By Richard Kurt
YES, YES, I’ll get to the match in a moment but, forgive me, I’ve been somewhat distracted since Sunday morning by the now notorious tale of the alleged Premiership bisexuals and their mobile phone that appeared in the News of the World.
It has been an object lesson in the new power of the internet and one almost but not quite feels sorry for public figures in such circumstances these days.
Ten years ago, if a story appeared from which the names had been deleted, it tended to wither on the media vine almost instantly. Only journalists and insiders got to know the SP: mug punters would be left ignorant.
Not anymore. One leak on to a website multiplies itself across the internet and by noon next day thousands of viral emails transmit the gossip to offices across the world.
By next matchday, chants have been invented, and some poor player gets 90 minutes of personal abuse based on a story that wasn't firm enough to pass a newspaper's lawyers, but which nonetheless becomes part of the common argot.
Naturally there'll be no naming and shaming here but I must say I will be cocking a keener ear than usual to the sound effects of the next broadcast matches of certain clubs
As for the bigger picture homophobia in football it's been most illuminating. The FA in London have tried to mount a campaign to curb homophobic terrace chants but it was virtually stillborn due to an apparent lack of drive.
Bizarrely, only six clubs have been actively approached to help the FA including both Manchester outfits and most fans have heard nothing about it.
And whereas fans have virtually self-policed racist abuse out of the game altogether (except at such infamous venues as Goodison Park and St James' Park), chants and abuse pertaining to someone's alleged sexuality still seem to be fair game to many.
Players themselves haven't helped: for example, few have forgotten Robbie Fowler's revolting treatment of Graeme Le Saux, a happily-married player tagged quite wrongly as 'gay' simply because he confessed to reading the broadsheet Guardian every day.
Re-read that last sentence and you truly wonder whether football is in fact nothing more than a playground for overgrown schoolchildren.
Not all is Neanderthal, however.
Interestingly, when Cristiano Ronaldo was falsely accused of rape earlier this season, he received almost no stick from opposing fans, despite his unpopularity as a player and the fact that he played for the hated United.
In the old days, the merest media suggestion that a player had misbehaved in his private life with his wife or a woman would result in dog's abuse from day one, as Peter Shilton famously found out to his cost.
Fans have at least wised up to some extent, following a flurry of cases in which players were accused of sexual crimes but turned out to be blameless.
People now understand more about how tabloids work and are thus much more prepared to say 'innocent until proven guilty'.
And I daresay the fact that the overwhelming majority of fans remains male has something to do with this: how many of them now, in gender-solidarity, think 'there but for the grace of God go I' when a player is turned over after a nightclub incident with a girl of dubious morals?
One would hope that players might soon start coming out of their own volition and I think you'd find that the issue would then rapidly become defused, just as when a rugby player did so in Australia.
But for the time being, outing footballers is a hot-button issue for the media, and I reckon we will be seeing quite a few more weekends like the last one in the months to come.
Thankfully we have no such distractions, and we can concentrate on catching Chelsea. There, I said it: I admit it, I still dream it can be done.
Before Christmas I wrote that as long as Ronaldo and Rooney performed to their utmost, I still harboured the notion that we could outperform the celebrated clawbacks of Arsenal in 1998 and United in 2003.
Fratton Park Reds were buzzing at half-time with a feeling not enjoyed for some time: the smell of blood in the nostrils inflaming the sense.
A first-half blitz combined with the Chelsea result had given us the merest sliver of hope.
If Barca destroy Chelsea's confidence next week, who knows what might then transpire?
Actually, we have Rooney and Ronaldo operating some kind of genius timeshare at the moment: Wayne was quiet on Saturday, so Cristiano picked up the slack. We need both to start firing simultaneously if we are to ease past the Scousers towards Cardiff on Sunday and then give Chelsea a proper challenge.
And looking at the results table, I wince to see that we are 12 points behind we have actually dropped 10 since St Stephen's Day. Imagine where we could have been if we'd got our act together! Then again, that goes for the whole club and the whole season, I suppose.
Thus my only prediction about May's finish line is this: that the summer trading season which follows will be the most crucial in recent Red memory.
Richard Kurt is contributing editor at www.redissue.co.uk