Monthly Archives: April 2013

#20

For Manchester United, it was very much a case of ‘Paradise Regained’ last night at Old Trafford.  A comfortable 3-0 victory over struggling Aston Villa saw United through to their 20th League Title, though in truth, the really significant result had come at White Hart Lane the previous afternoon when an erratic Spurs team struggled against City for 80 minutes before exploding into life and scoring 3 goals in 7 minutes.

It’s actually less than a year now since that 20th title was snatched from our hands by Sergio Aguero’s 94th minute goal against QPR at the Council House.  In that time, it’s pretty much been all downhill for the Berties;  a mixed bag of summer signings with Nastasic the only real success, an indifferent Champions League campaign in an admittedly tough group, too many under-performing players and a lack of the intensity that took them to their first title since 1657 or whenever.  City should finish 2nd in the table but that will be scant consolation for the Etihad crew, who, you feel, will not rest until their corporate colours are all over the Champions League trophy.

By contrast, Fergie’s team talks for this entire season were probably done for him before the United players trailed despondently off the pitch at the Stadium of Light with the jeers of the Sunderland fans still ringing in their ears.  In the aftermath, most United fans were unanimous in the view that we were in desperate need of some  midfield reinforcements.  We got one, though I doubt that many Reds would have cherry-picked Shinji Kagawa from a grab-bag of Europe’s finest midfielders.  In the end, his season finished pretty well, but we have to be honest and say that the best is yet to come from him.  Fergie may be right when he says that Kagawa will do better next year and by then,  hopefully,  he  and Michael Carrick will have some high-quality company, given that Giggs is really restricted to cameos these days,  Scholes (and maybe Darren Fletcher) will probably retire and the likes of Cleverley and Anderson are no more of an answer now than they were a year ago.  Maybe the time has come to promote the seriously promising Ryan Tunnicliffe and Jesse Lingard to the first team.  They probably deserve their chance.

Most talk of United’s 20th title win has obviously revolved around Robin van Persie,  last summer’s  high price, high-profile  recruit from Arsenal.  Whilst there is no doubt that the Dutchman came at a premium price,  it is equally certain  that he has justified the outlay.  His Premiership goals may have come at £1 million each, but for most United fans, they have been crucial in turning back the tide of opinion that said that United’s time was over and the future belonged to City.  History suggests that United’s time of dominance will eventually come to an end, but not, one suspects, on Ferguson’s watch.  With Rooney, Welbeck, Hernandez,  Owen  and Berbatov on the books and some promising youngsters coming through , I suspect that few United fans would have seen another striker as a priority. Yet therein lies Ferguson’s special gift; an ability to see what someone like van Persie could add to the mix.  Exit the sadly under-appreciated Berbatov and the injury-prone Owen and in came our new # 20 to boost us to Championship # 20.

RvP Goal 2 v Villa

Robin van Persie volleys home his second goal against Villa

From the very beginning, it was clear that RvP, mercenary or not, was likely to follow in the footsteps of Teddy Sheringham and earn his first title as a United player – to the despair of most Arsenal fans.    However, it is equally clear that he had some key accomplices.

David de Gea probably began the season on a par with Anders Lindegaard, but over the season has gone on to establish himself as top dog in the goalkeeping stakes.  I feel for the genial Lindegaard, but the brutal fact is that United paid the best part of £20 million for De Gea, so it was always likely that they would persist with him unless he really screwed up.  He has had some dodgy moments, but then,  so has  Lindegaard and De Gea is finishing the season looking a far better goalkeeper than the one who began it so hesitantly.

Rafael da Silva has had a great season and established himself as United’s first-choice right back whilst Patrice Evra has bounced back after a wobbly season last year and also discovered a scoring touch that few of us suspected he had.

