Whaling stations, paper rounds & texts from David May

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I’ve just spent 17 days on a ship, travelling from Cape to Cape via Antarctica, The Falklands, South Georgia and Tristan Da Cunha in the Southern Atlantic.

60-mile-per-hour winds meant we were unable to land at South Georgia and see the grave of the explorer Ernest Shackleton. His ship got snarled up in ice during a 1914 Antarctic expedition, so the crew took all their belongings and equipment off and, after playing a game of football on the ice, set up a camp.

The settlement of Grytviken (population 13) is a former whaling station which Shackleton managed to reach and raise the alarm in a tiny lifeboat months after abandoning ship. Grytviken also has a football pitch, despite not having enough people to form two teams.

Tristan da Cunha, a further three days away by sea, is the most isolated settlement in the world with a population of around 270. A UK overseas territory, there are just seven established surnames and the main man on the island told us that most are Manchester United supporters.

I’ll never complain about Fratton Park being a trek again. And jokes about being inbred are not appreciated. Seriously.

Fortress Fratton: Not that far, really

Having so much time to spare at sea has allowed me to read and write extensively. I’ve started my book on United in the 90s by so far transcribing 8,000 of David May’s words.

He’s a proper lad full of great anecdotes which usually involve childish pranks and beer. I’ve got nine other interviews on a dictaphone which I’ve been guarding with my life since January.

I’d not spoke to David for two months, so it was a coincidence to get a text from him with his new phone number as I wrote about
him. Many footballers or former players change their phone number frequently to avoid being mithered.

“You lucky tw*t,” May’s text read. “I hope your boat doesn’t sink.”

Better than one from a mate which read: “I hope a big wave sinks you and pirates attack you.”

"What? No invite?"

And I wrote up Cardiff vs Swansea for FourFourTwo’s More Than A Game feature next month.

I went to watch the game twice – first from a Swansea perspective and secondly with Cardiff’s Soul Crew. I met some right characters in South Wales on those trips and I’ve met even more at sea.

Like the Sir and his Lady who own a castle and two planes. I found out that he owns two planes by asking him if he uses Easyjet to commute between the castle and their island estate.

“Actually,” he replied, “we use our own planes.”

“Well I used to have a paper round racket going round Urmston,” I could have replied to Top Trump him.

And there was another Sir who boasts a two-mile full size railway in his garden. In Henley (an awful place to do a paper round because the houses are too big).

"No, WE are Swansea!"

And an erudite Norwich City fan who was in such a position in the world of finance that the BBC’s economics man Robert Peston used to email for advice.

He let the top floor of his house for eight years… to his good friend John Major. I wouldn’t have liked delivering papers to that one with gun-wielding security in the garden 24/7. He explained the Glazers takeover of Manchester United in terms I’ve never heard before.

Then there was the Lancastrian who spoke of nothing but fighting off burglars with dogs, whenever we saw him. By the time the ship neared Cape Town, the dogs had grown into wolves and the burglars a division of barbarians.

Again, his house wouldn’t be ideal for a paper boy.

Several of the ship’s staff are into football. The chief engineer is a Sunderland fan who subscribes to the A Love Supremefanzine. And the captain and his wife are Liverpool fans from Merseyside who just want to talk about football when most of the people around them have no interest in it.

They knew Sir Matt Busby and Bill Shankly well and the captain wants to show me some old pictures of them. They congratulated me on United winning the league after Liverpool’s defeat at Middlesbrough, which was very generous of them, especially because I don’t play for United…

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