Any Clown Can Win

I decided to tip the barista off. “There’s some right clowns in here today.”

Passing me my coffee in a takeaway cup, she looked puzzled, and so I inclined my head towards the entrance to this Costa coffee shop.

Her face dropped. “Oh no. Clowns! That’s my biggest fear in the whole world. Then, tentatively: “Maybe they won’t come in.”

They came in.

She stood there as they began to approach, preparing herself, stealing herself, to serve with a smile.

“They’re gonna be squirting water in your face from flowers in their lapels and everything,” I helpfully said. “Then stomping out in their size fifteen feet.”

“Don’t. I won’t be able to cope.”

“You’re going to go viral. Snapchat, Twitter, YouTube, the works.”

I wished her good luck and found myself a table. (Yes, I know I had a takeaway cup but it’s a peculiarity I’ve inherited from my wife.)

Later, as the barista was cleaning a table, I asked her what the score was with the three clowns and I learned that they weren’t actually clowns.

“What, so they weren’t on their way to a clown convention then?” I asked.

“No, I’m not sure what they said now, they were either out last night or they’re on their way out from here today.”

“What, around town you mean? Like that?”

“Yes,” she laughed.

I stroked my chin, taking one of them off. “‘Out with the lads tonight. Hmm . . . what shall I wear?” Then: “NOT THAT!”

You’ve got to love Manchester, haven’t you? You see it all. Hen parties, stag dos, clowns, the lot.

Before I left I showed her a photograph that I’d just saved onto my phone from Facebook. “Is this what you in the business call a drive through?”

Later that day it was my son’s football team’s end of season presentation. Along with his regular team member trophy he also won Most Improved Player Of The Season. Then it was my turn!

I contribute to the club by taking action photographs of the players along with submitting match reports, recording Man of the Match awards etc.

Imagine my surprise when I was awarded ‘Reporter of the Year.’

To be honest, I don’t think there was anyone else in the running but it was nice to be recognised. On the way out of the building, James and I compared trophies.

“Is Reporter of the Year even a thing?” he asked me.

I gave him a bit of advice. “When you get home from here, Google ‘Watergate’.”

The Generational Shift

I’d been in Leeds for three nights. Catching a train, I was leaving behind a patchwork of blue sky and white cloud. The people I was destined to meet were warning me about the typical Manchester weather that lay in wait for me.

Sitting there, seeing the world rapidly passing by my window, it was hard to fathom. After all, Leeds isn’t that far away from Manchester, is it? They’re both northern cities.

It was a concern too, for the people I was to meet were fellow Prestwich Heys fans at a home game for us, and a lot of rain normally meant that the game would be off due to a waterlogged pitch.

I was meeting my wife and children there, too, for our football games are a family affair. I sent a text to Jen, enquiring about the state of weather, and her discouraging reply prompted my own: I’m in light trainers, bring my boots with you.

They’re walking boots, I should add, not football boots. God forbid that I was intending to play!

We hit the rain just before Stalybridge, and the skies got darker and the deluge heavier the closer I got to Manchester, a familiar, dispiriting dark pall hanging over the place I call home.

We arrived and I donned a waterproof jacket before alighting the train. Immediately on leaving Piccadilly Station I stepped into a large puddle, almost strategically placed to snag the unwary. I’d been in Manchester thirty seconds and my foot was soaked. It truly felt like home.

We have one large golfing umbrella which Jen was going to bring with her, and now back on home turf I planned to get another so all four of us would be covered. That’s if the game went ahead.

The game will go ahead, was the welcome comment added to our supporters’ messenger group. With the new drainage the pitch is holding up well.

With time on my side I took brief shelter in a Starbucks close to Piccadilly, sitting with my latte at a bar situated against the large front window of the shop, perfect to watch this wet world go briefly by.

And that world going by appeared serenely oblivious to the weather we were experiencing. Girls in short skirts and crop tops, guys in shirts and summer shorts, hailing each other and hopping between bars. I watched them as I drank.

