Living on Murkeydive for several years in the ’90s, I managed to build cordial pub relations with several local Toffees as we bonded over a shared love of The Old Ways and a shared loathing of Liverpool FC.
Furthermore, in recent years, the club’s burgeoning status as a very convenient retirement home for over-the-hill United players has meant it’s been very much in our interests for them to stick around a while in the top flight. Much for the same reason as one likes to have one’s wheelie bin near the back door.
Moreover, their marvellous old-timey ground remains an important gathering place for those of us who venerate tradition; their away support has remained vocal and largely clued-up, too.
All in all, seeing them come up next in the fixture list always gives me a lift.
Obviously, we weren’t feeling quite so ‘lifted’ with about 10 minutes to go on
Sunday. All the Evertonians I’d spoken to before the game had been dreading the afternoon and half-expecting a good hammering, so Old Trafford contained 75,000 thoroughly bemused punters at that moment.
Of course, by the time the whistle went, we were all more or less where we had expected to be at kick-off scoreline-wise, thanks to United’s last-gasp frenzy. Not the first time this season Mourinho’s team has pulled that goal-flurry stunt, and probably not the last: There’s something very Jose-ish about its headspinning, vicious effectiveness. For some reason, its OTT brutality and rank unfairness made me think of Joe Pesci and a baseball bat.
So here we are on Monday morning, back on top of the table, grinning slightly sheepishly. But let us be wary: Perhaps this is what Life Without Pogba is going to be like for the next six to twelve weeks (edit as per your choice of newspaper report). We looked laboured and occasionally directionless for parts of Sunday, as though all too conscious of the Pog-shaped hole.
Fortunately, for the time being at least, the tests will continue to be at the softer end of the market. Southampton, where we trek next weekend, are clearly not what they were — and even then, they weren’t all that. And Wednesday night brings us Burton in the League Cup, a tie which one hopes has had any possible sting removed by virtue of it being at Old Trafford.
Some of you will recall the hairy moments last time we crossed those minnows’ path, in 2005/6, when we almost crashed out of the cup at their place before bringing them back to Manchester for a relieved thrashing. At the time, the atmosphere around the club was febrile, bordering on the insurrectional, with the Glazers having arrived only months before and with the team lurching around alarmingly. One wonders what might have happened to the larger picture had United been Bournemouth’d that day in Burton...
Forgive me for casting a lingering, misty-eyed glance back to those dark days but I’ve been reliving them this week thanks to two new United history books. One, by Martin Edwards, need not detain us here: Sadly, everything of value in it was in the papers last week, and the rest is a bore.
However, the other — Red Rebels, by my one-time boss JP O’Neill — is a gripping must-read. Much of the key action in it takes place over the 2004-6 period, and Examiner readers will also recognise some ‘local’ characters in it, such as the Coolmore boys, Roy Keane, and, ahem, even your current correspondent.
I won’t spoil the book for you, which tells the riveting tale of the Glazer war and its aftermath, except to say it has a happier ending than you’ll expect. I shall always treasure the comical scene wherein a bemused Keano is doorstepped at home, and offered a job as a non-league footballer. In 2005. Imagine his face...
Now then: Hasn’t that cheered you up on a chilly Monday morning?!”