If no one else is willing to say it, let me be the first. Yesterday’s Champions League final clash between Manchester United and FC Barcelona wasn’t titanic or monumental. It wasn’t even a clash. I almost drowned when I nodded off into my beer during the second half.
Your average Man U fan, if you can get them to stop sobbing into their suds for long enough to ask their opinion, would marvel at just how poorly the now ex-champions played. Actually, poor would’ve been an upgrade.
It was fitting they were clad in white because the Man U contingent were shades of their normal selves and allowed the Barcelona midfield to simply walk right through them. Perhaps they tired themselves out practicing penalty kicks.
As a Reds supporter, it didn’t really hurt my feelings all that much watching our neighbours to the east humiliated by the Catalan giants. But having a begrudging – and I will take the flail to myself over this one later – respect for the way that the Mancs dictate a game at their own pace it boggled to see them let Barca set the tempo. Even when they went down a goal. And what a lovely goal it was. Say what you will about Samuel Eto’o and his commitment to his squad, the man is dedicated to bringing ball and net together. And does it well.
The final whistle was probably the best thing that happened to Man U in the entire game. It brought a welcome end to proceedings. One that never really got started for the Red Devils. As they stop to lick their wounds, I’m not even sure they’d know where to begin. The beating was that bad.
Coming out of Slainte after the game, I saw some disconsolate red shirts dragging bottom lips across the cobblestones. I even saw one man from the Adam Morrison School of Emotional Outbursts crying. I did not however, see any violent behaviour or ill-intentions – despite the best efforts to incite by a vociferous, and quite solitary, Manchester City fan singing “Who the F*ck Are Man United.” In fact, fans on both sides exchanged handshakes, hugs and the occasional ale in what proved to be a fairly amicable affair. Basically, it was nothing like what happened in Lagos.
This raises an interesting point. Football has a long and sordid history of arousing primal and oftentimes primordial emotions from even the most passive spectator. The hooliganism of the 70’s and 80’s doesn’t have the same bite that it once did, but it still bares its fangs every once in a while. Passions are still passions and they will bubble over despite the presence and best efforts of the local constabulatory to quell them.
The US, however, has seemed to have dodged that particular violent bullet. In fact, it never even made it into the country’s soccer arsenal. As a result, many purists consider American soccer supporters tame and bland. These detractors obviously never went to an LA Raiders/LA Rams event.
Whether or not Slainte is representative of the entire footballing culture in the US, it is an interesting phenomenon to see fans and supporters from any number of different squads converge on one location to watch a game and have almost no incidents at all.
Whether it is the threat of spending a night in the pokey or simply the aversion to a right good Football Factory-style thumping that tempers fiery sentiments, it’s heartening to see football being the ultimate winner in local watering holes and stadia alike. Spilling beer, and not blood, is better for business.
Congratulations to Barcelona. It was quite the footballing display they put on. It was nice to see that at least one of the two teams made it out of the dressing room. I can imagine that Sir Waah-lex has some excuse or other lined up as to why his team didn’t show up. Perhaps Rome was too Roman.