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Older reds swap derby memories

Submitted by on December 11, 2017 – 8:06 pmNo Comment

Soccer

From the Daily Telegraph:

Derek Gardner remembers the 1955 Manchester derby like it was yesterday. Or, rather, he remembers the build-up to the game.

“I was out on the town and ended up in a club in Moss Side with a bunch of United-supporting lads. It was about 2am the morning of the derby and Bobby Johnstone, who’d just signed for City, was in there. And he was absolutely rat-a—-. I said to my mates, look at the state of him. I said we’ve got this, he won’t be able to stand up, let alone kick a ball. Then that afternoon he played an absolute stormer and City thrashed us, the Busby Babes and all, 5-0. No one saw that coming. Especially not me.”

Derek is sharing his reminiscence of derbies past with a group of a dozen other old-time, football followers in a room at FC United of Manchester’s new ground in Broadhurst Park, in the east of the city. Here they meet every week over a cup of tea to swap yarns and tales, prompted by a couple of volunteers from the charity Sporting Memories.

The organisation runs more than 100 such weekly groups all over the country, gatherings where the senior and the forgetful can come together and recall their sporting times, reminisce about the football, the cricket or the racing. Anything that stimulates the memory.

“We set this up to provide something for older men,” says Tony Jameson-Allen, the former professional golf caddie who started the charity in 2011. “We found that sport was a language they are most comfortable with. It provides an instant connection.”

The groups are open to anyone over the age of 50, men who are experiencing dementia, bereavement or loneliness. Or who just want a chat about the old times. Men like Derek, who first joined when his wife died last year.

With no one at home, he found himself increasingly isolated. So he went along to the group. There he met a couple of like minds and, like a footballing Last of the Summer Wine, together they started to go to the live match again.

“I was caring for my wife for five years, she had dementia, so there was no way I could do that any more,” he says. “To be honest, I thought that was a thing of the past. Now I follow United home and away and it’s given me a new lease of life.”

This is not an uncommon experience: recalling a life through sport at the charity’s meetings has proven to bring all sorts of benefits.

“When we started, the idea was it would provide a bit of respite for women who are caring for their husbands with dementia, who they could leave with us for a couple of hours while they went off and did their own thing,” says Tony Jameson-Allen.

“But then we found more and more women were staying on for the chat. Because as the memories started to flow, they saw their husband, the man they used to know, coming back.”

It is not hard to see why. Skilfully coordinated by the charity volunteers, soon, round the room at FC United, eyes are glowing as the past is recalled.

“My favourite derby memory was standing at the front of the Stretford End and Johnny Morris took a shot at goal which missed,” says Harry Ross, an 80-year-old United supporter, who, like Derek, still gets to the match when he can. “The ball came flying into the crowd, hit me on the head and was going that fast it knocked me clean off my feet. And Morris, he kept on running, jumped into the crowd and picked me up and said, ‘You all right kiddo?’ All right? I was that excited I couldn’t wait to get to school on the Monday to tell all my mates I’d been knocked flying by Johnny Morris.”

To help prompt the memories, the volunteers bring along memorabilia. Sean Kelly, the coordinator, has laid out on a table his collection of old derby programmes and match reports, a riveting archive of material. And today there is a special guest. David White, the former Manchester City player, arrives with a box full of derby photographs, part of an enormous archive of 90,000 images which has just been donated to the charity by Reuters. The pictures he has brought are mainly of City’s 5-1 victory at Maine Road in 1989, a win in which he played a prominent part.

“We all love looking through pictures,” says White, who is employed by the Professional Footballers’ Association to help the charity’s work. “Just one shot can spark a thousand conversations. I had a chat with a bloke the other day. He saw a picture of me playing in the 5-1 derby and he said to me, ‘You scored four in that didn’t you?’ I said no I didn’t. But he was that adamant I started to doubt my own memory. Did I really score four? Sadly, when I checked, I found I didn’t.”

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As White hands around the pictures, the volume in the room increases. Soon the conversation turns to how the meaning of the Manchester derby has changed. These days, everyone agrees, the football – particularly that played by City – is magnificent. And there is no chance any United supporters would happen across Sergio Aguero or Kevin De Bruyne the worse for wear in a nightclub on the morning of the derby. But some things, the group reckoned, were not as good as they used to be. Not least, as the game has globalised, the fact there is no longer the same sense of Mancunian identity.

“On Sunday there will only be a couple of local lads involved,” says Derek. “United will have Marcus Rashford and Jesse Lingard, City won’t have anyone. But, in the past, like when David played, there were loads of Mancs. So what we felt in the crowd was reflected on the pitch.”

Or as Peter Gleave, one of the charity coordinators, put it: “Because they meant so much, because both teams were made up of local lads, derbies used to get right feisty. Talk to people who’ve only seen the modern game and they’ll call you a liar for it, but I remember going to a derby about 1972 at Maine Road and it was getting that bad, the kicking and punching and that, the ref had to take the two teams off the pitch for 10 minutes just to calm everyone down.”

Indeed, there were five locals – including White, a lifelong blue – in that triumphant 1989 City XI.

“There was a real sense after that game we were in the ascendant,” he says. “But it was a false dawn. It was one of those games when everything went right for one team and wrong for the other.”

“Yeah,” says Derek. “City might have scored five but they didn’t even get the best goal of that game. Mark Hughes got that for us with his volley.”

“Oh aye, still clutching at straws,” laughs White.

That is the remarkable thing about Sporting Memories. Across the country, in each of its 100 weekly meetings, it will be the same, as reminiscence is teased out of the fog. For White, it is an experience he finds delightful. Not least because he cannot have imagined that, 28 years on, a whole afternoon would pass recalling what happened in a game he played in back in the autumn of 1989.

“Never crossed my mind for a second that anyone would still be talking about it,” he says. Then he pauses for a moment before smiling. “Certainly not a bunch of United fans.”

For more on Sporting Memories click HERE.

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