Summary Of the 1997/98
from Our RED "Salford Lass"
November '97 - December '97
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November 97 Journeying to the Throstle's Nest on 1st November in typical Manchester weather - cold drizzle. Enjoying some hot beef stew in the company of Pete, Hal, Mike Burke, Tim, Graham Ireland and his dad and the two Pauls. Approaching the Trafford pub looking for a ticket for Mike only to run into the son-and-heir who's first words were: "do you know anybody who wants a ticket?" One very happy scouser (oops, sorry - Saints supporter) set off for the Stretford End a few minutes later.
The teams coming out onto the pitch, Fergie being presented with Carling Manager of the Month and the Sheffield Wednesday band "playing" up to our left. Apart from a short chorus of "The Great Escape" towards the end of the first half, they play their "one song" non-stop for the whole damn game! A look at the team bringing some surprises. No Giggs and no Irwin. All three strikers playing, Beckham, Scholes and Butt in midfield, Berg back in the centre of the defence with Pally, with the two Neville brothers on either side. Kevin Pressman providing most of the entertainment for East Stand in the first half, making cock-up after cock-up - the insults coming fast and furious! All down the other end at the start then, in the 13th minute, our first attack of the game. Teddy playing a one-two with Ole and sidefooting the ball into the net in front of us, as Pressman makes a despairing dive, missing the ball completely. "There's only one Kevin Pressman".
>From then on, a repeat of the Barnsley game - United running rings around a Wednesday team that doesn't have a clue. Six minutes later, Ole storms down the left-hand side and passes the ball to Cole. Cole tries a shot but it goes straight into the legs of two defenders. "Hard luck Andy". But wait, the ball ricochets off Newsome, straight through Pressman's hands and into the back of the net! "Pressman for England", "England, England's No 1", "Kevin, Kevin give us a wave" and "Dodgy Keeper". The back of Pressman's neck going very, very red! Andy scoring again and the whole stadium singing "Andy Cole, Andy Cole". Another Pressman tribute: "Ooh Aah, Kevin Pressman", "What a friend we have in Pressman". "It's like watching Barnsley" and "Are you Barnsley in disguise?". To round off the first half, Ole chests down a ball from Phil Neville and slams in a sweet volley. A loud chorus of "Ole, Ole, Ole" from East Stand results in a shy smile in our direction.
Half-time brings Wilf McGuinness onto the pitch to have some fun with the crowd. Wednesday almost snatch a goal and then it's back to a practice game for United. Andy almost scores again, and then Teddy scores from a Becks free kick and we get revenge for the ear-bashing from the Wednesday band. Singing along with their "one song", we replace the "Wednesday" at the end of each chorus with "5-0". Jumping up and down, clapping and singing, the band don't know what to do - stop playing or carry on - either way they can't win, so they carry on and we all have a good time (including Tango Man, seen at the back of L Stand waving his shirt in circles over his head!). We allow Whittingham to get a consolation goal, changing the chant to "5-1". Then, 6 minutes later, in a wonderful, sweeping move downfield, Sheringham, Cole and Becks combine to take the ball into the Wednesday penalty area. Becks tries to dig a hole for himself, so Ole takes the ball from him and scores the best goal of the game.
So, we're 4 points clear at the top of the table and cruising ……………..
But the signs of trouble are there going down to Highbury, as Paul Wheeler gets on the bus and sits on the left-hand side! Despite our protestations at Warwick services, Paul stays where he is and the fate of our season is decided.
