To mark the 10th anniversary of RoM, there will be several articles remembering some of the best moments for Manchester United fans over the past decade. Daniel Taylor, Chief football writer for The Guardian, who has just won journalist of the year and brought out the excellent book I Believe In Miracles, has shared some memories from the past decade from reporting on United.
RoM: What do you think the best moment of the past 10 years has been for United?
Danny Taylor: Moscow, I guess. If I don’t sound totally enthusiastic it’s because those extra-time penalty shoot-outs, with a terrible wifi connection and raining coming directly into the pressbox, made it a fucking stressful experience work-wise. I can remember panicking about getting my report over more than anything about the penalties. But it was still one of the most memorable nights and I suppose, football being the business of schadenfreude, probably the best way to win it in the end.
On the plane back I can remember Fergie’s grandkids starting the John Terry song for all the fans on board.
RoM: Are there any games that stand out to you that you’ve reported on over the past 10 years?
DT: The 7-1 against Roma is one – I can still remember one Italian journalist storming out of the pressbox in tears at half-time and not coming back. The Scholes semi-final v Barcelona, though, was maybe the loudest I’ve heard Old Trafford during the last decade. And, apologies, the 6-1 against Manchester City is still vivid because that was the moment when everyone thought ‘bloody hell, City are the real deal, it’s happening.’ Six-one? When I came up to Manchester in 1998 City were an afterthought. I couldn’t get them in the paper. So that was definitely a big moment.
RoM: When Abramovich/Mourinho came to Chelsea, did you think there was much chance of United still being the dominant team in England?
DT: Maybe in that period in late-2005 when it was proper crisis time – not just a media crisis, but a genuine one. The Keane thing was kicking off. There was the game in Stade de France when the fans were really having a go. Chelsea were brilliant at that stage whereas United were going out of the Champions League and had all sorts of problems. Plus that Blackburn game when the crowd were singing “four-four-two” because they didn’t like the 4-2-3-1/4-5-1 tactics (couldn’t imagine that now, could you?). That said, I probably thought it more about City when the Abu Dhabi money came in, the 6-1 etc. When they won the title the first time I thought they would properly take over – but it hasn’t worked out that way. If you actually look at the number of days City have been top of the league since then it is very low for what you might expect.
RoM: What have the biggest changes been behind the scenes between Fergie, Moyes and Van Gaal?
DT: The obvious one is Fergie going. It’s been a lot more media-friendly, which is something Ed Woodward wanted when he took over from David Gill. And even though it hasn’t always been handled brilliantly, he’s right. A club needs good PR and United are still a long way behind some of their rivals in that respect. Moyes was the wrong appointment – I said that at the time too – and visibly shrank in front of our eyes. Before the World Cup he took some of us (England correspondents) out for a meal and it was like being with a different man. He just couldn’t handle Old Trafford. It’s a big, scary club and it needs a big, scary manager. Van Gaal has the personality but I’m not impressed with him overall and the biggest change has just been the sense of occasion. Every United game was a big occasion, a big story and you knew something would happen – that’s gone now (albeit only temporarily, perhaps) and earlier this season it was bland in a way you could never have once imagined.
RoM: Any particularly memorable moments at a United press conference/interview over the past 10 years?
DT: Well, 2005 is actually around the time they stopped being so much fun and everyone went into the same room. Before that point, Fergie used to have his dailies briefings in a separate room with no cameras so he could go off the record, lose his rag etc and not have to put on his TV face. And, genuinely, if the TV had ever captured the Hairdryer revved up to full you wouldn’t believe it. Everything you have heard, it was worse, trust me. It felt like being back at school sometimes and getting the worst bollocking you’ve ever had from the worst-tempered teacher – while, all the time, trying not to catch one of your mates’ eyes in case of nervous laughter. I can remember one when he chucked out someone and one of the long-serving journalists – lovely guy, in his 50s – politely raised his hand to ask if he should leave, too. The poor bloke’s head had gone, reaching that age and getting yelled at every Friday. I wish I’d kept those press-conference tapes, to be honest. He had one barney back and forth with Neil Custis – I printed the full transcript in This is the One – and by the end even Di Law was laughing. He could switch from full-on rage to humour quicker than anyone I’ve ever known.
RoM: What has been the most interesting United related story you’ve reported on in this time?
DT: Keane and Fergie. Both fascinating, aren’t they? I was at that press conference on the morning Keane was sacked and Fergie didn’t seem to have a care in the world. We hadn’t seen him for two weeks. “And thank Christ for that,” he joked. “I needed a break from you. Did you know Bayern Munich have a press conference every bloody day? Can you imagine that?” Honestly, he was in a great mood that day, talking about Scotland winning “the unofficial World Cup” and England’s chance of hosting the 2018 World Cup (“Dearie me, I’ll be 76 by then – if I’m still alive.”) He shooed us out at 12.25pm and we went to get a bacon cob from the burger van round the corner. Proper naïve little lambs. And then our phones started ringing. Keane’s been sacked? A couple of hours he’d been sitting in his car, crying, on that same country lane. And there was Fergie in the best mood we had seen him for some time. He really was one ruthless fucker – and a brilliant actor when he needed to be.