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Jurgen Klopp comparing Sir Alex Ferguson to John Lennon typical of respect German brings to Liverpool-United rivalry

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What I like about Liverpool manager Jurgen Klopp is his raw enthusiasm for the beautiful game and the respect he has shown for Manchester United. The genial German has been a breath of fresh air since moving into the Merseyside hotseat and when you look past the media spin you will recognise his genuine class.

Typically the British media would rather peddle a theme of hatred between England’s two most famous clubs. Healthy, respectful rivalry is not language that sells newspapers or attracts the maximum eyeballs online.

In the countdown to Sunday’s clash at Anfield, we were told Klopp “snubbed” United!  The truth is this a mischievious interpretation of Klopp’s explanation of why he effectively ruled himself out of succeeding Sir Alex Ferguson in 2013, because he was ‘committed to his project at Borussia Dortmund’.

How many of the media so keen to promote a conflict between these giants of the game gave equal billing to Klopp comparing Sir Alex to John Lennon in his respectful declaration that Fergie is probably the greatest British manager of all time?

There is no doubt how badly Klopp wants to win his first managerial joust with Louis Van Gaal’s Manchester United. It was refreshing to witness his unbridled joy in celebrating the dramatic late equaliser that gave Liverpool a 3-3 draw against Arsenal in midweek. United fans would love nothing better than to see the same kind of raw passion from LVG at Anfield tomorrow. The Dutchman in contrast looked like he’d suffered a death in the family after United’s equally spectacular 3-3 draw at Newcastle the night before.

But which will be the more successful manager in 2016?

It is fair to say that Klopp is currently more popular in the red half of Merseyside than Van Gaal is on the red side of Manchester.  But reputations ebb and flow in the topsy turvy fantasy football world of the Premier League. It will be interesting to see how the two managers are perceived by the public after Sunday’s showdown, because the popularity of football managers in the modern era is more akin to the fragile likeability of make believe chracters in a TV soap opera.

Headline: Jurgen Klopp snubbed Manchester United


January 16th, 2016 at 7:14 pm

Gareth Ainsworth celebrates magic of FA Cup draw fightback against Aston Villa with coffee at Starbucks

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Call me a hopeless romantic, but for me for the magic of the FA Cup will never die. It really does not matter if giants like Liverppol field a bunch of kids and risk humiliation in a banana skin of a third round tie at Exeter.  The record books will forever show that the minnows earned a famous 2-2 draw and a Live TV audience on the BBC were thrilled by the drama.

Earlier today Wycombe Wanderers enjoyed the spotlight when they bravely fought back to claim a 1-1 draw and a replay at Villa Park against the Premier League’s former European Cup winners Aston Villa.

The FA Cup will forever be special for matching David against Goliath. It is reassuring to witness good, honest down-to-earth managers like man-of-the-people Gareth Ainsworth earn the right to savour a magical result. And just to illustrate the gulf between Premier League aristocrats and genuine football servants who do it for the love of the game, imagine my delight to see Ainsworth queuing up with the rest of us at my local Starbucks in Marlow just a couple of hours after his top billing on BT Sport this afternoon.


January 9th, 2016 at 5:39 pm

What if Manchester United beat Chelsea? Will media back off or are they hellbent on seeing LVG fired?

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The truth is the media want Louis van Gaal to fail. They also want Jose Mourinho to be the next Manchester United manager. It suits their agenda. But the media do not care whether or not that is right for the club. They do not even care if they get the facts rights. They know that if they repeat something enough times most people will be brainwashed into thinking they are reporting the facts. The media also know they can influence events by manipulating public opinion and effectively campaigning for their preferred scenario.

Many in the media are desperate for Pep Guardiola to become the next manager at Manchester City, because that is what they have reported. But the truth is the media are guessing and do not know what is going on. They are feeding off scraps provided by agents who make a living by manipulating the media and promoting what they want to happen. So basically we are talking about spin, speculation and so-called media experts who make up so many stories that eventually they will get one right. The bottom line is that media is a business and their primary motivation is making money rather than reporting the facts. Why report the boring truth when the fiction is more intriguing?

Right now, there are so many journalists across all forms of media praying that Chelsea beat Manchester United at Old Trafford today that they have already convinced themselves this is what is going to happen. Based on recent form the odds are that United will make it eight straight matches without a win. And a fifth straight defeat would potentially be a career ending result for LVG.

