New Year’s Day at Old Trafford

January 3, 2008

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The year ended on a sour note for Manchester United, who lost their last game of 2007, and their lead in the Premiership. The league champions opened their New Year campaign against struggling Birmingham. A substantial win was anticipated. But all did not go according to plan…

It had been a sad end to the year. There had been an unexpected loss to West Ham United. There had been adverse headlines also about a bawdy off-piste party organized and attended by the players. One first-team starlet was arrested and charged with rape. A furious Ferguson had imposed a ban of silence over the affair, and serious fines on all the players involved.

Commentators and fans were suggesting that Sir Alex was losing his touch as a manager, in failing to appreciate the team’s urgent need for a world-class striker. Ferguson insisted otherwise. As mostly happened over his illustrious career, he had been able to prove his critics wrong, and the team steadily climbed the table, and re-established itself as favourites to regain the title.

As the season developed, normal goal-scoring was resumed. Meanwhile, leadership problems at Chelsea and Liverpool were contributing to the declining chances of two of the four most likely winners of the league. Only Arsenal was seen as a serious threat. Arsene Wenger had assembled another team of brilliant ball-players, whose progress was only likely to be halted by the inexperience of its young stars.

So the New Year dawned

January 1st 2008. A season-ticket holder faced up to one of life’s existential dilemmas and had abandoned the path well-travelled to Old Trafford, in favour of domestic doings fixing a newly-acquired home walking distance to the ground. Through such decisions pseuds like myself gain access to the Theatre of Dreams.

The Game

The game was low key. The players were low key. The crowd was low key. The manager growled afterwards that the atmosphere was like a funeral. His mood was hardly helped by the sentence he was serving, a ban from the touchline for an outburst against some hapless official after an earlier game.

For the record, like every match in the land, this one started with a minute of remembrance of Motherwell’s Phil O’Donnell who had collapsed and died in a match the previous Saturday.

It was New Year’s Day at Old Trafford

It was New Year’s Day at Old Trafford
when Birmingham came to town.
The Onions were draped around Burghers.
And Sir Matt looked down

Down upon chestnut clad horses
drawn from a dark Chorlton shed
protected from fetlocks to dreadlocks.
And Sir Matt stared ahead

Ahead to the day’s performance
A storm in a desert cup
when the faithful outnumber the Godless.
And Sir Matt looked up

Up to the Lego land scaffold.
where privileged people had gone
to cling with Prawns to coat tails.
And Sir Matt looked on

On as the multitude gathered
And remembered a son who had died.
Then we watched as the players stumbled.
And Sir Matt cried.