But we (as yet) know nothing of this as we greet Schmeichel arriving on the pitch for his warm-up and watch the Neville brothers waving to their Dad just behind us. Watching Scholesy, it's hard to believe he is almost 23 years old, with his sleeves hanging down below his hands, looking like the little kids you see kicking a ball on the streets of Salford every day. At the start of the game, the atmosphere is electric and we sing and stand up for the champions. Our enjoyment doesn't last long, however, as Anelka scores after just 8 minutes. "1-0 to the Arsenal" followed by "We're shit, but we're Champions". United push forward and we are still optimistic but only 18 minutes later, Patrick Vierra scores Arsenal's second. The scenes are all too familiar - the whole of Highbury behaving as if they've won the European Cup. The gooners in the Clock End to our right screaming abuse and hugging and kissing each other. The executives on the balconies above and behind us putting their lives at risk, jumping about with so much excitement, that it is a wonder none of the fat cats fall off and flatten a few dozen United fans below. "2 nil to the Arsenal", stunned silence in the United corner.
Then, hope of a comeback as United begin to push forward and the Arsenal defenders begin to panic. Gary Neville crosses from the right and Teddy heads the ball into the net. Silence amongst the Gooners - celebrations in the United corner, and a loud chorus of "Ooh Teddy, Teddy", as Teddy runs over to the Arsenal fans kissing the badge on his shirt. The joy is short-lived as Pally collapses, holding his back in agony. But more joy soon follows as Sheringham turns and shoots in one fluid movement, another badge-kissing session for our Teddy! The Gooners are now totally silent as we celebrate in admiration and relief. Taunting them - "2 nil to the Arsenal" and "Who the Fuck are Man United?" Winterburn brings Scholes down in the penalty area, but Bodenham waves play on. Our angry screams turning to laughter as we watch the Scotsman jumping up and down on the touchline with steam coming out of his ears "Come on Fergie".
A pulsating finish to the first half, both on and off the pitch. Nigel Winterburn and Peter Schmeichel both getting hit by coins thrown from the balconies above us. Coins thrown over the heavy metal doors separating the two sets of fans, at half time. United running out of steam in the second half. Keeping our spirits up with some rather rude Wenger chants. The play on the pitch becoming so poor that many of us find ourselves watching a fireworks display through the uncovered corner of the ground! Eventually, Ole comes on: "There's only one decent Gunnar in the ground." It's beginning to look like we can at least survive and get a draw, when the situation goes rapidly downhill. A brilliant save from Schmeichel, followed by a goal-line clearance from Gary Neville, leads to an Arsenal corner. Winterburn puts in a ball which goes straight onto the head of David Platt and into the far corner of the net. An abiding memory - a big, fat bloke, smoking a massive cigar, grinning down at me from an executive balcony, as if he had personally won the game. Walking back to the bus trying to ignore all the celebrating Arsenal fans around us and laughing at Slim as he made a date to meet one of the celebrating gooners on the forecourt at OT! Paul Nolan on the radio on the way home, followed by Fergie - "Where did this leave United?", "Still at the top of the table!"
A few days later, and we are sitting in North Stand watching our Norwegian strike force take apart Stoke City Reserves, two goals for Ole and two for young Erik.
Walking the dog along the canal at 7.00am on the 22nd of November, the grass white with frost and mist rising all around me, thinking to myself …… "What the f*** am I doing?" Getting up at 6.15am, travelling for five and a half hours just to spend 90 minutes in Selhurst Park. As the old saying goes, you don't have to be mad - but it helps! Arriving at the stadium an hour before kick-off is like arriving at a home game at OT - United fans everywhere. Needing a pair of waders to get into the ladies' toilet. Sitting eating chips and watching the ground fill, probably for the first time this season. To our left the few thousand 'real' Wimbledon fans, behind the goal. The rest of the stadium filled with United fans as usual, although how many of them have ever been near Old Trafford is debatable.
Crap football in the first half! As the son-and-heir says, "Where would we be without Peter?" Off the pitch, we enjoy ourselves despite the football, going through the OT song book. During the half-time break, the real United team turns up and comes out for the second half. Within minutes of the start, Giggs puts in his first decent cross of the game, and Butt smashes it into the net. Cue celebrations on the pitch and a palpable sigh of relief off it. "We shall not be moved" and "Nicky Butt, Nicky, Nicky Butt". Beckham's tap-in (his first touch of the ball) is greeted with another chorus of "We shall not be moved", and then the "United Calypso". Then the United defence goes to sleep allowing Ardley to score from a "clearance" by Pally, and Michael Hughes puts the ball under Schmeichel and into the net. "You're not singing anymore!"
