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Manchester United v Liverpool – some thoughts

February 11, 2012

I would love to be able to weave various points about today’s game into a single stream of connecting paragraphs, but there are too many things to say and I am not really sure where to begin. So with that in mind, here are some thoughts on what we witnessed (and, come to think of it, heard) at Old Trafford, in no particular order.

  • The handshake, then. Whatever your views on the pre-match handshakes, the established (but not too well established) pre-match display of often-faux sincerity in front of a huge advert for the Premier League’s title sponsor was given the go-ahead before the match. Either the league were informed (or simply assumed) that both Luis Suarez and Patrice Evra intended on letting the moment pass off without incident or someone failed to consider the consequences of lingering resentment on the part of either player. Liverpool would have avoided a major headache had the two players in the spotlight shaken hands. I can understand why Suarez might have been reluctant – if I were publicly accused of racism but were sure of my own innocence, I would certainly feel resentful of my accuser – but it is safe to say that a handshake would have been better for all concerned. Journalists would have to focus on the game, Sky’s multiple slow-motion replays would have been redundant and something of a line would have been drawn under the whole affair.
  • When we learnt that Gary Neville would be joining Sky Sports as a pundit and co-commentator, I never thought I would end up agreeing with him so often. His studio analysis before Monday night games has usually been very good and he called it right again at half-time in this match in downplaying the significance of the aborted handshake. “It wasn’t that big an issue” will not sell newspapers, of course, and while Neville was reminding viewers that games between Manchester United and Liverpool should have an edge to them, should be contested by sides with at least a dislike for one another, the Sky producer was cueing slow-mo replay after slow-mo replay of the pre-match incident. Still, it was refreshing to hear that not everyone was resorting to hyperbole.
  • During the recent FA Cup game between the two sides, Anfield was treated to “The Sun was right, you’re murderers”, “without killing anyone, we won it three times”, “always the victim, never your fault” (perhaps sung with reference to Suarez but with an obvious, chilling Hillsborough undertone), all belted out with gusto. There was no let up at Old Trafford. Park Ji-Sung’s absence today spared us of another rendition of “you eat dogs in your home country” (racist?). The Stretford End songbook is worthy of more condemnation than it receives. (Manchester United supporters may make reference to Liverpool fans singing about Munich. I do not know whether this happened today – it certainly did not happen at Anfield in the recent game – but such singing is also deplorable.)
  • The match was a dispiriting, low-quality affair. Two of the three goals came from mistakes (Spearing conceding possession in the build-up to Rooney’s second, Ferdinand failing to deal with a free-kick allowing Suarez to find the net) and the game was nothing like as exciting as the home side’s last fixture, the 3-3 draw with Chelsea. That game had shown that encounters between the biggest teams do not necessarily have to be cagey. Today’s game was the kind that neutrals dislike but still watch because of the teams involved. It was not as toxic a 90 minutes as was feared with only two bookings handed out by the referee, Phil Dowd. Considering the pre-match events, we can be thankful that this was the case.
  • Stewart Downing. Until his yellow card you’d barely have remembered he was on the pitch. He needs a word in the ear or a boot up the arse. And quickly.
  • I’m no fan of Manchester United or many of their supporters, but it was worrying to hear that police were confiscating copies of their fanzine, Red Issue. The publication contained, amongst other things, a cut-out-and-keep Ku Klux Klan mask for supporters to wear (I’m all for puns, but Klanfield ceased to be amusing, even objectively, after about a day). The police acted not in response to a complaint, but because they claimed the magazine was inciting racial hatred, which seems a fairly flimsy claim. I have never read Red Issue and I have no intention of doing so any time soon, but the decision to confiscate copies of the new edition from over 1000 sellers (according to their official Twitter feed) is worrying and typical of the way in which many football matches in this country are policed. Still, so long as plenty of tourists can get their half-and-half scarves (why, at this fixture of all fixtures?) who’s complaining?
  • If Sir Alex Ferguson had not already ended his boycott of the BBC, I suspect he would have picked today to start speaking to Match of the Day again as he revelled in the post-match spotlight, declaring that Suarez should never play for Liverpool again. Quite how he would react were another manager to ever suggest similar treatment for one of his players, I am not sure (actually, I am fairly sure). But that aside, his rush to condemn Suarez and Liverpool’s protection of him meant he forgot to consider his behaviour in previous years. How, for instance, did he react to Eric Cantona’s decision to jump into the crowd and attack a Crystal Palace fan in 1995? Well, let’s just say that Cantona lived to play another day at Old Trafford. It is pointless trying to argue whether Suarez’s offence was worse than Cantona’s, but Ferguson certainly has no moral high ground from which to hector.
  • Danish media reported that Daniel Agger offered Rio Ferdinand outside. When I heard of this at about half past five, it was the first time I had smiled in about five hours! Agger would have had him too, you know.

United have a serious chance of winning the league again. Liverpool sit seventh yet only – ridiculously – four points off fourth place. The Best League In The World, it is fair to say, will likely be rewarding a mediocre team with Champions League football at the end of the season.

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