James Lawton: Reds' celebrations are way too premature

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The Independent Online

Sometimes the illusions of football fans is merely sad, a fact underlined this week by the claim of some militant Manchester United supporters that they contributed to the blocking of the takeover move of American tycoon Malcolm Glazer.

At this moment United remain outside of the control of a man who made his money out of the gulag of trailer parks in the world's richest country - and was once described by a judge as a "snake in sheep's clothing" - not because of fan protest but the fact that John Magnier and JP McManus, the club's major shareholders, said no.

Those same militants have had very public, and disparaging, views on the power wielded by the Irish horsemen and supremely hard business operators. This is just one reason why yesterday's celebrations were disturbingly premature, especially in view of the suggestion that the former friends of Sir Alex Ferguson had "other plans".

Whatever they are, the betting is not that they include a heart-felt desire to make make the dreams of the Old Trafford faithful secure for ever and a day.

In another, and even less uplifting category, however, is the decision of the Leeds United fans to withdraw an invitation to Alan Smith, the former Elland Road zealot who was voted player of the year before he moved across the Pennines to sign for the hated Old Trafford club.

Here we have have another example of fandom in cuckooland, this one actively malignant. Smith, for as long as he wore the colours of his hometown club, was notably committed. He didn't always behave impeccably, particularly when tossing a water bottle into the crowd, but he never gave less than 100 per cent for the team. Now he is reviled for furthering his career when it was plain that Leeds could no longer provide a proper home for his outstanding talent.

Now the big question concerns how many Leeds United fans have turned down the chance of bettering themselves out of sheer tribal loyalty?

Those who argued - and they included the hierarchy of Manchester United - that reaction to Rio Ferdinand's failure to take a drugs test was excessive, may want to consider the fate of former baseball star Ken Caminiti. He is dead at 41 from a massive heart attack.

Caminiti operated in a sport where drug testing is the farce it was in football before Ferdinand, for one reason or other, paid such a high price for no other offence than walking away from the testers.

Two years ago Caminiti said: "It's no secret what's going on in baseball. At least half the guys are using steroids. They talk about it. They joke about it with each other." He also described some of the effects of long-time steroid use. "My tendons and ligaments got all torn up. My muscles got too strong. And now my body's not producing testosterone. You know what's it like? You get lethargic. You get depressed. It's terrible."

Ferdinand and his people were terribly aggrieved. They thought football justice had sailed over the top. In a cool, reflective moment they might just think of what happened to Ken Caminiti and that hard-line drug testing, if it heads off one similar tragedy, is probably good for the game and all those who play it.

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