A Blue Betrayal And Derby Day
By Stephen Tudor, Fri 06 January 2012 16:43
This Sunday will be unusual for several reasons for me. It will be the first derby I can recall where the team selections are chosen with one eye on the fixtures that follow. It will be also be the first occasion in my lifetime where we take on Ferguson and his minions without ‘the fear’. That went after the 6-1 spanking and I cannot see it returning anytime soon.
On a more personal note this weekend will be the very first all-Manchester clash I’ve watched with my dad.
You see, it’s all a bit complicated. My old man is a red born and bred. He went home and away throughout the 60s and 70s, an era that spanned the sublime and the ridiculous. From Georgie Best to Arnie Sidebottom. Somewhere in my attic is a programme he once handed over to me solemnly. It’s from the Northampton game where Best scored all six. Next to his name on the team-sheet is that figure scrawled by my dad’s drunken hand.
It must have been immensely galling to see his first born (my older brother) stray from the norm of inherited allegiance and become a blue. When I came along my dad was resolved to put things right and took me to Old Trafford at every opportunity. My brother meanwhile would take me in his Ford Capri to Maine Road.
For a while there was a battle for what Charlie Sheen calls at the end of Platoon ‘the possession of my soul’. Truthfully there was only ever going to be one winner.
Though I was too young at the time to appreciate the analogy going to the Theatre of Shite back then felt like attending an American sports event. It was all about the hot dogs. The razzle-dazzle. Once, in the family stand, I was given a balloon. A f***ing balloon at a game?
In the Kippax I could barely see a thing, it stunk of piss and Greenall Whitley belches, and the mood was often downbeat and a little menacing. To a kid it was exciting and wonderful. It was home.
My dad admitted defeat soon after. He never said so out loud of course; a giant imposing figure – a steel worker man and boy – just didn’t say such things. But he stopped taking me to games when I was around ten.
From there came years of silence, or at least concerning City and United. We would talk about football all the time – and would often discuss each individual club – but never the rivalry. Looking back now I realise that was entirely his call, not mine. Banter was banned.
I think the perceived betrayal hurt him more than he let on. In fact I know so due to what occurred years later when – in the most clichéd of working class ways to unleash years of pent-up resentment – it all kicked off at a family wedding.
My sister getting married must have been a difficult occasion for my dad. After divorcing my mum years earlier he was essentially an exiled figure in the family unit who was expected to play a pivotal role: the father of the bride. He attempted to overcome this awkwardness – and his nerves – by knocking back a few whiskies beforehand. I knew it was going to be a long day when he tried to set me up with the wife of a relative of the groom at the church. In front of the relative of the groom.
At the reception later I arrived to discover that he was giving my brother some grief about being a blue. He then saw me, beckoned over an uncle, and said to him loudly,
“Look at this dickhead. He should have followed his old man. He would have experienced all the glories. Seen all the greats. What kind of son goes against his own dad? F***ing dickhead.’
He was paralytic, emotional and – something I’d never before seen from this quiet gentle giant who had raised me so dutifully – full of spite and malice. I looked up at the clock and saw it was only half six in the evening. It was indeed going to be a long day.
Other things happened that night – plenty of things that are too personal to recount here – and by midnight we were at each other’s throats. He wasn’t the only one who’d harboured silent resentments over the years.
In that awful way that families do the row became a rift and though I attempted to mend bridges there followed eight long years of separation. Once during that time I saw his wife in Asda. She walked right past me like I was a ghost.
Both ironically and fittingly it was relationship breakdowns that caused us to reconnect. In late 2010 he was recently divorced and flailing whereas I was heading back up north with a broken heart. I called around to his place and we sorted everything out with the following words -
‘You know all that happened…’
‘Well let’s just….’
And women say that us males never open up to each other!
A couple of months later on New Year’s Eve I’m at a packed taxi rank at 2am when my dad phones. It’s the first time he has ever called me on a mobile and his voice sounds a bit strange. He floors me with these words –
‘Happy new year Ste. I’m not drunk…I haven’t even drank tonight….but I just want to say that I love you son’
Bloody hell, we don’t say that in our family. I remember years ago I once gave my sister a peck on the cheek when I gave her a Christmas present. I turned around to see the rest of my kith and kin giggling.
I hung up and was puzzled by the concerned expression on my mate’s faces. They asked if I was okay and I confirmed that I was. I was absolutely fine. Pissed, happy and fine. It was just that water seemed to be pouring out of my eyes. The f***ers were like broken taps all the way home.
In April following the cup semi final I called my dad. Things were normal between us now but the City/United thing still lurked in the background like a dark secret in Eastenders with Christmas around the corner. With that in mind I was all set to lie and say how unlucky United were when he completely floored me again.
‘In the second half I started to support your lot’.
Coming from my old man – who used to pretend to be Willie Morgan (except with a fag hanging from his lip) as he’d blast penalties past me in the park – this was like seeing the Pope front a Durex commercial.
‘I got to thinking about all those years you and your brother have traipsed across the country following City and getting nothing for it. If anyone deserves to win something it’s you lads.’
Those words were what I thought of when Tevez lifted the cup.
So Sunday will be a strange day for me in many ways. After writing the above a part of me is thinking that I should remain diplomatic should we triumph and remember all the landmines from the past. After all football is a powerful thing - it both broke and mended us - but things are very different now. It is how it should always have been. Last week I told him Nani was the most despicable human being on the planet. He replied by chucking a City jibe my way. Banter is no longer banned.
If Dzeko bags the opener I’m going to Poznan in the old man’s face.