The generational shift. Sometimes I think I’m still cool, but I’m not. I’m getting old. This world is yours. This wonderful, swarming, metropolis is yours. And you won’t realise it until you are sat here one day, like me, maybe disapproving, maybe in relief, passing the baton on yourselves.

I could wile away the time here, people watching, being all philosophical and a touch fatalistic, but I had somewhere to be. I calculated what time I’d need to leave to make the match, finished my drink and set off. The heavy rain had thankfully subsided into a light drizzle, and, as if the city wasn’t wet enough, I paused briefly to watch the fountains in the grassless Gardens.

Sports Direct. That’s where I’d get my umbrella from. It was just five minutes away so I headed in the direction of the store. Again oblivious to the current conditions, I encountered along the way a man with bleached blonde hair and high heels, further enhanced by blue cut-off denim shorts and a black net stocking top that showed off his nipple piercings, singing loudly “I know he loves me . . . “

Yep. I was back in Manchester.

I got my umbrella and I got the bus, meeting the family in time to make the match with half an hour to spare. We filed through the turnstile, the kids talking football and my wife talking catch-up.

It was great, I thought, after being away for a few days, to return to a place I love doing what I love with the people I love.

In the midst of this sentimental reverie, standing pitch side, the clouds opened up again. But my umbrella didn’t.

No wonder those bastards wouldn’t let me try it by opening it up in the shop! Bad luck my arse!

But it couldn’t dampen our enthusiasm. The match started and we cheered on our team. The pitch was perfect and so was the moment, the one working umbrella covering our children and my son’s friend. And once more I thought of the generational shift, of these young supporters, just beginning, perhaps, a lifelong association. The lifeblood and the future of this, our adopted club.

Hopefully Not Hung Out To Dry

So, we are well into the Euros. A year late because of Covid. Everything is late because of Covid. But it’s an ideal boon for a country needing lifting-because of Covid.

But anyway, that’s enough of the ‘C’ word.

I walked the dog yesterday and saw some Langley washing lines put to good use.

And then we returned home to watch England beat Germany, our long-time nemesis and hoodoo team. (I was wearing a Sweden shirt at the time, but I’m peculiar like that.)

And so-we are still in it. Our therapy continues.

Keep the washing lines clear of washing! Keep the flags flying!

A beleaguered nation needs it.

Farewell And Thank You, Sergio

Say to any blue “Ninety three twenty” and they will know exactly what you mean. Chances are that any football fan, who isn’t even a City supporter, will on reading ‘93:20’ know exactly what it refers to.

Today, before he left us behind in this rainy city, he set yet one more record to go along with all the others. A list of achievements that will elevate him above most others who follow.

2011-2021. In his very first home game, ten years ago, he came off the bench and bagged a brace. Today, in his very last home game, he came off the bench and bagged a brace.

It’s poetic. The career of an adopted Mancunian in symmetrical balance.

I can’t help waxing lyrical. Even that photograph of him climbing those stairs for the final time: the player in front has 16 on his back which was his first squad number. He follows wearing number 10, his last one.

Loved by all City fans, man, woman and child. I’m thankful that my son was upstairs while I watched the curtain closing on Sergio Aguero’s Manchester City career. He thinks his Dad is a tough guy.

R.I.P Colin Bell, The Reluctant Hero

I’m a little behind the times, and for that I apologise, but on the 5th of January Colin Bell, widely regarded as the greatest player to ever pull on the sky blue shirt for my team, Manchester City, passed away.

I’d meant to do a post about the time my wife and I met him, in memorable circumstances, a few years ago, but I got caught up in ‘stuff’ and haven’t written it yet. I will post that at a later date.

In the meanwhile, I’ve posted below a short tribute by 007 himself, Timothy Dalton, an avowed City and Colin Bell fan. It refers to the player’s beginnings and how this shy, most unassuming of men gained legendary status without really acknowledging that. There could be no more apt title for his autobiography: Reluctant Hero.

