Colin Savage talks to star of YouTube video
The name may not be familiar to you but Cyril is something of a legend among many City fans. For those of you who don’t recognise the name, you may know him as the little man in a cap who appears at the end of a great YouTube video put together after the 2012 title win. In that, he says “I’ve been watching them for 75 years and used to be six foot two with curly hair” then, taking his cap off to reveal his bald head finishes with “And look what it’s done to me!”
For those of you who’ve never seen the video, then Google “Look what it’s done to me” or “City win the title everyone goes nuts”. It’s a video lasting just over 5 minutes that brilliantly sums up the emotion of that crazy, unforgettable day. And right at the end, Cyril beautifully sums up the wry humour of City fans among that sea of emotion. The video, and particularly his part in it, went viral.
I was lucky enough to catch up with Cyril in the residential home in Prestwich where my mother now lives. He’s 89 and lives independently in his own flat, which is where the interview took place. Although he’s slowed down a bit, Cyril is still sprightly with a great sense of humour and a twinkle in his eye. We started on the events of May 12th 2012.
Let’s start on the day of the QPR game. What was the day like for you generally?
I’m not the most excitable person. I’ve been a City supporter all my life but I just take things as they come.
That’s part of being a City supporter isn’t it?
I was so nervous that day. My legs turned to jelly. But you weren’t nervous. How did you feel at 90 minutes when we were 2-1 down?
I don’t really show my feelings (although that doesn’t mean I don’t have feelings). I suppose there was some despair and then I settled down to watch the rest of the game.
It didn’t bother me so much that we were going to come second, as I’d predicted that at the start of the season, but it was the thought of the mocking we were going to get from united fans.
How do you think I felt? I was a teacher for many years in Salford and that was full of united supporters.
So when you were coming out of the ground and did that famous interview, who was it that interviewed you?
I was coming out of the stand (the back of lower tier of the Colin Bell Stand, near the Press Box). I waited for the celebrations to be over then said to the couple who took me that I’d set off a bit early to get back to the car as I don’t walk as quickly these days. A man came up to me and asked “Are you a City supporter?” so I asked “Yes. Who are you?” to which he replied “I work for the BBC.”
So it was the BBC. Was it part of a longer interview?
Not at the time. It was a quick interview but he asked if he could meet me at the ground the next day for a longer chat. So I agreed and went back to the ground with the couple who normally took me and the BBC took us for a meal at the restaurant opposite the ground and did a full interview.
But your famous quote was straight after the game?
Yes it was.
How did you then find out about that particular video with the clip of you in it? You became famous after that.
Well mainly it was on the BBC but I don’t remember how I heard about the other video that had it in. People stopped me on the street. The only people who didn’t like it were the kids I’d taught at school, as they were all united fans!
So what was your reaction when that man stood next to you took your cap off and kissed you on the head?
I take these things in my stride.
Your now famous line of “I used to be 6’2” with curly hair” – is that true? Somehow I doubt it (Cyril is under 5’).
(Laughing) You carry on doubting it!
Is it a line you’ve used before?
No. It just came to me on the spur of the moment. I do pride myself on having a sense of humour.
The great thing about that video is that there is all this emotion, with grown men in their 40’s crying and then you come along with your wry, self-deprecating sense of humour. Typical City fan some might say. We laugh if we win, we laugh if we lose. Does that sense of humour typify a City fan or does being s City fan give you that sense of humour?
That’s a good question. I’d say the latter. You develop a sense of humour by being a City fan.
Afterwards, City were trying to get hold of some of the people who featured in various videos on that day. You were one of them; did City do anything for you?
Yes they did. We went to the ground and did a tour of the stadium hosted by ex-City player Paul Lake, who was a lovely man.
But just to go back to my sense of humour, as you know, I was head of a school in Salford and it was full of united fans. If united lost, then in morning prayers on the Monday morning I would say “Hands together, eyes closed. Now we’ll say a prayer for Manchester united” and the kids would all boo.
Is there anything else you particularly remember about that day?
Yes – lots. The fact we were losing to QPR and then the equaliser and finally the winning goal and winning the game. It was a wonderful day.
My son and I were in town the day after and it was just a sea of blue and white. Did you go to that?
No I didn’t go to these things as I couldn’t see.
Let’s go back in time now. You said you’d been watching City for 75 years so how did you start and how old were you?
I went to my first match when I was 10 or 11. Obviously my father took me.
