21/9/96 Manchester City v Blues, Sussed Out Worn Out.

Me and Trelayne had got married. At the time, I couldn’t see a way out of the life I’d drifted into, and had just resigned myself to my fate. The domestic finances were sporadic. I was still working at the same place, and even Trelayne had gone back to work. However, things weren’t running smoothly. We seemed to be forever trying to catch up, never quite making it to a financial parity. We were getting further and further into debt. There were reasons for this, and I’m not pointing blame at Trelayne. First of all, neither of us were any good with money at the time. Although I didn’t realise it, I was self absorbed in my depression, and because of that, pretty much useless as a husband or father. With depression, it takes a tremendous amount of mental willpower to drag yourself up to a place where you can function properly as a human being. At the time, I hadn’t got a clue, I was just drifting along in a fog, living life by the day. Trelayne didn’t have the best of luck with jobs and she didn’t have the best of luck with her health either. She’s socially awkward, finds it impossible to gauge the flow of conversation and in a desperate effort to try and fit in, will utter something irrelevant. It’s not because she wants to stop the conversation dead, but it’s what happens. Pughey was exactly the same. Because of this social awkwardness, and her lack of intelligence, she tends to be one that finds herself on redundancy lists. She also has a low pain threshold. That’s not a criticism, it’s just the way it is. I’ve been extremely lucky, I have a higher than average pain threshold. It meant more trips to the doctors and on occasion, spells in hospital at times we could have done without. If you’re wondering what the Hell I’m blabbering on about and why this has got to do with Manchester City away, then here it is. Barry Fry had tested the owners of Blues patience too much, and had been shown the rectangular piece of wood with a handle on it. It was in all honesty, time for him to go. It looks in retrospect, to be a harsh dismissal. Up until Derby visited towards the end of November and blew us away with a 1:4 victory, us, Wolves and Millwall had been jostling at the top of the table, like schoolboys in a dinner queue. We’d reached the semifinal of the League Cup. (Or Coke Cola cup for those that sponsorship actually means something to) No mean feat, considering we hadn’t been to a major semifinal since 1975, and not since 1967 in the League Cup (It definitely didn’t have sponsorship in those days) But the season had fizzled out and Fry’s lack of tactical nouse was evident that we needed change. The prodigal son returned. The owners had been impressed by Trevor Francis, his professionalism, but more than that, his reputation and standing he had amongst us Blues fans. He took up the job offer on the undertaking that he would be allowed to reinstate the youth set up. Something that after scoring all 4 goals as a 16 year old for Blues thus securing his immortality as a legend down St Andrews, was never going to be an issue. It had been previously though. Brady had given Fry a financial ultimatum, either it was money to spend on transfers, or the youth set up. Not wanting to have to see his credit card cut up in front of him, he’d plumped for disbanding the kids. I was at work when I was told by the production coordinator that we’d signed Steve Bruce, Manchester United’s aging captain on a free transfer. If I’m being honest, it made me a bit light headed, and as we didn’t use solvents in the factory, it wasn’t that. I had been struggling with how on earth I was going to club together enough money for another season ticket, let alone vindicate the expense. I’d sacrificed going to watch Warwickshire at a time when they were all conquering as it was. I was given a ‘get out of jail free’ card in the shape of Steve Bruce’s wages. It quickly came out that he was to be paid £17,000 a week. £2,000 of that was as compensation for Bruce missing out on his testimonial year. In today’s wage madness, £17,000 doesn’t sound a lot, but to put it in perspective, it was the equivalent of the £90,000 a week that Vile paid John Terry last season. To put it more into perspective, I was bringing home around £167 a week, and that was actually above average for someone working in a factory in Telford. I put up a charade of being appalled and in a pretence of protest, I decided that I wouldn’t buy a season ticket. In reality, I just couldn’t afford it. I kept the pretense up with saying that I’d only do away games, vowing that I wouldn’t give a penny to Blues. I would’ve had to have borrowed a penny to give it anyway, but that’s beside the point, and I carried on acting the part anyway. Bruce was followed through the door by Barry Horne, Mike Newell, Paul Furlong and Gary Ablett. All were put on big wages, the team was evolving again. The signing of the last name on that list, did actually aggrieve me. This was still in the