From fanzines to satellite TV

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United were playing in Dublin last week and as United We Stand sells well in Ireland, I was lucky to receive offers of hospitality.

I didn’t go. I’d just spent a couple of weeks in America and have a wife and a life other than watching United, plus I had a lot of work to do ahead of the new season in Spain.

Mates who’d travelled from Manchester called from Dublin to ask if I was there. They sounded leathered. Most were on a mini-bus of gnarled old Mancunian grafters who looked after me when I was a kid on the mean streets around Old Trafford, a 15-year-old selling a little fanzine.

I used to sell at Chelsea away every year and the same Chelsea lads would pass the Britannia Gate on the Fulham Road and wind me up. It was what footballers routinely describe as ‘banter’. They’d tell me that I would never have gotten away with selling Man Utd fanzines at the Bridge in the 70s.

One year, one of them pulled me and said: “You’re not a kid any more. Best stand closer to the turnstiles and away from the gate...” I listened. There were other grounds we simply could not sell at: Leeds, City and Liverpool.

Other times, the older United lads would just stand behind me so that I didn’t get bothered. Some of them were so bright in a streetwise way that they could see things happening well before they did. They could get the measure of someone in seconds. If they’d been born on the other side of the tracks they’d probably be in government.

Most are in their late 40s now, but still follow United. They were happily drunk in Dublin and sang down the phone.

Now, I feel I should keep an eye out for the young lads who sell the fanzine. Two of them were in the Irish capital, all excited and flushed with youthful enthusiasm. And alcohol. They got in the press box and collared Paddy Crerand, who was commentating for MUTV.

“If they're mithering you, give them a clip around the ear,” I told Paddy.  “They’re bigger than me,” he protested.

That was the first time I’ve heard Crerand step back from any type of confrontation. Paddy asked where I was and if I was watching the game. He seemed confused by my answer and I nearly spat my jamon out with what happened next.

Midway through the second half, Crerand piped up on live TV. “I just spoke to Andy Mitten at half time. You’ll never guess where he’s watching the game from. Barcelona. Can you believe that? How does that happen?”

The commentator’s reply was beautifully succinct: “It’s called satellite television, Paddy.”

Paddy went quiet, then said: “Well there’s worse places to watch the game from.”

And on he continued, in his little world – which that night consisted of scores of Irish Reds clambering into the press box to tell him that he was a legend... while he was supposed to be co-commentating live. He didn’t think there was a problem having a chat and probably claimed that he was related to them all. He’ll talk to anyone, to the point that he gets in trouble.

He born in Scotland to an Irish family from Donegal and frequently returned to Donegal for holidays with his family in the early 1970s. It was a particularly difficult era for the Troubles and tension was high.

Cars were routinely stopped and searched as they crossed the border, and on one trip they were ushered to the roadside checkpoint by two British soldiers. One of the soldiers recognised Crerand and started talking in a friendly manner about United. He was about 18 and a United fan from Wythenshawe.

Paddy chatted along, but his uncle, who was driving the car, was raging with anger. He called him over and asked what he was doing talking to a British soldier. Paddy told him that it was just a kid from Manchester.

"I’m not bothered about the kid from Manchester," his uncle replied. "I’m bothered about the snipers in the hills over there who are after the soldiers. I’m bothered that they might miss him and get you." Paddy got in the car sharpish.

He tried to send me a telegram in June – seven years after BT stopped providing a telegram service. I never got it. He swears he sent one.

He once had a mobile phone but it drove him mad so he threw it in the River Mersey near his house. He has no idea what the internet is and thinks that a podcast is a type of pea – but not that Little Pea, over whom Paddy is getting as excited and red-eyed as ever.

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