Wicker man says ‘yes’
By J Walter Weatherman
Paul Whitehouse may have been seeking the approval of his peers for his love of dairy-based products when he asked the question “I’nt milk brilliant?”. Or he may just have been performing in a comedy sketch that grew old very quickly. Either way I’m looking for no such approval when I tell you that, yes milk is brilliant, but in a dairy fight to the death, cheese would be the creamy victor. Wensleydale cheese to be precise.
Though possibly if it was a fight to the death, the milk might be able to drown the cheese, thus claiming victory. Possibly. But regardless of such musings, it’s the reason why I like Wensleydale cheese that’s important. I could say it’s because it has a supple, crumbly, moist texture and resembles a young Caerphilly. I could say it’s down to the fact that its makers stick to a traditional recipe. Which is all true. But when it comes down to the cheesy crux of the matter, it’s really because, as of the 27th October 2011, when I think of Wensleydale cheese, I think of Football Club United of Manchester and I think of Moston.
Allow me to elaborate. This week, Manchester City Council’s planning department, the Charity Commission and Ronald Johnson’s family all donned their best Panama hats and gave a very Man from Delmonte ‘Yes’ to our new ground in Moston. Obviously we’ve been here before; it wasn’t that long ago we were singing about “living the dream down in Newton Heath” and sporting Ten Acres Love Song T-shirts (which incidentally would have gone down a storm with the Roses’ recent re-union, but water under the bridge and all that), and we’ve learnt it’s best to approach these things with a certain amount of caution until the first spade breaks the soil, but, so far so good. It was the decision a significant amount of us have been waiting to hear, and as a room full of Yays, Nays, council bods and others with their own projects all waited on whether their hopes would be fulfilled or dashed, I avidly followed proceedings from that hotbed of Mancunian redness that is the Yorkshire dales. The Wensleydale Creamery tour in Hawes to be geographically and factually precise.
Ah, Yorkshire, such a friendly and welcoming place to those of a red persuasion. Permit me to briefly reminisce about happy times spent in the county, such as the occasion my mate and I got dragged off a train by a group of Leeds fans (after they’d smacked said friend in the face for the crime of sitting too near a group of lads singing ‘we all hate Leeds scum’. A group that went strangely quiet when it became apparent our friends from over the Pennines were sharing a carriage with us) who then threatened to cart us off into the cold Yorkshire night and burn us. Good times, if taking a hands-on approach to recreating the fucking Wicker Man is your idea of fun.
Recalling a tale about Leeds fans thinking they were re-enacting the burning of the Cathars in mediaeval France and applying it to the beautiful and genteel part of Yorkshire I was in is a tad harsh perhaps, but it does serve to highlight the high esteem certain folk from this part of the country hold us in. So you can see why my being in Yorkshire when back in Manchester, decisions, and let’s face it, big decisions were being made about FC’s future felt slightly wrong, a feeling akin to the one you get when your underwear is slightly twisted and you’re faced with the dilemma of carrying on regardless or risking a quick re-shuffle of your goods to the disgusted looks of passersby.
Maybe it wasn’t just the fact I was in Yorkshire that was adding to this sense of elusive unease though, because I was also combining attempts to keep updated on events back home with increasing my knowledge of all things Wensleydale. And let me tell you summat for nowt, lesser men would have crumbled like the crumbliest of crumbly Cheshire under such pressure, but not me. I wiped away the rapidly increasing beads of sweat from my frown-creased forehead and soldiered on regardless. I was on holiday after all; I wasn’t going to drown under a deluge of stress when I’d gone away to enjoy a relaxing break with the girlfriend and her family in the Lake District. We’d only ventured into Yorkshire to see cheese being made and to get ourselves fed for freemans after all.
So there I found myself, nervously peering into the screen of my phone, whilst simultaneously increasing my cheesy knowledge and impatiently waiting for the chance to shovel free dairy produce down my throat. As petty bickering broke out amongst the people posting on the live feed from the planning meeting, that Pamela Whatsherface from the no-longer-in-Manchester Evening News ‘tweeted’ live updates, I watched curd being separated from whey and listened to a sadly familiar tale of how the creamery was closed down and production moved to Lancashire (until a management buyout and help from former employees enabled a return to its spiritual home though).
I was caught in a maelstrom of cheese and planning applications; a combination that caused a dull ache in the dark recesses of my brain. It appeared my confused state hadn’t gone unnoticed either; a hand on my arm caused me to look up and directly into the irate face of my girlfriend. For some unfathomable reason she wasn’t impressed that I’d wandered away from our group and was meandering away to an unknown destination. Which could have been into a vat of cheese for all I was aware.
But I didn’t care; after seven years of sleeping on the couch of other football clubs it was time for us to claim a home of our own. So when finally the news came through, the elation shook my body down to its fromage-filled core. Which was quickly tempered by the sobering thought we’d been here before, but following the crushing blow of losing Ten Acres Lane it’s a fresh source of hope that I’m clinging onto tightly; tight to the point of painfully digging my nails into my hand for fear of further loss.
If all goes to plan, and we do indeed get our ground built, then it’ll have been crafted on a vision of love, a refusal to be beaten and the unwavering belief that community and football can co-exist for the benefit of each other. It’ll be the very essence of the bricks and reclaimed railway sleepers that’ll make up the stadium; a physical embodiment of the power people have when they’re united by a common cause. The terraces will speak of these things to anyone who graces them, but to one person they’ll also speak of a Yorkshire cheese, that bald, plasticine loner Wallace and his cerebrally superior dog Gromit, and the word ‘coagulum’. Which is a bit odd really, but there you go.
J. Walter Weatherman