Boris Becker

Boris Becker

We met in church, one of those gargantuan cavernous gothic number which had been turned into a pub. Wine bars at the time were de riguer but this was a proper south Manchester pub selling prime chuck steak burgers with jalapenos and mayo in a brioche bun. It was 1985 and like most other things in Manchester, this place was ahead of its time. The slumbering giant Man Utd had finally awoken under charismatic Big Ron Atkinson – Cup runs and optimism were in vogue. Into this setting ghosted Mr Steven Williams, blond, teutonic and bearing an uncanny resemblance to the dashing Wimbledon-winning aryan blade who had set the tennis world alight. Steve’s gruff northern vowels punctuated the air but I didn’t yet know who this geezer was. Years before, a Spurs and England World Cup winner Martin Peters was nicknamed ‘the ghost’- due to his knack of nipping round the back and scoring vital goals. But Manchester’s Boris Becker had just ghosted into my life and there he would remain. Talking loudly with Kes Finnan, Big Alex and The Kid about United, spontaneously they burst into Stretford End song. So why did I so like the gib of this natural football foe? Munching on my sublime burger in bun, I heard a savvy Mancunian drawl – ‘Hey pal, I’m Steve’. ‘All right, mate’ I replied almost dropping my gherkin. Cutting straight to the chase he enquired ‘Are you a red?’ ‘No, Man City’. ‘Oh, were you born in Manchester?’ ‘No’ I responded ‘Kent’. Boris Becker won three Wimbledon titles in a row, fearlessly hurling himself on the hallowed turf, charming the world, shagging Russian temptresses in shoe cupboards and wowing the media with his natural elan and good looks. Steve Williams’ own life was equally dramatic. After a brief RAF career, he drove a delivery van in Oldham. He was an airline mechanic in London. He studied at Sheffield, Loughborough and a number of other UK academic institutions before settling into his natural profession, logistics. Mirroring my own life work/pattern of thirteen countries with two suitcases in ten years, the boy continued to travel. However ‘Bozza’ as he was now known, always had that crucial element of surprise. In 1990, ostensibly crashing on our Tooting sofa for one night only, Steve joined our World Cup panel. He stayed for two weeks drinking inordinate amounts of Becks beer whist cheering his beloved Germany on to victory. He followed the teuton dream, his championing of all things Deutsch, a refreshing counter to the poisonous Jerryphobic tirades launched by mainstream media everytime In-ger-land lock horns with The Fatherland. Then as Tooting Superstars was in full flow mid-nineties, he executed the most brilliant rant against the Delia Smith corporatised prawn sandwich-eating Sky TV criminals who were ruining his game. Tellingly, so much of what he predicted that warm summer evening came true. Power-crazed foreign owners, World Cups in Qatar, a game strangling itself through its own greed and shortsightedness. Stavanger, Leipzig, Derbyshire and Berlin were his new outposts. Truth be told, Steve, like so many other genuine working-class fans had been priced out of their rightful place on the terraces. But like the other love of his life, New Order, the response was always Hooky-style sardonic resigned wit. Singing along one night to a popular hit ‘Things can only get better’ he drowned the awful anthem with ‘Things will always get worse’. So prescient when dealing with this post-Thatcher/Blair Big Lie Britain. Another time we all met at the Shepherd’s Bush Empire and Bozza bumped into an old aquaintance, Clint Boon. Very soon we were quaffing backstage with his band The Inspirals and curiously Mark Lamarr who insisted on plying us with drinks. Later Steve blagged a lift home on the tour bus. On another occasion at a friend’s stag do in Madrid, we were watching a young Fernando Torres, when marching up the north stand steps came Mr Williams, literally out of nowhere. He got me to drop off his bag in London the next day. Last year I was having a pint or two with Boris, not surprisingly at Victoria Coach Station. I was ruminating on my Dad’s philosophy of ‘work hard and try to be honest’ when Mr Williams stuck up his fists. ‘My Dad told me to use these, cos life is one long scrap’. Blunt, loyal, dry and as sharp as a razor, the ghost got up and left for the airport. On his way to another hick town, another dollar, on the road less travelled. Be sure of this, we haven’t heard the last of Denton’s great nomadic warrior.

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