So here we are at the business end of the season, with just a handful of games remaining – 7 as things stand, hopefully 8, 7 or 8 games that will determine whether United can win a historic double, or retain the Premier League while suffering European heartbreak, or let the league slip though winning the European Cup, or even (God Forbid) faltering completely in the last stretch and having no shiny new toys to polish and display over the summer.
For fans of a football team, as you get older, you realise that these other teams competing with you have invested just as heavily in time, effort, finance and emotion to get to the same stage – yet why do we regress to the child like emotion of feeling like we’re the “goodies” defeating the “baddies”? He-Man to Skeletor, Teenage Mutant Hero (or Ninja?! What’s all that about) Turtles to Krang, Batman to Joker/Penguin/Riddler, etc, the list goes on. In essence, you know that the baddies are not as good or as strong as you, but you know if you show one flinch, one little weakness and they can get you momentarily.
I don’t know, maybe it’s just me that feels that way, maybe it’s a result of pre-conditioning in this all consuming media era – maybe having lived through such a cynical age, where success breeds contempt, where such beauty in the game is met with jealousy while inferior products are lavished with praise in a blatantly transparent attempt to undermine superiority, maybe it’s that feeling that despite several attempts at being knocked down (and god knows, we’ve been on our knees a few times) a last minute winner, or a comprehensive 3 or 4 nil battering (read, football masterclass) of your closest rivals still feels like a triumph of good over evil, especially as a Manchester United fan.
Was I alone in feeling a sense of justification when Ryan Giggs tore Arsenal’s defence in 1999, the football equivalent of a man deciding not to climb a mountain, but barge through it waving a victory flag and planting it? Was I alone in feeling the same defiant justification when David Beckham slotted in a FA Cup semi final winner in 1996 at Villa Park, the same ground we were defeated 8 months previous to prompt certain sections of the media to signal the death knell of Fergie’s domination? Was I alone in living the football dream in 1999 as movie-storyline games against Liverpool, Arsenal, Juventus, Barcelona and Bayern Munich gave us the comic book scenarios while the rest of the country were willing us to defeat? Was I alone in feeling that our title win last season was akin to David slaying the Goliath of Chelsea despite all the odds, and still with a bunch of local lads supplying the vital infratstructure? No. And I’m pretty sure I’m not alone in feeling that this season, the likes of Ryan Giggs and Paul Scholes are doing their Rocky Balboa “one more round, don’t know when they’re beaten” act, supplying class and experience to show the likes of Ronaldo and Rooney the way – scratch that, the Manchester United way.
As a supporter of the club that has provided more Roy of the Rovers style storylines than even a writer could dream up, it completely amazes me how we are constantly overshadowed for any real recognition, but in actual fact, that lack of recognition makes every such victory all the more sweeter. The fear of failure is a real one – the price you pay as a United fan is you don’t get the pat on the backs from supporters of other clubs no matter how great the achievement, but in defeat, they are all vultures – it is a situation exclusive to United – Chelsea came close but were still receiving kudos for their financially fuelled domination by the time the Red Devils reclaimed their spot at the top of the tree.
But then, I’m sure every supporter feels this way..!
On Sunday we play Arsenal, baddies because of the 1990 brawl, baddies because Cantona was inexplicably sent off there in 94, baddies because they have not once accepted defeat against us with dignity, baddies because of Keown, Vieira et al in the 2003 brawl rematch, baddies because of Pizzagate, baddies because being outclassed in such a style that they are “renowned” for, they resort to kicking then moan when others do it to them. Baddies primarily because in all of the above situations, Arsenal, their players and management, were the antagonizers.
Add, of course, the sizeable sprinkling of media fawning they get for achievements that place them nowhere but firmly in the shadow of ours, then of course there is a little resentment – just not in the way that L’Arse fans think. The biggest pain of all is listening to them with their Andy Gray / Martin Tyler commissioned beliefs, Sky Sports supplied nicknames, armed with a defence that because the ex-Arsenal / Liverpool pundit board on Sky or BBC say nothing but good about Arsenal, it must be true, and weaned on a diet of drivel given by their manager, who clearly lives in a world where Arsenal have never done any wrong – they will always take the righteous “we’re no angels” yet vehemontly defend the undefendable with the most inane, incredulous patter you are likely to hear – failing that, of course, there’s always myopia.
If – and it’s a big if – our goodies can triumph against these media created “whizkids” (they are a good team, don’t get me wrong, but so are Liverpool..) on Sunday we will have taken a giant step psychologically towards the title, until our next “baddies” contest, at Stamford Bridge, a fortress they haven’t been defeated at in the league for a million years – as things stand, United could potentially write their own story by winning the league there. What sweeter way, in this of all years?