Freak injuries, grazing geese & more Crerand classics

After the war memorial, I visited Stanley’s football pitch, which was occupied by grazing geese as big as Andy Reid.

Then the office of Penguin News, the newspaper of The Falklands. Bizarrely, a football story was front page news.

Wayne Clement, one of the islands’ most promising players, had tripped in a hole on the pitch and broken his leg in three places, dislocating his foot too.

The hospital on the islands doesn’t deal with that type of injury, so he went by air ambulance to Chile where his leg was re-set. Islanders – or Bennies or Kelpers as they are called – are worried that he won’t be back in time to represent the Falklands in the Small Island games next year.

Dr Prado, the bone specialist in Chile, said that if the accident had not happened on a Friday the delay in getting him to the clinic could have meant he would never have played again.

I also visited Globe Tavern, one of eight or nine pubs in Stanley. Many of the British forces at Mount Pleasant have drunk in there and the roof is covered in union flags with the names of the soldiers marked on them.

Flags adorn the Globe Tavern

I’d missed a United game being televised by a day, but was told about an islander called Steve who was named after Steve Coppell. Coppell is one of the brightest men in football. I’ve interviewed him a few times and he’s come closer to articulating what it feels like to make a debut in front of 50,000 than most footballers.

“My heart was jumping out of my chest and Il’ve never had another experience like it,” Coppell said. “I wasn’t running; I was floating across the grass. Words do not do the experience justice; it was a drug-like euphoric trance. I’ve had a few operations, and it was like that little pleasant stage after the anaesthetic. Only multiplied by a hundred.”

In the pub, I got speaking to Don, 82, who had been a driver to the island’s governor when the Argentinian troops invaded. As we spoke, two Tornados did a low-level fly past before shooting almost vertically upwards. You could literally feel the tremendous noise they made in your bones.

“That’s to remind any visiting Argies that we’re not asleep,” Don said. “Some of them come by ship and refuse to present their passports because they claim they are still in Argentina.”

Along with the 30 or so British marines in Stanley in 1982, they had to surrender. It’s a tenuous thought, but it’s good job Paddy Crerand wasn’t the governor.

For one, he would have kicked the ‘Thatcher Drive’ signs and, for two, I reckon he would have fancied his chances against 9,000 Argentinians - partly out of revenge for Estudiantes beating United in 1968.

Not that Paddy would ever work for the British government. In Tokyo, we were both interviewed by a Japanese journalist who is writing a book on English football.

Crerand went first and within five minutes he was telling the poor girl about Irish politics. She was too polite to stop him.

“Paddy, she’s writing a book on English football, not internment,” I interjected. 

And I’ll never forget the image of him on the same trip struggling to work out a translation machine.

The idea is that you wear headphones and click to the language of your choice as the various players and coaches spoke in their own language. Thus you could hear Ferguson in Spanish or Japanese as his words were immediately translated.

"I'll be answering the next question in Swahili"

Crerand, who only briefly owned a mobile phone before throwing it in the River Mersey because “it was driving me crackers,” tried to wear his on his arm before I fixed it on his ear. Except he fiddled with the switch.

“The manager’s speaking in Spanish,” he whispered, nodding approvingly as Sir Alex spoke, “very clever man, the manager.”

“He’s speaking in English, Pat,” you are listening to the Spanish translator.” I wish I hadn’t set him straight.

Another time, a Japanese fan presented him with a picture of him playing. He’d never seen it before and was visibly moved. Out of courtesy, he was wished a safe journey back to Manchester.

“No, I wish I had a Tardis which could transport me back to Sale,” he replied crossly.

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