‘Tis the season to be jolly, or so they say. For some however, it doesn’t quite work out like that. In a story particularly popular at this time of year, Ebenezer Scrooge is visited by a number of ghosts. Each has a cautionary tale to tell about how things need to change if a particularly unpleasant outcome is to be avoided. Well, seeing as it’s panto season as well, I’ve decided to take the plunge and offer my football-inspired version of A Christmas Carol.
To be sure, Ed Woodward, executive vice-chairman of Manchester United is no miser. Well, not as far as I’m aware anyway, and his largesse in the transfer market probably bears that out. For the purpose of my particular interpretation of Dickens’ famous tale however, I am compelled to cast Ed in the role as Ebenezer Scrooge. Apologies requested in advance.
Mixing my Yuletide references a little, here’s my scene: ‘Twas the night before (last) Christmas, and all through the house, nothing was stirring, not even a mouse. As young Ed slept, all wrapped up in his Manchester United pyjamas, complete with red and white night cap, an unwelcome spectre disturbed his slumber. Appearing through swirling mists, it spoke. “I am the Ghost of Seasons Past” it declared in a hauntingly familiar Glaswegian twang, unsullied by many years spent south of Hadrian’s wall.
“Come with me,” it beckoned, and swept Ed away into the past where trails of glory seemed never-ending. “Aye,” it declared. “I did all this. See my glories and tremble.” Our hero looked upon the trophies. Silverware of all shapes and sizes both domestic and from farther afield. He saw it and was cowed by its majesty. And then the haunting presence turned it’s withering gaze upon him and, in a voice both dark and menacing, asked “How is the Theatre of Dreams that I left you with?”
Now, the Old Trafford executive vice-chairman must be a fairly hardy character to get the job he has but, faced with this fearful apparition and the dazzling might of its glory, self-assurance melted away. “We may qualify for the Champions League,” he almost stammered. “Or if not, almost certainly, the Europa League,” he added too quickly. “Almost certainly,” he repeated, as if the repetition was an incantation that added confidence, rather than the inevitable hesitancy. The grim countenance of the spectre glared at him, with scorn, not pity. Suddenly, Ed awoke and sighed with relief. It had just been a dream, he told himself. Eating that cheese from the early Christmas gift the old manager had insisted he opened had been a mistake. He thought it had tasted a little unusual at the time, and the insistence that he should eat it before going to bed was also strange. Now it had given him nightmares. Reassured, he settled down to sleep again, resting his head contentedly on his Wayne Rooney pillow.
Sleep came easy, but not for long. Mist appeared and through it came another visitor. A ghostly presence suddenly filled his consciousness. Unlike the first however, this visitor bore a countenance all-too-familiar, ever-present in his concerns. As Ed looked upon it, he recognised the haunted face of his newly-appointed manager. “I am the Ghost of Seasons Present,” it said. Brooking no dissent, it commanded Ed to “Come with me,” and whisked our hero away to his desk at Old Trafford. “What are you doing?” It asked. “Are you up to this challenge? Should you have left me at Everton where I was comfortable and everybody loved me?”
“You’re doing OK,” Ed replied. “We’re making it hard for teams to play against us. We’re difficult to beat.” The harsh stare his manager had lost when he seemed mired in self-doubt and a potential inability to deliver the goods, suddenly returned. It was the type of stare that could freeze a footballer in his exotically-coloured blades at a thousand yards. “OK?” It spoke lowly, but with an inherent menace. “Difficult to beat?” It demanded, eyes now blazing and standing out like dark pits of fire. “Look,” Ed replied. “It’s not been easy. It was always going to be difficult.” A newspaper then drifted into his vision, open at the back pages. It showed the Premier League table. “Look what you’ve made me do!” The spectre was wailing, now only inches from Ed’s face. “We’re difficult to beat though,” Ed pleaded. The eyes confronting him, just stared into his soul, unblinking, all-seeing. And then he awoke again. Another bad dream. “It’s just the pressure,” he thought. That or eating that perishing cheese before bed. He pulled the quilt with the picture of Old Trafford emblazoned across it, back over his head.
Too soon again though, the mists were swirling and another figure was before him. It spoke with an accent that was unusual, but the voice was naggingly familiar. “I am the Ghost of Seasons to Come,” it declared. It was hardly a surprise to our Ed, but no less unpleasant for that predictability. It spoke in a northern European accent but with a slant refined by travels around the continent, and now with an unmistakably north-western English influence. “Aren’t you Beavis’s friend?” Ed asked, immediately realising his error. The spectre laughed in a gutturally irritating way. “No,” he said firmly, with a voice unused to suffering fools gladly. “You must now come with me,” it instructed in clipped tones. “Where are we going?” he asked. “To the future, of course,” the ghost replied.
Then, they were at once in a graveyard, and closing in on a particular headstone. The spirit pointed to the inscription. “Read,” it instructed. Unable to refuse, Ed complied. “Here lies the once great club that was Manchester United,” it read in fine-chiselled, but condemning, script. And below, “Also the career and reputation of Tiny Tim (aka Ryan Giggs). Both left to wither and die by careless hands.”
Ed now realised. He had to change things. This couldn’t go on. “Can I change all of this?” he asked, imploring the spectre to agree. “Nothing has happened yet. I’ll change. I’ll make better decisions. I’ll spend millions. I’ll make it all better.” The ghost looked at him. “You have time,” he counselled. “But don’t wait too long.” “I won’t,” he promised. And let me reassure you readers, Ed didn’t. That season was already lost, but it was resolved that a new manager should be sought, and strangely enough, he did bear a striking resemblance to one part of a once-cultish cartoon series, but glory was restored. Less Ava Maria and more Di Maria, but redemption no doubt.
Now, each story has a moral, and some may think that this one is about making the right decisions, but no. Around Old Trafford some still claim that there’s an occasional ghostly whisper heard, any time Ed Woodward has to make a decision. That and a faint odour of a particularly unusual type of cheese.
(This All Blue Daze article was originally produced for the ‘offsiderulepodcast’ website).