Editorial – Issue 44, Autumn 1999
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.