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McFC – The gift that kept on giving…

Submitted by on May 13, 2012 – 1:52 pmNo Comment

Division 2 is calling you....

The last time I can recall the final game of a season mattering so much to both Manchester teams was 1996, when United were Champions and city went down believing a draw with Liverpool kept them safe. The following is taken from ‘A Fine Lung’, which is occasionally sold in and around Manchester when the writers co-operative manage to scrape together an issue.

My dad was twice targeted during Thatcher’s war on the working classes, when the factory he worked in down-sized and moved its tool-making work abroad and, more catastrophically to him and us, when the NHS made him redundant so the hospital’s new private owners could offer him his job back at half his salary. He spent two years on the dole and we watched the pride drain out of this hard-working, loving man as he got knock-back after knock-back.

He eventually found a job working as a porter in a hotel, a mile up the road from where we lived. He wore a daft suit and a waistcoat with big brass buttons. He worked for landed, Mottram St Andrew snots, running errands, giving them lifts to the airport for weekend’s away playing golf, where they’d probably spend more on brass than they were paying him in six months. But he was bringing home money and even though he must’ve felt ridiculed running around after those cunts he wasn’t having to face that once-a-fortnight ridicule of signing on, so he got on with it.

I was at an age where I was going to the match on my own. I would clean cars, deliver papers and do what I could to watch United. Eventually he got me a job working in the kitchens there. I was under-age at 14 and I worked about 3 or 4 nights a week for £3.10 an hour. We had a clocking in machine in the staff cloakroom. I worked out that I could go in when I wasn’t working, clock in and go back later to clock out. I’d also turn up a couple of hours earlier than I was meant to, clock in and then hang around looking busy. At nights we’d sit around for 2-3 hours after a shift, taking a wage from the bulbous, silver-spoon twat of an owner. I was able to pay my way at home and, importantly for me, go to more games, eventually getting a season ticket, paid for by my invisible act at the hotel.

After a couple of years there I was faced with a dilemma. In May 1996 I was asked to work on the final day of the season. United were away at Boro, needing to better Newcastle’s result to win the league. A Cup Final versus Liverpool had been secured. Eric Cantona, coming back from suspension after Selhurst Park, had helped United get back within reach of Newcastle, who had led by 12 points at Christmas. But without a win a Boro the title was under threat.

The build up to the game was immense. Cantona had led United on a stunning run and Keegan, having dropped points at Elland Rd in midweek, putting United’s fate in their own hands, lost it live on telly with his “love it” rant. With the exception of Tottenham in ’99 I don’t remember a final day that has come anywhere close in terms of tension. Obviously tickets were not easy to come by. This was United’s first visit to the Riverside, which was not yet up to its capacity as the corners hadn’t been filled in. Despite this, I had managed to get hold of one, but the small matter of work stood in my way.

I’d had a word with my boss – a Liverpool fan – but he’d told me it was up to the Head Chef, a lunatic alcoholic who didn’t like football. He told me if I didn’t turn up for work I was out of a job. My dad had been back in work and back on his feet for a while but there were still money problems and he was still working over-time to make sure that bills were paid. I was helping out at home and I was getting decent money for doing a job that I wasn’t actually doing. It paid for my season ticket and more and more away games. Most lads my age were going to the odd game or not at all anymore, and were working full time for less money than I was earning for 3-4 nights a week. I knew I had to miss Boro and so at 7am on that glorious last day of the season I was on my way to work.

There’s nothing out-of-the-ordinary about this lad-misses-game-for-work story, except for the fact that the hotel I worked for had an outside catering contract with Manchester City Football Club. So at 7am on that glorious last day of the season I was on my way to work at Maine Road, where in complete contrast to United, City were playing Liverpool and trying to keep their place in the league.