That is what the media want. They want blood. Because the media thrive on conflict. They thrive on building people up and then knocking them down. And the bigger they are, not only the harder they fall, the more sensational the headlines. That is what the media love. Sensational headlines. Whether or not those headlines are fact or fiction. And LVG, they have universally decided, is fair game because he had the audacity to call them out for not sticking to the facts.

Yes of course, everyone knows that the Manchester United manager will eventually lose his job if his team keep losing. But what if . . .

What if United come out fighting this evening and put the pressure back on Chelsea with a win that sends the Blues into the New Year facing a genuine relegation battle? Will that deflect the media pack away from Old Trafford and back to Stamford Bridge. Or are the media so obsessed with getting their own way that they will not rest until they get the result they demand.

I have personally advocated for some time that United do all in their power to appoint Guardiola as van Gaal’s successor when he becomes available in the summer. But I do object to the undue pressure the media put on football managers, and players alike, by magnifying losses and the insecurities of fans.

There is no doubt that a negative media spotlight does make it more difficult for those in the spotlight to recover. We only have to look at the way a few poor results for defencing champions Chelsea spiralled out of control and their decline accelerated as the media spotlight intensified on beleaguered boss Mourinho.

Does anyone believe that a team and their manager who were champions seven months ago would not become winners again if Mourinho had been given more time? The mere fact that Mourinho is being touted as the next manager of Manchester United by so many is confirmation that he is a winner, who should never have been sacked by Chelsea.


December 28th, 2015 at 2:04 am

How media campaign to humiliate Louis van Gaal can unite fans and team behind him

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Louis van Gaal is not a quitter, he is a fighter, says his former assistant, Raymond Verheijen


Much that I’d love to see Pep Guardiola at Old Trafford next season, right now it’s time to get behind Louis van Gaal and the team. Especially now that ALL the media are against him – and I include radio, TV, newspapers and bloggers in this.

For example, Louis did not storm out of yesterday’s media conference. He made a calm, considered statement and then left. Just the same as Sir Alex Ferguson would have done. And for that I support him.

At least, I don’t believe the time is right to sack him now.

United’s Boxing Day trip to Stoke City feels like that famous FA Cup tie all those years ago when Mark Robins scored the goal that folklore tells us kept Fergie in the manager’s job, and enabled history to unfold. For those too young to remember, it was 7 January 1990; United won their third round tie 1-0 at Nottingham Forest and went on to win the FA Cup. That was the start of a landslide of trophies for the most successful British football manager of all.

The difference here is that LVG has told us he will retire at the end of his 3-year contract next season. So there is no possibility of a Fergie-style dynasty.

That’s why, looking ahead to next season, I want to see Pep Guardiola become the next manager of Manchester United . . . and why Jose Mourinho should not be considered.

Meantime, do not ignore the progress that LVG has made. Chris Smalling has been a player re-born under the Dutch manager. So too was Luke Shaw, until his horrific injury not only sidelined him for the season, but disrupted United’s potency down the left flank.

There have also been some outstanding performances inbetween the dross. When United outclassed Everton 3-nil at Goodison in October, it looked like the LVG masterplan was really starting to take shape. So let’s not pretend that van Gaal’s reign has been a complete disaster.

And finally:  For those who argue that LVG was guilty of not communicating with the fans by cutting short yesterday’s media conference, here’s the Mirror’s transcription of what he told MUTV




December 24th, 2015 at 4:38 pm

Why Guardiola not Jose Mourinho is right man to replace Louis Van Gaal. But will Pep join United, City, Arsenal or Chelsea?

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Wherever he ends up at the start of next season, there is no doubt that the shadow of Pep Guardiola currently looms large over the Premier League. Especially within the corridors of power at the Big Four, who last season made it into the Champions League.

The truth is that Arsenal, Chelsea, Manchester City and Manchester United must all consider not just what the Spaniard would bring to their club. But also the consequences of allowing him to take charge at one of their rivals.

Chelsea’s owner Roman Abramovich has long made it clear he would love Guardiola at Stamford Bridge. For weeks Manchester City have been regarded favourites to lure the Spaniard, whom they believe can take them to the next level. And there is a theory that even Arsene Wenger sees the former Barcelona boss as his perfect successor. But the giants with the most urgent need for the services of the most sought after manager in world football are surely Manchester United.

