Author Jonathan Shrager

Author Jonathan Shrager

Lighthearted review of the transfer window that was

Jonathan Shrager February 6, 2014 Tags: , Opinion 10 comments
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There’s an old adage oft-employed by footy fans when discussing players they deem dispensable to their club: “I’d have personally given him a lift to the airport myself.” It’s a phrase heard bandied about boozers nationwide. Whilst most vehicle owners can accommodate a quartet of passengers, if this rule is applied to every Manchester United player fans wanted to offload during the transfer window, somebody would need to get on the blower to Salford Van Hire to see how they were fixed for minibuses.

David Moyes has gone on record as stating that he isn’t partial to a January signing, prompting low expectations among Reds that the window would prove a thriving period of activity. But all along Moyes, the cheeky scamp, must have been joking – either that, or his New Year’s Resolution was to blow his previously prudent policy completely out of the water with the record signing of a Juan Mata.

Moyes must have almost felt compelled to buy in January, not only to temporarily silence his burgeoning cohort of detractors, but also to support Adnan Januzaj, on whom United have evidently been growing ever more reliant in the absence of Robin van Persie and Wayne Rooney. Moyes thus needed to think of this as his Januzary transfer window, and mercifully the manager delivered.

The Ian Hislop – Ed Woodward doppelgänger has been noted, and until the Mata coup, it was starting to appear as if United’s vice chairman didn’t have time to squander on negotiations, being indisposed filming the latest series of ‘Have I (Not) Got (Transfer) News For You.’

Now that Woodward’s finally shattered the perception that he can’t pull off a major signing, the United chief is now strutting around Old Trafford on matchday with the type of SWAG that bags the WAGS. Wavering Woodward has instantaneously morphed into Wild Woodward, splashing cash on the world football transfer scene with reckless abandon. With his partner-in-crime, Dangerous Dave – we can now dismiss his Everton moniker of Dithering Dave  in toe, a depraved duo has been unleashed unto the world.

Reports indicated that Moyes had a £150-million transfer kitty at his disposal, enabling the Scot to budge on his transfer budgeting. Moyes could finally swing his spending manhood around with some clout. Furthering the analogy, instead of being hung like a budgie, as he was at Everton, he is now hung like the proverbial donkey. Well-endowed with the Glazer dowry.

Back to the real world and the Wilfried Zaha situation remains most peculiar; a baffling conundrum that bemused even the most discerning Reds. Yes, everybody has heard about the alleged trysts with Moyes’ daughter, but it was beginning to appear as if Wilfried might have also had a tickle with Moyes’ wife, such was the extent of the apparent grudge.

Following on from a promising pre-season, Zaha was so criminally underutilized that he might have well spent January in the Celebrity Big Brother house – handcuffed to Marouanne Fellaini – giving Lee Ryan a run for his money with the ladies.

Zaha’s now on loan at Cardiff City and it would be a veritable travesty if the youngster is never afforded an opportunity at United to prove whether he’s legitimately the real thing. Of all men, surely Moyes can empathise with the concept?

To further obscure the mystery, Moyes had offered supporters a solitary explanation for Zaha’s persistent absence, citing the player’s questionable commitment in training. Plenty of flair players have a reputation as poor trainers, but produce when it really matters – on a matchday. That’s all fans truly care about, not whether Wilfried puts it in during the 100-metre dash. The mind boggles that Zaha has been loaned out whilst the services of other ineffective wingers have been retained. Some of these perennial Saturday-underperformers must look like Cristiano Ronaldo on the hallowed turf at Carrington.

Fabio da Silva’s fast, furious and ultimately final cameo versus Swansea City most likely sealed his fate. He was understandably eager to impress, but his rashly-overzealous challenge only resulted in more pressure being heaped on Moyes. However, it could work to United’s advantage with Fabio now at another club in this country. This requires an imaginative leap of faith, but hypothetically, if his brother gets injured at a crucial stage of the season, when with Moyes side suffering from a spate of crocked defenders, Fabio could then come and fill in for us. Nobody can tell them apart, and United will offload the wage to boot.

Woodward is a genius. Vir-Gill guided the club through Hell; now Woodward will lead United to the Promised Land. This literary allegory would have worked so beautifully had United actually signed Dante.

Moving on, Anderson was always destined for an Italian club the moment that image circulated in 2012 of him proudly sporting a Ferrero Rocher like a bandana. Let’s be honest – that tiny gold-wrapped sphere of frivolity is the closest Ando will ever get to a Ballon d’Or.

Like the school reports of underachieving rebels, Anderson’s spell at United can be summarized by the following: “could have done better.” The annual August press release proclaiming that “this will be his year” will certainly be conspicuous by its absence come the summer.

Fans will also miss the loveable rogue in other ways. He was one of those rare players who managed to hold a dear place in the heart despite not living up to his potential. In some ways Anderson essentially became akin to a club mascot, which is fitting since he was as effective on the pitch as Fred The Red.

‘Andow’ will surely accede to his calling and open up his own chain of piquant poultry eateries! Similar to Nando’s, but much like Ando’s consistency, only occasionally tasty. And ‘Andow’ – what on earth is that all about?! It evokes the popular catchphrase of equally paunchy Homer Simpson, and thus should be spelt And’oh.

On the heels of his polemical Twitter activity – something about a frustration at lack of first team starts – rumours continued to circulate regarding Javier Hernández’ prospective departure. It would sadden Hip-Hop loving Reds immensely if Lil’p left; the goalmouth gangsta.

On the incoming front one Twitter account was set up to monitor the plethora of players reportedly linked with a move to M16. More than 50 players were counted during January alone. Arturo Vidal, Ilkay Gundogan, Chieck Tioté, Toni Kroos, Edison Cavani, and Fabio Coentrao were amongst those bruited in connection with United. It’s much easier on the old heart strings to adopt a monk-like mindset; stay stoic in the face of speculation.

Whilst engrossing, it’s a struggle to remain au fait with United’s affairs during the club’s current plight, let alone be well-versed in the world’s emerging prospects. It’s much easier to rely on YouTube snippets to assess mooted transfer targets, and sceptics might suspect that those who profess to offer an informed opinion on every single one of United’s targets is either fibbing, watching an inordinate amount of televised sport, or receiving tip-offs as to the whereabouts of United scouts.

Perhaps most perplexing amid the catalogue of surnames were those of United alumni Paul Pogba and Ravel Morrison, both recent departees of the club under circumstances that didn’t appear entirely amicable – a wage dispute and off-field indiscretions respectively.

There has subsequently been the vain hope amongst Reds that these two precocious starlets would one day find their way back to their old stomping ground, although the wounds from premature exits have barely even healed over. Pogba and Morrison in concert could address multiple glaring deficiencies at United, adding ample virility to a barren midfield that craves creativity and prowess. Or “more reason to shop for Morrison” as some might sing.

But for one player the gossip actually materialised. Perhaps, as befits a 1930s Lorca play, Mr. Woodward was lying on his luxury cashmere John Lewis mattress one night, when all of a sudden, the words of José Fernández – or any of the innumerable artists to cover “Guantanamera” – filled his ear, serving as a melodic imploration for him to act. “Juan Mata-Edward, please sign us Juan Mata-Edward, Juan Mata-Edward, just sign us Juan Mata-Edward.”

Of course, the move was not without its deliberations, and all the coquettish to-and-froing inherent to the modern day marquee transfer. About 200,000 Reds immediately followed Juan Mata on Twitter when rumours commenced, leading some to grow concerned that it was all some elaborate ploy from Mata’s social media PR team.

By no means will the signing of Mata exclusively return the club to the zenith of world football, but it’s a decent start; the catalyst for the Matamorphosis about to ensue at Old Trafford. The Matamatics proved irrelevant, as the cost didn’t mata to anyone.

Mata’s undoubtedly an absolute joy. The fact that the Spaniard isn’t particularly quick enables supporters to marvel at his majesty in slow-motion. And then of course when cheering on the club’s newest acquisition, fans can all feel very authentic by enunciating the guttural jota in Juan; an incredibly visceral intonation that is an incredibly satisfying thing to do. It’s the simple things, after all.

Parallels between Juan and Paul Scholes seem premature at this juncture, but there are certainly similarities. Using the renowned SatNav analogy, Scholes was a Garmin, Mata a TomTom, but with time and room to ascend up the spectrum of premium midfield GPS devices.

