May musings, Sharpe stories and befuddling Bhoys

After being a guest on Channel M’s ‘United Debate Show’ with former goalkeeper Alex Stepney (Noel Gallagher watches it every week and has opined that all the guests are “wankers”) I spent Monday afternoon interviewing David May.

From stories to how he lost his virginity to practical jokes which would make Gordon McQueen blush, he was funny, frank and fearless. He’s a lad’s lad and was hugely popular in the Manchester United dressing room. May’s going to play a game for Manchester La Fianna next month.

"So did I tell you about the time I lost my virginity..." 

Tuesday was the turn of Lee Sharpe in Leeds. Although more guarded, he has plenty of tales and I like him. At his request, I spent four hours with him a couple of years ago with a view to ghosting his autobiography, but a deal had already been signed with the excellent David Conn of The Guardian.

Now single, Lee also fancies a trip to Barcelona. I then drove back across the Pennines with a heavy heart at the prospect of what lay ahead.

It wasn’t that I had to start a 7,000 word feature for the first-rate Swedish magazine Offside, which likes depth and colour in articles - they had a 28-page feature on Real Murcia last month.

My piece will be about the ‘other’ Manchester United, the grafters, touts, collectors, singers, fanzines, hoolies, jibbers, obsessives and anoraks. I’ve known most of the characters for 20 years and trust, which I’ve never mislaid, was vital to them talking and being pictured. It was enjoyable, hearing from characters in the football world whom Sky TV don’t even know exist.

Then I sold United We Stand, knowing that it would be an awkward night because we were playing Celtic. I’m a patient soul well versed in directing face-painted, jester-hatted day-trippers towards the 76,000 capacity stadium right in front of them, but I’m as tired of inebriated Celtic fans at Old Trafford as many Mancunians are of Rangers fans. I know plenty of good people who support an Old Firm team, but their stock is low in Manchester.

Bhoys fans make a racket at the Theatre of Dreams 

Most away fans at Old Trafford keep their heads down. Not Celtic.

Scuffles broke out at the top of Sir Matt Busby Way, while nearby, a drunk approached me an with Irish accent and asked for two copies. He rolled them up, placed them in his pocket and refused to pay, before asking why they weren’t free.

His English was appalling. That’s because he was a Polish Legia Warsaw fan who lives in Galway! He showed me Legia tattoo on his wrist and he stayed around, but he was steaming.

I got the fanzines back off him and told him to stop wasting our time. Then I bombarded his brain with useless information.

“1972,” I said. “Tin of beans. Aeroplane. Big park. Fat lion. Tizwas.” He looked suitably befuddled and wandered off. I decided to retain the tactic for any smashed Celts. They soon arrived. One mess of a human being walked up, nearly banged into me and pointed at a fanzine.

“Tshn osid agwy p,” he blurted.

“What language are you speaking?” I enquired. He made the Geordie hotel porter in Alan Partridge sound like the Queen. So I looked him in the eye.

“Two donuts,” I said firmly. “Odeon cinema. Albion Market. Terry Tibs. Zebra crossing.” He rolled back onto his feet and moved on to mither someone else.

Never mind where you're sleeping, DON'T SPILL YOUR BEER! 

Another, more aggressive lad soon approached.

“What’s that?” he said in a clearly Glaswegian accent, jabbing his finger towards the fanzine.

“The Maastsrict Treaty,” I replied. “Finbar Saunders, Mull of Kintyre, Crystal Meth and Barry White.” He looked at me menacingly. Then he saw my two shaven-headed cousins standing close by and lurched, completely plastered but with hope in his heart, towards the away end.

Once inside it, Celtic were very, very loud. Their team were outclassed and twice wronged by the referee, but they carried on singing, even though songs like “You’ll Never Walk Alone” got the kind of reaction Celtic fans would give on finding out that their half-time pitch entertainment would be Graeme Souness playing a flute - and wearing an orange suit.

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