Along with a growing number of United fans, who believe that a successor to Louis Van Gaal must be signed up sooner rather than later, I sincerely hope that it is the Spaniard whose next destination is Old Trafford – and not Jose Mourinho, currently the bookies favourite to succeed LVG.

It has been clear for weeks that Van Gaal’s philosophy is alien to the Theatre of Dreams. His safety first approach, which worked at the start of the season, has now been exposed as a flawed strategy that is taking the Reds down a road to nowhere.

As I have previously declared in this column: “The type of football being played under Louis Van Gaal is most certainly not the philosophy of Manchester United Football Club. Especially after spending a quarter of a billion pounds.”

In my opinion, staying loyal to the DNA of Manchester United Football Club makes Guardiola the right man for the Old Trafford hot seat.

As former United skipper Rio Ferdinand eloquently summarises: “It doesn’t matter what club you’re at. If someone of the talent of Guardiola becomes available, everyone is interested.

“The best manager in the world at the moment is definitely Guardiola and, when he becomes available, people are going to be interested, and I think United are no different.
“Guardiola has been in two of the three best leagues in the world and the next progression, naturally, is going to be the Premier League. He’s going to be going to a Premier League team and he won’t be going to another one after that. So you have one chance to get him.

“He’s not going to go to Manchester City then United. He’s not going to go to Chelsea then United. So you’ve got one chance to get the best manager on the planet.”

For United the option is to stay loyal to Van Gaal or pass on Guardiola and look elsewhere.

Guardiola or Mourinho?

Appointing Mourinho, who clearly had ambitions of succeeding Sir Alex Ferguson two-and-half years ago whatever his public statements may have been, would be the safe option because he is a master at maximising a squad inside two seasons. But the football purists who demand flair and magic will see Mourinho as a sideways step from the caution of LVG, who abandoned free-flowing football 15 months ago, when a 3-1 lead ended with a 5-3 humiliation at the home of Leicester City.

Ironically, The Foxes – without doubt the Team of 2015 – currently play more like Manchester United than Manchester United do. As former Old Trafford hero Andy Cole says: “It’s like a 4-2-4 system, with the wingers Mahrez and Albrighton constantly on the full back’s toes. Both are direct, getting at their opposite man on every occasion. Mahrez looks a real star, he’s tricky to mark and likes to come back in on his left foot. The goal against Chelsea was sublime. Decent touch, bit of skill and then curls it top-bins!”

But who is more likely to bring beautiful football back to Old Trafford, Mourinho or Guardiola?

The bookmakers currently make Mourinho the favourite. But, as I have personally advocated on previous occasions, Guardiola should be United’s target.
Fascinatingly, Bayern Munich have indicated a statement is imminent about Guardiola’s future, his contract set to expire at the end of the season.

There are those who doubt the ability of Guardiola to work his magic in England’s most competitive league in the world, claiming he was simply taking candy from a baby at Barcelona and Bayern Munich. But that fails to acknowledge the innovative and creative brilliance of a football man who knows how to serve up a winning team that puts real meaning into the romantic notion of the beautiful game.

In his first season in charge at Camp Nou, Guardiola’s team became the first ever Spanish side to win the treble. He then followed that with a record haul of 14 trophies in four seasons, making him the most successful coach in Barcelona’s history.

In his subsequent reign at Bayern Munich, Guardiola is in the final months of the three-year deal he signed in 2013 and has so far failed to deliver the ultimate prize of the Champions League. But he has made the German giants even more dominant than ever domestically.

Last week he chaulked up his 100th win in just 132 matches in charge at the Allianz Arena, seven fewer than it took him at Barcelona. But just as inportantly, Guardiola is a man who wins with style.


December 19th, 2015 at 7:59 pm

Posted in Football

Leicester City can prove experts wrong and win Premier League if Claudio Ranieri buys wisely in January transfer window

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Whether or not they finish top of the Premier League at the end of the season, there is no doubt that the team of 2015 are Leicester City Football Club.

Rock bottom on New Year’s Day, the Foxes guaranteed they will be top dog this Christmas after opening a five point lead at the summit this afternoon with a spectacular 3-2 win against Everton at Goodison Park. It is a week that began with a thrilling 2-1 triumph over reigning champions Chelsea that signalled the end of the road for Jose Mourinho as manager at Stamford Bridge.

