The Premier League season is almost over, so it’s time to take stock. The traditional way of doing this is via a mock awards ceremony, in which we, the Diary, treat you, the victims, to a series of tepid jokes dressed up in bow ties. For example: “The John Terry Award for Services to the Concept of John Terry goes to … John Terry. One more year! One more year! One more year!”
However, we’ve had to change our plans. For a start, most of the league’s actual, important questions were resolved well ahead of schedule: Leicester didn’t just win the league, they strolled it, and on Tuesday night, Sunderland relegated Newcastle and Norwich with a game to spare.
And then, things went a bit peculiar on Sunday, when we learned that the season, which was already over, hasn’t actually ended yet. Only 379 of the required 380 games have been played. So, we’ve had to reduce our plans down to a single award.
The [Name of Journalist Deleted] Award for Services to Overextended Metaphor, Stretched Comparison, and Contrived Parallel goes to …
… whichever representative of Security Search Management and Solutions reportedly failed to count the fake bombs on Wednesday, thus ensuring that Manchester United’s game on Sunday would be cancelled after the same “incredibly lifelike” fake bomb was found still strapped to a pipe.
Because let’s face these facts: If you’d sat down and tried to come up with something ridiculous to cap off United’s season, you would have rejected “bomb scare brought about by a fake bomb, but not that type of fake bomb, a pretend fake bomb that somebody had forgotten about” as being (a) too silly and (b) quite hard to fit into a single sentence. And yet it happened, and there was, initially, much understandable concern, since this could have been something serious. But once it became clear that nobody had been hurt, there was much rejoicing in the land. The punchlines rained from the sky like manna and all were able to gorge themselves to satiation.
Those who were feeling sarcastic could take their pick from “Not the first time an attack has failed to materialize at Old Trafford” or “Nice to see something being carried over from the training ground to match day.” Or perhaps something slightly more bleak, like “By some distance the most exciting first half at Old Trafford this season” or “Still a better performance than the PSV game.” That last one has the advantage of actually being true.
For those whose tastes ran to the more observational, there was plenty of scope:
“Why, if you’re training dogs, does a bomb need to look like a bomb?!”
“I don’t know why they evacuated the North West Quadrant first — aren’t all United’s fans are from the south east!?!”
“It’s all Ed Woodward’s fault — what kind of fool fails to snap up an Official Fake Bomb Detection and Removal partner!?!?!?”
Then, of course, there was the nature of the suspect package itself, which could — according to taste — be any one of the following: [deep breath] Antonio Valencia’s left foot; Wayne Rooney’s first touch; Wayne Rooney’s wage packet; Louis van Gaal’s philosophy; Marcos Rojo’s brain; Phil Jones’ brain; Phil Jones’s feet; just Phil Jones, thinking about it; Marouane Felliani’s brain; Memphis Depay’s potential; Memphis Depay’s hat; David de Gea’s fax machine; Bastian Schweinsteiger’s knee; Victor Valdes, sitting very still, hardly breathing, wearing dark spectacles and a giant, false mustache.
But once the punchlines settled, it became clear that this was one of those precious moments in which nothing could be funnier than what had actually happened, and who it had happened to. Manchester United, globe-spanning behemoth. Manchester United, self-proclaimed biggest club in the world. Manchester United, doing the show from the car park, giving everybody their money back, watching dogs scamper up and down the empty stands.
This is, of course, not the fault of Louis van Gaal or Wayne Rooney. Nor is it really the fault of Ed Woodward or the Glazer family. It is, in fact, nobody’s fault except our award-winner [more applause]. And yet, in some strange and abstract way, it is the fault of all of them. Sunday’s farce confirms that United has, over the course of a few short seasons, entirely reconfigured itself from a super-sleek, trophy-guzzling, money-printing operation into a very expensive shambles. Manchester United is now a club to which stupid things happen. And the problem there is that stupid tends to beget stupid. Idiocy has a momentum all of its own.
This season began with United trying and failing to sell its best player. It hinged on United failing to sack its manager and paying the price. And it will end with a non-bomb non-hoax, soon to be followed by a miserable performance against Crystal Palace in the FA Cup final.
The worry, at least for United fans, is that this glorious run of stupidity extends into the summer. But let’s not act as if it will be that surprising when Ed Woodward gives Louis van Gaal another year. And it’s going to be exceptional when it’s revealed that he did so because he saw Van Gaal charging his phone, heard a dog bark in the distance, and panicked.