From what I remember, the new Kippax, which was thrown up in 1994, was funded by money from the Boardroom Suite, which was set up in the Main Stand as City’s VIP area. A table of ten was yours for five years for a six figure sum. After 5 years you’d get your money back and in the meantime the table was yours for City’s games and any other events that took place at Maine Road. An assortment of well-to-do, City sympathising business types took up the offer and we catered for about 150 of them. Ignoring the surroundings, it was a good number. You had to be there early on Saturdays and wouldn’t get away until about half six at night, which amounted to clocking in a 6am on a Saturday and clocking out at some point on Sunday afternoon. Somewhere in between there was about four hours work, all indirectly paid for by MCFC.

If United’s situation was tense, City’s was no different. They looked doomed but had managed to win the last couple of games so it all went down to 90 minutes against Liverpool. Bolton and QPR had already gone. Coventry, Sheffield Wednesday, Southampton or Wimbledon could have joined them, depending on what happened in their games and at Maine Road. Not long after we got set up, people started to arrive and the expectation was that they’d go down. Typical city an’ all that.

There were some horrible, bitter fuckers that worked there and I haven’t seen hatred of United like I saw working at Maine Road. Granted, some of the people that worked there part time with us were ok. Most of them weren’t really into football but had adopted City out of loyalty to their work. The old dears who waited-on got there about 12’ish and proceeded to tell us how terrible it would be if City went down. The catering manager, a slimy, Moroccan bloke (who had stopped calling me by my name in favour of “fuckingredmunichbastard” many months ago) caught me laughing, assumed I was laughing at City’s situation and threatened to put a knife in me if they were relegated and I said anything to him.

After a busy couple of hours pre-match, I managed to get cleaned up quickly and was in a spare seat in the Main Stand a couple of minutes into the game. Obviously my main concern was how United were doing at Boro so I had a radio with me. As I took my seat the sound of the commentator was drowned out by a roar from the Liverpool fans in the North Stand as Steve Lomas put it into his own net. City looked finished before the game had really started. Ian Rush put the scousers two up a couple of minutes before half time, by which time David May had put United one nil up at the Riverside.

We had to go back into the kitchens whilst Franny’s mates were served their half time tea. The old dears were still saying how terrible it was, whilst the United fans were trying to get a glimpse of the telly to see how we were getting on at Boro, trying to hide their delight. Nobody expected anything from the second half. Loads of seats were still empty about ten minutes in. By the time United were two up at the Riverside the unlikely happened and City got back in the game with goals from Uwe Rosler and Kit Symons.

Obviously the City fans were going mad but the atmosphere was odd because no one really knew what was going on elsewhere. This was before smart phones so the 31,000 inside Maine Road were reliant on people with radios. There seemed to be different messages coming through, some suggesting City would be safe with a point, others confirming the reality, that they needed a win. Alan Ball’s message had got to the players that a point was ok. As the confused blues around me raised the volume, some shouting at the players, some shouting to each other and shrugging their shoulders, the commentator in my left ear confirmed that United were now three up and the title was won.

The footage of what followed has become United legend. The situation was now understood by all but about twelve people inside Maine Road – City needed to score. I’d been watching Alan Ball on the sidelines, gesturing to his players to slow things down and keep the ball. Steve Lomas and Uwe Rosler, directly below me in front of the Main Stand, relax to a walk and casually side footed the ball to each other. City players further back are looking at their Manager, then at Lomas and Rosler, then into the stands where everyone is on their feet waving their fists around. The noise has become deafening, a din of irate blues pleading with their team to push forward, complicated by the sound of my radio telling me that United too were at walking pace en route to the title. Suddenly Niall Quinn appeared from out of the Main Stand tunnel. He mouths something to City’s management and then makes his way up the touchline towards the Platt Lane, imploring his team-mates to get on with it.

The noise goes up again and City try for a frantic couple of minutes to stay in the league. By now the realisation is starting to hit those around me. They’ve just seen an almighty fuck up and I can see the colour draining from faces. The referee blows his whistle and City are relegated. As the boos and whistles start I can here United fans singing “champions” through my radio. I must say, I’ve had worse days at work.

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