In the mid to late 1950s, I finally graduated to a height where it was possible to be taken to a football match and actually see something. In those days, Thatcher’s detestation of all things working class had not yet extended to a diktat that all footie stadiums must have 100% seats: back then, there were only standing terraces made safe by steel crash barriers. But as most spectators were two feet taller than me, Dad made me a hinged, fold-up soap box thingy I could stand on in order to get a decent view.
The first game I attended was an old Division One match between my team – Manchester United, who else? – and the profoundly hated Aston Villa. It was near the start of the 1957-58 season, and still burning in the memory of United fans was our defeat at the hands of an inferior Villa side in the previous May’s FA Cup Final…a victory achieved solely by Villa’s Peter MacParland knocking out United goalkeeper Ray Wood in what was later voted by soccer fans across the world the Worst Foul of all Time.
Inexplicably, Macparland was allowed to stay on the field of play (today he’d have been banned for life) and as no substitutes were allowed back then, United had to put centre half back Jackie Blanchflower in goal and play with ten men. We lost 2-1.
So as you might imagine, this League fixture four months later was something of a grudge match. United won at a canter 4-1, with goals from Dennis Violet, Liam Whelan and Tommy Taylor (2). Taylor’s second goal was hit with such ferocity, it seemed to me at the time that Villa keeper Nigel Sims got out of the way rather then trying to save it….but over 57 years the memory plays strange tricks, so I could be wrong.
The sole half-time entertainment offered to the 48,000 United fans that day was the Beswick Prize Band, led by a baton-thrower whose 100% record for catching the baton was legendary. Indeed, it wasn’t until a home game against Spurs in 1961 that I finally saw the bloke drop a baton. His face was a tragic study in red throughout the half-time interval.
To alleviate the boredom of the BPB, the Old Trafford End had a manually-operated scoreboard offering half-time results from the other Division One games. If Manchester City were losing heavily away from home, there would be an enthusiastically guttural cheer. Otherwise, fans would keep a close eye on the progress of Wolverhampton Wanderers, Burnley and Tottenham Hotspur – the only clubs likely to threaten United’s dominance.
A couple of months later came my baptism into the Derby Game ritual…..this time away from home at City’s old Maine Road ground. Although United had for some time been the kingpins in Manchester, the sky-blues at City had an illustrious and lucrative history behind them, and a stadium to match that faded grandeur. There were 84,000 fans crammed onto the terraces that day, and the terrifying roar when City came out has never left me. (This home v away shouting contest between rival fans has been lost in the let’s-all-shake-hands-before-fouling-each-other hypocrisy of Murdoch’s multinational Premiership.)
It was a 2-2 draw. I think I aged ten years during the 90 minutes.
Three months later, most of the United side were dead….killed in the Munich Disaster that became, for United fans of the time, simply The Crash. For years thereafter, people referred to The Old Team – Byrne, Colman, Jones, Edwards, Whelan, Taylor, Bent and Pegg – and compared them to the United rising from the ashes. Not until the late 1960s of Best, Law, Stepney, Crerand and Kidd did the New United blend in with survivors Charlton and Foulkes to carry the torch onto the 1968 European Cup victory against Benfica. And then there was a ten-year burnout until the Ferguson years of unparalleled success.
You may have noticed the absence of foreign names from these teams. The arrival of overseas stars – bought with Murdoch’s confetti-money – has added greatly to the quality of the Premiership. But it has destroyed grass-roots British soccer, and left us with a risibly third-rate national side.
This is in the nature of Merdeschlock Austropathicus. Indeed, this sad old psycho will not rest until he has lowered British culture to the level of his homeland.