You’ve got to put the effort in to provide the atmosphere that helps fuel an £8.5bn (€9.6bn) TV contract. A 5.30am alarm starts the trip to Old Trafford and heading out into the pitch black of a morning on the first day of winter, it’s difficult not to briefly question sanity.
First target is the 8am from Euston via an early tube train liberally scattered with builders and cleaners as London draws those who service and create but rarely share the spoils into its centre.
Pre-match is dominated by talk of another figure drawn from the edge of the capital’s sprawl onto centre stage, Chigwell’s Harry Kane. An injury at first underplayed became a no-go at the Friday press conference. But these days, there’s always a suspicion that selection comments before games need to be taken with a pinch of salt.
Come the hour and there’s no Kane. But a line-up still capable of competing. Only the genius from the other half of Manchester seems to think Spurs are a one-man team.
The home side start as home sides do, although arguably not as Mourinho home sides do. For 15 minutes the game is taken to Spurs, but the white shirts absorb pressure and slowly turn the tide.
Vertonghen is imperious, Dier — maybe a point being proved here after the Pochettino book revelations — also impressive in the centre of a back three.
Further forward, Eriksen and Sissoko probe and test, Winks looked every inch the seasoned professional and Son buzzed as Son does.
Observations about the noise away supports make and how flat home crowds, particularly at Old Trafford, are have become trite and predictable. Away fans are a concentrated section, up for a day out and invariably more disposed to making themselves heard than large sections of home support at any ground. But today was the quietest I’ve heard the great old ground in all the years I’ve been going.
Odder still as our passage in was jammed up by the arrival of a march of home fans singing their hearts out behind a banner. Very odd, grouping up to march to your home ground and making all the noise, only to sit mute inside. But you get your kicks where you can.
Half-time arrives and it’s even. Niggling doubts about Dele getting drawn into the niggling — Mourinho does like to stamp his personality on a side — and Spurs’ failure to make dominance count stay with us during a half-time spent catching up with familiar faces.
The second half follows the course of the first, the Reds starting strong before being slowly squeezed. Spurs step it up, asking questions. Still few clear-cut chances though. Dembele and Llorente are introduced, the Belgian immediately sets about his business. Llorente grafts, but we’re still to see what he’s made of.
United continue to keep Spurs chances to a minimum. The fear they will hurt us on the break grows. Spurs continue to look most likely. Eriksen dinks a delightful ball into the box for Dele to run on to. He collects under pressure in full view of the away corner. And fluffs it.
He crumples in a heap. He knows it’s a bad miss. But get up lad. It’s gone. Press on.
Then. A ball over the top. Martial runs on. And finishes.
A ball over the top for Christ’s sake! Old Trafford erupts as 73,000 hitherto silent spectators make themselves heard. We are, frankly, gutted.
. United’s fans start to work through the songbook. 20 times, 20 times Man United. No one’s denying the history but a bit of self-awareness wouldn’t go amiss. You’re 1-0 up via a breakaway in a match where you’ve been dominated. Spectators in half and half scarves start to film the away section and point and laugh. A. Ball. Over. The. Top. Sometimes I hate football.
Spurs buzz and press in the final stages. But to no avail. We’ve lost a key game. Coming out into the inevitable blowy, soaking Manchester rain, it’s hard to work out if losing when you’ve played well is worse than losing when you’ve played badly.
We’re on the 4.55 back. We get on the train with minutes to spare.
On the train, one of the most annoying Cockney Reds in history phones all his mates to tell them “We were all over them, never in doubt”.
This atmosphere report was brought to you by Tottenham’s travelling support. £8.5bn a year.
Coda. The Joshua fight in a pub in Kings Cross. The lingering sense of disappointment doesn’t go away.
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