Like a cognitive reflex reaction, the Mata-based wordplay was rife amongst aspiring wordsmiths and budding songsmiths alike on Twitter, furiously endeavouring to out-pun each other at every available opportunity. What self-respecting pun artiste could resist getting involved?

Lyricists attempted to out-cheese each other – Chesney Hawkes’ “The Juan and Only”/Grease “You’re the Juan that I want” – or out-Manc each other – The Charlatans’ “The only Juan I know”/The Stone Roses’ “This is the Juan”. It’ll be interesting to see how this unfolds.

Mata won’t be overly concerned with how the Old Trafford faithful decide to serenade him though. The guy positively oozes class, both on and off the pitch, and will progressively prove impactful with pitch-time. The player’s welcoming press conference was a graceful PR masterclass. Mata has read the United manifesto in its entirety, and he evidently gets it. Similarly admirable was Mata’s refusal to budge when probed by relentless reporters to provide them with a polemical soundbite regarding his former employers.

Juan will assimilate nicely in Manchester. He’ll immediately feel right at home upon paying his first visit to Deansgate’s El Rincon de Rafa, where he can sample classic tapas such as Boquerooneys. The midfielder will also like the fact that there are mainstream clothing retailers up North. The day his pal signed, David De Gea took to Twitter to offer a gentle dig at his compatriot’s sartorial selection. Does Juan perhaps shop at Mata(lan)?

It’s been amply discussed that Mata occupies a berth in which United possesses an extensive number of options: Rooney, Shinji Kagawa, Fellaini et al. But Mata’s addition may mean that the side does not require the complete overhaul as some have intimated. Another three players would likely suffice – a left-back, centre-back and central midfielder, perhaps, in addition to the recalled Zaha and Nick Powell in the summer.

Then there’s always ‘number seven’ Bébé, whose recent volley was actually more impressive than Scholes’ similar strike versus Aston Villa back in 2006, given that the winger had to backtrack and adjust his body position before striking the ball.

Moyes must be aware of the areas that need addressing. The manager’s public proclamations on the heels of a disappointing defeat to Stoke City were surely  displays of defiance, belying his true sentiments. After all, managers seldom express their dismay openly, and it would certainly be disconcerting if the manager actually believed that his side had played well and created plenty.

The Stoke defeat was one that hit most fans hard; a sudden crash back down to earth that highlights the considerable task ahead. It was particularly chastening following the intoxicating euphoria of Mata’s signing.

It was a defeat that embodied all United’s woes this season; unfavourable deflections, poor refereeing decisions and an endless stream of injuries to important players. Factor in the coup de grâce – that ex-United alumni are now cropping up to the club’s detriment, whereas previously they had a beautiful tendency to come to the side’s aid – and there appears to be an all-encompassing misfortune looming over the club at present.

This is compounding the side’s lack of confidence and form, but this is the plight of many Premier League clubs. In fact, this is football full stop. Moyes’ side must be able to deal with such adversity, and, as the old adage instructs, create its own luck.

Reds preoccupying themselves with the centre-half conundrum need but remember that these duos emerge cyclically. Of course it’s an unenviable task attempting to supplant Rio Ferdinand – Nemanja Vidić axis, but bear in mind that they succeeded Japp Stam / Ronnie Johnsen, and Steve Bruce / Gary Pallister. Phil Jones could become a United stalwart with a consistent centre-half berth. Chris Smalling is looking progressively solid, and Jonny Evans has bags of experience to draw upon, so a catastrophe isn’t quite upon the club yet.

The general consensus on Moyes is that he requires time to prove himself either way. Some believe three transfer windows should suffice. Others, including Henry Winter, say four. Gary Neville, five. The issue of whether Moyes can be entrusted with sizeable sums polarizes fans, but it’s another crucial facet of the managerial role on which the manager will be gauged.

Both Evertonians and United fans will offer broadly contrasting opinions on whether Moyes successfully harnesses youth-team prospects and whether his signings prove fruitful. That’s a discussion for another article. But one thing is certain; whoever Moyes brings in, he needs to forget the old Fergie-ism of throwing tea cups. Moyes needs to be chucking tea urns to get his marvels into gear.

A boy who can do (almost) anything

Jonathan Shrager February 5, 2014 Tags: Opinion 8 comments
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There is much reason for double celebration for wunderkind Adnan Januzaj this week. The boy turns 19 today amid news that he’s been awarded the much-vaunted Manchester United Player of the Month award, verisimilarly the first of many accolades he’ll accrue during his Old Trafford tenure. What Januzaj represents, first and foremost, is that if a player displays enough restraint to steer clear of (alleged! – Ed) liaisons with the manager’s next of kin, David Moyes will afford youth a chance to prove itself. It’s a fairly straightforward premise; eschew off-field penetration, and you shall be given ample opportunity to penetrate opposition defences. (that’s enough! – Ed)

Reds aplenty grow excitable at the mere mention of Januzaj, with fans asserting that the youngster will become a superstar. There is a sole objection to this assertion; one could already herald him a superstar. And he will be an icon too.

Januzaj exudes that superstar quality even during these embryonic stages of his playing career. In the youngster’s first start for the club versus Sunderland back in October he bagged a brace to overturn a 1-0 deficit. If previous glimpses had informed supporters that someone pretty special was at the club’s disposal, the double provided the requisite confirmation.

And this isn’t the type of special that could tease fans for a solitary season, nutmegging prestigious players such as Luis Figo before fizzling out before observers very eyes. This is the type of special that, barring any career-threatening injury or penchant for extra-curricular debauchery, could go on to become one of the world’s finest.

Without suggesting Januzaj will develop into a better player than Cristiano Ronaldo, a bigger icon than George Best, or exceed Ryan Giggs’ medal haul as a longtime servant of the club, it’s hard not to parallel the kid with the glorious wide men who’ve already plied their trade at the Theatre. Like the aforementioned wide-men Januzaj has that wide boy chutzpah in abundance. Every bit as good as he thinks he is, the youngster will do things on a football field that leave fans marveling at his majesty. It is a hallmark of all the greats.

When considering the grace with which Januzaj manoeuvres his body he is more Best or Giggs than Ronaldo. He floats with the grace of a butterfly, whereas Ronaldo charges with the horsepower of, well, a horse.

The footballing juxtaposition on the flanks between Januzaj and his marker, United-alum Bardsley, is one of the greatest witnessed in recent times, encapsulating finesse versus brutishness on a football field, and manifested itself in the Sunderland player being given an almighty runaround. The performance evoked Danny Wallace’s well-documented soundbite about his left-wing successor, the teenage Giggsy: “I’d have kicked him if I could have caught him.” Or words to that effect.

In the ill-fated second leg of the Capital One Cup semi-final, whilst Januzaj was moved to the opposite flank to accommodate Shinji Kagawa on the left-hand side, analytical minds may have still suspected it was an exercise in preservation by Moyesey; the rationale to spare Januzaj an unceremonious kicking.

This also got the cogs cogitating. The Januzaj ditty predominantly rings true – he “can do anything.” Apart from two minor exceptions: he can’t avoid being literally scythed down by graceless defenders, nor can he avoid being metaphorically scythed down by young ladies looking to make a pound out of recounting their piquant-poultry based suppers. The long-gone Anderson would be so proud of his dude.

At this juncture credit is due Nando’s marketing department for opportunely sniffing a P(e)R(i) stunt, and sending a £50 Nando’s gift voucher to Old Trafford, addressed to Januzaj. £50 did seem lavish though since the lad isn’t putting away Andow-sized platters.

In the absence of Wayne Rooney and Robin van Persie through injury, it did become disconcertingly apparent that Moyes’ side was growing over-reliant on a 19-year-old that has barely played two dozen times for the club. Perhaps even more alarming was that Januzaj himself had started to detect a dearth of alternative viable options surrounding him during the Sunderland semi-final second leg. It prompted the youngster to attempt numerous shots from distance. Januzaj’s precocious gall to shoot-on-sight is admirable, but the underlying motivation remains concerning.

Moyes desperately needed to sign in January to support Januzaj, and the manager thankfully delivered in before the window closed. Not only did United stave off other clubs’ interest by securing Januzaj’s signature on a five-year contract, but United also purchased Juan Mata to complement the kid’s boundless talent.

