There have been moments of wonder — such as Beckham’s goal from halfway, or key matches on the way to titles and Cups in 1993 and 1994. And then there have been some awful traumas — primarily the 1995 Kung Fu incident, and O’Farrell’s last stand in 1972.
Mainly, though, it’s simply thought of as a pig of a place to get to, often topping polls as Least Favourite Awayday. And let’s face it: it’s not a part of suburban-swamp London anyone dreams of visiting at the best of times, despite the surprising vocal prowess of the modern Eagles’ crowd.
Saturday’s trip will, one hopes, be quickly forgotten, so shatteringly dull and disappointing was it. But some may argue that it shouldn’t be consigned to history’s dustbin, because it may have marked A Moment.
By that I mean one of those tipping points, when people throw in the towel and declare they can’t take anymore.
Paul Scholes had anticipated events with his now infamous outburst midweek, which in turn threatened to turn LVG puce with raging disgust at his Friday press conference. Now then: for some, choosing favourites amongst the Class of ‘92 can feel like choosing between one’s children. But for the properly clued-up, there’s no contest — Paul Scholes is the one you’d keep in the balloon after discarding the others, in every respect.
And when he speaks, in that startlingly blunt yet undramatic way he favours, you listen. His dagger-wielding assault last week reprised many of the themes and arguments any of you who are regulars here will have grown accustomed to reading this season. His personal touch — casually stating that he wouldn’t have wanted to play in this team — spoke devastating volumes.
Even so, he did pull one punch, just as the other Class of 92 veterans have done, as well as a majority of media pundits: he sought to make excuses for the FSB, aka Wayne Rooney, to the bafflement of most Reds.
Let us be clear: as Mark Lawrenson exasperatedly declared on TV over the weekend: “Everyone in the game can see that Martial needs to play at Number 9 for United.” Everyone except LVG, that is.
And a huge proportion of United fans would go that one step further: “surely everyone can see Rooney needs to be omitted from the team — at least, for a while.” Three nil-nils in one week — two of them at home! — is the sort of thing we’d have expected from Moyes’ United, or Sexton’s.
But when you have talents on the pitch such as Mata, Martial and Herrera being fed by a World Cup winner, you are entitled to expect so much more. Yes, ‘entitled’: we are paying ludicrous amounts of money to watch this tedious rubbish, and Van Gaal has been showered with hundreds of millions to spend in the market. This simply will not do. Fans were audibly turning in the stands on Saturday, and a poll running on the Red Issue website during Sunday found only 15% prepared to back the proposition “LVG must be given until the end of his contract”.
Fortunately for Van Gaal, the ongoing José Mourinho circus has meant that his evident failings are not attracting quite as much media heat as they should. Nevertheless, be under no illusion: the Old Trafford natives are restless, bordering on the revolutionary. Tomorrow night’s European Cup match was already important enough, given the state of the group — but it has taken on an added dimension after the past week’s events. LVG and Rooney in particular need to pull something out of the bag.
The frustration remains, as alluded to by Paul Scholes, that so many of the required elements for success are actually in place. Take that front six who took to the field on Saturday, for example: replace Rooney with someone in-form and not over-the-hill, and few Reds would quibble with the personnel at our attack’s disposition.
But it’s not just about having the right players: it’s about the way you instruct them to interact. And I don’t think there’s a United fan left who would be prepared to argue that LVG’s imposition of cautious, slow possession-play and staid coaching-manual collective manoeuvre are justifiable.
As one old Red fan put it to me: “If merely getting into the top four by playing like this is the name of the game, then I don’t want to play it anymore.” Knowing me, knowing you, we can agree that’s surely not the best we can do?