Tag Archives: FA Premier League

How Premier League CEO Scudamore Blew the Gaff on Man Utd Bias – by Rob Atkinson

Pet lip:  Premier League CEO Scudamore misses those Man U days of success

Pet lip: Premier League CEO Scudamore misses those Man U days of success

As a Leeds United fanatic, a card-carrying cynic and someone with no faith in the football authorities these days to run a fair and disinterested league competition, I have written many times on this blog about my belief that the Man U domination of the game in this country after 1993 (the FA Premier League début season) was deeply suspicious. The last season or so’s steep decline, with a squad not at first markedly different to the one that romped home in Taggart’s final season, begs the question: what’s really different? It has appeared ever since The Demented One left that the change of stewardship is behind this relative failure. But was Alex Ferguson the sole factor in the unprecedented success enjoyed by the Pride of Devon over the last two decades?

These days, following a series of revealing comments over the past year or so from people who should know whereof they speak, it appears that at least a couple of other factors have been at play throughout that twenty year period. I have said over and over again in Life, Leeds United, the Universe & Everything, that the Fergie years have been trophy-laden for three well-defined reasons, none of them all that adjacent to the quality of their playing squad. They may be summed up as: Ferguson, match officials and the rulers of the game itself. These three influences conspired over two decades to exaggerate the success of Man U out of all proportion to the abilities of their playing and coaching staff in that period, many of whom have gone on to enjoy sustained mediocrity elsewhere. Add into the mix the drip, drip, drip effect of blind, unquestioning media adulation, spearheaded by Murdoch’s Sky empire and endorsed by lapdog attitudes from the terrestrial broadcasters who know which side the commercial bread is buttered, and you have what is technically known as a “Scum-friendly environment”.

This may to the unwary sound like just another conspiracy theory.  But you only have to look at the unprecedented before and after picture of Man U’s record pre-Murdoch as compared to their success under Uncle Rupert. After all, we’re talking an almost total domination of the Premier League era here, by a club that – for the 26 years immediately preceding the league reorganisation – couldn’t buy a title. Seven times Champions in their whole history prior to 1993, and then thirteen Premier League titles in the first twenty years after Rupert Murdoch bought the game.

That’s such a sharp delineation between failure and success – it’s not coincidental that the demarcation line is the inception of the Premier League, the changing of football in this country from a sport to a brand – and the new understanding that the game was now about markets and money to a much greater extent than it had ever been before. Man U were the new brand leader, and they had better succeed – or the Premier League product might not fulfil its immense potential for dominating the world in terms of TV audiences, syndication and merchandising. And that would never do. So the game leant the way of the Man U scum – as we at Leeds United fondly refer to them – and the pressure applied by Ferguson to match officials was allowed to take effect. Professional sport is a matter of extremely fine margins; a slight bias over a long period will skew outcomes to a massive degree – and that’s exactly what has happened.

Naturally, none of this has ever been acknowledged. It’s been of paramount importance, after all, that the Premier League should at least retain the appearance of being a fair competition, on the proverbial level playing field. But now – Ferguson has gone, Man U are failing, the referees are not by any means as intimidated, opposing teams are not scared any more; not, as they used to be, beaten before they took the field. And now people are speaking out, very revealingly – and in some cases that is clearly intentional, in other cases less so. Ex-referee Graham Poll is one who has made his views known quite deliberately; he has spoken out about the feelings of a ref in the Fergie years, how the priority was to get off the field without having made any close calls against Man U – and, ideally, with them having won the game. What is the cumulative effect of that kind of insidious pressure over twenty years? Self-evidently, it’s significant; look at the trophy records, the penalty for and against statistics, the time added on if Man U weren’t winning – and so on and so forth.

Poll has also written about the unprecedented scenes when three penalties were given against Man U in a home game against old rivals Liverpool. Even though things have changed in terms of the favourable decisions enjoyed by Man U, these were the first penalties awarded against Man U as the home team since December 2011 – well over two years without conceding a home league penalty. Poll’s observations on that make for interesting reading for anyone who, as I do, strongly suspects that Man U had it easy from match officials in the Fergie years.