"United, United", "You've only come to see United" and Becks responds by hitting a low shot from 30 yards out, which Vinny Jones deflects beyond Sullivan. Thank you Vinny! From then on, it's all one-way, both on and off the pitch. "We won the football league again", "Fuck McManaman, Ince, McAteer" and "If you all hate Scousers". The Wimbledon fans sit quietly in their seats. A cheeky back-heel from Scholes and a 20 yard goal from Andy Cole and it's all over. Queuing up to leave the ground we hear the Liverpool/Barnsley score - "It's like watching Brazil". We leave Selhurst to the sound of the Wimbledon fans chanting "We'll never go to Dublin."
The reserves decide to emulate their first-team counterparts a couple of days later in a 5-2 win over Preston, on a very cold, wet evening at Gigg Lane. Superstar is back and acts as captain and elder statesman of a very youthful United side which plays exciting, passing football in a game flowing from end-to-end for the full 90 minutes. We almost forget how cold and wet we are! Best bit though is hearing "Come on Erik, well done Erik" echoing round the ground again!
If anyone had told me at the start of the season that by the end of November, not only would we be safely through to the quarter finals of the Champions League, but that we would be the only team in the competition with 5 wins out of 5 and along the way we would have given both Juventus and Feyenoord a stuffing (and with Andy Cole scoring virtually everytime he touched the ball), I would have said "Nah, that's dreaming, not real life". If I had dreamt that dream, I would have imagined wild celebrations and parties, not the strangely flat atmosphere that I find in Old Trafford during the Kosice game.
The evening starts well - singing "We're 'ere, cos we're Champions" and playing 'spot the Kosice supporter'. A rousing chorus of "Oh Andy Cole" and three good chances in the first five minutes. "Are you watching Newcastle?", "If you all hate scousers" and "If I die on Kippax St". Not all the activity is on the pitch, however, as the 'soft' face of SPS are out in force. The whole of East Lower stand throughout the game, despite the pleadings of some rather friendlier-than-usual security men. As all the action is down the other end, we begin to get a little bored! Rousing choruses of "Fuck MacManaman, Fuck McAteer" and "We all Leeds" keep us entertained for a while and we sing "He scores goals" after Scholesy puts in a particularly useful tackle in midfield, but there isn't really much to get excited about! After half-an-hour, we decide to drop a hint to Fergie about his next move - "You are my Solskjaer". Andy takes this as a personal invitation to prove we don't need Ole up front and responds by scoring a great goal. "Andy Cole, Andy Cole", "We shall not be moved" and "We're 'ere cos we're Champions" echo round the stadium, followed by "You're going out with the Geordies!" At half-time, we all sit down for a rest, much to the amusement of a friendly SPS man!
The second half begins with "Forever and Ever", "The pride of all Europe" and "Stand up for the Champions." And just before the hour mark, Ole comes on for Butt. Again, all the play is down the other end, with Ole, Becks and Phil Neville all missing good chances. During a stoppage in play we take the opportunity to sing to Choccy as he warms up on the touchline. At this point (about 20 minutes from full-time), it begins to dawn on us that the game is won. We are in the quarter-finals and we can start to celebrate. It's not a mad celebration a la Juventus, but we enjoy ourselves - "We are the Busby boys", "Are you watching Merseyside?" and a particularly enthusiastic chorus of "Who the fuck are Man United?" followed by "La, La, La, Lalalalaa, Lalalalaa, Keano" and "Keano's fucking magic". Best memory of the game - Peter deciding to entertain East Stand by giving us one of his tongue lashings and then seeing the funny side! A chorus of "Oh Teddy, Teddy" finishes the game, as he scores the best goal of the night, and after the referee has blown his whistle, the 'soft' face of SPS steps back and the 'neckless ones' appear to ensure that we don't invade the pitch in our excitement
After seeing the soft face of SPS at the Kosice game, it comes as a bit of a shock to face a hard-fought battle again only a few days later, at the Blackburn game. It's a cold, but sunny November day as I walk towards Old Trafford, the traffic just starting to build, as fans arrive in cars and coaches. An incident on the forecourt puts me in a bad mood before I even get into the ground - A lad behind me: "Who's that?" His companion: "I think its Matt Busby." Dressed up like Christmas trees with official merchandise from the megastore, they must be a shareholder's dream. I enter East Lower thinking of all the real fans who lost out in the ticket ballot whilst wankers who don't even recognise Matt Busby sit in their seats.
