‘She walks in beauty, so soft so calm yet eloquent, the smiles that win, the tints that glow but tell of days in goodness spent. A mind at peace with all below a heart whose love is innocent’. Turnstiles in those days were not foolproof and having moved from a cold seaside town to the rainy north, I was attending my first ever Manchester City match with Dad circa 1972. Vi Menon, his son David, Mr C&A and his son Steven made up the party. Some cash was handed over and then, quick as a flash all three of us scarved-up City boys were pushed under the turnstiles. I looked back and saw Mr C&A smiling and I knew a deal had been done. In those days lads would hang around the gates at Maine Road and often a kindly steward would let them in for the last twenty minutes. Just as the game of professional football was about to change, so the stages of my own life would alter markedly. Home in the north was leafy Bowden. Neighbours included Bobby Charlton, Dennis Tueart and Martin Buchan (who shared a hairdresser with Mum). We ate in a delicious restaurant owned by the Man City legend, Colin Bell and Burnley’s Colin Waldron. On returning from Hereford, the industrial north had been taken over by Thatcher’s increasingly centralised government, ruled by dictate from Westminster. The Moss Side riots had fizzled out to be replaced by an explosion of property speculation and development, however unemployment remained stubbornly at the three million mark. Ghettos not just in Hulme and Moss Side but Cheetham Hill, Middleton, Gorton and Hattersley were growing. One Manchester day reigns supreme. I think it was 1989. I know that Sparky Hughes scored a spectacular consolation goal and I saw Ian Bishop and Trevor Morley drive up to the ground in their pink Mini Cooper. Mel Machin was manager. It was a gorgeous warm blue-sky Manchester day and a gentle breeze wafted me down Broadfield Road, past the hot-dog stalls and into the Kippax. Inflatable bananas set the scene. There was a delirious expectation in the air that day as we ran amok, destroying Manchester United all over the pitch. We were a yo-yo team then. Alex Ferguson, the miserable scot was on his way out and Mel Machin was king. No, like life itself, it was an illusion, a fabulous piece of delusion for one day only. Mel disappeared and I watched a final game at Maine Road versus Spurs in 1992-93. Eventually the stadium was bulldozed with Oasis singing Don’t Look Back in Anger. Ferguson is the greatest British manager that ever lived and the enemy prospered. Leaving Manchester was painful. I lost a girl I once loved. I lost the house we had bought. A city that had meant so much to me guaranteed an agonising farewell and I never went back. Slipping under a turnstile into a fake plastic tree Man United pub in Barnes, London, May 13th 2012, I pushed my way to a window, muscled some space and saw City take the lead. The maxim of ‘everything comes to those who wait’ finally arrived and in the 94th minute of forever we struck. Fleetingly I returned to the living room of Macca’s red-brick Chorlton house ’86 as the Argentine ‘hand of God’ knocked the ball passed Peter Shilton and England were out. On May the 13th it was another Argentine, Sergio Aguero. Aguero, Aguero wins it.
In those faraway dim and distant days before wall-to-wall Alan Davies and Rob Brydon, there was a groundbreaking TV show called The Comedians which brought to a national audience the likes of Stan Boardman, Frank Carson, Charlie Williams and Bernard Manning. For that we should be thankful to a man called Wally Butler, the brains behind the show, who in the 80s was doing a bit of tutoring at Manchester Poly. For three memorable weeks he took us under his wing for a ‘Film and TV’ module halfway through our second year. Silver of hair and silver of tongue, he was a bundle of energy. His rasping Scots voice, expensive jackets and dark-tinted spectacles leant him an edginess but his generous big-hearted nature soon crushed any notion of menace. In the sixties he’d produced Coronation Street and dabbled in pop videos for Barclay James Harvest. He gave us a tour of Granada Studios, pints all round in The Rovers Return and a big bear-hug for Pat Phoenix when we bumped into her in reception. With his silver locks, silk hanky and shiny shoes Wally certainly had more than a touch of Mister Showbiz about him. He was on friendly terms with everyone, waving his slimline cigar as he radiated charisma. He got us going on making a programme for students new to Manchester and we roped in a Piccadilly DJ from Salford called Mike Sweeney to do the presenting. I wasn’t too bothered about the technical side of things and foolishly turned up my nose at a visit to the Brookside set and missed Karen the blonde bombshell on my course fighting off the dual attentions of Barry Grant and Sweeney. I could happily have followed Wally around all day just watching him in action, a slap on the back, a press of the hand, a warm word and a bit of banter to brighten everyone’s day. Next stop was Didsbury Studios where the plan was to make a video of Geoff Waring’s band. To warm us up, Wally took us into The Royal Oak and treated everyone to a cheese ploughman’s and two pints of Marston’s Pedigree. The cheese was of an incredibly generous portion – possibly half the size of a house-brick and quite delicious. I’ve had a hundred miserly-sized ploughman’s lunches since and none has ever come close to matching this. The pickled onion was as big as a golf-ball, crisp and perfectly piquant. The apple, sweetly-perfumed and fresh from a Cheshire bough. I recall very little about the video but the cheese and Wally’s generosity is with me forever.