And then, to put the tin lid on it, we had Premier League Chief Executive Richard Scudamore sounding off, in earnestly worried tones, about how the Premier League “brand” is being adversely affected by the difficulties Man U were having last season (happily, it’s carried on in pretty much the same vein this time around). It’s difficult to believe that he was quite aware of the import of what he was saying – this was a tacit admission, after all, that the supposedly disinterested rulers of the game actually have a vested interest – as I’ve been saying long and loud – in the regular success of Man U. “It’s a double-edged sword,” said Scudamore, at the time. “When your most popular club isn’t doing as well, that costs you interest and audience in some places.” The hapless Peter doesn’t identify the other edge of that sword, but he’s clearly perturbed by the prospect of a future with Man U as the also-rans they’ve been this last two campaigns.

Speaking in greater depth about the ethos of the Premier League, as well as its duty to fans around the world, Scudamore went on: “There are lots of fans around the world who wish Manchester United were winning it again. But you have to balance that off against, generally, we’re in the business of putting on a competition and competition means people can compete.” The wistful tone of that last sentence was massively telling. Other clubs will insist on competing, particularly now that Ferguson is history. How very inconvenient and bad for business. What a deuced bore.

The FA Premier League mandarins at a high level clearly see even competition, where any old Tom, Dick or Manuel (or even Jose) can win the League, as their cross to bear, something that will inhibit their ability to market their “brand” around a global audience in thrall to Man U. But they have made a rod for their own back in allowing the creation of that trophy-winning monster, under the inimical sway of a tyrant from Govan, to become so all-consuming in the first place. Now they’re reaping what they have sown – in pumping up the bubble of unrealistic success for one favoured club, they have left themselves without a Plan B for when that bubble bursts – as bubbles inevitably will.

For real football people – the fans out here, the people who have always gone along to the match, with little if any thought of global markets and syndication deals – this new reality of genuine competition has come as a breath of fresh air. There’s a new top four out there, of varied make-up which usually excludes Man U, and they’ve all played wonderful football and succeeded on their own merits.

We’ve also seen less of the media-beloved “mind games” which are so tiresome to the fan in the street. We’ve not missed that old curmudgeon, railing at authority whenever he gets any less than his own way and intimidating anybody who gets in his way. Football seems fresh and new again; Man U were seventh last time – which is probably about where they should have finished the season before. The first twenty years of the Premier League can be seen as a statistical blip, the product of a tyrant dominating and bullying the people charged with the responsibility to see that the game is run fairly. The evidence is there; listen to Poll, listen to what Scudamore is actually saying. Look at the results and standings this season and last.

We’re so very sorry, Mr Scudamore, if your product and your brand are suffering from the failure of “your most popular club”. Perhaps you should take the view that popularity is there to be earned by whichever club can succeed on merit? That it’s not something to be inculcated by the favourable treatment of one chosen club, amounting to institutional bias over twenty long years. Perhaps you can learn that – and then all we will have to regret is the two decades when, aided by Ferguson and a terrified cadre of referees and officials, you – blatantly and with malice aforethought – sold the game down the river.

How Ex-Ref Poll Lifted Lid on Myth of Man U “Dominance” – by Rob Atkinson

Ferguson: intimidation

Ferguson: intimidation

As a Leeds United fan, the twenty year period between the start of the Premier League era and the departure from Man U of Alex Ferguson was for me a two-decades long spell of misery and disillusionment, relieved only by occasional peaks when some other team got a chance at the game’s major honours.

Man U monopolised the action to an extent unprecedented in modern history; to an extent, what’s more, unheralded even by their own respectable record prior to 1993. It was as if, with the inception of the Murdoch-backed elite top flight, a switch had been thrown to activate a Man U winning machine and reduce all rivals to the status of also-rans.

