It says everything about the Premier League that there could ever be hired protest planes over Old Trafford before the close of Notting Hill Carnival. That three games could ever be enough to engineer in English football's greatest and most glorious club the type of meltdown that provokes calls to hang the board, sack the CEO, make the baby drink the bathwater then sell it back to Juventus, tear up the terms of that lucrative mattress and pillow partnership. Yet that was all the time the world's most lunatic elite division needed to bogwash mighty Manchester United, its power to disrupt and torment hurtling once again to the fore.
In the end, the airborne protest was postponed, owing – aptly enough – to a lack of Monday night light in the coming autumn skies. Nevertheless, the subsequent 0-3 defeat to Spurs means that the biplane and its coded threat to Ed Woodward and the Glazer family will splutter its way up from the nearest airfield to the storm clouds above Turf Moor on Sunday afternoon, confirmation that after the rare euphoria of this dying tournament summer, all the envy and desperation of Premier League life is back and banging.
For now, eyes remain trained on the man at the centre of all this noise and confusion, a figure we’re yet to mention but whose descent into self-flagellating self-parody has been endlessly and mercilessly devoured online, the butt – with his public tantrums and constant, capricious attacks on United players – of a million memes and Alan Partridge comparisons. Yes: it's Mark Goldbridge, the meta-vlogger posing as a Man United fan who, in his unusual determination to be called a "nonce" by as many strangers as possible, is coming dangerously close to blowing his own cover.
Perhaps it's unfair to say that Goldbridge's affection for, or at least obsession with, United is a mere pose. Over the last few years, he's helped amass 269,000 subscribers and 80 million views for YouTube fan channel The United Stand, while his personal Twitter following currently tots up to a punchy 43,600. The amount of time he's invested in broadcasting his opinions on all things Man Red is considerable by anyone's standards.
We are led to believe he has kids, yet there he always is on match day, watching the game as we watch him watch the game, shrieking in disbelief as Lucas Moura or Glenn Murray ruin another weekend down at Casa Del Goldbridge. He repeatedly live streams himself bollocking his Xbox because FIFA is somehow "scripted" in a way that keeps making him lose. In one recent video, he spends 42 minutes of his day sat in a lay-by insisting that United fans shouldn’t get so het up at having lost their second game of the season to Brighton and Hove Albion. By the time he finishes, it is dark.
All of which would usually feel, if not normal, then understandable. There are millions who vlog just as frenetically as Goldbridge, distant addicts searching for their own minds in the humidity of a Premier League with an infinite capacity to chase you through life, creeping ever closer with each new injury update, roadside advertising hoarding and fabricated shred of transfer tittle-tattle.
Somewhere along the line, though, it feels as though Goldbridge started pushing the act too far. Seemingly getting his mates to pretend to be knife-wielding pineapple sellers on Majorcan beaches, asking kids to verbally abuse him at the aqua-park, making clumsy jokes about United "stuffing" Young Boys of Bern in the Champions League days after having a prolonged hissy fit because some people on Twitter had taken to calling him a (here comes that word again) "nonce". All the while, the Partridge-isms are coming thicker and faster: "let's not beat around the Kate Bush", he says in that 42-minute lay-by freak-out, effortlessly segueing into impressions of other people performed in a slightly higher voice than his own, dancing around his kitchen miming Lionel Richie songs, revelling in the use of out-of-date slang and the word "fantastico".
It's at points like these, when he so obviously plays up to the image his detractors have of him, that you wonder how much of this comes from the heart and how much from the head, how deeply and sincerely he really cares.
Part of the appeal at this stage, when Goldbridge is approaching a cusp of ubiquity across the footballing bantersphere, is the not knowing. Perhaps he is sincere and legit and everything people are saying about him being a phoney is wrong. Perhaps he started out sincere and legit but then realised he could generate more money, clicks and notoriety turning himself into a parody. Perhaps he gets a kick out of all the abuse and it's secretly him running this, a dedicated Mark Goldbridge Twitter piss-take account [UPDATE: which was taken down moments after this article was published]. Perhaps he always was a chancer, a rogue Man City or Liverpool supporter cosplaying United fandom in an attempt to embarrass a club he hates, someone playing a grand-scale and lucrative practical joke.
Perhaps – as per a rumour doing the rounds, one some seem to think he's actively encouraged – he’s not called Mark Goldbridge at all, and is actually a Nottingham Forest fan named Brent. Perhaps he's a performance artist or comedian seeking a new life in the limelight, away from the strange, scarlet panopticon he currently traps himself in on match days, a sort of screaming box-cum-confession booth where Mark goes to floss and dab and scream, and shares with a cuddly Fred the Red doll. Perhaps he is all or none of these things.
At the very least, he seems to be a man who understands what the Premier League is, these days, all about, less a competition to anoint the best team in England than it is a reservoir for a whole watching world's worth of anxiety and grasping tribal desperation, something that can deliver distraction from a dying environment and political turmoil in clips and clicks. People tend to worry about elite football carving an insuperable gulf between itself and the fans, but that distance is precisely what allows it to thrive in its latest digital incarnation, Gatsby's green light always tantalisingly and maddeningly out of reach across the water, the game itself merely the vessel that another data-packet fix is delivered in.
It can feel at times that many who claim to be addicted to football aren’t really at all, that it is instead scouring the internet they’re hopelessly attached to, touring it in ever-diminishing circles, hammering the same buttons over and over, shouting at anyone who disagrees, laughing at the honking gobshites, hiring planes, ignoring Mourinho, hunting, forever, for Goldbridge.