UTS (Up The Shakers!)

You guys know I’m a Manchester City fan, right? I think I may have mentioned it once or twice. I’m used to watching a Premier League team, with Premiership players earning Premiership salaries. You can experience the very best in hospitality and food, the very best in entertainment. These days it is a day out for some people, the football is almost an added extra.

Well last night I went to watch another local team: Bury. Recently their match against Southend United was abandoned because of the state of the pitch, due to a sustained downpour.  It was rearranged for last night, and they declared that it would be free admittance for all supporters.

It was a fantastic gesture by a club that not so long ago nearly went out of business due to financial reasons. Life really is a struggle for the clubs at this level (they are three divisions below my City team) to exist and compete, every penny that comes through the turnstiles counts.

Locals responded, the ground was full, and the atmosphere was great (in certain respects, I think my own club has sold its soul, but that’s for another day). Unfortunately the Shakers did not get the result they were looking for, despite a host of first half chances. (They are going for promotion-winning their final three matches would guarantee it.) But much kudos to Bury.

I’ve always said that supporters of smaller clubs, such as those who follow local teams like Bury, Rochdale, and Oldham, who go week in week out in all weathers to watch their team, playing at a much lower standard than what is experienced at Premiership level, sometimes, most of the time, struggling, with few expectations of glory, are real football supporters. They refuse to jump onto the bandwagon of headline-hitting larger neighbours, in this case Manchester City and Manchester United, and remain loyal to their team and true to their hearts, finding their spiritual home in small, ramshackle stadiums of limited facilities but great camaraderie.

They still have the romance.

Good luck Bury, I hope you go up.

UTS !

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Fickle Fans and Farewell, Mozart

I got up at 5.30 this morning to say goodbye to our student. We are a host family for an academy in Manchester whose students come from all over the world to learn English. This was the second student who we have had stay with us, and as he left the house the heavens opened up to give him one last taste of true Mancunian, English weather.

Our first student was a lad from Angola. When he arrived from the airport, the taxi driver said to me “Look after him, he’s a Manchester United supporter.” You guys may know that I’m a Manchester City supporter, but I was determined to overlook that in the interests of friendship.

He had been in the house half an hour, exchanging pleasantries (his English was quite good as this was his second visit over here to the academy) when he said: “I don’t think City will win the….”

To help him out, I offered “The Champions League?” which I also agreed with.  He shook his head.

“No, the Premiership title.”

I looked at the United badge on his coat, thinking ‘well you definitely won’t’. But we had only just met, so to be polite I asked him:

“Who do you think will?” 

He replied that he thought Chelsea would win it. At this point in the season, you understand, we had been beating everybody, well beating them too, especially at home. So, supremely confident, vain man that I am, I answered that we would soon see as we were playing them at home the following night.

We got beat.

I went to the match, and my wife decided to subscribe to Sky Sports so that our student could watch the game. I didn’t have Sky Sports up to that point, but because she didn’t know what she would talk to the lad about in my absence, she forked out for it. All those months I had had to make do with Coronation Street and the like. Still, mustn’t complain-we now had Sky Sports.

As I said, we got beat, and we made our way to the car from the stadium, me commenting that if our new student said anything when I got home his bags would be packed. Travelling home, listening to the phone-in on the local radio station, one of the callers sounded African. One of my mates said “Hey Andy, it’s your student: ‘I’m just calling to say hey Andy, did you enjoy the match? I have eaten your supper and slept with your wife.'”

I was looking forward to that supper too.

Knowing that he was a United supporter, and both City and Chelsea were rivals to his team, the next day I asked my wife who the student had been supporting. “He seemed to get excited every time Chelsea got the ball.”

I knew it.

This wasn’t going to work out well. It just so happened that we also had Chelsea in the FA Cup at the weekend. The two of us watched  it together on the tv. It could have potentially caused an international incident.

City scored early, and I celebrated. He leant back on the couch, put his hands casually behind his head, and said “To me, this is not a problem.” I thought to myself that if Chelsea score, and you cheer, you will find accommodation a problem.

They didn’t, we won.

How was this going to work out? He was living here with us for six months, and my wife had primed an explosive device in the middle of the lounge by the name of Sky Sports 1. He was a United supporter, so there would definitely be the problem of the Derby matches. We survived those because City won both games. Surely we would now be able to watch other matches without there being any possible tension? Looking back on the season, the tension was heightened because of the following:

City v United “I support United.”

City v Chelsea “I support Chelsea because I like the manager.”

City v Arsenal “I support Arsenal because my friends do.” 

City v Liverpool “I support Liverpool because they are my second team.”

City v Sunderland “I support Sunderland because when he was at United John O’Shea was my favourite player.”

City v Barcelona “I support Barcelona because they are my Spanish team.”

City v Bayern Munich “I support Munich because they are my German team.”

City v Norwich “I support Norwich because my Gran lives in Norwich.”

Really? He was from Angola but his gran lived in Norwich. I was sure that he was trying to wind me up.

One night we were watching Chelsea in a Champions League game, and when Chelsea got a late goal he dived head first across the carpet, arms outstretched, like the players do on the turf. Right across the floor he slid, to the bottom of the stairs, as I stood over him saying “I thought you was a United fan!” My wife was due in at any moment, and if she had come through the door at that very second she would have stepped on him.

