This season has presented a new issue for me. A paradox. The season for Manchester United Football Club is over. Therein lies the paradox. I wanted it to be over. I didn’t want it to be over. Schrödinger’s season. How so?
Since September I have told friends that I wished the men’s season would end as I saw no hope and didn’t experience much joy watching them or feel a deep connection to the players. I was frustrated by what I perceived to be a lack of commitment or ability by most of the men’s squad and angry with the direction taken by the upper echelon of United’s board. When the last final whistle at Old Trafford sounded on Sunday against Cardiff City, I was happy. I was relieved that it was finally over.
This season though I have also become deeply attached to the new women’s team. They have represented our club with honour. They have made us proud. They have won and done so both emphatically and in the right way. Beyond that, they have been wonderful before and after matches as well as off the pitch. They are accessible. They give far more of their time than they need to fans. They engage with us on the pitch, off it and on social media. Some have even created a personal bond with a few of the fans. I trust them on the pitch and off it. I trust and love Casey Stoney and her staff, as does every single United Women’s fan. I wished the season could go on. I would have loved to have had a few more games to watch. I was sad that it ended. I can’t wait for next season.
This clash in my mind also came to a head on the final weekend of the season. Ole Gunnar Solskjaer and his daughter Karna, who has been tipped to join the women’s team setup, visited Leigh Sports Village alongside Ed Woodward.
Upon noticing the United legend and current men’s team manager, some fans turned their back on the pitch. Chants of “Ole” rang out in Leigh. They waved, they lifted the flags and banners that were hanging in front of him just so they could get a better view of him and perhaps a wave from him, acknowledgement. After a couple of minutes of this, I said “Who cares?”.
Sacrilege to all United fans, obviously. Yes, he is a club legend, as one fan told me while another gave me a light shove on the back. He in fact gave me what I consider to be the best moment of my life to date and 20 years on, I don’t know if that moment is ever going to be topped.
I angrily replied though that we are here for the players on the pitch, just like Solskjaer was. We were there to support them. We were there to see a team that has actually achieved and won something this season. A group of players that have carried the United name with pride. I was slightly embarrassed by the way some fans wouldn’t simply leave him alone to watch the match and that they themselves didn’t recognize why they were there.
As United’s fifth goal against Lewes went in, albeit from an offside position off Amy Turner, she ran to get the ball back to the centre circle as if the entire season depended on it. Captain Alex Greenwood and manager Casey Stoney looked to spur the team on, “two more”, Stoney said, trying to get United to score 100 league goals for the season. That didn’t happen and the final score was 5-0, but I’m positive that for Stoney those records do not matter.
What does matter to Stoney are the standards and expectations set by her and the club’s history. She wants the team to fight from the first minute to the last. She doesn’t want them to switch off. At some point in the future, she knows we may need last minute goals to get the results, it is in United’s history after all, and no one knows that better than the Norwegian manager sitting in the stands. This is the United I want to see.
The following day after captain Greenwood and Amy Turner lifted the FA Women’s Championship trophy together, the entire women’s squad and staff were showcased at Old Trafford before kick-off alongside their newly won title. I was happy to see them receive the recognition they deserve.
I saw a few of them leaving after yet another embarrassing defeat by the men to Cardiff City. Strangely and stupidly, they left Old Trafford through the crowd without any additional escort from the club. In some ways though, I was glad to see a few of them getting asked for photos and autographs on their way out by fans. They deserve this. They deserve respect.
As I saw Amy Turner and goalkeeper Siobhan Chamberlain, who was still with her protective boot and crutches (I can’t imagine how difficult she must have found it to have had to go to all of these celebratory events while injured instead of resting), I shouted to them, with Saturday, Sunday and the entire season’s events for both teams on my mind “Well done Amy and Siobhan! Proper United!”. Roll on next season.
By Jack Morris (@ripper48)