Ernie Whalley

Why Blue?

My old man made me a Blue, one of the few favours he ever did me, but then again, perhaps it wasn’t such a great favour, considering the trauma and torment I’ve had to endure over the last twenty years. Anyhow the manner of the making leaves a lot to be desired.

My formative years were spent in Stockport, a town (according to Bartholomews 19th Century Gazetteer) ill built, but of good entertainment. I was nine and just staring to wonder where the entertainment was coming from when a friend’s father presented me with a ticket for a football match. It was one of those benefit shindigs, Stockport County versus The Rest of The World and at school we talked about nothing else for a week. Alas, the day before the match, I committed some minor misdemeanour and my father, in an outburst of temper, tore up my ticket.

In retrospect, he saved me from becoming a lifelong County fan. That night the roof came off a packed Edgeley Park as the local boys stuffed the celebrities 6-2. Imagine how that would have impressed a nine-year-old at his first game.

My soccer education took a nosedive when I won a scholarship to The Grammar School. SGS in those days was imbued with all the sadism and bullsh*t of Tom Brown’s Rugby, except they let you out at 4.20 every day, saved you getting tossed in a blanket or roasted, I suppose. Bringing a round ball bigger than a tennis ball on to school premises was a hanging offence. We were dragooned into playing rugby, coached by a chisel-chucking psychopath of a woodwork teacher. Where you played depended on how good you were at woodwork. Skilled carpenters were allowed to be backs, who ran up and down the dry bits of the pitch passing the ball to each other. Inept chippies were designated as forwards, each week bound together in a group of eight, head-butting a similar set, knee-deep in mud for the whole of a double period. I was a hooker which tells you how bad I was at woodwork. I played rugby for three terms before I realised it was a ball game!

Fast forward a year or two. By this time we had moved to Manchester. My old man was manager of the Free Trade Hall, or had been until Hitler bombed it back in 1940 (the same Hitler donated, in a similar vein, my first playing field at the end of our street in Stockport). When the Corpo rebuilt the hall after the war they provided a flat on the top floor for us. Dad and I didn’t communicate much, except by relaying messages via my mother. So I was gobsmacked when he said fancy coming to a match this afternoon? It was 1954, back end of August, first home game of the season, Sheffield United, who, as far as I remember, were newly promoted. This would have made it the second game of the Revie Plan, which my old man, fair dues to him, copped on to quicker than the average First Division manager that year. He reckoned Ken Barnes was actually the key man in the operation; in all fairness dad had been a good footballer in his day, playing for Charlton and getting a trial for Bury, at the time a much bigger club; the cheapskates were too mean to pay his train fare for the second trial, so he didn’t turn up!

Anyhow, suffice it to say that after this first game I was hooked and not even the experience of having an Evertonian p*ss down my welly in a packed Maine Road could deter me, we beat them anyhow! I was at Wembley two years on the trot. I have a photo of me with the FA Cup, a blo*dy sight closer than all our young supporters have ever got to the pot, or any pot, come to that. Bless their loyalty. I enjoyed the success of the late 60s and 70s hitching from London for the 4-3 vs. Newcastle. I was a hoolie for about five minutes, thoroughly enjoying thumping a fascist skinhead at Chelsea before taking off at the speed of light, two steps ahead of a howling dark blue mob – I learned to fly that day, up and over a fifteen foot wall without touching it! I’ve got a real City shirt, one of the spare set made for the 76 League Cup Final, No.7 (Tueart) on the back. I’ve worn it so often it’s in rag order (sorry that word) apart from the badge and the number.

And I’ve suffered in good, no, great company ever since.

City Dream Team: Bert Trautmann; Jimmy Meadows, Colin Hendry, Dave Watson, Clive Wilson; Ken Barnes, Colin Bell, Gio Kinkladze, Roy Paul; Bobby Johnstone, the young Denis Law.
Manager: Joe Mercer.

Almost XI: Joe Corrigan, Willie Donachie, Mike Doyle, Alan Oakes, Andy Hinchcliffe; Don Revie, Paul Lake, Rodney Marsh; Mike Summerbee, Dennis Tueart, Franny Lee, Trevor Francis.
Manager: Joe Royle.

Nightmare XI: Dibble, David Brightwell, Kernaghan, Frontzeck, van Blerk, Silkman, Beesley, Barlow, Heath, Colbridge, Buster Phillips.
Manager: Alan Ball.

What If? XI: Coton (what if we hadn’t sold him when we did); Meadows (many England caps if he’d not broken his leg); Caton (what if he’d developed his true potential in his all too short life); Ewing (what if he’d had the feet to go with his heart); Hinchcliffe (see Coton); Barnes, Peter (what if he’d had the heart to go with his feet); Kinkladze (what if he’d had some real players around him); Bell, Lake (what if they’d never had those injuries); Marsh (what if we’d got him fit before we played him, instead of changing a winning team); Bowles (take your pick of about two dozen “what ifs”).
Manager: A. Ball (what if we’d never appointed the ba*tard!).

Of course, the candidates for this team are legion, being a Blue. Like what if Moulden and Beckford had fulfilled their youth team promise? Or what if we’d taken Spurs proffered