Len Johnson & Radical Manchester

How do! / 你好 (nĭ hăo) / Namaste / Welcome!

I was reading about Manchester’s radical history in terms of racism and prejudice. I came across one Len Johnson and decided I needed to influence some fiction with some fact. The below is my noted interpretation of Manchester’s first black boxing legend. Somebody I knew nothing about, and someone who surely needs celebrating. Radical Manchester’s blog and website has a true account, but the below is a kind of reimagining:


 

In fiction there is truth

Years on ships had taught him how to breathe and observe calm seas without making a sound. Len Johnson towered above the people in the room. He was a strong figure of a man, just twenty-five years of age. His father, William, once a handsome seaman who emigrated from Sierra Leone, Africa had travelled to Manchester, a place known for its inland seaport. There he had met his young and beautiful mother Margaret. Len was now an engineer on ships, just like his father had been. On shore-leave he would put the deck-side practice into bouts within boxing rings. His middle-weight career had been growing in stature for some time. He had been prevented the chance to fight for titles though. Only white boxers had been permitted by the British Board of Boxing Control. He had been born, in Clayton, into a land and afforded little freedom, just because his father was African and his skin was not white.

Len had known that his father had suffered racism and abuse from an early age. His father, being a strong man mentally and physically, had always tried to shield him from the revulsion around him. Len’s mother was as heavy-weight as his father. Her durable resilience had led her to marry William. Unconcealed and sometimes ferocious actions were cast at the Johnson family. All they wanted to do was live a life of peace. Len’s father had always told him to stand up for himself and the people around him. His mother Margaret, despite being mutilated by attack remained beautiful in his eyes. Her purity gave him strength for many years.

Manchester and Salford did not have too many black community members. The Manchester Ship Canal gave a touch of African spirit to the city and region. Len’s pathway was not simple but he was big brother to two brothers and a younger sister. He wasn’t going to stay quiet or be walked over. His community may have been small, but he so wanted to give it a voice. Boxing for now was his strength. Skin colour didn’t seem to count against him.

After years of toughing it out in a foundry, Crossley Engines, Len had found trouble waiting for him in work. Rather than scold him, his father William took Len alongside his brothers to the Ashton Old Road’s Alhambra. Here boxing was watched. Len’s eyes opened wide with each brutal swing, the ballet as each boxer edged around the ring, inching for space and willing their opponent to let their guard down. It was beautiful art. Just as the boxing was then, here he stood listening to voices and comprehending new ideas. Perhaps, here, in this room, he would find the tools for the new battle ahead. Perhaps not. Either way, he had little to do, no fights to fight and his next ship wasn’t due for some time.

The boxing booths of Bert Hughes were distant memories, yet he allowed a moment to think how far he had progressed. Yet, he knew the journey to be regarded as an equal by the white man was far from over. Hitting sacks was one thing, or flooring a challenge with one blow, nonetheless he wanted to spar with words and skills not seen in the ring. Inside his belly he had fire and hunger for a fight. His head was just cool enough to learn slowly and listen often. It didn’t matter if he would need years of stamina to reach his goal.

The Free Trade Hall of Manchester wasn’t too far down the road. His first big fight had been there. Eddie Pearson. That path had seen him visit Australia. To date he had won more than he had lost. He knew deep down that he would be much more than a pair of fists at packed houses in Belle Vue. He desired a world where Imperial politics wouldn’t hinder people born in Britain, just because they were black. The British Empire and its stupid white supremacy feared defeat to the black man, he thought. He thought and he fought. He looked on. He listened. This was not for him. Not yet. But one day.


 

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(Image: Manchester Libraries)

Leonard Benker Johnson: 22nd October 1902 – 28th September 1974

 

  • In 1921, Len Johnson‘s first professional boxing bout was a third round knockout of Jerry Hogan.
  • Johnson would knock out 35 more opponents in his 99 wins.
  • Amongst 33 losses Johnson suffered 5 knock outs.
  • Seven fights were draws.
  • Johnson fought in Dublin (Croke Park), Brussels, Antwerp, Sydney Stadium, West Melbourne Stadium, Brisbane, Milan, the Royal Albert Hall (London) and many other venues.
  • World War II: Civil Defence heavy Rescue Squad, Manchester
  • On September 30th, 1953, Len Johnson ordered a beer in his local pub
  • Columnist: The Daily Worker
  • Active in civil rights and the community of Moss Side
  • Trade unionist
  • Co-founder: New International Society 

 


“Our true nationality is mankind.” – H.G. Wells (September 21st, 1866 – August 13th, 1946), author.

Ships, slavery and suffering are no stranger to Manchester’s shadowy story. Nor any other great U.K. city for that matter.. The narration of our fair city isn’t quite as black and white or good or bad as many say. If a true memoire was to be written about Manchester, then now in the important time of #BlackLivesMatter, Manchester must take a look at itself and talk the talk that needs talking. There shouldn’t be a need for racism campaigns or months dedicated to Black History. Inequality needs to be kicked away and told never to return. Black History should be as integrated as the very people it serves to highlight. Manchester seems reasonably integrated these days. There are pockets of stupidity and hate, but they aren’t tolerated by the majority. Not at all.