Whilst waiting for the game to start, we are entertained by an announcement from the club asking fans to cooperate in remaining seated - except, of course, in moments of high excitement! Since all the nice, young 'suits' we met at the Kosice game seem to have disappeared and been replaced by gorillas with limited intelligence, I look forward to an interesting time in East Lower once the game starts. Once the game does start, it's obvious that this is not going to be the close, hard-fought contest expected. United take control from the start and never relinquish it. The Blackburn fans seem pleased with themselves, chanting "We saw you cry at Upton Park". (!?!) "Where's your greedy twat?", "David May Superstar" and "One season wonders" shuts them up. Ole's goal brings "Ole, Ole, Ole, Ole" and "You're shit without Shearer" and "It's like watching City" and "You're not very good".
Nice to see old grudges resurfacing, with Chris Sutton and Henning Berg spitting abuse at each other and Nicky Butt obviously not on over-friendly terms with Tim Sherwood! Off the pitch things are no better as the 'suits' attempt to take control of East Lower. "Sit down, sit down". Large numbers of fans refuse. Much writing into note books, and muttering into radios ensues. From all over East Lower we can hear booing and shouting and "What a bunch of wankers". The Head Steward walks across the front of the stand to the chant of "There's only one Billy Bunter". Half-time sees fans refusing to stand up to let people in or out of rows!
Thankfully, the second half is one of the most enjoyable 45 minutes in the Premiership so far this season. The suits decide their work is done for the day and leave us alone and the football is perfect - United putting firmly in its place a team that has come with illusions of grandeur - along with some relaxed piss taking of both opposition fans and our own players. Sutton gets another yellow card for a dreadful tackle on Butt and he takes a long, dejected early walk to the dressing room - "Cheerio, cheerio, cheerio". Only three minutes later, Beckham passes to Phil Neville, Neville crosses towards Cole, Henchoz tries to clear the ball, but only manages to put it past Flowers for an own-goal! The Blackburn fans sit in their seats looking miserable. "Are you City in disguise?" and "We're top without Cantona" whilst the Blackburn fans do their impressions of crashing planes and think they are being clever. Then Supersub arrives on the pitch and we ignore the Blackburn fans and concentrate on Choccy. "Brian McClair, Brian McClair, running down the wing", "Ooh Aah, Brian McClair", "What a friend we have in Choccy" and "Choccy is back". By the end of the game, every United fan (and player) has a big grin on his/her face and the Blackburn fans creep back to Ewood Park with their tails between their legs.
Arriving in the Maritime City at 10.15am in early December there's no sign of the disappointments to come. November has finished on a high and December is about to continue in the same vein as we arrive in the newly built visitors' stand at Anfield for the annual stuffing of the scousers. Listening to pathetic excuses from two members of our Internet footy team (they'd recently lost 5-0!), we have our breakfast and wait for kick-off. Finding our way to our seats a few minutes later, the United fans are already in fine voice, singing "Who the fuck are Man United?", "Fuck MacManaman, Ince, McAteer" and "Can you hear the Scousers sing?" As is usual, these days, it takes "You'll never walk alone" over the PA system to wake up the scousers in the Kop, who then hold up red and yellow cards spelling out L F C! "What the fucking hell is that?"