The thought of Juan and Janu collaborating, merely in terms of creatively merging their names, is enthralling enough for those wordsmiths amongst us. Portmanteaus abound for the dynamic duo; JuAdnan, Juanuzaj. And then one envisages the potential when the pair orchestrates in tandem with a football at its collective feet – it’s certainly a tantalizing prospect to contemplate of a wet and windy Wednesday evening.

And which self-respecting pun artiste isn’t counting down the days till Adnan and Nani start a game together, purely so that when Nani assists Adnan – or vice-versa – they can shamelessly flaunt “Adnani”?!

Happy Birthday, young man.

The science of scapegoating

Jonathan Shrager January 30, 2014 Tags: , , Opinion 17 comments
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Tom Cleverley has felt the full force of Reds’ frustration, as Manchester United fans clamber to scapegoat someone, or even seek to earmark a trip of scapegoats, including Ashley Young. Fans aplenty are literally endeavouring to master the science, perhaps even aspiring to an MSc(apegoat.) And yes, I’m labeling scapegoating as a science as opposed to an art purely so that it fits my pun.

Apropos our beloved Reds, I ordinarily adhere to that classic United mantra of looking “on the bright side of life.” I’m generally not one for scapegoating a single individual, but I am intermittently culpable. When I catch myself being excessively critical towards one man, I tend to reign myself in.

But, whilst I invariably attempt to arrive at a bright verdict, I do have eyes that see things, and then subsequently communicate with my brain via untold billions of synapses and nerve-endings, relaying information and leaving my mind to process this into quasi-coherent thoughts.

As a consequence, I’ve personally come to the conclusion that Ashley Young, whilst sporadically showcasing a moderate improvement, quite simply isn’t good enough. Yes, he has moments – minutes – when he looks slightly better. Credit where it’s due, he contributed significantly versus Cardiff City in one of his rare impressive performances, but Young couldn’t be any bloody worse. He originally struck me as an underwhelming signing, and less than a handful of ensuing games have persuaded me otherwise.

I don’t really apportion too much blame on Ashley for this. Young looked handy in the Midlands, but it’s a different ball game playing for Aston Villa. Some, like Dwight Yorke, make the upward transition seamlessly; others don’t, and I think Ashley has struggled with the enormity of playing for United at times.

Tom Cleverley, as someone recently dubbed him, is a “continuity” player. He’s there on the field, he makes up the numbers. He’s neither good nor bad, he’s nondescript, and he’s fond of playing it simple. Cleverley can retain possession, but he offers little of tangible value. I’d rather have a 70 per cent match-fit Darren Fletcher than a 110 per cent in-form – whatever that means – Cleverley.

But I do disagree with Reds tweeting that they dislike everything about him. Come on, his hair isn’t that bad. Someone countered this assertion by affirming that modeling his style on Alex Büttner is arguably his biggest sin. These naysayers were being overly-harsh; surely it was Tom who pioneered that ‘do?’ The fact this was even being discussed on Twitter says it all.

It’s certainly not beyond the realms of possibility that Cleverley could prove most of us wrong. Instances abound of players turning it around on the field, thereby subverting the fans’ negative perceptions.

Extreme examples exist. Darren Fletcher went from allegations of nepotism – Darren as Sir Alex Ferguson’s lovechild – and Fergie picking his son as the solitary viable explanation for his inclusion, à la Sunday footy – to being the man whose absence cost United the ’09 Champions League. That, amigos, epitomizes a turnaround.

But admittedly it can be difficult for even the most red-lensed of fans to discern what Cleverley actually does on a football field. My sympathy does rest with him though; he’s barely been rested during a period of restlessness amongst the Old Trafford faithful. Cleverley has been been propelled into the regular first-team line-up, when perhaps his substantive caliber doesn’t warrant the berth.

I spotted a stat recently that the midfielder started eight games in 23 days towards the back end of last year. For even the finest and fittest of players, in a winning set-up, this would prove a challenge. A dearth of confidence compounds the situation, and a vicious circle is engendered.

Cleverley can undoubtedly be a useful squad player, though I fear that pointing out any redeeming features about Tom are essentially superfluous. People have made up their minds, and he’ll most likely continue to be scapegoated. Heck, it’s probably even Cleverley’s fault United lost at Chelsea.

I would have loved the patent coupling of adverb and past participle within the headline “Cleverley Done” to have carried overridingly positive connotations. Alas, I fear it’ll be the widespread headline when he’s ousted from the club; an inauspicious double entendre.

Whilst Cleverley may be the G.O.A.T (Greatest Of All Time) scapeGOAT, and Young is both literally and metaphorically often the fall guy for United’s woes, there are other perennial whipping boys at Old Trafford.

Patrice Evra seldom eludes vilification. I love Evra’s passion for a great club. But when not completely neglecting the art of defending, he has more concentration lapses than an ADHD goldfish, invariably guilty of conceding at least one gilt-edge chance per game.

It doesn’t particularly help that Evra’s deputy left-back hasn’t ingratiated himself at Old Trafford. Perhaps because it’s all too easy to mistake Büttner for Cleverley from a distance in the stands. Alex’ cross for United’s FA cup goal versus Swansea City was world class, which leads me to think that he could make a handy left-winger if he develops into a more competent all-round footballer.

Meanwhile, Antonio ‘Toni’ Valencia has returned to some semblance of his former one-dimensional self. His time at the club can be encapsulated seasonally: effective one-trick pony, injured, ineffective no-trick Toni. In-between one-trick pony and no-trick Toni, a sort of hybrid half-a-trick unicorn perhaps? Valencia certainly has a phobia of being on the inside of things; there’s probably a word for that.

But one thing I spotted on his Twitter account that endeared him to me was his defiant message in the face of United’s recent travails: “In my vocabulary there is no word surrender.” How can you not love Toni when he’s quasi-quoting the Rocky IV anthem?

United bought Marouanne Fellaini to knock down a few headers onto the more talented, more vertically challenged players buzzing around his knees, but the only thing the Belgian has been knocking down so far is the price of his wigs outside Old Trafford. Yet, to be utilized in his best position, he’s proven so underwhelming that I’d even shaved my novelty Afro within a fortnight to produce the Ashley Young ‘do.

Despite the fact that his first forward pass versus Sunderland in second leg of cup was his penalty, Fletch’s form since returning, all things considered, is nothing short of phenomenal. There was a time, circa ’06, when seeing the midfield partnership of Fletch and Michael Carrick on the team sheet would great dishearten me. More recently, it’s flippin’ delighted me.

Most of the players I cite above are relatively established players at the club. I’m not one to formulate a hasty opinion. Nor am I one of those Reds who loves my criticisms to be vindicated. Bugger that, I’d much rather be proven wrong, and consume a portion of self-served humble pie.

This was instantiated with everyone’s darling Mancunian Danny Welbeck. I’ve been willing him to silence my aspersions, and I equally reveled in him doing so. I hold my hands up – there was a marked improvement when Welbeck was consistently deployed in his natural attacking berth. I had questioned his finishing ability, an attribute I believe to depend more upon nature than nurture.

But footy fans are frequently culpable of short memories, and most were disregarding Welbeck’s prolificness at Sunderland prior to injury curtailing his flow. All his recent finishes have proven instinctive, Andy Cole-esque in the fashion he thrives on a snapshot chance as opposed to having time to dwell on a finish. The penalty versus Sunderland is a case in point.

And as with Danny, I’d even love for Young to go on to become a world-beater. But as I said, I’m not a person prone to delusion.

It’d be remiss of me to pontificate on the discourse of United scapegoats without alluding to the primary subject of criticism – fall man(ager) numero uno – Señor David Moyes. How I’d love to hear some of David’s private conversations with his missus – nothing sexual you filthy animals – just to learn his innermost thoughts during these testing times.

The poor fella. When he’s not being publicly backed by Robbie Savage, his every solitary word and gesture is being painstakingly psychoanalysed. Moyes’ tone and rhetoric intimates that he may still carry a modicum of the Everton mindset, but surely this is to be expected following a decade at the club.

I, of course, hope he progressively inherits the frame of mind of a big club manager, but in its own way it’s admirable that he isn’t giving it the ‘Barry McGuigan’ on the back of someone else’s success. Then he’d be lambasted for a false sense of self-importance – a he “can’t do right for doing wrong” sort of scenario. I haven’t dug up any old footage to buttress my hypothesis, but I’m sure it took Sir Alex some years and success before he developed some of his gall and gumption as an interviewee.

Anyway, I’ll leave the Moyes debate for a separate forthcoming article.

