The real-life tales of a football writer
John Gidman called last week. Now 54, the former Manchester United full-back lives on the Costa Del Sol with his air stewardess girlfriend. When I interviewed him two years ago, I met him at 8am in Torremolinos. The first thing he said was “Are we going to have a bevvy or what?” I left him 12 hours later after hearing his crazy life story of Shankly, girls, guns and one England cap.
John’s a character and we speak most weeks. “Just been playing golf in Mallorca,” he enthused, “with Jamie Redknapp and Andy” – his best mate, Andy Gray. “Fucking brilliant.”
I told him that his fellow ex-United defender Paul Parker had complimented him on his fitness after playing with him in a veterans’ tournament in the Isle of Man two years ago.
“There must be another John Gidman because I haven’t fucking been to the Isle of fucking Man since I was seven,” he replied. “I lived near the docks in Liverpool and we got a boat there on holiday. I’ve not been since.”
Gidman in his pomp at Big Ron's Old Trafford
Gidman lives with a lot of other Brits, but something surprised me at the opposite end of Spain in Catalonia last week – a Spanish family wearing English football shirts. I’ve never seen it before, but two lads played football on the beach, one in a United shirt with ‘Ronaldo’ on the back, the second in a Chelsea one with ‘Shevchenko’ (oops). I’ve not been as surprised since seeing Barcelona shirts outnumber Celtic and Rangers ones on a journey from Glasgow International to Govan in 2006.
Waterstones emailed asking me to sign copies of Mad For It the next time I was in Manchester, so I popped in last Monday and left an hour free. I realised that wouldn’t be necessary when the man in the sports department said: “We have nine copies. Four here and five downstairs.” I was done within a minute and left, wondering why they had bothered.
I also questioned the motivation of another character I came across on a trip to see my brother play in Chorley, Lancashire, two days before. I was minding my own business in the clubhouse, listening to my dad tear strips out of anyone who has ever played football (sample quote: “And that Pele/Maradona/Cruyff was a diving, spineless, foreign cheat”) when a man in ill-fitting jeans approached.
“This is Magic Sam, the most famous magician in Chorley,” he said with the confidence of a man on his fourth pint. I looked around to check that I wasn’t an extra in a new series of Phoenix Nights. The venue fitted the bill, but Sam was genuine and he was soon performing a card trick which involved me missing the first three minutes of the second half. He’ll soon be leaving the armpit of Chorley (it nestles beneath the M61/M6 intersection) for the bright lights of Blackburn or Blackpool.
Chorley: looks quite pleasant, for an armpit
We left Chorley, passing a pub advertising live Polish league football, to meet some visiting Newcastle fans in Manchester. I’d swapped dad for girlfriend as he would have instantly offended them. I once introduced him to a former Manchester City player, to hear him describe them as “classless blue c*nts.” The silence was as awkward as you’d expect.
“We’re having a good night because we don’t expect anything from tomorrow,” offered one of the Geordies. He was wrong, for Newcastle were worth their point at Old Trafford.
We left the Geordies and went to a bar which my cousin helps run. She’s a girl about town who knows everyone, but the omens didn’t look good when we saw footballer Chris Eagles being refused entry “for being too casual.” I went for research purposes, you’ll understand. Cousin got us in alright and introduced me to various phonies, before saying, “You should meet my friend Titus, he’s involved in football like you.”
I looked up to see Titus Bramble. How I wished I’d still been with the no-nonsense Geordie lads to see how they would have reacted to meeting him....
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