And so it was that I sat, slumped at home, nursing a hangover from the Manchester Derby that never happened (see I’ll Get Me Coat, above) and a lovely weekend break in Venice that definitely did happen. My wallet confirms this point.
(Side note:as disconsolate as I was when I realised my long awaited trip coincided with the clash of red and of blue, of all that is right and of all that is moustachioed and wrong; you cannot imagine the strange sense of relief that washed over me upon hearing the score, after picking myself off the floor, naturally. Relief seems an odd reaction, you think, to your team being tonked 6-1 at home by cross-city rivals – but at least I had not had to bear the humiliation of seeing the torment as it happened.).
So, still managing to ignore texts, phonecalls and highlights upon my return, I sat methodically and robotically pressing the “channel up” button on the remote, paying scant attention to the various televisual “marvels” that sky provides for our entertainment. I scrolled by second after second, minute after minute and Jamie Oliver show after Jamie Oliver show -until I finally hit upon what I thought would be a gem.
Yep, I’d passed the food channels, ignored the music channels, decided that Blackadder Goes Forth for the 1000th time was over-egging the proverbial and finally got to the sport. I zipped past the darts, flirted with the idea of the tennis and thought that, at this rate, I’d soon be trawling through the underwater battles that shaped world war 2 on the history channel and couples that kill on true crime at any moment – until I was finally stopped in my tracks – by ESPN classic.
Oh yes, I thought, as I read the game to be shown next – The Manchester Derby from Novemer 1993.. city 2 United 3 – Cantona! The perfect cure for the hangover. A reminder of more predictable days, city storming in to a 2 goal lead, only to fluff their lines an allow a United comeback…lovely stuff.
I had 20 minutes of the game before left to work through – and work, initially at least, it most definitely was!
Time blurs everything. In 1992, United were sweeping away all before them and heading towards the league title, for the first time in a quarter of a century. (Later in the season, United We Stand fanzine was seen to publish a cover that stated “Champions at Last!” – only for United to throw the last 3 matches and Leeds to take the title.)
Quite how this was happening with the collection of players displayed in front of me, is now beyond me – and not entirely surprising in hindsight to see how the season ended. Or why Eric Cantona was required.
The match in question – shown apparently without irony remember – on ESPN CLASSIC, was Sheffield United -v- Manchester United. The Blades had taken a deserved lead through Brian Deane and were coasting to a Dave Bassett-influenced win against a Manchester United side boasting such luminaries as Mike Phelan,Clayton Blackmore et al.
By the look of the pitch, the match was being played on some allotments at the end of Bramhall Lane, a 33-year old Alan Cork (him again – looking not a day over 57!) was running rings around Steve Bruce in a slow-motion beer-belly ballet, and the crowd looked like they had not yet realised that the 80s were over. Manchester United came back to win 2-1, inspired by the legend that is Bryan Robson, somehow dragging this team through to get a result – but my, how things have changed. It is hard sometimes not to believe the Sky-esque assertion that football didn’t really exist until they grabbed hold of it.
The football on display was not, in fact, “classic”, it was dire. It was slow. It was Flair-free. It was ESPN Valium.
However, it was also pre-Sky, pre-hype, pre-million different camera-angles, pre-WAGs, pre-phone-ins, pre-music played when a goal goes in, pre-moisturiser for men. It took a while for it to work its charms, but in the end, despite myself, I loved every minute!