This is the eighth and final episode of a wider series. To start at episode one, click here.
“My milkshake brings all the boys to the yard. And they’re like, it’s better than yours. Damn right, it’s better than yours. I can teach you, but I have to charge”
“Let days like this define you.”
Bond almost whispers the words.
The dressing room falls silent as he paces back and forth, the mirror-shine black shoes the Dartford Hardman had looked out for this exact occasion squeaking slightly on the floor, before he stops rigidly, and takes a deep breath.
It’s Fulham at Old Trafford in the Premier League, but the reality is that it is so much more than that.
“Win today, and we will be Premier League champions. Wenger and his Arsenal are so far off the pace, we don’t even need to look over our shoulders for that lot. Chelsea and Liverpool? Well that’s a different story.
Every one of you, to a man, has made this club proud this season. It’s time to put your name down in history.”
The April air is colder than usual, but United appear from the tunnel to a red-hot reception. Bond has the boys lined up exactly as we’ve learned to expect this season. Well drilled, aggressive, attacking.
As the players warm up, it’s hard not to notice a certain England right back. Gary Neville always felt the need to work harder than everyone else. Like the rest of the team were more naturally gifted, perhaps more athletically gifted too. Not today. Today Gary is a man possessed, still running drills and sprinting back and forth, right up until the whistle is blown to start the game. Anyone close to him can hear his murmured words of self-motivation. “La la, la la, la. Warm it up. La la, la la, la. The boys are waiting.”
The game kicks off, and the boys look pumped up. Apart from Paul Scholes, who, well, looks like Paul Scholes.
What an anticlimactic 45 minutes.
Referee Graham Barber puts his whistle to his lips, and the players march off the pitch, clearly agitated by the goalless first half.
Emotions are high. There is quickly escalating bickering between Kaladze and Rio and furious captain Roy Keane almost kicks the door off the dressing room while roaring. Phil doesn’t quite understand what’s going on, but moves from teammate to teammate, sometimes consoling, sometimes slapping them on the back in a misguided attempt at firing them up. Mostly though, he is just panicking.
The atmosphere calms slightly as the gaffer closes the dressing room door with a bang. Bond delivers a few final words of encouragement.
“I believe in a thing called love. Just listen to the rhythm of my heart. There’s a chance we could make it now. We’ll be rocking ’til the sun goes down. I believe in a thing called love. I also believe in a thing called winning the f*cking league. Let’s. Get. It. Done.”
In a time when Dido was in the charts with songs that sounded like hollow disappointment manifested in sound, The Darkness were a welcome novelty escape.
It’s now the 93rd minute.
The ball floats across the box from a delicately chipped Cristiano Ronaldo cross. It’s like its in slow motion.
It soars high past Luis Boa Morte and Andy Melville, who are spellbound by the flight of the ball.
Old Trafford holds its breath as the rising Ruud van Nistelrooy can’t quite reach it, and the chance looks like it may have passed.
The Dutchman takes an Alain Goma elbow to the ribs and heads for the turf.
The ball bounces, and Junichi Inamoto can’t bear to look.
Neither can George Bond, his bench or over 60,000 United fans in the stadium.
Ole Gunnar Solskjaer is at the back post and catches the ball with a neatly poked volley from three yards.
Of course he does.
The ball ripples the net.
Manchester United 1. Fulham 0.
The challenge that was laid down is now complete.
Start the post-Fergie era ten years early, and stop Arsene Wenger’s iconic 2003 squad from becoming the mighty Invincibles, by retaining the coveted Premier League trophy. To end 16 points clear and Arsenal finishing 5th was an incredible bonus!
So United may have tumbled out of Europe a few days later to the ridiculously absurd Inter Milan side of the time. But hey, Inter went on to win the UEFA Champions League, so let’s not feel too downhearted about that.
The plan for Bond was always to come in, stablise and overcome, then leave with his head held high. These are the players who helped him do the unthinkable to the apparent Invincibles.
Bond calls Sir Alex and then Sir Bobby Charlton to receive their heartfelt congratulations.
The pandemonium eventually subsided and the team saw out their remaining league fixtures in a relatively straightforward fashion.
It’s the end of May 2004, and the end of the short road for the gaffer.
Bond hugs a few of the staff, from the physios to the ticket office ladies.
His stay in Manchester has been a welcome one.
The BMW M3 keys appear from the Dartford Hardman’s pocket, and the signature Motorola Razr is flung onto the passenger seat.
The familiar thump of Bond’s car stereo booms out the new Kelis album as he gets ready to leave.
George Bond is wasting no time in moving on to pastures new. He was given a very specific brief, and he has come in and smashed it.
Paolo Maldini gives the gaffer a knowing nod, Nicky Butt delivers a small wave.
The squad are gathered in an arc around the boss’s car in the car park, to see him off.
Much like Sir Alex had left a Ronaldo-shaped gift as a new addition to a star-studded Manchester United on his departure, no self-respecting manager, short-term or otherwise, can really leave now without following suit.
….Could this really be happening?
George Bond is a firm believer in stewardship. Leaving things better than how you found them.
This move will definitely do that for Manchester United. Even in all their glory.
Of course it’s happening.
Have a look.
Dreams do come true!
Thanks for reading and supporting this short series throughout. I really appreciate any comments or feedback either here or on Twitter, now that it’s over.
See you all again soon.