Peter comes down our end and for the first 20 minutes it's a typical Liverpool/United game - no prisoners being taken, tackles flying in all over the place and Nicky Butt putting himself about a bit! "If you all hate scousers", "In your Liverpool slums", "Usual scousers, always cheating." We "stand up for the champions" whilst the execs to our left "sit on their bottoms for the champions", singing "We are the Busby boys", "The pride of all Europe" and "Oh Andy Cole". We are playing some lovely, passing, flowing football but can't get a shot in. "We're shit and we're champions". For the rest of the first half, it's exciting, end-to-end stuff with both teams having, and missing, chances to go ahead. The best chance for United comes from a long ball from Peter, which Sheringham hits into the side netting.
At this point, the Liverpool fans go back to sleep. They sit and watch as we sing "Fuck MacManaman", "From the banks of the River Irwell", "Paul Ince is a scouse bastard", "You're so shit its unbelievable", "It's just like watching Barnsley" (they don't like that one!) and "You are my Solskjaer". Half-time brings a sit down and a chance to calm down all round! The second half starts with the arrival of James at our end, greeted with the customary "Dodgy keeper". Liverpool start off brightly enough with Owen giving Pally a good work-out, and we are getting edgy as all the action is down at the other end and our only chance is a shot from Cole that goes straight to James. But within minutes, Andy, with a big grin on his face, is trotting like a pony along the goal-line in front of us and we are going bananas, as James picks the ball out of the back of the net. We are jumping up and down, climbing on seats and hugging and kissing each other whilst the scousers sit in shocked silence or scream abuse in our direction. "We shall not be moved" rings out around Anfield.
Then the noise level in the stadium increases as the scousers get over their shock and start to get behind their team. It's end-to-end stuff and I'm alternately screaming encouragement and closing my eyes in fright! Then, disaster! Owen falls over, Ellery gives a penalty and Robbie "who put your face on inside-out" Fowler puts it past Peter. That wakes the Kop up - "Who the fuck are Man United?" - "The only football team to win the double twice". Now we are all on our feet and the atmosphere is electric. Cole is fouled on the edge of the box and we get a free kick about 20 yards out. Becks takes it and curls it into the top, left-hand corner - we start to scream "Yes..." But no, it hits the underneath of the bar and seems to bounce out. My heart is half-way down to my boots when I look up and Becks is running at us in celebration as the ball bounces back into the net! Becks disappears into a tangle of arms and laughing faces at the barrier, where he's soon joined by Butt and Sheringham, as the Liverpool fans go very quiet. "We shall not be moved" and "We won the football league again". Then, two minutes later, Andy taps the ball into the net from a corner. He throws himself head-first onto the pitch and slides on his stomach towards us with a massive grin. His team-mates pile on top of him whilst we shout ourselves hoarse singing "Oh Andy Cole". It's all over. The Liverpool players admit defeat, the scousers leave in their thousands ("Cheerio, cheerio, cheerio") and we have another party at Anfield - "Feed the scousers, don't they know its Christmas time", "Jingle Bells", "He's only a poor little scouser", "It's just like watching Barnsley", "You're not very good" and "It's so fucking easy". Then, "Paul Ince is a scouse bastard", "Incey, Incey, what's the score?" and "You used to play for a big club." Enduring memories - Johnsen doing the can-can in front of goal, Giggsy taking the piss out of McAteer, us singing "Forever and Ever" and the "United Calypso" and then finishing them off in the dying seconds of the game with "Outclassed by the champions." We leave Anfield singing "We always win 3-1".
Unfortunately, the joy of Anfield is soon put behind us as we are brought down to earth with a bump. On a cold, wet, miserable night the United Youth team is unceremoniously dumped out of the FA Youth Cup by Blackburn - an event they will continue to remind us of throughout the season. If we think we're miserable, it's nothing compared to the misery of Michael Ryan who is the player who scores the winning goal for Blackburn - despite wearing a United shirt!
