A Coffee Table Version
Good question, one that has been answered so poignantly, eloquently and amusingly by so many contributors to McVittee over the past 540 editions. I wrote a City Top 40 countdown a couple of years ago so now I’ll submit my answer to the proverbial question, not just rehashing a few matches.
I was born in Sale in 1964 to a Catholic mother and a C of E father. Usually these are not relevant tags to give people in the UK but mum insisted me and my kid brother to go to church and it meant also I had to go to St. Hugh’s RC school in Timperley. In the September of 1969 I enrolled at the aforementioned infant & junior school. Unbeknownst to me it was full of kids from Wythenshaw, Sale, Altrincham, Partington and Broadheath of which more than 50% of the kids were of Irish or Italian descent. The Italian parents obviously settled in the UK after the Second World War and the Irish community is as much a part of Manchester as is the football.
School was awful the enforced religion taught by the teachers was of the old fire & brimstone bog Irish stuff. It was mentally very upsetting for most of the 5, 6 and 7-year-olds to be told ‘that to die on Ash Wednesday was a good thing since you would go straight to heaven’ or that – God knows that being a catholic is very special and that when you die you will have a lot of explaining to do if you’ve been a bad person and you will spend a long time in hell and suffer a lot more so than if you were not a catholic!
Miss Murphy was her name, I think her first name was Bitch (she died a lonely old spinster) and I think in a former life she used to hand out towels at the showers at Auschwitz. St Patrick’s day at school was like a festival of shamrocks, so I wore one just like everyone else and she ripped it off me saying ‘only the Irish are allowed to wear shamrocks’. Excuse me! I’ve never worn one since.
Anyway if the mental cruelty inside the classroom wasn’t bad enough, wait till you get outside for break time. The playground was run by two 9-year-old rival bullies and their respective gangs of hangers on; Lioni Salustro and the Italians was one and Sean O’Donnell and the Irish was the other. The surnames have been changed to protect the guilty. I know this sounds ridiculous, but it’s true and you’re probably thinking ‘hang on where are the City references?’. Well, did you want a list of famous games I attended or an answer to the question?
As I was saying, the guilt consuming torture inside the classroom was equally matched with the brutality of the two bullies from hell. At my first ever breaktime a friendly older lad (or should I say old lag) advised me to join one of the gangs for safety. If, anyone has seen the movie ‘Shawshank Redemption’, then the only thing missing from this nightmare was the gang of homosexual rapists (they appeared later at St. Ambrose College senior school and were known as the Irish Christian Brothers).
Anyway, regarding the two bullies, both the playground Mafia & the Murphia were Manchester United fans and so were all the hangers on. I was football indifferent at this point, mum showed no interest and my dad was a rugby fan. My grandad however, was a former amateur referee and would play football with me in the park. I had a friend called Joe Timmons (Hi! if you’re around although the last I saw of him was over 15 years ago in a pub in Altrincham). Jo had an older brother Jim and Jim was a big City fan. Jim used to get in trouble a lot and was told he was awkward by all the teachers (I soon came to like the idea of being awkward) but for the most part he was prepared to stand alone against the two bullies and shout City songs at them.
He explained to me:
‘City won the FA Cup this year but no-one talks about it coz everyone here supports United and they won in Europe the year before, anyway who wants to support United and be mates with those two? I hate them, they hate me, look there’s one of O’Donnell’s gang, come on join in with me.’
City City City City City – Joe and I joined in with Jim and pointed our fingers to him and that was it, no turning back.
What followed was a couple of years of misery before the two bullies moved to senior schools. They both failed the Eleven Plus and had to go to BTH (Blessed Thomas Halford or Blo*dy Torture House) which was an RC Secondary Modern School and a bit like borstal without the morning slop out. I had a nice warm thought that they got battered every day. If ever there was an incentive to pass the 11+ and go to Grammar school then Sean & Lioni were it.
One day Sean pinned me down and sang me a song:
‘I’d like to teach the IRA to blow up Man City with gelignite & dynamite and all the things that boom’ (to the tune of I’d like to buy the world a coke). ‘Sing after me or your dead’. The old story of ‘well if you stand up to bullies, hit them back they will run off crying’ is a romantic illusion conjured up by Hollywood PG rated American bubble gum high school movies and clueless people. I refused to sing and almost lost a tooth and was then given baptism by toilet by him and a few of his cronies. I saw Joe getting similar treatment a few days later from Lioni and he tried to make him say United are great, City are rubbish, his refusal earned him approximately two litres of spit on his face and body.
[This is nothing now of course, a friend of mine who is a teacher in Altrincham said, ‘Do you remember the game, tick you’re on’? Well now it’s played with similar rules but when you tick someone you say ‘tick you’ve got aids’] Any one with school-age kids out there!
I hated every second of school and everything it stood for, the teachers, the church the bullies. I kept my sanity with Man City. My mum asked me what I would like for Christmas, a sports bag with Man City on it, a City top, a football with City on it, anything with City. Why can’t you be a United fan like everyone else, all the United players go to our church on Sunday (St. Joseph’s in Sale). I was horrified, that was it then, right no more church for me.
