The real-life tales of a football writer
Saturday was a troubling day. I watched United throw away a two-goal lead to West Brom. I don’t like watching football in a pub at the best of times, but I was in Barcelona and Old Trafford isn’t.
The last I saw a game in a pub was on 3D in September. I was pleasantly surprised. The pub had six screens, one of which boasted 3D. A dozen people sat in front wearing plastic glasses that were handed out at the bar.
Two fans joined just before kick-off. They weren’t wearing glasses. They complained that the picture wasn’t clear and didn’t appear to notice that they were the only people not wearing glasses, nor that the screen had ‘3D’ on it. It was painful watching them squint, so I said "Excuse me – it’s in 3D mate. You get the glasses behind the bar."
The lad’s brain took a bit of time to process the information, but after two or three minutes he went to the bar and came back. He put the glasses on and squealed like a man who’d just been offered a night with Adriana Lima. His mate was having none of it. He had his own pair of normal glasses and didn’t see why he needed fancy 3D ones. So he watched the whole game squinting – when there was a perfectly normal screen behind him.
I received a phone call after United’s draw with West Brom. "Ferguson wants Rooney out," said the caller, an A1 contact. A similar contact had told me in March of Rooney’s indiscretions. We printed a veiled version of it in United We Stand, as we didn’t have the resources to prove it. But we knew all wasn’t well. I walked to Camp Nou ahead of Barca’s match with Valencia with the Rooney news buzzing around my head.
Saturday was the first day in my life that I could ring my three brothers and ask them how their games had gone. The 33-year-old is coming to the end of his career, but still playing semi-pro.
The 16-year-old was promoted to Stockport County’s youth team a year ahead of schedule, but it was the four-year-old – our dad’s not dissimilar to Michael Douglas and Rod Stewart – to whom I was most looking forward to speaking. Turning four last week meant that he could join an under-fives team.
I called. Dad told me that the young 'un was playing with a tractor and that he’d try and get his attention. In the meantime, he told me how it had gone.
Upon being introduced to his young charge, the coach offered his hand. The four-year-old had never been offered a hand to shake before. So he did what any aspiring young footballer would do when his new boss offers his hand. He smelt it. Then he tried to touch his cap.
When the game started, he had no concept of the pitch markings and was also far more interested in his own shadow than the ball. "There wasn’t one kid there who'll make it," fumed my dad.
"But dad, he only turned four last week. It was only two weeks ago that he was taught to stop using his hands to stop the ball."
He was having none of it. The breathless four-year-old came on the phone and proudly stated that he’d played "like Rooney," so that tallied with my dad’s version. I didn’t press him further and let him return to his tractor.
But he’d put Rooney back in my mind, until a brilliant game between Barca and Valencia in front of 96,000 submerged it in my thoughts. Despite losing their best players, Valencia have been superb this season – mainly because of their manic coach who parades around his box, smudging the white lines like a madman. No wonder Unai Emery’s family call him "Anxious *rse".
He stated that his team were coming to the Camp Nou to win and they took the lead, before Barca narrowly triumphed 2-1. It was a fascinating encounter, top, top level and great to watch as a neutral. There were a few Scottish journalists over to watch Valencia ahead of the Rangers game, plus others with links to Manchester United. The conversation switched back to Rooney... unfortunately for my peace of mind.
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