be as a draw at Luton, a home defeat to Nottingham Forest and two soul destroying losses at Upton Park and Anfield meant that United were denied the last old First Division. The wait for the elusive 8th league title continued.

West Ham United 1-1 Manchester United, 14th May 1995

Some games speak for themselves. United had clawed their way back into the race with 3 close wins prior to the final day and knew a win at Upton Park meant that Walkersteel funded Blackburn Rovers would have to win at Anfield. West Ham United played out of their skin in the first half and grimly clung on as Andrew Cole and United spurned chance after chance to clinch what would have been a third successive championship.

Manchester United 0-1 Arsenal, 14th March 1998

Very occasionally you have to hold your hands up and say the other team deserved it, 1998 certainly falls into that category. Arsenal won 10 consecutive league games from March to May to secure the league and stun United. Injuries conspired against United that season and a ravaged defence was unable to cope with Arsenal and Marc Overmars who left the Theatre of Dreams with 3 points and a genuine belief they could go on to lift the trophy.

Manchester United 0-1 Middlesbrough, 23rd March 2002

A costly mistake by Juan Sebastian Veron let in Alen Boksic and meant United couldn’t extend their lead in the league table over Arsenal. This win would have put United 4 points clear but defeat left them 1 ahead and Arsenal having 2 games in hand. As a result this defeat ensured the title was no longer in United’s hands and (even though they won the next four) allowed Arsenal to win the league in Manchester.

Middlesbrough 4-1 Manchester United, 29th October 2005

Inexplicably Middlesbrough appear twice in this list but it is easy to see why. With Old Trafford showing levels of dissension, (due to results and the Glazer takeover) not witnessed since the late 1980s, Ferguson watched as his United side were demolished by the ‘boro. To make matters worse Roy Keane delivered his infamous MUTV interview criticising the performances of many players and was subsequently shown the door after a glittering career at United.

Chelsea 1-0 Manchester United, 8th November 2009

Sometimes things just don’t go your way. I could have picked either game against Chelsea in this season and highlighted the luck that didn’t favour United. In the game at Stamford Bridge United played very well but were undone by a dubious free-kick and the resulting John Terry goal. The return fixture in April saw Didier Drogba score from an offside position and United miss out on a historic 4th championship in a row.

Manchester United 1-6 Manchester City, 23rd October 2011

With City winning the league on goal difference by a margin of 8 it is easy to extract the significance in this result. This game obviously wasn’t the be all and end all for the season but it’s the final entry in this list quite simply because it was 6-1, and City.

disaffectedsoul

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A Red-Tinted Preview of the Upcoming Season

Before I start it is prudent to point out that I  wrote this blog without knowing the full extent of the respective squads that would line up when the season kicked off today. They say a week is a long time in politics but that is also true of football. One needs only look to the recent on, off, on again, off again (then finally on again) Robin Van Persie and Lucas Moura sagas that have dominated Manchester United’s pre season. With the current ownership I’m never convinced they’re here until I see them on the pitch in front of me but it is easy to be positive about the Van Persie signing. I’m a realist when it comes to making predictions of this nature. No one can predict the toll a season will take on a squad, or how a certain game can alter the entire complexion of a team’s performance. So please enjoy my musings but also take them with the required pinch of salt.

It really is very close to call but I think the onus is on Manchester City to prove that they can repeat last season’s success. I’m very surprised that Roberto Mancini has, thus far, only added Jack Rodwell to his championship winning side. Whilst they were impervious in the league, particularly at home, they floundered in Europe and one would think that they should have built further. However Mancini may feel that he has a very settled side and buying big and often doesn’t always bring you silverware, as Jose Mourinho’s star-laden Chelsea found out in 2007. Mancini may have this in the back of his mind but the more likely situation is that the owners are growing concerned over the looming Financial Fair Play rules. The cynic in me is convinced they will be unenforceable but the prudent big spenders will want to hedge their bets for the moment before splashing out again.

United have it all to prove after practically throwing away the title in the closing matches at the end of last season. It is a painful memory to erase, particularly the lost lead at home to Everton and then the abject surrender at Eastlands that put the destiny of the league back in City’s hands. The signing of Robin Van Persie could prove a pivotal moment in United’s season and this, coupled with the creative injection that Shinji Kagawa could provide, may help claw back the points that were lost last season to Blackburn, Newcastle and Everton at home. The real concern for United, as it has been since the departure of Roy Keane, is the centre midfield.

