Twas August and the market town was oddly barren in the cool, late morning sun. The gold-spangled rays bounced off car windscreens onto other car windscreens, diffusing as softly as tea does in a pot.
In the Park & Ride, I shut the door of The Cube and was confronted by flask-holding do-gooders on a personal mission to “Cheer Chorley Up”. At least that’s what the banner said. When I told them I was a Blade, they rescinded their offer of a free brew stoutly, which was fine as I fancied a Guinness anyway.
In the face of protestations to the contrary by council leaders, I had stopped off in Chorley for a pre-match drink. Tell me not to do something and I’ll do it. According to said councillors, by virtue of its picture-perfect Brighthouse, set neatly betwixt a rough pub and a soft-play area, Chorley has become a shopping destination threatened by the manic scourge of football fans. Was I doing any harm as I walked the streets?
“[United fans could be]…seen to be intimidating other people using the town centre.” Chorley Councillor
Intimidation is in the eye of the beholder, it’s also often in Manchester just outside Picadilly station. Was I intimidating? I thought. My brown corduroys, slip-on shoes and blue, Decathlon-bought fleece said, no. But maybe I was. I walked into a pub with Couttsian gusto, overwhelming the petrified barkeep with a ruthless demand of a pint of Guinness and a packet of Scampi Fries. “Sorry, what are Scampi Fries?” came the quivering reply. To which I responded, with all the malice in the world:
“I’ll just take the pickled onion Monster Munch then.”
I can’t quite believe how harsh those words came out. Harsher than any criticism of Chris Wilder spoken earlier in the season. Although, not as harsh as what was to come. When I stepped into the pub, Chorley had looked like this…
…but when I walked out again, it became a war zone. I pulled out my notepad and scribbled down the offending actions of my fellow fans, which I’ll soon be selling to a clickbait publication:
You won’t believe that Blades fans didn’t start a riot after these 7 manoeuvres:
- The unswinging crania, elbows and fists of Sheffield United fans littered the place. You could not move for a lack a kinetic energy.
- Small congregations, like wild pack animals, were literally, walking down the street and casually mentioning Chris Wilder’s name with not so much as a cursory thought for the locals.
- A barrage of Dry Roasted Peanuts rained down on the pavement. Culpable mishandling.
- Singing! Oh Coutts, the singing. Foul agglomerations of Blades sang songs that died out after less than fifteen seconds.
- The Mustard Gas of trapped wind wafted along the trenches, accusing explosive movements.
- I saw one battalion of twenty lads stood outside a pub with the temerity to make merry and boost the local economy by spending their hard-earned on beers, sausage rolls and pork pies.
- One of the above group mercilessly annihilated a Pork Pie with mustard, casually tossing its tin-foil shell in the bin without remorse.
AND WHAT OF CHORLEY NOW? THE HORROR
I headed back to safety and to The Cube. It was one-thirty-eight and the streets were alive with violent leisure. The price of escape can hardly be measured in cold, hard cash, but in my case, it was about £5.83. This was my chance. Get out of there. Head to Bolton. Fast, fast!
To the game!
Blades were made to feel as welcome as your youngest daughter’s new posh boyfriend. Unlike him, they were not spoilt, not like that at least. No, twenty was not plenty for the travelling Unitedites, the price of such a performance is incalculable. From Chorley – the horror, the abandon, the stunning wreck – to the game itself – the Basham, the Norwood, the stunning Fleck.
We started brightly. Stevens had a chance. Fleck hit the bar. We passed neatly and quickly and in doing so, created space, a bit like God. But God was sat in the stands awaiting his return with all the calmness that omnipotence buys you.
United took the lead courtesy of Mark Duffy, who dispatched the ball into the back of the net in the same way that “Dem Blades – Annual 2018” will be dispatched on Tuesday 28th August, competently.
The second was a funny goal. Freeman delivered a low, slow cross into the box. Clarke stepped over it. The dummy fooled Billy Sharp and the Bolton defenders, who watched as it trickled into the onion bag. Bolton looked fried.
Our new signing had an excellent first half, I don’t want to criticise him, Norwood I, was it not for his lumbering jog from the field at half time. We’ll forgive him that. Not everyone is Coutts, but damn, he’s close. (Blasphemy! You cry.)
It was difficult to digest it all. Pre-match and post-Battle, I had feared the blitzkrieg hoofing, but the Trotters have lost the prick-beset zeal that was so redolent when Gary Madine was around. Now, all they have is a cultured hoof* here, a cultured hoof there. A half decent winger. And, surely, regret?
*A cultured hoof is a lofted pass into the air played by someone who cost more than 100k
The second half was as good as the first and the third goal was the best of the lot. Sixteen passes building up to it. Stevens, the penultimate passer, picked it up on the left. His low cross to Fleck’s feet was flicked beyond the Bolton goalkeeper. 0-3. Genius stuff.
Stevens! Fleck! – Quick boys, an ecstasy of jumping.
What remained of the game was merriment. It was the best performance for a long, long time. The best in the post-Couttsian era? Hard to say. Perhaps yes.
It was strange. It is strange. I’ve come away with more questions than answers. Is outright war-waging what happens when Councillors vacate all common sense in the pursuit of a quieter space for locals to visit Brighthouse? Could Unitedites have behaved any worse in the streets of Chorley? Was it all worth it, the War? Will Chorley ever recover?
Man of the Match
Honourable mentions to the terrific John Fleck, the brilliant Basham. The rest of the players were excellent too. Nevertheless, the performance was so light-spangled reminiscent of this man, that he was to get the nod…Paul Coutts.