 

“No matter how big a nation is, it is no stronger than its weakest people” – Marian Anderson

In 1806, the Atlantic slave trade ended. How much global change has happened? Not enough. One viewing of Spike Lee’s BlackKklansman movie should be enough to see that the USA still has buckets of hate and divide. How can any race of people consider itself above another? Isn’t genetic purity a load of old cobblers? How many ‘mericans have European blood? How many genetic ancestry routes does a European have? Vikings, Norsemen, Greeks, Romans, Ottomans, French, Spanish, Germanic, Barvarians, Albanians, Russians… Look at any number of races, times and people and intermingling was commonplace. The status quo may have kept their noble bloodlines mixed with other bloods of royalty but very few (read that as none) could be seen as being superior, untainted or the blessings of God(s).

“We treat racism in this country like it’s a style that America went through. Like flared legs and lava lamps. Oh, that crazy thing we did. We were hanging black people. We treat it like a fad instead of a disease that eradicates millions of people. You’ve got to get it at a lab, and study it, and see its origins, and see what it’s immune to and what breaks it down.” – Chris Rock, comedian, Vultures.

What is lit like to be white? Some of us Caucasians burn easy in the sun and some of us have ugly freckles, blotches of melatonin and all the imperfections of every other race. Because, we’re all the same! A species of human beings, Homo sapiens, despite some of us being so thick that other anthropological species, no longer with us, get insulting comparisons thrown at them. Our social and mortal species of humanoid is a being that is both individual and the same, yet different and with unique souls. This creature that inhabits and inhibits humanity on the form or a racist and uses radicalism impedes progression. There is radical for the sake of equality or balance – and then there is radical for the sake of ensuring the human being stays still with a banjo playing whilst avoiding all forms of bettering themselves.

“In this country American means white. Everybody else has to hyphenate.”- Toni Morrison, author & professor

There are tiny genetic differences that make some of us exhibit different behaviours, have different physical features and think differently, but we are one as a species. Anyone is capable of destruction and most can rip up a book easier than write one. Unpopular author Adolf Hitler wrote Mein Kampf, which is proof to all that anybody can write a book, and someone can influence. He drew on Popularism in ways that possible 21st Century apprentice Donald of the Trump has rebirthed in less than 280 characters. One used a book, marches and actions as a weapon. One uses Twitter, public gatherings and the media, alongside actions. I’d hate to be seen as being better for being Caucasian. Sometimes I am giving that approach in China and it does not feel comfortable. I always push for equality, even if I make somebody lose face. I’m not their puppet and I won’t be treated as a dancing monkey for their favour.

In Manchester, we’re lucky. We have been blessed by radicals. Some radicals have battled for equality and supported what we now have. I wonder how they will feel at the progress, or lack of progress that has been made. The Portico Library in Manchester was first chaired by anti-slavery campaigner John Ferriar. John Ferriar, a Scottish physician (Manchester Infirmary, 1789–1815) and a poet. He founded a Board of Health in Manchester in 1795. In 1788, a hundred years after Aphra Behn’s novel Oroonoko was published, John Ferriar published The Prince of Angola, a Tragedy, Altered from the Play of Oroonoko. And Adapted to the Circumstances of the Present Times. His play canvassed against slavery. Many other Portico Library members signed a petition to abolish the slavery trade.

“Men build too many walls and not enough bridges.” – Joseph Fort Newton (1876–1950), American Baptist minister

John Ferriar’s obituary read as:He was endowed by nature with an acute and vigorous understanding, which he had matured by a life of diligent study, and of careful and well-digested observation, into a judgment unusually correct and prompt in its decisions.’ I love this sentence as it contains so much and could be simply mean he observed, took a step back, evaluated and then delivered. It could be that inside his head he laboured with countless ideas and always stood by the one he took action with. It seems his ‘inflexible integrity’ set a fine example. The legacy of the Portico Library and his campaigning are far-reaching. Formed in 1784, The Manchester Literary and Philosophical Society, housed themselves on Mosley Street in a kind of Greek Revival style of building. The Bank of Athens even leased some of the property at one stage (Portico Library: A History, by Ann Brooks and Bryan Haworth, Carnegie Publishing). Nowadays the downstairs is The Bank, a public house.

Other Mancunians or honorary Mancs signed a counterpetition including Robert Peel (father of future Prime Minister Sir Robert Peel). George Hibbert, slave-owner and sugar plantation magnate would have probably added his signature. He came from a Mancunian family but was obviously not a very good person. Nowadays we are blessed by so much anti-racism and togetherness across the city of Manchester.

