May 22nd, 2008

The European Cup Final

I have mixed feelings about Manchester United. 

On the one hand they're too rich, too greedy and some of their players behave like trolls.

On the other they have a beautiful mythology- centred upon the tragic loss of their brilliant young team- the Busby babes- in the Munich air disaster 50 years ago. Also they're my home team. Because of them everybody in the football playing world has heard of Manchester.

I don't normally watch big football matches, but last night was special. Two English clubs in the final of the European cup- one of them Man U with its big red heart and the other Roman Abramovitch's Chelsea-  a rich man's enormously expensive wind-up toy. Abramovitch has created Chelsea out of next to nothing by spending vast amounts of money. Man U spends vast amounts of money too, but they've always been a great team with a a proud history, and a succession of iconic managers; their growth feels organic; they're family.

And that sense of them being family was highlighted by the sentimental decision to let Bobby Charlton- greatest of the surviving Busby Babes- lead the term to the podium to collect their medals.  Bobby Charlton was the Cliff Richard of football- professionally nice- only really, really gifted as well; a Cliff with the talent of Elvis. My granny had a budgie called Bobby Charlton. The guy presenting the medals tried to put one round Charlton's neck, and he stopped it happening; I'm not worthy, I'm just the mascot- though no-one would have grudged it him- and he left the podium with the medal (probably Manager Alex Ferguson's) in his hand. What a gentleman!

It was a great match- even though it did go to a penalty shoot-out. Both teams gave their all. And in the event the better (meaning nobler, prouder, more beautiful) team won. And isn't Ronaldo wonderful? Once in a while a footballer comes along who makes the dumb business of hacking a ball round a muddy field look like an art form.  In my youth there was Georgie Best. Now there's Ronaldo. A week or two back he was thinking of flying south to play in the sun; now it seems he's set to remain in Manchester. I'm glad. The world's greatest player belongs in the world's greatest team. 

Go on, you Reds!