Archive for August, 2001
Sunday started very badly when I woke up and saw the headlines about Stam leaving for Lazio. I dismissed these as yet another space filler by the papers and got ready to head for Birmingham. The journey up from London was surprisingly easy and we were soon parked up near Villa Park in bright sunshine. Ten minutes later, having left our jackets in the car, we were in stood in the pouring rain and realised our seats were uncovered! We went for a walk around the stadium and luckily the weather cleared up. A steward told us that the United team were late as their police escort had not turned up to their hotel, and we entered the ground. There was subdued atmosphere in the United end before the game, and I was told that Kenyon had just confirmed that Stam was leaving. For the first time I actually believed the big Dutchman would never be seen in a United shirt again. What I found incredible was the blind faith people have in Sir Alex. Although there was not one red was happy about the Stam deal, equally there was not one red who publicly aired that they did not trust his judgement.
The game itself was a very disappointing performance. As expected lately, United conceded within minutes of the silence for Les Sealy, and Villa had the better of the first half. United did not have their usual rythym and when the half time whistle blew there was silence in amongst the reds. It had been a long time since United had played so badly in a competitive fixture. Strangely Fergie swapped Silvestre for Phil Neville at half time, which was peculiar when we were losing considering Solskjaer, Yorke and Cole, were also on the bench. United still looked under par throughout the second half and it was also a poor performance by the United fans. The Villa fans were taunted with chants of ’ Where are you when we’re not here’ and ‘part time supporters,’ and in typical fashion they replied with cries of ‘support your local team’. The United fans also taunted Paul Merson with renditions of ‘Merson, takes it up the nose’. Tributes to Peter Schmeichel were minimal but in any case it was great to see him again even if he was on the wrong side.
United typically equalised at the death having played well for the last 5 minutes and Villa’s cup final was over. The Brummies cried their way home and we headed back to London. Overall it was a much of a non event on and off the field, and both the performance and atmosphere had much to be desired. At least we are still unbeaten unlike the Scousers!
I don’t think I’ve ever looked forward to a new season as I am doing now. It was a long summer with no football, and the prospects of seeing Fergies last season with two great signings are nothing short of exciting. Although I’d been to the Celtic friendly and the Charity Shield, for me the season started against Fulham.
The train journey up was long but the Fulham fans were a pleasure to travel with, showing their admiration for United and talking honestly about football and their hopes for the future.
On arrival in Manchester we headed towards the ground via getting some lunch and just about made it for kick off. Due to the surprisingly dry and warm Manchester weather the ground was a sea of red except for the pocket of whites in the away section. The atmosphere up in tier two was as good as it has been for a long time although it is so self contained that the Fulham fans said they couldn’t even hear us. All the old classics were sung with very little banter between the two sets of fans except for the odd chant of ‘Chelsea rent boys’. As with the Charity Shield, Ruud Van Nistelrooy’s name was being sung as he scored, and his two quick goals sparked off pure bliss in the Strettie.
After the game his name was sung all the way back to town on the metro and his name emanated from every bar in Manchester for the rest of the day, as far as I can see he will be a big hero in years to come. The train journey home was nothing but hell and overshadowed a good game, but I’ve come to expect nothing more from certain loutish idiots who claim to be reds. I got home very late and very tired but still found time to watch the highlights and drifted off to sleep singing Ruud Van Nistelrooy la la la la la….
There was a somewhat sombre atmosphere by the fair weather fan presence in Cardiff. Due to the tickets being put on general sale many day trippers and muppets took their chance to watch the reds in action. Fair play to them, but it didn’t help the atmosphere.
When we arrived in rainy Cardiff the streets were packed with fans from both sides and it relatively peaceful, although it was later reported a United fan was stabbed. The stadium itself was an awesome sight, which rivalled any ground I’ve seen. The roof being closed did not seem to make much difference although the players later claimed it had improved what I thought what was a sour atmosphere.
The game was played competitively and I cannot honestly claim that United did not mind losing. Yet reds should take heart from the second half showing and from the class of Ruud Van Nistelrooy who brought the crowd to life. United deserved at least a draw and had it not been for the ref we surely would have won.
At the final whistle I left as quickly as possible; I will never watch Liverpool lift a trophy. We went out for a couple of drinks and had a nice meal in little Italian bistro that Giggsy and Sparky are often seen in according to the photos on the walls. The car journey home was long and tedious especially after losing to the Scousers, but I’m still pretty confident that it will be us laughing next May. I predict now that we will win the league in England, the FA Cup in Wales and finally the European Cup in Scotland.
I have never before felt like an away fan at Old Trafford, until last night that is. Anyone at Ryan’s testimonial knows that there were far more than the official allocation of 16,000 Celtic fans there. The whole City was painted green and white, every bar and pub had Irish flags hanging outside, and the noise they generated was immense.
Arriving at the ground it was already evident that it was going to be a special night. Celtic fans were so excited about their chance to play the reds, and United fans were desperate to get a glimpse of the two new signings.
Ten minutes before kick off most reds were still outside the stadium, but the Celtic end was packed full and producing a barrage of sound. Their spectacular rendition of You’ll Never Walk Alone was far more impressive than any Scouse attempt, and despite the booing from many reds, it was clear to most that this was a Celtic song long before the Scousers typically stole it.
The game itself was memorable; strange for a testimonial. United were obviously jet lagged from the Far East and the game was far more important to Celtic who needed to get ready for their up and coming European ties. Celtic took their chances well and deserved their goals, but overall the result was not important. United fans could not help but be impressed by every single touch of Van Nistelrooy who looks set to be a superb player. Veron was less consistent but showed touches of brilliance and anyone who saw his goal does not need to be told that he has the potential to be a great player.
The game paled into insignificance 15 minutes from the end when Paul Scholes was taken off. No disrespect Scholesy, but it was not because we missed you. The ground was thrown into a temporary stunned silence followed by a huge roar as it was announced that his replacement was to be Eric Cantona.
No one had known Eric was going to come on. I’m amazed that it had been kept quiet. But on he came, and for 15 minutes we remembered just how wonderful it is to watch him strut around the pitch, collar up, and control the crowd and the excitement. Eric, in typical fashion, took centre stage and took the attention away from the score, the game, the new signings and Ryan himself. But even Ryan himself was just happy to have Le Dieu on the pitch.
After the game the speeches and lap of honour were pretty standard. We headed back towards town, which, as before, was a sea of green and white. Celtic were happy to have won and the reds were in heaven too having just seen Eric, JS Veron and RVN.
Great game, great atmosphere (from the Celts at least) and a memory of just how great Eric was. Oh yeh, it was Ryan’s testimonial too