Wednesday, 16 May 2012

you can't be neutral on a moving train

A great spectacle for the neutrals.

Last weekend’s ending to the premier league season will have many words written about it, eulogising the greatest ending to a season ever, etc. Some will be succinct, others poetic. Some will be bitter and others will gloat.

The words above may not appear verbatim, but there will be an inference to that theory - that the pair of matches involving the Manchester clubs, the to-ing and fro-ing of the league title, right in to the dying seconds - and the relegation battle and "race" for third place - whilst being varying degrees of heaven and hell for the various sets of fans, was great stuff for the watching neutrals. But is it truly possible to be neutral when it comes to football?
Even at a park game on a Sunday morning, I will instantly take sides and find a reason to root for one rather than the other - they look a bit portly and ageing, I'll back them; that team's kit looks too much like manchester city's, hope they lose; the captain loves the sound of his voice too much, go for the opposition - I can't just sit or stand there and watch without investing some interest in to it and picking a team.

The FA Cup Final was a dilemma. Year by year I pick a favourite team in the final - but 2012? I have no time for Liverpool, yet the modern Chelsea also turn my stomach - or some of their players...or one at least...

It never used to be that way with Chelsea for me - perhaps we know too much about today's players and it taints our opinions. I would have chosen Chelsea for the win without hesitation in the past - I used to like those Zola and Vialli chaps - hell, we all did, didn't we? Further back in time, I always thought it was quite becoming - nay exotic, almost - that they used to have a striker with a girl's name. (Kerry Dixon to the under 30s out there).
Still. When it came down to it - rather them than the old enemy. Can't brush away all that history.

Champions League Final - thought there might be a chance I could be neutral on this one, until I heard the "breaking news" that John Terry, despite being suspended, would be allowed to lift the trophy should Chelsea win (insert loud shouts a la Jim White on Sky Sports News for full effect). Deal sealed, come on Bayern.
The Europa League Final - well, the whole of Britain seemingly wanted Athletic Bilbao to triumph. The Channel 5 coverage of them sweeping all-comers aside (once the country had woken up to the tournament, when the high-profile Manchester teams dropped in to it) was a joy to behold. We all had new darlings to root for and to cheat on our other halfs with.
So, was there anyone who was actually neutral on the "greatest final day" in this, the Premier League's "greatest ever season"? I haven't met anyone that has any slight interest in football who has purported to be neutral this last weekend. Yet the whole Manchester duking it out for the title scenario ought to have only got the city of Manchester excited, oughtn't it? Shouldn't it have been a strictly local affair?
No longer. And not just because of the "Anyone But United" mentality that usually ensures neutrality goes out of the window. No - QPR gained a whole new raft of fans for the day, Sunderland too.

But then, the whole country has disliked Manchester United for a long time now, creating this ABU nation. We all know someone who claims to support them and spends many moments rubbing noses in the fact. The geographical location of fans is a weak argument in the modern game, but it still has the power to upset - especially when so many local clubs are suffering. The "club's" commercialism, polarising manager and relentless pursuit of silverware in this televisual age have all added to the mix, creating friends and enemies simultaneously in very large numbers.
Pretenders to the red throne have come and gone over the 20 years of the Premier League (I know football didn't begin then, but it is the accepted yardstick for the all conquering tv era), but United have come back time and again - I'm sure that most of the country have prayed for one challenger to stick and to really threaten the United dominance. Be careful what you wish for.

The Mancunian Way

Mancunians seemingly appear to have a chip on their shoulders. It manifests itself outwardly in a bravado and cockiness. A belief in always being right - or at least, not caring if anyone thinks they are wrong. A fast, clipped style of speech, with shortened vowels, the local tongue serves to make the listener think that the speaker is supremely sure of himself and what he is saying. It also serves to differentiate the true mancunian from those in the various mill and hill-towns that orbit the city.
One thing that causes them consternation is that there is another large industrial city 30 miles away that the world seems to love more. The scouse wit, music and football are the modern disputes, where trade and industry once stood. But for all the bravado and hipster talk about Mancunian music (which I love), Joy Division, New Order, the Roses, Happy Mondays, Oasis, Hollies - the Beatles trump them every time (and I'm not even a fan).
To the greater reaches of the country, Manchester feels left out and tries to propel an image of coolness after years in the doldrums. It clings desperately to an image of the hacienda and the baggy revolution of the Madchester scene, whilst trying to project a more modern image to the world as well. The victorian powerhouse still feels that it is owed a debt from the time it was the city that made the money that London spent.

