AS ever, the tram heading back into Manchester city centre was rammed.
With every available inch of floor space filled and faces already being crushed into armpits, two burly late arrivals at Exchange Quay station managed to squeeze into the carriage just as the doors slammed shut.
The pair were not happy. Their team, Manchester United, had just been knocked out of the Capital One Cup by Sunderland and they were determined to debate just what had gone wrong.
Soon, the entire carriage – all, apart from this correspondent, dyed-in-the-wool Reds – was joining in.
Needless to say, the debate that followed – complete with a raised voice or three and smattered with plenty of what polite society calls ‘industrial language’ – would not have made pleasant listening for David Moyes.
“How can a team like United play for penalties at home to a c*** team like Sunderland?”
“Moyes still thinks he is managing Everton.”
“This club is too big for Moyes and the sooner he leaves with his equally **** backroom staff the better.”
“We lost to the better team so jolly good luck to Sunderland.”
Okay, I may have made the last one up. But the rest are an accurate reflection of how the rank and file at Old Trafford – or at least those crushed on the first Piccadilly-bound tram after Rafael’s decisive penalty had been saved by Vito Mannone – were feeling in the aftermath of Wednesday night’s Cup exit.
As the tram pulled into Deansgate and the crush on board finally eased thanks to the first wave of fans getting off, elsewhere in Manchester a drunk supporter was dialling 999 and demanding to speak to Sir Alex Ferguson.
He wanted to discuss the result and, more than likely, beg Ferguson to return. Quite rightly, this idiot was given short shrift by Greater Manchester Police, who later posted advice on the force’s Facebook page for any other United fans thinking of doing the same.
It read: “If you would like to speak to Sir Alex about recent football results we here at GMP Manchester North can only suggest you try ringing Manchester United FC directly as you will probably (not definitely) have a much better chance of getting through to him there rather than ringing the police.”
Had the drunk fan got through to Sir Alex, he may well have asked his hero to return. But, equally, he could have asked whether English football’s most decorated manager felt culpable for United’s current troubles.
There is certainly a case to be made for that viewpoint, with the man who handpicked his successor having, to borrow a bit of rugby league jargon, thrown Moyes, below, something of a hospital pass. Namely, handing over a midfield that really is not fit for purpose and, even allowing for last season’s title success, has not been for some time.
Okay, Moyes made a bit of a mess of his first transfer window as United manager with a pursuit of Cesc Fabregas that always looked doomed. Then, in a move that smacked of panic, Marouane Fellaini was brought in.
But can Moyes really be blamed for failing to do in one summer what his predecessor failed to do in four whole years since United were outclassed in the 2009 Champions League final? Ferguson’s answer to his struggles in central midfield was to coax Paul Scholes out of retirement, two and a half years on from that night in Rome when Barca had made light work of Anderson and Michael Carrick.
On Wednesday, Carrick and Darren Fletcher started in a 4-2-3-1 formation that, even from the away seats in the upper tier of what used to be called the Scoreboard End, looked a total mess. Bringing on Phil Jones, a defender, in the second half did nothing to improve matters.
As a result, United were abject and, even after Jonny Evans had levelled the tie on aggregate, totally lacking in ideas. What the Old Trafford faithful would have surely given for Paul Pogba to still be at United, rather than starring for Juventus after being let go by Ferguson.
The defence, too, looks suspect with age having caught up with Rio Ferdinand and Nemanja Vidic, further strengthening the belief that Ferguson, for all his public support and praise for Moyes, left his fellow Scot something of a crumbling Empire.