The real-life tales of a football writer
I’m rooming in Yokohama with Stuart Mathieson, the Manchester United correspondent for the Manchester Evening News since 1995.
I’ve stayed in some dreadful hotels in my time, but they can wait for another blog because this isn’t one of them. It’s better than the hotel opposite where the United players are staying and Dimitar Berbatov is confined to his pit with a virus.
United wanted to stay in this hotel, but they were knocked back because the victorious Milan team stayed here a year ago and the hotel were unimpressed by the commotion created by fans outside.
"Ah, ahh, ahhh, ahhhh... choo"
Anyway, I should apologise to my room-mate.
Last week, for no reason other than I thought it was amusing, I published United’s squad list for the Club World Cup on United We Stand’s website. It was sent to me early and so we had it online before the Manchester Evening News or the official club website. Nothing amusing about that, but I added the name of a blag player, who I listed as “Number 25: FINCH.”
Stuart saw our list and began checking it out. He called the club, but United were not even aware that the squad list had been released.
“And this player Finch,” he continued to a Manchester United director. “I’ve checked the reserve and youth teams but can find no trace of him. Several other big name sites also carried Finch in the squad.
But there’s a good story behind my choice of name for the bogus player. Round Urmston where I grew up, there’s a lad called Finch who is legendary for hanging his goalkeeper gloves up when he was 15 in order to take a Saturday job in a shop opposite the Roebuck pub selling Airfix models.
So while Finch’s career may have gone no further than playing for Wellacre school, the few who saw him reckon he was better than Lev Yashin. He’s about 34 now, so that assertion can never be tested, but why not go with it?
And since then, the Finch myth has mushroomed. I’ve heard mates slating Peter Schmeichel by saying: “Finch would have saved that.” And imagine the headlines had he made it.
Like ‘Finch and Chips’ - if he played with an actor from the cult 70s American television cop series. Which, frankly, would have been unlikely.
"Damn it... Finch would have saved that with his eyes closed..."
Some charlatans pretend to be famous footballers when chatting girls up in foreign lands. I’ve seen lads pretending to be Finch.
Three years ago I was invited to a rather swanky party. I think they thought I was the president of the United States and not editor of United We Stand. With me were two trainer-wearing shaven-headed Mancunian friends visiting Barcelona. It wasn’t my scene, less so theirs.
Stay with me here.
As we went in, we had to give our names on the door. Later in the night, there was a prize draw. One mate hated public attention. I prayed that his name was drawn as it would have meant him going up on stage to collect his prize.
There was one prize remaining, a haircut at Toni & Guy. My mate’s name was called out. It was a life-affirming moment as he walked across the dance floor, absolutely mortified. Aside from anything, what could Toni or Guy have done with his grade one? As he accepted his prize voucher in an envelope, a beautiful girl said: “You’re so lucky.”
“You can have it love,” he replied, handing the envelope over and disappearing back into the crowd.
20 minutes later, the girl came over to say thanks. She was with her Swiss mate. They were both beautiful lawyers who spoke five languages. In short, they were so far out of our league we decided not to chat them up.
Instead, we asked them if they’d ever heard of Finch. They hadn’t, so while a clutch of posh Euro bores were trying to impress them by saying that daddy owned Singapore or some investment banks which gambled away the money of the world’s hardworking, we were telling them about Finch’s Gordon Banks vs Pele style save for Wellacre’s fourth year against Stretford Grammar in 1988. I swear there’s now a Finch fan club in Lausanne.
The girls? One came over to Manchester a month later, but I never introduced her to the legend that is Finch.
Because I don’t even know him.
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It's surprising than more articles (or books) have not been written about 'Finch'.
A brilliant entertainer, possessor of wonderful balance and agility, Finch had it all. Whether stopping a shot or dealing with a cross, the ball would stick to Finch like glue. Rumour has it that Peter Schmeichel started using his long throw after watching Finch do the same.
The highlight of my non-existent Football career was playing in the same side as Finch at Wellacre School in Flixton, Manchester. Finch always stood out, and I know for a fact that a bevy of top UK & Continental clubs wanted to sign him. He also had that touch of madness all keepers need, but to me, Finch will always be a just a local boy with a genius for football.
Finch had been tipped to play for England by our Games teacher, a Geordie Barry McGuigan look-alike who played Semi-Professional Football. Even in training Finch wouldn't let anything in, and the games teacher had to tell him to let a few in because it was shattering the confidence of our striker. At times, Finch was simply unbeatable.
When people talk about wasted talent in Football, Finch is the benchmark. A player like that in today’s market would surely be worth £30 or £40 million.
People still talk about Finch in certain quarters of Manchester and his popularity has hardly wavered since those heady days in the 80's when he would bring gasps of astonishment from the privileged few who saw Finch produce mind boggling save after mind boggling save.
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