This is episode five of a wider series. To start at episode one, click here.
“Yo, what’s going on with the world, momma? Yo, people living like they ain’t got no mommas.”
Old Trafford is absolutely rocking. Red streamers dance in the air and kids in the stands hug their Dads as the final whistle blows.
It’s November 2003. BAC’s Concorde? Finished. Liverpool’s Brookside? Gone. Manchester United’s UEFA Champions League hopes? NOT OVER YET!
The talismanic Ruud van Nistelrooy had smashed home a simple finish on 41 minutes, after initially having his penalty saved by Dionysis Chiotis, the exquisitely-named but ultimately unlucky AEK Athens goalkeeper. It was Ruud’s 10th strike in 16 games in all competitions so far this season.
It’s a different player, however, who has captured the recent attention of the Red Devils faithful.
“Shareeeeef don’t like it. OH KALADZE, OH KALADZE! Shareeeeef don’t like it. OH KALADZE, OH KALADZE!”
United’s new signing from Milan, Kakhaber Kaladze, has a song. Yes, it might be more the fact that his name fits perfectly into The Clash classic ‘Rock the Casbah,’ more than his 1 assist in 10 appearances that has caught the fans’ imagination, but the 18-times capped Georgian waves his appreciation anyway, as he leaves the pitch with a rare smile. United now top the group going into the final two games.
Wes Brown has been injured for what feels like years. His torn knee ligaments have kept him out since last season, and the players even missed his mid-October birthday. The “fastest kid alive” according to United captain Roy Keane, looks a shell of his former self as he visits the boys in the dressing room after training. A crutch under each arm and a party hat perched on top of his shaved head only adds to the tragedy.
“I can’t wait to be back boys. Rio, keep that spot in defence free for me.”
A silence falls in the room and Lucio stares down at his boots. Ricardo ‘one sub appearance’ Carvalho lets out a tiny laugh that triggers a coughing fit, as the awkwardness escalates. “I’ll be off then, boys.”
Wes Brown sighs as he shuffles off towards his car. Ole Gunnar Solskjaer grins like a cartoon troll just to get through the social tension.
“Now listen up!”
It’s Carrington and George Bond has called everyone in early. The Dartford Hardman wants his team firing more consistently. Mike Phelan, Rene Meulensteen and Ricky Sbragia stand alongside Bond, and the players can sense it’s no laughing matter. “Some of you lads need to sharpen up. You can’t come inside for lunch until every one of you has run himself into the ground. Literally. Unless you’ve run so much that you’ve passed out at least twice, you won’t even get a cup of tea without my say-so!”
Scholes and Giggs share a concerned sideways glance, but Gary Neville stands up and roars in approval, like a Spartan on the edge of battle. Phil springs up in support, but is immediately shot down before he can make a sound.
“Not you, Phil. You can go to the garage for the papers,” Bond commands.
United’s utility man could have proved useful here, apart from the fact that he was supposed to get The Telegraph and The Guardian, but instead returned with four packs of green Rizla.
George Bond’s head is in his hands as Neville walks slowly out of his office, backwards, mumbling “how was I supposed to know?!”
The month of November was a relative success for The Invisibles, all things considered. Unfortunately Paolo Maldini may have seemed more of a romantic purchase than a functional one for Bond, as he seems to struggle with the pace of the Premier League at 35. Young hotshot Ronaldo’s stock continues to rise, however, as he performs encouragingly (3 goals and 5 assists in 17 games), mainly operating wide on the right flank, opposite Ryan Giggs, United’s very own Welsh Wizard.
Manchester rivals City were dispatched 1-0 via an Alan Smith header, in a tightly-fought match.
Captain of Manchester City on the day was a newly-signed player that a certain demographic of you reading this will react to with a warm sense of nostalgia and joy.
Deportivo in undoubtedly the strongest period of their footballing history, completed a group stage double over United with another Diego Tristan winner, but November results were otherwise positive!
In other news, an iconic rival calls it a day. Thank God.
As George Bond gets in his M3, his Motorola Razr rings (yep it hasn’t been released yet, but Bond of course knows a guy), the melody interrupting the Black Eyed Peas CD that automatically bursts into life at the same time as the ignition. The manager’s adrenaline spikes when he realises who’s agent it is who is calling. Bond can’t believe the good news he’s hearing. “Shut up, just shut up, shut up,” he responds. Bond doesn’t immediately realise he’s inadvertently quoting will.I.am and pals.
In a case of art imitating life (again), come January the 1st 2004, it looks like the Red Devils might just be signing an iconic new goalkeeper!
Bond hangs up with a smile.
What could possibly be in the next episode as we see out 2003? Oh that’s right, it’s only the famous Manchester United Christmas Party! (writer’s note – that is 100% not a thing)
Thanks for reading.