Manc.

A relatively commercial break –

Back in April, I tried to write about the Manchester derby but got caught in a web of sentiment; something to do with family connections to United and regrets over footie’s slippage into capitalistic mania. I tripped up, maybe, on a foot dangled out for contact, meaning I barely spoke, in my distracted fury, about the game. Having said all that, I did feel there was something true there, so I bunged it – I mean carefully selected it – for inclusion in my ebook.

(If you’re reading on twitter try this link – amzn.to/SSc9To – otherwise, the book’s called Unweighted – the bowlingatvincent compendium. On Amazon ebooks.)

Today’s ‘Title Decider’ – volume 2 or 3? – came around pretty quick, and gives me the opportunity to talk about action on the pitch. Something I will get round to eventually – I promise. After my anthropological warm-up.

So what is it to be Manc, then? A handful of years ago a monsoon of helpful, though not necessarily definitive labels might have bucketed down, under a sky full of thunderous Stone Roses riffs. The bow-legged swagger; the distracting Northern Wit thing – distracting whilst a mate robs your car; the Authentic Footie Obsession. Whilst the Guardian-reading amongst us might pause to reflect on the unacceptable lack of sensitivity mooning out from these caricatures, the rest of us can slurp beer, belch… and carry on with the blog(ging.) Because the truth drinks Stella, right?

Everywhere and everything changes. The city of Manchester has changed… somewhat unremarkably perhaps. Structurally and architecturally. However things are SO-O massively different in the urban psyche here that it may be new species of Manc are emerging, to reflect the maddest and genuinely most transformative ‘development’ in the region – that City football-thing , that Sky Blue usurpation.

Nought to everywhere; nought to somewhere mightier than Manfookin United, canya believe? City – a New City FC suddenly transplanted in. Now suspiciously performance-enhanced as viewed from the Red Side. Absurdly mighty, its largesse looming irresistibly over Fergie’s previously unchallenged dominion. Suddenly, something credible with which to counter-bulldoze, something with greater mass, critically, than Sir Alex’s attacking principles; something bigger, fuller, more extravagant even, than the Scot dictator’s red wine cellar.

Welcome in that zillion quid’s worth of psycho-plaything, melted down into the bustling warrior that is… Yaya Fookin Touré. (Take that ya Red Bass-ted!) Now just the one amongst a platoon of parachuted-in Manc galacticos patrolling the Etihad.

So… pinch yourself and you tell me – how could this all be possible? When we thought the existing scale of the rivalry was about right? When the world had kindof settled for the MCFC Perennial Overshadowment project? Is it just me that finds it head-hurtingly beyond surreal, this latest edit – Madderthaneverchester? Replete as I hope and trust it is with scarred Argie Judas and gorgeously Italian dugout dreamboat puppet. Sky Blues, of course think the current scenario more of a Revengeoftheproperfanschester.

Whichever way we look at it, money – as though blasted at us through an early machine gun – has pinned all of us footiefolks down whilst City swarm relentlessly over. It’s just the Reds are taking the onslaught most front-on. And those faceless überMancs feeding the weapon from er… somewhere well out of Lancashire, actually, really have changed everything. Maybe in an evolutionary way (because we knew that the next instalment of Depressingly Unjust Transformation was coming, right, after Blackburn, after Chelsea?) There has been no surprise, as suchjust a series of game-changing purchases.

Now, another Derby.

United – the away team – pick Young, Rooney, Valencia, Van Persie. No doubt believing that City, featuring a strangely out-of-sorts Kompany, can be got at. City – unbeaten at home for the proverbial and now proudly restored Blue Moons – feature Balotelli from the outset, believing (arguably naively) that the Mohicanned One will probably be prepared to stir for the cameras, if not for his manager, in this one.

Fortunately (I think), lack of competent defending – Ferdinand possibly being the honourable exception here – made for a compelling and ultimately nerve-jangling game. Whilst some distance short of a quality spectacle, this was full-blooded and eventful in the full-on derby mode. Alan Hansen – if he dare to take on United’s defensive work – might find plenty to playfully dissect. City’s back four, perhaps with Hansen’s difficulties in mind? – were equally as culpable, however.

