Summary Of the 1997/98
from Our RED "Salford Lass"
March '98 - May '98
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From this point on, the season starts to go downhill, with a dreadful performance at Hillsborough. When the game starts, the line-up is a little puzzling - Berg at left-back?! We aren't too unhappy though, the sun is shining (after 24 hours of gales and torrential rain), the roof of the stand makes the singing sound great and from the look of the play we are going to get a good win. Unfortunately, it doesn't quite work out that way. The lads on the pitch soon begin to look tired and obviously their minds are elsewhere. Fergie's 'tinkerbell' instincts have re-surfaced and the 'Italian mob' are diving around all over the place and getting away with it. We keep up our spirits though, with choruses of all the old favourites - the best being a wonderful chorus of the United Calypso - and we 'stand up for the Champions'. Half-time finds us one-nil down, but not too despondent as we chat with Paul, Nick and Alan (looking smart in a very new, very yellow jacket). Our spirits revive further when the lads come out for the second half and Fergie has made changes which lead to a much more familiar formation. We confidently wait for the equaliser.
It is, of course, never going to come and as the perfomance becomes more and more inept, the United fans become more and more irritable. The final straw comes when Fergie brings on Choccy, and takes off the only player who looks like he has a chance of scoring - Andy Cole! The United fans whistle and boo as Cole goes off (and takes our chances of a draw with him) and unfortunately, Choccy is then the target of quite a bit of abuse as tempers and patience grow short. In the end, I am glad when the whistle blows. Glad that we aren't more than two down, glad that the embarrassment of an inept performance is over, and glad that we can get back on the coach and get back over the Pennines as quickly as possible!
I am lucky to escape the further torture of a long trip down south as I'm not able to attend the away game at Upton Park. I pass on our tickets and the responsibility of reporting the game to Paul and listen to the game on GMR. What a bloody escape!! I am watching the Arsenal match on tele and going through hell! I go ballistic when the little ginger prince puts the ball in the net to get us a point and my neighbours come knocking on the door to check that I'm not being murdered!
Writing this summary seemed a good idea when I was editing November. Now it seems a very bad idea indeed as my depression deepens! The day of the Arsenal home game does not start well. I leave home early, but get delayed on the way and end up catching the last football special from Chorlton St at 10.45am. Of course, that then gets caught up in the traffic jams at White City and I eventually run into the ground at 11.13am, just as the teams come out. Whilst in the traffic jam I am "entertained" by a group of Cockneys at the back of the bus. Only one of them has ever been to Manchester, let alone Old Trafford before and they spend the short journey from Piccadilly slagging off Manchester, taking the piss out of everything they see, and generally being total dickheads. I think at first they are Gooners, but no - they are (supposedly) United fans.
I arrive at my seat ready to apologise to the son-and-heir for my tardiness, only to find his seat empty. Knowing his inability to get out of bed in the morning, I assume he has slept in. As the time passes, however, I begin to worry - there has been some trouble on the forecourt before the game, is he locked up in a police cell? Hurt in hospital? Whilst I am being a typical mum - worrying myself silly over nothing, the game has started. For the first ten minutes or so, we look good. We are attacking towards the goal at our end, the crowd are chanting and singing, the away fans are loud and raucous and it's looking good. We sing all the old favourites - "From the banks of the River Irwell", The United Calypso, "Oh Andy Cole", along with some invented specially for the occasion - "Wenger takes it up the arse" (allegedly) and "If you can't talk proper, shut your mouth." Then the son-and-heir arrives (having awoken at 10.30am), we start to play like shit and the atmosphere dies a death.
As a game for the uncommitted it's a cracker. End-to-end stuff, full of excitement. But for the committed Red, it a frustrating experience. Missed chances, a strike force that couldn't score if they had an open goal for 10 minutes and a mid-field in which we are totally out-classed. But by half-time we aren't feeling too bad. It's still 0-0, we are making chances and the defence are doing a sterling job. It's all there for the taking if we have the will to do it. The second half is horrendous, both on and off the pitch. As the play on the pitch goes from bad to worse, the atmosphere off it deteriorates to the point where the son-and-heir calls the front three rows of East Lower "a bunch of sad arse-holes who should stay at home and watch the game on Sky and let fans have their tickets who care about the bloody team"! Some turn and look at him with amusement, most just carry on sitting there, like dummies in a shop window. Taunts from the Arsenal fans of "you're supposed to be at home" are well deserved and painful to hear. As the play deteriorates, the fans' anger is turned on the players, with Teddy getting most of the criticism.
