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.
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.
When I was trying to watch the Cup Final and shouted to the players “Get in the box!”
I don’t go much to the Etihad these days, my match attendances take place much further down the football chain. But I nevertheless can’t help feeling sad today with the reminder that David Silva, after ten sterling years, plays his final Premier League game tomorrow for Manchester City.
Maybe the greatest ever to wear the sky blue shirt, he deserves a better send off than performing in a stadium devoid of fans due to this Coronavirus. But I’m sure he will return at some point to say a proper farewell.
“I would like to be remembered as a good guy, who enjoys football. I hope the people enjoyed my football as well. It’s simple.”
Enjoyed it we did. The Premier League will be a lot poorer for his absence.
With the demise, temporary or otherwise, of my son James’ team, Bury FC, I started taking him to watch a local non-league team by the name of Prestwich Heys.
A world away from the Premier League football that we could stay home and watch on the TV, it’s a real community club that values our support and attendance.
With no pretensions or VAR in sight, it’s proper football with proper fans, giving a warm welcome and an inclination to visit again – for the club quickly got under our skin to the extent that it has now become a family affair with both my wife and daughter also attending games.
We were having a great season, and then that damn Covid-19 virus arrived and everything was brought to a premature close.
In the meanwhile, a friend has started up a blog about all thing Heys to keep everyone still connected in these barren months. It isn’t on WordPress, but if you follow the link below you can enter your email address to subscribe to his posts.
So if you have an interest in non-league football; football in general; want to know what is going on in this part of Northern England, or to gain a glimpse of some of the things that I and my family get up to here in Manchester, UK, please follow the link and subscribe.
It’s a new blog and I’m sure the writer will appreciate the support of you lovely people.
His name is Rick, go say hello.
I’ve written that much, over on Facebook, about the tragedy and travesty that is unfolding at Bury FC, that I don’t feel like adding much more about it here.
But tonight, with tomorrow’s deadline looming, a deadline after which this historic club, after 134 years, will slip from existence, I took my son to Gigg Lane.
This is his club. Not a club he inherited from me, just as I inherited Manchester City from my father, but a club that he gave his heart to of his own accord. It’s a club that I have learned to love because he loves it.
On the journey there we heard a first glimmer of hope over the car radio. A chink of light in long-gathering shadows.
I feel a little more optimistic, but the margins are tight. It will go right down to the wire. It’s not dark yet.
Our new student has arrived.
We were expecting a girl who is of Luxembourg nationality. Turns out it’s a lad who was born in Luxembourg, is actually Belgian, lives in France and flew from Italy.
But he’s a City fan so all’s well.
So the football season is back. I spent a balmy Monday night at the Etihad, trying to peer through the residual smoke as the match began. Think they overdid the fireworks a little, but these days it’s all a show.
Outside queues were long and slow moving, as security was high with full body searches and sniffer dogs. I suppose that this is what we’ve come to in the current climate. Still, football as ever is an escape from what goes on outside of these stadiums. Ninety minutes of distraction; highs and lows; triumph and defeat. (Or a concilliating draw as this night turned out to be.)
Best of luck for the season, whoever you support. And if football’s not your thing, you’ve got fireworks. With a burger.
When you go to the match to be the calm voice of reason for the folks back home.
Throat lozanges, anyone?