Football matches—nay, sporting events—don’t come at temperatures more consciousness-searing than last weekend’s Manchester Derby. The season’s first meeting between defending champions and incumbent embodiment of evil Manchester United and oil-besotted nouveaux riches scumbags-in-waiting Manchester City arrived wrapped in controversy and bad blood—with City’s off-season capture of United escapee Carlos Tevez the proximate cause and the vast sums City’s Arabian owners are spending to vault the club into the elite the broader subtext. When he’s not communing with his Demon Lord, United boss Alex Ferguson wields a tart tongue and a dismissive attitude, while his counterpart at City, Mark Hughes, puts together nasty, rusty-edged sides that may not win all the time but generally guarantee a blood-soaked good time. As for the two fanbases, imagine the Yankees/Mets rivalry with all the fraternal love and lighthearted fun drained away.
And then the freaking game happens. Unbalanced infant monster Wayne Rooney opens the scoring after about 90 seconds; Tevez manhandles sub-competent United ‘keeper Ben Foster to produce the equalizer; Darren Fletcher bags two; and ex-Liverpool problem child Craig Bellamy, with whom one should hesitate to bandy words in the karaoke booth, answers with a brace of untouchable, career-highlight goals.
So cue the bizarre shit: the referee lets added time run on…and on…and on, as United wing one hopeless balloon ball after another in the general direction of the Stretford End and Mark Hughes’ personality shatters into 17 irreconcilable alternate identities due to the magnitude of his rage against the fourth official. And then, as the shadows grow long, a grim figure from a past age emerges, out of nowhere, frantically waving his arms in an on-side position. Is it…Michael Owen? Or the $6-million mechanical reconstruction of Michael Owen? Does the ball zip through a gap in the light-blue line just large enough to accommodate Ferguson’s ego, and does the animatronic former Liverpool (note the theme) wunderkind burst from his untimely crypt to hammer the fucking thing home? Indeed. Ferguson’s leaping around on the touchline like a cracked-out monkey—except with less dignity. Hughes has his MP on the line to demand a full inquest. Bellamy goes ballistic on a pitch invader, but searches in vain for a golf club.
It was, as the label says, Premier.