Was he a City fan?
Oh yes. It was 1937. I can’t remember who they were playing. We lived in Hightown (which is near Strangeways). My father was a typical City-supporting Jew and knew he shouldn’t be going to matches on a Saturday. My grandfather lived with us, who was quite religious, and my father would go to the synagogue on a Saturday morning then after lunch would say to my mother “I’m going for a walk”. My grandfather knew where he was really going and would curse him in Yiddish. We’d get the tram from Hightown into Manchester, which stopped at Cannon Street then walk through town to Albert Square and get a tram to Maine Road.
Did you go regularly at that time?
We won the title in the 1936/7 season of course. So your introduction to being a City fan was winning the title. You’re just a glory hunter then?
Of course we famously got relegated the following season. What else?
I don’t remember much about that time really. I only went once in the title winning season. We had this wonderful team, with players like Busby, won the championship and I remember my father taking me to town for the celebration, then we went down.
When did you actually start going regularly?
I started going regularly during the war but we got season tickets immediately after the war, at the back of the main stand. They cost half-a-crown (that’s 12.5p in new money).
What are your best memories over the years?
Winning the title in that 1937 season and going to town to see the procession. Winning the title again in 1968, then going to Wembley for the FA Cup final. I remember us beating Portsmouth in the 1934 final then after listening to the game, going out to play in the street to play football. We’d say “We’ll be City and you can be Portsmouth”.
What are the most disappointing memories?
Well the most disappointing was seeing us win the title in 1937 and then getting relegated the following season. And then going down to League 1 of course. But I’m not the most demonstrative or excitable person and tend to take things in my stride. I don’t get too excited when we win and don’t get too upset when we lose.
So was the West Ham game in 2014 (when we won the title again) your last live game?
Yes it was. The people I was sat with were queuing up for my autograph.
So you started watching us with a title win in 1937 and then finished with a title win in 2014. That’s 77 years which is pretty impressive. Over the years you’ve seen many players. Who was the best City player?
Oh Peter Doherty without doubt. Not only was his ball control incredible but he was a goal-scorer as well (Note: Doherty scored an incredible 81 goals in 133 appearances for City which compares very favourably to Sergio Aguero’s 84 in 128).
Who were your other favourite players?
Doherty was the best but there have been so many. You shouldn’t have to choose between them. They were just all great players. But I’ve said many times that Silva is certainly one of the three or four best players we’ve ever had.
And what about the best opposition players over the years?
(Cyril thinks for a minute) Don’t storm out in disgust but I have to say George Best. He had everything and I’d say he was possibly the greatest opposition player I ever saw.
And what was the match-day experience like in those early days?
Well as I said, we’d get the bus or tram into town then get to Albert Square for the bus to the ground. If we were running late, then we’d have to run! I was too small to see standing up so we decided we’d get season tickets in the Main Stand.
I also remember we were playing at Derby in the FA Cup (Note: I believe this was in the 1954/55 season and City won 3-1) and I wrote to the club asking if they’d kindly provide some tickets but I got a shock when they sent me 20. I only wanted 2 or 3 so had no idea what I was going to do with all these. Fortunately the week before we were playing at Burnley. We got the train there and I stood outside saying I had tickets, face value of course, and got rid of the lot in no time.
Did you do a lot of away games?
Not really. Mainly it was the local ones.
So you went with your father initially but presumably he stopped going at some point?
Yes he did then I used to go with my brother for quite a few years but I can’t quite remember how many. We stopped going on the tram and drove to games though.
What do you like or dislike about the game now, compared to when you started going?
The obvious statement is the money. I remember getting the bus to the game in those days and two of the players were sat on the seat in front. Nowadays I don’t think they know what a bus is. Also the amount of money a father would spend these days taking two sons to the game is staggering.
I think we paid about £18 for our first season tickets in the North Stand when it opened. You couldn’t even get a single match ticket for anywhere near that these days. But do you think we see better quality players for the money?
There’s always been arguments about that. People say the players before the war were better than they are now but I don’t agree.
To change subject, let’s talk about your life in general. I know you became a teacher but tell me a bit about your early life.
We all lived in a small area around Hightown, in a house with an outside toilet. You used to dread going to the lavatory during the winter as you’d freeze. I’d talk to children about my early life and tell them things like this and that we didn’t have television. They’re amazed by this but we accepted this as the only life we knew and I think that’s done me a lot of good.
