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Life Begins at 4-3 – Observations from a Classic

By | 22nd September 2009

rooney owen celebrateWhen Two Tribes Go To War – Rivalries are never made, they’re born. Born in fire more often than not, but like a fire they can tend to die down after a while if they aren’t stoked often enough. They can even go out all together, but as long as the ash remains, fresh kindling can always re-ignite it.

The rivalry between City and United has long been an odd one. Certainly odd for a major city with only two teams, but the reasons are simple enough. Priorities change with progress, and while City have always hated United, United’s vague indifference has always proved a harsher pill to swallow for City than any derby defeat.

To ignite (or re-ignite) a rivalry takes more than merely the proximity of ambition (or geography). It takes a flash point. A catalyst. Journo’s, fans, Sky, Gary Cooke, pundits, and a whole other cacophony of forces have tried to ‘make’ the City – United rivalry re-ignite again, but they’ve failed. Despite City’s newfound wealth, Liverpool, Arsenal, and Chelsea remained United’s real ‘big games’ over the past two seasons.

It had to be re-born, not re-made. It needed that catalyst, that spark, that little renegade sperm to wriggle free and find its egg, that little piece of kindling, and Sunday, it finally got it. ‘Local pride’ has never really been an issue for United fans in Manchester on derby day – United are clearly streets ahead regardless of any one off game. The Tevez affair gave United fans something more to chew on, something to make the game just that little more tasty, but the game itself, already being called the greatest Manchester Derby of All Time, has made sure the next time these two meet, and for a few years to come, it’ll be far more interesting than it used to be.

Always The Last To Know – The man partly responsible for re-igniting the passion in the Manchester derby seemed to be the only person on planet football unaware of it. From his bizarre declaration before the match that he thought he’d get a good reception from the Stretford End to his hilariously baffled look when he stepped out of the tunnel to a chorus of boo’s, Carlos

Tevez proved one of the enduring myths about him is unquestionably true. He really is a primitive animal of some sort and does in fact live in a cave. He looked genuinely perplexed at first, though in fairness he does always look like that, like a forgetful dog who’s just farted and then is immediately worried by this strange and unusual smell.

Forever Young – One man who didn’t seem at all confused by anything going on around him, least of all any strange smells, was Ryan Giggs. Most likely because he’d seen it all before, more times than he’d care to mention. Giggs was imperious Sunday, far better in my opinion than his slightly over exaggerated performance against Chelsea last year.

This was a real tussle of a game. A fight, not a comfortable 3-0 with everyone on song, this was an epic game where some weren’t pulling their weight. Fletcher got the Man of The Match champagne courtesy of another big game performance and two goals, but it was Giggs who was the real difference. Every United goal owed its existence to him, from his clever quick throw in the second minute to his cool head in the 96th.

This was a better and more inspirational performance than anything he produced last year, a year when his career was supposedly ‘capped’ by the gesture of the PFA Award rather than anything else. On this evidence, he’s a little insulted by that. He wants to deserve it this year.

Time of The Season – Alright, let’s sort this out, shall we Sparky, you seem to be confused. As do The Sun, whose gaggle of typing monkeys have yet to yield the complete works of Shakespeare, but have at least made it half way through Russell Brand’s ‘My Booky Wook’.

* The Stoppage time alotted by the Referee is a ‘minimum’. Under the laws of the game, when 4 minutes are raised anything between 4’01 and 4’59 should be played.

*Bellamy scored at 89.53, after the 4 minutes had been decided. 30 seconds are generally required to be added on for goals. The referee is entitled in the rules to add on anything up to 60.

* He celebrated for an extra 25 seconds (beyond the minimum 30), Atkinson added this on.

* Substitutions require an extra 30 seconds. Disregarding the extra 25 seconds, the minimal additional time would still stand at 5 minutes. Atkinson is therefore required to play anywhere between 5’01 and 5’59.

* Including the extra 25 seconds, The time stands at 5.25 or 5.26 depending. Owen scores at 5.27. If you’re a time Nazi, Atkinson should blow as Owen receives the ball, however Referees are encouraged to allow play to continue if a team is attacking.

* We can then even factor in the free kick awarded from which United score. A defending team giving away a free kick in added time can reasonably expect another few seconds to be added.

* Furthermore, the full amount of time played was 6’47. It’s therefore sane to assume that the same rules were applied to Owens goal and celebration. Fair’s fair.

In short, there is nothing really controversial about it at all.

Over and Out - Ferguson is notoriously unforgiving of goalkeeping mistakes in big games. Fabien Barthez sealed his exit by forgetting that positioning was quite important as Fat Ronaldo could hit them quite hard and Tim Howard was sent packing after he helped to introduce the world to Jose Mourinho’s ability to overshadow his own teams. Neither, in fairness, were as bad as either of Fosters’ mistakes yesterday, and while most will pick on the first one (a bizarre effort to channel Fabien Barthez channeling Peter Sellers channeling Inspector Clouseau), the second was the worst for me.

