The Week At United: Oh What A Night, Late In January In 2016…

I took my daughters to see a pantomime on Saturday afternoon. It was booked a long time in advance and without the foresight of of a set-in-stone FA Cup 3rd Round fixture list, so whether or not it would clash with United came down to pure chance. As soon as you have children, for most at least, they immediately become your first priority, roundhouse kicking your football team into a distant second place. That’s not to say that United don’t remain incredibly important, for a whole bunch of reasons. My ingenuity at engineering situations where my daughters are doing something at home that is fun but passive and requires as little practical input from me as possible for approximately an hour and forty-five minutes on a Saturday or Sunday, allowing me to peer at my iPad or the TV in between or at the same time as colouring in the wing of a fairy or a princesses long hair, is now legendary in my own household. Or it used to be.

Last Saturday, by coincidence, it turned out that if all transport links and performance times ran as planned I’d be home about ten minutes before United kicked off against Sheffield United. Normally I’d be well chuffed with my good fortune. But Manchester United and normality have been firmly separated this season. It’s a measure of the depths of tedium, incompetence, stupefying boredom and anger that Louis Van Gaal’s side now inflict on and engender in their fans on a weekly basis that any anticipation and excitement about the next game and the weekend in general, has long since left the building. I’d go further and say that rather than look forward to watching United I now actively dread it. The idea of it and the actual act of watching them. It’s become a habitual exercise in masochism, the unhappiest and most miserable part of any week. I struggle to care anymore. I’m not entirely emotionless about it; I want United to win (or I did until Saturday) a victory makes me feel a little better (or did), but only in the sense that it postpones me having to think about the quite unbelievable decline of my football team, particularly regarding their style and performance levels. The football is the most sterile, unimaginative, negative, tedious bilge I have seen in nearly thirty-five years of watching United. I’ve twice seen my team spend a significant amount of time knocking around the relegation zone, yet the potential for excitement and being lifted off my seat by something magical has never been as absent as it is now.

On Saturday we did get home from the pantomime just before kick off and my exhausted daughters collapsed onto the sofa to watch a DVD before tea. I wasn’t happy to have made kick-off though. I was actually pretty p*ssed off that the show hadn’t overrun or the train been delayed. I was going to have to watch United, the worst part of my week. The previous weekend my girlfriend and I had spent time staying at her best friend’s house in North Wales. There were eight of us in the house and the other seven had plans for the Saturday afternoon which I knew my girlfriend would prefer me to take part in. I could have made excuses or tried to engineer a change in those plans in order to watch the Swansea game, but for the first time I didn’t. Are United worth putting everyone else out for? So we went to the cinema and out for a meal and it was utterly liberating. I checked the score every fifteen minutes on my phone, but felt removed from it. It felt good. Because United had won I watched the game back when we got home, simply because I’d forgotten what winning felt like, but I felt little of the usual emotional experience. I realised that for the first time not watching United is a far more positive experience in my life than watching them. Sadly I would have no such excuse for the Sheffield United game. I was home, it was on, and I didn’t have a compelling moral reason to offer my subconscious for avoiding it like the plague.

The Pantomime we went to see was Sleeping Beauty, a charming tale with which I am sure you are all familiar. A beautiful, talented, happy girl, who lights up the lives of all who know her, has a spell cast on her by the wicked Maleficent and on her sixteenth birthday she pricks her finger on a spinning wheel and falls into a deep sleep for a hundred years. Around her, everyone else in the palace also drifts into unconsciousness and over time a once magnificent building becomes overgrown and almost completely derelict. Throughout the quite frankly disgusting United performance on Saturday I couldn’t help thinking that there were parallels with my football club. Once famed for the beauty and adventure in its football and fairytale storylines, the evil Louis Van Gaaleficent has cast a spell, sucking the life and soul out of them, poisoning them to a degree that they have fallen into a coma. All those who lay eyes upon them also fall into a deep sleep. Whilst it is currently difficult to put a timescale on the length of this paralysis it does currently feel like it may last at least a hundred years.