So, the fact that the city of Manchester has probably long punched above it's weight in our London-centric country, has created the character of its people.

United were obsessed with catching Liverpool on titles. Knocking them off their perch. It hurts that the years of domestic success have not propelled them too much closer in European terms. manchester city now have that obsession. They want to be top dog in the country and they have the resources to make it happen. That it will come at the expense of their cross-city rivals will make it ever sweeter for the fans.
Voices are heard on the morning commute - "it's really good for them, because they haven't won the league for so long..." ; A caller to Talksport yesterday morning revealed that he was overjoyed for them, as he had a great affinity for city, even though he was a Huddersfield Town fan. His reasons? Denis Law left his club for city and his own team once lost 10-1 to them.
The blue-half of Manchester have long enjoyed being the plucky underdog. Everyone's favourite clown, they have been loved because of their glorious failures as they stumbled in the dark reaches of the oppressive shadows that are cast by the powerful monolithic presence across town. "God loves a trier. They deserve success for all they have been through over the years." Like a little lap-dog, they have consistently revelled in this petting, believing everyone liked them more. They very nearly fell for their own joke against QPR, until the true superstar in the team, with no real knowledge of this byline of city tradition, stepped up in the dying seconds.
I don't expect this feeling towards them to last too long. A sea-change is occurring, with them encouraging jealousy and dislike at an astonishing rate, like a lottery winner flashing his wad. Because, if you think that a new name on the trophy is refreshing and it is great that the reds are to be usurped by the once plucky underdogs, then just watch this lot go.

Beware all now that there are two Mancunian clubs at the top. The ABU nation could quite easily become the ABM nation - Anywhere But Manchester. After all, Manchester not only has the former-richest club and perhaps biggest club in the world as a resident, but also the new richest club in the world and latest Premier League champions.

If the blue moon really is rising, the mancunian streak in their fans will let everybody know about it all too soon. Like United's fans they will be brash, bold and loud. But rather than the loveable Eddie Large and Curly Watts of the past, they really will be the Gallagher brothers of the now (x40-odd thousand.) They will also multiply and replicate throughout the land as their success continues.
A match-goer at Goodison Park informed me that there had been a loud cheer during Everton's game against Newcastle United, at the news that QPR had taken the lead against manchester city - his reasoning was that their fans were already getting up his nose (of course, to offer balance, later Sunderland fans enjoyed the schadenfreude of seeing the last-seconds drama of the blues tearing the title out of red hands).
Remember the lemon-sharp bitterness of Mike Summerbee last season after Rooney's overhead kick won the derby? He embodies the fans that have suffered for years at the hands of the reds - they will revel in this glory (and they do have every right to, I can't deny them that). Remember Niall Quinn's most biased of co-commentary slots during the derby last month? On the red side - remember Gary Neville's one-eyed United playing days and hilarious tantrum resulting in a sending off a few years back? And Alex Ferguson's flippant "noisy neighbour" comment. All results of the Mancunian pressure cooker as the temperature has slowly risen.
The repercussions? United will do everything possible to stem the blue tide - it was only goal difference this time, no panic stations just yet... so if the two are to duke it out at the top of the table regularly, a mancunian monster may well have just been created.

If you managed to be before, you may not be able to be neutral any more and may have to make your choice - who is the least worst? Perhaps though, the best idea for all non-fans would be to try and learn to become completely neutral  - let their rivalry become parochial and localised and everyone else can just ignore them? Or you can hope that a third team or more can join the fun - imagine the sky coverage on the final day then...

Whatever. I wouldn't be able to be neutral - if I didn't have one already, I'd have to pick a side.


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