A general point or two: whilst it may be true that Evra and Rafael remain United’s first choice fullbacks, they defend poorly – if at all. Rafael charges in impetuously far too often for a top level player and Evra simply doesn’t bother; or that’s how it seems, such is his inability to focus on even the fundamentals of the game once the ball enters the left back zone. Personally, if I was Fergie, I’d look to spend big on three defenders fit for a Champions League challenge in the January window; two fullbacks and a centre-half. Evra and Rafael and possibly the injury-prone Evans are not worthy. But back to the game.

City bossed the opening spell without dazzling; United threw the ball carelessly back at them. Then out of nothing they countered. Rooney – who had been largely absent – scored two breakaway goals, one of them featuring a sublime chest-pass from Van Persie to Young which released the winger down the left. In both cases defending from City was poor. They were accomplices, in fact, to the robbery.

Without gaining any measure of control, United had what should have been an unassailable lead. In both cases Rooney had unthreatened space in which to operate… and in he cashed, with a slightly scuffed shot and an easy side-footer. Mancini fumed.

Late in the first half, the body-language of Silva and Touré did not augur well, and Balotelli still jogged around the periphery. Yet with Aguero looking up for it and the game alarmingly open already, this had the look of a goal-fest. Fifty further minutes without goals seemed unlikely.

Immediately after the break, Evans retired hurt and was replaced by Smalling. Tempting to suggest that this unsettled the United back four but all season long that mob have jostled and harried unconvincingly and critically they have failed to mark; City came back. Tevez came on, to generally inflame things and Zabaleta, very much to his credit, having taken the armband from the retiring Kompany, seemed intent on hauling his club back into contention. (Would that most of his team-mates – half of whom seem to lack any urgent understanding of what communal effort is all about – might follow.)

The Argentine deservedly scored an equaliser when exploiting acres of space on the edge of the penalty box following a corner but again the goal was noteworthy more for amateurish defending rather than some glorious strike. Not that he cared. As the contest went into overtime an unnecessarily sloppy challenge from Tevez gave Van Persie the chance to have the final say. Via a slight deflection, he did.

Sadly the match – which had neither been brutal nor sporting and which was refereed rather leniently by Mr Atkinson – finished amongst controversy. Ferdinand was struck by a coin thrown by irate City fans whilst he celebrated. Tevez should have been red-carded for a crass kick out by the touchline. It was a great win for United, celebrated ingloriously. We, the watching world, left amongst bitterness.

In work, in the city tomorrow, Reds will be smiling smugly. Mancini still lacks a team, Fergie a defence.

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We need to talk about thingy.

Twitter has become a part of the vocabulary of my life; in a good way I think. It’s going to sound laughably pretentious if I say for example that I have used it to watch Jeanette Winterson give a lecture on four modern sculptors but that’s true. It’s also true that I’ve tweeted a virtual beer or two with a certain former England cricketer and other matie mates in a way that fairly authentically replicates semi-pro quality blokeish banter (and I mean that most sincerely, folks) in a snug north country pub.

It is of course hugely addictive – particularly if, like me, you seek to use it at least partly to seek some mysterious ‘breakthrough’. I am sad enough to defend it, passionately even, on the grounds that my personal experience on twitter has been both enjoyable and even enriching. It depends on who or what you follow, I say. You follow morons you get banal or offensive crap. You follow @tate, let’s say or @paulmasonnews, @_PaulHayward, @DeborahJaneOrr or @adliterate, then you aren’t very often going hear “Just had me tea”. It’s about choices.

I’m choosing well I think and consequently am in touch – and it does feel that way – with really good people whom I may never meet but who contribute generously and importantly to my understanding and enjoyment of the daily flux. So I really was delighted when my mate @LineoutCoach (whom I’ve never met) landed a slot on the USA Eagles coaching roster. And I really was delighted when my mate (whom I’ve never met) @talprofs sharply deconstructed a contentious argument over bonus culture. There are other people – some now members of a near daily mob, bless’em – who likewise I have come to view as either supportive/like-minded/interesting or hilarious individuals that I look forward to seeing up there in the timeline. So I’m lucky.

