Gaz and Wendy Knight got lucky.
On my way to interview Eric Cantona in Marseille in July (to be published in the November issue of FourFourTwo, in shops October 1), I popped into an internet cafÃÂ©. Gaz, a long time friend, had emailed to say he and his wife were holding a charity football match in August to help raise funds for SANDS: Stillbirth and Neonatal Death Society.
Last year, their son Ged was stillborn at 37 weeks. It was fresh in my mind and I told Cantona about the couple and asked him to sign something which could be auctioned.
Ã¢ÂÂI would like to do this,Ã¢ÂÂ replied the King, except there was nothing like a shirt or poster to sign. We were in the conference room of a Marseille hotel, stood by a large flip chart of A2 paper.
Ã¢ÂÂJust write something on there,Ã¢ÂÂ I said, eyeing the big felt markers.
Ã¢ÂÂWhat?Ã¢ÂÂ he asked.
Ã¢ÂÂYouÃ¢ÂÂve just told me that youÃ¢ÂÂre an artist. Show it,Ã¢ÂÂ I replied. Ã¢ÂÂOr write a message to the people of Manchester.Ã¢ÂÂ
With that, Eric did a Miro-esque squiggle and a message. So as not to crease it, I Ã¢ÂÂborrowedÃ¢ÂÂ the hotelÃ¢ÂÂs roll of flip chart paper and tucked EricÃ¢ÂÂs work in the middle.
Eric 'the Artist' Cantona churns out another masterpiece
Smartly framed, that squiggle was auctioned for ÃÂ£2,500 on Sunday. I would have been happy with a tenth of that Ã¢ÂÂ which is what a signed Ruud van Nistelrooy shirt went for.
Norman Whiteside, another former United great, turned up to support the couple and got impressively inebriated before telling a load of mates: Ã¢ÂÂYou know what lads, IÃ¢ÂÂm just a working class lads like you lot. IÃ¢ÂÂm just United!Ã¢ÂÂ With that, the Shankhill SkinheadÃ¢ÂÂs stock rose even higher in West Manchester.
I wasnÃ¢ÂÂt there. Instead I was playing cricket in Oxford at Jim WhiteÃ¢ÂÂs 50th birthday. JimÃ¢ÂÂs a United fan who writes for The Daily Telegraph. Other guests included another Red, the BBCÃ¢ÂÂs Newsnight editor Michael Crick and Roger Alton, editor of the Independent.
By getting bowled out for a duck, I made a fool of myself in front of all. IÃ¢ÂÂve played cricket twice so my humiliation wasnÃ¢ÂÂt surprising, but I also injured my foot fielding, an injury which stopped me training as Manchester La FiannaÃ¢ÂÂs pre-season got underway last night.
There were eight or nine new faces and a similar number of players have moved on Ã¢ÂÂ to live in pastures new or, in the case of Dinho, join Spanish third division side Lleida, where Juande Ramos used to manage.
Dinho wasnÃ¢ÂÂt offered a contract in South Africa with Ajax Cape Town after his trial. I hear his attitude could have been far better. To break the ice, we held a penalty competition and everyone who missed had to stand up and describe the worst girl theyÃ¢ÂÂd ever slept with.
The sight of shaking heads descending into hands became common, something I also saw in Hampshire on Saturday watching Aldershot vs Bradford in League Two.
The Recreation Ground: They don't make 'em like this anymore
It was a superb experience. Baked in sunshine, a crowd of nearly 4,000 saw the Shots win 3-2 against the early league leaders. The walk to the away end took in a winding country path and once inside, BradfordÃ¢ÂÂs sizeable following created a din to match the Ultras in the home end.
A traditional ground with pylon floodlights, terracing, pay on the gate and BradfordÃ¢ÂÂs excellent City Gent fanzine being sold, it was a joy to attend.
Tradition added to the enjoyment, though even Aldershot have moved with the times. IÃ¢ÂÂm not sure what was more bizarre Ã¢ÂÂ seeing fans stand obediently within a designated smoking area (a box marked in paint on open tarmac), or having a choice of three soaps or moisturisers in the away end toilets.
When youÃ¢ÂÂve witnessed the stinking, airless, lightless urinals of the away end at DerbyÃ¢ÂÂs former Baseball Ground, it seems like another world.
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