The tribute also shows him running through the streets of Manchester in a vain attempt to come back from the injury that prematurely called time on his career.

Please give it a watch.

Post-Festive, Lockdown Blues

BOXING DAY

I know you don’t need me to tell you.

These are desperate times. But this is especially so if you’re a fan of non-league football and your team didn’t have a game on Boxing Day, for Boxing Day is traditionally football day. And without tradition-we’re lost. In these uncertain times we need the odd touchstone.

My team, Prestwich Heys, didn’t have a match because the team the fixture list had given us was the only one in the league that had decided that they wouldn’t play at the government reduced, Covid-caused capacity.

I had to find an alternative for my son and I.

A quick scan of the fixture lists showed me that Daisy Hill were at home and that was doable, just a twenty minute train ride and a quick walk. Plans remade.

Except, just as we were about to leave, we received the news that overnight Bolton had experienced some snow and the game was off.

So, after checking other possible games, (the fruitless results of which I’ll share later in this post), we decided to go a bit further out to Darwen, in Blackburn, jumping a lift with a friend.

Needing a game, needing fresh air, we set off, reassured in the knowledge that even if snow had ventured this far, Darwen had a plastic pitch and when cleared the match would be on.

Once we reached the hills, we saw the wicked snow that-this-way-came. It was nothing more than a novelty and pleasing to the eye, providing photo opportunities to document our dedicated search for football.

At the end of our journey, the ground awaiting, we rolled into the club car park only to be told that they had reached their reduced capacity limit and so we couldn’t get in.

Deep sigh. Wasted day. Journey back.

I wouldn’t be taking any photos this time.

Boxing Day equals football day. Remember that?

Though I wouldn’t now be watching a match in person I thought that at least when I got in I’d be able to see Man City on TV as at that level the games were always on.

As we were dropped off I received the latest news which was the final nail in the coffin of every match I’d held flickering hopes for:

Prestwich was cancelled because of Covid restrictions ;

Daisy Hill was cancelled because of snow;

Heywood St James was cancelled because of a waterlogged pitch;

Maine Road was cancelled because of Covid restrictions;

Went to Darwen but couldn’t get in;

And now Man City was cancelled because of positive Covid cases among the squad;

What an unbelievable set of circumstances they were, all coming together to thwart me. In resignation, I decided to look at the day’s football league results on my LiveScore app and got this:

From all of this I’ve come to the conclusion that the universe is telling me NO MORE BLOODY FOOTBALL!

NEW YEAR’S EVE

Restrictions building, a sense of the world closing in, we went for a coffee at one of the last places we were allowed to sit in (a motorway service station) as the sun slipped away for the final time from this most challenging of years.

Custom was scarce, enthusiasm more so, and after just the one drink we went home, staying in as the country, maybe even the world, stayed in for the build up to the midnight countdown. The clock struck twelve, the family hugged and then we went outside to see the fireworks.

Almost on cue it began to snow. I don’t think I’ve ever known it to snow on New Year’s Eve before, certainly not beginning at midnight. (I know I know, technically this is New Year’s Day.) It momentarily lifted the spirits, the children shouting in delight.

Snow on New Year’s Eve seemed a suitable way to draw a line under this difficult year. It was as if the earth had taken pity on us for all we’d recently endured and given us just a little sprinkling of magic to remind us that nothing lasts forever.

New Year’s Day

No hangover, no self-induced fragility, but this day seemed more subdued than ever. Perhaps it’s that play-off, that tormenting dichotomy, the knowledge that 2021 has been ushered in with an end in sight to our 2020 struggles, but to get there we are going to have to endure the more difficult days to come.

I write this as we have entered another national lockdown, one that reportedly could last until the end of March. We are like prisoners doing time, scratching off our days served on our cell walls until the day of release comes. And it is coming, be certain of that. We just have to keep our eyes fixed on that distant, longed-for prize.

Who will meet us at the gate?