‘City score,’ I say. I am watching the ESPNstar live feed. The stupid cable operator has put Set Max in place of Star Sports. Deccan against Punjab. Even the people of Andhra and Punjab don’t care for this game. Nothing I can do. Damn.
‘Rooney wins a corner off the Sunderland guy… It’s over. Switching to the other game. Two minutes to go,’ Arun says. He’s been on the phone with me for almost the entire second half.
‘Two minutes to go man. Come on QPR. Come on, Sparky. Come on!’ I think. ‘City score,’ I read off the screen.
‘It’s all over,’ says Arun. He breaks down. It is LL a bit too much. The phone call gets cut. Symbolizes the season in many ways, really – disjoint.
Arun is disappointed. Bitterly. Strangely, I am not. I question myself. How could I be so cold? Am I really not that big a fan? Really? Do I really not care? I mean, where is that passion that made me want to bury my head in the sand when United were mauled 6-1? Where is that angst that I felt when United let that 2 goal lead slip against Everton? Why am I not in tears?
Arun and I met three years ago. We met through football. We met through Manchester United. He always wore his heart on his jersey sleeve. I am a lot more sober. However, over the past three years, there has hardly been a week where we haven’t dissected a game or what we ought to do or have done or what we did. In the off-season, we would debate on whom to buy and who ought to go. Yet, here he was and here I am. I really ought to be feeling bad, neigh, terrible. But I am not.
I am rational.
If, at 7:25 PM IST on Sunday, the 13th of May 2011, someone had told me that by the end of the two hours that followed, Man City would win the title by beating a 10-man QPR side, I would not have batted an eyelid. If that same person had told me that United would keep their end of the bargain by winning one-nil at Sunderland, I would not have raised any eyebrows. All this did happen. Everyone knew it would. Yet, why did fans break down?
I have a theory on this; The theory of changing expectations, as I call it. Quite simply, it is this: At a point in time A, people expect event X to occur. At a later point in time, B, event X has occurred. People end up with exactly what they expected to happen. However, in the time between points A and B, there transpire events that make outcome X unacceptable. In other words, people get what they have expected all along but this is indigestible.
Quite simply, I never expected United to win the title. In my mind, it was not going to happen. QPR were never going to hold City. Never. Then again, not everyone is not a romantic. The idea of a repeat of the game against Munich still lingers in the heart of every United fan. There are no exceptions. Miracles are a part of being a Manchester United fan.
Someone is always expected to pop up during extra time and get that final touch. The ‘keeper is always expected to pull off that miracle save. For Manchester United fans, these are expected. In the same vein, there was always this lingering hope that Sparky would do something. It had to happen, given his past history with City.
There was, however, a very small difference. A very small but, to me, the most significant difference. It is this: on every other occasion, United fans expected miracles of United; and United usually deliver. In this case, however, United fans expected a miracle that was not in the control of their team. They expected someone else to do them a favor. That, was the crucial mistake.
If the situation were reversed and if United had the superior goal difference, and had United been a goal down with only stoppage time to play, the fans would’ve expected a repeat of ’99 and rightly so. That would’ve been fair enough, for it was only United who controlled their own destiny. This, however, was different. Vastly different.
That, is perhaps why, I don’t feel gutted. Perhaps why I did not break down; perhaps why I don’t feel anything at all. Or perhaps it is just that I have no emotions. Perhaps.
Manchester United fans, forget what happened in stoppage time at the Eastlands. Reflect on the season as a whole. You will know that the title was not lost in those five minutes. It was lost much earlier. Perhaps in a five minute spell at Old Trafford against Everton. Perhaps before that.
‘Remember Red, hope is a good thing, maybe the best of things, and no good thing ever dies,’ says Andy in The Shawshank Redemption. A most iconic dialogue in the history of cinema. I don’t think so. Don’t hope. That way, you never get disappointed for even that lingering hope will provide you with an inkling of expectation which will never be fulfilled if you are not in control of your destiny.
Or as Red says, ‘Let me tell you something my friend. Hope is a dangerous thing. Hope can drive a man insane.’