It was a modern phenomenon – but, as it now turns out, it was all a myth, all smoke and mirrors. This was aptly summed up by the present-day Man U struggling, with most of the same personnel and all the same financial advantages, against League Two basement boys Cambridge United. This was the reality masked by that twenty year bubble. Man U are relatively ordinary – the Taggart years were a myth. What we were watching over those two decades was nothing more than an over-long retelling of “The Emperor’s New Clothes” – and we’re now some way past the part where the clear-sighted little boy has blown the gaff.

Thousands upon thousands of pissed-off football fans could tell you their own tale of a refereeing injustice sustained by their team, to the benefit of Man U. I have a variety of my own where Leeds United have been denied – a penalty given two yards outside the area at the Gelderd End, the disallowing of a Wes Brown own goal (for offside!), the failure to dismiss Man U keeper Fabien Barthez after he had conceded a penalty so crudely that it had had to be given – only for him to remain ludicrously undismissed and poised in goal to save the spot kick when he should have been taking an early bath.

Many other clubs will have similar anecdotal evidence. Tottenham’s “goal” at the Theatre of Hollow Myths, two yards over the line but not given, Barnsley’s non-awarded penalty at the Beckford End when the foul was so blatant that even the commentators swore it should have been awarded.  There are many, many more. It’s happened time and again, over the whole history of the Premier League.  A notorious statistical study found that, over an extended period of time, 87% of all fifty-fifty decisions went the way of the Pride of Devon.  In a game of fine margins, as any top-level professional sport is, that is a deeply damning statistic – and it makes a vital difference.

Over this whole period, naturally, official reassurances and denials of the obvious were as bland and unctuous as they were patronising and insulting to the intelligence of fans everywhere.  The media were complaisant in this, and the commercially-driven circus travelled on. At any slight sign of rebellion or disagreement with the party line, Ferguson himself would make a choleric proclamation; damning whichever referee had failed to decide in his team’s favour, or pouring Govan bile over whichever media organisation had dared think the unthinkable, or presumed to print heresy. One of the most familiar of radio sports headlines was “The FA have confirmed that Alex Ferguson will face no further action over [insert blatant transgression of rules here]”. It was tiresome, it was depressing – but it was the norm and, over time, a weary acceptance crept in that this is how our game now was.

Graham Poll - admission

Graham Poll – admission

Sooner or later, though, there was bound to be someone intimately involved with all of this, who would finally break ranks and confirm what we always knew: namely that two decades of unprecedented success have been founded upon bullying and intimidation to influence the game’s authorities both on and off the field, and to ensure a smooth passage in the print and broadcast media.  Then, finally, ex-referee Graham Poll came out in print and admitted how it was to be officiating in that era when Fergie’s word was law and referees (together with their support officials and governing body) were under immense pressure to rule on matters in a manner favourable to Man U.

“All the refs wanted in a Man U game,” said Poll, “was to get the match over, without having made any controversial decisions against Fergie’s boys – and ideally with Man U having won.”

Damning stuff, straight from the horse’s mouth. Again, we’re back to those fine margins. At the top level of any sport, it doesn’t take much to destroy the balance upon which depends true competition to ensure a reasonably level playing field.  It turns out that the playing field was as skewed as Yeovil’s legendary sloping pitch of giant-killing memory.  But at least at Yeovil, both teams got to play with the slope for half a game each.  Poll’s evidence is that the slope was in favour of Man U for 90 minutes plus however many were needed to ensure the “right” result.  Man U have won all those Fergie years honours with the aid of loaded dice.  So much in control of the game were they, it redounds to their shame that they didn’t win absolutely everything, every year.

Don’t take it from me.  Why would you?  I’m a Leeds fan with my own instinctive dislike and contempt for that over-blown club, that media-inflated false legend built on a well-marketed tragedy.  But just think back over all those incidents going back all those years.  Look at the watershed of the Premier League being founded – how the game was suddenly all about commercial interests, flogging satellite dishes and replica shirts.  Look where the biggest market was – all those plastic Man U fans in Devon and Cornwall, all of those merchandise-hungry fanatics who never saw a match day but shelled out for tacky Man U tat.  Look at the record of the Man U club prior to 1993 – seven titles in all their history.  And then 13 titles in twenty years after Murdoch bought the game and gift-wrapped it for Man U.  That’s quite a before and after picture, isn’t it?