But can Claudio Ranieri’s men, one of the bookies favourites for relegation before the season kicked off, pull off the greatest upset in the history of the Premier League?

So far all the experts have written off the Foxes, insisting their run will end sooner or later because they simply do not have the strength in depth to hold off the so-called big boys. But these are changing times in English football, where we now boast not just the most popular League in the world, but also the most competitive League.

Unlike in countries like Spain, where Barcelona and Real Madrid invariably stand head and shoulders above the rest because they control the lion’s share of TV revenue, the Premier League’s strength is built on the way they distribute revenue more evenly than rival Leagues. It is a scenario that means all 20 Premier League clubs are in the Top 40 richest clubs in the world.

And that is what gives Leicester City the resources to invest in their unbelievable start to the 2015-2016 campaign and spalsh out on nerw signings who can push the Foxes all the way to the Champions League and the Premier League crown.

It sounds like a daydream for a club that has never been champions of England, the closest they came was 1928-1929 when they finished as runners up. Since winning the League Cup in 2000, the Foxes have spent most of their seasons outside the Top Flight, only returning to the Premier League in 2014.

The odds are that Leicester City will fall short. But if any smaller club are to conquer the giants there has never been a better opportunity for any club since Blackburn Rovers conquered all under Kenny Dalglish in 1995. And the most successful manager in the history of the Premier League believes the dream coud become reality.

Thirteen times winner of the Premier League, Sir Alex Ferguson is urging Claudio Ranieri to go for the jackpot when the mid-season transfer window opens:

“If I were him I’d want an investment in January because this is a big opportunity. They could win the league, the way they are playing at the moment, and they have goals in their team, ” says Fergie.

“The problem for the owners is have they got the money? I think they have. If he wants to win the league I think he should add to it. And I think there may be a great chance.”

The other big factor of course will be keeping star men Jamie Vardy and Riyad Mahrez free of injury. Vardy has been the goalscoring sensation of the season with 15 so far including a record breaking run of scoring in 11 consecutive matches. While midfielder Mahrez, in my opinion the best player in the League and surely the  signing of the year, has weighed in with 13.

So far, Leicester’s Thai owner Vishai Srivaddhanaprabhawith estimated net worth of $1.95bn, has have preferred an economical recruitment model,  signing Algerian international  Mahrez for just £400,000.

Nonetheless, this successful businessman must surely see the value of spalshing out to give his club the chance of making history and gtaking Leicester City into the promised land of the Champions League as champions of England.

Pep Guardiola’s philosophy matches Manchester United’s. The problem is Van Gaal’s vision does not.

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Sometimes statistics are so overwhelming that immediate action must be taken. And no further debate is needed.

The type of football being played under Louis Van Gaal is most certainly not the philosophy of Manchester United Football Club. Especially after spending a quarter of a billion pounds.

Even the Glazers must realise this can’t continue. Not just because the fans will not accept this is anywhere near good enough. The popularity and reputation of Manchester United is built on playing entertaining, fantasy football. That’s why we call it the Theatre of Dreams.
Winning alone is simply not good enough. And United are no longer even doing that, failing to win in five matches. The last time that happened was 1998.

On top of all that there is the real possibility of Pep Guardiola leaving Bayern Munich this summer and joining rivals Manchester City.

Guardiola in my humble opinion is the coach most suited in the whole of world football to bringing the beautiful game back to Old Trafford. This is a view shared by many within the game.

Yes a manager must be given time to build a team and Louis Van Gaal clearly has a vision that he is well on the road to delivering. But when that vision is built on a philosophy that is so clearly at odds with the very DNA of the world’s greatest football club, there is no point in continuing down that road.


December 13th, 2015 at 12:37 am

Vardy and Kane are able – and that augurs well for England.

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After 10 wins out of 10 to qualify for next year’s Euro 2016 in France, England have high hopes of making amends for their woeful showing at last year’s World Cup when they failed to qualify from their group in Brazil. But how good are Roy Hodgson’s rejuvenated side? Chances are we will get a better idea over the next few days.

With Spain and France up next for England in this international break, it is going to be fascinating to see how the young Lions fare against two of Europe’s elite. I for one am looking to seeing how Harry Kane does in the absence of skipper Wayne Rooney who will not start Friday night’s match in Spain.