Having enumerated a catalogue of alleged culprits who’ve bore the brunt of Reds’ blues, I’m going to conclude on a decidedly positive note. It is at moments like these that I like to recall the beautiful words of Maya Angelou: “God puts rainbows in the clouds so that each of us – in the dreariest and most dreaded moments – can see a possibility of hope.” And oh, how rainbows abound.

The tantalizing prospect of world class quartet – Wayne Rooney, Robin van Persie, Adnan Januzaj, Juan Mata – playing the beautiful game in harmony. Adnan is a resplendent multi-coloured semi-circle of sheer joy; Rooney’s renewed vigour has been another rainbow; Rafael da Silva’s continued progress; Phil Jones’ Robbo-esque midfield presence; Fletch’s return to health. They’re all great big bloody marvelous rainbows.

Follow Jonathan on Twitter – @JonathanShrager

Subbuteo Art competition winners

Jonathan Shrager January 25, 2014 Tags: Shorts 2 comments
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The response to United Rant’s ‘Subbuteo Art’ competition was resoundingly positive, with hundreds of suggestions, ultimately spawning over 60 unique and novel ideas. Many iconic moments, including Matthew Simmons’ attempt to headbutt Cantona’s boot, were proposed on countless occasions, so those who came up with the new idea first were entered into the competition. Many more suggestions had already been Subbuteised by Terry Lee, craftsman par excellence.

It proved extremely challenging to judge the winners, and in all honesty, any three of the 63 – individually listed at the bottom of this article for those interested – could have been selected. Determining an ‘iconic’ moment is a particularly subjective matter for any football fan, with specific episodes holding places in our hearts to varying degrees, and for differing reasons. It might be a moment witnessed live, shared with someone special, or a during a fond period in our lives.

The winning entries are based loosely on the following criteria;

  • Images indelibly imprinted into the minds of the majority of Reds
  • Important moments in the club’s history
  • Images of players or moments that do not already belong to Terry’s impressive collection
  • Images that would be visually appealing in Subbuteo form.

Congratulations to the trio of winners, who will all be sent their customized (first-of-its-kind) Subbuteo piece by the end of February.

1. @gobble17 – Lee Sharpe’s corner flag celebration!

Lee Sharpe Shuffle

Sharpey was probably the first glamour player of this generation’s formative years. Sandwiched in between Danny Wallace and Ryan Giggs on the left, Sharpe came to prominence during the 90-91 season, fast becoming one of the most enthralling prospects on the scene. Even when a Giggs assumed the mantle on the left berth, many fans were adamant that Lee could have potentially proven an equally majestic player. Alas, his career was cruelly hindered by a combination of injury and illness.

But the majority of Reds remember Lee with endearment, not only for his raw footballing ability and cultured left-foot, but also his joie de vivre, manifested most vividly through his imaginative goal celebrations. When he wasn’t devising his own dance routines such as the “Sharpey Shuffle” – the ’90s infinitely more creative version of Gangnam Style –  he was impersonating Rock ‘N’ Roll royalty, inventively supplanting corner-flag for microphone. Oh how we “Love Lee Tender.”

Whilst his reputation as a bon vivant away from the pitch ingratiated him to the fans, it may ultimately have proven his undoing with the head honcho. Lee was famously scolded by Sir Alex Ferguson for leading a fledgling Giggs astray at a house party. It’s amongst the numerous anecdotes Sharpe recounts with aplomb if you get the chance to attend one of his guest speaker appearances.

2. @Benny_Red – Paul Scholes/Gary Neville kiss!

Gary Neville Paul Scholes Kiss

This amorous embrace transpired following Scholes’ last minute-winner at the Etihad Stadium versus another team in the vicinity who like to make a din. Marvel at its majesty; an instance of platonic puckering up that animated even the most heterosexual of United fans. It doesn’t matter how alpha you are, you cannot but enjoy the sight.

The two men from the “Class of ’92” are polar opposites personality-wise, but shared a passion for their club and everything it represents. G Nev elicited from Scholesey this manifestation of love for United, which ordinarily remained latent, and we are eternally indebted to Gary for it.

3. @teddiehenson – The Schmeichel cartwheel!

Peter Schmeichel

It was a spectacle to behold at the culmination of the ’99 Champions League Final: 6’3″ Peter Schmeichel defying gravity by making his own mammoth frame revolve 360 degrees – to mark the most dramatic comeback in the beautiful game’s illustrious history. It was an explosion of sheer cartwheeling joy from The Great Dane, perfectly encapsulating the unadulterated relief experienced by every single United fan at the precise moment, whilst leaving us more rotund Reds to stick to our metaphorical internal cartwheels of elation.

The rest…

  1. @TusharMUFC Sir Bobby hugging Sir Matt after we won the 1968 European cup
  2. @eirebadboy What about Cantona on the goal post after his penalty return V L’pool
  3. @hothorseherbie George Best celebrating his goal, European Cup Final 1968 or Eusebio applauding Stepney same game
  4. @Andrew_Kenyon MACHEDAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAA (Winning goal versus Aston Villa at Old Trafford)
  5. @bigG1511 Gary Nev Kissing Badge after rio’s late winner vs liverpool
  6. @RohanKrishna27 Robin van Persie hugging Sir Alex Ferguson (versus Stoke City)
  7. @doleary02 RVP last minute goal v City. Just as he’s striking it. Perfection.
  8. @Benny_Red Scholes/Neville kiss! (Etihad Stadium after Scholes’ last minute winner)
  9. @WoodZRC berbatovs over head against Liverpool
  10. @MonarchyofKiko Danny Welbeck. Just being dat guy
  11. @RohanKrishna27 Evra pretending to bite a prosphetic arm thrown at him in jest by Red at OT (Evra’s Luis Suarez reference)
  12. @Joe_Cooper_ O’Shea nutmegging Luis Figo
  13. @StretfordEnd361 Solksjaer’s winner vs Liverpool in the FA Cup, 1999. First time I properly lost it for a goal.
  14. @akachesterseven RONALDOOOOOOOO pic.twitter.com/9gMZcJ2njM (Ronaldo’s free-kick celebration)
  15. @dannyj14 This #Moscow pic.twitter.com/62aHhq1lZ (John Terry head in lap following penalty miss in Moscow)
  16. @MochineGun Keane heading 1st in the revival vs Juve ’99 semi-final
  17. @NicholaMoreland can I have this please #keano pic.twitter.com/hNqRkkpdxL (Keane stamping on Gareth Southgate)
  18. @lanodnugg how about @NormanWhiteside after ’85 cup final goal.
  19. @Benny_Red my 2nd & last. Not as famous but the Evra/Rafa celebration – loved that! pic.twitter.com/KtJ8oZUXdX
  20. @akachesterseven VAN PERSIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIEEEEEEEEEEE pic.twitter.com/am5XGl1Gs1 (RVP striking superb volley versus Villa)
  21. @666bungle Hughes celebrating after goal in the Cup winners cup final v Barca
  22. @Tubs0161 Fergie bowing to the away end at West Brom last season?
  23. @1markcollard Beckham after scoring from half way line
  24. @lanodnugg or how about Fergie & Kiddo celebration v Sheffield Weds in ’93?
  25. @lanodnugg one more…Robbo on fans shoulders after Barcelona in ’84
  26. @MUFCMeash what about Ronnie collapsing to the floor in tears post Moscow shoot out win!?
  27. @AdamRoss7 solakjaer celebrating his first goal after injury at Charlton away
  28. @FalseMidfield Owen celebrating after scoring 4th in 4-3 derby win
  29. @furno_ooo Strachan, equaliser at Anfield 3-3 … smokin’!
  30. @UnitedBeforeFergie Stuart Pearsons trademark fist clench goal celebration
  31. @finchy2385 sparky’s last minute volley vs Oldham in the fa cup semi (as Hughes is striking ball)
  32. @_tom86 Scholes celebrating after his CL semi final winner.
  33. @jackkholt Always sticks in the memory. pic.twitter.com/69wxLSVt5C (John O’Shea and Rio Ferdinand celebration following John’s last minute winner at Anfield ’07)
  34. @p1zza_face Cole’s goal against spurs in 99
  35. @n4lum How about this?? #unitedrant pic.twitter.com/ZWuTlfOjEI (Giggs standing over Patrick Vieira)
  36. @killalldippers How about a recreation of this? Surely one of the beautiful moments in world football. #unitedrant pic.twitter.com/rrKpmPkpdJ (general Eric Cantona glide)
  37. @AdamRoss7 was also wondering about a keane and scholes one like this… pic.twitter.com/VFfX2gWErH (suited and booted holding trophy at CL ’99 final)
  38. @MUFCMemorabilia Giggs and Ince shocking goal celebration :- pic.twitter.com/stE90ASAJA
  39. @barafundler Jimmy Greenhoff celebration after his goal in the 79 SF replay at Goodison
  40. @petejacksonjr Peter schmichaels last minute penalty save vs arsenal fa cup semi 99
  41. @teddiehenson the Scmeichel cartwheel ! (’99 CL final)
  42. @JonathanShrager SAF holding a tea cup in one hand, hairdryer in the other
  43.  @JonathanShrager The United Trinity #UnitedRant pic.twitter.com/WwvZAF9SW6
  44.  @Andrew_Kenyon Eric FA Cup goal ’96 (moment he strikes ball, body position, technique)
  45. @Alex2PointZero http://t.co/K3VSAHZv1k (John Terry slipping as he’s taking a penalty in Moscow)
  46. @treble99united Sharpey Shuffle
  47. @RedDevil93 Van Nistelrooy’s celebration vs Arsenal after scoring the pen in unbeaten breaker
  48. @Andrew_Kenyon O’Shea’s chip at Highbury
  49. @dezoduck FUCKWHATISAIDBEFORE! This should win EVERYTHING ‪#unitedrant‬‬‬‬‬‬‬ ‪pic.twitter.com/uMXu2aNsBi‬‬‬‬‬‬‬
  50. @faredealing cantona’s crowd surfing at palace! ‪#seagulls‬‬‬‬‬‬‬
  51. @dezoduck Or this ‪#unitedrant‬‬‬‬‬‬‬ ‪pic.twitter.com/n8MUAjy2q6‬‬‬‬‬‬‬ Becks wearing LUHG scarf post-Milan game
  52. @gobble17 Lee Sharpe corner flag celebration!
  53. @pram_head Keane tackle on Haaland
  54. @kiani93 http://t.co/AP4jWBJPsp Rafael and Fabio celebrating together
  55. @kiani93 http://t.co/1ogNKjQKAr Scholes ’08 CL semi-final strike
  56. @teddiehenson The Babes all lined up on pitch in that iconic image
  57. @ ’08 CL final team lined up on halfway line reacting to winning penalty
  58. @joepetruccio how about his run in with Vieira in the tunnel?
  59. @john_simps Rooney and Ronaldo celebrating towards Kop http://bit.ly/1d2D06y
  60. Tom Parkinson: VDS CL winning save/celebration ‘08
  61. Anirudh Agarwala: Ronaldo’s goal (with Rooney’s assist) against fulham in the opening game of the 2006-07 season. Has to be the moment when I knew united were back in the running to win titles again after the long drought (relatively)
  62. philip young: Hughes open armed celebration at Maine rd after scoriing against the scousers in 85
  63. @MilkyJoe1974 last shout and it’s Adnan scoring the winner today