The next Premiership home game (against Aston Villa) brings another night of fun and games in East Lower, courtesy of the PLC and the employees of SPS. From early in the game, East Lower is overwhelmed with yellow jackets, the son-and-heir and myself glumly standing in the middle of it all. Half-way through the first half, all eyes are on a section of block 135 to our left, where a fan is being dragged along the floor by a couple of the boys in blue, to the accompaniment of booing and whistling from the whole of East Stand and "Stand up for the Champions". The whole game continues in this vein. We settle down to watch the game, the atmosphere gets going, people are singing and having a good time and then the SPS guys appear and start winding everyone up again. No-one is complaining about the fans standing, all the complaints are about SPS picking on individual fans and blocking the view of those sitting down. The guy behind us (who sits down throughout) is threatened with being thrown out for complaining about SPS employees standing in front of him, pushing past him and shouting over his head. The first half ends with Stan Collymore falling over in our penalty area ("You bought Collymore") and "No surrender to the PLC" and "You're just a bunch of wankers" as SPS throw out yet more fans to our right.
Half-time brings Nigel Kennedy onto the pitch to do the half-time draw, to a chorus of boos from the United fans and "Nigel is a Villa fan" from L Stand. About 10 minutes later, Cole lifts the ball over the Villa defence, Ryan puts a very sweet ball between Oaks' legs and we have our first goal and the result is never really in doubt from then on. We manage a chorus of "Shit on the Villa" and a loud rendition of "Oh Andy Cole" before the suits return to spoil the game and anarchy almost (but not quite) reigns on the hallowed terraces of the scoreboard paddock. There also seems to be a fight going on in West Lower and instead of concentrating on what's happening on the pitch, our attention is divided between trying to make out what is going on at the other end of the ground and keeping up with events in our own section. Behind us, the stewards and SPS are arriving in numbers, along with two police officers, to "sort out" two women who they have decided are "standing up on purpose just to spite us". They are pushing and shoving past people to get into the middle of the section. Everyone around us is complaining that they can't watch the game, some fans are spitting at them and throwing drinks and cups and the police are looking increasingly uncomfortable and less than enthusiastic.
We get a penalty down the other end and everyone's attention is diverted back onto the pitch. Unfortunately, it is Teddy who steps up to take it! This gives the Villa fans the chance to get their own back - "You signed Sheringham, you signed Sheringham". It's ten minutes from the end, and the suits are coming in for a last push towards the fans in the centre of the block. We are singing "Forever and ever" and "The red flag" as they argue with hundreds of irate fans. They give up and we enjoy the last 10 minutes of the game in peace.
After the trials of Old Trafford, a trip up to the North East just before Christmas cheers us both up enormously, thanks to the assistance of John Walker, Mike Dobbin and Pete Hargreaves - who sacrifice much so that your intrepid (but ticketless) duo can get to the Newcastle game. The Red Army arrives at Washington services, just outside Newcastle, about 2.15pm. Waiting for us, as usual, is the cream of the North East Police Force. We form into a long crocodile of coaches and arrive in Newcastle in force, forcing all the locals to stop and let us go by! I love this bit! Once in the ground, we find we are in excellent seats. Close to the home fans and with a great view. The Geordies are in good form - an ear-splitting wall of sound comes at us from all around the ground. Another sad bunch of losers who see the game against us as their cup final. They aren't a pretty sight, doing their sad aeroplane impressions and holding up five fingers to us, whilst kissing their shirt badges. "Who the fuck are Man United?" - "Champions, champions" and "Have you ever won the League, have you fuck".
