THE afterglow continues. Fergie bowing; Park scintillating; the face of John Terry; the old OT atmosphere back for a rare cameo... in fact, it felt like just about every minute of Sunday’s proceedings contained something to warm the most jaded of Red hearts.
We had all plotted out the different ways this league season could end but, as we stand now, isn’t this the best of all worlds?
A potential celebratory triptych — champions-elect Sunday, champions-in-fact Saturday, and then champions-crowned against Blackpool.
Three afternoons of riotous carousing off one pot. But then, as it is the Holy 19th, it would be fitting excess.
During the past 48 hours of backslapping, you did get one or two Reds popping up every now and then to caution “hey, we still need a point” before the obligatory mention of Devon Loch. Fergie himself summoned up the hoary nag analogy but his humour said it all — jesting about his dad having backed the blunderer.
The possibility of a repeat, you just know, will simply not have crossed his mind. After all, let us be clear: any such calamity would constitute the single biggest such shock since the old First Division began in 1888. Go on, you try and find an equivalent. I couldn’t and spent two hours hunting.
For the players, there’s that massive extra motivation that ought to ensure that there’s no such Lochery — the lottery of Fergie’s Wembley selection tombola. If the cliche is true about this being the most ‘squad-title’ of all Fergie’s crowns — and I suspect it probably is — then there are at least 17 or 18 players who will be thinking there’s a lineup place beckoning. It might even be enough of a goal for Nani to start looking interested again.
Anderson’s another who needs to make a late determined charge if he wants to feature. I am told he had been exhausting Fergie’s patience to such an extent he received a personal 20-minute hairdryer at the Emirates, the instant reactive results being evident against Schalke. And what about Park, who shone so brightly on Sunday, yet will not need reminding that an equally stellar display — against Barca in 2008 — still proved insufficient to get him a Moscow berth?
Whatever: this Saturday is going to see a classic massed Reds’ away day. Sniggering references about Manchester City’s infamous trip to Ewood when they got promoted have abounded; if you believed every Blue agitpropper who told you he was there, they must have had over one million ticketless fans on The Hill, making it football’s equivalent of the legendary Lesser Free Trade Hall gig by the Sex Pistols (the venue held less than 150; approximately 7,000 Mancs will swear on bibles they were there).
That gig took place in June 1976, when United and City had both just been to Wembley to compete in major finals; now here we are again, in the same capital-bound boat for the first time since. The realists among us accept that the outcome will probably be as in 1976: City will go first, and bring home their lesser bauble, whilst we will likely be later thwarted for the big one. Barca’s hot favourite status is undisputed here.
But for now, Operation Overshadow is all that matters. We have the chance to be dancing in fountains, literally or otherwise, brandishing our superior replica pots, whilst a down-bill City sweat it out underneath their tatty moustaches and cheap polyester ‘Semi-Final Cup Winners’ t-shirts against Stoke.
Just as in 1970, when their only continental triumph went unnoticed, thanks to what was going on at Old Trafford that night, or 1968, when their cries of ‘champions of England’ were out-trumped within weeks by our own ‘champions of Europe’.
We call them The Bitters for good cause, y’know.
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