Big Alex

Big Alex

Sometime around 1984, at a party in Chorlton, I was introduced to a very jolly rotund figure who looked not unlike a young Oliver Hardy. I met him again on the terraces at Old Trafford and very soon we were good pals and hooked-up regularly on the same patch of concrete, three steps from the back of the United Road Paddock. He was known as Big Alex or Stash. This was due to his Ukranian ancestry rather than any ability to purvey narcotics – any mysterious bulge in his anorak pocket was due to the presence of a two litre bottle of Strongbow. Alex was already showing all the signs of becoming a legend in later life. He was full of boisterous good humour and as bright as a button. He had glittering A-level results but rejected a golden future at UMIST to bore holes in bits of metal in a factory in Dukinfield. Music was his greatest passion and he was well on his way to clocking up almost one hundred New Order concerts. He also followed The Fall and The Inspiral Carpets. Nearly every concert ended up with a tape recording being made and he reportedly had 30,000 cassettes in his bedroom. One of his early gifts to me was a 1976 tape of The Buzzcocks at Leeds Poly which I’ve still got. We would meet on those terraces about an hour before kick-off and spend that time and indeed most of the match bantering and joking about almost anything but football. This was the tail-end of the Big Ron Atkinson era and the tepid opening years of the Ferguson regime, a time when the football on offer was less than engrossing. Certainly our chats were often more memorable than anything we saw on the pitch, sometimes quite surreal and obscure humour and it wasn’t the sight of Ralphie Milne charging down the wing that had us creased up in stitches. He was though passionate about the game and his goal celebrations were notorious. Like a huge spinning human top, he would wind himself into a whirling frenzy, careering down the terrace, scattering bodies in all directions. It was a routine that I saw repeated in the scrum at the front of a Fall gig on a number of occasions. He was usually accompanied by a sidekick from Dukinfield or Denton. There was Darren, who with his large eyes and small but highly-defined eyebrows bore more than a passing resemblance to Frank Sidebottom, Rude Kid, so-called because of his supposedly abusive language – though he looked like a choirboy and I never heard him swear once and most famously of all, Mr Boris Becker who curiously was an admirer of all things German. For a while at the height of the ‘inflatbles’ craze his companion at New Order was a blow-up skeleton called Ian (Curtis). Alex had one of the loudest voices I’ve ever heard and used to start chants and singing. A few years previously, on Barry White’s suggestion, I had begun writing down these verses sung by the crowds at football matches, and had put together a booklet. What a thrill then to meet and befriend a real-life instigator. He also had the ability to make himself heard by players on the pitch. Colin ‘Donkey’ Gibson was one with whom I remember some friendly exchanges and it was all good-natured rather than anything abusive. For me, my Man Utd days and the sight of pre-match Alex lurching towards me grinning, like twin-holsters – his anorak pockets bulging with a couple of two litre bottles of cider, are entwined in one glorious fuzz.

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