The real-life tales of a football writer
After being a guest on Channel M’s ‘United Debate Show’ with former goalkeeper Alex Stepney (Noel Gallagher watches it every week and has opined that all the guests are “w***ers”) I spent Monday afternoon interviewing David May.
From stories to how he lost his virginity to practical jokes which would make Gordon McQueen blush, he was funny, frank and fearless. He’s a lad’s lad and was hugely popular in the Manchester United dressing room. May’s going to play a game for Manchester La Fianna next month.
"So did I tell you about the time I lost my virginity..."
Tuesday was the turn of Lee Sharpe in Leeds. Although more guarded, he has plenty of tales and I like him. At his request, I spent four hours with him a couple of years ago with a view to ghosting his autobiography, but a deal had already been signed with the excellent David Conn of The Guardian.
Now single, Lee also fancies a trip to Barcelona. I then drove back across the Pennines with a heavy heart at the prospect of what lay ahead.
It wasn’t that I had to start a 7,000 word feature for the first-rate Swedish magazine Offside, which likes depth and colour in articles - they had a 28-page feature on Real Murcia last month.
My piece will be about the ‘other’ Manchester United, the grafters, touts, collectors, singers, fanzines, hoolies, jibbers, obsessives and anoraks. I’ve known most of the characters for 20 years and trust, which I’ve never mislaid, was vital to them talking and being pictured. It was enjoyable, hearing from characters in the football world whom Sky TV don’t even know exist.
Then I sold United We Stand, knowing that it would be an awkward night because we were playing Celtic. I’m a patient soul well versed in directing face-painted, jester-hatted day-trippers towards the 76,000 capacity stadium right in front of them, but I’m as tired of inebriated Celtic fans at Old Trafford as many Mancunians are of Rangers fans. I know plenty of good people who support an Old Firm team, but their stock is low in Manchester.
Bhoys fans make a racket at the Theatre of Dreams
Most away fans at Old Trafford keep their heads down. Not Celtic.
Scuffles broke out at the top of Sir Matt Busby Way, while nearby, a drunk approached me an with Irish accent and asked for two copies. He rolled them up, placed them in his pocket and refused to pay, before asking why they weren’t free.
His English was appalling. That’s because he was a Polish Legia Warsaw fan who lives in Galway! He showed me Legia tattoo on his wrist and he stayed around, but he was steaming.
I got the fanzines back off him and told him to stop wasting our time. Then I bombarded his brain with useless information.
“1972,” I said. “Tin of beans. Aeroplane. Big park. Fat lion. Tizwas.” He looked suitably befuddled and wandered off. I decided to retain the tactic for any smashed Celts. They soon arrived. One mess of a human being walked up, nearly banged into me and pointed at a fanzine.
“Tshn osid agwy p,” he blurted.
“What language are you speaking?” I enquired. He made the Geordie hotel porter in Alan Partridge sound like the Queen. So I looked him in the eye.
“Two donuts,” I said firmly. “Odeon cinema. Albion Market. Terry Tibs. Zebra crossing.” He rolled back onto his feet and moved on to mither someone else.
Never mind where you're sleeping, DON'T SPILL YOUR BEER!
Another, more aggressive lad soon approached.
“What’s that?” he said in a clearly Glaswegian accent, jabbing his finger towards the fanzine.
“The Maastsrict Treaty,” I replied. “Finbar Saunders, Mull of Kintyre, Crystal Meth and Barry White.” He looked at me menacingly. Then he saw my two shaven-headed cousins standing close by and lurched, completely plastered but with hope in his heart, towards the away end.
Once inside it, Celtic were very, very loud. Their team were outclassed and twice wronged by the referee, but they carried on singing, even though songs like “You’ll Never Walk Alone” got the kind of reaction Celtic fans would give on finding out that their half-time pitch entertainment would be Graeme Souness playing a flute - and wearing an orange suit.
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Andy, I enjoy your blog a lot but you have a tendency to be a bit unfair on Celtic fans, not just in this post but in an earlier one after our most recent visit to Barcelona.
Yes, a lot of Celtic fans get hammered and many of us are uncomfortable with the Tartan Army-style behaviour that seems to be creeping into elements of our support - I was mortified when Spanish TV focused on the two clowns dancing around in kilts and tammies in Villareal - but lets keep some perspective.
I wasn't there but the Manchester police were and judging by their public praise the Celtic fans were extremely well-behaved. As for the picture, was that taken in Manchester on wet and windy Tuesday night? The guy is lightly dressed and wearing a Barca scarf so I doubt it.
What especially bothers me is you saying that the "Old Firm's" stock is low in Manchester. What have we done to deserve being tarred with the same brush as them? You live in Barcelona - you must have seen the letter to Rangers fans in the Catalan newspapers last season saying that we deserved a medal just for putting up with that lot on a daily basis. A couple of piss-heads giving you a hard time is far removed from several thousand Rangers fans turning your home city into a warzone.
I accept that we have a few dossers in our fanbase and that dealing with these characters is no fun - fair enough, I've seen it often enough myself. Give us a break though and don't look at us through a blue-tinted lens, we don't deserve that.
On a different note, very well-played on Tuesday. Keep the posts coming...
Andy, Andy, Andy. I'm afraid this tale smacks of you having the urine removed from your good self by a few Celtic supporters and this is your counter.
Every support has it's share of drunken louts, however most of us are able to refrain from rioting, stabbing, smashing up cars, attacking police and beating them to a pulp and generally wreaking havoc across numerous square blocks of large cities. Please don't take the lead of the Scottish tabloid press and tar the good name of Celtic with the same brush as our badly behaved neighbouring rivals with the O** F*** tag, it's akin to United supporters taking flack for Leeds' fans' behaviour in Istanbul, or Chelsea's fans - wherever they travel.
I'm not seeking an apology or even an acceptance of wrongdoing, all I want to do is change the perception that Celtic and Rangers as two sides of the same coin, where one's wrongs are shouldered equally by the other.
after the bahoys capers in Newcastle for Shearers testimonial another case of not reporting anything negative about this lot, did they ever find who threw the coin at dallas , or did they even try
Oh and as for not having a foreign owner is desmond not irish ( it aint part of britain ) as you keep reminding everyone
When I first arrived in my second home in 1990 ( time for the guru ), many United fans had a second team from Glasgow.
Scarves with United and Celtic on them were particularly common and testimonial games resembled a bit of a love-in.
Now the only people donning green and red scarves are day-trippers from Cork. Most United fans have gone from admiration to tolerance to ambivalence to scorn.
I'm all for having a beer at the match but many Celtic supporters who make the now-frequent trips south ( is that part of the problem )have no class and are more at home with the Soccer AM-esque football "fans" of this world.
Unfortunately there is a very sizeable minority who follow the Celts act like dicks on their travels.
It's a shame ... even I would admit Celtic are a great club with an amazing history.
Celtic goad United about how many European Cups Liverpool have won. That is the saddest thing i have seen at football since Chelsea fans singing 'come on millwall' a week before the 2004 FA Cup Final.
Is there anywhere I can read the article you wrote for the Sweedish magazine?
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