THERE was an important landmark in a developing horror on Thursday.
The busy Manchester United online forum Red Cafe finally snapped, issuing posting restrictions on any members identifying as Liverpool supporters.
Until now, the place had operated a policy of qualified tolerance. Where dissenting voices were free to roam and be suitably abused for their leanings.
But a line has been drawn. In these times of crisis, even Liverpool guests of long-standing bona fides, who have practised restraint in the face of rich bantz opportunity, have been silenced.
The conversion to totalitarianism was communicated unsympathetically: “Unfair? Sure. Life is unfair. Petty? Absolutely. But you know as well as anyone how an epic fall from grace can make people that way.
“Simply put, we always reserve the right to cull the opposition supporting population when appropriate. Consider yourselves victims of your own success.”
The decision appears to have been warmly welcomed by citizens, most of them anxious to retreat into a safe bubble where it is almost possible to block out what is happening around them.
Though one member felt an opportunity for retaliatory psychological manipulation had been lost. That they might have been able to facilitate a sort of Cold War inside their borders.
“Should have just made them all invisible to everyone but other Liverpool fans, and they would have just thought we were dealing with all their wind-ups perfectly.”
That appears to be more or less what has happened on Twitter, where Liverpool fans must, these days, search tirelessly for arguments, possibly because there are only other Liverpool fans left following them.
In any case, this escalation in tensions suggests now might be the right time to check in with Pat — I think that’s what we called the lifelong United man — to see how he is managing during this most difficult period.
When we profiled him in March last year, Pat was in the grip of a great dread. An unthinkable vision loomed large in his mind’s eye: Liverpool completing a Premier League and Champions League double. We found him agitated, estranged from his brother, turning on his children.
It turns out the very worst of his fears didn’t come to pass then, though what happened was fearful enough.
But it was only a taster of the atrocity to come: an appalling dystopia where United can’t string two wins together while Liverpool are incapable of losing or even drawing, whatever team they put out.
Indeed Pat’s recurring nightmare sees Klopp pull 11 randomers from The Kop to run out at Wembley en route to the treble.
And yet, some broken asleep aside, Pat — all the Pats — appear to be coping reasonably well. Considering.
Certainly there have been some lifestyle changes. Pat has cancelled Sky Sports. And there is not a hope he is paying for the other half dozen subscriptions needed to keep track of all the Premier League action.
When United must be watched there are ways and means, but he is not going to expose himself unnecessarily to Carra and Macca and co bringing everything back to Liverpool.
A few regular podcasts have gone the same way and he won’t be buying the Examiner again until they run out of Mo Salah puns for the cover.
So even at his darkest hour Pat is ahead financially. A perfect metaphor for his club.
This swollen disposable income has enabled him to invest heavily in Star Wars paraphernalia for the young lad, postponing a stirring interest in football, and banishing to memory, for now, that traumatic day when he came home from school and asked for a Mane shirt.
Pat’s personal development is coming on well too. Screentime was down another 25% last month.
He hasn’t typed the word LivVARpool since Christmas. And he just finished his third book of the season, a personal best.
He was heading out to the Cross last night, if the rain held off. And he’s even kept an occasional eye on the Six Nations, now the rugby crowd have calmed down a tad and every game doesn’t beckon the apocalypse.
Somehow, his self esteem has survived. His head is held high. It’s certainly a long time since anyone called him a glory-hunter.
And now they have weeded out the fairweathers, there is a certain gallows consolation in righting the wrongs of the world with a few fellow Reds.
Don’t get him wrong, this makeshift mid-season break was still a blessed relief from a grueling ordeal. It’s impossible to shut off the buzzing irritation entirely, like Tinnitus. But what has really saved Pat is the lack of hope. The hope is what was killing him.
Instead, Liverpool’s long procession to unspeakable heights has afforded him a sort of soft landing.
Pat has not yet made peace with it but he’s stopped going to war. He has stopped working on his dossier of conspiracy theories. And he feels just that little bit cleaner since he has given up willing City to score.
He suspects it’s actually bugging them now, how frictionless it has all become.
The few regular suspects trying desperately to engage him have had to become increasingly creative.
Could the gap be 50 points, was their latest gambit.
He no longer bites. Call it maturity. Call it ennui. It’s certainly not because he’s become a bigger man.
As one Red Cafe member put it this week: “We dished it out for many years. But I didn’t dish it out half enough. And it’s my biggest regret.”
A footballer’s life podcast: 1. Graham Cummins