The insistent pressure was extended beyond its mere effect on referees, too.  How many times have you seen Sky TV lingering lovingly over some Man U performance where the opposition simply caved in and rolled over to play dead?  And they’d win, 7-0, 9-0 even. Because they weren’t a bad team, and over the course of those twenty years they may well have won four or five titles, even if the game hadn’t been bent out of shape in their favour. See, I can be realistic about these matters. But ask any sports psychologist about the drip, drip, drip effect of relentless media propaganda. How many times do you need to be told you have no chance, before you begin to believe it? Teams went there psyched-out, expecting to lose, knowing they’d never get a penalty and would more than likely concede one or two and maybe end up with ten men too. Sometimes, they would even rest important players for a game they had a chance of winning a week later. They’d naturally sink to a defeat they acknowledged as inevitable, and Man U’s title rivals could do nothing but grind their teeth. And so the whole basis on which league football is predicated was blown out of the water, all to the inevitable benefit of Man U.  Fine margins and psychological edge – it doesn’t take much to warp the whole shooting match hopelessly out of shape.

What Graham Poll has done is to admit – in so many words – just what a relief it was to get off the pitch without having made any significant decision against a victorious Man U – because he knew what would follow as Ferguson would bitch about it in the press, and nobody would hold him to account.  There are plenty of examples of referees making the “wrong” decision, leading to the “wrong” result – and then not being awarded another high-profile game involving the Pride of Devon for literally months.  It was freely bandied about that this or that ref had been “banned” by Taggart. Meanwhile, the refs who “behaved themselves” – and we all know who they are – were regular fixtures at Old Trafford games, or in away matches featuring Man U.  It was all so frightfully, disgustingly cosy.

Now Ferguson has gone, and Poll – possibly tongue-in-cheek – was “worried” this time last year for the tyrant’s successor David Moyes.  He warned Moyes that he has “no chance” of pulling off the same kind of influence that he cheerfully and willingly admits Ferguson exerted over the game’s arbiters.  Some may well have noticed attempts on the part of the pitifully inoffensive Moyes to act like some Fergie clone, blustering his way into some pallid imitation of the Beast of Govan. But really, it was to very little avail.  And, inevitably, Moyes paid the price as Poll clearly foresaw. It just wasn’t the same for Man U without Ferguson to tyrannise the game, and still isn’t the same feeling under the almost equally baffled van Gaal, for whom the cracks are now starting to show in the shape of tetchiness and intolerance on camera. The Beast is gone – for the moment anyway – and with him has gone most of the edge of intimidation granted to Man U for so many years.

The thing is, this will come as news to not all that many people.  Figures within the media will profess astonishment and cynicism, preferring to dismiss even such compelling testimony as a storm in a teacup.  You still hear, week after week, commentators doing their best to sound surprised when another Man U foul goes unpunished, another good penalty shout goes un-awarded.  In tones of wonderment, they will observe “Well, the ref seemed to have a good view of that, I can’t quite understand why he’s not given it…”  Week after week, month after month, year after monotonous year.  But the fans know – and the fans, other than those with a vested interest and an armchair in Milton Keynes, will be totally unsurprised over those admissions of Graham Poll.  They will not be startled by what he has said – maybe just at the fact that he chose to say it. All of this has been so ‘nudge, nudge, wink, wink’ over the Premier League era.  But the fans have known, alright.

It explains why, whenever a fan answers the question “who do you support” with “Man U” – and despite all those trophies, all that dominance – there is no gasp of respect, no acknowledgement of success.  It’s much more likely that they’ll be laughed at, and there’s no greater tragedy than that for what was once a name respected throughout world football – even if they HAD gone 25 years without the Title.  Ultimately, this will affect the way in which a famous club is regarded by history.  Nobody needs to tell a Leeds United fan about that – and there are more reasons to damn this United from just outside Manchester than there ever were to damn our own beloved United of Leeds.