The atmosphere is hostile, both on and off the pitch. Batty and Pearce are their usual friendly (not!) selves, whilst Gillespie disappoints as he seems to have decided that the only way he can demonstrate his commitment to his new club is to go around kicking everything that moves in a red shirt. The Newcastle crowd have a memory lapse - forgetting that Andy was once their hero they spend the whole game booing and whistling every time he gets the ball. Later in the game, their favourite chants become "Andy Cole is a wanker" and the laughable "Geordie reject" !! We just sing back "Andy Cole is a champion".
Early in the game Newcastle has most of the chances and we are spraying passes around and losing the ball. Then the Geordies go bananas as Pistone brings down Beckham and Beckham runs on until he hears the whistle and falls to the ground like a stone clutching his face - obviously angling for a part in Eric's next film! This drives the Geordies mental with rage, they are doing diving impressions and chanting "Cheat, cheat" whilst we laugh and do diving impressions back. The next minute, they are down the other end, and we are holding our collective breath as the Big Man stretches to his left and palms the ball wide in an incredible save which brings a roar of approval from us and a roar of dismay from the Newcastle fans. There is a bit of light relief, however, when Pearce and Cole start hitting each other with their handbags! For the rest of the first half, it is not a game for faint hearts as United threaten to self-destruct. But we go in all square at half-time and sit down for a rest and a chat with our new Geordie mates just over the other side of the barrier.
For the first 10 minutes of the second half, Newcastle have most of the ball with a lot of good passing and running around, but with little penetration. United gradually get into the game and again, we are treated to fast, exciting, nerve-wracking football. Cole heads the ball wide, Phil Neville is injured by a tackle from Batty, Asprilla heads over the bar and we close our eyes as Pearce takes a free kick. But the ball hits Watson and is cleared, Johnsen gets the ball and passes it to Scholes. Scholes passes to Giggs who puts in a lovely cross, straight to Andy's head. Andy smashes the ball into the back of the net and we United fans go absolutely barmy! With the Geordies sitting stunned in their seats, Andy, followed by Beckham, runs the length of the pitch to stand in front of us with his arms raised in the air as we sing "Oh Andy Cole", totally unconcerned that play has started again in the middle of the pitch and United are two men short!!
The Newcastle fans are quiet as we sing "We shall not be moved", "Who the fuck are Man United" and "Champions." We goad the Geordies with "Have you ever filled the Nou Camp, have you fuck" and more chants of "Oh Andy Cole" and "Have you ever won the league, have you fuck". We send them mental again chanting "Walking down the Warwick Rd" (a bastardised version of the Bladen Races) and they respond with thousands of aeroplane impressions. A chorus of the "Red Flag" is accompanied by thousands of United fans doing aeroplanes back. In an almost silent and fast-emptying ground we sing "Jingle Bells", "You are my Solskjaer", "Manchester, Manchester, Manchester" and "If you all hate Scousers". The last 10 minutes are pretty scary as the Newcastle players put in one last effort and our lot decide to go to sleep again! But again, Peter saves us, and we chant "Dodgy keeper" sarcastically. For our "safety and comfort" we are kept in after the game. So we stand in our corner as the Geordies scream insults and threats across at us, and have a sing-song to pass the time - "This is just like the Nou Camp" and "Que sera sera, whatever will be will be, we're going to Monaco, que sera sera". Eventually, we leave by the emergency tunnel singing "Shearer, Shearer what's the score" as we pass under the commentary box and wave at a grinning Steve Bruce and a scowling Alan Shearer.
