From Barnsley to Switzerland via Xavi and Hitler

United have drawn Barnsley away in the League Cup. It makes a change from always being drawn at Old Trafford and it’s a decent tie close to Manchester.

Former player Mark Robins is the Barnsley boss and there’s a large away end. All good.

When Barnsley were promoted to the Premiership in 1997, they beat Liverpool at Anfield but lost 7-0 at Old Trafford.

One of the best books you can read about football is The Keeper of Dreams by the German writer Ronald Reng, with the then Barnsley keeper Lars Lees.

It concerns their season in the Premiership and was described in The Guardian as "By far the best soccer biography of the year."

When Barnsley came to Old Trafford, my dad helped us sell United We Stand on the approach where most of the away fans pass.

He’s not soft, but he was surprised to be offered out twice by burly Barnsley fans in replica shirts who cared not that police were in abundance.

There was nothing sinister or snide about their approach, they just wanted an honest fight with a 50-year-old Manchester United fan. In the street.

Barnsley knocked United out of the cup that year, chanting "We all come from Barnsley" – as if they needed to tell the United support that – and I didn’t go to Oakwell again until two years ago, when my mate Arnau went on loan to Southend.

When the Shrimpers travelled to Oakwell, he invited us. My mum and sister came along because they both like Arnau and felt sorry for a Spaniard having to play in Yorkshire on a freezing December night.

It wasn’t until we arrived that Arnau told us he wouldn’t be playing. We went to a brilliant pie shop by the ground, causing my mum to remark: “The people in this town are lovely, aren’t they?” I doubt my dad would agree.

Then we went in the away end with Arnau, who had his Southend United tracksuit on. There were 240 fans in a stand which holds 6,000.

We sat close to the pitch and away from the main bulk of fans, but were soon approached by a man holding a video camera, which was recording.

There were no introductions. He ignored us, thrust it into Arnau’s face and began asking questions in an Essex accent, which Arnau barely understood.

He was from a Southend website and his journalistic talents must have been missed by the New York Times, instead he ended up calling someone he’d never met before by their second name on a cold night in South Yorkshire.


The Hitler-in-his-bunker skit has been hammered on You Tube, but this is the funniest one I’ve seen – although Manchester City fans may not agree.


Some friends took a flight from Barcelona to Switzerland recently. They realised that the diminutive figure standing behind them in the queue was Xavi, with friends. He didn’t sit in business class, but row 27.

Most of the passengers asked him for autographs, with my friend saying “He was brilliant and had time for everyone. His girlfriend was friendly and was happy to take photos of fans with him.

"It was very funny when everyone started reading the free newspapers because he was on the front page. He was reading one too.”

There was turbulence and the pilot took two attempts to land the plane. Worried wife said to husband, in all seriousness: “It can’t crash, can it? Xavi’s on board.”

It didn’t crash and at immigration, Xavi refused to be fast-tracked, preferring to wait with his friends who were from South America and needed to queue to have their visas checked.

He might be an all-round good egg, but if the European Cup final happens to be between United and Barcelona this season, I’ll pay any readers £5 if they spot Xavi (or Iniesta) and somehow keep them away from the Bernabéu during the game.

Talking of blog readers, one got in touch recently, a Dubliner called Rob Smith who is a very good singer/songwriter.

I know that because I recently saw him perform a set of Stone Roses and Oasis covers. Rob’s as nice as Xavi, except - and it’s a big except - he has the letters ‘L’, ‘F’ and ‘C’ tattooed on his chest, in that order.

I’ve got no beef with women’s football, but he might want to specify which ladies’ football club he supports.

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