The centre of defence has resembled A&E at times with Vidic and Ferdinand having to be nursed through the season and Smalling, Evans and Jones all picking up injuries along the way – none of which has made life any easier for De Gea and Lindegaard as the line-up ahead of them has changed from week to week.  General view would be that all parties have done OK most of the time, but that Rio Ferdinand and Phil Jones are the ones to emerge from the season with the most credit.

Rio Carrick 2013

Two of our mainstays – Rio and Michael Carrick – celebrate # 20

Our wide players have been hugely disappointing on the whole – here I am talking specifically about Tony Valencia, Ashley Young and Nani rather than players like Giggs or Welbeck who played out wide from time to time.  Ironically, Valencia seems to be recovering his form of last season just as this season is coming to a close.  Both Young and Nani could be out the door this summer if the price is right.

Central midfield remains a minefield with only Michael Carrick really enhancing his reputation.  Shinji Kagawa began by looking very lightweight, then got injured but has come back strongly in recent weeks.  Still not totally convinced by him though.  Ryan Giggs has had a good season on the whole, but Paul Scholes‘  final furlongs have been dogged by injury and he will surely retire (again) at the end of the season.  Elsewhere both Tom Cleverley and Andes Ron (Anderson) have done little to enhance their claims for regular first-team football and Anderson will surely be offloaded – finally – in the summer.

Of the front players, only Robin van Persie has really had a top season.  For Wayne Rooney, Danny Welbeck and Javier Hernandez, there have been problems of one kind or another along the way.  Rooney is starting to look more convincing as a midfielder than he does up front, Welbeck just doesn’t score enough goals and Hernandez  increasingly seems to be used as an impact substitute.  Mind you, at least none of them try to eat the opposition…

Pat & Arm

A friendly Stretford End-er offers Patrice a bite to eat…

With our interest in all other competitions at an end, it’s really just a case of waiting to see who Fergie brings in during the summer – my vote would still be for strengthening the midfield and maybe replacing Young/Nani with a better wide option.  We shall see……

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Dancing on the graves of the dead…

“Hatred needs scorn. Scorn is hatred’s nectar!”                                                                    

– Jules Barbey d’Aurevilly -‘The Crimson Curtain’

I don’t really do genuine hatred; it’s just not in my nature.  I also find it hard to engage with the idea of hating something abstract like ‘Poverty’ or ‘Fascism’ and have always taken the view that people, not ideas, are evil.  Having said that, I can only think of two people in my life who I have genuinely hated.   In both cases my hatred stemmed from a sense of helplessness – these two individuals had slithered their way  into positions where they were able to exercise  a perniciously negative influence over my life and at the time, there appeared to be little or nothing  that I could do about it.

My relationship with the recently-deceased Margaret Hilda Thatcher, the Grocer’s Daughter whose legacy is such a hideous stain on the recent history of this country was a distant one, but she succeeded where years of well-intentioned left-wing friends and left-wing politicians had failed.  Her success was in making me consider the nature and substance  of her rhetoric and, thereafter, in making me shift my political allegiances substantially leftwards.  Not that I ever became a  joined up apparatchik of Foot or Kinnock or Smith’s left, let alone a Blairite (soft) centrist.  But Thatcher, so we were told,  was a ‘conviction’ politician and it soon became my conviction that this dreadful harridan with her hectoring, booming, bullying foghorn of a voice was without empathy or compassion or very many positive human qualities.  She clearly had no understanding of any class except her own, so if you were Gay or Black or Northern or a Europhile, let alone a Leftist, you were going to get short shrift from her and the posse of Tory worms that hid behind her and applauded whilst she decimated large tracts of British life.

Margaret Thatcher drove a double-decker bus through the polite conventions  that govern British political life.  After what she did,  one of Tony Blair’s biggest errors was surely in not pushing us towards the written constitution that we need to keep the likes of Thatcher in check.  After the Falklands War, when she was basically in a position to do anything she wanted, she had essentially unlimited power.  Once the Miner’s Strike began, she basically perverted the laws of this country and used the police as storm-troopers to defeat Arthur Scargill and his supporters.