Conventional wisdom in football tells you that matches are won and lost in the centre of the park. United have confounded this perceived logic with every trophy they have won since 2005, using a midfield many reds would have swapped with their rivals. The situation in this area became so desperate last season that the retired Paul Scholes was pressed into action from January onwards. Despite the evident lack of funds at Old Trafford a lot of money has been dished out since Keane’s departure without the required player(s) coming in. Time will tell if United can once again prove the midfield purists wrong.

United will benefit from the return of Captain Nemanja Vidic but I think the main drive will come from Alex Ferguson. He will have been seething at the way United lost it last season and I suspect he won’t want to hand over the reins at Old Trafford with his team playing second fiddle to the noisy neighbours.  He has stated that United will be concentrating on the League this season although I suspect that is a tactile way of saying that United aren’t good enough to compete with the best in Europe, I concur.

The title winner should come from Manchester but from the rest Chelsea probably have the best chance to upset the form book. It seems ludicrous to write off the European Champions but I’m yet to be convinced by Roberto Di Matteo’s managerial credentials. A lot will depend on the new signings and a potentially resurgent Fernando Torres but Chelsea may find the void left by Didier Drogba too big to fill.

Arsenal’s steadfast refusal to spend any serious money on players who were alive last time Liverpool won the League will undoubtedly prove to be their undoing again. Arsene Wenger prides himself on his ability to find certain types of players and with his attacking options he’s gets it right. The defence remains shaky and for that reason I can’t see them maintaining a serious challenge. The selling of their best player to United is bound to have an effect, be it galvanising or adverse.

For my top four I’ve gone for:

1. City

2. United

3. Chelsea

4. Arsenal

The beauty (and curse) of the internet is that in 10 months time we could look back on this and see how incredibly wrong I was or marvel at my genius in guessing a winner from a group of only 2-3 serious contenders. I hope for a United win and I certainly never want to witness the scenes I did in Sunderland last May, so in that sense I hope Ferguson and United can give all the ‘fake’ fans like me a season to remember.

disaffectedsoul.

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Manchester United and The IPO

It sounds like the title to some horror film and, in many ways, it is just that. The Glazer family’s debt nightmare is increasingly starting to bite and horrifically affect the ability of United to field a title winning side. This isn’t a new phenomenon; one need only look to the recent failed pursuits of Wesley Sneijder and Samir Nasri to see that United simply cannot compete in the upper echelons of the transfer market. The signing of League Two striker Nick Powell seems to perfectly highlight the frailties United face on the balance sheet, their strategy now confined to taking chances on promising youngsters rather than going after the world class alternatives. I wish the young lad every success but it is hard not to compare his arrival to the multi-million pound signing of Ruud Van Nistelrooy in 2001 and think something might be amiss. It is ironic to hear some fans defend this policy and trumpet the “no value in the market” maxim espoused by the manager when we have pilloried Arsene Wenger’s similar methodology for 7 trophy-less years.

For those of you who like facts and figures player purchases between 2009-2011 were £124.86m, player sales were £152.87m. The net spend was £-28m. During the same period United paid £244.916m in interest on the debt. Wasn’t it David Gill who once remarked that “debt was the road to ruin”? It’s certainly the road to mediocrity in the Premiership.

I’m no financial expert, I’ll leave the bulk of that to those in the relevant fields (if you are not a regular reader of Andersred blog then you need to seriously question your outlook) but there is an irresistible flood drowning our great club and it threatens to cripple it for the foreseeable future. Not crippled in the Glasgow Rangers sense, but certainly enough to ensure our “noisy neighbours” at the Etihad consistently enjoy more scenes like they did last May.

Even the Glazers recognise the debt has become unmanageable, which brings me onto the Initial Public Offering (IPO) of Manchester United. I’ve only recently discovered this particular financial mechanism and I doubt I’m alone in that regard. Over the last year Facebook’s IPO spectacularly flopped and Manchester United have been threatening an IPO in the Far East since late 2010. Initially Hong Kong and Singapore were considered but the Glazers have opted for a ‘home ground’ flotation on the New York Stock Exchange.

As part of this flotation the club has issued a standard registration document similar to the prospectus that helped sell the bonds in January 2010. That bond booklet helped kick-start a mass visual protest for the rest of the season that caused widespread public embarrassment to the Glazer family. Ultimately the protest was as futile as the resistance back in 2005, but an indelible mark has been left on those in Old Trafford’s boardroom. Don’t expect anywhere near the same reaction to this particular plan.

So what does this document reveal? There is one horrific section that really underlines the whole sorry saga and I am grateful to the Guardian’s David Conn for putting it more succinctly than I ever could:

“The Glazer family will retain control, via their company, Red Football LLC, registered in the low-tax US State of Delaware: “Upon completion of this offering, Red Football LLC will remain our [Manchester United’s] principal shareholder and will continue to be owned and controlled by the six lineal descendants [five sons and one daughter] of Mr Malcolm Glazer.”

The Manchester United company to be floated has been registered in the Cayman Islands. Investors will be invited to buy class A shares in that company, which will carry 10 times less the voting rights of the B shares the Glazers will issue to themselves. Nor is there a plan to pay dividends to the investors. They are asked to buy shares in the expectation their value will increase as Manchester United, described in the document as “one of the world’s leading brands”, further exploits its commercial potential.

If this goes through as planned then a Delaware Company will own a Cayman Islands’ registered entity known as Manchester United. Somehow I doubt this is what the founders of Newton Heath LYR F.C. had in mind when they formed the club 134 years ago. The Manchester City chants of “you don’t come from Manchester” have never rung more true.

The other glaring fact in this debacle is that, despite offering a large chunk (the actual size could change as the $100 million dollar offering is a placeholder with the offering likely to extend up to $1 billion) of the club in the IPO, the Glazers will still retain almost complete control. Their shares will carry 10 times the voting rights of those issued and they will also be able to block potential dividends to investors. A layman may naturally ask at this stage what are the benefits to any potential investors? On the surface there doesn’t appear to be many but this has not hampered Google’s similar share scheme. So despite pillaging the club for over £500 million since 2005 they will potentially be in a stronger and financially more secure position than ever before.

The problem for supporters is that the prestige and ‘brand’ of United may carry them through this IPO despite the financial misgivings, however it is worth noting that The Economist and The Financial Times have been scathing in their review of this particular IPO. Its actual take up will be closely monitored.

The registration document provides some startling revelations regarding the finances of Manchester United. The Glazers have notoriously guarded the keys to the safe and have only released information when they’ve needed to get the begging bowl out. One paragraph tucked away in the dividend section reveals that the Glazers paid themselves a £10 million dividend, conveniently cancelling out an earlier interest-free loan for a similar figure. Simply breathtaking. Equally galling is the open admission that the debt hampers United’s ability to compete, although this surprise has been lessened somewhat by common sense and a similar risk analysis in the bond prospectus.

Also it has been pointed out elsewhere that the cash balance of the club has taken a dramatic hit over the last 9 months:

“There was a net cash drain of £124m during the nine months ending March 31 2012 in comparison to a £50m drain the previous nine months ending March 31 2011. The total cash as of March 31 2012 on United’s books was £26m – compared to £150m on June 30th 2011. During the nine month period in question the club have paid £43m in interest expenses, £55m purchasing new players and £28m buying back outstanding debt. The club has always told the fans that the money is there in the bank to spend on players, but now we know that this is not the case.”

The information for the above is located on page 63 of the registration document.

The crucial issue for this particular IPO is the timing. The Glazers have offered investors an IPO that attempts to sell United against the backdrop of accounts from the 2010-2011 season. This was a very successful year for a United side that regained the league title and made it to the final of the European Cup. It doesn’t take an Andersred to recognise that last season’s results will be far less forgiving as United finished runners up and were unceremoniously dumped out of the European Cup at the group stage. If they fail to make United an attractive investment proposition on the earlier figures then they will have no chance with the substantially lessened and more recent ones.

It all makes for thoroughly depressing reading and this is all too often the case when it comes to Manchester United. It is sad to note that most of the media ignores the inconvenient truth surrounding United and their precarious finances. It is even more unfortunate that the vast majority of supporters dismiss legitimate concerns with a cursory nod towards the trophy cabinet. As ever I hope for a Manchester United Football Club free from the burdens of Glazer and the debt, although I won’t be holding my breath.