Boxing Day in Manchester - rain and football! Standing in East Lower, the son-and-heir and I chat about Mr Rennie's legs and the likely reason for so many curly wigs and moustaches being on show in the East Stand. Once the game starts, its obvious why Everton are having trouble surviving in the Premiership - clueless in all departments! All is going well when Berg pops up and heads the ball into the net for his second goal at OT, this time into the right net! We are doing well with the chanting - all the usual scouse chants: "Shit on the scousers", "If you all hate scousers" and "Same old scousers, always cheating". And some specially for the blue half of Liverpool - "Going down with the Tranmere" and "Sit down, if you're going down." We are just getting into our stride, when all the fun starts again with SPS. To our left, the yellow jackets start to mass. The next thing we know, there are fists flying, a lot of shouting and very loud whistling and booing coming from around and above that section. Being a short-arse, I can't see a thing, but the son-and-heir is doing his duty bravely - standing on his seat and reporting happenings to me. This all goes on for some 10 minutes and catches the attention of both the United bench and the players on the pitch. Then the trouble seems to be fanning out towards us. We begin to think about escape routes as behind us, the lads from 135 Action are trying to calm things down, telling people not to fight back.
By now, the whole of East Stand is booing and whistling and chanting - "You're just a bunch of wankers", "If you hate Martin Edwards clap your hands" and "Martin Edwards, you're a wanker, you're a wanker". A chorus of "Stand up for the Champions" brings the whole of East Stand to its feet and a large part of the rest of the stadium as well. "Lets all stand with Fergie", "Sit down Fergie" and "Fergie, Fergie, sort it out" brings smiles. Later, after the chosen fans have been ejected the hairs on the back of my neck stand up as we sing "The Red Flag". Gradually, things calm down, just in time for Andy to split the Everton defence and chip the keeper, putting the ball into the top corner and the attention is back on the football.
The second half is a bit of an anti-climax, both on and off the pitch. We play it like a practice match and the Everton players look so bloody down-hearted you almost feel sorry for them! The Everton fans make their feelings known by leaving even earlier than the residents of South Stand. Off the pitch, there are pockets of trouble throughout East Stand (both upper and lower) but luckily, nothing serious. At the end of the day it's another win, another 3 points and another step nearer the title, but as I trudge home from OT in the pouring rain, I don't feel much like celebrating.
Three days later I'm even more depressed! The day starts in the pouring rain at OT, and continues in the same vein with a three-and-a-half hour journey to Coventry. We pile into the ground just in time for kick-off and join in the singing. Standing along with the Coventry fans to our right, we enjoy a 10-minute rendition of the United Calypso. On the pitch, we are playing silly beggars and get what we deserve, when Whelan scores - sending the Coventry fans into a frenzy of excitement and causing them to sing a chorus of "Can we play you every week?". We're not overly worried, however, and confidently wait for the equaliser - Ole soon provides it and "Ole, Ole, Ole, Ole" and "You are my Solskjaer" raise the roof as the Coventry fans lapse into a silence that is to last until the last 7 minutes of the game. Teddy scores within a couple of minutes of the start of the second half, with a "Brucey special" header. "Oh Teddy, Teddy". Confidently, we chant at the now very depressed (and wet) Coventry fans: "Can we play you every week" and "Jingle bells, jingle bells, jingle all the way. Oh what fun it is to see United win away."
Unfortunately, our rather arrogant dismissal of the abilities of the opposition spreads to the players and they stop playing! For most of the second half, the events on the pitch are more likely to act as a sleeping draft than entertainment, so we entertain ourselves: "You've only come to see United", "Martin Edwards, you're a wanker, you're a wanker" and "If you hate Martin Edwards clap your hands", "You can stick your fucking seats up your arse (sideways)", "What a friend we have in Jesus" and the whole 12 days of Eric Cantona. Finally, with about 7 minutes to go, Huckerby is brought down in the penalty area and Coventry get a penalty. Dion Dublin (who else?!) scores from the spot and the Coventry fans wake up to sing "You're not singing anymore". A bloody draw - everyone is complaining, but no-one is surprised. We roar them on to get back ahead again and then disaster - Huckerby walks through our stationary defence and bloody scores! The Coventry end behind the goal erupts again as 5000 blues wet their knickers in excitement. Eventually, the final whistle blows and the lads troupe off the pitch looking as disgusted with themselves as we are. Back on the bus, we eat our butties, and listen to the other results with relief, as we head off back onto the carpark that is the M6, still in the pouring rain.
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