I’ll be honest with you, it’s been a weird week.
I’ve never experienced a terror attack on my doorstep. I’ve never had the police raids going on around the corner from my house, nor the world’s media camped outside premises 100 yards from where my child goes to school… but this week I did.
I live in Manchester. I wasn’t born here, I chose to live here. Since the attack on a Manchester Music Venue earlier this week shook this city, I have been incredibly proud of MY Manchester.
The pride, the community, the passion, the empathy, the love and (that core Mancunian principle) the p**s-taking reminded me of the very reason I chose to start my family here. Not that I ever needed reminding. It also assures me that not one among the beautiful residents of this amazing city would object to me attempting to look back at the last week from a footballing point of view and attempt to raise a smile.
It is no exaggeration to say that Manchester was rocked by the events of Monday night. I’ve never quite felt anything like it. Imagine the grief you feel after the passing of a loved one. It was that but spread across an entire city. Everyone I spoke to confessed to having shed a tear as they watched the news, many knew someone who was directly affected but mainly there was a profound sadness that this horrific event had happened in OUR City. People were sad, people were scared and people were angry.
It was against the backdrop of these intense and conflicting emotions that Manchester United were to play their most significant game, arguably, since the departure of Sir Alex.
In this context “significant game” has to be put into some perspective. In light of recent events “significant” has no more real meaning than the “significance” of me choosing marmite over jam for my morning toast but still, in footballing terms it was pretty massive.
Jose Mourinho’s entire first season rested on the result of this one match. Win and he was once again the win-at-all-costs master of silverware collection. Lose and he was an arrogant coach who had gambled the team’s future on a single match. Of course, Jose did what Jose does and won the game, that we knew Jose would. In doing so he was bringing not only a (bloody massive) trophy back to Old Trafford but also the all important element of Champions League Football that will no doubt see Manchester United spending even more ridiculous amounts of money on players they themselves sold only a few years previous. That’s the dream, right?
The game was almost inconsequential. It was won. It was won comfortably. Paul Pogba scored a deflected, lucky goal that in one second instantly excused his substandard season and instantly justified his gargantuan price tag… and that was it.
Quite rightly, the team celebrated. They danced, they chanted “Championes” and Paul Pogba stood in front of the camera’s and said great and perfectly timed things about doing it for the victims of Mondays’ attacks…. but then the celebrations went a little too far.
Before the match kicked off Manchester united (That’s Manchester united not Manchester United) in a show of solidarity. Both the Red and Blue of the city coined the phrase #ACityUnited with fans of both City and United backing the city’s representatives to do the job on Wednesday, for the greater good of the city. It sounds insignificant but, and I can only talk for myself, it felt like a grand gesture. A grand gesture that was somewhat trampled on by Jesse Lingard and the United team directly after the final whistle.
The United striker has always been a divisive figure in Manchester but he will have done his cause no help at all when he posted a picture of himself, and his United teammates singing a famous Red Devils song containing the words “Why Don’t City F**k Off Home”. Nice one Jesse, nothing says unity and togetherness by telling the very people who wished you well in light of a tragedy, to F**k off straight after the game eh?
In reality, there was probably nothing to it. I doubt the players even considered the content of the lyrics and simply got carried away in the moment. Maybe that’s where the problem lies? Those 11 players on the pitch on Wednesday were probably the only 11 people in Manchester who didn’t quite get the magnitude of what had happened. Sure, they were probably sad, they felt for the victims but they couldn’t somehow judge the mood of the city. They didn’t get what had been lost that night because they don’t belong in the same world as the rest of us.
I guess it shouldn’t be surprising that multi-million-pound footballers can’t emphasise with the man of the street when they would only set foot on the street if their £300k supercar had a flat tyre but to misjudge the tone of celebration is still shocking.
I often hear football fans say they feel no connection with the players playing for their team. How can we expect to feel a connection to our players when they can’t connect to us?
Don’t get me wrong here, I was proud of Manchester this week and in no small way did its two football teams contribute to that. Yaya Toure and his agent donated £100,000 to the victim’s families, Eric Cantona captured everyone’s heart with a poetic video message and United and City both donated £1 million to the appeal (just before Manchester City paid £43million for a new midfielder).
Everyone did their bit and meant it.
As I say… it’s been a weird week. What have we really learnt?
That Lingard is an idiot? We all knew that.
Is that football detached from the rest of the world? We knew that too.
That Manchester will never lie down, never be beaten and will always be one of the most compassionate, multicultural and wonderful cities in the world?
You better bloody believe we knew that… and that will NEVER change.
Jim is the voice of On The Left Side, the alternative football show. You can catch up with his sideways look on the weeks football news here: