Football: United's high life of jealousy and derision

Manchester United 1 Bolton Wanderers 1
Click to follow
The last word in ITV's excellent documentary about the Munich air crash went to Harry Gregg. The team that died may or may not have become the best, he said, but one certainty was that they were the most loved. Forty years on and no one would accuse the current side of that.

Manchester United are despised. At a recent England match, those purporting to support the national side booed every time one of Alex Ferguson's players touched the ball; almost every match you attend has songs deriding them; even on Saturday there were Leeds supporters at Leicester spewing forth chants celebrating that Munich happened.

Which was not the case at Old Trafford, it should be stressed. The Bolton supporters honoured the solemnity of the proceedings immaculately as United remembered those who died 40 years ago, but it was only a truce, an outbreak of sanity. Within minutes of the 3.15 kick-off old hostilities were resumed with "We only hate Man U".

To wonder why is to examine the national psyche. Success breeds jealousy in this country faster than it generates newsprint and United win far too often for English tastes. Forget that they can be exhilarating to watch or that they are by no means a physically excessive side, let's put them down, they deserve it.

True, the grasping corporate arm that reaches out of Old Trafford and touches people hundreds of miles away make them hard to love, but if the club plummeted Manchester City-like the eye of envy would soon move on. Who, outside Derby, hates Nottingham Forest any more even though a generation sang they did in the Seventies?

United supporters can hardly strike a holier than thou attitude either. Envy rippled through the Stretford End throughout the Seventies and Eighties as Liverpool monopolised domestic and European trophies and although resentment has subsided a little thanks to the achievements of Old Trafford's current side it still lives and breathes and will return with virulence once the tables are turned again.

Ferguson, recently voted the most disliked man in football, was once asked why it was that he and his team failed to inspire affection, but he refused to take the bait. With a shrug he smiled and said: "I've always said the English are a funny race." Inside, you suspect, he is as bewildered.

At least he should be grateful that no one spoiled Saturday's ceremony to remember the 23 who died in 1958. Eight wreaths were laid, including one from Red Star Belgrade, who United had played the day before the disaster, and the minute's silence would not have been bettered by a congregation in a cathedral.

The atmosphere was eerie. Even before the call for quiet came, Old Trafford was subdued so that the silence extended beyond the minute. Maybe the players were infected by the mood because, until Bolton scored on the hour, the match was a dirge. Play in a style befitting the Munich team, Ferguson had urged beforehand, but if the teams did, they caught Duncan Edwards and co on a bad day.

Hopeless passing, clueless crossing and a lack of confidence would have been understandable in Bolton, who had not won since 1 December. But it was United who appeared to have doubts tugging at their shirts, the legacy of three defeats in four Premiership matches.

Against Leicester seven days earlier the champions' midfield had been dreadful and Saturday was not much better. Ryan Giggs did barely a thing right in the 4-3-3 system Ferguson employed, only taking flight when he was moved to the wing, while Paul Scholes was the only ball winner and had his creative side restricted as a consequence.

David Beckham? There was a long spell where he simply could not pass to a colleague. Perhaps he should get some new boots.

Create a vacuum and something will fill it and Bolton, particularly Per Frandsen and Scott Sellars, ran the game, as Ferguson conceded afterwards. In the second minute, Nathan Blake was released by Frandsen and was denied only by Peter Schmeichel's legs and Bob Taylor would have scored three minutes earlier than he did if he had not dithered on the edge of the area.

Not that he will be concerned this morning. Taylor is a archetypal honest pro, a 31-year-old journeyman forward whose month's loan from West Bromwich Albion ran out on Saturday. His parting shot - Bolton have not decided whether to have him back again - was a goal, his first in the Premiership, and at, of all places, Old Trafford.

Jamie Pollock crossed from the right, Taylor, Schmeichel and Gary Neville collided and when the tangle of limbs began to unravel Taylor stuck out a boot to send the ball trickling over the line.

Schmeichel collapsed belatedly, clutching his face as if he could not believe United could go behind on such a day, but it at least provoked a United onslaught. Andy Cole hit a post, Gary Neville the bar and as Teddy Sheringham had also struck a post in the first minute, Ferguson was coming round to the notion that, like the Leicester game, fortune had run off with the milkman. Then Scholes, freed to move forward by Phil Neville's introduction to midfield, crossed, the otherwise excellent Keith Branagan spilled it and Cole headed in.

One point, only United's fourth from their last potential 15, was recovered but no one was celebrating. "It hurts that we didn't win," Gary Neville said. "We're giving teams the impression they can come to Old Trafford and enjoy it." A subdued Ferguson added: "They have to play themselves through it. Every team gets blips, let's just say the League starts today."

If so United, still top, are off to a flying start. A lot of people will hate that.

Goals: Taylor (60) 0-1; Cole (85) 1-1.

Manchester United (4-3-3): Schmeichel; P Neville, G Neville, Pallister, Irwin; Beckham, Scholes, Giggs; Cole, Sheringham (Berg, 68), Solskjaer. Substitutes not used: McClair, Clegg, Twiss, Van der Gouw (gk).

Bolton Wanderers (4-4-2): Branagan; Cox, Todd, Fairclough, Bergsson; Pollock, Frandsen, Thompson, Sellars; Taylor (Holdsworth, 82), Blake. Substitutes not used: Johansen, Sheridan, Aljofree, Ward (gk).

Referee: S Lodge (Barnsley).

Bookings: Manchester United: Sheringham, Pallister, Berg. Bolton: Todd, Bergsson, Sellars.

Man of the match: Frandsen.

Attendance: 55,156.