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May 27, 2011

An impossible dream achieved already

Number of things in life more important than football: many. Number of things in life that make us happier than football: few. Does the second assertion disprove the first? Either way, nothing I've accomplished myself has me punching the air like The Situation on speed, nor caused Javier Hernandez's goal celebrations to infiltrate my morning chug around the park. But however much I hate the world and everything in it, United is somehow and forever exempt, the vaguely acceptable face of mania, mindlessness and joy. Only music can rival football's ability to track life's every aspect, underpinning the memories that comprise a personality, and grounding us in them and them in us: hell, occasionally, it even seems like they might actually mean something. But though they obviously don't, the feeling is a real one, and that's why we're so bothered: when the boys are on the pitch, they're playing for our lives, and for who we are. Thinking back to the emotional peaks of the Fergie era, 1993 was characterised by the most outrageously ecstatic people I've ever seen, 1999 by a stunned amazement, and 2009 by intense and absolute relief. This time, the prevailing mood was one of reflective satisfaction, the outrageousness of imagining such a scenario in the 80s featuring in almost every Ewood conversation that I overheard. Any self-respecting Red who grew up during that era passed many an hour in the company of the BBC's The Official History of Manchester United video, tracing our ancestry. Unsurprisingly, given that it was made in 1988, it ended in rather dark fashion; low-angle shot of a grimy Manchester morning at The Cliff, youth team training in white away strip, with John Motson's voiceover going something like this: "Can Manchester United end their long wait and reach the holy grail to once again become the Kings of England.?..or has the Championship become...an impossible dream?" Thinking about it now, the suggestion that the country's most famous, popular and glamorous club might never again win its title sounds ridiculous, and maybe it was then too, but it certainly didn't seem that way. Luckily, though, Fergie saw things differently: "It's been 21 years since this club won the league championship and that's the challenge for the players now. But they can only be responsible for the period that they have been here. What they have to accept is the responsibility of doing something about it...o' changing that...and they will become the heroes". He was bang on about the heroes, and to the extent that such a thing exists, he's given us plenty of those. Hard men, quiet men, nice men, charismatic men - but always men, melded into teams with real identities that are unmistakably United and typically Manchester, the values they represent legitimising the import that we accord them. Never a great coach or tactician, Fergie's ability to appreciate, motivate and agitate different egos and personalities is unrivalled; like the finest politicians, actors and writers, his talent is underpinned by an instinctive understanding of humanity. In the midst of it all, he appears to have lost touch with his own, but that's not for now. It's because of him that life is something that happens while United are winning things, his addiction to the buzz rendering him just as ill as the rest of us. For all his faults, the world is a better place for his presence, and that's a mightily rare accolade. In his first programme notes as manager, Fergie wrote the following: "A man is very fortunate if he gets the chance to manage Manchester United in his lifetime and I can assure you that I have no intention of wasting my opportunity". Alex, consider us assured. As you may know, during the 80s, we could never possibly have expected that United might better Liverpool's tally of titles. But to do so on the day that City became champions of the FA Cup added yet another wrinkle to an achievement decidedly Mother Teresa already. The Abu Dhabi money made their winning something inevitable, thus how delicious that a dreaded day became a day of days. How utterly, wonderfully, inevitably United. Meanwhile a news report on how Liverpool is coping with its demotion offered an interview with a group of four supporters,worching through the schales of truth and reality in ascending order: Scouser 1: "It's taken Alex Ferguson a lifetime to get past us...it's gonna take Kenny two years to get past them". Scouser 2: "We're on our way back to the top, Kenny's got us playing again, just look at the results over the second half of the season, we would've been up there challenging if Kenny had been there from the start of the season". Scouser 3: "It'll all change when Ferguson retires". Scouser 4: "To be honest, we're sick, really sick, we're all absolutely sick about it". This is worth remembering at all times, but particularly so should United lose on Saturday. Leaving the ground after the 2009 final, I attempted to placate disappointed Reds with tedious repetitions of 18 times, and variations thereof. Admittedly, I was the over-refreshed side of over-refreshed, but still, the point stands: European football is a treat. Learn from how the opposition go about things, reciprocate with football taught by Matt Busby, and if you win while you're at it, so much the better, but if you don't, celebrate anyway. You are who you are.


Daniel Harris was shortlisted for best new writer at the British Sports Book Awards. His book, On The Road: A Journey Through A Season, is available now to buy, here.

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