Sven, Alex and the Prawn Sandwich Brigade

August 19, 2007

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The first battle of the season between Manchester City and Manchester United is an opportunity to evaluate the impact of two celebrated leaders of contrasting styles. Sir Alex (The hairdryer) Ferguson blows as hot as Sven Goran Eriksson remains icily cool. The press have managed to squeeze out a story of mutual antagonism. The city remains largely disinterested in the press version of events.

Matches between Manchester City and Manchester United do not seem to be among the highlights of the year for some local fans. City fans say it is because United supporters don’t come from Manchester. And anyway, they are inclined to add, the only Premiership stadium in the city is now Eastlands and until recently was at Maine Road, spiritual home of Manchester City.

Still, the press can always find a way to make the event more noteworthy. I picked up the story on the day of the Manchester derby match of August 19th 2007.

In The Sunday Telegraph, Roy Collins referred to ‘that mixture of Swedish and English that should perhaps be known as Svenglais’. Sven has excellent English, somewhat easier to understand than most English (not to mention Scottish) pundits and commentators.

It brought back to mind the gratuitous and unthinkingly xeonphobic articles Sven suffered during his time as England manager. As if on cue, I came across another article by Manchester City fan and Guardian blogger/ reporter Simon Hattenstone who acclaimed Sven’s great start as City’s manager, while hedging his bets in advance of the Manchester Derby, resorting (I think) to irony.

Svennis, I’m so, so, so, so, so sorry. I shouldn’t have compared you to Death in The Seventh Seal, shouldn’t have called you frigid, lily-livered and deluded, or harked on about your Cuban heels, or made gratuitous references to your Zeus-like libido, or been catty about the sweet dream that you were managing Manchester United, or questioned your ingenious scouting on YouTube. I was foolish, Svennis, an ignoramus. Glib. Just a stupid football fan wantonly giving you sticks.

With friends like these …

A more balanced view of Sven’s track-record found in an excellent BBC highs and lows treatment. And a useful if hagiographic account of Sir Alex in a ManU fanzone.

How to create a story

The tabloids managed to work up a story (an old one of ‘Fergie’s mind games’).
“People are trying to get me to talk about Sven, but I don’t know enough about him for an opinion really.” Which didn’t stop an article in The People from Steve Bates featuring the ‘exclusive’ that

Sir Alex Ferguson took a dig at Manchester derby rival Sven Goran Eriksson last night, claiming he’s only managing in the Premier League for the big-money wages.

I thought I’d offer a little local background to the match …

What’s it like in Manchester?

Wet. Cool. Quiet. At nine in the morning, the main signs of life are a few cars on near-deserted roads in the suburbs, and even fewer customers for the morning paper at the newsagents. The supermarkets are still getting ready for the mid-morning shoppers. The weather is worth a couple of hundred auxiliary coppers on crowd-control duties; the magistrate who sanctioned an early Sunday kickoff also did her civic duty.

It’s hard to believe it will be possible to play a game of tennis outdoors. It may be harder to understand how a group of us manages to play almost every Sunday. That’s because we play on an all-weather court, and in drizzle, and between showers. And so we shall today.

At the bar, Eric is having a late breakfast before going to the match. He says he fancies City to win. Eric always fancies City to win. But there’s always hope.

Ours is a mixed club. Mixed in a mostly tolerant way. There are reds and blues, but more than a smattering of the other regional reds (Liverpool supporters). To complicate the mix more, quite a few members are also supporters of that other local sympathy case, Stockport County (‘My other car’s a Porsche’).

Bragging rights

Supporters, true supporters, aren’t supposed to fraternise with the enemy. Maybe we are the kind so neatly skewered by Roy Keene as the prawn sandwich brigade. Anyway, I can’t see me tossing insults at Eric across the stadium, or vice-versa. We just wouldn’t accuse each other of being that sort of tosser. As for bragging rights, that’s maybe one of the psychological payoffs us prawn sandwich brigadiers have to do without. At least it makes Mondays more bearable for all sides. On the other hand, there is plenty of interest in football. I could probably say who supports whom for most of these folk …

Still falls the rain

In my mind’s eye, I can see more-committed praetorian guardsmen gathering prior to battle. Rain will not weary them, nor the clouds dispel. Their drummers will rally the troops as they head for the East Manchester fields, having supped well on what used to be called the Cream of Manchester, the blessed Boddingtons, brewed but a stone’s throw from Strangeways prison. As true to my stereotyping, as they to theirs, I head off home, if not to a prawn sandwich then maybe for a piece of Pork and Pickle pie.

Stop Press

City 1 United 0. Eric’s dream has come true. Sven’s team tops the table, Sir Alex, for the moment, has come out second best. I can’t remember what the Pork and Pickle pie tasted like.


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