The Arndale, Aflecks, Aspecto. The Smiths, The Roses, The Mondays. The Ritz, The Hacienda, The Roadhouse. These are the things that come to my mind when I cast it eastward up the East Lancs. It occasionally drags up images of goalposts, crowds and sky blue shirts, but always sky blue, never red.
Is it strange that a (reasonably) local lad doesn’t associate one of the world’s biggest football clubs with the city in its name? I could be clever and play the ‘they’re from Salford’ card, but they’re not called Salford Utd or Trafford Town, they’re called Manchester United.
Ask me about Barcelona, Madrid or Milan and I’ve no problem. It’s ticker tape, galacticos and ultras a go go. Arsenal, Spurs, Chelsea and the Hammers sing of jellied eels and gold paved streets and Liverpool is always a city alternating between red and blue. So why not Manchester, the city, more than any, that I’ve associated myself with culturally through my life.
If you think that you’ve spotted a ‘none of their fans are local’ ABU rant in the making, then you’re wrong. I genuinely was surprised when I sat down to write about Manchester United and the last thing that occurred to me was Manchester. I think that it’s sad, and sadder still that I’m unlikely to be the only one who thinks like this.
I’m sure that part of it is that with clubs like Barca, Real, Milan and Inter I’m an outsider looking in. I grew up with a fair mixture of both type of scouser but I don’t recall that many United fans. Being from a family of City supporters will have helped in the disassociation, but I don’t think that’s it either.
When it comes down to it, I think that United have outgrown Manchester in a way that all those other clubs would perhaps never want to. As a club United sit alongside Sony, Toyota, McDonalds and Microsoft they’re a truly international brand, a corporation. I don’t associate United with Manchester in the same way that most people don’t associate Microsoft with Seattle, why would they?
And then it’s three o’clock, it’s Saturday and Manchester United are just eleven lads in polyester and football boots. They talk about pitches being ‘great levelers’ but the game itself is a good way to bring the mighty down. Off the pitch Latics v Utd is like me opening a burger van on McDonalds car park, on it, who knows?
Well, maybe not “who knows?” but “this time maybe”.
United are without key players and still settling into a life without Ronaldo. But the pain of defeat at Turf Moor is fresh and players who already had a point to prove will now have double the reasons to do well. United don’t usually lose many to the ‘lesser teams’ in the division, two on the bounce is almost unheard of.
Latics have their own point to prove and will want to wipe the performance against Wolves out of the minds of the fans. You couldn’t hope for a better chance, there’s little chance of United doing anything other than opening up and trying to play us. Any attempt to stifle the Martinez-plan will be a massive compliment, but it’s not going to happen.
So if Latics get the space to play, can they win? Latics have been getting progressively closer to getting something out of the champions and this game probably represents our best chance yet. They’ll know the style of play, but for the first time they might underestimate us, it’s very unlikely, but they might.
So what will happen? There are a couple of clues in the stats. First up, Rooney is on his 99th goal. Second, Owen hasn’t got a competitive goal for the champions, yet. You don’t have to be a Latics historian to know that strikers have developed a habit of breaking milestones against us. By my reckoning, we’ll need two goals for a draw and after predicting a win on Tuesday, I’m confidently saying that we won’t get them.
So watch this space.
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