Me and the scouser
Me and the Scouser stood at other ends of the platform, eyeing each other with suspicion.
I know that grammatically it should read “the Scouser and I” but this was the early Eighties, and you couldn’t afford to give a Mickey Mouser a head start.
He was typical. Fred Perry shirt, Levi jeans, Adidas trainers and that ludicrous flicked hairstyle beloved of wannabe style hooligans and New Romantic band lead singers.
I was a scruffy oik, never bothered about fashion, just interested in beer and United.
This was the southbound platform at Lancaster railway station on a Saturday morning, and United and Liverpool were both at home.
I knew he was a Scouser because we were both on history and politics courses at the local uni, and some of our lectures and seminars crossed. He had that glottal Norris Green accent, and no doubt my Salford twang grated on him just as much.
The fact that he was a match-going Scouser just deepened the mistrust and distant dislike. They chucked darts, they jumped you in Stanley Park, and they lorded it as they collected trophies by the bundle.
Going to uni was my first real experience of being away from home, and it was an eye-opener. Even though this was Lancaster, there were some seriously posh types – one twat drove round in an MG Midget which daddy had bought for him as a going-away present.
My mum gave me a bag full of baked bean tins and Findus crispy pancakes.
Some of the rich kids were alright, but you tended to mix with people from similar backgrounds, so my best mates were ordinary lads from places like Castleford, Stoke and Stretford.
You could revel in the cred of being a working-class boy – we felt like we had defied the handicap of a crap comprehensive education to get there, whereas the middle-class kids had assumed a university place as a natural right, even those who were thick as shit.
I used to enjoy picking up my grant cheque, queuing alphabetically so that mine, from Salford City Council, was wedged between Salisbury and Saffron Walden. My mum said I was an inverted snob, and she was probably right.
But I enjoyed going home every other week, to see the folks, watch United and go for a pint in the local boozer, among blokes who worked for a living and didn’t ponce about in Che Guevara T-shirts spouting pseudo-principled bollocks.
Anyway, the station stand-off went on for half a season, one of us getting off at Preston to change trains, keeping our distance all the time.
Everything changed when there was a Liverpool away match on the telly in the Junior Common Room. The Scouser was in there, which was a surprise, because he clearly went to a fair few aways as well as every home game.
I hadn’t noticed him until I sat down, and he was at the other end of the same row, about ten seats away. A bit close for comfort – you could feel the static crackling in the air between us, and we had both had a bevvy.
It was the lad in the row behind who cracked it. Curly ginger hair and beard, round specs and a corduroy jacket with elbow patches, a parody of a science student.
He was from Oxford, was a Liverpool fan and had never been to a match in his life, despite the fact he now lived 60 miles away from Anfield. But he would profess his love for all things Liverpool loudly at every opportunity and with a Nick Hornby-esque detachment from reality.
When he started to sing “I remember when, we took the Stretford End”, the contempt was too much to take.
“When was this, then?” I asked him, turning round and bristling, before reminding him he was too shit-scared to even go and stand on the Kop, never mind take on the Stretty.
It was a short, one-sided argument, and then I remembered the real Scouser. How was he taking my rant?
I glanced over and he was wearing a knowing smile under that Perry Boy wedge, almost approving.
Next time we saw each other, he mentioned it. He disliked the Oxford knob more than I ever could, and we soon got talking about football, football culture and the rest.
He became a mate, and a good mate. Lancaster was a nice town, but they didn’t like students, often with good reason, so it was always handy knocking around with lads who wouldn’t run out on you if you had a drink in a townie pub and the local knobheads decided they didn’t like the look of you.
It got to the point that when United played at Anfield , I stood on the Kop with him, and he came and stood on United Road Paddock – at the safer end – with me once or twice.
From that point on, the Scouse-Manchester thing became more and more of a mystery to me.
I kept singing the songs about them rummaging in dustbins, and their tendency to induce nausea and a desire to strike them with a brick. And I still wanted to beat them more than any other team, except maybe City.
But “hate” Scousers. No, couldn’t get that at all.
It still bemuses me now, when you speak to United lads who have stood shoulder to shoulder with Scousers, whether it be in the army, or fighting fascists on the street, and yet who still happily profess their hatred for our Liverpool brethren.
Hating Scousers, even if it’s an unthinking, superficial profession of hatred, makes no sense. It’s as if it’s in the genes.
Of course, the rivalry between the cities goes back way beyond football, and pre-dates the row over trade which sparked the building of the Manchester Ship Canal.
Manchester was an industrial and commercial powerhouse, Liverpool built its wealth on trade, not creating but handling other people’s goods in and goods out.
We despised them for making money without getting their hands dirty, they despised us for doing the opposite.
I’m told that the “lazy Scousers” jibe dates back to those days, when I always thought it was a result of the high unemployment of the early 80s.
Whatever the reason, it was a rivalry which was diluted by two world wars. My grandad served in the King’s Liverpool Regiment in the Great War, despite living in deepest Ordsall – and it was the Jerries that gassed him, not the Scousers.
And my dad tells me that Cross Lane in Salford was such a hive of activity in the Fifties that charabancs full of Scousers would come down on a Saturday night to drink in the pubs and dance in the halls.
You can’t imagine a couple of coachloads of Scousers heading for a night out in Salford these days, without blood and teeth.
And that is why the talk of a joint protest at any United v Liverpool game was always doomed. For every zealot who hates Scousers, or Mancs, there are another three too afraid to admit that they don’t for fear of losing Red points.
It’s the eternal problem of the football supporter. We hold vast power in the game, but will never wield it because petty rivalries and ingrained bigotries mean more to us than facing up to the real enemies of football.
Once we recognise that Scousers are our brothers, that the likes of Glazer, Gillett and Hicks are a common foe, and that banter and bile should be trotted out on match days, and never, ever carry any meaning, we will be all the better for it.
- This article was taken from A Fine Lung issue three. To purchase that and other issues, please visit our online stall.