I later found out that in those days in order to get on at United, Matt Busby insisted that all the squad went to church with him on Sunday mornings, it was well known at Old Trafford that Matt was a major left footer and was proud of it and anyone who differed may suffer career-wise. Certainly the apprentices from RC schools in the area were selected first. I assume the first team were exempt, for example George Best, but Bobby Charlton made a big point by taking his daughters out of the school they were in and put them in Loreto RC Convent Altrincham. This may have been a sop to his boss, but it was (and is) an excellent school and I would prefer to think better of him than that.
This may go towards explaining the United-Celtic connection since at the time (and not until Mo Johnston) Rangers would never sign a Catholic. It may have looked simplistically that United were reversing the regime at Rangers. The regime at City was not party to this line of thought. Even when Edwards took over and during the Docherty era, Matt Busby still ruled the roost. My step-father is Jewish and he explained to me that when City signed Bert Trautmann he knew of several of the older Jewish fans left Man City to support Man United because he was German. I wondered if Mr Schindler would make a reference to this in his book but it was never referenced.
Anyway, I soon learned the value of compromise. Yes I could have a City bag & ball for Christmas but not going to church was not an option. I learned more about the City players and soon my favourite was Joe Corrigan who used to attend St Joseph’s. I told my mum ‘I only go coz he goes not for any other reason.’ ‘Well in that case you shouldn’t go at all.’ ‘Ace mum I’ll stay at home then and play football.’ ‘Nice try Phil.’ ‘Aw mum’. Me, Joe & Jim started to collect the football cards and soon we learned we could buy off the beatings by giving out United cards (they weren’t to know we had peed on them first and let them dry off). How we cackled at the thought of them licking the cards. We also developed our sick sense of humour and that telling jokes would be our ‘get out of getting beat up card’ so we boned up on jokes about everything sick, the sicker the better as we found out.
I asked my dad to take me to a game and he agreed but mum was not too sure, so dad asked my mum’s dad. My grandad was absolutely delighted that his first grandson wanted to follow a team. He was an orphan and no real roots and just happened to settle in Manchester after the Second World War. He was a sergeant in the army and was partly responsible for the fire bombings of Dresden as I later found out when he died, so I now know (however much I tried to push him) why he never spoke about WW II. I have a magazine of bullets as momentos from the war that are in a box with a stack of City programmes and ticket stubs. I don’t suppose he was exactly proud of his war record being party to the squadron that evacuated the women and children of an industrialised East German community, turfed them out on the street making them homeless and then burnt down their city.
Grandad persuaded my mum that going to the football was a good idea and will be well looked after by father and grandad, so we all went to Maine Road. Being in the referees’ association we got tickets easy for the Main Stand and I saw my hero Joe Corrigan between the sticks.
This was unbelievable, I know it was around 1971/1972 and I don’t remember the other team or the score but I remember the crowd, the comments, the swearing. I remember giggling at my dad & grandad at the rude words. We had bovril at half time, I burnt my mouth but it didn’t matter, we all had a family pee on the way to the ground against this bloke’s fence and he came and chased us and we all laughed. ‘Don’t tell your mum about this’ said my dad; ‘Not a word to your gran either’ echoed grandad. For the first time I felt grown up and important.
I remember Mike Summerbee putting the ball up his shirt and hiding it from the referee, then the ref blew for another ball, when it arrived the first one was produced and we all laughed as did both teams and the ref. This was it for me. Hook, line, sinker, net, fishing boat, bait & copy of angling times.
I could deal with school now I can come here and shout for City this is who I believe in and who I have faith in, this is my church. This was even better than Randall & Hopkirk (Deceased).
My first memorable big game was City vs. Sunderland 1973 FA Cup 3rd round, 2-2 then we lost the replay at Roker and they went on to beat Leeds in the final. Jim Montgomery was the man that day.
I saw Colin Bell make his second half appearance at Maine Road after a long bout of injury and we stuffed Newcastle 4-0, I think all the goals were in the second half, not a dry eye in the house as he we stood up and cheered his appearance.
I saw City beat Liverpool 3-1 with my dad and Mike Doyle nearly making it 4 in the last 2/3 minutes. We were in the Platt Lane then.
I saw Rodney Marsh play at his best; little did I know that his signing probably did us no favours at the time. I saw Francis Lee take more dives than a submarine. I watched Tony Towers skin people down the wing. I remember Glyn Pardoe being a hard man to beat, Alan Oakes being like a conductor of an orchestra in midfield.
The next generation I remember being the Tueart, Barnes, Owen & Reeves era. I couldn’t get a ticket for the 76 League Cup final but I remember Gerald Sinstadt on the Kick Off match saying ‘join me on Sunday to see the Man City vs. Newcastle League Cup Final and see a winning goal that you will never ever forget’.
As you all know the cancer at Maine Road had just arrived in the form of Swales & Co. and this was to be our last senior trophy of the century. I did an MBA a few years ago and I wrote an essay on a how to run a business and quoted nearly every single thing that Swales did as an example of how not to do it; poor management, lack of foresight, interfering with hands-on managerial affairs, selling off the franchise, pre-occupied with the press coverage in the MEN and not concentrating on his own results. Don’t take on all the competition, find your own niche first then expand.
I remembering him being interviewed about the sale of the souvenir shop to some charlatan for about a million quid. ‘Great innit, we get 750 grand and they have to run the souvenir shop, money for old rope’. What an embarrassment he was. Don’t Man United make