Monaco woe, Aldershot and oddballs

Manchester United play in the European Super Cup in Monaco on Friday and I canâÂÂt go. IâÂÂm gutted.

IâÂÂve not missed a European away game for ages and itâÂÂs not difficult to travel from Barcelona. ThereâÂÂs a train for ã74 which skirts the Mediterranean coast and stops for a leisurely two hours in Montpellier, scene of Clayton BlackmoreâÂÂs 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 donâÂÂt usually get to European aways and IâÂÂve had two offers of work there and a call from the former United player Andrei Kanchelskis.

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

Blackmore: Great tash 

But I canâÂÂt go. A close friend is 50 at the weekend and heâÂÂs having a party in Oxford. We arranged the trip in February at a time when I didnâÂÂt think about the European Super Cup. IâÂÂve looked at lots of permutations of getting from Monaco to Oxford, but itâÂÂs not happening. Flights and hire cars have already been booked, so IâÂÂll miss it.

Instead, weâÂÂll fly to Gatwick late on Friday night and as compensation IâÂÂll watch Aldershot vs Bradford City at the Recreation Ground on Saturday.

IâÂÂd 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 IâÂÂd be lying.

IâÂÂm going partly because IâÂÂm a freak and partly because IfâÂÂve not been to the Recreation Ground before. My girlfriend understands it as âÂÂworkâ so IâÂÂll take her to somewhere like Windsor Castle beforehand before setting out for Aldershot.

IâÂÂve told two people IâÂÂm going. One said: âÂÂAldershotâÂÂs awful, my brother was based there with the army.â The other: âÂÂAldershot 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.âÂÂ

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

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

Ground-hopping is an affliction IâÂÂve 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 EnglandâÂÂs top five levels.

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

âÂÂGreat town,â he said, thinking that IâÂÂd not been. I went along with it, but didnâÂÂt 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, âÂÂWhat the fuck are you doing here?â Then he invited me on the playersâ bus back to Manchester.

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

âÂÂWe played at Whitley Bay near Newcastle one night in February. There were no away fans. I went to take a corner and I heard: âÂÂSimmo! Simmo!â I looked around and couldnâÂÂt see anything. Then I heard it again. I spotted Rain ManâÂÂs head above a concrete fence. HeâÂÂd hauled himself up and was shouting, âÂÂIâÂÂve spent all my money on petrol for my motorbike getting here. I canâÂÂt get in the ground.âÂÂâ Simmo made sure he did.

Whitley Bay: Can be a bit grim in February 

One lad who goes to United is on another level. WeâÂÂll call him Stuart Trueman. HeâÂÂs 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 heâÂÂll 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.

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