Monaco woe, Aldershot and oddballs

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Manchester United play in the European Super Cup in Monaco on Friday and I can’t go. I’m gutted.

I’ve not missed a European away game for ages and it’s not difficult to travel from Barcelona. There’s a train for £74 which skirts the Mediterranean coast and stops for a leisurely two hours in Montpellier, scene of Clayton Blackmore’s greatest moment in 1991 when he struck a shot two nautical miles from the Herault goal.

To make matters worse, some mates are going who don’t usually get to European aways and I’ve had two offers of work there and a call from the former United player Andrei Kanchelskis.

He’s up for an interview for my next book about United in the 90s. I’m starting it now and aim to have it finished by next May. Andrei will be there for Russian television as United’s opponents are Zenit St. Petersburg. Russia’s second city of five million is twinned with Manchester.

Blackmore: Great tash 

But I can’t go. A close friend is 50 at the weekend and he’s having a party in Oxford. We arranged the trip in February at a time when I didn’t think about the European Super Cup. I’ve looked at lots of permutations of getting from Monaco to Oxford, but it’s not happening. Flights and hire cars have already been booked, so I’ll miss it.

Instead, we’ll fly to Gatwick late on Friday night and as compensation I’ll watch Aldershot vs Bradford City at the Recreation Ground on Saturday.

I’d like to offer some justification for going. The Bradford striker Peter Thorne is the same age and from the same part of Manchester. Or that Aldershot fullback Lewis Chalmers used to play with my brother at Altrincham. But I’d be lying.

I’m going partly because I’m a freak and partly because If’ve not been to the Recreation Ground before. My girlfriend understands it as ‘work’ so I’ll take her to somewhere like Windsor Castle beforehand before setting out for Aldershot.

I’ve told two people I’m going. One said: “Aldershot’s awful, my brother was based there with the army.” The other: “Aldershot will be fun, they have a very strange entrance for the away fans that's worth checking it out... you have to go around the ground, up a hill, into a wooded park, and then down a little dark and windy path and into the ground. Quite odd.”

The first was a girl, the second an AFC Wimbledon fan.

Aldershot: "Awful" or "fun" depending who you ask 

Ground-hopping is an affliction I’ve had since I was a kid when I watched my dad play non-league around the country and would draw diagrams of the grounds when I got home. Sad to say, I could describe every stand at every clubs in the England’s top five levels.

A mate rang yesterday. He’d been to see FC United play at Buxton last Saturday and was raving about his day out.

“Great town,” he said, thinking that I’d not been. I went along with it, but didn’t tell him that a decade ago, I caught a train from London to Macclesfield, visited the grave of Ian Curtis before getting a taxi over the Cat & Fiddle (the most dangerous road in Britain) to the Derbyshire spa town. Alone. Through driving rain. I kept myself to myself, but was spotted in the main stand by the Flixton manager who shouted, “What the fuck are you doing here?” Then he invited me on the players’ bus back to Manchester.

Although I’m a bit of an oddball, I’m not compared to some. Like the Trafford fan ‘Rain Man’. A former Trafford player and Manchester legend/ticket tout Chris Simms has a story about Rain Man.

“We played at Whitley Bay near Newcastle one night in February. There were no away fans. I went to take a corner and I heard: ‘Simmo! Simmo!’ I looked around and couldn’t see anything. Then I heard it again. I spotted Rain Man’s head above a concrete fence. He’d hauled himself up and was shouting, ‘I’ve spent all my money on petrol for my motorbike getting here. I can’t get in the ground.’” Simmo made sure he did.

Whitley Bay: Can be a bit grim in February 

One lad who goes to United is on another level. We’ll call him Stuart Trueman. He’s a bright, handsome, well-dressed casual who takes his two kids and girlfriend to every single Manchester United first team matches, United reserve games and FC United games home and away.

If none of these teams are playing he’ll go to a Manchester United youth team game or to see another competitive match, usually somewhere near his Lancashire home like Blackburn, Burnley or Darwen. 

Psychologists would love to examine his brain, for he also supports Roma and lists his two heroes as Francesco Totti and Ryan Giggs.

Go figure.