“Hating people because of their colour is wrong. And it doesn’t matter which colour does the hating. It’s just plain wrong.” – Muhammad Ali [Cassius Marcellus Clay] (January 17th, 1942 – June 3rd  2016), boxer and social activist

On the 15th  July 1978, Rock Against Racism and the Anti-Nazi League jointly threw a bash called, Rock Against Racism Northern Carnival. It followed a procession from Strangeways (a prison) up Bury New Road to Alexandra Park. 40,000 or so revellers enjoyed Buzzcocks and other great bands. Lodon’s Carnival Against the Nazis may have been an influence but to the people of Manchester, here was a valid cause to unify the people against racial prejudice on Mancunian soil.

“In the year of the disturbances in Moss Side there were running battles between us and the National Front.” – Gus John, Moss Side Defence Committee

Now, I’ve managed to get this far without really hitting on Moss Side. Moss Side has had a bad reputation for a long time. It was regarded to be a wee bit dangerous. The area that surrounded Manchester City’s old Maine Road home has so often be looked down upon. There were riots in 1981. So much so, that soon after the Moss Side Defence Committee was formed. They helped support youths, stood up against Police violence and tried to tell the story of what was happening in an area targeted by systemic Police racism. Andrew Bowman’s article is worth a gander over at the Manchester’s Radical History blog. Here you can also find a piece about The Ahmed Iqbal Ullah Race Relations Centre. The centre is named after a murdered Bangladeshi boy. It is an open access library specialising in the study of race, migration and ethnic diversity. The collection is unique and features a huge archive of resource. It is now part of the University of Manchester and a member of the Manchester Library-backed Archives+ partnership.

“The only disease right now is the racism that we are fighting. Just like the [new coronavirus] pandemic, we want to find a solution to stop it.” – Raheem Sterling, BBC interview, 8th June 2020.

Football is often seen as the screen to fight racism with City & United together against racism, but the problem is social, and pandemic. It needs to be fought head on by all. Universities, schools, the media, governments and so on – everybody together as one.

“Why is it that this question so often asked of people of colour? Not all ‘white’ people are British.” – Erinma Bell MBE, of We Stand Together, Manchester Evening News

Stand Up To Racism shares a great presence in Manchester. I can remember a black and white sticker I was given in primary school. I slapped it between my Jurassic Park, Supermarine Spitfire and Red Arrow stickers. Racism didn’t mean much to me as a kid. I knew people came from different families, countries and had different beliefs. As far as I was concerned, and still am, we’re all human. Even as June 15th 1996 a bomb blew the crap out of Manchester, I didn’t feel an ounce of hate towards the Irish or Ireland. I lived, at the time, in Levenshulme with a huge Irish community. I couldn’t blame anyone around me, and nor could anybody else. Manchester had for years been growing tighter with its Irish community. Since then, I believe that Manchester’s communities have tightened and the Irish in Britain Representation Group gaining a good footing. Where fear and divide could have conquered, a great sense of community and integration has stepped in. People with identity, their heart-felt history, and a desire to end marginalisation will prevail. They just need support, understanding and a strong will. That’s why I love Manchester. It is a city capable of bringing all together, no matter what race or religion.

“Racism is a weapon of mass destruction; Whether inflation or globalization; Fear is a weapon of mass destruction.” – Mass Destruction, lyrics Faithless

0_Len-Johnson

(Image: Manchester Libraries)

Racism has no room in our society.

The Mancunian Way, Dongguan

How do! / 你好 (nĭ hăo) / Namaste / Welcome!

“I feel so extraordinary; Something’s got a hold on me; I get this feeling I’m in motion; A sudden sense of liberty.” – New Order’s song True Faith.

I’m patriotic towards the U.K. in a way. I sing praise and fly the flag for great people, wonderful history and fantastic places. I know that the story of the U.K.’s history has often been brutal, cruel and deserves little love. Even within the 21st century the U.K., as it moves away from a colonial and European past, and becomes less connected, yet more dependent on overseas trading and manufacture is and always will be a wonderful country. It’s my home. I was born in Manchester, England. I don’t call myself English. I’m British, when I choose to be. I’m Mancunian always. I have Celtic blood in me from my Irish and Welsh great grandparents. My roots are clear and free. But this tree doesn’t cling to the past and history. This tree wants to expand and be watered by different skies. For me tradition and culture are important but understanding and freedom to choose your own pathway are far more intrinsic to living. This tree is currently sat on its arse in Changping, Dongguan. Today’s and yesterday’s rugby and football have been washed out by Dragon Boat rains. I have some free time.


Today, I want to show a gallery and write a little about the culture of Dongguan and China. I’ve been here for the vast majority of the 2308 days now (11th February 2014). I believe many great days have passed and many more will follow. That’s why I am right here, right now. I arrived and didn’t feel too much way of culture shock. Around me a reasonably established cultured expat community threaded amongst the fabric of the local workforces and people of Guangdong.

