By Steve Kelly
From Issue 44, Autumn 1999
"Oh, I used to be disgusted/But now I try
to be amused". He's a good Red is Elvis Costello,
but you try following his 'advice' after the first
two months of 99/00. It's been poor, hasn't it?
Congratulations to one and all. Normally it has
taken three wins in a row to get everyone foaming
at the mouth in triumphant rapture, but this season
we've managed to shave it down to two. As well
as we played against Arsenal, there was no need
for all the 'afters'. Houllier can certainly play
the 'bad luck' card, and conspiracy theorists
have also had a field day. Liverpool play well
enough to mark them out as genuine contenders,
only to see (a) Nicky Butt's blatant handball
(b) Elliott's forearm smash (c) the sheer lunacy
of Staunton's sending off. There's a possible
five points lost that would have put us in contention.
Added to the injuries and suspensions - we are
still to see Gerard's first choice team play once,
never mind get into any sort of groove - and a
sense of injustice is certainly permissible.
But hard luck stories will only serve for so long.
They never saved Souness, and Houllier does not
have the tide of good will from seven years of
football genius that Graeme had at his disposal.
The press are making out that Gerard has three
years no matter what, but I've heard that before
and about managers in much higher league positions
than our's. GH's criticism of the team after the
two 'hate' games may well have been justified,
but he would be better taking a leaf out of Ferguson's
book. Even after their hiding at Stamford Bridge,
there was not one word about his players. It's
always the referee or tiredness or dirty opposition
or someone else's fault. They'd run through brick
walls for that bastard, and sadly it is becoming
a bit obvious that ours wouldn't do the same for
Gerard. Mind you, they never did it for their
pal Roy either so maybe the finger should point
at the "superstars" for once.
It doesn't help the cause when the manager himself
makes bad errors. Picking most of the unfit players
for the derby practically handed over the three
points, while Silvestre should have been given
a much harder debut than he was. Liverpool are
still sitting back when they're a goal up (Filbert
Street, The Dell) and still not marking properly
at set pieces (every game it seems!). The sudden
aversion to picking Camara (one of the few successes
- sorry for doubting you, Titi) is pure Evans
i.e. a crowd favourite suddenly benched or out
of favour. The less said about the persistence
with Meijer the better. Houllier has been in charge
for a year and maybe that isn't quite long enough
to start making any judgements yet, but NOTHING
has changed. Nothing at all.
Let's blast that "Ferguson needed three years"
theory out of the water right now. The stories
are uncannily similar. A manager is sacked despite
a few thirds and fourths plus a few cup runs (cup
wins in Atkinson's case), and Demento ambled through
the remainder of 86/87. In 87/88, they came second.
No one remembers that of course, because of Barnes
and Beardsley, but it was enough for United's
board to realise that they had the right man.
He struggled in 89/90 after he was given some
serious money for the first time, but even though
he bought some clunkers (Mike Phelan for God's
sake) they won the FA Cup and the rest is sadly
history. One thing that's worth pointing out:
as their new players bedded in, Ferguson relied
heavily on three men - Bruce, Robson and Hughes.
Whatever you may say about them, and we've said
plenty in the past, there are two significant
qualities you can say about the 'spine' of that
team. They had experience and bottle.
Let's compare that to Liverpool and Houllier.
He took over in the middle of a flop season, so
that's so far so er 'good', but will he get us
to second in May 2000? You would have to seriously
doubt that somehow. Having spent a lot of money
on a lot of players, he may well win the FA Cup.
That's all we're really interested in now, anyway,
unless things get worse and we start talking about
the 'R' word. As for the 'spine' of our team,
forget it. How much experience and bottle are
the new lads really getting from Staunton, Redknapp
and Fowler (our 'comparable' threesome)? Sami
is a rock at the moment, but what help's he getting
from the others? He seems to have clicked with
Henchoz, to be fair.
Sorry to be banging on about the 'U' word, too,
but our club and the fans have some important
choices to make. Every big club has had at least
one great side at some point, but when it's over
they have settled back into the pack and been
grateful. It's only really been the Mancs who
got stroppy about it and demanded greatness as
a right and not a privilege. As a far more successful
club, which way will we go? I swap with a Villa
fanzine, and they are advising us to "chill
out" and just accept our current mediocrity.
A particularly dense concept, even allowing for
the city it comes from, but it must make for a
peaceful life not to have the highest ambitions
for your team. With the resources available, we
really should not be in such an unflattering position.
For many, many years United were a highly amusing
side-show to the glory that was Rome Wembley Paris
and Rome. They took the jibes and all the cruel
taunts - not very well, but what do you expect?
I remember 1992 and the stick they took for blowing
the league. One Palace fanzine went completely
OTT. That's right, Crystal Palace - a club that
has won fuck all for its entire existence. The
United arrogance, the hatred that they inspire
- is that really what we want? Or are ludicrous
ambitions, inflated egos and the cruel mockery
of pigmies the price that we have to pay for getting
back to the top?
Thanks to everyone who has written for this issue,
but it's still a worry. I went to the PO Box a
week after the contentious and controversial derby
- not a single letter about it in the post. Perhaps
we're all suffering from football inertia, or
they're all going to the regular fanzines, but
your letters and articles are vital and appreciated.
One idea is to have a list of contributors that
I can call and ask for views on a given subject,
rather than having just me ranting about Taylor,
Elliott, foreigners, referees etc. etc. I had
a huge whine about derby week and the usual Echo
shit all ready to print, but I dropped it because
I'm already in #44 far too much. If that's the
way it's going to be from now on, I might as well
write a book and have done with it. It's not been
a bad way to earn a living for ten years, and
it certainly beat working.