Arsenal gradually begin to get on top of the game, and it isn't a surprise when Overmars scores through Peter's legs. Everything that can go wrong, does go wrong, as the "biggest game of the season" turns into a farce. As if we don't have enough injury problems already, Ronny goes down holding his knee and is substituted straight away. Phil Neville also goes off injured and Tinkerbell is in his element - playing what players he does have out of position, thus making them totally ineffective. To cap it all, about 5 minutes from the end, Peter Schmeichel decides to prove to everyone watching that he really does have a screw loose. We get a corner and he goes up for it. Fair enough, and he almost manages to get the ball in the net. But then the ball comes free, and instead of running back down our end, he decides to go in and try to win the ball back. Of course, he doesn't have clue and as he stretches out to try and get the ball, you can almost hear the twang as his hamstring goes. He hobbles back to our end of the ground as the crowd screams at him in disbelief. Thanks a lot, Peter.
The last couple of minutes are agony. The Arsenal fans are going mental and singing "We shall not be moved". Peter is hopping about in the penalty area while we pray the ball doesn't come down our end. Up the other end, our lads are making increasingly frantic and desperate attempts to get an equaliser and the referee is adding as much time as he dares. Some pillock of a United fan decides to run onto the pitch despite the fact that we are trying to keep some pressure on and get the ball into the bloody net. For a second or two it's amusing to see the fat SPS men trying to catch him but most of the crowd are screaming at him to get off. When the referee finally blows for full time the whole of the Arsenal bench jump about 10 feet into the air, the Arsenal fans are acting like they've won the European Cup and they are soon joined by the celebrating players on the pitch. We are simply gutted. As we queue to get out we are taunted by the celebrating Gooners who are asking if we are "Tottenham in disguise." We walk glumly up Sir Matt Busby Way, to the sound of the Arsenal fans still singing in the stadium. They and we know that we have handed them the Premiership trophy.
The day of the Monaco game, I leave work early. I can't sit still or concentrate. I arrive at the Throstles Nest much earlier than normal but find it already beginning to fill up with nervous Reds. I meet Bruce and his friends from the States and later Seamus and Therese arrive safely, after negotiating closures at Manchester Airport. Unfortunately, Dobson is doing something very rude in a motorway service station, so he is too late arriving in Manchester to join us! Whatever happens on the pitch later, I will always remember these times in the Nest. We are very privileged to meet people from all over the world as we do. As we walk to the ground later, the atmosphere is electric. You can almost taste it in the air - a European game. It's a perfect night. It has been a lovely, sunny spring day and the evening is dry and cold. We can see our breath on the air as we walk down Sir Matt Busby Way towards the lights at Old Trafford.
As we wait for kick-off, the atmosphere is brilliant in East Stand. Chanting is already beginning and Keith Fane (for once in tune with the fans) pumps it up still further by playing the United Calypso. By the time the players come out, we are ready and a roar goes up all round the ground that makes the hair on the back of my neck stand up. For the first five minutes it looks like we are going to turn it our way. The United players are attacking our end and they have one chance after another. The OT crowd are right behind them, roaring them on and singing all the old songs. Then disaster - the ball goes up the other end, with Monaco's first attacking move, and an unstoppable shot is in the net. The noise level goes from a roar so loud it makes my ears buzz, to absolute silence in a second as we look on in disbelief. One breakaway, one shot, one goal. The coveted away goal.
From then on we are chasing the game. We have chances in the first half - but nothing that really worries the Monaco defence. We also should have a penalty, but it isn't given. For the rest of the first half, Monaco give us a lesson in how to play an away leg in Europe. One-nil up, with the precious away goal in their pocket, they play crisp, attacking football, closing down the United forwards every time they get the ball. We stand off them and allow them all the room they want to pass the ball around and run the game. The crowd do their best, I can't fault the fans in East Stand, they are superb. After a shocked silence immediately after the goal, we sing "The Red Flag", "Forever and Ever", "The United Calypso" and "We Love United". The whole of East Stand (and West Stand, too, I think) stand all through the game and we are left to get on with it. (Funny that - how standing is neither illegal nor unsafe on European nights!)
Half-time comes with a feeling of relief. A visit to the Ladies brings a meeting with Alan Dobson who is muttering to himself about seasons going pear-shaped and winning fuck-all. Arriving back in my seat I find Paul and Tim trying to cheer up the son-and-heir. Paul tells me not to worry, it will all work out OK in the end. I am not convinced and Tim implies that I am becoming just a little too bitter when I cheer hysterically at the announcement of the Newcastle/Palace score!
The second half sees the departure of yet another injured player - Gary Neville had gone off in the first half, and now Paul Scholes departs. The arrival of Clegg, however, actually improves the football enormously and we start to look like we can get back into the game. With the goal by Ole, the volume in the stands is again pumped up and there is a little ray of hope in all the gloom. It's not to be, however, and it becomes increasingly clear that if necessary, Monaco could raise their game to match ours. We carry on singing, the players carry on playing, but really we are chasing a lost cause. It is very, very painful. When the final whistle blows, both players and fans collapse. There is little talking as we file down the steps. There is really nothing much to say. Monaco came to do a job and they've done it professionally. The only bright spot is that the result will wipe millions off the PLC's share price, losing Fartin Martin thousands overnight!
