It is difficult to articulate the agony I felt at the absence of the satellite, but I’ll have a go. It was the sort of feeling you get upon realizing that what will likely be the only weeks of 100% optimism all season long, are going to be spent next to a radio. Mind you, I have nothing against radio, it’s just that it makes a poor substitute for the real thing. And the crowd always reacts before the commentator. I briefly thought of pubs. Unfortunately, I didn’t have a car, and my home base was far enough away from the center of London, that I would have had to shell out on public transportation to get to one.
I’m a very bad watcher of games, and an even worse listener. Three-one up with ten minutes to go against Arsenal in 2010, I was so frightened of seeing United blow their lead that I switched the channel, choosing instead to take in the last few minutes of American sitcom Friends. There is nothing like cheesy comedy to relieve stress. However, my watching woes bare no comparison to my listening ones. Against Birmingham, on the opening day of the 2009/10 season, I found out that MUTV online didn’t carry live Premier League matches. What it did carry was Key 103 – radio Manchester – live commentary on all of United’s games. It would have to do. It didn’t. 1-0 up with ten or so minutes left, Birmingham striker Christian Benitez was denied a goal by a brilliant Ben Foster save (yes, I used brilliant and Ben Foster in the same sentence) but it seemed from the inflection in the commentator’s voice, that Ben Foster had been beaten – a plausible conclusion to draw from any situation involving that keeper, he was frightful at Old Trafford. I spent the last eight minutes watching, you guessed it, Friends.
So when I realized that the satellite adorning the roofs of what seemed like every other house on the street was not present on that of number sixteen, I had cause to be upset. There’s only so much of Jennifer Aniston and David Schwimmer that one man can take.
But all wasn’t necessarily lost. I, of course, could not watch Scholes’ testimonial (being played the Friday before the season’s curtain raiser) a match of such unimportance that had it been on radio, I could have made it the whole way through. But I wanted to watch it. Wanted to watch it enough to delve into the previously unexplored world of pirated footage. The bizarrely named P2P Fire provided the outlet for which to view Scholes’ big send off, and it was P2P Fire that I turned to again on Sunday. Things started alright, United were dominant and the feed shaky, yet sufficient. Then things took a turn for the worse, City scored twice and the footage stopped working. Not all the time mind you – it was fine for the half time commercials, and seemed to slip into stunning HD vibrancy every time City scored. Which was two times too many in my book.
If the end of the first half was hell for United, the whole of the second was hell for me. Sort of. United had some momentum, so I was happy. United scored within minutes – I was happy. I didn’t see United’s goal. I was not happy. Well, I saw some of it. I saw Ashely Young’s foot make contact with the ball – that image was frozen on my screen for thirty-five seconds – and I saw the team congratulate Chris Smalling afterwards. Then my computer ran out of power and I missed the replay.
Two minutes later, things were rosy again – United back in the game and a relatively high quality feed back on my computer screen, courtesy of another of my discoveries, Ilemi. While United’s play improved, my feed deteriorated though – to the point where a shot of Vincent Kompany’s backside remained immobile for a full two minutes. When, finally, play returned it took me ten seconds to realize that it was 2-2.
As the match shifted into the last ten minutes, my nervous habits began to manifest themselves more clearly. The sweat, the shaking and the urge to tune out. I was determined to fight through it though, after all, Friends isn’t on as often in England as it is in the United States.
The last thing I heard before seeing Nani wheel away in celebration after scoring was “Dzeko with a great chance!” I was left, hanging, with a frozen screen, waiting for the full impact of Community Shield defeat to hit. I wrote an article praising Dzeko about a month ago, it seemed, while the Bosnian hung in midair, that my brave prophecy was coming true in the worst possible manner.
But, thank God, it didn’t. Dzeko missed, Rooney hoofed, and Nani scored – not that I saw any of that in real time…