Derby daze, book bonanza & recruiting Cantona

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As some Manchester City fans would concur, I’m a bit of a tool.

Like last week at Derby. I arrived early at Pride Park and walked around the ground, past the posh man from Radio 5 interviewing an elderly Rams fan wearing a coat covered in enamel badges. Past the police escorting a raffish group of young Mancunians from the train station. And to the away end, where I texted to meet a mate who had my ticket.

“I’ll see you in the ground,” he replied.

“I can’t get in without my ticket,” I texted back.

“I gave it you at Christmas.”

And so he did. But I’d completely forgotten.

Looking for something Andy?

There were four minutes to kick-off when I spotted M, a ticket tout I’ve known for years.

“It’s crap here,” he lamented, “I’m going in with loads.” At least that’s what I understood as ticket touts speak their own language where a ‘cockle’ mean ten and ‘nevis’ is seven.

Having liberated a ‘brief’, I watched the worst Manchester United performance of the season. Derby were worthy victors and their fans celebrated by singing: “We support our local team” - from behind a banner which read ‘Dublin Rams’. Dublin must be near Normanton.

Then I left the ground early and drove back to Manchester through the Derbyshire mist. The integrity of fans who leave games early is often questioned, but if you have fanzines to sell there has to be a compromise – for which we suffer.

When Beckham scored that goal at Selhurst Park in 1996, I was stood outside the Arthur Wait Stand with the latest United We Stand.

At Derby, I needed to get back as I had a very early flight from Manchester the following morning. I listened to Tim Lovejoy present 606 and the dreadful calibre of calls his show attracts.

The worst were from United fans with yokel accents who’d not been at the game. One plum was whinging about the team, the world champions no less.

I then spent five days in Barcelona, saying goodbye to friends ahead of my travels and hoping to play one last game for Manchester La Fianna. The match, to be played in Terrassa, the home city of Xavi an hour from Barcelona, was postponed due to heavy rain so ignore those who tell you that the rain in Spain falls mainly on the plain. We were informed of the postponement an hour and 10 minutes before kick off after we’d all began travelling.  

I’ve passed over the managerial responsibility to a 40-something Glaswegian called Steve Love, who once played in the French ninth division and was described by the local paper as ‘the Scotsman with a beautiful name’. He’s already bought a suit, banned the BBC from press conferences and once visited the Rock of Gibraltar.

On Sunday, I watched United demolish Chelsea in a dark room at the back of a pub surrounded by Senegalese street grafters, a few Reds and two Chelsea fans who were in Moscow last May. I could have sang ‘Viva John Terry’ at them, but they would have rightly thought I was a knob.

Still, the Derby fans would have approved as the Chelsea lads support their local team and have done for over 30 years. We then watched Barca come from behind to beat Osasuna and Madrid easily overcome Mallorca. Barca sent me a message wishing me luck on my travels and said that they hoped to see me in Rome for a European Cup final against Manchester United. How ace is that? Perhaps Pep Guardiola will loan Manchester La Fianna some fringe players.

Monday was lunch with Ian Hawkey from The Sunday Times and Mr Y, who is having a little difficulty with one of the Premier League players he manages. Hawkey, who looks like the former Boltonian snooker player Tony Knowles, is completing his book on African football which should be excellent.

Here's the books you wanted for your trip Mr Mitten...

I’m on another plane now, this time to Zurich, where Cristiano Ronaldo picked up another trophy on Monday night. Martigues and Marseille, with its snowbound airport, sit 30,000 feet below. Eric Cantona will be down there somewhere pontificating.

He should be Love’s assistant. Cantona told me that “money means nothing” so the finances wouldn’t have been difficult. He loves Barcelona. And football. And one of our players knows him well. I’d better ring Cantona’s brother Joel when we land to try and fix something.

An overnight flight to Sao Paulo in Brazil follows. I have 57 kilograms of luggage, a third being books. As well as the research books for my United in the 90s tome, I’ve got a pile that I’ve been meaning to read for years.

It comprises of the weighty autobiographies of Churchill and Mandela. Sir Bobby Charlton’s didn’t make the cut, but I’ve heard James Lawton did an excellent job and I’ll read it when I get back. Providing I don’t get attacked by Somali pirates in April.

Then there’s Jonathan Wilson’s book on tactics, Berlin by Beevor, that 30 quid book with 1000 pages on the history of world football who’s author I can’t remember, Best & Edwards by Gordon Burn, 1984 by David Peace who wrote the seminal ‘Damned United’, Catch 22 – which I’ve tried and failed to read six times, The Power of the Dog by Don Winslow, both Barak Obama’s books and the autobiography of a cricketer called Trescothick which my Derby ticket mate bought me.

Oh, and all five series of The Wire. Never watched a minute, but I’ve heard nothing but rave reviews.

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