Regular readers of my blog will note that I took issue with Sir Alex Ferguson’s reign in my last post. It seems I’m not alone in that regard as this Patrick Collins article in The Daily Mail shows.

disaffectedsoul.

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“Nobody can match their financial power, no one,”….

…..so said Sir Alex Ferguson in the week preceding one of the darkest on-field days of my United supporting life. Ferguson and David Gill are happy to echo this line when it suits whilst failing to acknowledge the primary reason for this budget disparity continues to leech off United somewhere in Florida. We all know that to be the Glazer family, we also know all too well the reasons behind their ascendancy to the throne room of Old Trafford. How was Sir Alex Ferguson complicit in the financial pillaging of Manchester United? Because he was probably the one man who could have stopped it. When push came to shove “the Godfather” we idolised for so many years went missing, and to cap it all he told a section of the hardcore support that if they didn’t like it they could “go watch Chelsea”. Ferguson’s legacy is irreparably damaged, both by his failure to espouse the socialist principles he claims to hold so dear in 2005, and by his row over Rock of Gibraltar that greatly contributed to the Glazer takeover of Manchester United. Harsh truths that too many United fans conveniently ignore or excuse away with Fergie’s trophy haul, if you don’t like what I’m telling you then fuck off and go watch Sky Sports News.

The problem with Sir Alex Ferguson is that it is nigh on impossible to distance the man from Manchester United Football Club. Confused? Let me elaborate. Ferguson has held the reins for so long at United that we forget he is not one of us. He is not a fan, he is a man who is exceedingly good at his job, probably the best the game has ever known, but that is where his affiliation to Manchester United ends. We have been a largely happy marriage for over 25 years but the last 7 have left a bitter taste. United was around long before he arrived and I hope that, in spite of his actions, it will continue long after he departs. His tenure has been glorious but also utterly devastating to the long-term welfare of the club. I don’t believe the club will cease to exist, United’s unparalleled ability to make money will probably ensure we survive but, by Ferguson’s own admission, we cannot “match their financial power”.

Sir Alex is probably right to a degree, even an unrestrained United probably couldn’t match the Arab fuelled billions currently sloshing around the Etihad. He’s also right in saying City pay stupid money and silly salaries but the elephant in the room is we could certainly be a damn sight closer financially with the right ownership model. Since 2005 David Gill has regaled us all with the “healthy debt” Manchester United have, do me a favour David because I didn’t feel particularly well watching the Blue third of Manchester greet their mercenaries on the parade route. You see Mr Gill and I radically differ on our outlook on United’s financial health. As long as United continue to keep their head above water and meet debt repayments then all is well for our esteemed Chief Executive, I myself see over £500 million pounds being spent on nothing more than debt, whilst our free spending neighbours win the league and make serious noises about improving again in the summer. No one will be able to tell me that £500 million could not have made us more competitive with the new Manchester City.

Ferguson made his own bed and he was finally made to lie in it last weekend. The title wasn’t lost then of course, despite the spectacularly gutting conclusion. For a microcosm of the season we need look no further than the recent Manchester derby. Ferguson, constrained by his own fear and finances was forced to field a team that included a recently retired legend and a Welsh winger whose main scoring now occurs off the pitch. They have been great servants to the club but I fail to see a Ferguson managed, Glazer-free United, allowing them to form the midfield backbone for the most important derby this side of 1973. Ferguson has been known to spend big throughout his time at the club, as the Yorke, Veron and Ferdinand signings testify. These big money signings have all but dried up since 2005, Berbatov being the notable exception. He is also famous for his ruthlessness in disposing of those he sees as surplus to requirements; the names of Stam, Hughes, Kanchelskis, Ince, Keane and Van Nistelrooy are synonymous with this. The tightening of the purse strings have meant this is a luxury he can no longer afford, with the 2010 Rooney saga perfectly highlighting that fact. Ferguson acknowledged these limitations in his selection and tactics. He did not feel his United squad could cope with City and, as a result, sent his side out to draw. City were worthy winners against a United team that barely mustered an effort on goal. We lost the match, we lost the league and perhaps we lost the final embers of the Manchester United style that attracted so many of us to the club.

I’ll have to add the caveat that if anyone can win the league with this United team then Ferguson is that man. His ability since 2005 to scrape together Championship winning sides has been remarkable. He’s been like Dr Richard Kimble continually evading capture against increasingly longer odds, unfortunately for all concerned the chickens are coming home to roost.