As I remember it, the Spring we went to War with Argentina, the weather was particularly gorgeous and as the cherry blossom came out in Alexandra Park, my main concern was that it might all throw a spanner in the works of my World Cup plans. The Spanish government was taking a strong pro-Argentine line and there was talk of a Moscow Olympic style boycott by the home nations. So the early deliberations were a bit lost on me and certainly as Fred Silvester and the Task Force steamed off to the South Atlantic to come to the rescue of a few sheep-farmers it all seemed faintly comical and ridiculous. But a few weeks later the stories came back about soldiers being badly burnt, Goose Green, The General Belgrano and loads of jingoistic ‘Stick it up your Junta’ nastiness from the tabloids. When it emerged that Jocky Wilson was receiving death threats because his wife was called Malvina, things were clearly getting out of hand. Even the Junta themselves, all big moustaches, over-size caps and lashings of gold braid seemed a bit of a joke – sure there were secret police, torture squads and ‘the disappeared’ but wasn’t that just like South Armagh? Surely these were the dashing swashbucklers in the slightly tight electric blue and white stripes who’d won the World Cup four years previously amidst a sea of confetti? Now we were fighting them to the death over some Godforsaken windswept outpost not far from Antarctica. In any case, on Maggie and Kelvin’s orders we all knuckled down behind ‘Our Boys’ and a few months later when they all steamed triumphantly back into Southampton and helicopter hero Prince Andrew leapt out with a rose between his teeth, a nation swooned. The Argies actually surrendered during the World Cup but we didn’t think about it much when we were there. The Northern Ireland supporters bemused the Spanish with their Union Jack waving and chants of ‘Malvinas esta Brittanica’. I was having breakfast one day when the news came through that Diana had given birth. One of our number, a giant of a man, multi-tattooed and rumoured to be a UDA chieftain from the Shankill, stood up on his balcony and raising a bottle of San Miguel, bellowed a toast to the future ‘King William’. Everyone then launched into a chorus of The Sash. There was a bit of posturing during the tournament but the worst agro I saw was a torrent of stale bread rolls thrown at us during the Yugoslavia game in response to a ‘One Sandy Woodward’ chant. And that was it, back home to watch documentaries about Simon Weston, jeer at Ossie Ardiles for a season or two and wonder what it was all about.
I found a companionship and exhilaration on the football terraces that sustained me in my early days in England. Too shy and undemonstrative to communicate directly with anyone, I was content to scream my head off in the company of strangers. The singing, swaying sense of communal power was uplifting and exciting, a comradeship of the masses that fired me up, giving me strength and a sense of belonging. Blimey, it sounds like how things might have started in Nazi Germany. Those towering grey concrete slopes interspersed with iron barriers usually painted in team colours fascinated me. When I found these ‘Kops’ were named after a Boer War battlefield it attracted me even more. Even when they were empty, I loved to gaze upon them and would get into the ground early to observe how they slowly filled-up. The first clutches of fans would clump in little groups around the barriers upon which they would tie their scarves and drape flags. In the seventies on TV I watched enviously at the waves of heads surging forward in the aftermath of a goal and longed to join such a throng. When I did, invariably for a big game against a bitter rival, I wasn’t disappointed. To be in the middle of such a movement and fall forward collectively at forty-five degrees then crash backwards as the bodies at the front collided with the barrier was both terrifying yet uplifting. It was like some turbulent sea of softlads, thumping against the cliffs, then swirling menacingly before the next charge. And like the ocean it could also be a brutal place. On more than one occasion, a beered-up neanderthal would unzip himself and bellow a warning – bodies frantically cleared a space as he leaned back and unleashed a torrent of steaming amber piss. Sometimes the warning never came and at Tottenham I had a pint of pee thrown over me from someone in the stand above. I found the Stretford End terrace at Old Trafford underwhelming, maybe it wasn’t as steep as the vast banks of terrace at Anfield or Hillsborough. Kippax Street, Maine Road was smaller but on Derby Day with both sets of fans under a low roof and separated by a narrow passage patrolled by Officer Smiley, the noise was deafening. It was here in 1982 that a Robson disallowed goal triggered a tumble of bodies that I was caught up in. There must have been about twenty of us who just collapsed in a great pile – I was on the ground and sandwiched between two people. For a few terrible seconds I thought I was going to be swallowed up in a human spaghetti. This was just a taste of what was to tragically come much later in the decade.