As well as taking great joy out of and experiencing such excitement watching United over the years, even when they were relatively poor, I also greatly enjoy writing. It’s my thing. Sometimes I get paid for it, sometimes I do it for free. I write about United for The Faithful because I enjoy it and think that people enjoy reading my stuff, or at least feel that it rings true with their own emotions or experiences as a fan of the club. This has always been a labour of love. Or it used to be. But increasingly I’ve come to feel like commenting on United has become a chore. I don’t look forward to it any more than I anticipate the games themselves. How many times can you write the same thing every week? United are dreadful, boring and joyless and I remain staggered that Van Gaal is still in a job. EVERY WEEK. Today I would rather have gone to the dentist for a filling that spent my time writing this, but it is a commitment I made and I don’t let people down. But what more can I say? United plumbed new depths against a struggling League One side whose fans were convinced on social media that they were going to get a spanking. As it was, if you could have used technology to remove the distinctive features of the visitors’ kit and faces and shown the match to a fan of another club, he or she would struggle to identify the standard of the opposition. For, at United, every home game is almost entirely the same. Possession and territory are dominated, two holding midfielders are deployed, nothing much is created or conceded, there are hardly any chances and the away side are made to look like the masters of the Catenaccio. Dog and Duck or Man City, they all look the same. United lack adventure, a cutting edge, any excitement whatsoever, joy and soul. At half time, with their side creating absolutely nothing (for the tenth consecutive home game), many fans decided to stay in the concourse and enjoy their beers, some returning when the second half was 10-15 minutes old. The didn’t miss anything and nor would they go on to see much either. So abject were United that by the hour mark I’d come to the conclusion that I didn’t want us to score. We didn’t deserve to and Sheffield United didn’t deserve to lose. As it was hearts would be broken in the 93rd minute, when Rooney fired home a penalty. I didn’t cheer, didn’t feel any positive emotion and, to be honest, felt embarrassed to win a game like that. Subconsciously it also felt like the victory would prolong this Van Gaal poison, giving Woodward another excuse to maintain the status quo as he protects his own ar*e and reputation. This club is FUBAR, from top to bottom.

Post-match Van Gaal’s press conference was as nonsensical as humanly possible. As the paucity of attacking nous was dissected by the present media, the manager retorted, “But how many chances have Sheffield United created? Nobody is talking about that. Nobody is talking about the fantastic defence of Sheffield United”. League One Sheffield United, away at Manchester United. He also opined that it is “easier to defend than attack” and suggested that when teams come and sit back they are incredibly hard to break down. That’s only the case for teams who aren’t totally predictable and thus ludicrously easy to defend against. Van Gaal bemoaned the lack of pace on the flanks, using Juan Mata as an example of a player not equipped to play there. These points beg the questions, with £250m spent why don’t you have pace on the wings and given that Ashley Young and Memphis Depay are quick wingers, why keep picking a player in Mata who you think doesn’t have the attributes to play there?

Post-match Paul Scholes let loose, suggesting that he, the fans and even the players are bored. He’s wrong. We’ve all gone way past bored. Like Sleeping Beauty this great club is in a coma and is shedding the continued interest and unquestioning commitment of its fans and its appeal to global businesses by the day. Every second Van Gaal remains the greater the damage being done and the paying customers, who seem to be the priority for the club, will drift away. In recent weeks it has been noticeable how the number of spare tickets being touted on social media is growing exponentially. With two young children from a previous relationship weekends are a no-no for me. I try to get to as many midweeks with my girlfriend as I can, which at the moment is not many. We had planned to go to the Europa League games, for as long as United remain in the competition, but each trip, for the two of us, costs the best part of £250-300. Am I going to pay £300 for this? Not a chance. It’s not worth the time, let alone the money. And so I will put that on hold, as so many others are, until there is a change of manager. I’ve no excuse, however, not to watch United on Tuesday at Newcastle, or at the weekend at Liverpool, when I have provisionally planned to meet up for the first time with a Red local to me whose path I crossed on Twitter to spread the suffering around.

On Sunday morning, in the Sunday Times, Jonathan Northcroft, the club owner’s and managers favourite bum-puppet, revealed that Ed Woodward is growing increasingly confident of acquiring Gareth Bale at some indeterminate future date. The journalist recounted how the United EVP uses dreadful, cheesy golf analogies to describe how advanced a transfer is. “Still on the tee”, “on the fairway” etc. Cringe. It was an embarrassingly obvious bit of Woodward briefing to deflect from the utter sh*te the fans and world are witnessing on the pitch. The following was tweeted by @unitedrant and hit the nail on the head rather:

‘Ed Woodward’s hymn sheet:

Crap performance?
Brief press
Add usual names
Make it long-term and fanciful”

United are being managed by a clueless dinosaur and run by a clueless banker-w*nker and his distant, dollar-driven superiors. We’re in the 4th round of the FA Cup, but I don’t care anymore. My club has lost its soul and, like Sleeping Beauty, will lie in a coma until the right man comes along to wake us up. Until then, as far as what happens on the pitch is concerned, I’m past giving a f*ck.

2037 words. FML.

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