Sometimes, if a team scored, he would walk to the bottom of the stairs and silently punch both arms up in the air three times, towards the top landing, while I watched silently with my cup of tea.

He told me once that you should always have faith in your team. I told him from experience that you might not always have faith, but you must always be loyal. He said that his friends-the Arsenal fans, were thinking of switching to Chelsea. I replied that that was unthinkable. I explained that I had watched my team for twenty eight years-twenty eight looooooong years, before I had seen them win anything. He looked at me as though I was crazy.

He said “If my team was doing badly, I would switch to a team at the top of the table.”

No! No! No! Tempting maybe, but no!

We were watching a a game between two mid table teams. He was amazed at the crowd. He said that in England all of the matches are well supported, and he wished it was like that in Angola. I explained “That is why in this country we can’t swap teams. Because we go to games, for years, with friends and family. You create shared memories, you share history. You develop emotional attachments towards the club and the players, strengthen bonds with your pals. That is why you stay with your club through thick and thin. The supporters of lower league clubs, like our local teams Bury and Oldham-they are real supporters, still going week in, week out, despite everything, no matter how far they fall.”

“But they don’t have the Champions League. They could support Barcelona.”

Deep breaths. He had come to learn the language, but maybe not the swear words.

The season finished, we won the title. He made himself conspicuously absent for our last four matches.

Then the World Cup came around. He told me that his father did not support Angola in international football-he was an Argentinian supporter.

I asked him “Why? Is he Angolan like you?” Yes. “Full Angolan?” Yes. “Then why does he support Argentina?” Because he likes  Diego Maradona.

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This competition would be interesting.

He kept telling me that England had a great side. I kept telling him that we hadn’t. He told me to have faith. I told him we hadn’t a prayer. But finally, finally, we had some common ground, and were both supporting my national side.

We were knocked out after two games. Some people had still not finished putting their flags up and we were on the way home,

How dedicated was my friend to the England cause? I came in from the kitchen at the start of one game to find him singing the Portugese national anthem. In another game, when Brazil scored, he slid head first over the carpet. Again. I started thinking about a wooden floor.

He  was from Angola, supported England, sang the Portugese national anthem, and cheered for Brazil. He also told me that his cousin’s favourite player was the German Thomas Muller. “Do you know why?” he asked me. I suggested that it was because he scored a lot of goals. He shook his head, “No, it’s because he likes the white t-shirt he wears underneath his football shirt.” 

I thought that’s it-he’s definitely taking the piss. But in the German game Muller went tumbling in the box, his shirt rode up, and my mate spat his tea out as he exclaimed “Look-there it is! The white t-shirt!! The white t-shirt!!”  

And it was. The white t-shirt.

Come the quarter finals, when Brazil was taking part in the penalty shoot-out, he went upstairs to his room saying that he was too nervous to watch. He stayed up there for an hour, then came down for his tea, announcing “For me, the World Cup is over! Over!”

Why?”

“Brazil!”

I told him that they had won on penalties and were through.

He went all wide eyed:“What???????”

“They won. They are in the semi-finals.”

He slid across the carpet again, punching one of my son’s balloons on the way.

“It was an hour ago!” I told him.

“When you didn’t come up to tell me, I thought that they had got beat!”

I would have been straight up if they had got beat. He now said that he didn’t want his tea, as he was going back up to watch the penalties on “Yoooouuuuuutuuuuuubee!!!!!”

Come the semi-finals, featuring his now beloved Brazil, he had  decided to watch this important game in his room so that he could devote all of his attention to it. Brazil got hammered. He came down after just half an hour. “I shall eat now.” The half-time summary put him off his food. When Gary Lineker referred to the Brazilian performance as shameful, he got up. “I will eat this in my room. I cannot listen to this man.”

And so, for our student, the World Cup was finally over. And soon his stay with us was over too. It had been an experience.

To be honest though, he was a nice, polite lad who we got to like over the six months he was with us. We have remained in touch, I just had to edit six months worth of Facebook football status’ and comments before I could accept his friend request.

I won’t be posting this Jackdaw post on Facebook either.

So: our next student, student number two, who left this morning, was from Saudi Arabia. You don’t even have to ask who he supported, but seeing as though it was pre-season there was no issues this time around. I think I will have to have a word with someone at the academy though.

He only stayed with us for five weeks, and things were a little more difficult as his English wasn’t very good. But somehow we made it work-and our kids enjoyed having him around. They seem to get just as much from this cultural exchange as the students do.

His name was Moath. My wife kept calling him moth.

I kept reminding her that he was called Moath. She did alright for a couple of days, until she asked him “Do you want a drink, Mozart?” 

Play it cool, Jen.

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But it stuck. She couldn’t get that name out of her head when speaking of him, and called it him directly a further three times. She tried to explain it away to me:“I don’t even know a Mozart.”

Yes you do, and he’s been dead two hundred years.

Anyway, Moath-Mozart, has gone. We now have a four week break until our first European arrives. He is Swiss, and is called Miro. We have friends who have a dog named Milo.

This should be interesting.