It must be halfway through Full Metal Jacket when Lt Lockhart, editor of the US military’s Stars and Stripes newspaper, briefs his men in the wake of the surprise attack by the North Vietnamese Army and the Viet Cong that would go down in history as the Tet Offensive.
Every major military target in the country has been attacked, he explains. The US Embassy in Saigon has been overrun by suicide squads. The vital military outpost of Khe Sanh is standing by to be overrun. Maybe worst of all is the fact the legendary and agenda-defining broadcaster Walter Cronkite is about to declare the war as unwinnable.
“In other words,” says Lt Lockhart, “it’s a huge shit sandwich and we’re all gonna have to take a bite.”
It’s a phrase which comes to mind time and again when covering sport, which throws up as many crises as it does coronations. It resurfaced this week as the latest glut of stories involving Manchester United gurgled up through the sewers and slushed around our shoes.
United are a stinking mess right now. Have been for some time, of course, but the stench is becoming unbearable as they lurch unpredictably through another summer transfer window played out to the backdrop of Jesse Lingard’s panned social media updates and the latest global wave of anti-Glazer feeling.
That’s United right now: As toxic at micro level as they are the macro.
All three strands are, of course, related. They are emblematic of a club that has lost its way. Sixth in the Premier League last year, they face Europa League football this term under a manager whose CV is already compromised by an appalling run of form which kicked in as soon as he was handed the gig full-time.
Not a good look for a club with previous when it comes to buyer’s remorse.
The bigger picture is clearly the more concerning. The current online campaign against the Glazers likely won’t amount to anything more than the green and gold backlash that accompanied their takeover of the club back in 2005, but it does seem to have focused fans’ minds on just how deep the hole in which they find themselves actually is.
The claim last year that the American owners had ‘drained’ £1bn (€1.1bn) from the club in their time in charge has been more prominent this last few days and it’s worth noting here what James Montague, who wrote The Billionaires Club: The Unstoppable Rise of Football’s Super-Rich Owners, said in 2018.
“They could have easily gone out of business,” Montague told the Daily Star of the period following the takeover.
That they didn’t was down in large part to the genius of Alex Ferguson who managed to do more with less and continue to claim trophies.
Whether Ferguson’s continued success did in fact save the club from economic meltdown is one thing but it did, at the very least, delay the day of reckoning and the current #GlazersOut campaign, no longer undermined by a parade of silverware, seems to have learned some of the lessons from their highly visible yet ultimately unsuccessful campaign in the noughties.
This was hammered home by George Baker — co-founder of FC United of Manchester, the protest club spawned by the Glazer takeover — when he spoke to the FullTimeDEVILS channel last month about an #UnfollowManUnited campaign which sought to protest its American handlers by cutting into the club’s monstrous social media presence.
“The Glazers don’t care because they have your money,” Baker told them. “They don’t care about a scarf with different colours and they don’t care if they have a few thousand people less following them on Instagram and Twitter. What would matter is if they could see an empty Old Trafford. But that is asking the earth.
It’s not. Clearly. Blackpool fans managed it earlier this year when finally ushering the despised Oyston family out of Bloomfield Road, but only on the back of a torturous four-year boycott by thousands of supporters. Unlike United, there was no mass of fans the world over desperate and able to fill their vacant seats.
United supporters have never engendered much sympathy, regardless of their postal address, but theirs is an unenviable love affair right now. Still drawn to the club they love like a moth to a flame and yet burned time and again by the rotten culture that has permeated both the boardroom and the dressing room.
To stay away would be to make a stand, but to what effect?