The art of Subbuteo

Jonathan Shrager January 15, 2014 Tags: , Opinion 22 comments
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Released in the 1940s, and surging to prominence in the ’60s, Subbuteo harkens back to a simpler, more innocent, arguably more beautiful epoch, particularly when discussing the beautiful game. And this pertains to football both on- and off the field.

On the pitch, diving was less prevalent – if not non-existent – reflecting the sturdier moral rectitude of the players, and perhaps society. Additionally, the notion of a one-club servant was commonplace, underscoring the importance of loyalty.

Away from the pitch, modest wages seemingly kept the players honest. That is by no means to intimate that every player of yore was a beacon of saintliness, but generally they appeared to be less affected and more upstanding citizens than a number of their contemporary counterparts.

And even the manner in which everyday fans endeavor to emulate our heroes has evolved – perhaps devolved, depending on your perspective – remarkably. Young folk of yesteryear would flick around little 3D men, and communicate with fellow humans partaking in the game, who were actually present in the same room. All prior to the advent of computer games. This is not to demonise technology, but Subbuteo very much constitutes a real, offline experience as opposed to gaming; a virtual pastime.

Over the decades, Subbuteo has progressively become ingrained into the nation’s footballing psyche. It’s now firmly solidified its position as a national heritage game, and can simultaneously draw upon its cool retro appeal, increasingly important in a materialistic era when people wistfully yearn for meaningful anachronisms.

That considerable appeal is not lost on Terry Lee, founder of Subbuteo Art, who has established a business hand-crafting customized Subbuteo pieces. “Immortalizing iconic football moments in Subbuteo” is how Lee dubs his work.

Ryan Giggs, 1999 FA Cup Semi-Final celebration

Giggs ‘99 FA Cup semi-final celebration

 

JS: You’re a Villa fan I believe. As a non-MUFC fan, how are you viewing Moyes’ tenure so far, and MUFC fans’ reaction to him?

TL: I believe David Moyes is the right man for the job. Sir Alex Ferguson’s legacy is immense; a near impossible task for any manager, and MUFC need to stick with their new manager. Today, football managers are too quickly shown the door; the fans need to look long-term and Moyes is a manager that can be with United for 10-15 years.

Sir Alex Ferguson

Fergie Time

 

David Moyes

A Moyesey Moment (at Everton)

 

JS: How do you view the current MUFC squad – are there any players in particular that you fear playing against, or any players that don’t worry you at all?

TL: The MUFC squad is a fantastic mix of experience and youth. There are many young players coming through that you can see have the United quality about them. As a Villa fan it is fair to say we fear all players at the moment. I love my Villa but the club is going through a very rough patch this last few years.

Marouanne Fellaini

Fellaini’s distinctive ‘do – the goal-scoring pose remains an unfamiliar sight for Reds

 

JS: In your opinion, who’s the best ex-MUFC player to have later played for Villa and vice-versa?

TL: My personal favourites who arrived from United would have to be Peter Schmeichel and Paul McGrath. We were blessed having a player of Paul McGrath’s caliber; a truly outstanding player. The obvious player to leave Villa for United can only be Dwight Yorke, a great player for Villa and an amazing player for United. No supporter wants to see a great player leave but you can understand their reasons when United comes knocking. Dwight Yorke was a great loss.

JS: From what you’d seen of Ashley Young at Villa, did you think he’d prove good enough to make it at United? Based on what you’ve seen of him at United, is your opinion the same?

TL: I believe Young should have stayed at Villa, just like Stuart Downing, Gareth Barry and James Milner. What a great midfield we could have had. But I can fully understand him wanting to join United; who wouldn’t?! I do believe he shone so much more at Villa though, and never really got off the ground at United. You see it a lot nowadays when a key player for one team becomes a fringe player at a bigger club. Ashley could have been a long-standing hero at Villa but sadly he will soon be forgotten by United fans. I would just like to say I am a huge fan of his and his connection with Gabby Agbonlahor was magical.

JS: Moving onto Subbuteo, has it always been a hobby/interest of yours? I believe there are proper tournaments held; have you ever played it at a decent level?

TL: I have always been a fan of Subbuteo since my first set as a child, but I have never entered any tournaments because I’m not that good!

JS: What is it about Subbuteo that appeals to you?

TL:  It is a British institution. I love the fact that you can re-enact all your favourite footballing moments and it is a hands-on experience instead of all the footballing computer games there are now. There were hundreds of teams made over the years and you could find and learn about teams you had never heard of previously. I love the paintwork of the Subbuteo figures pre-’80s when each figure was hand painted by locals in the area.

George Best

Georgie’s disallowed goal vs England’s Gordon Banks ‘71

 

JS: You allude to computer games. In the face of kids now growing up playing computer games, do you believe the fact that Subbuteo is an embedded institution increases its prospects of longevity?

TL: Computer games and kids go hand-in-hand in today’s world; nothing will change this as technology is always progressing and more time is spent now in front of computers and on mobiles.  I am 31-years-old and I’m also guilty of spending too much time in front of a computer screen, although not playing games. Subbuteo will always be a part of many peoples’ lives and is still being passed down through families. Subbuteo is on the rise and hopefully with the World Cup coming up we will see more youngsters asking for Subbuteo sets and playing out their own versions of Brazil 2014.