Known to everyone as The Conti, this place wasn’t on my radar for a while because it never advertised. No leaflets, no flyers, no logo – I can just about remember a sign that may have been in red letters on a white vertical strip suggesting something more in the line of a cheap cash-and-carry than a glamorous night-out. And it was a basement, down a flight of steep stairs on a little dark back-street. Inside, it was like being in a transport caff with the chairs and tables all cleared to the sides so you could have a boogie. To add to the M62 trucker-chic there was even a hatch with a burger lady feeding the hungry punters. But it was always packed to the rafters and the vibe was always mellow. But being an afterhours Happy Eater with the aroma of fried onions wasn’t the main reason for its pulling power – it was all about word-of-mouth and the word was that this was the place to ‘get off with a nurse’ – most likely on a Tuesday night when nurses got in free. Now I’m not sure where the association came to be, as tucked away off Sackville Street it certainly wasn’t near any particular hospital I can remember. But say the word ‘nurse’ to any post-pubescent male student and his eyes would bulge with excitement. This was evident by the stream of excitable young academics queuing up down the stairs and round the block. There was no door policy or dress-code, just that tantalising carrot of possible liason with a young Barbara Windsor, dangling over the evening ahead. A nurse seems to be the perfect bridge between mother and girlfriend and when you’re away from home and feeling a little home-sick or just out-of-sorts who wouldn’t be partial to a little tlc especially professionally administered from an angel in powder blue who could also address any glandular fever medication needs? But in all my visits to The Conti, I never met a single nurse or heard of anyone who did. So I’m not sure if the whole ‘nurse’ thing was mythic and a very clever subtle marketing ploy by the brains behind The Continental, who never spent a single penny on advertising. They didn’t spend anything on DJs either because the music was straight out of a good old-fashioned jukebox.
I don’t remember exactly how we met though I can still see her now in that flowing purple skirt which mad John Axeman was playfully trying to look up at one of our St Clement’s Road parties. She was from Ipswich and with a light Suffolk burr would always say – ‘Wotcha?’ We spent our first date in The Horse and Jockey pub in Chorlton drinking cider which to my astonishment she drank from a full pint glass. I was relatively new to the dating business and we wiled away the evening finding things in common and talking about the things we loved. I felt so happy walking down Wilbraham Road hand in hand. Outside her student house Julia said – ‘Yes Paul, I will come to your party next weekend’. Expectations were high on party day and the build-up, just like the Cup Final was almost as exciting as the event itself. Big Macca, our landlord was making home-brew, the garden was being kitted out with chairs and hi-fi loudspeakers, the sun was out and Janice had made her legendary chilli con carne with lashings of ketchup and piles of Warbys white sliced. The evening flashed by in a haze of bonhomie, party tunes and revelry. Julia was friendly yet elusive and with over fifty adults and kids in the house I lost her for a while. Finally after a couple of home-brew gin and tonics I lured her up to the top floor. Here were the student bedrooms where six of us lived and into which female entry was strictly forbidden. We had crossed into the inner sanctum and my heart was thumping. As we sat on the edge of the bed, I swallowed hard and boldly made my move. There was an uneasy pause and then the unforgetable words were uttered. ‘That’s quite far enough, we are just good friends’. This mirrored the top TV sitcom at the time with Paul Nicholas and Jan Francis. I had never before felt the knife of deflation yet Julia’s wondrous blue eyes were still smiling. Sure enough, about a fortnight later my room-mate, Red Roj informed rather too jollily ‘Oh, you know that girl with the purple skirt, I saw her snogging a biker in The Trevor’. I guess Julia wanted an older slightly more worldly-wise man at the time About a year later, completely by chance, I found myself chatting up Scintillating Cindy and soon after, Curvaceous Christine. Both were immune to my clumsy predatory intentions but I discovered they all lived with Jaunty Julia in a rented house in neighbouring Whalley Range. ‘Oh what do you get for your troubles and pain but a rented room in Whalley Range’ sang Morrissey. The six male students living on the top floor of St Clement’s Road were not especially proficient when it came to getting or indeed keeping girlfriends. Manchester in the 80s was humming with vibrancy and life but this was also the time of AIDS. The stark warnings were there. Envelopes were dropping through doors. Rock Hudson’s death and rumours that Freddie Mercury was very ill shook us all.
