No proper football fan has any say in who they support. It's generally decided in childhood, then that's it. A life sentence. No remission, no parole, no way out. So why, as I watched Manchester United beating Celtic on Five (Wednesday) in that offhand manner typical of a football match played in late July, did I feel so unperturbed at the prospect of yet another season of overwhelming under-achievement? It all comes down to one word, of course, a word which for United fans has come to stand for most of what's objectionable about modern life. The Name Of The Beast. Glazer.
I was watching the game the following night on tape, after a day of transfer activity - Michael Carrick on his way in, Ruud van Nistelrooy on his way out - that seemed to bode ill for United's immediate future. And as John Barnes gabbled through a pre-match interview with Sir Alex Ferguson - he began each question with a stammered, nervous variant of "It's a very in-in-in-inexperienced team, but there's still plenty to play for..." - I thought about the day's events. We'd offloaded one of the best strikers in the world while paying £18m for a player who's won nothing and has 90 minutes' experience of competitive international football.
The thought occurred that we'll struggle to qualify for the Champions' League. And part of me wants us not to, just to show Glazer that life's a trickier proposition than his calculations could predict. You can't just take the richest club in the world, turn it into the most indebted, and expect to prosper. Part of me wants to see how low we can go, how we get ourselves out of this fix. Glazer ripped the soul out of the club and I want him to suffer.
After three weeks of suffering, Floyd Landis stood proudly on the Tour de France podium in Paris last Sunday. But there was a true cycling champion on show this week, part of the Three-Minute Wonder strand of short films after the evening news on Channel 4 (Tuesday) - "Beryl: Champion of the World."
Beryl Burton started racing at 15 and finished 40 years later. She won seven world championships - and the British title 25 years in a row. She raised a family and worked for 10 hours a day in a rhubarb shed. She died on her bike, on the way to discuss her 60th birthday plans with her daughter. In a week when Landis went from One-Hip Wonder to The Chemical Kid and cycling's good name (!) went for a Burton, Beryl's story provided the perfect antidote to the Landis poison.
In Excuse My French (BBC2, Tuesday), Ron Atkinson's apparent mission to scare L'Académie française half to death continues apace. This week he visited the local football club to deliver a half-time team talk. "Ron manages to get across his message about passing tactics without any discernible use of the French language," the voice-over put it. Actually, that's not quite right: there were some French ingredients in there, albeit accompanied by a soupçon of Spanish leftovers and several scraps of English. This is it, verbatim: "Pierre, Fred, s'il vous plaît. Toujours le marker, la libero, le, er, second marker, c'est possible flat, not level, la lina, trois, mais le libero, es facil, facil." Fantastique.
Still, it probably beats anything Sven Goran Eriksson ever said - and Ron's garçons scored within seconds of the restart. Gareth Southgate famously remarked after England's World Cup defeat to Brazil four years ago that at half-time they'd needed Winston Churchill but had got Iain Duncan Smith. The French lads needed Charles de Gaulle but got Stanley Unwin - and still won!Reuse content