It’s not clear why Graham Poll chose to come out and confirm what so many of us have known for so long.  Maybe it was a warning ahead of a possible return for Ferguson should even Louis van Gaal suffer Moyes’ fate and be cast adrift as the failures and defeats pile up. There is a precedent for this. Busby returned briefly when Wilf McGuinness, his hapless successor, found he’d inherited a poisoned chalice.  But that was 40-odd years ago and there was no Premier League to warp the game out of shape for pecuniary considerations. And Ferguson, it goes without saying, is no Sir Matt – he is unfit to lick Busby’s shoes, never mind fill them. Our game is far better off without his malign presence and influence.

Could Graham Poll, resentful of the pressure he had to work under as a ref for Man U games, be trying to warn the current batch of officials not to go back to their cowardly old ways if Ferguson DID make a comeback?  Could he belatedly be recognising where his duty to the game should actually be leading him?  One thing’s for sure: it’s out in the open now – and it’s the job of everyone with the interests of football and fair competition at heart to make sure that’s exactly how it stays.

Premier League Set to Make Life Easier for Man U and Moyes – by Rob Atkinson

Man U line up reluctantly before having to play Man City

Man U line up reluctantly before having to play Man City

After a lengthy period of consideration following the remarks of Man U boss David Moyes on the eve of the season, the FA Premier League are set to act in recognition that the Biggest Club in the Universe have, after all, been unfairly treated.

Moyes had been annoyed that the Greater Manchester club, often fondly known by enemies and foes alike as the “Pride of Devon”, had been “dealt with as if we were just any club.” His complaint concerned the opening five games of the season, with Man U facing three clubs that they were scared of in the first five fixtures. “It was plainly unfair,” said the irate Scum boss. “Historically, this club deserve better than the treatment just any old club gets. Don’t listen to me, ask the gentlemen that edit the Mirror, Sun and Mail. Ask Sky TV. They’re all horrified at how we’ve just been lumped in with all the rest, let me tell you.”

Now the FA are set to take decisive action in the face of what are being seen as compelling arguments. “Mr Moyes has a point,” an ashen spokesperson said, yesterday. “We’ve perhaps taken our eye off the ball here, and maybe we’ve forgotten just who we’re dealing with.”

Unfortunately, it has been thought “too controversial” to expunge the results of the games concerned – Man U lost to Liverpool and Man City and could only just scrape a draw at home to Chelsea. “Unsatisfactory though it may be,” the FA announced, “these results will have to stand. However, we have ruled that it wouldn’t be fair to ask Man U to play these clubs again this season. We have decided therefore that we – ahem, they – will play Bury at home instead of City, Tranmere at home instead of Liverpool and Barnet away instead of Chelsea. The two scheduled Arsenal games will feature Arsenal Ladies, and instead of playing Spurs home and away, Man U will face a Showbiz XI captained by Mick Hucknall.”

David Moyes has cautiously welcomed what some may see as quite a generous gesture on the part of the game’s ruling body. “I can’t really agree it’s generous,” he snapped. “We dropped 8 points in those three games, and it seems we’re not getting them back. That’s nothing short of scandalous. We’ll just get on with it though as we always do at this club. At least it’s given us some scope to redress the balance a bit. We might have only got a point or two from that unfair run of fixtures if something hadn’t been done – now I’m confident we’ll get three or four. We at Man U will just hope the game’s authorities get it right first time in the future. All we ask is for our own way in everything.”

In a joint expression of regret and apology, BSkyB and the FA have asked Man U for their forgiveness in this sorry episode. “We are fully aware of the commercial implications of Man U failing to do well,” says the statement, in part. “We’ve seen the sales projections for Man U tat and Sky dishes in hotbeds like Cornwall and Kent and how business drops off if our heroes lose. Believe us, we’ll be extending the hand of friendship and help to Man U at every opportunity. As part of this, we can give assurances that the latest “New George Best”, Adnan Januzaj will not face any disciplinary action for his future dives to win penalties. Yesterday’s incident was an unfortunate misunderstanding, and the officials concerned have been disciplined.”

