Ashley Birch

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Why Blue?

As a Molecular Biologist/Geneticist I should really reduce this to its component parts, namely, genetic and environmental influences. To tackle the former first of all; my Dad was born in Levenshulme and for many years lived in Moss Side, walking distance from Maine Rd (now only with a Sherman tank!). Hardly surprising then that he turned out to be a City supporter, though being a pleasant intelligent bloke naturally inclined him to be a Blue (United dig already, oh dear!). He attended matches week in, week out after the war and in the ’50s, even watching United play at Maine Rd when Old Trafford was unusable due to bomb damage. I also think that City got floodlights before Utd and this became another reason why the Reds played there. When I was a young lad my Dad would occassionally take me to a game where we would meet my Uncle Gordon in the Kippax, I have no recollection of these early games and I now wonder how I ever managed to see anything! In fact, my first real City memory is from when I was 8, I remember being in the car with my Mum and Dad and my Dad cheering as the result of the Newcastle game came in, meaning that City had won the League. I can’t recall it being Newcastle (it was) though perversely I can recall that we were in Ashton under Lyne at the time in a light blue Ford Anglia estate registration number PWE 921E! Not quite the same as knowing where you were when Kennedy was assassinated!

As for environmental influences, I too was born in Stockport (as was Martin Ford), perhaps it’s all that Robinson’s beer in the atmosphere that does it? Luckily, aged 7 my Dad had the good fortune to be able to move us out to the countryside, New Mills to be precise. Although in Derbyshire, New Mills is actually 50 miles from Derby and only 25 from Manchester so it was no problem to remain a Blue as 90% of my schoolfriends supported City or United, with just the odd Derby County, Nottingham Forest or saddest of all (at that time anyway) Stockport County fan.

I took up supporting full time in 74 when the Rod Marsh Saga was at its height, what a player but was he good for the team? (a long, long, story and where oh where is his like nowadays?). I went with my mate David (Wires) Wyatt and some others from Whaley Bridge and we’d travel down to Manchester on the train and then walk down the station approach at Piccadilly, dash to the old Virgin shop (when Richard Branson was worth about 200 quid!) to listen to some obscure rock records and then get the bus down to Maine Rd. The highlight of this period was of course the League Cup Final against Newcastle United at Wembley in 76. Luckily I was able to get a ticket by virtue of having attended almost every home game and some aways thus being able to assiduously save those mundane but precious little tokens on the backs of the programmes. I remember Wembley itself as an ugly concrete monolith stinking of piss and inedible fatburgers, what a national disgrace and I haven’t changed my mind since (haven’t been since either!). Of course, who can forget Tueart’s brilliant goal and Doyle’s superb handling of the ever-dangerous Malcolm MacDonald. Great days but who would have believed that that would be the last time we won anything.

I was planning on forking out for a season ticket in 76/77 and eventually bought one just to the right of the goals in the Platt Lane End (looking at it). Although many of you will be non-plussed by anyone wanting to leave the Kippax, this was precipitated by a Boxing Day match against Leeds United in 1975 (I think). We all finished the family lunch and then trekked off down to Maine Rd, City were flying high and Leeds were a good team, though past their best. The ground was packed and I spent the entire matched crushed and only able to see about the middle third of one half. City piled on the pressure but Leeds scored totally against the run of play, Paul Madeley I think (I didn’t see it) and stole the game. I swore I wasn’t paying to see so little of a game again so Platt Lane was where I went.

I spent two seasons there and I even persuaded my Dad that a season ticket would be a good idea after a 20 year hiatus. I always remember the guy who sat next to my Dad who was so outrageously biased we just had to laugh at his rantings. Without fail and I really mean without fail, everytime an opposition player took the ball within about a foot of the touchline he would be up on his feet shouting for a throw-in and conversely, if a City player took the ball over the line, however blatantly, he would be up shouting at the linesman. He was a character and I’m sure he never believed for even a second what he was shouting but he certainly enjoyed himself! It was a brilliant two years to be a season ticket holder with the explosive Tueart and the gifted Peter Barnes on the wings and many more (this is not the place to list them). In a way, I was glad when I had to go to university (Scotland), Allison destroyed all that we loved at Maine Rd, our own group’s favourite and dyed-in-the-wool Blue, Gary Owen disgracefully told he was not wanted and transfer-listed, Barnes kicked out (he was never the same again), Brian Kidd a 100% player and top scorer, I could go on. What really galled was the shit he bought in to replace them including the hugely ungifted Steve Daley, Britain’s most expensive player, Leman (remember him?), and many more forgettable individuals (laugh I nearly committed suicide!).

Exile did have it’s moments though, I saw a portly George Best playing for Hibs on a Siberian Saturday afternoon in Edinburgh. He was a fat drunkard and out of condition but what a player. He capped off his performance with a magical freekick which we thought was way over and which the goalie just left, with 5 yards to go it dipped visciously and hit the bar, he got a standing ovation for that one. Now I come to think of it, we were probably already standing! It didn’t last long, a few months later he didn’t turn up for a game and it turned out that one of the guys who played for our 5-a-side team had been drinking in a local hostelry and seen a guy who looked remarkable like Besty, it was 3.30pm! Yes folks, you could drink all day in Edinburgh even back in the early 80s, not the most suitable environment for George. Scandinavian students however, found this much to their liking! (this one is for our 4 Scandinavian subscribers).

I returned to Manchester (UMIST) in 82 and managed the odd game but since 85 I’ve been in Switzerland where the only live football I’ve seen was a truly dreadful display by Scotland in the pouring rain at the Wankdorf Stadium in Bern. This is the biggest venue in Switzerland and looks like it belongs to a club like Accrington Stanley (the weather helped!). We were amused by droves of friendly, drunken Scotsmen who sang the following song in the tram, blissfully unaware of the presence of any Englishmen: “You can stick your ***ing Gazza up your arse”,….repeat many times to the tune of “She’ll be coming round the mountain when she comes”. Typically Scottish, they preferred to sing anti-English songs even though they were playing Switzerland! I also saw Grasshoppers vs Sampdoria, the Swiss being outclassed.

Well, it’s more exotic than Manchester, but it’s just not the same as watching a floodlit evening game at Maine Rd in the driving rain! (donations for a trip home will be gratefully accepted!). Well, who knows, maybe I’ll make it at Xmas.

I apologise for any tricks my memory might have played on me, especially with regard to dates.

First printed in: MCIVTA Newsletter #12 on

1994/10/17

Ashley Birch


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