With Hodgson looking to experiment, it will be a shame if red hot strker Jamie Vardy is ruled out of both friendlies by the injury he picked up in the weekend’s win against Watford.
Vardy, the striking sensation of the Premier League season so far scoring in the last nine successive games to take his tally so far to 12, will hopefully be fit enough to at least play a part in Tuesday’s Wembley fixture against France.

Either way, the truth is that England’s genuine striking options augur well for next summer. With the likes of Ross Barkley and Raheem Sterling adding an exciting array of attacking options, these are encouraging times. While another exciting factor for Hodgson’s men is the outstanding form of defender Chris Smalling who has had an exceptional start to the season for Manchester United.

But it is up front where England now boast three formidable strikers who all offer something different that opponents will be wary as this maturing, young squad grows in stature and confidence. It will be interesting to see how the bookmakers rate England’s chances as Euro 2016 approaches.

For Hodgson the upcoming double header against Spain and France offers an important opportunity to see how his side fare without relying exclusively on Rooney in the goals department.
The England manager has already said that Rooney will be rested, at least from the kick-off: “Wayne’s with me because he’s the captain of our team, he’s the most important figure as a result, but he actually won’t start the game.

“I’m telling you that because Wayne and I are very anxious that we’re not trying to fool anybody or bamboozle anybody when he’s sat alongside me. That’s for the very simple reason that we’re looking at various combinations and it will be good for me to see how various combinations are developing. At the front we’ve got Wayne and Jamie, we’ve got Harry and Ross Barkley, there are combinations there that interest me.”‎


November 12th, 2015 at 11:22 pm

Who will win Manchester bragging rights in Premier League marathon?

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Once again it looks like Manchester v London in the race to win the Premier League. But will it be United or City who lead the challenge from the north west?

The 2015/2016 Premier League has already provided more shocks and surprises that many people expected.  The biggest surprise the early season collapse of defending champions Chelsea, a shadow of the team that dominated the league last season.  Who would have predicted West Ham United, Leicester City and Crystal Palace all being in the top six at this stage. While Arsenal  look a stronger bet than they have for  years.

As we enter match matchweek ten, both Manchester clubs have put themselves in a strong position to challenge for the title. City and United have both impressed in the opening weeks. And yet the occasional wobble adds to the pressure on two managers expected to deliver success at their respective clubs.

Old Trafford provides the setting for the 146th meeting between Manchester’s finest, which promises to be as fiery and feisty as ever.

Manchester City go into the game as the Premier League leaders following an ominous start to the season. Their early form suggested City would be unstoppable.  But consecutive defeats against West Ham and Tottenham prior to beating Newcastle (6-1) and Bournemouth (5-1) at the Etihad Stadium was a sign that Manuel Pellegrini’s men still have weaknesses that can be exploited.

United, on the other hand, find themselves just two points behind the early leaders, and Louis Van Gaal is moulding his team into potential title contenders. Following a hugely impressive 3-0 demolition of  Everton at Goodison, another United win will send them ahead of their noisy neighbours in the table. While City will be looking to maintain or even extend the two-point gap they currently hold over Arsenal, who entertain Everton in a tough Saturday evening clash.

Trying to call a winner between two teams who have plenty of quality going forward yet sometimes look vulnerable at the back is difficult. Those who feel brave enough to stick their neck on the line and predict a winner can do so at Coral football, where Pellegrini’s men are slight favourites at 13/8 compared to Manchester United at 8/5,. The odds are it will come down to a moment of brilliance or an error to separate the two sides in what promises to be a fascinating encounter.

Having won four consecutive derbies, prior to their 4-2 defeat at Old Trafford back in April, City will fancy their chances of derailing their rivals.. Scoring eleven goals in their previous two outings illustrates the considerable firepower that Pellegrini has at his disposal. But their strong start to the season is weakened by the absence of Sergio Aguero who picked up a hamstring injury on international duty and could be out until late November. David Silva could also miss out with an ankle problem he picked up playing for Spain. Samir Nasri remains on the sidelines, But City could welcome back Fabian Delph and Gael Clichy. While Kevin De Bruyne has been outstanding since his arrival for the Blues.