In a further gesture of support, the FA have agreed to expunge all Title records prior to 1993, send their referees on refresher courses at Man U’s Carrington Training Complex and deduct 15 league points from Leeds United with immediate effect.

Moyes Faithfully Following Fergie Methods to Achieve Success – by Rob Atkinson

Image

One thing stood out plain and clear from today’s insipid victory for Man U over newly-promoted Crystal Palace – it’s going to be the tried and trusted route to success for Devon’s finest, especially at the Theatre of Hollow Myths.

It was the classic Man U home game against stubborn opposition bent on making things tough for the media’s darlings. Batter away, secure a dodgy penalty and if at all possible, have a complaisant ref who’s well-briefed enough to be aware of his responsibilities and who will obligingly reduce the away side to ten men, consigning the rest of the game to the status of a non-contest. It’s a reliable enough game plan, though depending heavily upon Ashley Young’s talent for ending up prone in the penalty area, regardless of where the alleged foul took place. It’s happened time and time again, prompting embarrassed “hem hems” in the commentary box, and a general air in the press of hoping that people won’t notice, no matter how often the same scenario plays itself out. It’s depressing, but modern football is modern business, and markets speak louder than words. Those shirts and the other Man U tat won’t just sell itself, don’t you know – and there’s warehouses full of the stuff all over the hotbeds of support across the South of England.

As they travel back to London after the match, fans of both teams might agree on one thing: Old Trafford isn’t quite the place it used to be. Time was it would be described as a fortress, albeit a pretty quiet one. But there’s always been that suspicion that “fortress” was not a very apt description, indeed that “bent crap table with loaded dice” would be far more accurate, the local management usually ending up happy, by hook or by crook. That reputation preceded Fergie, but certainly flourished under his tyrannical reign, his use of bluster, threats and intimidation to ensure that press and officials were all singing from the Man U song sheet.

As I’ve already mentioned elsewhere, new boss Moyes appears to have shed his former “quite nice guy” image, and reinvented himself as a Fergie Lite. Given the relative paucity of quality in his current squad, as compared to the likes of Liverpool, Chelsea, Arsenal and City, this would appear to be his best bet – take those boys on at Football, and the modern-day, post-Taggart Man U would be in danger of some humiliating batterings. Already, Moyes’ paranoid pre-season whinge about having to play three Big Clubs in their first five fixtures appears prophetic. Two home points dropped against Chelsea, defeat away to the historical masters Liverpool. Better then, surely, to rely on the admittedly shady measures that brought so much undeserved success over the past twenty years of Murdoch-sponsored domination. After all – what’s a global franchise supposed to do? It’s win or, quite possibly, bust.

Whether a continuation of the same old, same old routine down Salford way can really take a sub-standard Man U squad to their accustomed honours must be open to doubt. The transfer window was a sobering experience for die-hard Nitid devotees from Torquay to Jakarta. City have secured diamonds, Arsenal have a pearl in Ozil, Liverpool are improved beyond all recognition and Chelsea have The Special One – ’nuff said. Man U meanwhile experienced a long and ongoing tragedy of a window, a car-crash experience of humiliating failure and rejection – ending up with someone in Fellaini whose best chance of a major role at the Theatre of Hollow Myths would appear to be sticking his head down the toilet and giving that U-bend a good going-over. Even Champions League pariahs Tottenham fared much better than that, and could well be dark horses for a top-four place this time around, particularly if favourable officiating and Moyes’ pallid impersonation of Nasty Alex isn’t enough to raise Man U out of sub-top six mediocrity.

And what if Man U really do fail – as their lack of quality and surfeit of internal strife might suggest they will? What then for former nice-guy Moyes? Is he destined to be the 21st Century Wilf McGuiness? Will “Sir” Fergie be tempted back to reprise Busby’s early 70’s attempted rescue act? It all remains to be seen, but the harrassed and worried glory-hunters on their long trip back to the south can be reassured after today’s standard-issue double-whammy of penalty and red card against opposition who threatened to frustrate them, that some things at least haven’t changed.