The following Saturday sees a very important event - my grandaughter's first visit to Old Trafford, to see United reserves beat Derby reserves. She had a great time eating popcorn, attacking a little boy who is sitting near us and shouting Superstar everytime she sees David May. She spends the rest of the weekend telling everyone she meets that she went to "see United play football at Old Trappord" (not a spelling error!) and that she saw "a big statue - it was Matt Busby and he had some babies"! Well, she is only three and a half!
The Wimbledon home game brought with it a difficult decision. Do I go to OT or go across to Headingley to support Salford in the semi final of the Challenge Cup? As usual, OT wins and I spend the build-up to the game and most of the first half with my personal radio. It is very quiet both outside and inside OT. The crowd is very nervous. We all know the importance of a good result in this game. Up in the away corner, the Wimbledon fans are gathered, along with a good number of United fans - all openly wearing United shirts. At least this is one game when we aren't going to get out-sung by the away fans! For the first 20 minutes or so, the atmosphere isn't too bad. There are a number of fans (in block 135) standing and chanting and others are joining in. For the first time in ages, the day tickets in the three rows in front of us have been given to fans who seem to want to join in. It looks like some trouble might go off at the beginning of the game, with the standing fans arguing with stewards and police and singing a chorus of 'No surrender to the PLC', but it all settles down eventually with most fans sitting down. We sing 'Hello, hello, we are the Busby Babes', the United Calypso and 'Pride of all Europe'.
The lads in East Lower are also having fun with the ref (Dermot Gallagher) and Sullivan, in Wimbledon's goal. Gallagher is called various rude names, but one lad sums it up nicely by shouting out (just as everyone else goes quiet) 'You're a fat little dickhead' - that draws a large round of applause. The same chap seems not to like Sullivan either - calling him a 'puff' and other assorted names. Sullivan seems to find this quite funny! On the pitch, the first half isn't too bad. We look better than we have in ages (the son-and-heir giving his opinion that we're doing better because we don't have to slow down to accommodate Sheringham). We have a decent midfield again, May is looking good at the back with Berg, and Beckham is having a great game. Unfortunately, Wimbledon are also playing well and shut down just about every attempt we have in their penalty area. It's so crowded in there, that you couldn't swing the proverbial cat, if you had one! I'm not unhappy with Salford's first half efforts either, as they are drawing 12-12.
The lads come out for the second half obviously determined to get a goal. For the first 38 minutes, the United players camp out in the Wimbledon penalty area. With them, of course, are 10 Wimbledon players! We should have 5 or 6 goals with the chances we have. I'm sitting there grinning, as Salford are winning 18-10 in Leeds, the sun is shining and United are going to win - aren't they?? Then disaster - Salford give away a try in the last 5 minutes, the sun goes in, and it begins to look like one of those days! With about 20 minutes to go, the final score at the Salford game comes over the radio - we're out. I wipe a tear from my eye, gird my loins and concentrate on willing the bloody ball into the bloody net down at the other end!
We roar them on and they respond. We get corner after corner, and with every one, the fans down at the Stretford End are going mental, trying to suck the ball into the net. Beckham almost does it with an amazing shot off his left foot that Sullivan puts over the bar. Then there is another couple of corners and Andy misses a sitter. Ole completely mis-kicks another easy chance. Surely, we are going to get something from this game! Then, with about 10 minutes to go, a very tired Ole comes off and Ben Thornley comes on. Almost immediately, there is another corner, a lot of hustling and bustling about down at the other end and Johnsen volleys the ball into the back of the net! There is a roar of triumph and the celebrations begin. The United fans in the away corner leap in the air and some trouble starts up there but it's soon sorted out. We don't have chance to rest on our laurels, though. After not having a shot on goal in the whole of the second half, the Wimbledon players suddenly decide they had better do something. For the next five minutes, all that stands between us and a draw is David May. He is everywhere, heading clear, clearing the ball off the line, taking out a Wimbledon player's legs - brilliant stuff. The moment of the match for me, is East Stand singing a chorus of 'David May, Superstar' and David acknowledging us and then kissing the badge on his shirt.
That five minutes seems to go on forever. As the time moves towards 90 minutes, the United crowd begin to whistle. The noise is ear-splitting. Then Ben Thornley gets the ball and takes off down the left wing. He gets past one player, jinks past another and puts in a lovely cross to Beckham's head. Beckham heads the ball goal-wards and Scholesy nods it in the last foot or so. Now there really is mayhem as the whole of Old Trafford sings 'We shall not be moved'. So I set off home happy and relieved, but sad and despondent at the same time. As I arrive back in Eccles I see the Salford coaches returning. All the bunting gone, they look sad and depressed - perhaps I made the right choice after all!
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