I went to Waterloo Road School till I was 11 and was taught by a lady called Anna Vitofsky who really became my role model. She was the most amazing teacher I’d ever known and I modelled myself on her. She entered four of us, including me, for the Manchester Grammar School entrance exam and we passed and all got scholarships (meaning the fees would be paid for). However my parents said I couldn’t go as they didn’t have the money for the books or uniform. My father, like so many in those days, was a raincoat machinist and only worked half the year, when there was work available.
So they couldn’t afford it but Miss Vitofsky wouldn’t have it. She dragged us, including my parents, down to the Chairman of the MGS Governor’s house and got us a grant to cover the extra costs. So I got a free place and the money for the other things and went to Manchester Grammar School instead of going on the machines sewing raincoats. My brother wasn’t academic and left school at 14 to go to work as a machinist.
So I went into teaching and made it my goal to help others to do well academically.
Did you go into teaching straight from school then?
No. There’s quite a story before I did that. I finished school just before the end of the war (1944) and was called up. You either went into the forces or down the mines, depending on the last figure of your call up number. I was called up as a ‘Bevin Boy’ to go down the mines and it worked out that I was better than the others as, being small, I didn’t have to bend down too far.
You weren’t allowed at the coal face but were usually down at the bottom of the shaft, working on the transport (that brought the coal from the coal-face to go back up the shaft to the top). I had to lay on my back the whole day and hooked tubs together in groups of six. I found the miners were wonderful people.
My dad (who was a contemporary of Cyril’s and went down the mines as a Bevin Boy at the same time) said the same thing. He was at Mossley Common; where were you?
I was at Tyldesley so not far away. It was a wonderful experience. They accepted us and were very good to us. However I remember making a mistake at the pit bottom, where I was hooking the tubs together in groups of six. I forgot to stop after the sixth and hooked a seventh, which messed things up with the hauling to the top. Someone shouted at me “Tha’s nowt but a bloody fool lad!” People also used to say that I looked pale but of course I spent all my working time underground so saw no sun.
Because of that, after a year, there I went to the Ministry of Labour and asked if I could go into the Army but I’d have to lose the year I’d done down the mines and start my two-year national service from scratch. I agreed to that and went into the Army, where I did two years, which was another wonderful experience.
People I knew who also did that say that was a great experience and you made friends for life.
That’s right. There are two of my friends from those days still alive.
One of my relatives spent the war in Bermuda. Did you get anywhere exciting?
After a couple of months training I was sent to Germany, where I worked as a clerk for a while. Then I was chosen to teach illiterate soldiers to read and write and that’s when I knew for sure that I was going to be a teacher.
You always taught locally?
Yes. My mother died when I was 16 and I became the family cook. I got home from school at 4pm whereas my father and brother didn’t get home until 6pm. So it was natural that I took on the cooking duties and I became quite a good cook, doing dinner parties.
Did you get married and have a family?
No. I was going out with a non-Jewish girl for many years so that was frowned on. Fortunately it was after my father died. But we never got married.
Where did you teach?
Well I went into the mines and army after leaving school and then I went to Manchester University to do French & German, which is what I should have been teaching. But they sent everybody to do six weeks teaching practice in a primary school (which turned out to be my old primary school coincidentally) and I loved it and decided this was what I wanted to do. I ended up in Salford.
Having helped to run a Cub pack for many years it’s a great thing to teach young kids new skills isn’t it?
It is. I ended up teaching in Salford and about 70 of my old pupils keep in regular touch with me. (As an aside, I noticed a pair of bronzed football boots in Cyril’s flat and asked about them. He told me that they were a gift from four of his former pupils, who were now in their mid-fifties. At lunchtimes, he would go out and play football with the boys. This evoked that wonderful scene in the film ‘Kes’ with Brian Glover as the PE teacher but Cyril assured me he was never like that.)
Was it a tough school?
Not really. The kids seemed to like me. I was told by a professional body that I was born to be a teacher.
I used to know a few of my former teachers socially and I found it weird calling them by their first names. How do your former kids react to you?
When kids left the school at 11, they asked if they could keep in touch and it was Mr Mintz but when they got to 16 I insisted on them using my first name, but it took some a while to get used to it.
One final question. There’s been an ongoing debate on the Bluemoon forum about whether it’s a barm or a muffin. The Chairman says it’s a muffin (he’s wrong) but what about you?
Oh it’s a barm cake!