David Beckham

Beck’s free-kick vs Greece at Old Trafford 2001

 

JS: How did you come to create customised Subutteo pieces? Is it purely a commercial venture, or are you genuinely passionate about the craft involved?

TL: It all started from recycling broken Subbuteo pieces; I had painted teams before but saw an opportunity to create iconic single figures that people would like to collect. I am deeply passionate about Subbuteo Art and everything that comes with it; from creating, painting and glazing of the miniature figures to the emails, tweets and sending the figures worldwide.

David Beckham

Beckham, Champions League final ‘99

 

Paul Scholes

Scholes, Champions League ’99 (unfortunately not the final)

 

JS: Are you the world’s only Subbuteo artiste, as far as you’re aware?

TL: As far as I am aware I am the only Subbuteo artiste who creates the iconic moments in football. There are numerous painters of Subbuteo teams but very, very few of these use Subbuteo products.

JS: Is Subbuteo a global game? Do you get many requests from abroad to create bespoke figures?

TL: Subbuteo is global; I have requests from all over the world. My main market is Europe but there are many, many requests from Asia, Australia and the Americas.

Fabian Barthez

Barthez appealing Di Canio’s goal for West Ham at Old Trafford 2001

 

JS: What’s the most random or abstract  fun figure you’ve been asked to create?

TL: The most random figure must be a custom figure I made of a Subbuteo fan in his work uniform taking his dog for a walk. I was also once asked to create pieces of Pep Guardiola and Jose Mourinho playing Subbuteo.

One man and his dog

Sunday League games nationwide are often played out before one man and his dog

JS: What’s the most requested figure you get asked for?

TL: The most requested figures are Rene Higuita and Arsene Wenger. Of the United figures, Wayne Rooney’s overhead kick followed by ‘Fergie Time’.

JS: Are there any figures that have proven been particularly tricky to recreate, or that you couldn’t actually manage?

TL: So far I have been able to create all figures that have been requested. The trickiest must be the Gazza ‘dentist chair’ figure with four figures on one base, and all the figures needing manipulating in some form.

JS: Any MUFC-related requests that stand out in your memory?

There is a very recent request of the Ole Gunnar Solskjaer knee slide in the 1999 Champions League final. This stands out only because I can’t believe it has never been requested before. Such an iconic moment for every United fan. I see this piece being very popular with the collectors.

Ole Gunnnar Solskjaer

Solskjaer ’99 Champions League Final Winning Goal Celebration

 

JS: Have you ever showcased your work at an arts’ fair or museum etc?

TL: Not as of yet, but hopefully in the future I will have some larger displays of iconic footballing moments showcased.

Wayne Rooney

That overhead kick from Rooney against another team in the vicinity who like to make a din

 

JS: I sincerely hope so too. Your work certainly warrants such exposure. Has anybody high-profile within the game (player, manager, media member, fan) ever contacted you or commented upon your work? 

TL: There have been a few so far and interest from the media, players and mangers is steadily growing. To date, Romario – an idol of mine – has two figures I created for him and was kind enough to send me signed photos of himself holding the figures, and also a signed Brazil shirt. John Sheridan also kindly sent me a photo holding a figure of himself. Tim Cahill has recently shown interest and I am hoping to get a figure out to him soon. There are also quite a few high profile ex-international footballers from Europe and South America that will hopefully be seen with Subbuteo Art figures in the coming future.

Three men and a baby

Bebeto’s USA ’94 World Cup “baby cradle” celebration with Mazinho and Romario

 

JS: I imagine Cahill will want one of himself sparring the corner flag, his hallmark celebration. Well cheers for your time today Terry, and your work is magnificent. You may have discerned this by the number of orders I’ve recently placed!

TL: Haha, no worries Jonny, many thanks.

In conjunction with this interview, Jonathan and Terry are running a competition. Terry’s existing MUFC-related pieces are interspersed throughout this interview post, so the challenge for you is to propose an iconic MUFC moment for Terry to immortalize in Subbuteo (Subbutealize?)

The best suggestion will have his/her piece custom-made and sent by Terry. Please leave your ideas in the comments section below the interview – or on Twitter (please use hashtag #unitedrant and @unitedrant @JonathanShrager so we can find your entry)

Deadline for entry concludes on Sunday 19th January. Best of luck!

For anybody interested in Terry’s work, he can be contacted at ;

Web: www.subbuteo-art.blogspot.com
Email: tecalee@hotmail.co.uk
Twitter: @SubbuteoArt

Interview with Tufty Part 1: Old Trafford Singing Section

Jonathan Shrager January 9, 2014 Tags: , Opinion No comments
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Formed in 2005, Stretford End Flags (SEF) is an independent supporters group, which was initially set up to provide the banners that adorn the front of the Stretford End. The group has since branched out, often organising mosaics at Old Trafford and elsewhere, and is at the forefront of the campaign to develop a permanent ‘singing section’ at Old Trafford.

In a two-part interview occasional Rant writer Jonathan Shrager talks to SEF’s Andrew Kilduff, better known as ‘Tufty’, about the second singing section trial.

Jonathan Shrager: Evening Andrew, many thanks for your time. What’s your involvement in the Singing Section? Whose idea was it originally, and how did it come about?

Andrew Kilduff: SEF received a lot of calls from fans to do something about the atmosphere at Old Trafford, with many calling for a designated singing section or even safe standing areas. Pete Boyle had previously mooted the idea, but nothing progressed. We spoke to Pete and sent an invite to all the Manchester United supporters groups and Fanzines asking them to become involved in a campaign for a singing section. Nearly all the supporters groups backed us and a written proposal was first submitted to the club in February 2012. We decided to come together under the banner “Fans United”. We also sent the proposal to the official MUFC Fans Forum who fully supported our idea.

At the same time as submitting our proposal, MUFC also had their own plan to move the away supporters to tier 3 of the North Stand. Their suggestion meant that the current away section at Old Trafford would be free, and as such it fitted in nicely with what we wanted to achieve. Unfortunately, following the trial of away fans in tier 3 against Aston Villa in March 2012, the authorities didn’t sanction a full time move.

JS: So, if L-stand (where the first trial vs Real Sociedad took place) was ultimately selected, what’s your inkling on where away fans would be relocated?

AK: To be honest, we can’t see L-stand being used, as moving away fans is pretty much impossible. Logistically other areas of Old Trafford cannot house away fans and if away clubs bring 9,000 in the cup, then they will still require L-stand. Even if away fans were moved that would result in season ticket holders having to move to accommodate the away fans. Tier 3 of the Sir Alex Ferguson stand was the ideal solution, but that’s not possible.

JS: Was it fairly easy to deal with the branding juggernaut that MUFC has become?

AK: The club have been very refreshing in their approach to the singing section and welcoming our ideas and input. I think they realise that something has to be done and the weight of various fan groups behind Fans United also helped them buy into the idea. We have spent almost two years talking to the club, with the outcome being two trials so far this season. The club are also keen for this to be led by the fans, taking on board our ideas and suggestions. We also stated that the acoustics within the stadium don’t help the atmosphere and the club commissioned a study into this. It is the result of this study that has led to the trials.

JS: Are MUFC pioneers, certainly within UK, of introducing an official singing section?

AK: Other clubs have had singing sections in place and since the publicity of our section many other clubs have been in contact to see how we put our proposal together. Newcastle United had a singing section in place a few years ago and is looking to bring it back. Sunderland has a section close to the old away end and Liverpool has a designated block within The Kop.

JS: Peter Daykin from the Football Supporters Federation proposes that fans lobby for standing sections in light of recent Hillsborough findings confirming that it was mis-policing that caused the tragedy, rather than the standing per se. From your experience of dealing with the powers that be is this realistic at OT?

AK: As part of our call to improve the atmosphere at Old Trafford we fully support the case for safe standing areas. We  know that the incidents of the past have been taken on board, technology and stadium management has changed and the removal of pitch side fences and pens has been removed. Football is  safer for developments in stadia and the rail seating model has further improved the ability to offer safe standing. The rail seat model bares very little similarity to old football terraces, yet offers those supporters who want to stand an area that is safer than standing in current seated sections.

One issue that fans have now is that those who want to stand often do it at the expense of those who want to sit. There aren’t clearly defined areas for supporters’ needs. Introducing the rail seat model would then clearly define standing areas and make attending games better for those that want to sit and for those that want to stand.

