Manchester United picked up all three points against Birmingham yesterday, Carlos Tevez finishing off a beautiful move. The goal was remnant of that scored against Middlesbrough earlier this season, with Rooney and Tevez linking up perfectly. However, despite our superior attempts on goal and possession, the 1-0 scoreline might appear worrying for United fans, and rightly so.
We showed flashes of brilliance, with Park, Ronaldo, Anderson, Tevez and Nani all showing why they play for the Champions. They plucked the ball from the air perfectly, played sweet passes and had great attempts on goal. However, none of our players were at their best, and with twenty minutes to go, looked as though we were already in injury time. At times, they were walking around with the ball, all looking far too excited when the subs board flashed up, then deflated upon realising they had to stay on the field. They looked bored, fed up, and the final whistle couldn’t come quickly enough for them. It was unnerving.
However, instead of looking to the players or looking to his tactics, for an explanation for such a lacklustre performance, Ferguson had a dig at the fans instead. “The crowd was dead,” he bemoaned. “That was the quietest I’ve heard our crowd. We need the supporters to create a good atmosphere here because the players respond to that. It’s all very well saying the players need to play to get the crowd going, for them to respond. But in situations like today we need the fans to get behind us. At times it was like a funeral. It was so quiet. I don’t think that helped us.”
Now, I’m not for one moment saying the Old Trafford crowd was as loud as it should have been, it never is! But for Ferguson to talk about us instead of the players infuriates me. How dare Ferguson publicly support the Glazers, who have driven so many of the hardcore fans away from Old Trafford, who raise ticket prices and increase the number of corporate seats at the ground, and then turn on the fans who do show up? He can’t have it both ways! He can’t support owners who are more concerned with customers and money than they are with loyalty and fans, and then criticise the support for the team.
I was just one fan out of the 75,459 fans lining Glazer’s pockets yesterday and I sang. I sang songs for United, I sang songs for Ole, Tevez, Ronaldo, Vidic, Park and Rooney, I sang songs for Ferguson, and of course I wasn’t alone. I ‘stood up for the Champions’, like we do every week, I waved my arms from left to right for Ronaldo, and I paid my money for the privilege.
Now, following our defeat to West Ham, where 1000s of United fans made the costly trip down to Upton Park four days after Christmas, the last thing Fergie wants to be doing is sticking it to the fans. Who was to blame for our spineless performance against West Ham? If the fans had cheered louder would our defence have been able to defend the two set pieces which cost us the points?
Regardless, if Old Trafford was unusually quiet against Birmingham, then maybe I’d see more sense behind Ferguson’s rant, however it has been far more quiet in the past. There was singing at Old Trafford, not as loud as it could or should be, but there was never silence, thanks to the Stretford End. Why is he picking this occasion, when the atmosphere wasn’t even that bad, to slag off the fans? The more cynical among us might think Fergie would be prepared to do anything to take the pressure off the players, who have massively underperformed over the past few weeks.
Birmingham are three points away from relegation and have picked up just seven points on the road so far this season. Why then were the fans of the Champions grumbling audibly when it was announced there were four minutes of injury time to play? “Four minutes?! Bloody ell! Where did they get that from??” Why were fans of the Champions whistling for the final two minutes of that allocated time? Surely the fact we were so nervous against such poor opposition says more about the football our team was playing than it does about our commitment to supporting our team?
With twenty games played last season, we’d picked up 53 points, losing one game against Arsenal, and drawing against Reading and Chelsea. We’re five points short off that this season. Over the past fortnight, we’ve seen less than inspiring performances from our team. I’m grateful of every single one of the points we’ve picked up, and getting a win at Anfield is far more important to me than watching an incredible game of football, but can Ferguson really blame us for getting a little agitated? After all, he is the man who has brought back such attractive and exciting football to Manchester United, building up a tradition over the past twenty years which we have enjoyed thoroughly, and feel entitled to crave and expect.
Our players looked bored yesterday, however, Ferguson expects us to rise above that. Ferguson expects us to work ourself up in to a frenzy despite our players looking desperate to get off the field. There are days when the crowd know what is needed of them, and our victory against Chelsea in 2005 is a perfect example of this. We sang from start to finish, knowing we were playing against a better side, undefeated in forty games and probably on their way to winning their second consecutive title. There are days when your team needs you, when whatever the standard of football is like, whoever is making mistakes, you need to get behind your team and urge them forward. I fully believe we made the difference that day against Chelsea and Ferguson was quick to call us the twelfth man then. But then, that was just a few days after 5,000 travelling fans booed us off the park after losing 1-0 to Lille in the Champions League.
Should Birmingham be a team that the players need the extra encouragement to beat? Should we beat singing loudly and passionately when our team can’t even be bothered to show up against relegation fodder? I think the fans feel more than happy to put up the fight and to put in the commitment when the players are willing to do the same. Had we been playing against Inter Milan yesterday and players needed that extra bit of edge to get an result, then fair play. But Birmingham?
I agree as much as the next red that something needs to be done about our home atmosphere, however, when I see the atmosphere of other Premiership sides, I feel there’s only one team or two that have any place to badmouth our fans. Diminishing atmospheres are prevalent in our league, with even the ‘mighty’ Liverpool with ‘the best fans’ in England failing to show up in their side’s demolition of Portsmouth at Anfield in the past fortnight. Even the Liverpool Echo couldn’t keep quiet on the topic, saying, “a wall of silence is no way to greet a 4-1 home win and there were times when the players’ shouts could be heard loud and clear because of the lack of noise. Anfield will soon resound only to the noise of away fans singing “Where’s your famous atmosphere?” I’m not for one moment suggesting that because Liverpool fans can’t cheer on a 4-1 victory that we should even allow ourselves to settle for the same in a dull 1-0 win, but merely pointing out the issue of atmosphere can be applied across the board at the moment.
So Ferguson, should United fans be expected to produce great atmosphere when the players can’t be bothered to produce a great performance? Should the fans be singing their hearts out proudly when the players on the field look like Old Trafford is one of the last places they want to be? Before having a pop at the fans, Ferguson should look at the multimillionaires on the park yesterday who looked disinterested and lazy. He should think about the tactics he’s employing and the training he’s giving, when we’re conceding to two set pieces and we can’t score more than one goal at home against a team that have conceded an average of close to two goals a game this season.
I’m not one for criticising Ferguson, but he should think twice before humiliating us and showing up the fans who do go to sing. Talk of prawn sandwiches will be rife over the next week or so in the press and from rival fans, and that’s not something I feel we deserve. Maybe he did have the club’s best interest at heart, wanted to increase the noise levels at Old Trafford the same way all the proper fans do, but I can’t help but disagree with the fashion and timing of these comments.
We all know something needs to be done about our home atmosphere, but was Ferguson right to make these comments now?