In less than six months, I’ll have been a City supporter for 55 years, and I am, I suppose, among the oldest to submit a Why Blue? and to post on City sites. That’s a long time, with many memories, and because I’m interested in discovering more about why I em Blue, this will be quite long. I hope you’ll bear with me – in any case, if you’re like me, you hate seeing those results and tables coming up at the end of MCIVTA (why are they needed?) because it usually means it’s the end of an interesting read. I feel, too, that a bit of context, both personal and social, is needed to explain more fully how things were with City, with Manchester, and with me, in a time before many of you reading this were born.
In every human life most days are forgotten, some partly remembered, some recalled as a longer block of time (like a summer, or year). I would suggest that we all, at least by my age, have perhaps only 15 or 20 days which are of such significance to us that they change our lives, remain totally clear in their details, which we return to frequently in memory, and the deep emotions of which never fade. These are usually to do with our reactions to people close to us – deaths in the family, births, marriages, divorce, new job, big success or failure, moving to a new home, being humiliated or acclaimed, losing our virginty, etc. Some are more closely connected to outside events like war experiences, disasters, assassinations, accidents. Looking back, these very significant days are always there, available to us, sharp with detail and feeling, often intruding into our present thoughts and emotions, wonderful and golden, or dark and dismaying.
They are days which have made us who we are and which become touchstones of extreme intensity against which we measure the ordinariness of most of our lives. Why Blue? Mainly, in this wider context, because, of the, say, 25 most unforgettable and important days of my now longish life, City have given me two (and two “halves”), and that a team of professional sportsmen, playing a basically simple game, could be included in a list containing the birth of my children, deaths of parents and relatives, etc. is to me an amazing thing which requires notice, explanation and commemoration.
My family had been evacuated from Hull, where I was born, at the start of the second War, up the coast to Scarborough, where my mother, younger brother and I survived – my dad away in the RAF – some pretty close calls from bombs, cannon-fire and the general anxieties of war. When my father was finally demobbed in the autumn of 1946, he got a job in Manchester and we moved there in November of that year. I was just 10. After the Yorkshire seacoast, the city was a huge shock, and not the place many of you know today. Just briefly – grey air, smoky from coal fires in every house, steam trains, gaping bomb-sites all over the city with purple willow-herb growing in them, grey people, dressed in drab raincoats and jackets and grey trousers, always wearing a tie (or, for women, old dresses and out-of-style fashions), black shoes with leather or metal-studded soles making a clatter on the pavements, everyone in hats – men in cloth-cap or trilby, women in all sorts – nearly everyone smoking cigarettes at home, in buses, shops, the street, the cinema, shop windows with very little in them, rationing only slowly disappearing, queues at many places. Above all, I remember the lack of colour, the conformity, the dingy dull drabness of it all, relieved only by the wonderful bright red and cream of the Corporation buses (so much better than the ghastly hotch-podge of colours and companies you see in Manchester now), and the fact that many people whistled and even sang as they walked or biked around outside, far more than do so today (something to do with the pop music then being common to all ages and having a tune?). The streets were quiet, as ordinary working families could never afford a car. Trams were still rattling around on main roads, but were being phased out, as were, slowly, the cobbled streets. Hardly anybody went out for a meal, except to the local chippie; few had phones (we actually did – number was Rusholme 3801). What few cars there were mostly black pre-war models. People smelled of acrid underarm sweat and the Brylcreem or brilliantine on their hair – bath-night and hair-wash was, for many, once a week. Most men had only 2 or 3 shirts. But the war was over and things were slowly being rebuilt. Radio shows were funny or exciting, giving us all our catch-phrases, the cinemas were open and cheap, dance-halls flourished, and life, though limited and narrow in many ways, wasn’t bad. I was beginning to settle in at school, after the trauma of being admitted well after the other boys; my father was slowly getting the house furnished and establishing himself at work; the war slowly receded and we started to feel part of the Manchester suburbs, grey and boring though they certainly could be. Then came the first of the two significant days I talked about.
