Fiery showdowns, derby dates and Paolo Di Canio

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Manchester La Fianna equalised ten minutes into the second half on Saturday. It hadn’t gone well before then.

We were missing both our wingers who have created so many of our goals this season. One, top scorer Toni Gols, managed to collide with a hand pulled cart loaded with fruit in Morocco two weeks ago and rule himself out for a month. The other texted me on Saturday morning to say that someone had spiked his drink with drugs and that he was “blind”.

I shook my head and carried on wearily, before leaving a message for another player. He duly turned up without any boots. “I didn’t get any message,” he said, “because I’ve lost my phone.”

Both sets of fans were vocal. We beat The Celtic Cross 2-1 in the first game of the season and they were in vengeful mood. “Get at Andy Mitten,” one of their substitutes shouted as I laboured at right back in the first half. That’ll be me then, the perceived weak spot of the team.

The detractor had a point. I was trying to mark Liam Austin, a fleet footed striker who played in Australia’s top league only three seasons ago and I was out of my depth. I made a mental note not to start in any big games from now on as he went past me for the third time. One of his runs led to their opener.

I benched myself at half time and tried to fire the lads up. Hans equalised with a looping shot, provoking a furious reaction from The Cross, because their goalkeeper had been on the floor. One of their defenders charged over to me and completely lost it. He finished his indecipherable tirade by clipping me across the face. He later apologised for “losing it.” Luckily for him, the referee was otherwise occupied.

He can also be thankful it wasn’t two weeks ago when less placid visitors came to watch me play. It didn’t stop there. From the stand behind, a freelance lunatic spewed profanities in my direction. Having watched too many social zeroes have a go at my brother who plays semi-professional, my mum has always maintained that football is an excuse for the henpecked to let off steam on a Saturday.

I tried to remain in control. If a manager can’t manage himself, then he invites his players to lose their concentration and discipline. I spent so much time telling people to calm down that I began to resemble one of Harry Enfield’s Scousers. And that’s not good for a Mancunian.

The game was hard and competitive. Our players were as guilty of indiscretions as theirs and I cringed with embarrassment at the actions of some. We both had a man sent off – our one has played 80 minutes for us this season and received two red cards - and another of our lads was lucky to stay on the field.

Manchester didn’t play well and the Cross deserved their 2-1 triumph. That’s football and even though it hurt, you have to lose as gracefully as you win.

I spoke to my brother later. He was annoyed as his title chasing team, Curzon Ashton, had lost 1-0 at Garforth Town – the team who once signed Brazilians Socrates and Careca and saw Lee Sharpe turn out for them.

“Take it on the chin,” he said, “and cut yourself some slack.”

Slack will come in the form of two weeks without a game. My priorities will be finishing off my next book on world football derbies, which Harper Collins are publishing in August. FourFourTwo readers may be familiar with my derby reports from the ‘More Than A Game’ feature – and the plan is to bring some big derbies up to date for the book.

That means watching Lazio v Roma, Newcastle v Sunderland, Celtic v Rangers and Madrid v Barca in the next six weeks – it’s a hard life.

I’ll catch a cargo boat from Barcelona to Italy tomorrow for the Roman derby on Wednesday. With Manchester United again drawn against Roma, it will mean three trips to the Italian capital in four months. I’ll then fly to Manchester on Friday, watch my first ever rugby league game between St Helens and Wigan, then catch a still to be decided game on Saturday before United v Liverpool on Sunday.

It’s a busy time – and that’s without a possible United v Barca semi-final. My phone has already started going about that one. It seems I’ve had ‘tourist information’ tattooed on my forehead without knowing it.

But first Rome, where I’ll speak to someone who knows all about losing it on the pitch – Paolo Di Canio.