We have reviewed the Safe Standing Roadshow model and have asked Manchester United to showcase this both to their own safety officers and to the club’s supporters by holding the roadshow at Old Trafford on a match day. The club realises that the law needs to change, or definitions addressed, before they can push ahead, but from talks we have had they welcome investigating the potential should the law change.

JS:Are there any other ideas/schemes in the pipeline to improve atmosphere or fans’ matchday experience?

AK: Obviously our big push is for a full time section to be in place for the start of the 2014/15 season. Offering a section for those that are like minded benefits all, as per the rail seat, it clearly defines what that section is about and should group singers with singers. People say its not needed or that we have a singing area called the Stretford End. The section isn’t designed to take anything away from the Stretford End; it is designed to add more atmosphere. Unfortunately all-seater stadia do not offer much choice to fans who want to sit together, so singers find it hard to sit with other singers and those who do not want to join in often complain that those singing or standing ruin their match day experience.

Both SEF and other groups such as Reclaim United are looking at ways to improve the  atmosphere. SEF try and promote flag nights for the European Games or “Show Your Colours” where we ask fans to bring along their scarves and flags. SEF also encourage the club to put out the large surfer flags at games or to install fan mosaics for the larger European games.

JS: Could an official singing section potentially give birth to a songs panel that considers new songs to trial at matches? Pete Boyle liked this idea when I recently proposed it to him.

AK: I don’t think a songs panel is ever likely to come in. As Pete previously said, most new songs develop in the pubs, on Euro aways or on the coaches going to away games. One thing that we all hope that the singing section will allow is for songs to be sung at the right speed, far too many are currently sung too fast, meaning people struggle to join in or catch their breath! We also hope to hear a few more of the classic United songs of old, ones we don’t sing as often these days.

JS: Fair play, but I still believe that a biannual informal rendezvous in Manchester, with Reds proposing their ideas to a panel in a relaxed environment, could prove highly amusing and productive in terms of yielding fresh song ideas.

Moving on, how come L-Stand was specifically chosen for the singing section? Was there a rationale or purely what was available? Was it anything to do with acoustics?

AK: Fans United wanted a section at the opposite end to The Stretford End. We also wanted a section that was close to the pitch and visible to the players. Our initial proposal suggested using East stand lower (The old Paddock areas) as we thought this would be best suited. As well as asking the club to consider the singing section proposal, we asked them to look into the  atmosphere at Old Trafford and in particular the acoustics. United commissioned an acoustics engineer to study the noise and how easily terrace chants flow throughout the stadium. This study revealed that the best areas for allowing noise to spread were the 4 lower corner quadrants of the stadium. As a result, it was decided that the two lower corner quadrants at the East end of Old Trafford would be used for trials of the singing section.

For the Sociedad trial we tested the L-stand area, which is usually home to the away supporters. This area worked well, however it was felt that South Stand didn’t really join in and that the area also didn’t allow United chants to flow upwards to the upper tier due to the location of the section. For the next singing section trial against Fulham on February 9th we will be using the other quadrant where North Stand meets East Stand – the old J and K Stand areas. This section should allow all of East Stand upper and lower to join in  with the singing and for those in North Stand to also join in. With the roof of North stand also trapping the noise we feel that this will improve the atmosphere and volume within of Old Trafford.

Fans

JS: Given that top tier Stretford End is generally recognised as the main singing section, do you think Stretford Enders will now relocate to the singing section when it’s available?

AK: The singing section proposal was to have the section at the opposite end to The Streford End, so that the atmosphere and songs could be heard at both ends of Old Trafford. The section isn’t designed to take anything away from the Stretford End and we hope that the singing section can sing in unison with the Stretford End. In the initial trial, only 195 people from the whole Stretford End moved into the singing section.

One problem we have at Old Trafford, due to our varied song book, is that the stadium isn’t singing as one. Sometimes that can also occur in the same stand, with one side of the Stretford End singing a different song to the other. That doesn’t help the atmosphere and makes some songs sound muffled. We want to get everyone singing together.

JS: How does the application process operate for the singing section? I noticed that those who can apply for Fulham game trial were those who were in there for Real; how were these people originally decided? Do you believe the section will become a highly sought after section of the ground?

AK: For the Sociedad trial we had 1,431 seats and invited Season ticket holders to apply. That section was over subscribed and we knew that demand existed for a bigger allocation. For this trial we have 2,661 seats. Priority will go to those who took part in the first trial. We will then invite along the singers who currently sit in J/K stand and are moving out for the trial, then open up the application to all ST holders to fill the section. Once the section becomes full time, priority will go to those who took part in the trials. We want a full time section to remain fresh, rather than growing old together, so we will look at ways of attracting in youth. Each season or even expanding the section. We hope those that fill the section are there with the intention of singing and creating an atmosphere. This really could be like having our superb away support at home!

JS: What’s your response to longtime J-Standers grievances with the fact that they might have to be relocated permanently should the Singing Section go ahead there?

We understand the grievances of those longstanding ST holders in J/K who are being moved for the trial. This section is home to a lot of long-term season ticket holders, more so than some other areas. It’s a difficult one to address, but most people will agree that the section is needed. No matter where the section goes longstanding ST holders will have to move. We hope that some see the overall benefit to the atmosphere and move for the benefit to the team and the atmosphere.

JS: You mention inviting along the singers who currently sit in J/K stand. Are there recognised “singers” in J/K stand?

AK: There is a core block of about 100 singers who stand and sing most games at the back of K stand (E238), but all singers within J and K are welcome to be part of the trial. We want the section to be full of singers. Ideally, we don’t want people moving back in simply because they want their own seat and don’t want to sing!

JS: Do you believe it’s almost mission impossible to recreate an ‘away-end’ atmosphere inside OT? Would an away-end atmosphere within an isolated section of OT help significantly animate the rest of the stadium?

AK: If we can get the vocal fans all together then it can make a difference. The first trial was just like an away end, but at home. A lot of the same faces were there. As we have seen at away games, 2,500 United fans can make a huge difference, out-singing home fans. So if the section is loud every game, with other United fans singing along, it can only make the match day atmosphere at Old Trafford even more enjoyable. Everyone enjoys an away game – that spirit can now be in place at home games and can then make a difference to the fans’ perception of attending home games and seep through to the players on the pitch.

JS: Some people have criticised the idea of a singing section as “forced.” Will there be an obligation to keep spirits high? Even at away games there are prolonged lulls during particularly poor performances.

AK: We have to ensure that it remains fresh rather than novel. Getting the right mix of vocal fans in there will only help. Most people want to stand and sing every game and we want to capture that. Prolonged dulls often happen, but its down to the section to take a lead and ensure it remains vocal.

JS: Given the increasing percentage of corporate clients at OT coupled with the ever-increasing number of tourists, aren’t old school home atmospheres consigned to the past?

AK: On its day old Trafford is up there with any stadium in Europe, as last year’s game against Real Madrid will testify. Allowing singers to be grouped together with like-minded fans can only help. It won’t be diluted by tourists or by execs, which is the case in other stands. The decision to put an exec section within the lower tier of The Stretford End has to go down as one of the club’s worst decisions; no other club would have created that within its core supporter section.

JS: What was the general response to the first trial vs Real Sociedad? Are you confident that it’ll ultimately become a permanent feature for every home game?

AK: The response to the first trial has been better than we imagined. We expected the cynicism over the section, but the media have been right behind it. What helped was that the section worked. Fans who were reluctant to join in have now asked to become involved. The club have praised the way in which the section went and the response from the players has been superb. Most of the players in the dressing room commented that it made a difference. David Moyes was waving at the section and the players all came over and applauded at the end of the game. Phil Neville and Ashley Young praised the section via Twitter and  those comments have helped the club realise that it can make a difference. If this next trial goes well, and the section acts in the way it did during the first trial, we can hopefully implement it full time next season.

JS: I heard the “Hey Jude” Keano song being sung. What’s your stance on singing his name following spat between him and Sir Alex Ferguson? Wayne Rooney’s “White Pele” song also got a rendition. What’s your stance on singing his name following multiple transfer requests?

AK: I haven’t personally joined in with the Roy Keane songs. Whilst I support him as a former player, and what a player he was, singing his name could be seen as ‘two fingers’ at Sir Alex. It would be different if we sung Fergie’s name as well, but he’s not had his name sung since he left in May. To be honest some of Keane’s comments have been quite bitter and it’s sad to see it played out in such a public platform.