They were twins, looked rock hard and wore Man Utd scarves over their black sweatshirts. They lugged and packed efficiently with an effortless economy of movement, water carriers in the style of Nobby Stiles or Didier Deschamps. The barrow boys had a great pitch outside the uber-trendy Cornerhouse, adjacent to the Hacienda nightclub but also near the busy Oxford Road train station. They weren’t like Pete Beale or other fruit n veg vending mockneys from Eastenders with all their hows-your-father bullshit banter. These two didn’t need to be flash. With their blazing eyes and ruddy cheeks this was business pure and simple. Without speaking, their body language extended an impassioned plea – leave stodge city while you can. As a young buck and guru of flat creamy mushrooms, truncheon-size courgettes, shining orange and red capsicums, sensuous spinach, green peppers, great for vitality – shallots, zesty lemons and limes plus blood red grapefruits, I knew instantly this was the future. The barrow boys didnt go a bundle on exotic fruits but a mean pineapple, ice-cold crunchy Cox’s red or new-on-the-scene kiwi was always on the menu. Living in a Warburton white, creamola fizz and Fray Bentos meat pie world at Moss Side HQ they laughed when I chopped up my courgettes, tomatoes, shallots and mushrooms, sliding them inside the already warmed-up envelope of pitta bread, pre-drizzled with prima olive oil and a gentle mayo mustard. The Cornerhouse had sumptuous blue velour seats and I watched Bertolucci, Almodovar and Jim Jarmusch art films at two quid a pop of a rainy afternoon, often staying free of charge for the second matinee. Sadly the fashionable cafe full of Manchester’s bright young media things was too expensive for me, and I only ventured in twice. Once I saw Russell Harty and had approached his table and used his catchphrase ‘Good evening is it not?’ I watched his nose turn red and his bucolic face grimace. The other time was far more serious. Buoyed by coverage in Creative Review, Design Week, plus a splash in the magnificent Today newspaper, I launched an international media offensive. The burgeoning Manchester music scene was our target and specifically former altar-boy, Mr Tony H Wilson, the boss of Factory Records. Word came through that he was lunching at The Cornerhouse. I got on my bike and rode fast into the city. Just outside the Mandela Building, the revelation struck. I scooted up to the barrow boys, u-locked the bike and pressed a moist one pound note into senior barrow boy’s eye, his Stretford End scarf fluttering next to the apple and pears section. With a glint in his eyes, in a jiffy he brown-bagged up the finest mix of fresh fruit this country has ever seen. We never gabbed – just a quick ‘Cheers mate’. Meaningless gabbing was for the media types. But I swear he knew what I was doing. Inside The Cornerhouse, I brazenly plonked the fruit on Mr Wilson’s table with the words ‘This is our time’. Before his agitated dining partner could stand up and remonstrate, I was gone. I had placed an iconic Spiffing Images business card inside the brown bag and two days later one of Tony’s minions called. We did some design work for Ikon, the video arm of Factory Records in Altrincham. The gruelling eight mile cycle there through Chorlton and Sale was powered by the barrow boy’s magnificent fruit and veg. ‘Oh barrow boys of barren land, picked at 3am, bring me fruit and solace lest we return to the flablands – oh barrow – barrow – barrow boys unite’.