Are the CIA in cahoots with Man City?

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I’ve just got back from Manchester United’s pre-season tour of the United States, jetlagged and knackered after driving from Pennsylvania to Texas.

I travelled alone and did over 1,800 miles in six days, spending one day driving from Kansas City to Dallas – that’s the equivalent of Truro to Edinburgh.

If you think that’s bad, my motor was a turquoise fibreglass three-wheeled Invacar. That turned heads in OOOOk-lahoma, where the wind comes sweepin’ down the plain. (Ok, I drive a normal hire car, for which Hertz kindly added extra charges in true RyanAir style…)

Every radio station I tuned to seemed to be a sermon about how I should be living my life. Every petrol station I stopped at featured characters out of the bar in The Simpsons who couldn’t understand my English and complicated phrases like “Can I pay please?”

And there was always mild disapproval that I didn’t super size order a 44 ounce bucket of cola for a bargain 89 cents, down it in one and say ‘God Bless America’ before burping and hitting the road. Jack.

One man told me that he had a relative in Switzerland so I told him that I knew someone who lived in Belize.

  “He lives in a what?”
  “Belize. Central America.”
  “Ah, but that’s not in the USA.”
  “And Switzerland isn’t in Great Britain.”

I sat next to a very sweet 21-year-old from Florida on the plane over. She briefly stopped talking for take-off. She also told me that she’d decided against travelling to England as she’d heard that the streets were full of rubbish.

I nodded in agreement, adding that I’d never travel to Florida again for fear of being snaffled by a crocodile. Or are they alligators in the pan handle?

As ever in the United States, I met the brightest and dumbest people – often at the same time. It’s a superb country to travel around and the can-do enthusiasm of the people makes a change from the corrosive cynicism which can be prevalent in Britain, but it’s slightly worrying that some people don’t know that London is the capital of England.

But then you get others who designed the electrics for new stealth bombers in their spare time while listening to Slipknot and munching on a third-pounder.

United fans - they get about a bit

I was slightly startled to be asked ‘What’s happenin’?” by a shop assistant in Footlocker. I looked around to check he was speaking to me before asking: “In relation to what?”

The United players loved being in the States. They’re normally ensconced and bored in a five star hotel on pre-season tours, unable to leave their rooms for fan hysteria. In America, they were often seen out and about walking through city centres. Some, like Darren Fletcher, are big fans of American sport and culture.

Sir Alex Ferguson went for a morning walk around Kansas, where he enjoyed the anonymity. Until some travelling United fans spotted him and insisted that he continued to listen to his wife and never retired. He explained that he had no choice. He’ll be United’s greatest asset this season.

United played games in Philadelphia, Kansas and that pedestrian friendly city of Houston, where highways are nearly as wide as the mighty Mississippi. Kind people put me up along the way and told me about their lives.

The grand New York Times ignored the whole tour and the Houston Chronicle quoted a question I’d asked the MLS commissioner Don Garber about the Glazer family before I’d even had chance to transcribe his answer.

And TWO people, when I told them I was from Manchester (England as opposed to New Hampshire), asked if I supported City. One was running the reception at the Pittsburgh Pirates baseball stadium, another a parking lot near the Grassy Knoll in Dallas.

Internet heads love a good conspiracy theory – so how about the owners of Man City are in cahoots with the CIA, who in turn are getting normal Americans to spread the word of the laser Blues…

The former United and England winger Gordon Hill was waiting in Dallas and was good enough to invite me to stay. Imre Varadi was his last guest.

Hill’s lived in Texas for six years – though he played for several North American teams in the 1980s. His office is adorned with pictures of him in his prime – with Franz Beckenbauer and the likes.

He coaches kids and runs a team called United FC. He has ambitious plans to build a football centre which will continue to help the spread of the game in Texas.

Manchester United (and Millwall) fans labelled Hill ‘Merlin’ after the Magician and serenaded him as the ‘King of all Cockneys.’ Doc’s Red Army also sang a song to the tune of Save Your Kisses For Me. He recited the words in his back garden as he proudly showed me the lavender he’d grown.

“Bye bye Derby, bye bye…because we beat you 2-0, with two goals from Gordon Hillllllll,” he sang as he recalled his greatest moment, scoring both goals in the 1976 FA Cup semi-final which took United to Wembley.

What a trip. I was working and had good access to the United players around the games. You forget how big some of them are. Apart from new signing Chicarito – the Little Pea from Mexico. He was grinning his way about and loving life when I shouted “Well done, gambita,” to him as he walked past smiling. That means Little Prawn. He looked confused. When in Rome and all that.

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