Archive | Manchester United

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The Return of Kenny Dalglish

Posted on 09 February 2011 by JamesHamilton

A few days after her death, my grandmother comes in through my bedroom window after lights out. I am six years old.

She does so again on other nights. The dream always follows the same path. Malevolent twilight and her body framed against it, her back turned to me. The head slowly coming round; and the face wrong, changed, and wicked with appetite, wholly intent upon me; my rollercoastering nausea coming up and my fear: my stomach clenching, then darkness, a chorus of voices howling in the black and I’m falling, down, faster and faster and gritting my teeth, holding my eyes shut until I impact on the bed and waken into a chamber that’s unlit and alive with menace. I’ll hold still on my sheets, tight and noiseless, til sunrise.

Three years later, and I’m in my father’s living room in a town two and a half hours’ drive from home. Windows at each end let in album cover sunshine and there’s snow outside. Alone but vigilant for raised voices starting up away in the house, I’ve turned the stereo’s knob to tuner and found Radio 2. Football: the voice of Peter Jones. Or was it Bryon Butler? Or Alan Parry?

Kenny Dalglish and Liverpool are playing my Manchester United. I’ve been waiting for this game: waiting for it in the way you wait for a school bully, or a bombing raid. The speakers smell of cloth and dust, and their rich bass tone adds a luxury and a cruelty to what is unwinding, inevitably, out on the pitch at Old Trafford. I am armless in this fistfight, powerless, unable to do anything to help.

What’s forgotten now, except by those who were children at the time, is just how frightening Liverpool were. And in particular, just how frightening the one player every 8 year old had heard of was: Kenny Dalglish.

Back then, Dave Sexton’s United was a team of friendly, fatherly figures. Gordon McQueen, Joe Jordan, Martin Buchan, Brian Greenhoff. Ipswich had them too: Mick Mills, Paul Cooper. You could imagine them joining in your playground kickabouts; you could imagine them wanting to; you could imagine them being the sort of grown-up who knew what to say.

My Liverpool fan mates might have worshipped him, but to me, Dalglish wasn’t friendly or a father figure: he was a knife. A cool, sleek blade that cut you. He was a boiling kettle, hovering over ants…

I won some of my United team at school through Panini flick-card competitions. If you had Dalglish’s card, which hardly anyone did, however, you wouldn’t enter it. You kept it separate. You kept it clean and undogeared. It gave you power and standing, in a way and of a kind that everyone understood. For children, iconic power is hard, tangible. Our best playground player knew it, and when he got the ball he’d shout out “Dalglish!” and dribble around you all, endlessly untackleable and unbeatable.

What made it worse was that my Liverpool fan mates seemed to have been Liverpool fans forever. They’d inherited their team through some distant, mysterious group exercise in wisdom and integrity from which I, foolishly and unknowingly, had absented myself.

Ending up with Manchester United felt like an act of carelessness. Because everyone was Liverpool.. Dave Sexton’s team spent that season fighting Coventry City for a mid-table spot.

I’m still United now, and of course, you might say, it ended well. Not so much of a supporter after Heysel, of course. Blind allegiance died that day: now it’s warmth and best wishes, no more, because no more could be justified. Nevertheless, I could wander down to the Baillie in Stockbridge in 2011 to catch Liverpool v United in the Cup and feel somehow shielded by all those titles and trophies. I could relax on a good seat with my wife in that great navy captain’s cabin of a pub, wander over to the bar for a pair of pints and some crisps, and get ready for a game that wouldn’t have a great deal at stake for me.

But just before kickoff, Kenny Dalglish emerged into view, framed against the light from the tunnel.

He was deep in conversation with – Sammy Lee? with his back to us, and as Dalglish slowly came round towards the camera, I saw his face with another thirty years on it, changed, wrong, and wicked with appetite: somewhere inside, I felt an ancient vertigo that I’d thought grown-out-of, beaten and outrun, starting up once again and I remembered what it felt like to fall, what it felt like afterwards to cling on silently, too frightened to move..

It’s one month later. In their last game, Manchester United lost to Wolves. Liverpool are DWWWW.

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England Before and After the Munich Disaster

Posted on 09 August 2010 by JamesHamilton

Edwards, Byrne, Taylor and friends 1955

In his analysis of eleven turning points in English football history, Rob Marrs has this to say about the Munich Disaster:

Like 1966, I won’t write too much here. That terrible day robbed football (not just English football) of great players like Duncan Edwards. It is a point of conjecture to wonder what England would have done at the World Cup in 1958 or 1962 with Edwards and co in the side.

Edwards is the great mystery here, of course: just how good would he have become? How would Bobby Moore have fitted into an England side with Edwards already in situ? And what about George Best playing with a fully developed Edwards plus Charlton and Law (I’m assuming that Tommy Taylor would have moved on by c.1964)?

England lost the spine of their side at Munich: Roger Byrne, a defender best compared to Rio Ferdinand in style and ability; Edwards; and Tommy Taylor, the best centre forward in England since Dean.

The stats bear Rob’s point out. As the Busby Babes were fed into the England team after the 1954 World Cup, results began to improve – and then, as the Manchester contingent gathered European experience, the pace quickened considerably:

With the World Cup in Sweden on the near horizon, these were exciting results.  The defence had pulled itself together, and up front, England were scoring at an average of more than three goals per game.

The effect of Munich is immediate, accumulative and catastrophic:

Even bare football stats can be memorials to the dead.

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Statistics Telling a Sad Story

Posted on 12 June 2006 by JamesHamilton

Because England have only the one World Cup to their name, there’s a tendency to exaggerate how far behind the best we’ve been since the end of the Second World War. It’s exaggerated because England’s greatest sides have always peaked in between tournaments – the 46-49 side being the principal victims.

But sometimes far worse things than bad timing have placed a truly world-class England side in obscurity. Look at these statistics from the second half of the 1950s.
England results between their 4-2 defeat by Uruguay at the 1954 World Cup in Switzerland, and defeat to Yugoslavia in May 1958:

Won: 20 Drawn: 4 Lost: 4

England results between May 1958 and May 1960:

Won: 4 Drawn: 10 Lost: 7

On 6 February 1958, Manchester United’s aircraft bringing them home from Yugoslavia crashed at Munich Airport, killing – amongst many others – England back Roger Byrne, England midfielder Duncan Edwards and England centre forward Tommy Taylor.

So much is said about the Busby Babes that this side of the accident is lost. In essence, the the heart was torn out of one of the most successful England sides of modern times. Manchester United took five years to recover. England had to await the emergence of Jimmy Greaves.. star of another mispeaking England side.

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