One would hope, for England’s sake if not United’s, that he’s given a chance to attone, but given Fergie’s record it’s far from certain. His one saving grace is that it wasn’t in Europe.

As for his opposite number Shay Given, well I’m a little baffled by all the praise being directed his way. None of his saves were miraculous, three of them were straight at him, and his incredibly odd reactions to Fletcher’s first were just as comical as Foster’s at the other end. He initially seemed to be shepherding it out for a goal kick before he suddenly realized it was going in and that he’d better fall on the floor like a spastic so it looked like he’d made an effort.

His Name is Rio and He …. – Got merked init bruv..Brrrap! Next time you want to do an impression of Pele, Rio, remember this: He was a rubbish center half.

We’re Singing For England - Capello wasn’t there. Which is a surprise given the amount of both certain and possible England stars on display. In fact, all seven goals were scored by players from within the British Isles (foreign players are ruining the Premiership, are they?). His assistant, Franco Baldini, was there, however, and in the spirit of George Best in ’99, left before the final whistle.

However, with Owen’s goal certain to be replayed more times than Susan Boyle gurning her way through Les Miserables, it can’t possibly escape his attention. I understand and respect his opinion that Micky has to play to gain a place, but with Sir David of Beckham in the squad to act as an impact sub whilst effectively playing charity match football for a Conference side, there’s no reason Owen shouldn’t merit a place on the plane.

If England are 3-3 in the last minute of the World Cup final (alright, fine, quarterfinal) I certainly wouldn’t want a chance like that falling to Emile Heskey. Besides the fact that he’d never have found the space so intelligently in the first place, the weight of the pass would’ve knocked him over anyway.

Sympathy for The Devil? – Mark Hughes and Crag Bellamy would have us consider that Brian Clough was lauded for punching a pitch invader (or several) in 1989, but with Bellamy, everything is polemic. Besides the fact that trying to halt a full scale pitch invasion and punching a single lone invader already restrained comfortably by two stewards are far from the same thing, the fact that Bellamy has a history is precisely the point, not the excuse.

As with all apologists, the focus is never on whether their actions are right or wrong, but whether other people have gotten away with them before. This is a man who once hit his own team mate with a golf club… on purpose. His track record is exactly the reason why he should get chastised for this. If someone up on a charge of GBH is found to have a string of similar past convictions, he’ll get treated harsher than someone on their first offence. It’s not a conspiracy, Craig, you’re just a nasty little so and so.

Card Blanche. – It may seem a world away now, but it struck me in the first half just how many fouls the referee was letting slide. Park Ji Sung, for example, seemed to have stepped on the pitch with the sole intention of fouling anyone remotely near him (which I suppose is an adequate alternative to actually keeping the ball). Only four cards in a match of such intensity is a testament to good common sense refereeing in my book. You could tell it was going to be a fiery game, and he acted accordingly. Although it was never malicious, another ref would have booked at least eight.

Beauty is in The Eye of The Beholder – Great games are almost always caused by mistakes. 4-3′s rarely occur without some form of calamity at one end or another, but that’s par for the course. Ferguson put it better than I ever could in his post match interview. “Do you want to win the greatest derby of all time or do you want to win comfortably 6-0?” He then suffixed it with “I want to win 6-0!” but the huge smirk that accompanied it betrayed some of his true feelings.

As a manager he’d obviously have preferred it if two of his players hadn’t been quite so incredibly retarded, but he can’t have denied the huge pulsating surge of euphoria that came with winning a match like this. His grand-dad penguin run and double fist pump down the touchline was a moment of pure joy. A single orgasm of happiness unmatched in almost all of life.

This is why football is the greatest sport in the world. No other sport can produce a moment like that. You win the final of Wimbledon and yeah, everyone goes mad… for about 3 seconds. Then they settle down into polite applause. My enduring memory of the 2003 Rugby World Cup final is the shot of England fans behind the posts standing arms aloft and cheering, like you might when posing for a stag night group photo, as Johnny Wilkinson drop kicked the winner. Can you imagine the bedlam if that’d been the Football World Cup final? You wouldn’t have been able to see anyone for a shower of flying drinks, hats, scarves, flags, fists, and tatty oversized commemorative memorabilia. Men would be tumbling down the steps in their over zealous attempts to passionately force themselves onto a complete stranger. The roar would bring down aircraft.

United fans wouldn’t swap Ferdinand’s mistake for the world. The pleasure is always so much sweeter after the pain. I doubt neutrals would either. God I love football… God I LOVE Football. God does too it seems.

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