Manchester Derby 2006
How Many Lives Does A Cat Have?
January 2006. Smart phones don’t exist yet, the iPod barely does. Avocado on toast isn’t a delicacy of monied Millennials. The youth of the day pursue more innocent pleasures such as, talking to each other. They were ‘going out on the pull’ or ‘going on the piss’, after which their clothes stank of stale cigarette smoke. Cutting edge technology is Limewire file sharing, which spawned The Arctic Monkeys who were all the rage and cool as fuck. Chelsea were the nouveau riche league champions with Abramovich’s billions. Jose Mourinho was “The Special One”, and Manchester United were floundering in transition following the Glazer takeover the previous summer. Your author was a poor student at the time, pondering a long term career in the Food & Beverage industry, particularly his place of employment, Wetherspoons.
Friday night in Wetherspoons was always the same. Baying hounds three deep at the bar fighting over their turn to be served, while the author tried desperately to repel this baying mob serving two at a time. This Friday night was slightly different in that it was the night before the Manchester derby at the City of Manchester Stadium. Always one of the first fixtures United supporters look to when the fixture list is released, and definitely the first fixture City fans look to.
The buzz of a Nokia distracts my flow of batting back the baying mob. Pulling my phone out of my pocket with one hand while serving change to a punter with the other, I check the screen. It’s Walt, from the Stalybridge branch. This can only be good news so close to the match. My previous efforts to secure a ticket had proven fruitless, so despite the three deep baying mob the other side of the bar, I put them on hold, and took the call. “It’s Walt” he barked. “I’ve got a ticket for tomorrow.”. “Nice one” I think in the moment’s pause that comes before Walt adds, “It’s in the City end. Do you want it?”. It’s my turn to pause while I think through the implications as a United supporter. The shouts and screams of the baying mob demanding service are on mute. “Fuck it I’ll take it”. Phone call ended, back to the baying mob.
The next part is written in short hand as it was posted on the Red Issue main forum, and recounts the tale of the day…
“Actually thinking back to that 3-1 loss I was in the City end and was the first time I was going in the home end anywhere. I was younger and a bit nervous about being sussed on my own, what I’d do if we scored etc. in the pub before Walt from Stalybridge gives me my ticket and my instructions. “This is from Jammy. But behave because I’ll get it right in the neck if you’re sussed and booted out. There’s another red next to you. I’ve written his name on the back of the ticket so you’re not on your own etc”. Anyway we get to the ground. Those in the away end split off and I’m on my own now trying to blend in and not look like I’ve come in with other reds.
Got in the ground easy enough, went for a piss. Just as I’m finishing I get a kick in the back of the leg. I’m thinking “Fuck, sussed after two minutes for fuck sake!”. Looked round and it was big Vinny from our branch. This was a nice relief, although he shouts “Hope your team wins mate” as he bowls out of the bogs, trying his best to blow my cover.
Get to my seat in the Gods and I’m trying to suss who the nearby threats could be. Luckily sat next to a couple so nodded to them, discretely took my seat, the game’s started and the seat to the other side of me is empty. I’m engrossed in the game so didn’t notice initially what was lurching towards me around the ten minute mark. My fellow interloping red comes barging down the row, knocking blues out of the way all over the shop to numerous complaints. As he gets closer his appearance resembles a Dinosaur who’s stepped out of a time machine right from 1975. Doc Martin’s, Crombie jacket, skinhead. I’m thinking “Fuck me this has got disaster written all over it”.
It was a quiet moment when he plonks himself down in the seat next to me, turns and looks at me for a second then shouts; “SO YOU’RE THE OTHER RED ARE YOH?!”. I’m saying nothing but my facial expression is screaming “Are you fucking mad?!”. He carries on; “Don’t worry mate, I’ve still got the axe wound on my head from Upton Park in ‘75! These lot are fucking useless I’ll sort them!”. We’ve clearly lucked out where we’re sat in the ground, as there was no mither from any of the surrounding blues. Anyway they go 2 up, each time with this certified lunatic shouting “FUCK OFF”!
I’m trying to be polite enough in conversation with him to not piss him off, while not appear to actually be with him in case this goes pear shaped. I get the whole reds stick together thing, but this fella was a stranger. And a danger.
Half time comes and I go for a piss and grab a pint, then lean up against the wall opposite the bar. I’m minding my own business, and my interloping friend has seen me on the concourse and made a beeline for me. “See him over there?”, and he’s gesturing over to a blue who’s giving us daggers. “Don’t worry mate I knocked him out last time I was in here he won’t be doing anything”. I’m thinking to myself “How the fuck has this fella not had us stoved in yet?!”. Anyway nothing happens and we’re back up in the seats for the second half. Ruud pulls one back for 2-1. He’s straight up in his seat cheering, the only one in the block. Still nothing. I can only assume by this point we’re in the tourist section. A bit like being in East Stand Tier 2 at Old Trafford in the early naughties.
By the midpoint of the second half he’s up cheering every one of our attacks, every defensive tackle. I’m getting a bit more confident in the fact nothing’s going to happen to us so throw a few satisfying “Come on United” in. Anyway about five minutes from the end I did what any self-respecting cunt would do, made my excuses and left, leaving nutter there on his todd just as scouse cunt Fowler finished the game off with his five finger wave. I got a dig off a blue on the way out for not celebrating. There was no way I was leaving the ground with that ticking time bomb.
Never saw that fella at the game again, and wonder how we didn’t get turfed out, or at least grassed up to a steward.
The Wealdstone Raider to play me. Stone Cold Steve Austin to play my fellow interloping nutter.”
Having managed to walk away from that day with nothing more than a piss weak dig from a celebrating City fan, I wonder to myself, “If a cat has nine lives, how many more do I have”?