I started to write a short Why Blue and it just started pouring out. I never skip these things, because I find them fascinating, but you have been warned.
My father’s father came from Workington. He had fourteen brothers and sisters and all of the older ones had run away from home because his parents used to make the oldest child – male or female, it was a strict equal opportunities household – do all the housework, starting at about five in the morning. As each one made good his or her escape the next oldest would simply be taken out of school. One of grandad’s sisters had a shop in Manchester, so when he left home he went to stay with her and ended up in Ardwick. He was a supporter of the Hyde Road club and when they became Manchester City he bought one of the original thousand one pound shares (I suspect that my other grandfather may have been a Burnley fan, but I never got round to asking him the question and the least said about that at the moment the better).
I grew up in Crumpsall on the other side of town. One of my earliest memories is of the Munich air crash. I have always had ambivalent feelings about this. On the one hand it seemed to me as a five-year old at the time that ordinary people were genuinely grief-stricken, but I know now how easily people are led on by the press. A drunken driver in a powerful car crashes into a bridge killing himself and two members of his own family – no story. A drunken driver in a powerful car crashes into a bridge killing two important passengers and a whole nation mourns. On the other hand the Munich crash has been nauseatingly exploited over the years and woven into a kind of modern legend. I do not blame the older fans of the Newton Heath club (look it up in the A to Z if you don’t know the area, you’ll find it is part of Manchester) or individual players, many of whom, like Nobby Stiles and Brian Kidd, were Manchester born and bred. But there is a kind of industry (which also gave us the Bay City Rollers and the Spice Girls) which exists for no other reason than to fill people’s lives with pseudo-excitement.
My father became a shareholder in due course but I don’t recall him being a regular attender at home games. What I can remember is mysterious men coming round at night offering dad eighty quid for his one pound share, but for some sentimental reason he never sold it. I don’t know whether it was Muir, Niven, Barlow or what (and I’ve never really followed the politics) but maybe if he’d sold it we would never have had Swales. I must have gone to Maine Road with dad once because I can remember sitting in the Platt Lane stand and I would never have done that normally. That brings me to the first match I went to on my own. I kept hearing about a wonderful player called Johnny Crossan and realised that if I was ever going to get to see the Blues I would have to sort it out for myself. So at the age of fifteen I went in the Kippax and watched City against Bury (1966 in old Division Two). From then on I nearly always watched City on my own. I can count on the fingers of two hands the times when I have been to games with other people. The Kippax (and the City end of away grounds) became a kind of family. Over the next couple of years I saw some wonderful games with promotion, the brilliant “champagne on ice” match against Spurs in the snow, the Division One championship and a brilliant FA Cup campaign, when we beat a lot of very high quality opposition on the way to the final.
I used to go to away games that were within hitch-hiking distance of Manchester – Blackburn in the Cup, Liverpool, Everton, Leeds (happy memories of the Peacock – not so happy memories much later on of Jordan cheating so hard he ripped the shirt on Dave Watson’s back to shreds), Sheffield Wednesday, Wolves and some memorable trips to Newcastle (the first time I went there was memorable because I had my scarf nicked by a gang of youths and the City fans in the Leazes end were pelted with a hail of missiles). For the game in May 1968 I went up by train and the ground was better segregated.
I can’t remember how I travelled to Villa Park for the Cup semi-final or how I got to Wembley for the final, but I have a very vivid memory of a long-distance trip in December 1968. About half a year after City’s great win at Newcastle, I had to go for interview for a university place I didn’t expect to get. Before the interview even got going properly I cheekily asked how long it would take because I was intending to catch the train to London to see City play at Spurs and I knew there would only be a few minutes to spare. Naturally, I didn’t explain the reason for my enquiry, which caused looks of what I can only describe as amused incredulity to be exchanged between the two interviewers. As soon as the interview was over I legged it down to the station with my suitcase, jumped on the train and changed out of my interview suit in the lavatory. At White Hart Lane I had to stand on the terraces with my suitcase. After the game I made my way to Barnet or somewhere and started to hitch home. A few hours later, as snow lay on the ground, I was still there, but had teamed up with a young Blue from Westhoughton. By midnight, after sharing some whisky to keep out the cold (it actually makes it worse, sometimes dangerously so, but I didn’t know that then) we had got no further than Toddington services on the M1. After being forced to listen to the canned music tape (sub-Dean Martin) about fifteen times, I finally got us a lift around five o’ clock on the Sunday morning with a wagon going to Irlam and made it back home about dinnertime. What I only found out later (yes, I got the place) was that if I had bothered to look up at the wall in the senior tutor’s room I would have seen a City rosette hanging there in pride of place and that if I had known he was a mad-keen City fan I could have had a lift to the ground and possibly a ride back to Manchester where he had a house. Doh!
For most of the time since then I have lived not only at inconvenient distances from Maine Road but also in family and professional circumstances that at first reduced me to rare matches (I was lucky enough to see Denis Tueart’s great goal in the 1976 League Cup Final) and by now have led to total starvation of live football. Maybe that’s why my favourite player will always be Tommy Booth, because nothing has happened since those days (with the possible exception of the Play-off final) that’s grabbed me emotionally in the way it did then.
I am now a shareholder myself and have two daughters with no interest in football. I recently paid a few hundred quid to boost the capital in Frannie’s big share issue. I hope “my” share of the money went on Morrison not Taylor. I also hope this purchase will go some way to make amends for the fact that I regularly used to go in the Kippax as a “schoolboy” until I was well into my twenties and had a beard and a moustache! Did it really cost five bob (25p)?
First printed in: MCIVTA Newsletter #531 on