We had a good chat about Ole, me and Moses, my window cleaner. Every time he comes, and is shooting water all over the place, as they all now use these long hosepipes, he breaks to talk about Man Utd. Oh, football is such a passport, such a bond we have in common, whatever class, whatever age.
In 1968 we had a year abroad, half in Gozo and half in Portugal, and despite the language and other barriers, with taxi drivers, waiters, shop keepers, I just had to mention Bobby Charlton and they were my chums. Top tip: every time you meet a new QC, do mention Arsenal. You’ll be pals for life.
Moses is a Londoner, like most Man Utd fans – the majority don’t live anywhere near Manchester. You can tell their age when they reveal they are Man Utd fans – acquiring the passion in the Nineties when Fergie was in his pomp.
Moses was so pleased when Ole Gunnar Solskjær became manager – one of our own, he kept on saying, after all these foreigners and misfits, one of our own. I said, hold on, Ole is Norwegian.
“No, he’s one of our own.”
He will have a honeymoon period, I told Moses, be the taste of the moment, loved by everyone. Your saviour. Your Messiah. This is the nature of football, we are all looking and longing for a Redeemer. Football is a religion: with a name like Moses, you must be aware of that.
Once you pick up the faith for whatever reason – inherited through your blood, acquired while young and impressionable, by chance because you liked the strip or one particular player, or your granny was born there – then that is it, you believe and belong forever. Nothing will destroy your faith, even when they play rubbish, get demoted, get taken over by right nasty bastards. You have signed the pledge, given over your life and love to believing.
It is noticeable how many religious references get used by football fans. “In Arsène We Trust” was displayed by Arsenal fans for a long time. This was a straight copy from that Victorian embroidered exhortation, “In God We Trust”, which I have on my wall, along with “God is our Refuge” and “I will Never Leave Thee Nor Forsake Thee”, and “We know not When the Master of The House Cometh”. With all these slogans, you just have to substitute a football reference for God, and all fans would agree. Sometimes actual players are known as God, such as Robbie Fowler at Liverpool, or Le God, such as Matt Le Tissier at Southampton. Fans are always hoping for a miracle, praying for a goal, elevating some player to a godlike status.
The manager, though, is the Master in the House, the one longed for to arrive and be Our Saviour. No wonder José described himself as the Special One, a phrase redolent of worship.
Once the Special One, the Chosen One, is anointed and has shown us the way, led us down the path of virtue and up the league, he can do no wrong in the eyes of true, loyal fans. Well, until it all goes wrong, or wrong comes his way.
So Ole started off brilliantly, winning so many games, and then that miraculous last minute triumph, against the odds, versus PSG. That was definitely deus ex machina.
Yet talking to Moses after that game, he was exultant but still troubled. He is not really dreaming about European success, not this year – he worries it will distract the lads.
Ole had done good, but I had one worry too in those early all-conquering games. He was too calm. On the bench, he mainly just sat there, almost like a little boy lost. Players and fans like to see a manager showing emotion. The players can’t hear a bleedin’ word, but they can spot an Angry Boss.
Man Utd had lost two games, coming into the international break. Now when the Prem returns we will see if Ole is up to the hard bit.
To my surprise, Moses said that if Ole fails to get them into the top four in the League, he should go and the club should sign Pochettino. Oh Moses, you of little faith…
The latest of Hunter’s memoirs, “Happy Old Me”, is published by Simon & Schuster
This article appears in the 27 Mar 2019 issue of the New Statesman, Guilty