This has been the most exciting season I can remember, and it’s a great time to be a Manchester United fan. This is the most important part of the season, not because the games are more frequent (they are), not because the points matter more (they do) but because it’s ‘that’ time when all the season’s work kicks into gear and threatens to actually drive you to your destination. Of course, the car that is the football season could also splutter to a halt and die on the motorway. Success often promises the full distance but conks out just before the giant anchor building around the corner from the Theatre of Dreams.
Easter 1993. Remember that? The injury to the referee and the ‘never to be forgotten six minutes of injury time’ versus Sheffield Wednesday. Steve Bruce brought us from the brink of disaster with two headers and the United fans and players alike really started to show that they believed it was going to be our year. I had the same sinking feelings this Saturday against Blackburn Rovers, the minute there goal went in I thought ‘oh here we go again’. It ‘turned out nice again’ though, and it’s easy to say that now but I haven’t sat next to the radio like I did then, for ages. Begging the ball to slip into the net. Days like Saturday are exactly why I am a Manchester United supporter and exactly why I am not an England follower, I don’t have that detachable sense of pride which can be latched on to another team because it is expected. There seems to be a sense of the Sunday driver about the people that follow England, and a sense of guilt that surrounds the whole thing. Making the players feel guilty, making the manager feel guilty, making non England followers feel guilty, I don’t buy into it at all. Time was I did try and watch England, but then Channel Five was showing the annual Johnson’s paint drying championships and in comparison I couldn’t take my eyes of it. The weekend shows I made the right decision. I kicked every sodding ball and we all just knew that Brad Friedel would pull off save after save. I didn’t even really care that we won the game more than two-one, to behonest with you. That we did, was the icing on a very nice cake. It was very definitely a fist in the air moment.
There have been plenty of those games, around this time of year, where we needed to win and were making it hard and then, all of a sudden the generator kicks in, the fans roar the team, the team does the business and everyone just knows! Eric Cantona’s goal against Coventry City was another crucial one. We remember what it’s like when the ball doesn’t go in and we need it to, so when it happens its perfection.
I sat on a ferry in Bilbao once, the summer that Beckham left and this guy asks my opinion on the player’s departure. “If he goes, if goes” was my eventual response but then the guy says something that I have always agreed with. “Losing Beckham is no big deal. Lose Paul Scholes and your team is in trouble!” I couldn’t agree more, that little guy is our engine room and apart from the obvious stuff, he does the important stuff very well and you miss him when he is not there. If anyone was going to pop up and score it was going to be him, and what a goal! When we needed to up the gear we did in great fashion and it really did remind me of those two Brucey bonuses at Old Trafford in 1993. Easter is once again around the corner, the time when Alex Ferguson has always said, you know either way if it is your year or not.
“There’s still a bit to be done, but Alex Ferguson and Brian Kidd are almost celebrating the title already” said Barry Davies on Match of the Day back in 1993 at the Sheffield Wednesday game. The same is true today – there IS still work to do, and many fronts on which to do it but that game was a huge step forward. Chelsea and Manchester United going full tilt in the league and in my opinion, as red biased as it may be, the boys from the bridge looked far more panicked in their game when they hadn’t gone ahead. At one –nil down we still looked like we had it within ourselves to win the game. We can scramble the last minute victories, we have already and we will again but it was very nice to put a performance like that together when we played first, to then watch Chelsea stumble across the line against a very plucky Watford team.
That match on Saturday had echoes of every single ‘this is special’ moment I have ever experienced following Manchester United in the league. We must keep working to make sure it does not turn into a false dawn but everyone there, at home, abroad, wherever – will have felt the same thing. Everyone knew it.
“Old Trafford – This is the One!”