OPINION: Manchester United's epic comeback against Newcastle is exactly what their fans deserve
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Around 3 o’clock on Saturday I was concluding my shift for Manchester United’s television channel MUTV. Two cameramen and I had recently filmed United’s under 18s victory at home to Newcastle at the club’s training ground, Carrington. The denouement of our handicraft required us to rebound all the production equipment back to their cosy home, a small, dingy cupboard deep in the bowels of Old Trafford.Though it was still two hours until Manchester United seniors would take on their Newcastle counterparts, the communal plaza skirting the stadium was already awash with supporters. It’s an eerie feat lugging a £10,000 video camera past a crowd; throughout, it remained conjoined tightly to my hand as I sived delicately across congregations of fans as a thread slips through the eye of a needle.
The homeside desperately needed a victory having not won in four. A political fallout dancing to the brash rhythms of a Michael Dobbs thriller had erupted beneath the surface. Jose Mourinho, manager of Manchester United - Europe’s biggest club-, was seemingly a breadth of ideas. Their star player, World Cup winner Paul Pogba, was unsatisfied, likely being courted by sides overseas.
Unpragmatic, United’s football had gone stale. A contradiction to the attacking, emotive, dramatic and soulful style the club essentially patented just a decade before. Old Trafford is nicknamed the Theatre of Dreams, yet the areana’s productions lacked passion. A loss against Newcastle the audience would be calling for blood. And Jose Mourinho was the arch antagonist.
With a reflection of disappointed, no such performance would be witnessed live by my two eyes. The dispatchment of my machinery would be the final contribution of my working day, the last tick on my checklist. My job was solely dovetailed around performing successful interviews with the Under 18s players and coaches, I was surplus to this Premier League conspiration.
But when you trawl towards a stadium hosting a football match of such magnitude, knowing you will play no part in it, a strange emotion surfaces. I embarked on the same lengthy pilgrimage, sat in the same traffic jams, paced down the same streets as any other supporter yet my inevitable disattachment freed up an enlightened sentiment. Curiosity. A twitch, desire even, to study and read the human spirit.
Worry, apprehension, distrust, excitement, anger, fear, all these emotions were painted across the bodies of the United faithful whom my path was dissecting. I saw a collective reflection of: “This could be the end.” A shared horror that, though never thought possible, a once proud club may undoubtedly be sprillaing towards mediocrity and underachievement. It may not even be spiralling towards a destination, it may already be there.
After returning the luggage I passed once more through rings of supporters, a canopy of glumness, interrupted sporadically by pockets of joyful away fans cladded in black and white stripes, revelling in the dark humour and the failings of their team’s counterparts.
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As I caught the bus back towards my University accommodation it struck me how quiet 70,000 people had been. Intermittent taunts of “Your getting sacked in the morning” from opposition supporters towards United boss Mourinho were the only mask of what was otherwise a decadent, funeral-esque atmosphere.
I once more witnessed this chilling absence of noise when I returned home and sprightly loaded up my laptop to begin streaming the fixture. Five minutes until kick-off and all was seemingly silent. Not a calm silence but a boredom. A defeated sentiment; a crowds anti-roar.
The atmosphere was flat and in turn the home team’s performance was frigid. When Newcastle unexpectedly leaped into a two-goal lead merely ten minutes into the fixture there may have been anguish and boos; individuals gesturing towards the players, demanding immediate inquests. But the majority remained glued to their seats, paralysed, though in no essence surprised. They knew this was coming. Mourinho’s time was up. At least it would all be over quickly. It would be less painful this way.
At half-time I felt ready to welcome this messy divorce. A separation between an identity-less club and a leader unwilling to accept progression. Manchester United pride themselves on their youthful attacking football, Jose Mourinho delights in his win-at-all-costs reputation. Between them, both harmonies were failing. Mourinho wasn’t winning, and United’s illustrations of football were poor.
And so, with the rumblings of whispers and suggestions of whom might be next in line to a weakening, barely occupied throne aplenty, Mourinho had 45 minutes to save his Manchester United career, sprinting from his perch in the dugouts to the dressing room.
The Old Trafford faithful are extraordinarily spoilt. Most football fans are grateful if they see their club win just one competition in their lifetime. I’m 19-years-old, since my birth, trophy-wise, United have lifted 28. It is no wonder then that these supporters demand success. Memories of timeless heroes marching towards victory simmer resolutely. Such personalities as Eric Cantona, Cristiano Ronaldo, David Beckham and George Best. They sit etched into the front of these Mancunian minds. Idols setting standards scarcely attainable.
If you want to lift the Stretford Enders off their feet; you’ve got to match those fabulous moments from the legendary memories painted religiously throughout the club’s history. Aspire to be part of the team’s narrative. As Jimmy Murphy said to a young Sir Bobby Charlton, “Right now, Manchester United football club owes you nothing.”
This is the explanation to the lack of fanfare. United fans don’t shout because, currently, they have nothing to shout about. As both sides returned to the second half this ongoing lineage looked set to continue. We’ll never know what Mourinho said to his players during the break but, my God, a reaction was embedded.
The Red Devils entertained, thrilled and excited. They were consistently on the front foot, pure domination. Juan Mata’s left-footed free-kick to halve the deficit had shades of Ryan Giggs. Paul Pogba and Anthony Martial’s link up play on route to a deserved equaliser rekindle the spirits Dwight Yorke and Andy Cole. Whilst Alexis Sanchez’ winner, the sight of a barrage of red shirts encroaching an oppositions six yard box in the 90th minute awaiting a well-timed cross, echoed Steve Bruce’s header against Sheffield Wednesday.
Suddenly, Old Trafford erupted with chants and cheers. Through my laptop I could here the conviviality. An electric atmosphere. I recalled the pitiful faces I had gazed upon hours earlier. A complete reversal. Fans now openly sung their managers’ name in beautiful motifs. All seemed to be on the road to redemption.
A few days later and I see no reason why this rekindling of the club’s supporters with its players and coaches cannot continue to be positive. Play is now suspended for the international break, when it returns United must uphold the positive, offensive style of football that served them so well in the second half of Saturday’s game. Albeit this time without gifting their opposition a two-goal head start before igniting into action.
It has been months since the future of Manchester United looked this promising but, unlike the many recent false dawns, I have confidence that over the years this team will blossom.
The first XI weren’t the only side to have beaten a Newcastle team that day. Five hours earlier I had watched the Under 18s win against the same opposition 3-0. It was one-way traffic throughout.
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