The rain came down on a humdrum town yet to feel the warmth of my embrace. On a hillside desolate, I looked out across a Manchester marsh, sodden underfoot, for the first time.
It was 1986, and United were second from bottom but, to me, second and bottom have always seemed much the same. They are indeed the most wretched of bedfellows – both alike in indignity and suffering and shame, as I would come to know too well. The pain.
I arrived at the gates and inhaled, the air a putrid stench of death as though these were cemetery gates – Old Trafford where the barbarians swilled their liquor as if their minds were naught but theirs to lose. Robson and Whiteside on my side.
From Phelan and Pallister to the heights of the first title at the turn of the decade, the decay and rot behind me, I bought Schmeichel and there in the half-light, the future unfolded before my eyes. A 17-year-old Ryan Giggs and how his legs, pale and quivering in short trousers, would come to carry us both to glory. Home.
Why pamper life’s complexity when you’re top of the league and you’ve got Roy Keane? But, some players are bigger than others, I mused, some players brothers are bigger than other players brothers, and in the darkened underpass I thought my chance had come at last but then a strange fear gripped me and I bought Andy Cole. Cantona too.
The eternal ‘I’ became ‘we’ – the golden boys of our golden age – the Neville brothers, Paul Scholes, Nicky Butt and David Beckham, that handsome devil, too handsome for his own good, and, alas, too handsome a devil for the Red Devils.
I would later give him the boot as he grew too for big for his, under the spell of that wand, that stick that beat him into submission, as if it were a headmaster’s cane. A crack on the head is what you get for wearing a sarong. A crack on the head is what you get for not wearing a sarong. Such a silly boy.
The tremble of the treble beckoned, that thunderous rapture that resounded around Europe and beyond to the far stretches of the Far East at the might of our club, soon to be clubbed by the meat cleavers of those meat-eaters the Glazers that fattened us for the day of the slaughter.
The sun shone out of our behinds, but if I made a mistake it was selling Jaap Stam – I know my luck too well and I’ll probably never see him again. His name was Rio and he plays for Eng-er-land, they sang. England is mine, it owes me a living.
Please please please, I cried, let me get what I want from Everton – panic on the streets of Merseyside as, like two lovers entwined, we passed them by, Wayne and I.
I’m so sorry, I’m so very sickened to have sold Ronaldo – he had to sneak into my room just to read my squad sheet and it was just to see all the things he knew I’d written about him – oh so many illustrations. Why do you come here, Cristiano, when you know it makes things hard for me? Oh, when you know, why do you come?
Would you like to sign for me and if you like you can win the league? That’s what I said to Van Persie. But we cannot cling to the old dreams any more. No, we cannot cling to those dreams. When I was lying in my bed, I’d think about life and I’d think about death and neither one particularly appealed so I thought I ought to retire instead.
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