United’s ability to compete against the best teams was questioned when they slumped to a 3-0 defeat at Arsenal but that was a game where little went right for the Red Devils who provided the perfect response at Everton. The absence of Aguero who scored all three goals against United last season, including the winner in City’s 1-0 win at the Etihad last November may be a factor. Long-term absentees Ashley Young and Luke Shaw are the only first-team players missing for Manchester United.

The only certainty is that neither side will feel their title chances are over whatever the result of the Manchester derby.



October 23rd, 2015 at 9:40 am

Real Change Takes Time – How Barcelona, Manchester United and Chelsea work together to improve facilities for disabled supporters

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During my recent trip to Catalonia, I learned the true meaning of FC Barcelona’s slogan “més que un club.”

“More than a club” expresses the commitment that Futbol Club Barcelona has maintained down the ages beyond the realm of sport.

For many years, this commitment specifically referred to Catalan society, which for many decades of the 20th century lived under dictatorships that persecuted its language and culture.

Today Barca’s magnificent mantra is much more than that, because the club has extended its social commitment to the rest of the planet.

In 2006 an agreement with Unicef was the Catalan’s way of saying that a sports club should not be marginal to problems going on in society, when Barca gave their full support to the plight of children around the world.

Last month – on 28 April 2015 – FC Barcelona began another new initiative when Camp Nou hosted the First International Symposium on Disability and Football. This was a ground breaking event, which I am proud to say my good friend Phil Downs, Manchester United’s Disability Liason Officer, attended as one of the main speakers.

The event was also supported, among others, by Bayern Munich, Chelsea, AFC Ajaz and their respective experts on disability and social inclusion. I was filming the Symposium for an upcoming documentary I am making for Manchester United’s TV Channel, MUTV.

Phil Downs (MUDSA) and Kim Kramer (Bayern Munich).

Kim Kramer (right), who spoke at Camp Nou on behalf of Bayern Munich, and his mentor, Phil Downs.

At the Camp Nou Symposium it was encouraging to hear about the advances made at the participating elite clubs around Europe. What has become apparent since is the true meaning and significance of the opening statement by Phil Downs that “real change takes time.”

Under Downs’ stewardship, since it was launched back in 1989, Manchester United’s Disabled Supporters Association (MUDSA) has made remarkable progress at Old Trafford.
The match day facilities are outstanding and a million light years better than what they were back in the eighties. Hence the invite to Downs to share his knowledge and vision of the future at Camp Nou.

Kim Kramer, the disabled speaker from Bayern Munich, underlined the impact Manchester United’s Disability Liaison Officer has made in helping to shape new stadiums around the world when he described Phil Downs as his mentor, who has inspired him and others to push for better facilities for disabled supporters.

Yet back in Manchester, it is clear to me that the good work done by MUDSA is often handicapped by supporters who put their own interests ahead of the long term goals of the organisation working tirelessly to benefit all disabled supporters.

Take, for example, the case of Martin Emery who has launched a personal campaign against Manchester United because of what he perceives as a failure by the club to accommodate him and his three sons, one of whom is in a wheelchair, on matchday.

Mr Emery was told due to space restrictions, he would have to get another adult to sit with his younger boys, who are aged six and four, while he accompanied Jordan, 18, in the wheelchair section. As a father myself, I understand why all four family members would prefer to sit together. But I think it is a real shame that one disgruntled fan has used the tabloid media to magnify his complaint rather than lend his support to the very organisation constantly working to improve facilities for disabled supporters.

While the media are only interested in highlighting the negative aspects of this story, the truth is that Mr Emery remains welcome to take Jordan to a match at Old Trafford. And I strongly urge him to accept this offer so he can share the match day experience with his son. I would also advise him to join MUDSA and take part in some of the wonderful family events organised for the benefit of disabled supporters held throughout the year.

Over the past six months I have seen first hand how disabled supporters can benefit by working together and sharing social experiences.

As FC Barcelona have demonstrated by hosting last month’s symposium and urging all clubs to take a united approach in tackling how to improve access for disabled supporters, it is clear to me that this is the way forward. By sharing knowledge and ideas, accepting that facilities can be improved and discussing how to make changes thing will continue to get better. The current facilities are not perfect but the advances made and the will to make further improvements are beyond question.

As Phil Downs so eloquently explains, it is all about “evolution not revolution.”