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Soup of This Day #299: Red Roses Too

March 8, 2013

Turkish Airlines 737
A Turkish Airlines Boeing 737 decked out in the colours of partner Manchester United FC. This photo was taken in Istanbul in 2011. Just under 6 years earlier another Lancashire team, also famous for its red colours, had left this same airport with the 2005 UEFA Champions League trophy in its keeping – Photo: Ercan Karakaş, 2011. Ercan Karakaş is not affiliated with Longworth72. Image cropped by Longworth72.

In this blog I mostly try to avoid ranting – I get the most fun out of writing when I look beyond the obviously negative stuff and extract something that seems like it’s worth more. Basically, rants are easy – Not ranting is more challenging, at least for me anyway.

Which is possibly why I failed at this last time out in Soup #298.

I’d started out ok – I wrote a response to Mark Knudson’s op-ed in which he encouraged gay athletes to bottle their sexual identity and to put a cork in it for the good of the team. Which is such ludicrous premise that it deserved to be called out for the bollocks that it was. But I didn’t say that outright – Instead I initially tried to find a way to highlight that with reason and humour – Sort of a literary interpretive dance but hopefully without the usual desire to punch the performer.

Unfortunately though my subtle approach was thwarted. 1st by distracting imaginings of Jaclyn Smith showering with Farrah Fawcett and then by the realisation that Knudson was advocating that Smith and Fawcett could shower together but couldn’t be open with each other about their sexual orientations, whatever they may happen to be.

That just seemed wrong and so I told Mark to @#$% off.

I’m not apologising for that – His argument to suppress basic human rights might have been couched in terms of doing what’s right for the team but at heart it’s discriminatory and offensive. Not being able to publicly declare your love for somebody is not the same as occasionally filling in for the punter by taking the snap for the kicker. The latter is taking 1 for the team, while the former is giving in to ignorance.

@#$% that.

Despite that I’d like to say that this is not how I’d normally frame a Soup. So for this outing I figured I’d try to balance it out and write about something in a reasonable way.

Something like Manchester United.

This is not easy – I’m a Liverpool FC fan. I am not a Manchester United fan. They are mutually exclusive things and I uphold that distinction. Imagine that those 2 teams are apples and oranges and then suppose that I am allergic to oranges and that eating them leads to me feeling sick.

Now imagine that someone has taken 1,000,000 oranges and has extracted out the very essence of orange from all of those fruit and used it to make 1 orange that is so much orange that it not only redefines what we think of as the orange fruit, but also forces us to add another part of the colour spectrum that will be labelled, like the new and concentrated fruit, ‘orange-max’.

Thus allowing the colour formerly known as orange to now feature prominently at the end of rhyming couplets.

You can’t argue with the facts – Manchester United are my orange-max. And yet I will now attempt to stick them into the juicer of my blog and separate the sunshine and goodness from the bitter pith. This I will achieve by writing a match report featuring them, and in which they were the better side.

Oranges will reign over apples. Sort of.

The match in question was played this Wednesday past. It was held at United’s Old Trafford ground and saw the hosts playing the 2nd leg of a UEFA Champions League (CL) knockout tie against Spanish giants Real Madrid.

At stake was a place in the CL quarter-finals and in this contest Manchester United had a critical edge – They had drawn the 1st leg in Madrid’s Santiago Bernabéu Stadium 1-1, nullifying Real’s home advantage and claiming a precious away goal that would count double in the event of a level aggregate score at tie’s end. Now they were on home turf and, roared on by their vocal fans, would surely be the favourites to progress.

Early on and this looked likely. The Red Devils (I’ve gone with their choice of nickname rather than anything derogatory) bossed the game through the 1st half, looking comfortable. They had chances including a Nemanja Vidić header that pinged off the right upright before a subsequent shot was smothered. While threatening, the home side had also managed a rarity at the other end – They had largely blunted a potent Madrid outfit that featured the former United starlet, Cristiano Ronaldo. Red Devils manager Sir Alex Ferguson would surely be the happier at half-time.

If he had been grimly satisfied after 45 minutes, he would have been almost ecstatic just 2 minutes into the 2nd half – Then, Manchester United took a not-undeserved lead when the attacking Nani had fired a ball across the face of goal, where Real’s Sergio Ramos could do no more than steer it into his own net.

So it was 1-0 to the hosts and Real needed something to change the course of the game and their likely elimination.

Like the dubious sending off of goal-scorer Nani for a high lunge on Real’s former Liverpool FC defender Álvaro Arbeloa on 56 minutes. That kind of thing will sometimes do the job. Not always mind – Sometimes it will just fire up the unfortunate team.

Certainly in this case Sir Alec seemed to hope it would – He implored the home fans to turn their rage at the referee into a wall of noise that threatened to overwhelm the Spaniards.

This post though is meant to be the antidote to anger – To point out that negativity is not always the answer. It wasn’t for United this time.

On 66 minutes Luka Modric placed a thumping drive off the right upright, the same that Vidić had found in the 1st half. Unlike the big Serb’s effort though, Modric’s ricocheted into the goal, levelling the game and the tie.

Not for long though. Almost inevitably Ronaldo scored against his former side and in front of a packed stadium that had once acclaimed him – A somewhat scrappy toe-poke just 3 minutes after the leveller, that put Real Madrid up 1-2 and ahead 2-3 for the tie. They now also had 2 away goals to 1 so United would need to score 2 more goals to progress.

They couldn’t even manage 1. They tried for sure – But luck had deserted them and Real Madrid, with another former Liverpool FC player, Xabi Alonso, in midfield, saw out the game and the tie, ending the Old Trafford faithful’s dreams of conquering Europe in 2013.

That didn’t go down well. Not so much with the fans but with the team and their occasionally apoplectic manager, Sir Alex Ferguson.

In this case though, Sir Alex was not angry. He was instead too distraught. This I know because he failed to front up for the post-match media conference and instead sent his assistant Mike Phelan, who announced that his boss was:

‘Too distraught’

Which just speaks volumes.

There was some comfort from an unlikely source though – Opposing manager José Mourinho offered an almost apologetic summation of the game:

‘Somebody can cry. I am the first one. My history is to play with 10 in the semi-finals, not in last 16. I try to be honest. In my opinion, the best team lost. That is football. When we were against 10, we played very well for 10 minutes. We gave them a new problem they couldn’t solve.’

Maybe though somebody doesn’t need to cry. Maybe we can all share a laugh – Fans of Manchester United and of Real Madrid. Fans of football.

To help I thought I’d retell a joke that I saw on Twitter last weekend. It had emanated from the quite interesting Stephen Fry, whose beloved Norwich City FC had just been done over 4-0 by United yet who could still manage a wry laugh:

@stephenfry: There are three teams with swear-words in their name: Arsenal, Scunthorpe and Manchester Fucking United. #notbitterhonest

Hilarious. I think I’ll chuckle over that while I go and hunt down some apple pie.

Red Roses Too

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