days when finding out about transfers weren’t the protracted process they are now. I bought the, now long gone, Birmingham Post. It ran a story that we’d signed Gary Ablett. I was devastated, felt physically sick. Ablett in my eyes, rated as high as the bottom of a mine shaft. I thought he was absolutely hopeless and we’d gone and signed him. I suppose in hindsight, more should’ve been read into the reaction of David Sullivan to the Blues fans response to Paul Furlong being signed. Furlong, along with Bruce, was the benchmark signing. A £2 million pound transfer. (Think a £12 million signing by a Championship club in today’s football world, and you’ll get the idea) Sullivan was astonished that Blues fans weren’t queuing round the corner to buy a season ticket the day after the announcement of the signing. (Two were bought) Furlong had been known for spending much of his time at Chelsea in the reserves due to either injury or simply, a lack of form. The signing was never going to ignite our imagination and fervour our expectations for the new season, but Sullivan was beside himself with frustration and ranted about it to the media. Now then, that’s all my domestic and Blues situations described, on to the day itself. With not having a season ticket, going to home games, no tinternet access, and not many shops in Telford stocking the Birmingham Mail, thus, not in the loop of information, I had missed out on getting a ticket for the away end. By the time I’d found out the game was all ticket, the away end was sold out. I travelled up to Manchester anyway. The plan was to stay on my own, be careful so as to not draw attention to the fact I wasn’t City, and go in the home end. As it was the first time I’d ever been to Maine Road, it wasn’t going to be easy. I reached Piccadilly having seen a couple of familiar faces on the train up. They weren’t Blues fans I was in a habit of talking to, but recognising them, I was strangely reassured. I came out of the station and grabbed a taxi. Back then, I didn’t do any research on pubs and how to get to a ground, I very much lived on my wits. The city centre vanished behind me. Maine Road was situated in the Moss Side area, an area with an unrelated to football, infamous reputation. Known for high unemployment, social deprivation, gun crime and ruthless street gangs. I tried to remember the way we were going, taking in landmarks I could use as reference points. As the buildings became much more decrepit looking, I asked the driver if we’d got to Moss Side, just as the imposing new Kippax stand came into view. Had I waited another 10 seconds, I wouldn’t have felt the need to ask what was instantly a stupid question. I paid the fare, and got out. Although the away end was sold out, I had a fair idea that the home end wouldn’t be. I spotted a small queue for the ticket office, which was really just a window in the side of a stand. It hadn’t occurred to me that I might need to be a member to gain a ticket. As I queued, a ticket tout wandered passed, enquiring if anyone wanted a ticket, I saw my chance. He was only after face value, I couldn’t believe my luck. Ticket bought, I looked at it, it didn’t look right, I went after the bloke who’d sold me the ticket, telling him of my reservations. He reassured me that it was fine, even confirmed it at a nearby early opened turnstile. I apologised, he just looked at me as if I was simple. It was now off to find a pub. I went back to the main road from Maine Road and settled on one that looked friendly. (Over time, you develop a kind of sixth sense for these things. That and a confidence that being streetwise gives you) The place was more or less empty when I got in there. I bought a pint, and picking somewhere that I could survey the room, watched the pub fill up. Having bought a ticket for the game and thus completing the first essential task, I could relax and just people watch. It was a similar kind of crowd to Blues. Unpretentious and working class. As time passed, I saw match tickets being pinned to the woodwork behind the bar. I could’ve just got one in there. A pile of programmes was delivered, so the next time I went up for another pint, I bought one. I was feeling kind of content in there. The only things that was different to us, were the accent and the shade of blue. I couldn’t help eavesdropping at the conversation between the City fans at the table to my right. They were just a bunch of normal middle aged fans, talking general life, but at one point, one of them used drug terminology to describe an everyday event as if it was normal, it was a proper eyebrow raiser, yet no one batted an eyelid. Not only was it like it was nothing, it was almost like it was common. They’d been accustomed to being a mere step away from the drugs world so much for so long, that it had seeped into their daily lives. It had become matter of fact, something you just couldn’t ignore, it was just there, put up and shut up. I managed to keep my mouth shut queuing up to get in the ground.

