Scattered red and whites
Wearing his brand new mustard colour Farrah strides, my dad couldn’t have been prouder as he surveyed the scene at Wembley on Saturday, May 21, 1977.
Throwing the boat out and buying a seat for the first time at the Empire Stadium, due to a new job acquired earlier that month, he was revelling in the sunshine.
His mates were standing, but my dad wanted to take it all in with a better view and hadn’t even had a drink pre-match. It was certainly a different approach to that which he took the year previously when he’d been on the terracing behind the goal and barely seen anything of the reds’ shock defeat to Southampton.
But then his old friend ‘sod’ passed a law and when dad stood to welcome the teams on to the pitch, he felt a rip. His Farrah’s had become cemented to an industrial-strength piece of Juicy Fruit and his new keks were ruined.
Much to his amazement, this was not to be a bad omen and The Doc’s United famously stopped the treble-chasing mickeys in their pomp to take home the cup. Those lucky pants got worn again, pocket or not.
It was the last game my dad went to for nearly nine years. The new job demands and his willingness to finally start a family with my mam, had put his football supporting career on hold. I was born nearly exactly a year later.
I was recently asked to take part in a study detailing football supporters’ reasons for taking the paths they have, primarily those, like myself who follow FC United of Manchester.
That cup final, my dad’s favourite story, would probably be the point at which my future was mapped out. Yes, my dad owed his red upbringing to my granddad, so maybe he was to blame, but had my dad not taken the plunge and binned the reds off in 1977 I may never have been born.
As it happened, United entered a period of decline soon after so maybe it was for the best.
Due to maintaining a home that was realistically beyond their means in order to give their kids the best possible chances in life, my parents had at least two jobs a piece while I was growing up. With my mam working in Morrisons on a Saturday to supplement her job as a dinner lady during the week, my dad was left minding me and my young sister at weekends.
This was the case until Saturday, April 26, 1986 when my mam got the day off so she could look after our Gem, and dad took me to Old Trafford for the first time. I sat in K-Stand with him and his mates. I traced the exact match some years later, as it was the closest to my eighth birthday and Mark Hughes’ farewell appearance at the ground before he left for his ill-feted spell at Camp Nou.
My dad remembers the match for what happened before the game, when I’d excitedly kicked a discarded can on the forecourt that flew through the air and hit a policeman sat on his horse. Despite us apologising profusely, the dibble wasn’t impressed and as we walked off, my dad muttered ‘dickhead’ under his breath and I laughed all the way up the K-Stand steps. It’s not hard to see where my disdain for the bells in blue came from.
I was hooked for the next 20 years of my life – that game was the point of no return.
My granddad died the next year, probably because I mithered him to death by constantly asking him to tell me about the Busby Babes and particularly Duncan Edwards. A postman, he wasn’t much of a talker, to the point that my dad doesn’t even know what he did during the war. It wasn’t unusual in a large Irish Catholic family for such vagueness to exist, where the male head was stereotypically the strong, silent type. But he would always smile when he spoke about Duncan. He told the story they all tell, of the shot that hit the bar and richoched all the way to the halfway line. It was against a different team each time, but I still loved to hear the tale.
Former reds captain Johnny Carey was another of his favourites and when I would ask granddad about him, he’d point to my dad and say: “He was a friend of the family, ask him about the Careys.” It was an excuse to avoid further conversation, but I didn’t need much invitation to hear more of United’s history as my young mind soaked it all up.
Dad went to school with Carey’s son and they would regularly play with the 1948 FA Cup Final ball in Johnny’s backyard. I imagined being friends with Bryan Robson’s son and getting to play with the 1985 equivalent, but they lived in Cheshire somewhere and that was miles away.
My dad has become more like his father, as he gets older. He’s too much of gobshite to ever be the silent type, but he has adopted many of the mannerisms I remember in my granddad.
He brought me up well and red in both football and politics and for that I will be eternally grateful.
They say you eventually become your dad and he is your first hero. For me this was definitely the case and I’m fortunate to count him as one of my best friends. A person I can just as easily go for a pint with as help put a shed up in his garden. I realise that many people aren’t as fortunate and I therefore have a policy of never turning him down for a pint, because he won’t be here forever and one day all I will have left will be these memories. Many friends have gone through that horrible experience already and it’s one I, like most men, dread.
The first time I got in trouble at school was his fault. During a lesson about what the word ‘regret’ meant in some silly religious context, the teacher asked for examples. I put my hand up and said: “My dad always says he regrets that the bomb didn’t kill Mrs Thatcher.” It resulted in a phone call home. My dad’s response was to wink at me as he patronised the headteacher on the other end of the line.
I was brought up to be egalitarian, a socialist and above all else to believe in justice and fairness for all. My grandma and granddad had instilled the same beliefs in my father and his five siblings. So much so that in her latter years my grandma lived in an area that was either Lib Dem or Tory, yet she still voted Labour to the point that the family used to spend hours trying to convince her to vote tactically. She couldn’t betray her roots. These traits, as much as my football allegiance, brought me to where I am now.
My dad has hardened as he gradually turns into my granddad. He once threatened me with ‘a crack’ if I ever bought The Sun newspaper, but years later, after I’d left home, I caught him coming out the toilet with one. Now he has been known to buy the Daily Mail.
They say we all end up swinging all the way around the political compass before we die. But that didn’t stop him ditching his season ticket in 2004 – a year before the Glazers – because he was disgusted at the greed in football and how far the game had drifted away from his class.
He stands beside me now at FC United of Manchester and whenever I’ve questioned the decisions we have made in the last five years, he serves as a timely reminder of the tradition and history we bring with us and as vindication for always sticking to our principles.
o The above featured in issue four of A Fine Lung. To purchase a copy or any other issue, click on the ‘Buy issues of A Fine Lung’ tab near the top of the page. All proceeds go towards FC United of Manchester’s proposed new home in Moston.