Puressence in Athens and a donkey in Venezuela

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I watched the Manchester derby in Athens. Walked the streets and asked around for anywhere showing “the English football.”

We were accurately directed to a bar with big screens in an area below the Acropolis surrounded by a flea market.

Before kick-off, three shaven-headed lads walked in and sat at the bar. They had strong Manchester accents. To test such an accent, ask them to say ‘chunky monkey’. The ending of both words would sound nothing like 'key'.

I hoped the lads weren’t City and didn’t wait long to find out. Pagey from New Moston and Wozza from Newton Heath buy United We Stand from a garage on Broadway each month. Their mate, a Blue, doesn’t.

Columns for goalposts, isn't it? 

Both the Reds used to go home and away, but stopped after the 2005 Glazer takeover. They liked the idea of FC United, but not the fact they played in Bury while they search for a site in the city of Manchester.

Two more in an increasing number of lads who now watch their football in the pub rather than go to the match.

They were in Greece with the Manchester band Puressence, who will support Depeche Mode in a sell out concert.

Depeche Mode are far more popular on the continent than in Britain. When they played in Barcelona, it seemed that every good-looking girl in the city went with their mates. I was standing at a nearby Metro station perfectly positioned to make such an observation.

We’ve interviewed Puressence in UWS and they have quite a following. I’ve liked them for years and seen them play in concert several times, like at the Astoria in London in 1998 when a girl came up, pointed proudly at one of the band and said: “See him? He’s my boyfriend. They’re going to be massive. Chunkeh monkeh.”

Despite faultless music and some outstanding tracks like This Feeling, Puressence never did become massive. One mate in the music industry reckons that they never got their image right, which would be sad if it were true.

I’ve watched them since, but was at Goodison rather than Heaton Park in April 2003 when their bass player Kev Matthews ran on stage during the Stereophonics set (they’d supported the Welshmen) and shouted ‘United are champions’ in front of bemused and surprised Leeds fan Kelly Jones.

Puressence have done well, make a living doing what they love and getting followed around Europe by a load of barmpots.

Kev Matthews at work (Leeds fan not pictured) 

United won the derby and the lads sang songs while Greeks in Manchester United caps looked on, scared. Few had been to Old Trafford, but that’s not to assume that all Greek Reds are the same.

One, who goes by the unoriginal name of ‘Steve the Greek’, has seen United play in over 40 countries. He regularly absconded from his national service to watch his team play in Europe by rail.

Given the geography, that wasn’t so easy during the Balkan conflict. Steve is full of tales about brushes with Bulgarian border officials and Transylvanian transvestites, and also travels to international tournaments.

One of the last times I saw him was at the Copa America in Venezuela, 2007. He arrived unannounced in a mountain town 12 hours from Caracas by bus and turned his nose up at internal flights and any fare above sixpence to travel with the locals between cities.

He was last spotted on a donkey in Maracaibo looking for peace and quiet. He won’t have found it in Athens this week.

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