Thursday, July 15, 2010

Mine's a Pint Treble

So the title of this blog refers to a piece of commentary during the Man United-Arsenal Semi-Final replay at Villa Park in 1999, describing a wayward pass from Vieira into Giggs' path from which he scored his 'wondergoal'. I, like 99% of United fans, own the DVD (Or at least those of us who still have the habit of wanting things in a hard copy. I'm increasingly losing this desire as 'space' is starting to seem ever more valuable. Why would I want things cluttering up my universe when it's only ever a mouse-click away?) and not to come over all Nick Hornby-like but I'm surprised at how often I still watch it, and how much enjoyment I still derive from it.

There a lot's of factors that may contribute to the enjoyment and obviously basic nostalgia looms large but I tend not to let any of these impede the joy the 'Treble' has always inspired. I can remember the day it came out. Coming home after working at my first serious job on Dublin's Dart train system I heard a woman(!) tell her husband over her mobile phone that she'd just bought the VHS and it was one piece of dialogue, that I think is the main blurb for the DVD, that caught my attention. It had apparently; 'All the goals, all the games.' It sounded like the most solid, undeniable signifier of supremacy there could possibly be. All the goals, all the games. What more could you feasibly want? All your desires are being met.

And a lot of the Treble is about the games. As pointless as these exercises are, I'm fairly happy to nail my colours to the mast and select the semi-final replay as my favourite ever football game. (It may be hard to find any United fan between the ages of, say, 25-55 who won't plump for a match from that season for their choice.) While the match was undoubtedly objectively exciting - the sending off, the missed penalty, the Giggs goal; who could deny this drama? - it's how the drama was celebrated that pleases me most. I wan't to be there, watching it is not enough. The pitch invasion at the end seems like nothing of the sort. The sheer hilarity of it, the piss-your-pants funniness a mass of people find that a game that was surely, inarguably lost has been snatched as victory. The sight of Bergkamp so disconsolate, struggling to place exactly how he's lost this match and how much blame he has to shoulder considering his excellent performance v. his missed penalty, doesn't bring me awareness - just joy.

In recent times I've been struck by how tense football fans are over results, a curious inverse relationship that as the importance of winning seems to decrease - the lack of a bond between supporters and clubs, the mobility of the players reducing loyalty, the shrinking of genuine challengers to a group that, if they don't win it this year, will win it again soon enough - the impact of results seem to be felt ever more forcefully. When you hear about a Arsenal fan in Africa driving a car into a bunch of African United fans you wonder what on earth are they dealing with through English football clubs (a charge which may well be extended to Irish fans of course)? Jesus, why do you care so much? But it's not just those in distant lands that disappoint, the crowds at Premier League games can seem excessively agitated and nervous, and goals often appear to be less celebrated than welcomed as disaster-averting interventions. Rather than lifting people up, goals/victories are just bringing them back to an even keel. Nowadays I almost never look at a PL game and think, wow I wish I was there.

But that desire to participate, to be there, to fully experience what that unprecedented season was allowing is a defining feature of the time. The most popular t-shirt commemorating the Final win over Bayern simply said YO ESTABA ALLI. I was there. And from us, the global audience, I always thought this desire to be there also has been the main attraction of English clubs. Why people travel thousands of miles to attend one game, to chalk off that item on their to do list. To experience something unique and non-transferable. You choose to support United as much because of the Stretford End as for Roy Keane. For the songs sung about Giggs as much for Giggs himself.

Ferguson always understood this, I feel, and I remember reading a story about his time at Aberdeen where his half-time team talk was just a description of how much the crowd enjoyed the performance so sure was he the team would take as much inpiration from this as he himself did. There are many things about him on the Treble DVD that make me like him - his preserved youth (sometimes watching United now i feel, like a dog beginning to resemble to their owner, Utd can be staid and slow, doing just enough, treating energy as a precious ever-reducing commodity to be only carefully expended); his after-the-fact creditation of the comeback against Liverpool in the FA Cup being the springboard for the whole season (success is always sweeter when it is at the expense of the scousers); and his brilliant display in the Champions League final that encapsulates everything I like about the man - after Sheringham equalises, MacLaren grabs Ferguson's attention by jabbing at his clipboard. He wants to revert to a 5 man midfield to hold the draw. Ferguson dismisses him with a flap of his arm they way you might a foolish child. We'll win this now. Too right.

But my favourite is his interview (with Gary Naylor?) after the Arsenal match. As the interviewer tries to focus on the seriousness, the importance of United's position and how this epic match will have drained the team, Ferguson quickly gives him a lesson in living,

Look, who's to know what's going to happen in football Gary? It could all blow up in our face at the end of the day. But can you forget moments like this? Our supporters will be talking about that for years, our players will be talking about that for years. That's what football's about.

And it's the contrast between the two attitudes, not even philosophies, that I like most. While the interviewer should be the calm one - recognising the bigger picture, the context etc., it's Ferguson, celebrating the joy of transient victory who comes across as the measured perspective. Life is short, victories should be treasured, who does know what tomorrow will bring. This isn't a juvenile immature outlook, it's the calm, sensible, right approach.

Football, eh, bloody hell.

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