It comes around quickly doesn’t it? That time of year when more than ever your life revolves around football. That time of year when the morning of any game feels like the morning of the biggest game. That time of year when you celebrate any goal scored against your rivals as though they were goals your own team had scored. That time of year when champions are separated from challengers.
Last weekend, after turning off the Chelsea game at 3-1, when it became apparent that West Ham, as usual, weren’t going to do us any favours, I hoped Hull might have something to offer. Ok, so only Portsmouth are below them in the table, but they’re up for a good scrap and maybe they could pull off the unthinkable. They almost did! Despite going down to ten men in the first half thanks to the idiotic and dangerous behaviour of George Boateng (who is, in case you forgot, a prick) Arsenal needed an injury time winner to secure three points. As United fans, we’ve no place to bemoan late winners, but it should provide us with some positivity to see the Goons struggle. If the ten men of Hull are almost too much for them, they’re going to find their trips to Spurs, Birmingham and Blackburn a lot more trying!
Regardless, before last weekend you would have pencilled both those results in as wins for Chelsea and Arsenal, so there wasn’t much to complain about.
But it was ahead of our game against Fulham that the nerves started to creep in. Whilst I had been confident of our chances before the game, the closer it got to kick-off the more panicked I became. I started thinking about horrible scenarios. Own goals, injuries and failing offside traps dominated my pre-match thoughts. We should beat Fulham… but what if we don’t? We’ve still got to go to Liverpool and City yet, as well as face Chelsea, so we really can’t afford to drop points here.
Then the game started and we were playing well. We created plenty of chances and we always looked like we were going to score, we just needed the break through… but what if that didn’t come? What if we hit the post and Schwarzer had a brilliant game and our lads didn’t put their shooting boots on?
The goal did come though, thankfully, right at the start of the second half. We were bossing the game and all was looking good. We just needed that second goal to wrap up the result and we’d be laughing. The chances kept coming but the goals didn’t.
Then, with 15 minutes to go, Nemanja Vidic let the ball roll past him and Bobby Zamora was in, one on one with Edwin Van der Sar. That sickening feeling in the stomach, the churning that comes when you know that you are about to concede, kicked in.
But Vidic got back at him and made a great tackle so we were off the hook, but with your heart rate struggling to return to normal.
We had to wait until 6 minutes from time before the second was scored, then in to injury time before it became 3-0, and I start to wonder what we do this for.
Thinking back and reading all of that, it sounds like sheer agony. Why do we put ourselves through this?
But the answer is obvious. Because it feels fucking fantastic when you win! And winning at the expense of teams who are painfully close to achieving your shared goal is even better. Even though it’s excruciating with it being so close at the top it is seasons like these that you remember most fondly.
The season after the Treble we didn’t even need to try, finishing 18 points clear of second placed Arsenal. It’s brilliant to win, of course, but that feeling of having to wait until the final day of the season is unmatched by anything else. How great was it in 98-99 when we beat Spurs, after going a goal down? How brilliant did you feel after Giggsy buried the ball against Wigan at the end of the 07-08 season knowing that made us Champions? All that tension and stress and pressure and frustration explodes out of you and is replaced with total joy and madness.
If someone offered me the title now, obviously I’d take it, but the game doesn’t work like that and we’ve got to be grateful of what we have. How many fans have even been involved in a title race over the past two decades apart from ours? Villa, Blackburn, Newcastle, Arsenal, Chelsea and Liverpool? We’re so fucking lucky it’s untrue.
“They’re a long time dead,” my mum used to say to me about my grandparents when I was kid, with a Sunday outing to Timperley being met with groans. I wanted to stay at home or knock about with my mates or play a bit of footie. I didn’t want to go and sit around with my nana and grandad, bored whilst the adults chatted away. I loved them and all, and as far as grandparents went, they were pretty cool, but you imagine them always being there. Sadly, that’s not how life works and you’ve got to appreciate them whilst you have them because most people will spend the majority of their lives without them.
Our title challenges are the same, and however painful they may be at times, we shouldn’t ever take them for granted. Most people will spend the majority of their lives without ever seeing their team in the top 6, let alone challenging for titles, let alone winning them year after year! We’re a privileged group and sadly shouldn’t presume we’re going to be in this situation all the time. Think of the people who follow teams in midtable mediocrity, who don’t get to enjoy the thrill of the relegation battle or title charge, and what they would give for the ache we have in our bellies before matches at the moment!
So yes, it does feel horrible, and the thought of 1.29pm on Sunday is enough to make my tummy flip, but this is what it’s all about! These are the moments that make it so great to be a United fan and we should treasure them, bottle them up for a time in the future when we may crave the success we’re enjoying so freely right now.
I fancy us to win the title this year, but if we don’t, we look forward to next year. It is not our divine right to win the league, whatever we may like to think, and the hurt of missing out this year would just make the desire to win it next year even stronger, and the feeling of winning it again all the more enjoyable. But to be named champions in a couple of months time would make us the most successful English club of all time, with a record 19 titles and a record of 4 titles in a row, something no other club has done before. The hope and anticipation that comes with daydreaming about the end of the season make right now the best part of the season and I really can’t wait until May!
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