“Because we need each other; We believe in one another; And I know we’re going to uncover; What’s sleepin’ in our soul” – Acquiesce by Oasis.

Since, I arrived I have seen Dongguan grow and grow. It is now classed as a Megacity. It seemingly will never stop growing. There are skyscrapers and apartment blocks skimming the sky in every single district of Dongguan. Whereas in 2014, I’d notice dozens of these mammoth constructions and many more sprouting buildings, now I am seeing hundreds and hundreds of established communities and hubs here, there and everywhere. I used to consider Nancheng and Dongcheng as the central axis of Dongguan. Now the townships of Chang’an (home of Oppo), Changping and the ever-growing former fields of Songshan Lake (home of Huawei), and the sprawls of Liaobu town could easily be seen as central areas. The arrival of the Huizhou to now West Dongguan Railway Station (soon to be Guangzhou East) or 莞惠城际轨道交通  /莞惠线 Guanhui intercity railway has added to rapid growth. As it joins the short-named Pearl River Delta Metropolitan Region Intercity Railway System (珠江三角洲地区城际轨道交通). That’s more than 65 railway stations in close proximity to Dongguan. Like all of the Pearl River Delta, this city is growing fast – and going places.

 

When not hopping on 200 km/h (124 mph) railway systems, I have ample opportunity to meet great people. Dongguan‘s community is largely migrant with people coming from all over China and the world beyond. International jet-setters with lives here, include Serbians, Kiwis, and even Scousers. They can be found in some of the office places, factories, bars and restaurants throughout the city. Playing football with Brazilians or Russians, or cycling with Dongbei people is possible or a spot of chess at Murray’s Irish Pub with Ukranian opposition. Anything goes here. Drinking homebrew at Liberty Brewing Company (曼哈顿餐吧) in Dongcheng after playing tag rugby with Tongans, South Africans, Germans and Malaysians makes me realise how lucky I am. This is a city that is tidying up and beautifying itself at an alarming rate.

Throughout the 6.5 years of life in and around Dongguan, I’ve slipped up and down ginnels, seeking out the new and old. There have been trips to pizza joints in obscure areas, Dragon Boat races watched, Cosplay events attended and English competitions observed. Dongguan, like Manchester, has a heartbeat that shows anything is possible and if it isn’t here, you make it. You can make something new, or your bring something to the party. You can sit and complain about people taking your photo or saying, “wàiguórén” (foreigner/外国人) or you can show the people around you, your worth.

This week I was asked by the Dongguan Foreign Bureau to teach them. Sadly, I cannot fit their demands into my day. I’ve bene lucky to narrate advertisements, wear watches for model shoots, test-drive new bicycles and play with new robotics before they reached their target audience or global factory floors. Daily life has been far from mundane here with oddities and pleasures as varied as can be. What’s around the next corner? Well, visas are quicker and easier to get, despite more rules and demands. It seems far quicker than when I first arrived. Sometimes, I doubt that I have done everything right, yet it seems clear and simple. Just a checklist. This week I received my medical report back. Now, I need just a few other items for the 2020/21 visa… That’s progress.

Bridges have been made and links that could prove lifelong. The west and east have collided in bizarre ways often forming a touch of the unique. There has been colour, rainbows and diversity amongst the traditional and the common. There have been flashes of light and inspiration. There have been days when solitude has been sought and there will be more, no doubt, but one thing I find, and have found throughout my time here, people are just that. Just simple down to earth, regular people going about their days, looking for peace and good opportunities to survive or better themselves. There are more cars and less bicycles, which shows that some people’s bank accounts and credit-ratings have improved. Quality of life needs balance, and with that the subway/underground system of Dongguan is projected to change from one line to seven lines.

Words can say how thankful I am for my time here. I am enjoying life in different ways to others, and being who I want to be, when I want to be. I’m selfish or I’m sharing. I’m open or I am closed. I read or I watch. I write or I dictate. There are times to slip unseen, and times to lead an audience. It is good for the mind to be bored or alone. I truly believe that’s where creativity lies. It sits there waiting to be tapped and delivered to paper, computers or other outputs. I can wander from craft beer breweries to model car clubs to fusion and western food restaurants with ease and all of the time remain connected to modern and old China.

There is plenty of ugly in Dongguan, just like the rest of the world. To quote the 18th century French phrase, “ne saurait faire d’omelette sans casser des œufs“:  You can’t make an omelette without breaking eggs. Humans must learn from the stains and damage we have caused to our planet globally, whether disease or pollution. We can’t give in. Our cultures, our pride and our people need to fight on and find solutions. Just as #BlackLivesMatter, all lives matter – whether human or worm or bug or panda. Life must find a way. Dongguan is radically changing its energy consumptions, factory practices and the way its environment is being respected. This is good for all. Maybe, I should really put my words into action and finish studying towards the HSK (汉语水平考试 Hànyǔ Shuǐpíng Kǎoshì) course for the Chinese Proficiency Test.