I was proud of our support at Sunderland on Sunday. We were loud, we were defiant and we continued to be so after that torturous end to the season. The after match festivities probably mean we’ll get a reduced allocation next season but that would have happened anyway as I’m sure I saw a Red sneeze too loudly in the ground at one point.

It makes me sad to think of what we were, what we could be without Malcolm Glazer and what we are with him. The terrace chant “Man United we’ll support you evermore” has never been more poignant as, unlike Ferguson, we’ll always be here.

Chelsea has never been an option.

disaffectedsoul.

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A revived Scoreboard Paddock, or “Welcome to L”?

For the few of us who populate United’s main online forums the recent hot topic has been the announcement of a new singing section at Old Trafford. The section’s creation has been spearheaded by well-known red Pete Boyle who met with the club prior to United’s recent narrow win against Fulham. Boyle’s plan has coincided perfectly with the club’s decision to move away fans into tier 3 of the Sir Alex Ferguson Stand from the start of next season. This has created a sizeable void and thus enabled the birth of a new singing section. I sat in K Stand near the away end divide for a few seasons and I can assure you that it is the best place in Old Trafford to create some noise. The acoustics of the low hanging South Stand roof will ensure a racket is made and if the section is managed correctly then I have no doubt that, in the short-term, it will be a success.

For those unaware of Pete Boyle he is a relatively well-known red who has spent the majority of his life traversing across the globe following United. His mugshot appears in this MEN article by Andy Mitten regarding the singing section. Boyle has had his critics, I recall one tale where he burned his season ticket renewal form in front of television cameras during the takeover in 2005 only to then tell a big United fans meeting in the Methodist Hall that he would be returning to Old Trafford the following season, que sera sera. What’s done is done and I genuinely wish this idea every success.

Let’s forget the new section for a moment and look at United’s choice of away “end” location for next season. When I used to sit in K Stand the only semblance of an atmosphere occurred when there was a big game or a slice of banter with the opposition supporters. If the two coincided then you had decent matches, the one that immediately springs to mind is the 1-0 victory over Chelsea in the early part of 05/06. A friend of mine once described “the last hurrah” of K Stand being the win over City in the 2004 FA Cup run, unfortunately he may have been right. I felt the club’s decision to move the away fans was going to have a detrimental effect on the atmosphere and perhaps for that reason it is lucky Boyle et al have stepped in with this proposal.

What does the creation of a singing section actually show about the state of the support inside Old Trafford? It’s a damning indictment that the quiet inside Old Trafford necessitates the need for this new section. Boyle has termed the section “The Scoreboard Paddock” in reference to a bygone era of more vociferous crowds and swashbuckling football. Another poster on Red Issue amusingly stated they would be making a Galatasaray style banner with “Welcome to L”, this being the old 1980’s name (L Stand) for the singing section. The area has to avoid the pitfalls that killed the previous singing section at Old Trafford in Stretford End tier 2. The section started well but was diluted by fans wanting to sit and soak in the atmosphere but not contribute to it. Over zealous stewarding, over fussy supporters and poor acoustics all ensured that the prawn sandwich mentality wormed its way into the traditional home of United’s vocal support. Let’s not forget the impact of the odious Stretford End Flags group and their squirrel faced leader, if there has ever been a football organisation that needed a significant dose of karma then I have yet to hear of them. I doubt the Glazers’ overpricing or the boycotting that ebbed away United’s hardcore support aided matters either.

The singing section will be a success in the short-term. There will be a honeymoon period where those who (hopefully) stand there will be boisterous and will noticeably increase the volume inside the ground. For the real acid test let’s see how the section looks and sounds in 2, 5 or 10 years time. I fear there will be another young buck like me blogging with feverish excitement over the creation of yet another singing section that will revitalise Old Trafford circa 2022, “Welcome to L” indeed. If the overpricing that infests the game and Old Trafford is not addressed then all these ideas and schemes are just window dressing around a much more endemic problem.

