A week in the life

My week that was:

1) Watched United at Wigan. Five thousand Reds made the short journey, but I was stunned by the number of empty seats in the home end.

Just 13,000 Wigan fans for the visit of Manchester United in the first week of the season? That’s as outrageous as their crowd of 11,000 for the League Cup semi-final against Arsenal in 2006.

Met Martin Tarbuck at half time. He’s the editor of the excellent Wigan fanzine The Mudhutter. We’d done interviews on Radio 5 in the morning together and both predicted that United would enjoy a narrow win. We were both wrong.

2). Watched Barça win the Spanish Super Cup, beating an under-strength Athletic Bilbao 3-0. They were impressive, especially the peerless Xavi – peerless except for Iniesta, an eternal argument in Catalonia.

It was good to see the Catalan journalists after the summer break and they went easy on me after Barça’s victory in Rome. It still irritates me how easily Barça outclassed United - I think I need to get a life.

Sat next to Graham Hunter in the press box. With less than a week to go to the new Spanish season, he was unsure but hopeful that Sky would renew their rights to the Primera Liga.

As he’s one of the stars of the Revista de la Liga programme, it plays a big part in his life. Two days later Sky announced that they had agreed a three-year deal to broadcast Spanish football.

It was my sixth live game in eight days and was 1am by the time I’d go home. I don’t like these 10pm kick offs in Spain.

3). Bought an advertising hoarding. Paid £172 for United We Stand to have an advert at Unibond League outfit Trafford FC. We’ve done that since 1996 and they're a great little club, where everyone mucks in.

We did the same at nearby Flixton and even produced a match programme for one of their games against FC United. I gave my time for free and so did many of our writers. It was our way of helping our local football club.

By way of thanks, Flixton knocked the printers for the £800 print bill and I had to pay it out of my own pocket…

4). Got phoned by Aaron Mokoena, captain of South Africa. One of his friends was in Barcelona and wanted to see Barca play in the Super Cup final.

“But Aaron, the game’s in Monaco,” I explained.

“Ah, I didn’t realise.”

Aaron promised that he would inspire Portsmouth to their first league win of the season against Manchester City. I wished him well, but realised it was unlikely to happen.

5). Put FC’s United main man Andy Walsh up for a night. He was in Barcelona with Dave Boyle, the Supporters Direct bigwig.

They had a meeting with the Chief Executive of FC Barcelona – one of the largest fan-owned clubs in the world and, despite many imperfections, still a far better ownership model than what is becoming the norm in the Premier League.

Their meeting at Camp Nou went well. It was the first time I’d met Boyle and he’s sharp. It was also interesting to find out that his brother is the actor Liam Boyle, who was the lead in Awaydays with Nicky Bell.

I’ve interviewed Nicky for the next UWS, he's a proper Salford lad and a great actor who had his own milk round until he was jumped by five scallies one morning. He still works in a shoe shop in the Trafford Centre.

On Thursday, I left Walsh two hours before his flight, with clear instructions how to get to the airport – a journey he has made several times. Two hours later he called to say that he had missed his flight back to Manchester.

He claims that he missed the airport train and by the time the next one came, it was too late.

What I suspect really happened was that he thought he had more time than he really had and decided to get a quick protest going, as he hadn’t been on a march for almost a week.

So he got How To Start A Civil Movement (A. Walsh, Stretford Trades and Labour Press, 2005) and sought inspiration.

His book gives you tips of organised protest and within five minutes he’d made a ‘Free Tibet’ flag out of twigs and was marching up and down the Passeig de Gracia singing Manu Chao songs with newfound comrades.

By the time they’d had a chat about global warming and reminisced about the poll tax riots he’d missed his flight. So he spent nine hours in Barcelona airport, doubtless thinking that he was back at Greenham Common.

6). Watched the Champions League draw – trips to Moscow, Istanbul and Wolfsburg. Nice one UEFA for giving United two away games which are difficult to get to and require expensive four-hour-plus flights. Why not send us to Israel, too?

Northern Germany in December sounds like the one, though. I’ve looked at the fixtures and can take in a SV Hamburg home game, followed by Union Berlin in, er, Berlin, before reaching the motor town of Wolfsburg.

It’s a shame that Wolfgang Wolf no longer coaches Wolfsburg.

At least United fans now know where Moscow is. Before the 2008 European Cup final, one posted on our messageboard that he’d found a cheap flight to Russia and wondered if anyone wanted to split the petrol in a hire car to Moscow.

The flights were to Vladivostok, which is as close to Moscow as Manchester is to Sao Paulo...

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