 

Dongguan has gone from a place with a handful of limited cinemas, to those with the IMAX, vibrating seats, private screens and many of the latest releases from the west. KTV bars make way for baseball batting cages, ten-pin bowling, archery cafes and all the latest crazes. The great thing is that with Wechat (born 2011), Alipay etc, you can leave your wallet behind and pay swiftly with ease using these simple electronic methods. Gone are the days of using equations and haggling to get a taxi a short distance. Piles of services are available via your phone, including electrical bills, water bills and Didi (driver and carshare service) is one such saving grace.

During these COVID-19 pandemic times, your phone provides your health code, advice in travel, guidance on health services and help. Dongguan’s local services for healthcare, private insurance and banking are on your fingertips, rather than a a few hours out of work. Life can be as fast or as slow as you wish. In 2010, Dongguan was named a National Model City for Environmental Protection and greenways, green belts and other greenery followed. There are hundreds of parks now, over 1200… it is easier than ever to stay healthy.

There is culture around us, old temples, modern pagodas, relics of time and shells of history. Dongguan’s landmarks are a tad tough to visit now. The Cwa humid subtropical climate here is far above the reported average annual temperature of 22.7 °C (72.9 °F). The rainfall is typical of the land below the Tropic of Cancer now. It is raining cats, dogs and occasionally elephants. Wellingtons and umbrellas are common sights these days, rather than the Dongguan Yulan Theatre, GuanYinShan (Budda mountain), Hǎizhàn bówùguǎn (海战博物馆 Opium War Museum) or Jin’aozhou Pagoda. Even a trip to my local coffee shop, Her Coffee, is like a swim in a river. It is blooming wet lately. As a Mancunian, I feel at home.

I’m here for education – to both teach and to learn. This city has hundreds of educational institutions, even Cumbria’s St. Bees are opening a school here. I’ve heard there are around 550 primary schools, 480 kindergartens and several universities now. To bump into a teacher amongst the 21,000 plus teachers is not unusual. Although it seems every second teacher works for one of the many Eaton House schools here. I’ve heard Tungwah Wenzel International School (TWIS) in Songshan Lake is one school to really watch. Like its neighbouring Huawei school, it is massive with around 1,000,000 square metres of surface area. I’ve seen the modern sports gyms, performance space and technology labs. It uses the latest gadgets and networking. It really is 21st century over there at Songshan Lake. Although Huawei have a German-style train-tram zipping around, piping back to older days. Dongguan University of Technology(DGUT; 东莞理工学院) is one of universities in the area meaning that you can educate beyond your teenage years here. It really is a place to learn. Watch out Oxford and Cambridge! Maybe that’s why Trump is always bad-mouthing China’s growth?

From eating chicken anus, to two weeks of quarantine in XiHu Hotel, Dongguan has given me more time to turn the contents of my head to words. Now that I am ready to publish a novel, I need a publisher, but how to do this during a pandemic? I haven’t a clue, but I know one thing, the challenge will be tough and worth it. Nobody ever climbed a mountain to sit at the top and look down without seeing another mountain, right? At the end of the day, the sun sets only to rise again. Dongguan faced lockdown impeccably and other challenges, just as the world did and does. Chin up, keep going and let’s crack on.

Last night, I ate Korean barbecue with great people to celebrate a treble-birthday, followed by proof that I am terrible at ten-pin bowling and awoke today feeling optimistic. The world is often reported to be going through a pandemic-sized recession. As the world sailed a wave in 2008 and Dongguan grew from that recession, I will everyone to go on. Manufacture a bucket of optimism. Just like the strings of New Dawn Fades by Joy Division, there is darkness but remember these famous lines: It was me, waiting for me; Hoping for something more; Me, seeing me this time; Hoping for something else. In 2008, low-tech industry switched to the high-tech. Boomtime arrived. Chances are that one in five phones around the globe were made in Dongguan. Is your phone Vivo, Oppo, Honor or Huawei? It was probably made down the road from me. So, Dongguan is closer than you think.


Manchester isn’t any place I will visiting in person for some time, so it has to come to me via playbacks of Oasis gigs at Maine Road and the written word. Over the next few months, I plan to read the following Mancunian-connected books:

Hell is a City – Maurice Proctor; The Manchester ManIsabella Varley Banks; Passing Time – Michel Butor; Magnolia Street – Louis Golding; Fame is the Spur – Howard Spring; Lord Horror – David Britton; The Emigrants – WG Sebald; Cold Water – Gwendolyne Riley; The Mighty Walzer Howard Jacobson; Manchester Slingback – Nicolas Blincoe; Vurt – Jeff Noon; A Man’s Game: The Origins of Manchester City Football ClubAndrew Keenan; Mary Barton – Elizabeth Gaskell; Cranford – Elizabeth Gaskell; North and South – Elizabeth Gaskell.