Onto the pitch and as City bottle it, and Kenny continues to lose it, the title looks more likely to be heading towards M16 the closer we get to May. Since the Everton game City have looked ragged and the free-flowing football that was evident in so many of their early victories has disappeared quicker than a twitter induced grief-fest (#prayfor20). They are all big games at this stage in the season and let’s hope United take full advantage at Ewood Park tomorrow. With no European distractions United should be able to carry on winning the games they have left. A quick glance at the fixture list and giddy reds could even be forgiven a daydream about securing the title at Eastlands, now that would surely be as far removed from “L” as a red could possibly be….

disaffectedsoul.

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Big win on the pitch, more nails in the coffin off it

Manchester United cleared a big hurdle in the title race on Sunday afternoon with a 3-1 win at White Hart Lane. Despite United’s exemplary recent record against Spurs many would have marked this game down as a potential for dropped points. United were far from their best, especially in the first half, but champions often find enough and three excellent moments from Ashley Young proved decisive. United can now look forward to the rest of March and they must see the next 4 league games as winnable. Gary Neville quite rightly stated you “don’t win football matches on paper” and if United want to win the league this season then they may need to be pitch-perfect in the remaining fixtures.

The modern game is a cruel mistress and whilst she giveth with one hand on the pitch she continues to taketh away off it. For the 3rd season running United fans received a reduced allocation at White Hart Lane with the away following cut to just under 2000. This makes the inevitable scramble for tickets much harder and, despite excellent work by the Football Supporters’ Federation (FSF) and independent United blog www.redsaway.com, the problem appears far from resolution. For non-United fans the pressures of limited allocations may seem like an alien concept so allow me to briefly elaborate. United is one of a handful of clubs where demand for domestic away tickets consistently outstrips the supply. Part of this problem is clearly unavoidable as most grounds only provide 2500-3000 spaces for the away support. The problem is being exacerbated by clubs like Spurs who hide behind safety concerns and consistently cut the area to which United are entitled. United fans weren’t even allowed an alcoholic beverage at half-time (if you can call the plastic encased urine served at the kiosk ‘a beverage’) and this is presumably a further extension of health and safety garble.

The issue is not limited to Spurs as in recent seasons travelling reds have faced cuts at Liverpool, Sunderland, Newcastle, Bolton, City and Villa. The recent Liverpool cup match was particularly disappointing as the body responsible for cutting the allocation admitted that United fans had “behaved” at the earlier league meeting between the two sides but that the reds still required an additional (and needless) 500 unsold seats for segregation purposes in the Anfield Road End.

The reasons given for these cuts are as silly as they are predictable; persistent standing, a failure to keep gangways clear and an “attitude” towards staff. I can’t help but feel that the latter point would be greatly reduced if stewards did not have to enforce the seating regulations but that’s a story for another time.

Let’s not pretend United fans are obedient angels, as any staff on duty at Oakwell one night will tell you, but these occurrences are the exception and plenty of other teams’ fans will have engaged in similar behaviour and not received comparable punishments.

United recently cut the allocation of Liverpool fans at Old Trafford and unfortunately this was generally approved of by the match going support. This compounds the problem as the more acceptable it becomes the more it will occur. Tit for tat cuts are not the answer and I severely disapprove of United’s stance on this. We (the fans) are our own worst enemies at times because, despite being treated with contempt, we continue to purchase the tickets offered to us with no more than a derisory nod or perhaps the odd groan in the pub. I mentioned earlier that www.redsaway.com do a lot of good work in this regard but that site can only do so much on its own.

“What is the answer?” As with so many of these fan issues it is the Germans who are leading the way. In September 2010 the 77th Revierderby between Schalke and Borussia Dortmund was the subject of a boycott by visiting Dortmund supporters. Dortmund fan groups resented being charged €22 for a standing ticket and over 300 supporters’ clubs encouraged members not to attend. Whilst the issues are slightly different the principle remains the same, withhold your custom and the business of football will be forced to take notice. This protest is even more remarkable given that the equivalent fixture in England would probably be United-Liverpool. The Germans understand fan power and a cursory glance at the internet reveals Dortmund fans have recently been at it again with another successfully attended protest in Hamburg. Will the German supporters be triumphant in the long run? Only time will tell but they are certainly not going down the same meek path of apathy and surrender exhibited this side of the Channel.

On the subject of ticket prices it can’t be ignored that Bilbao have announced the price of the away leg for visiting United fans will be £77.50. Understandably many reds are choosing not to bother with the trip and/or the game, including my usual group who have decided against travelling.

