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Punk football and talking dogs (or maybe not)…

Submitted by on September 17, 2013 – 11:12 pmNo Comment

Frickley Athletic v FC United of Manchester

Former Sounds and NME journalist and novelist, Mick Middles on his appearance at FC United’s pre-match club Course You Can Malcolm…

Gigg Lane Bury, November 2010. Seduced by the abstract notion of punk football, actively ‘encouraged’ by an excitable friend of this steely organ, I arrived at Bury’s Gigg Lane in a state of considerable trepidation.

A few ghosts lined the route. Memories of ancient and, most likely, unsuccessful trips on Stockport County supporters’ buses came fleetingly to mind. The ghost of a recent girlfriend, housed in the locale, also darkened my mood…as, indeed, did the many forays into nearby Prestwich, to sample myriad hostelries with a youthful Mark E Smith and his then girlfriend and manager, Kay Carroll.

Dark days of speed and mushrooms. That was the Bury that lurked in my mind. Back then, a lively hedonism….and a whole lot of fun.
But punk football? It had been my comrade’s idea for me to provide some kind of music-orientated ‘talk’ in support of a genuine live musician and before the baying hordes of the FC supporters in their varying states of pre-match inebriation.

Must admit, I had reached the conclusion that maybe I had agreed to do this rather too quickly…after all, the standard audience for such a talk is a few nostalgic ex-punks in Deansgate Waterstones or, as on one vividly memorable occasion, the gnarly and unholy fan club of GBH in a Stoke on Trent tap room. Maybe…I reasoned…maybe compared to THAT, just maybe, the notoriously excitable supporters of FC United wouldn’t prove too difficult to relate to.

Walking to the ground returned me to that old ‘frisson’ that made a trip to a football match, be it at Stockport or Old Trafford in the seventies, such a thrilling prospect. The thickening crowds…camaraderie that grows in excitement and intensity…programme sellers and gathering chants. Not difficult to square the supporters milling around the front gate with the images from a recent Observer Magazine of fans-on-pitch-elation that glowed from the team’s recent and groundbreaking victory in the FA Cup.

Texting my comrade saw me guided to a rectangular room, thronging nicely and adorned with flags. I was told the event was called ‘Course You Can Malcolm’.

A relief to find the subsequent fans welcoming and talkative. Am somewhat shy so nice to fall into instant conversations about Joy Division, The Distractions and even chat with a member of the band known as The Hamsters, last seen parading alongside the two mentioned bands at 1979’s ‘Stuff the Superstars’ Festival, at Gorton’s crumbling Mayflower venue.

This day, I feared, at Bury, might not be so auspicious. I was duly informed that my slot would neatly sandwiched between a talking dog and songwriter Liam Frost. Following a talking dog, I reasoned, may not be so bad.


I once had to follow author Clinton Heylin, a noted Dylanologist who duly whipped out a notebook thicker than the Bible and spent an entire hour dissecting ‘Dylan’s Visions of Sin’. This intense, in-depth and, I have to say, ever-so-slightly rambling delivery would be duly followed by myself delivering a couple of dodgy anecdotes about getting a pint of beer poured over my head and my torso danced upon by one known as Ed Banger.

Mind you, following Paul Morley at the launch of Lindsay Reade’s book about Tony Wilson was even worse. Perhaps I should have poured a pint over Morley’s head and danced on his torso…for, beyond the hearty championing of his highly poetic but yet-to-be-written tome on Wilson, he allowed his talk to spin freely through the mechanisms of unbridled pretension. In short, what the fuck was he talking about?

‘And would you like to comment on that?’ the chairperson asked of me.

‘Er…no…think Paul might have covered it all’ I replied, dizzily.

A talking dog, I figured, might at least make some kind of sense.

Alas, he didn’t. The dog, sweet lil thing though it was, seemed to wilt before the encouraging audience, offering forth not a single syllable, even one identifiable to the canine world. If only Paul Morley had remained similarly silent and doggish.

I heard that...

I heard that…

And bang. Then on. Fumbling with microphone and nervously watching the myriad faces creased with unlikely concentration. Unlike the dog, I managed to launch into some weird kind of overview about the Sounds Magazine office in the seventies. Not entirely sure why this should hold any appeal to a room full of football fans in 2010, but tales of skinheads surrounding Gary Bushell’s desk seemed to go down pretty well.

For some reason, my mind skipped back to 1980 and the chance meeting with Joy Division manager, Rob Gretton on Market Street, which preceded the purchasing of my own wedding suit, to be worn on said occasion seven days later. It was a sorry tale indeed, as Rob and I imbibed heavy with…well one hesitates to admit this in these darker days…but eight bottles of Pils, two joints, a line of speed and a tab of acid.

Now, I am not one to advocate drug usage at all…but, well I learned one of life’s major lessons that day. If you are going to take acid….DON’T take it two hours before purchasing a wedding suit. My wedding photos would forever tell of an abashed young man in a turquoise suit, bright red tie and yellow suede shoes. Thankfully, the giant-sized dog bone, also purchased with the attendance of Mr Gretton, didn’t feature at the wedding.

And it was indeed a curious affair. I do apologise for oncoming namedrops, but memory recalls a truly surreal evening where Mark E Smith really could be found deep in conversion with my auntie Margaret; where Chris Sievey – then leader of The Freshies, later to transform into Frank Sidebottom – really did give me a homemade peg bag as a present and the members of Manchester glam act, V2, arrived in full spandex regalia.


As for Mr Gretton, neither he, nor his wife, Lesley, managed to take the phone call that came through to the reception venue (The Blue Waterfall, in Stockport). One wonders if history might have been rather different if the caller – Genesis P Orridge of Throbbing Gristle, I am latterly informed – had managed to make contact. He had been speaking to Joy Division singer, Ian Curtis that very afternoon. He was concerned about Curtis’s state of mind.

It was ten days later when I returned to Manchester and, to my horror, learned what happened to Ian Curtis in the early hours of Sunday that followed that event. Needless to say, the portents for my marriage were not exactly good….accurate, yes…but not good.
When telling this story at FC United, I completely forgot to mention that little twist of tragedy. It didn’t matter a bit. Soon I was lost with a bottle of beer and the music of the excellent Liam Frost…at last a quality act worthy of the occasion.

The game that followed wasn’t, strictly speaking, a glorious exhibition of Brazilian-style technique. In fact, it rather reminded me of those distant forays with Stockport County.

Nevertheless, the ferocious and warming camaraderie of the FC United crowd was little short of intoxication. Indeed a lovely and unexpected trawl through songs of Manchester…and songs of punk.

Such heart and passion amid the greying November in Bury. It was the most fun I had had since being danced upon by Ed Banger (now a woman, by the way). But that is another sorry tale.

- This article featured in issue seven of A Fine Lung. Buy it and some other back copies for a ridiculously cheap £1.50 inc postage here: STALL.

- Course You Can Malcolm is still going strong prior to FC United home games in the shitty building behind Gigg Lane’s Manchester Road End. If you would like to get involved as a performer (band, poet, talking dog etc) or to help arrange acts or even just lug stuff about in the set up, please email: courseyoucanmalcolm@fc-utd.co.uk

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