Here we go again. Up before the beak. Before our valiant lads had returned to the Old Trafford dressing rooms last Sunday, the media heavy artillery was being wheeled into action. Unfortunately this has included the Smudgemeister Alan Smith himself. In his capacity as a Sky pundit he was denouncing the club's lack of discipline and the "ugly scenes" on the park. He's obviously forgotten about the 90/91 season and the two point deduction.
The only voice of reason heard amongst the Alice in Wonderland calls for "First the verdict, then the trial. Off with their heads!" has been players' union chief Gordon Taylor. Whilst expressing his distaste at the scenes, he showed an admirable sense of equilibrium when he called for a "sense of proportion". To listen to some of the pundits you'd have thought the lads had laid into United with baseball bats and bicycle chains. In the end it was snarling at ten paces. But………
I think the Arsenal board is about right in saying the club's high standards weren't maintained on Sunday afternoon. I don't think it's necessary to pine forsome mythical Corinthian era (when men were men and tackles that would get you three months inside now didn't even attract a caution) to believe that the display of some of our players wasn't good watching or good tactics. There's no getting round the fact that the scenes after the penalty miss and final whistle didn't do the club or the players concerned any credit. Like any Gooner I could recite a litany of the unpunished wrongs committed by other players and clubs (just one example, how is it that Alan Smith escapes without even a caution having screamed "you f******g w****r!" into the face of the assistant referee from a range of about four centimeters two seasons ago against us at Elland Road and Paddy gets a second yellow at Stamford Bridge for telling Andy "Interesting" D'Urso that he had "no personality"?)
According D'Urso this was "foul and abusive language". This from the same referee who failed to mention being chased by an angry mob of United players for having the temerity to award a penalty against them. Clown.
It's extremely galling to have to listen to some of the sanctimonious drivel about last Sunday. Any danger of opening the other eye? On three recent occasions United have tried to clog us out of the game (Premiership in May 2002, FA Cup in February this year and the Community Shield at Cardiff a couple of months ago). To say we haven't had the rub of the green with the officials would be an understatement. Perhaps I've been temporarily transported to an alternate reality on each occasion that a United player has gone for one of our lads and escaped without his just desserts in the recent past?
We should have learnt though that we beat United when we don't fall for it. In May 2002 there were two consecutive assassination attempts on first Robert Pires and then Patrick Vieira. Viewing these tackles on tape afterwards both United players were very lucky not to walk. The most pleasing thing though was Vieira's reaction after being clattered from behind was to give his assailant a withering look which just said, "look at the League table mate." Taking this approach is not only right it works for the club too. I can understand how both Sol Campbell at Cardiff and Patrick Vieira at Old Trafford were inclined to hit out in retaliation. The League and Cup wins at Old Trafford just prove that pointing at the scoreboard is a far more hurtful way of retaliating. Petulance on both occasions left the door open for the referee to hoist the card. Totally unnecessary.
An awful lot of nonsense is talked about our disciplinary record. If you believed some of the media pundits the team goes out every week with running spikes on the bottom of its boots, pickaxe handles down the shorts and knuckle-dusters. These are the same media "experts" who persist in talking about Kolo Toure as a "converted midfielder" when anybody who'd bothered to ask about his background would know that he's a centre-half who can play in midfield. There are still many journalists who only bestir themselves from licensed premises in order to pick up their poison pens. I've made my mind up; don't confuse me with the facts.
All of that said, last Sunday's conduct just wasn't on. It can't happen again. It's totally undignified, unsporting and gives the anti-Arsenal brigade all the ammo they could ever want, especially that twat Ferguson. The time to have it large is after the silverware has been handed out. So much more satisfying. After all rugby players of both codes seem to be able to keep a far better grip on their tempers than the average professional footballer can. It reminds me of a story about a British Lions tour to New Zealand in the late 1960s. The Lions are playing the New Zealand Maoris. A huge fight breaks out involving both packs of forwards after the Lions' tight-head prop, A top English barrister, has been raked across the face by the boot of one of the Maoris in a ruck.
After order has finally been restored the barrister shakes the hand of the bloke who's just assaulted him whilst prone on the deck. The barrister's partner at loose-head prop, a farmer from the Irish midlands, says to the barrister "Jesus. Never mind shake his hand, why didn't you deck him?". With blood dripping from his wounds, the barrister bestows upon the farmer the look of benign contempt which the English have bestowed upon the Irish for 800 years and says, in a cut-class accent, "You wouldn't understand Paddy. I was trying to make him feel like a cad." Different times, different game. It shouldn't take much imagination though to see that the kind of behavior we saw last Sunday really won't do. Have a word, Arsene.