“I was thinking about what you said; I was thinking about shame; The funny thing how you said; Cause it’s better not to stay” – The Last Broadcast – Doves

Kippax, Red Devils & Dreams

How do! / 你好 (nĭ hăo) / Namaste / Welcome!

The day before I was born (27th October 1982), Manchester City beat Wigan Athletic through two Paul Power goals. Three days later they beat Swansea City by two goals to one at Maine Road in the football league. Denis Tueart scored the first whilst Asa Hartford scored what would be the winning goal. Fast forward some years to 2020, to Dongguan city, China, during the sleepy stuffy hours of May the 4th… and a kind of nightmare.

I’ve been to many football games and the majority have been at Maine Road, The Etihad Stadium and one at Manchester City’s other home ground of the 21st century (Oakwell, Barnsley). There have been some great memories over the years but today I awoke from a surreal nightmare and felt I was back in 1996, really annoyed by City’s loss to Barnsley. The dream I recall, was an odd one. I was walking into the lower tier of the almost-new Kippax stand. Up some steps and into the beautiful atrium of the ground. The bright greens of the field, the darker Kippax blues and the sky blues of the stands, with much cheer and optimism. Alan Ball had been fired not long before and club legend Asa Hartford added Scottish steel to the rocky City’s manager hotseat.

barnsley home 1996 to 97 progI remember the game well for an exciting 21-year-old called Jeff Whitley stepped onto the field for his debut. “Officer” Dibble returned to goal in a game that saw my favourite player Uwe Rösler wasteful. Steve Lomas had put a chance on a plate for him, but I guess the advancing Barnsley goalkeeper had done his maths well in advance. City fell a goal behind due to some calamitous defending but restored the game through a Steve Lomas cross turned in by Nigel Clough (son of Brian). Bald left-back defender Frontzeck hugged the hell out of Clough as he pushed him away. Later on, young debutant Jeff Whitley gifted Barnsley the winning goal opportunity and Trinidad & Tobago striker Marcelle now had two goals. It was a mistake. We all make them. I’m certain Jeff Whitley came back a better player because of that moment.

I can recall rolling up my matchday programme and heading to The Clarence pub with my Dad, struggling to keep up with his pace and half-understanding his anger at the City team. I was a spotty thirteen-year-old kid with curly hair and no appeal to the opposite gender. Different times, different hair. The Kippax had been bouncing with atmosphere but at times it had been so quiet, silenced by the visiting team and their strength over a disjointed City squad. From my dream I had all that, and the Manchester United fans laughing at me in school the week after. Even the Stockport County fans in Reddish Vale School enjoyed a laugh at my expense. I don’t recall Clewsy the lone Blackpool fan having a dig at me though.

“City, well, quite simply in a state of turmoil.” – host Elton Welsby, Granada Goal Extra, September 7th, 1996

The 1996/97 season was a drab affair. As it was Asa Hartford would step aside as caretaker manager for Steve Coppell and then Frank Clark. Uwe Rösler would bag 17 goals that season and take the club’s golden boot. City would finish 14th and spend the following season wallowing in the Football League First Division once again as Barnsley gained promotion to the Premiership. Manchester City weren’t always that bad, sometimes they were worse, and sometimes not bad, and now they are amazing. Nor was the Kippax so quiet at times, despite the crap football.

Manchester City 1-2 Barnsley / Division One (New) / Saturday 07 September 1996. Attendance: 26464. CITY 1 Andy Dibble / 2 John Foster < 53’ Rae Ingram / 3 Michael Frontzeck < 75’ Gerry Creaney / 4  Steve Lomas / 5 Kit Symons / 6 Nigel Clough [Goal] / 7 Nicky Summerbee / 8 Jeff Whitley / 9 Paul Dickov < 75’ Martin Phillips / 10 Georgi Kinkladze / 11 Uwe Rosler  Barnsley Watson, Eadon, Appleby, Sheridan, Davis, de Zeeuw, Marcelle [GOALS 2], Redfearn, Wilkinson, Liddell, Thompson – subs Regis (81’), Bullock(unused), Bosancic (unused)

The new Kippax stand had been opened by club goalkeeping legend Bert Trautmann in October 1995. It would stand on the former ‘Popular side’ of the field opposite the Main Stand of Maine Road until 2003 when it faced demolition due to Manchester City’s relocation to the then City of Manchester Stadium. Back in 1956, the ‘Popular side’ became known as the ‘The Kippax’ at what many called ‘The Wembley of the North’. Money from the FA Cup final win (that same year), featuring Bert Trautmann, gave the ‘The Kippax’ a roof to shelter from the very Mancunian weather. This vocally active and huge terrace of noise was well-known in football for many, many years. Unlike other famous noisy football stands, this ran goal-end to goal-end, much like the players upon the pitch. The passionate Kippax stand gave name to the fanzine, King of the Kippax. The Kippax name came from Kippax Street behind the stand itself. Kippax though, is a parish village within Leeds and Yorkshire. It was called Chipesch back in Domesday Book of 1086 and later sometimes spelt as Kippeys, Kypask and Kypax. City’s stand could have been named after kippers. The word itself may relate to ash trees.