Because twitter ain’t always like this.

I’m big into sport, right and forgive me for going over old ground but though I work in cricket and just about favour rugby over anything, I grew up in a footie household. Looking back to rosily or at least colourfully bruised-knee-days of endless, endless Backs and Forwards with rare but pleasingly radical eruptions of Kick Ball Fly, a football was all we had or wanted. Or so it seemed.

I still treasure hilarious pictures of me as Alan Ball, in my ‘flash’ (orange/yellow) Everton reserve kit with a number 8 imperfectly sewn on by Mrs Rawson. My shin pads extruding sideways from threadbare orange socks, my legs – my shins! – spookily skinny and almost entirely unprotected by the flapping but sartorially essential accessories. Playing first to ten goals and then change round; so matches twenty goals minimum. (Do the maths! Thirty-plus more likely.) Hours. Wonderful, daft and inspiringly communal games on the local park or legion field. That was footie.

Over this weekend, however, I’ve had the misfortune to see stuff on twitter and elsewhere that shockingly betrays that same game. After a seemingly endless campaign by Manchester Utd and Liverpool Football Clubs to undermine all possibility for proportionate or –dare I say it? – civilised sporting engagement, the despicable racist tweets many of us have seen or been subjected to(?) landed both shockingly but predictably. It seems very difficult to avoid a conclusion that points to a very deep ignorance somewhere. Much of my own heart feels that there are just unavoidably some low-slung losers out there with too little brain in them and too much bad. To hate that much, or to allow that much hate to well up over a football match – or a football issue – is… is sick, actually. But that’s a pretty dumb response. One many of us may need to revisit.

I know about and understand football or sporting rivalries. However I do not understand what’s been going on in the minds of Messrs Dalglish and Ferguson and everybody else allegedly charged with steering those two undeniably massive (but how could I use the word ‘great’ right now?) clubs. It’s been obvious for years that the rivalry has gotten out of hand. Therefore those men at the top simply have a responsibility, if not an inclination, to show some intelligence. Before somebody gets hurt. Before, actually, the game – remember that? – suffers through somebody or other letting the floodtide of bitterness spill over. (Ooh gor blimey look! There it went!)

How Dalglish can continue to be so darkly and so bitterly intransigent when the game needs a little lightness and a little help, quite frankly, is unreal. Even assuming, as I suppose we must, that he feels Evra has lied and cheated to get Suarez banned, is it not extraordinary that either Dalglish himself or someone close to him in the Liverpool hierarchy has not counselled for the bigger picture? The one that includes THE MEANING OF ALL THIS. To fail to accept that WHATEVER, it’s really important to show the world that (sports)people can get on and get over political or personal difficulties because sport is wonderfully freeing and generous and selfless by nature. Sadly nearly everything that Dalglish has done and said in that bluntly ungenerous way of his has been unhelpful in this and nearly every other regard. And Ferguson hasn’t been much better.

The Terry saga was likewise depressing last weekend in particular. For the gentlemanly handshake to be abandoned at QPR because certain players were going to refuse to shake the hand of an opponent is in itself a beautifully and ironically wrapped take-away symbol of designer-label cheapness. Sure it was a difficult situation. (So difficult that I’m not at all sure that I agree with myself as I stride so confidently towards the penalty spot that is my judgement..) But for professional footballers to be taking some high and mighty view of anything is pretty questionable (cue the dive) yet sure… understandable. Teammates want to stick up for teammates; quite possibly more than they want to stick up against racism(?) I can buy that. Maybe some of them even did feel deeply about the issues. But either the two clubs should have agreed that neither player would play, or the handshakes should have taken place. All of them. Because the game is the thing. And we need to keep talking and tweeting …about that.