Once I’d got in, I discovered I was just a handful of seats the other side of no man’s land from the Blues fans. I had to bite my lip when they sang ‘Keep right on’, sit on my hands when they applauded things Blues did. I had to be quiet. I was lucky that the game wasn’t all that great, but then Man City got a penalty. The home fans and me, arose in anticipation of the net rippling, it didn’t, City missed it, I joyfully joined in with the abuse aimed at the City players, though mine was due to a need for a release of tension and not out of frustration. The game was meandering towards a 0:0 draw, I was feeling kind of pleased, I’d made it through the game. Ahh no, watching Blues can never be that easy can it? City were awarded another penalty in injury time. They wouldn’t miss another, couldn’t miss another, didn’t miss another. The City legend and hero, Georghe Kinkladze dispatched it to win the game. I pretended to celebrate but to say I found it difficult, doesn’t do it justice. At least I made it out of the ground and back to the city centre unscathed.

By the time I got back to Piccadilly station, the Manchester Evening News ‘Pink Un’ had hit the streets. I bought one and headed to a pub just off the main drag, down a side street. It’s a restaurant now, but at the time, it was handy for the station. There were a few home fans in there but the pub wasn’t full by any means. In fact, there was nobody at the bar when I got my pint and sat down at an empty table opposite the bar. There was an altercation outside between returning Blues fans and City fans, it caused some of the City fans inside the pub to move to the windows for a better view. One of them came over to me and asked “What times your train home then mate?”. I had no colours on whatsoever, how on earth had he worked out I was Blues? I felt extremely vulnerable with what was going on outside. Although I was unnerved, I tried not to let it show. He told me that because I had the courage to be on my own, I would be left alone. (He used the slang word for male genitals instead of courage, but seeing as my eldest sister reads this, I try and keep it clean) I was grateful at the time but looking back, it’s possible I was seen as some lone psychopath and he was trying to gauge how much of a nutter I was. It’s not like there wasn’t enough makeshift weapons to hand that could’ve been used. That included the handbook on how to adapt everyday items into things that could kill, which I’d placed on the table next to my pint. Obviously there was no handbook, but I’ve often wondered how I was sussed. After all, I had just watched the game in the home end, and like I’ve stated, I wasn’t wearing any colours. I hadn’t got a scarf on or a replica shirt on underneath my coat. I hadn’t even got a pin badge on. Had the barman tipped off the Man City lads after he’d heard my accent? Possibly, but after years of watching football and people all over the country, you develop observational skills. I can be in a pub in the middle of Brum on a match day, and spot opposition fans, (Obviously when they’re not wearing colours) by their clothes style and their demeanor. On a personal level, I can spot married or single women by what they’re wearing too. I actually like being surprised by the exceptions, but only because it’s not often I’m wrong. That’s not me boasting, it’s just me being honest. Like I’ve outlined about myself, infidelity is something I find far too easy to indulge in. Being an opportunist in that field, I’ve just developed skills I find useful to me is all. I digress. I caught the train home. Disappointed Blues had lost, but feeling kind of rebellious. An enemy within.

FOOTNOTE:- Blues finished the season mid table, higher than in Fry’s last season, but seeing how much our wage bill had leapt, a bit of a damp squib.

I carried on self medicating my depression with cans of cheap 8% cider from the budget supermarket Netto’s, as I mentally climbed the walls of domesticity and work. Though my work situation was just about to change dramatically. Albeit, still in manufacturing.

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