“One of my first memories was we played Twente in the UEFA Cup and when we scored, it was utter bedlam. Arms and legs going everywhere. I ‘d never experienced anything like it before.” – Sean Riley, Failsworth, Manchester Evening News

As kids we used to play football with tin cans, bottles (glass wasn’t unusual) and any other rags we could boot around. Think of the back of the old Kippax as a kind of nursery or kindergarten. Following standing areas being outlawed, so too were tin-can football stands. Instead new VIP areas and executive boxes found a home over areas once known for hide and seek and tiggy-it games. The new three-tier stand was full of seats and at one stage the highest football stand in England. Utd fans loved to sing about City being a massive team because of the highest floodlights in the land and then the highest stand.

“When we scored everyone would charge around but it felt like you always ended up back where you started. That’s how it felt to me anyway. Night games were just amazing. Those cup runs we had in the 70s, it was absolutely rocking. Unbelievable atmosphere.” – Brian Houghton, Droylsden, Manchester Evening News

As Manchester City moved to bigger things, the Kippax nickname carried over to the new stadium, with the East Stand sometimes being referred to as the Kippax. The familiar Kippax seat colours filled the now Etihad Stadium from day one of the 2002 Commonwealth Games. The old and new Kippax stands at Maine Road witnessed Rugby League Championship play-off finals, League Cup finals, Charity Shield games, David Bowie, Queen, Oasis, The Rolling Stones, and even religious meetings.

“It was just an assault on the senses. It was always packed, everyone was always pushing and shoving. Some people didn’t even bother going to the toilet, they just went where they stood. But it was the atmosphere that drew you there, it really was incredible, unlike anything we have now.” – Kevin Parker, secretary of City’s official supporters club, Manchester Evening News

City were always the main tenants at Maine Road but a certain Manchester United called Maine Road home from 1945–1949. Old Trafford having been bombed by the Germans (and possibly Uwe Rösler’s granddad if you believe the t-shirt) made Man Utd homeless. So, City being City offered the use of Maine Road. During the 1947/48 season, the Reds set a record of 81,962 at a Football League game, against Arsenal. Probably fair to say, in the post war years, many fans would have gone and watched their rivals and City fans would happily have watched anyone at their home ground.  And then in 1956–1957, the ‘Heathens’ soon to be known as ‘Red Devils’, came knocking and played three out of four European games at Maine Road. City had floodlights. United didn’t.

City’s Hyde Road, Maine Road and Etihad Stadium were or are all in Mancunian districts. Old Trafford, on the edge of Salford Docks, may have a Manchester postcode is in the Metropolitan Borough of Trafford. It isn’t in the City of Manchester or the City of Salford. However, Greater Manchester (formed 1st April 1974) mixed some of the ancient county boundaries of Lancashire, Cheshire, Derbyshire and even Yorkshire (Saddleworth way) to give Mancunian flavour and togetherness. Maine Road, like Old Trafford had remained a reasonably easy place to access and football was the draw for red or blue for many years. Geography used to be the biggest debate between City and Utd fans, before City were founded in 2008.

Heathen chemistry? Matt Busby had experienced City as a player and would go on to manage United over successful years. Apparently, he hated his team being called the ‘Busby Babes’ and wasn’t too keen on ‘Heathens’ so he stole Salford rugby’s nickname (which was given to them by the French press in 1934: ‘Les Diables Rouges’). Even though Barnsley F.C. are known as ‘The Tykes’ or ‘The Colliers’, but for me ‘The Reds’ of Yorshire will always be known as the ‘Red Devils’ because of that 1997/97 game – and a few bad nights’ sleep at 7 Days Inn in China (owned by current Barnsley F.C. Chairman Chien Lee).

“Buster will be the first British £10 million pound player.” – Alan Ball, as Manchester City manager after signing Martin Phillips

I blame last night’s dreams on Martin “Buster” Phillips. Why? Because yesterday, with Murray’s F.C. we had a 6-a-side tournament on a rooftop field, with only 18 players. As the games went on, they slowed down dramatically. The 32°C heat plus 100% humidity and direct sunlight didn’t help. During a break Alex from Spain and Lucho from Argentina were asking what we called someone who couldn’t score in front of an open goal. I said, “in Manchester, we call them Buster Phillips.” Sorry. Dream well.

The Price of Competition?