One price tag that will have escaped the attention of many is the £65 England supporters will be charged for the Norway friendly in Oslo on May 26th. £65 for a friendly is utter lunacy and the fact that is the cheapest in the ground underscores the whole absurdity of it all. Oslo is one of the most expensive cities in Europe and I would imagine the majority of England fans will reserve their hard earned for summer festivities in the Ukraine.

To conclude I’ll come back to my point from earlier, United or England supporters paying those prices or accepting unfair treatment are their own worst enemies, let’s take a leaf out of the Germans’ book.

disaffectedsoul.

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Neville was right, the game is shite

In fairness Gary Neville didn’t directly say that at all, but he did touch on a very important point regarding the recent match at Old Trafford between United and Liverpool. Neville stated that the game needs “a bit of needle” and that he liked the animosity between the two sides. Let’s be honest the game was far more enjoyable for it and I probably took more pleasure from that match than I have for quite some time.

“Why?!” I hear no one cry, simply because the game, the farce surrounding it and the general ambience was entertaining. Let’s not pretend Old Trafford was a cauldron of noise but the whole sorry Suarez saga helped stir up some dormant passions not witnessed since we did a number on City over two years ago. It’s a sad state of affairs when a decent game comes along once in a proverbial ‘blue moon’ but we’ll leave that discussion for another time.

You see what Gary Neville recognises (and more admirably isn’t afraid to say) is that what made these games of old was the hatred between the two sides. Supporters didn’t turn up back then to enjoy a happy clappy day at the ‘footie’, sit in passive silence and then complain about the traffic they’d be stuck in. For United fans of a certain age or mindset the word Liverpool conjures up images of Greenhoff in ’79, Robson ’85 or even Beardsmore ’89. These games are probably known just as much for what happened off the pitch, particularly the semi-finals. Those games quintessentially represented what United Liverpool was all about, the Suarez-Evra spat cannot hold a candle to those memories but it was probably as close as we’ll get in the modern era.

Strangely whilst the ground itself seemed to be fairly boisterous the main drama was only witnessed by those watching it on the box. Suarez managed to show himself up as the detestable character he is before a ball had even been kicked and the only downside to the game must surely be that Evra failed to ‘reduce’ him 40 seconds into the match. I watched it on the television and visited a spectrum of emotions I’ve not frequented in a while. Don’t think I’m bouncing around the room like a goon screaming an obscenity at an animation in front of me but I was unreservedly delighted at the end. The perfect conclusion to the clash came with the Kenny Dalglish interview; it was the icing on the cake. Never mind Kenny, see that bed you’ve made over there? Please go and lie in it.

Sometimes I manage to get things right. Those of you who read my previous post on football punditry will have seen the scathing comments I directed toward some of our football ‘experts’. Jamie Redknapp, “take a bo’ son” as you managed to encapsulate my points beautifully during and after the Liverpool game. Redknapp’s drivel was galling even by his limited standards but then what does one expect of a commentator hired for his style rather than his substance.

On the subject of great rivalries it can’t have escaped the attention of most that one half of the Old Firm is now teetering on the brink. Someone on a forum I frequent said “I’m no Rangers fan but fuck me, a man on par with the Glazers I never thought I’d find”. Craig Whyte is corrupt businessman and a recent BBC documentary into his previous enterprises certainly shows Rangers will be his next victim. I agree with my forum colleague in that I’m no fan of Rangers, I’m no fan of Celtic either but their derbies are worth tuning in for. The sad fact is that Scottish football is already on its arse and this will not help. Celtic and Rangers feed off their rivalry and the rest of the country survives on the commercial titbits they throw from the table. With Rangers collapsing the potential consequences could be far reaching and, whilst they may be vilified for some of their supporters’ actions, I can’t help but think the game would be poorer without them. Time will undoubtedly tell.

This news has taken the shine off the safe standing campaign that has recently been gaining some common sense momentum in Scotland, my sincerest regards to anyone involved in this excellent endeavour.

I’ll round off with a personal revelation. I was in Amsterdam with United on Thursday, enjoying myself, and the conversation turned to the rest of the season. It dawned on me that I might only have one game left to attend and for the middle of February that saddens me. My circumstances may change but with work commitments and the increasingly prohibitive cost it might mean that my season signs off at an even earlier date next year. Shit.

disaffectedsoul.

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