Happy Days Are Here Again – Bring On the New Season!

Good Riddance, Taggart

Good Riddance, Taggart

The best football season since the mid-eighties (apart from 1991-92, obviously) is almost upon us.  Despite the recession, austerity, bankers bonuses and the scandalous price of a pint, I’ve rarely felt so positive and optimistic about the immediate future.  Even the fact that Leeds United are crap, and will almost certainly remain crap despite the best efforts of poor old Brian McDermott, my outlook is one of sunny anticipation and excitement for the feast of football that awaits my tired and cynical old eyes.  And why?  I’ll tell you why. It’s because Fergie’s gone, that’s why.  Say it again and say it with relish.  Fergie.  Is. GONE.

Don’t get me wrong.  It wasn’t his annoying habit of winning things for the Mighty Man U that bothered me.  It wasn’t his oft-paraded bloody stop-watch held up as a mute instruction to the ref regarding time-keeping.  It wasn’t even his arrogance over whether he chose to adhere to various rules which bound other managers, things like press interviews, his notorious BBC ban, stuff like that.  The fact that he clearly considered himself above mere rules was irritating, but not on its own the reason why I loathed him so much.  It was none of these things in isolation.  And after all, when he lost it was such a pleasure.  Thank you Leeds in ’92, Blackburn in ’95, City in ’12 and a few others.  But it didn’t happen often enough, and really, he was almost as horrific in defeat as he was in – shudder – triumph.

The real problem with Fergie was the sheer, all-round, ever-present, all-pervading unpleasantness of the man.  His particular brand of arrogant Glaswegian gittery and the way in which he held sway over the entire game and media too – the whole Fergie package – that’s what got my goat.  Whoever we support, we’ll have had managers who crossed the line in this or that respect, and made you see why fans of other clubs regarded them as less than nice.  But Ferguson exceeded all these limits, most of the time – and not in a good way.  Comical defeats apart, I really can’t think of a solitary redeeming feature.  If I absolutely HAD to put my finger on one thing that annoyed me above all else – it was the demeanour of the man when he was happy, when he’d just won or when Man U had scored a goal.  Sadly, these events happened all too often, and the results were always utterly repellent.  When the Mighty Reds scored, there he’d be, emerging from his dug-out in that annoying daft old man shuffle, fists clenched and waving in uncoordinated celebration, casting a glance of odious triumphalism at the sullen members of the opposition coaching staff, champing away happily on his ever-present wad of gum while his nose throbbed an ugly shade of victorious purple.  A most unpleasant sight.

Happily though, it is one we shall behold no more.  Fergie has retired upstairs, where his baleful presence need be of concern only to the inheritor of the poisoned chalice, David Moyes Esq.  Moyes may wish to cast his mind back 43 years to the effect a newly-retired but still-powerful-in-the-background Busby had on HIS successor.  But that is his problem.  All we need wish is that an early and unceremonious exit for Moyes – should he fail – isn’t a signal for the caretaker return of the Govan Guv’nor, just when we all thought that nightmare was over.  Perish the thought.

So I’m really looking forward to a Fergie-less season, and even to the slight bewilderment of the assembled media, who will be wondering where to brown-nose, who to target for their obsequious flattery.  Again, their bereft sadness is not my problem.  I’m just going to enjoy the football scene as it will appear to me – bright and shiny, replete with promise and optimism after the removal of that horrible, nasty man.  Man U will be that bit more difficult to hate, with the really-quite-likeable Moyes in charge, however long that lasts. But I’ll manage, it’s in my DNA as a fan of the One True United after all.  And Mourinho is back, and Wenger is still there – men you can’t help but respect and admire.  It’s going to be a good season in the Premier League, something I can really enjoy for once, whatever my beloved Leeds United do to screw things up one division lower.