One Saturday, out of the blue, for it had never been discussed during the settling-in process, my father said to me: “Get your coat on, son – we’re going to a football match,” and at just after one o’clock, that March Saturday in 1947, we set off, walked the 5 minutes to West Point, where, to my surprise, four or five Crossley double-deckers were lined up, indicators saying simply “Football Match”, got on with all the other men, and 15 minutes later were standing in front of the vast red brick face of the main stand at Maine Road. I’d never seen so many people together in my life, milling around, queuing at different turnstiles, a policeman on a horse directing people and the few cars, kids waving big rattles, some crudely painted sky blue, and shouting, in little groups, their “2-4-6-8” and “When We Yell We Yell” chants, a man shouting “Programme, Programme of the Match, Programme”, a smart coach which someone near us said was the Birmingham City coach. It was electric to me, there in my dark blue mac, school socks round my ankles, eyes, I’m sure, wide as saucers. We queued up and got in the half-crown turnstile after a long wait – my father had chronic health problems on discharge from the RAF and couldn’t easily stand for a match – then started the climb up the steps to the very top of that great stand, and finding room on the brown benches for ourselves. I remember looking down and being totally amazed by the size of it all, the brilliant green grass (with muddy parts) and white markings, the enormous sweep of the open terracing, the number of people already there, with more visible from our high vantage point, hurrying on foot or bike down the streets leading to the ground, the dark blue and red metal signs over the two tunnels in the “popular side” reading “Always See Your Pictures At An HDM Theatre.” A small band, in dull, serge, Sally Ann-type uniforms, mostly men but at least one young girl with thin bare legs, playing, “Colonel Bogey”, “Nights of Gladness”, and other military marches just below us, standing on duckboards (I got to know their individual faces very well over the years, joined in the applause, the laughter and cheers as they marched round the pitch at half-time and the “conductor” threw his long silver staff in the air and sometimes dropped it. The Beswick Prize Band, God love ’em). An hour at least of waiting, my father telling me what to expect (I hadn’t known much about football during the war in Scarborough, and he had, coming from the North East, once watched the great Charlie Buchan at Roker Park), and the ground filling. 59,000, I’m told, that day, and this was in the old Second Division, which City were favoured to win, though Brum were dangerously close and our main rivals. We did win it that season.
Finally, gentle at first, growing in intensity, a roar opposite us and then all round the ground, and there were the pale sky-blue shirts, red numbers on their backs, the players running towards the Platt Lane goal, kicking three or four brown footballs. A huge man with black Brylcreemed hair, wearing a green roll-neck jersey and a grin you could see from where we were, waving to the crowd as they applauded him behind the goal. The other team greeted with quiet applause, but mainly silence. The only announcement all afternoon from the tannoy: “Ladies and Gentlemen, there are no team changes.” The kick-around the way it remained at least until Denis Law was signed – the 5 forwards, numbers 7-11, taking turns to shoot at the goal, the half-backs passing a ball around the three of them, and the two full backs doing the same. It’s hard, now, to explain the excitement of all this for a 10-year-old, there in this magic stadium with all the colour and noise, with the father he’d missed so much in the war. I shall never forget it. The match was great – City winning by the only goal – and I was astonished at the speed and skill of the players. I thought the roof would come down when they (or “we” by then) scored. There were only 8 policemen, 2 in their little dug-outs at each corner, and I remember seeing them standing and applauding, too. Occasionally there was a whistling from some section, and a waving of white handkerchiefs, and St. John’s amulancemen raced over to the spot with a stretcher, and someone was passed down over the heads of the crowd, or they went over the wall. Usually, in those still deprived days, it was cases of fainting after long standing and not too much food. Sometimes it was drink. Occasionally a minor scuffle. I was disappointed when the match was over and we went home, though my mother told me often afterwards that I came in with the biggest grin I’ve ever grinned that day…
First printed in: MCIVTA Newsletter #754 on