Before this crucial clash with Middlesborough, I enjoyed a pre-match pint with my colleague and fellow United fan, Errol. Big lad. Unique in his Bladiness for his dislike of Chris Wilder. I told him that I could envision United playing really well, only to cave-in, later in the game. “That’s always possible with Chris Wilder in charge,” he replied.
Errol would do well to remember the scarce resources available to Wilder, especially in comparison with their Geordie counterparts. I believe it was me who proposed that prices in football should be gauged by their equivalence to the historic overspending of £15 million on Jordan Rhodes and Adam Reach by Sheffield Wednesday, now known as the Middlesborough Reserve Equivalent or MRE. This phrase has taken-off – gone virus; as it were, and I couldn’t get it out of my brain.
I supped the last dregs of my expensive over-hopped American pale grapefruit bullshit and asked Errol to check the team news online before I left. DEM BLADES lined-up as expected, but Boro?
On the bench. Britt Assombalonga. EXACTLY 1 MRE.
[Anyhow, Errol went home to watch the match online, whilst I went to Bramall Lane to watch it offline[i].]
Bulky, strong, pacey striker.
DEM 90 MINUTES
G-Sync announced that the online line-ups matched the offline. Crunchtime. Once more into the beach. No flip-flops or suncream here, just a Twix somewhere about my person, a double-pair of socks and a hat in the big pocket of my coat – just in case.
The game kicked off…
…and then, The Revenge of the surprisingly aggressive Stoners.
I am chewing my zip like a teenager. Tense, but at the same time, not tense because DEM BLADES are on the attack. The ball is being moved down the left with more purpose than the cherry-eyed pair sat in front.
Enda Steven smashes a cross into the box and all that the Boro defender can do is whack the ball into the floodlit sky. Higher than a goal-kick in Phil Brown’s dreams, but not as high as these two lads, who are furiously swiping left or right over the faces of pouting girls on their smartphones.
The docile lump (the ‘Docile One’) speaks with a stoned lilt, “She’s reyt fit her..”
Lee Evans. Volley. SHITTING FUCK, CHRIST WHAT A GOAL. We don’t score them. We never score them. In the celebration, the rallying cry of the perpetually unexcitable and infirm rings loud and true:
“Bet Wilder gave him a rocket after Barnsley!”
“He owed that one to the rest of ’em!”
DEM BLADES attack in waves and maintain possession, whilst DEM STONERS are a hive of inactivity. Phones out. Swiping. They only look up when John Fleck takes a tumble on the centre circle and cries of OFF, OFF, OFF, ring around the ground. They join in briefly until Grant Leadbitter receives his marching orders and then…
…THE PYROS ARE OUT.
Pre-roll. Clipper. Flint’s gone; shit. Got a light? No. Jesus! Have you? It’s alright I’ve got one. Spark it then. Here we fucking go…
I‘m not having this. “Lads,” I say, “lads, can you smoke that outside?”
The Docile One has come-to-bunk-bed-eyes and is incapable of responding intelligibly. The less than docile one (the ‘Aggy One’) is less than pleased with my intervention and offers me the usual bollocks – “who the F are you” and the like.
The Aggy One puts his face towards mine. Eye to eye. His glare was stony and so was his jacket. Right in my face. He takes a long hard drag of the spliff and sits back down – was that performance gestural, or had he simply forgotten to offer some witty put-down? I’m not sure. The air was now thick, thick with smoke. The Aggy One’s hair was thin, but thick with gel.
F this. I move seats to avoid the smoke and the smokers. As I walk across the aisle, the Aggy One gives me a good hard stare which only breaks when the Docile One mutters too loudly:
“I could reyt just sit and watch everything me man.”
I left the prophetic stoners to their devices – Samsung Galaxy’s I think – and no sooner had my backside hit my new seat than DEM BLADES were awarded a corner. Fleck played a one-two with David Brooks, who dummied his man, looked up and picked out Lee Evans who volleyed expertly into the bottom corner for 2-0. Cue eruption in the stands. Queues erupting in the toilet because of the fan’s confidence that we’d go into the break with a two-goal cushion.
Like the lavender-filled neck rest that I received for Secret Santa, this was a cushion that would not last long. Three minutes into the second half DEM BLADES gave away a freekick; a Boro player flicked a header from the resulting cross; Daniel Ayala slotted a right-footed effort into the bottom corner. 2-1.
The arm-waving Pulis had made a triple substitution at halftime. The terrifyingly pacey Adama Traore came off, and on came the terrifyingly pricey Assombalonga. The formation was changed too and it stifled us – ish.
The remainder of the second-half should’ve been tense. Maybe it was the second-hand smoke from earlier, or maybe it was an illogical confidence that DEM BLADES would get the job done, either way, I had a feeling that we’d eke this one out.
And so we did, 2-1. BRILLIANT. A cracking result, which I toasted with a Twix, two packets of Milky Way Magic Rolls and a packet of Quavers to balance out the sweet. Who knew I was this hungry for snacks? Who knew DEM BLADES were this hungry for points?
DEM BLADES are still in with a shout, but the playoff daydream hangs in the balance. There is certainly no room for errol at this stage of the season because he’s a big lad and takes up two seats. He doesn’t bother coming unless he’s sure that the crowd is going to be under twenty-four thousand.
Unlike Errol, I believe that DEM BLADES have an opportunity to stamp their authority on the few remaining games. A fine chance, should they beat Millwall on Saturday. It may require a minor miracle, but, to quote the big man, “that’s always possible with Chris Wilder in charge.”
Man of the Match
[i]Offline – if you like things offline, let me fill your mind with the thought of an offline version of this blog. It will be touchable, readable and made out of paper. It will feature my writing and, excitingly, lots of others too. It will be available this summer. It could still use some photographs, if you have any, get in touch.