Ah yes, twenty-six years we have been staring at each other through the gently drifting swirls of coffee smoke. twenty-six years we have exchanged knowing glances behind a waft of liniment or a whiff of cordite. Twenty-six years we have ground each other down to minute dusty grains. Like an
And let's face it, we loved it, both you and I. We loved the opportunity to bleat and counter-bleat, to mock and foam in indignation.We liked to look non-plussed by it all and head around the corner to spit feathers. We football folk are like that, though, aren't we? A bit of leg pulling here, a bit of ribaldry there, a smile and a joke, then into the bathroom to wretch and curse and crack a few mirrors, eat a hairdryer for tea.
Our relationship, I don't know whether you remember, started well enough. On a sunny day, you made a bit of a squiffy start. Ralph Milne and all that. There was Lee Martin and a couple of other ringers in those early days and the hate mob that appeared on the Old Trafford precincts telling everyone that you had to go. They got their wish in the end then, the soft sods! It all looked quite promising in a Ron
Time moved slowly in those early years. Painfully slowly. You showed little early signs of aptitude after the Awesome Aberdeen Days. There was no Wullie Miller here. No big flaming haired Alec McLeish. Not even a John Hewitt, for heaven's sakes. Just an Archie Knox for company and that's not saying much. Those early signings gave us all a little insight into what was coming though. You had Viv Anderson and his long legs and big mouth, you hauled in Steve Bruce, one of the two Ugly Sisters who would stop a container truck with one of his smiles, you had Choccy McClair and Clayton Blackmore, with his hair like an afghan hound that was just a little bit too pleased with itself. Then we all had Jim Leighton. This was for City as well as for United., I felt. A gift to the lot of us, I suspect, the first of several that you warmly and generously offered to us during your stay in Lancashire. You weren't averse to a bit of wobbly goalkeeping, Fergus, and for that we thank you! The lad Taibi would come later of course, and he was the big present, as we grafted away in the lower leagues under your
You gave us other titbits to keep us from drowning. Mark Bosnich was one. And Paul Ince, for which we must thank you.
I'd like to think, once you got your tartan slippers properly under the desk, our relationship took proper constructive shape. You told us what was what and we sheepishly agreed that we had had it. We were sunk. You presided over a bit of serious empire building just as we became a music hall joke. Stuart Hall's Theatre of Base Comedy, although who's listening to him these days, eh? We were, by our own reckoning, all over the shop. That 5-1 at Maine Road with the Platt Lane empty but for a few young crackers with their banner, the Three Years of Excuses one, seemed like a long long time ago when you managed to persuade Kanchelskis to make Davey Brightwell look like a mound of wet cement sacks. I had an inkling that night that all was not exactly ok. It wasn't just the 5-0 bumping your cohorts gave us; it was the whole manner of the slaughter: unkind, devestatingly clinical and of course a five to wipe out our own five. This was to become typical of our relationship. We were already a laughing stock and you, Fergus, just made it all ten times worse. Three Years of Excuses. And Twenty-Two of endless rivers of trophies. I don't mind telling you, I became utterly sick of your I'll get yae back mentality.
It wasn't as if you didn't have other targets to pick on. Liverpool fat and loathsome on their perch, The French Professor and all those languages he spoke, Real Madrid and their viruses, that tricky Inzahgi who was born offside, and even some your own inner cabal not exactly polishing pebbles for you. Grown up Dave Beckham, Stam, Van Nistelrooy, even the old vein bulger himself, they all got on your
|A proud man|
We went off your radar for a while, it must be said. Occasionally our paths would cross and you would chirrup something tasty about how inconsequential we were. If we weren't already feeling suicidal, your mots justes would certainly have propelled us towards the edge of the cliff. I'd wager your utterings had me in a royal froth on more than one occasion. I was livid. But then so were you half the time. We were down on our luck. Third division, Auto Windshields, Mansfield Town et al. Your chums at The Mirror did a job on us that night too! You had them all licking drips off the ends of your stubby Glaswegian fingers, you rascal.
We met in the Cup and, by some quirk of fate, the little bald Geordie ref saw your lot through with a penalty from heaven. Your man Cantona, a strutting collar-up pillar of hormonal self-love, was your on-pitch spokesman. Not the ugly aunties Pallister and Bruce, not the girly voiced Beckham, not even the rabid dog Keane, but this cocksure Marseillais stallion with a smirk on his face. I still see his reaction to that goal against Sunderland at night sometimes when the wind is banging against the window panes. He embodied all those finite, beautiful yet cruel acts you deemed paramount, all those thrusts of the knife into our bleeding hearts.
Of late, our relationship has changed for the worse, of course. We became a threat. You got rattled. Carlos did the dirty. The sign went up in town. The tables turned. Your expression turned to granite. We know even today that there are times when we should just steer clear of you. That face, set in Son, you were sitting at the Captain's Table. Now you're rowing down with the other bastards...". It was always us and them, you and me. Poor John Motson. You gave the BBC twenty years of Mike Phelan and his mustache. Not caring much for etiquette, unless it was being fired in your direction, you slapped bans here and made snidey under the microphone asides there. Anyone and everyone was a target in your thunderstruck democracy.
|An affectionate hug|
But maybe we have to apologise for the last three years. We have risen quickly and above our station, giving you migraine and gut ache. Quite unnecessary for a man of your age, who had fought to knock those Scousers from their "fucking perch". Now a new foe, so close to home, with the volume turned up so loud. You did your best to belittle us as before. There was the 6-1 stuffing on your own patch. Johnny Evans looked like a bollard and you used the words "suicidal" and "embarrassing" in public, as if you almost accepted the sea change.
Not in my lifetime, you mumbled, but having diarrhea on the hard shoulder is easier than seeing City off these days. We stuck at it, even as you gloried in our demise. People chuckled about Devon Loch and you tried not to enjoy the horse racing analogies too much. It was tough going keeping your face straight, then Moyes's Everton blew everything up in your face. Suddenly there was a thrashing and
And then that stopwatch of yours started telling you something new. The ticking got louder. Times sands shift and wait for no man.
So you swallowed your pride and you came back for more. One last time, as it now appears. You may have been a bully to us all these years but you have been a fighter, still now in your sunset years; you don't give up and that has brought you your final reward: to go out at the top. Not cowed, not beaten by us interminably chirpy pessimists, but as a league champion once more. You ruled with an iron fist, you celebrated with a granny jig. But you can relax it all now. The fist. Unclench it. You leave us as a winner one last time.
And, do you know what, we'll not begrudge you that, with your angry old face.