“You’ve got to hold and give and do it at the right time, you can be slow or fast but you must get to the line…”
You know the rest, well you do if you’re English and over the age of 35, it’s almost compulsory, in fact if memory serves it was actually part of the national curriculum circa 1991-1996.
While England’s recent rejuvenation under all round nice guy and everyone’s new favourite fashion trendsetter Gareth Southgate has definitely been helped by a strong United contingent of players, 1990 was a tad different.
Bobby Robson’s side may have been led by United’s very own Captain Marvel Bryan Robson, but the tournament curse that dogged his international career struck again and he was injured in the group stages, leaving Neill Webb the Reds’ sole England representative. Webb would go on to make one appearance in the tournament for the practically meaningless third place play-off.
An England song featuring Liverpool’s star player was never going to get United fans fully behind the national side and while the ‘stand up if you hate Man U’ sentiment hadn’t quite got underway yet, there was still a lack of great love between English Reds and other supporters of the Three Lions. This was around the height of hooliganism so the idea of United fans standing happily side by side with Liverpool, Millwall and West Ham fans, to watch a team containing not a solitary Red, is more ridiculous than Gazza’s subsequent top two pop hit.
This tournament is a world away from Italia 90 from a United point of view, with Jesse Lingard replacing Gazza as the nation’s favourite. Sort of. Almost. Well okay, not really but at least he’s no longer hated which is a step in the right direction. Meanwhile England’s former forgotten man Ashley Young is one of the teams’ leaders. Not a team leader in the sense that he walks around with headset and clipboard, but one of the older heads who’s helping Southgate’s young charges navigate the tournament with 52 years of expectation on their shoulders. Throw in the ‘super sub’ Marcus Rashford and a sprinkling of Phil Jones and you’ve got yourself a mouth-watering United/England soufflé that will satisfy even the most sceptical English United fan’s palate.
It’s not just England where United have painted it Red, fellow semi-finalists Belgium and France can thank Old Trafford for providing them with some of their brightest stars.
Romelu Lukaku is Belgium’s top scorer in the competition and the only likely threat to Harry Kane’s chances of lifting the Golden Boot – a future career presenting on the BBC beckons where he can bring it up every other sentence. It’s not just Lukaku who’s a vital cog in Roberto Martinez’s machine, Marouane Fellaini was immense against Brazil in the quarter finals, yes, I’ll repeat that Marouane Fellaini was immense against Brazil in the quarter finals of the World Cup. It happened. I saw it happen, let’s move on.
France have an abundance of talent throughout the squad, but it’s United’s very own Paul Labile Pogba who conducts that particular symphony and is in with a decent chance of winning the coveted Golden Ball, David Beckham apparently forgetting to trademark the name or anything similar.
Which brings us back to England, there’s no point in pretending England and United will ever be affectionate bedfellows but at least for the moment, there’s a mutual acceptance.
We’ve come a long way since the days of we ain’t no hooligans this ain’t a football song, three lions on my chest I know we can’t go wrong, let’s just hope the good cheer for United ends next season when the Reds get back to winning ways and enraging the nation as usual.
We’re singing for United not England, but there’s nothing wrong with a few weeks where it can be both. Or maybe even Belgium and France for that matter…