Last night probably didn’t go to plan, with the AC Milan XI taking away the trophy from St James’ Park in what was Steve Harper’s final hurrah as a representative of United.
Granted it took penalties to do so and even Harps admitted that the script was written as he was supposed to convert his penalty, but last night was about much more than Steve Harper.
To all intents and purposes, Harper has spent most of his time as a backup at United. He’s played second fiddle to a range of goalkeepers from Pavel Srnicek to Shay Given and, latterly, Tim Krul but the attendance of 50,793 all the same showed what this place is about, what it is to be a fan of United and, rather disappointingly, what we once had versus what we have now.
In truth the crowd may not have been as big had the cast not been so littered with players from an era where glorious failure was achieved with swagger and bucket loads of entertainment along the way, but it does show how the crowd can get behind something they believe in.
There is a saying, something like ‘if you build it, people will come’ and back then there was a sense we were really building something. Ultimately it never succeeded and eventually we find ourselves where we are today. It’s not all Mike Ashley’s fault as his predecessor must shoulder a fair proportion of blame for our fall from grace, but if last night doesn’t show Ashley that he is just a few million away from garnering some support rather than disdain then I don’t know what will.
That’s my issue. There is a lack of real ambition at United and at the moment it just seems as though we are happy to tread water making sure we stay in the Premier League. The reality is that we’re not in the top tier of clubs who are challenging for the title or even for a Champions League place, but a failure to sign anyone over the summer doesn’t send out many positive signals does it?
I can’t recall any fan asking for tens of millions to be spent on players earning hundreds of thousands of pounds a week, but what we do want to see are signs of improvement. Despite how we are often portrayed, the average NUFC fan understands that we won’t be spending obscene amounts of money on transfers or wages, but the average fan also wants to see signs of improvement rather than no movement at all.
Our next home game is likely to see a lower crowd than was generated for Harper last night and you have to ask why? Surely that should set some alarm bells ringing? Are the fans losing faith in the ideal? Are they losing faith in the ideal because it seems to have been abandoned over the summer? Even I find myself less interested in the day-to-day goings on at United these days and for me that is saying something!
With a little bit of ambition, even a bit of communication perhaps, people would still turn up. People may still be pi**ed off about certain things, but if there is a reason, a genuine reason, then people will at least begrudgingly understand. At the moment though United is like riddle wrapped in a mystery inside an enigma to pinch a quote from Churchill, and people find that hard to buy in to.
Last night showed what we had, but also with a bit of tinkering, what we could have again. Maybe not to the same level but certainly more than what we have right now.