And it’s all thanks to That Man finally being gone. Hallelujah!!

Evra Out-Chomps Suarez in the Bad Taste Stakes

Stupid Boy

Stupid Boy

It was predictable, I suppose, that Man U would find time in celebrating their hollow title triumph to have a pop at the enemy down the other end of the East Lancs road. It’s in their DNA to crow instead of celebrating with dignity as truly great clubs do – and so inevitably the evening couldn’t go by without some reference to the latest glitch from Liverpool’s Luis Suarez.  Liverpool are a problem for Man U.  They oozed class to utterly out-perform all the competition back when that competition was a lot broader-based than it is today.  They’ve still got more European Cups.  For a club so obsessed with size and success, so insecure in the face of genuine rivalry, it stings the Trafford-based giants that a relatively close neighbour has been so historically successful.  Man U don’t take that sort of thing kindly, and Ferguson’s poisonous hatred of Liverpool has trickled down like escaping acid through the fabric of his club, leaving the suppurating sores of bitter envy at all levels.

Even given this long-standing hatred of Liverpool, born of the envy and insecurity that riddles Old Trafford, the display on Monday evening of the not-exactly-admirable defender Evra was pushing hard at the far boundaries of decency and good taste.  A joke “severed limb” was thrown onto the pitch from the jubilant home fans – this is the kind of thing Man U fans are rather prone to, with a record of similar perversions of class and comportment many times in the past.  They tend to squeal loud and long though if anyone offers them like treatment; such is the one-way street of the Man U supporters’ moral code.

So there’s this silly toy on the pitch and – no doubt seeking to please and impress his adoring fans, Evra had to pick it up and mime having a bite out of it.  It’s not a particularly edifying image, but of course Evra and Suarez are not exactly bosom buddies.  Be that as it may, such a very unsubtle reference to the hot-headed and idiotic actions of the Uruguayan a couple of days previously at Anfield was – to say the least – unhelpful and unwelcome.  Suarez has stupidly offered himself as a target yet again for a press and public that has been eager to condemn him ever since his dispute with Evra, a situation in which the Frenchman shared a lot of any blame going.  But Suarez has been hunted ever since, any slip highlighted, most of the praise that his sparkling play deserves only grudgingly meted out.

The point of all this is, of course, that the actions of Suarez, stupid and needless though they may be, ARE invariably taken in the heat of the moment, when he is in the middle of some competitive vortex on the field.  Evra, on the other hand was relaxed and celebrating, high on the moment of triumph no doubt, but not caught up in the white heat of conflict.  And yet he still chose to do this tasteless thing, in cold blood, and subject us all to the spectacle of his gloating mug on the back pages, glorying in the opportunity to heap further ridicule on a fellow professional.  An unpleasant and despicable individual, as well as being not one tenth the player that Suarez undeniably is, as he’s always proving.

It always seems to be Man U that are highlighted indulging in unpleasant schoolboy skits like this.  They used to have a reputation for class and impeccable conduct, even under the slightly shady rule of the Edwards family.  That good reputation is long gone.  The modern tendency to revel in the misfortunes and dilemmas of others seems bred into them by their coarse and choleric manager, a man who values the siege complex and nurtures this out of the hate his teams’ conduct inspires.  Suarez has – probably rightly – copped a long ban for his daft action, which gained him nothing and certainly reflected ill on the game.  His conduct was inexcusable, but for a hothead like Suarez there are always reasons, and it seems that every now and again, he will simply run out of self-control.  It’s in his temperamental and hot-blooded nature for this to be so, and sadly that runs against the grain in a colder country than his native Uruguay.

But what’s worse – this instinctive tendency of the Liverpool striker to get carried away in the moment and either lash out or bite off more than he can chew?  Or the sly and nasty, calculated and measured breach of taste perpetrated by Evra, a man usually more sinning than sinned against, and whose actions appear inexplicably to draw nothing more than a fond smile from the Man U-centric media?

I know what I think.  Silly lad, Suarez.  Nasty git, Evra.