Wednesday 23 September ~
I think anyone's dislike of Manchester United stems from one particularly harrowing experience. Mine happened on March 16, 1996. My team, QPR, struggling after the sale of Les Ferdinand, were in a relegation dogfight but hope had been revived by the time United came to town. At 4.57 QPR were heading towards a famous victory, one we like to think would have given the team the momentum to stay up that year and rapidly alter the course of our history. Instead by 4.58 QPR had drawn after an impossibly late Eric Cantona header had deflated a confidence that was destined never to recover, 13 years down the line we’re still waiting.
When asked about my reasons for disliking United this is the principal one but it has become as much to do with no Man Utd fan recollecting it as the implications of the result itself. I’m of the opinion that Cantona's 96th minute header destroyed our club and set off a chain reaction that has seen two relegations, 11 managers and resulted in Kevin Gallen having the ignominy of being rejected by Barnsley. But no United fan can recall it. It’s enough to make one feel rather insignificant.
Of course, United are not the only club to score injury-time goals and we could blame selling Ferdinand or continual bad decisions by our chairmen instead. But save those reasons for the rational thinkers. A rational mind would show United to be a model club. Sir Alex is unquestionably a man with integrity. I remember him lambasting Jose Mourinho for his shameless comments regarding Cristiano Ronaldo’s working class background. United are a team that keeps in touch with their roots, producing home-grown stars, treating ex-players respectfully and are quick to commemorate those who perished in the Munich disaster. There is a great deal to admire, a touch of class. Something I don’t think we could attribute to a team of Chelsea’s dubious calibre, for example. Yet local rivals aside this is the fixture that everyone would love to win.
Almost everyone now has a great United memory and a terrible one. No other club demands this kind of attention except said bastards down the road. Rangers fans still celebrate the “New Year's Day” massacre of 1992 where a mediocre team travelled up to Old Trafford to hammer a very possibly extremely hungover United 4-1, and we are not alone. Why, simply because they are the biggest and at the moment the best? Well yes, but there is respect and fear that an equally annoying and resolute Chelsea do not possess. A sense of grandeur that even in their heyday an extremely formidable Liverpool never enjoyed or a steeliness that a free-flowing more attractive Arsenal don’t have.
Basically, they have an all-round bastardness that we despise. Winning bucket loads of trophies, enjoying unrivalled support, scoring endless last minute winners and they hardly ever bloody lose. So on behalf of all fans of ordinary clubs, allow us to revel in the fact that on this occasion it was little old us that inflicted upon you this rareness of rarities. This is our time to shine, to update our top ten, a list that for many clubs doesn’t include more than one instance of a proud captain raising a trophy triumphantly aloft. It’s all about the little victories in the world of football that the rest of us live in. Michael Sisley