I’ve not stopped singing Rooney’s name. I’ve always maintained that he’s been our most important player, even when Robin van Persie took the spotlight last season.W e should ensure that we keep Rooney fit, hungry and wanting to play for United. His goalscoring record is superb and he will probably eclipse Bobby Charlton and Denis Law. You only have to look at what he’s won for the club to see that he’s up there with the best. We didn’t like to see his comments, but his quotes on lack of investment were only what every fan was saying. His performances and fitness this season have shown the player he is and what we would miss if he left. It’s just a pity that we sacrifice him as a goalscorer to compensate for failures in other areas of the team.

JS: Well, thank you Andrew for being generous with your time, and for your efforts to try and improve the atmosphere inside OT.

AK: Thanks Jonny. Interest has been superb and section is near on full. ST holders need to ring the ticket office ASAP if they want to be a part of the second trial vs Fulham. It’s not gone on the official site as yet, we have held off the club promoting it.

Part 2 of this interview will appear on Rant shortly, addressing the role of Stretford End Flags and Tufty’s involvement with the Manchester United Supporters Team.

Jonathan @JonathanShrager and Andrew @TuftyMUFC can both be found on Twitter.

The future is bright, the future is Red

Jonathan Shrager September 7, 2011 Tags: Opinion 22 comments

If you aren’t feeling optimistic about Manchester United’s prospects over the next few years, then you must be the eternal pessimist. Either that or you’re a staunch subscriber to those theories espoused by Alan Hansen.
Of course, it’s all too easy to get too carried away too early, and sometimes it’s best to remain level-headed and temper our lofty expectations, but f*ck it, enjoy the excitement. If Manchester City can get giddy about becoming FA Cup “champions,” United fans are entitled to be excitable about this third bunch of bouncing Busby Babes that deserve to be knighted.

Indeed, the youthful swagger and dynamism evidenced by this second coming of the “Fergie Fledglings” coincides with my renewed zest for the beautiful game. A fourth generation Mancunian born and (b)red, I was one of those fortuitous United fans to be initiated into an unprecedented era of dominance and subsequent riches. I have vague recollections of attending games at the Theatre during the late 1980s with my late grandfather to witness us take on the mighty Brighton & Hove Albion, or play out scrappy FA Cup quarter-finals.

But in reality, by the time I was fully able to coherently relay the concept of offside, and conclude that Ryan Giggs’ ‘ma was a MILF, United was well on its way to reassuming the mantle as one of the greatest club sides in world football. Ever since, we’ve been spoilt and have become complacently-accustomed to that rare commodity known as greatness.

Everyone within a two-mile radius of M16 (even the girls) has a hard-on at the moment, and rightfully so. The bounce of the team has spilt out onto the Warwick Road, and there’s a palpable buzz about the place. You can’t beat the feeling of rocking up to Old Trafford with an air of tangible confidence that befits a Nani backflip. We are being treated to some champagne football. And not that expensive shite you imbibe, which tastes mediocre and whose extortion pains your very existence with every sip. Our champagne footy isn’t akin to mcfc’s (I can never bring myself to write that acronym in upper case) overpriced Cava.

Success is always the ultimate benchmark at Old Trafford, and we have never adhered to the old Arsène Wenger mantra of “we must play a beautiful brand of football irrespective of the result”, but I must confess that I’m

revelling in being the team over which all the pundits purr. It’s very satisfying. Nani’s first at Wembley in the Community Shield – it would have indeed proven a very charitable act had we let City become Community Shield “champions” after embarrassing them for 90 minutes – was the stuff of unrealistic pipedreams, and Anderson’s against Tottenham Hotspur was equally as fairy-tale-esque. And what about the petulance of Ando’s scooped flick-assist for Danny Welbeck’s first against Arsenal? From the sand of Rio de Janeiro’s idyllic beaches to the grass of Manchester’s utopian fields, beach soccer momentarily transposed 6,000 miles before our very eyes.

I always remember my dad saying back in ’93, “savour this son, it doesn’t happen very often.” At the time, as a naïve ten year old, those words were but a mere backdrop to Eric Cantona’s third at Carrow Road in ‘93, but they now reverberate around my mind. I’ve never enjoyed footy as much as the 92-95 era, even when we have been winning all the spoils. Obviously we have been hugely successful, and have been privileged to some immense talent and European joy (’99, of course, was epic) but I’ve never witnessed that same fluidity, pace, sheer unpredictability, and raw dynamism since the time Giggsy, Andrei Kanchelskis, Paul Ince, Roy Keane, Eric and Mark Hughes used to terrorise teams into a stupor, and ultimately, submission. I remember Giggsy’s first at Carrow Road, a move in which we had so many men bursting forward with intent that four players were in prime position to tap in that goal.

The most vividly grotesque, yet simultaneously fitting analogy for this current exhibition of football is like watching “flies to shit,” and red-arsed flies at that, with players buzzing around at multiple different interchanging angles, a swarming reminiscent of that ‘92-93 team, which attacked in their droves like missiles simultaneously diverging from, and converging upon, the enemy’s goal. It’s a wonder to behold.

And what’s special about this present collective of precocious talent is their diversity? Everyone is quick to pinpoint the English backbone to the youthful vibrancy, but lest we forget the foreign contingent that also enhances the side. What’s unique to this cohort of young men, as opposed to the original Busby Babes or the “Fergie Fledglings,” is that we are witnessing a veritable ensemble of international prodigies.

Ashley Young, Chris Smalling, Phil Jones, Danny Welbeck, Tom Cleverley, and Wayne Rooney are perfectly complemented by their foreign counterparts in David de Gea, Nani, Anderson, Javier Hernández and the Da Silvas. English directness and tenacity supplemented with foreign flair and panache. Some would even deem it the ideal hybrid.

The Busby Babes, whilst positively beautiful, didn’t boast any samba jigs. Indeed, Bobby Charlton’s celebratory movements wouldn’t have been attuned to a samba beat. The Fergie Fledglings, whilst fantastic, didn’t showcase any capoeira backflips. Indeed, David Beckham never attempted any double somersaults. So, United, imbued with an added sprinkling of the exotic, appears an even more delightful proposition.

Soon we will be supping Açaí superfruit shakes to accompany our chips ‘n’ gravy as we stroll along the Sir Matt Busby Way. It’ll feel like walking down the Copacabana beach, with all the s(h)and(y) at our feet. Lou Macari’s chippy might start diversifying its culinary offerings, and serve some ‘chorizo’ and ‘patatas bravas’ instead of the time-honoured sausage and chips. It’s that healthy balance of which government bodies constantly inform us, and which evidently also applies to the footy field.

Yet again our beloved Sir Alex proves he’s a genius. Yet again, Sir Alex rejuvenates and redesigns a successful squad into possessing the ability of ushering in another prosperous period. Yet again, Sir Alex substantiates statements that he might very well be the best to ever do it. And who would bet against SAF to decipher the indecipherable conundrum that is Barcelona FC? Who would wager against a United resurgence to the zenith of club football? It might take a few more years, require a few more acquisitions and necessitate a spot of lady luck. But we have time, appeal and that certain “je ne sais quoi” to do it.

Following on from the dejection of last May, exacerbated by the justifiably-elated Catalans as they flamencoed down the Wembley Way, the future once again looks bright, the clouds once again appear to have a silver(ware) lining, and the red moon is rising. Originally, I thought the key was to emulate Barcelona’s style of play, but United too, are one of the world’s finest exponents of the beautiful game, and we shall conquer in our own fashion.

What’s even more encouraging from a Red’s perspective is the plethora of prodigious potential that underpins the club, in the shape of budding hopefuls spearheaded by the triumvirate of Paul Pogba, enfant terrible Ravel Morrison and Ryan Tunnicliffe. So when the noisy neighbours claim that the Premiership is becoming a two-horse race, always rest assured that United is a glorious thoroughbred, rich in decades of yielding classic winners, whilst mcfc is but a glorified carthorse that distinctly lacks pedigree and class.

So as my old man once told me, my only words of advice would be to savour these next few seasons, I have a feeling they’re going to be pretty special. And please utter those infamous words again Hansen. You know, the ones that not only came back to bite you on the arse, but also removed one of your saggy Scouse buttocks. Go on, I dare you.

Jonathan Shrager can be found at United We Stand and on Twitter – twitter.com/jonathanshrager

This article originally appeared in Rant Monthly Issue 2, September 2011. For this and other fine articles download Issue 2 here.