Battle of Orgreave

Orgreave 1984

These were long and miserable years.  At the beginning I was working in record retailing in Manchester, in the middle years,  I lived in Newcastle as the Falklands War & the Miner’s Strike unravelled and by the bitter pyrrhic end, I was here in Birmingham.  Throughout that period,  Thatcher’s malign matriarchalism was like a cloud of toxic fumes that never seemed to disperse.

And, yes, I certainly hated her.  She divided communities, destroyed the lives and health of tens of thousands of ordinary British people, twisted the law of the land to suit her own purposes, played footsie with fools like Reagan and war criminals like Pinochet and tried to impose her hausfrau values on the rest of us.

She was loathsome and thoroughly evil and whilst I didn’t commemorate her passing by getting thoroughly hammered.  I would certainly spit or dance on her grave if I ever happened to be in its vicinity and would feel no need to apologise for such behaviour.   She deserves nothing else, frankly.

Demolition

“It is surely evil to destroy whole communities so that profit can be made for the few. It is surely evil to support and harbour war criminals, it was surely evil to order the attack on the ‘Belgrano’, it was surely evil to give cops a free reign to batter and bruise ordinary people who were just trying to save their jobs and their communities. Her policies have led us directly into the current climate of fear, greed and a lack of community spirit.

 She destroyed hope for several generations and her ideology of wealth = good, poor = bad has left the environment in a terribly precarious state. She supported the Apartheid regime in South Africa; she allowed hunger strikers to starve to death in Ireland and went to war so she could win an election. Do we really need to ask whether she was evil or not?”

Craig Murphy, quoted on ‘The Guardian’s‘ website

Three vignettes:  firstly, I am in Newcastle on the night Thatcher announces the Argentinian invasion of the Falklands and the imminent departure of a military ‘task force’ to kick them out.  Local news later covers a story about the wholesale ransacking of a Spanish restaurant in nearby Sunderland.  That’s a Spanish restaurant……so much for bringing harmony instead of discord – and so much for the Mackems.

Secondly, I am travelling south by car from Newcastle to London during the 1984 Miners’ Strike.  Somewhere in Nottinghamshire on the A1, we are diverted off the road and aggressively grilled about where we were headed by heavily-armoured police at the top of the slip-road.   I have no doubt that had we challenged them, we would have been ‘pulled over’ and detained for several hours until someone could be found to demonstrate for our benefit that their behaviour was totally above-board and legal.  We kept quiet and the stormtroopers finally allowed us to continue southwards.

Thirdly, on the Firth of Clyde just outside Wemyss Bay, there was a power station at Inverkip, though most of it has now been demolished for new housing.  The station was built in 1970 and became  Scotland’s only oil-fired power station.  Inverkip was hardly used because of the hike in oil prices during the mid 1970’s and was effectively mothballed due to the prohibitive cost of running the place.  I wonder if any of you clever people out there can guess the only period during which Inverkip operated at full capacity?

Inverkip InverkipInverkip

Inverkip Power Station – full blast during the 1984 Miners’ Strike

The second person I hate – though the first in chronological terms – was actually one of my teachers.  His name was Douglas Young and I feel that I can name him partly because he is long dead and partly because he deserves to have his name and misdeeds out in the open.  Young spent most of his adult life teaching Maths and Religious Instruction to the boys of Northampton Grammar School – largely in the Lower School.    He was also a  pervert and a groper of little boys and everyone at the school knew it.

When I went to the school in 1964, he was well-established as the paterfamilias of the Lower School.  On our first morning he ‘welcomed’ the entire ‘first year’ intake before sending us off to our individual form teachers.  My first misfortune was to be in his class.  His classroom was across the road from the main school buildings in the ‘School House’ – the Headmaster’s  ‘Pied-à-terre’ –  where he lived and where a couple of the surplus rooms had been co-opted to house Young’s first years and also a sixth-form class.  Nice and quiet if your tastes ran to a little adolescent buttock-fondling.

