Manchester United versus Real Madrid was the game that the whole world was waiting for, according to Jose Mourinho. The game did, indeed, almost have it all – over the two legs at least.
It had drama – dropped players, returning heroes and old adversaries. It had technical skill aplenty, goalkeeping heroics. It had a tactical battle. And it had THAT red card decision.
The game also contained two glorious examples of one of the greatest occurrences in football. If the perfectly executed defensive header is one of the finest sights in the game of football, as I opined recently, then one of the finest sounds in football must certainly be that of the frenzied shout of “MAN ON!” by a packed stadium.
It occurs many times during a match, but there are those few occasions where every single person in the stadium is convinced that the player on the ball has no idea at all of the presence of an opposing player bearing down on him.
With the footballing equivalent of a pantomime “He’s behind you!” – to a man, the crowd provides the warning signal.
Usually derided as being quiet, with the stakes high during the Champions League tie, Old Trafford erupted in unison at least twice. When executed perfectly by crowd and player – the crowd warning loudly, the player acknowledging and acting upon it instantly (as Michael Carrick did), feigning, side-stepping and releasing the ball to safety – it is a perfect example of the footballer and the “twelfth-man” working in beautiful harmony.
The term is obviously not restricted just to the stadium – although that is perhaps the perfectly distilled example. It is equally at home on the parks and during indoor games, at every level of football. Although, the nuances of the term do not appear to reveal themselves fully for a while to the younger player.
In a five-a-side game that my youngster was involved in recently, there was the incessant cat-calling of the player on the ball’s name -
“James, James, James, Pass James, I’m with yer, James, yes James, yes James, Pass James, please!….aawwww!”, repeated ad infinitum.
- but little in the way of real assistance. The boy in possession, having eyes only for the goal, was unaware not only of the position of the two players calling for a pass, but also of the two defending players about to snap at his heels. A little shout of “Man On” and he could have checked his run and despatched the ball safely. That will come with time.
“Man On” can, of course, be overused. How many times have you received the ball, knowing full well just who is around you on the pitch, to be treated to a chorus of “Man On”s from your team-mates, sounding like the seagulls from Finding Nemo. Probably just the adult version of the “Pass, James” monologues.
Used sparingly, when in absolute need, “Man On!” delivers. Short enough to bark out quickly. Succinct enough to be processed rapidly. Making your feet do anything about it is another matter altogether.
Even when a youngster myself, the term carried intrigue.
Manchester radio presenting stalwart, and United fan, Mike (“What time is it?”) Sweeney once hosted a debate show on daytime local tv, in which he began the programme with words something along the lines of “On this show, we’ll be discussing local politics, news and the meaning of the term “Man On”.”
That hooked me in like a present-day SEO optimised headline. Needless to say, I watched the end credits go up with a feeling of having been robbed of that particular 25 minutes.
In Germany, the cries of “Kommt was!”, or “Achtung!” can be heard – warnings of What’s coming! – look out, or pay attention. France has “Ca vient!” – It’s coming! I presume that Spanish football would hear the refrain “Cuidado!” – to take care. All more general terms making perfect sense in and out of football: falling ladders, flying golf balls, general danger.
“Man on” lends itself beautifully to a particular incident in the sporting arena in a way that they can’t – but would be pretty useless at warning of a fast-approaching car.
Looking back at that Champions League game and its agreed turning point, though. Perhaps there should be a short footballing term that the whole crowd can shout in unison for “withdraw your leg now! It looks too high and appears to be aiming straight for an opponent’s ribs, therefore it could be deemed dangerous play deserving of a red card!”
Come to think of it, maybe that is where those non-English terms work better.