When all’s lost, there’s always hope. Why? Why can’t there just be nothing…
As the cliché goes, it’s the hope that kills you.
Bearing that in mind, as a Manchester United fan I had done my best not to have any; I was hopeless, you could say.
Even when United were eight points clear with just six games to go I refused to say that it was over – that the twentieth title was in the bag.
I remember a Japanese friend laughing at my hesitancy, and deep down I have to admit that it felt as good as done.
But as good as done is not good enough, and with each subsequent game things started to slowly unravel.
Defeat to Wigan was a hiccup, but Sir Alex would surely give the team a kick up the arse and have them back in gear again for the next game.
And that he did, they beat Villa and were then at home to Everton. 4-2 up with seven minutes to go, it looked like another step towards an improbable triumph – don’t forget, United themselves had made up a five-point gap on their “noisy neighbours” Manchester City to establish their lead on the final straight.
But again they messed up, and two goals conceded in three minutes turned a vital three points into one and, in my opinion (and that of Patrice Evra), cost them the title.
As I so often touch upon when discussing the J.League, the psychological aspects of football are absolutely crucial, and that slip-up undoubtedly threw the players off their concentration and introduced nervousness at the worst possible time.
Next came the derby with City, and with their expensively-assembled squad sensing blood the unthinkable came true and they ground out the win that took them back to the top of the table.
But, don’t forget, there’s always hope. Goddammit, there’s always hope.
Both teams won their next games meaning it would all be decided on the final day of the season.
Thankfully City were at home to QPR though, so it was inevitable they’d win and take the title. I didn’t have to get my hopes up.
Things progressed as expected and they took a first half lead through their Argentinean full-back Pablo Zabaleta. Still, with United also leading against Sunderland, just one goal would send the trophy to the red half of Manchester instead.
There it was again, like those annoying and unavoidable Japanese politicians who drive down your street repeating nothing but their name over and over again; always in the background.
And just after half-time somebody decided to turn the volume up. Djibril Cisse equalised for QPR and United went top. I refused to celebrate or be tricked into anything though, knowing full well that Mark Hughes’ side wouldn’t be able to hold on for the best part of 40 minutes.
My heart-rate was helped a little by Joey Barton a few minutes later, bless him, when he did what he does best and acted like an absolute bell-end to get himself sent off before trying to start a fight with half of the city of Manchester as he left the pitch.
“Ok, just as I thought, there’s no chance. The title’s City’s.”
Then the car stopped right outside my apartment. The noise was deafening and it was all but impossible to ignore: Jamie Mackie had put QPR ahead. City needed two goals.
By this point I don’t mind admitting I was in quite a state. I couldn’t sit still but had nowhere to go. Time couldn’t move quickly enough. In fact, I felt sure it wasn’t moving at all.
All I knew was that I couldn’t do it. Whatever it took I wasn’t to think about it. It was impossible. City were going to win.
But 90 minutes were up. It was still 2-1 to QPR and I did it, I gave in to hope. And that was it. A couple of minutes, a couple of goals and everything was snatched away.
I said that the draw with Everton was what cost the title but I can’t help but feel I’m also partly to blame. I was seduced and – to return to my laboured metaphor – I returned a wave to that irritant and his incessantly-smiling cronies in their white gloves, and I paid the price.
I certainly won’t let it happen again.