Young taught me Maths as well as Religious Instruction.  I recall him as a small, rotund, grey-haired man in squeaky, highly-polished black shoes and a dark double-breasted suit.  His vocal delivery was slightly wheezy in an asthmatic kind of way and he had a habit of hurling wooden board-rubbers at anyone he suspected of not giving him their full attention.  Once he had the class working, he would call individuals out to the front where we would have to stand at his side whilst he went through our work – and our trousers.  Boys in the First Year were expected to wear a school cap and grey flannel shorts.   The latter provided quietly questing hands with easy access to thighs and buttocks.  All we could do was to stand there and pray that he would soon be done with us and move on to the next victim.

Doug Young with new batch of victims

A wolf in the henhouse. Doug Young (on the left) with a new batch of victims at Northampton Grammar in 1954. 

Maths was never my strong suit and on one occasion I made a royal mess of some homework and was informed by Young that I would have to stay back after school and do the work over again.  He left me to get on with it and disappeared, returning to the now-deserted classroom about 20 minutes later.   The stupid thing is that I knew why I was there and also that my presence had nothing to do with any Maths homework.  He called me to the front, and without much preamble, bent me forward across the front row of desks and slippered me with an old tennis shoe.  He never even looked at the re-done homework.

 Walking home, I felt cheated, violated and angry.  This fucker had used his position of authority to pursue his own squalid desires at my expense and even at the age of 11, I knew that anything I said to my parents or anyone else would be treated with amused disbelief.  In any case, what could I say?   My Dad – himself a teacher – actually knew Young through professional circles.  Also, the fact was that in 1964,  any polite vocabulary of perversion was not uppermost in the minds of 11-year olds.  The words I knew for what Young intended would not have gone down too well with my elders and betters.  I said nothing and – generally – considered myself fortunate to get through the rest of the year without ‘falling foul’ of his wheezy attentions again – though there were many others in my class who were not so lucky.

Through the next 5 years I progressed through the school without having much to do with Young.  Then, in my first year in the Sixth Form, the school – for some reason – decided that us strapping 17 year-olds needed some more Religious Instruction and I was allocated to a class where we were subjected to his flesh-crawling attentions once a week.  Having said that, he knew better than to try it on with us now that we were all pushing 6 feet tall and wearing long trousers.  Even so, his oily personality was a factor you couldn’t ignore and we were all heartily glad to get our weekly dose of Creepy Religion out of the way.

NGS

Frontage, Northampton Grammar School

I lived quite near the school and during the Easter Holiday of that school year, I was walking into town with 2 mates along the main arterial road that leads from Northampton Town Centre out to the school.  My mate Andy was in the middle of a particularly racy story about a group of Swedish nuns in their vegetable garden and as he came to the punchline, Young drove past as we all exploded in laughter.

You have probably figured out what comes next.  Later that day, my Dad told me he wanted a word.  He informed me that Young had been on the phone to him and had said that I had “hurled foul-mouthed abuse” at him as he drove past and that unless a letter of apology was forthcoming in short order, he would have no option but to refer this sorry affair to the Headmaster once school resumed.  You can perhaps imagine my sentiments but I felt much, much worse once I realised that my parents were going to back Young and not their only beloved son.  In the end, I wrote the letter but my relationship with (in particular) my Dad took the best part of 10 years to recover and I never really forgave him for believing a depraved paedophile instead of me.

So, in some respects, I hate Young far more than I hate Thatcher, if only because his corruption and his evil was small and furtive and based on his misuse of his position of authority.  Hers was a malignancy on a far larger scale , but in relative terms,  I only perceived it at a distance.  Which was the lesser of the two evils, I wonder?

One thing is for sure, the world is a better place without both of them…..

Loach Thatcher