你好/ Ní hǎo / Nín hǎo / Hello / How do,

Everyone who follows football knows that transfer fees are getting out of hand – and transfer caps or salary restrictions would be detrimental to the game unless imposed globally. As one league implements caps, another league benefits. The best players will inevitably follow the cash, glamour and sponsorship deals. Veron was £28m in 2001, when he joined Man U. Rio Ferdinand cost £30m in 2002…. that was around the price of striker Robinho in 2008 (£32m). Judging by some paper talk. Anyone would think paying over the odds is new? Was De Bruyne worth £55m in 2015? Ex-City midfielder and Liverpool legend Steve McManaman put his writing seems as bad as Paul Merson’s comments now. Merson wrote “Manchester City paying so much money for Kevin De Bruyne is an absolute joke.” After all, De Bruyne was, “out of his depth at Chelsea”. City had bid for Eden Hazard in 2015 and refused to pay £32 million. What is that player’s valuation today?

West Brom’s owner has an 87%+ share and is estimated to have US$6.2bn. Arsenal’s majority owners are valued at US$22bn. The Glazers have a value of US$4bn. Everton’s Farhad has a wealth of US$2.3bn. Money is everywhere in a league that has TV rights/sponsorship deals in the billions. Barnsley, Aston Villa, Bristol City, Fulham, Derby County, WPR, Sunderland and Wolves all have billionnaire backers (in fact, Wolves have a richer backing than Manchester City!). Even Portsmouth have billionaire owners.

92 million Euros Cristiano Ronaldo was reportedly upset that Gareth Bale cost 6 million Euros more than him. Zinedine Zidane’s 75-million Euro transfer and Luis Figo’s transfer at 62-million Euros back in 2001 and 2000 respectedly aren’t small numbers. Many label players as world-class or not good enough. Surely, the result of their contracted time, is the time to judge if a transfer is good value. Joe Hart cost Manchester City £100,000 and a Gregg’s sausage roll. 266 appearances with 97 plus appearances out on loan and appearances for the national side have followed. Having battled for the number one jersey against Andreas Isaksson, Nicky Weaver, Shay Given, and Kasper Schmeichal he battled back, holding 29 clean sheets in 2011/12. He managed four Golden Glove awards in 5 seasons. Two league titles, the FA Cup and two Football League Cups added potency to his name. He was great value for a transfer fee. Vincent Kompany cost £6 million. Only 7 of City’s 24-man squad are valued below £20 million. Clubs have long been paying money for youth players, young players and future stars. It is nothing new.

In 1999, Thierry Henry cost Arsenal £11 million. Niclas Anelka joined Arsenal for £500,000 two years previous. Anelka would go on to be subject to transfer in the regions of £22 million (twice), £15 million, £13 million, £8 million, and €12 million. Since his youth days at Paris Saint-Germain, Anelka has amassed transfers in excess of £85 million. His total salary on top probably equated to that of a small nation. Nowadays some players transfer fees have exceded these collective figures. With shirt sales and commercial deals at an all time high, these disgusting figures are quite small when compared to revenue and income received as a result of that particular player coming in. Also, clubs and players are starting to form their own conscience and donate money to charity or foundations. Most banks and private companies do this to offset tax or develop their public image. Movie stars, another form of entertainment, do the same. Is football any different?

Does a successful team create an inferiority complex for some opposition teams? Possibly, yes. For years, Man U dominated the league and domestic front, whilst strengthening their name globally, sacrificing appearances in the prestigious FA Cup one season. They chased cups and money, and sometimes clubs didn’t believe they could beat the juggernaut of a club. Right now, Jose Mourinho, the most whimpering, whining, nit-picking, moaning, grousing, griping, groaning, fault-finding, complaining, carping, bemoaning, of managers is using every lamentable accusation and dissatisfaction possible aimed at City and Pep Guardiola is responding like it is water off a duck’s back. Some clubs spend almost £300 million on players, and complain it is not enough.

In Summer 2017, City invested heavily in fullbacks. Fullbacks Zabaleta, Kolorov, Clichy, and Sagna formed the 11-man exit of City’s senior squad last season. Around £57 million was raised from those players’ sales. 5 went for free. City paid out over £198.7 million on just 5 players. In the previous season City paid out £167.2 million on 8 players. Man U paid £160.7 million for 3 new players; up from £145.3 million the previous season, again for 3 players. There isn’t much in it, in terms of outlay. Arguably City’s 13 players [an average purchase of £28 million] to Utd’s captured £51 million per player. With little digging, almost every excuse falls apart.

It is really pleasing to see City investing deeply in community, global communities and charities and the future of Manchester. We are very propitious fans to see so much building for a long-term future. To be partnered with Girona FC, Melbourne City FC, New York City FC, Club Atlético Torque, and Yokohama F. Marinos – alongside a plethora of academies is a dream. Overseas, like so many clubs, hearty supporters’ clubs, and even teams like Manchester City F.C. (Sierra Leone) carry the flag of Manchester City. Maine Road F.C., long stood as a supporters’ team since 1955 have hugged City’s history. City, so often flogged as a club with no history, have a deep binding with English football history. The Revie Plan was a tactical system used in the 1950’s. It was used by Hungary to beat England at Wembley in 1953. We’re Not Really Here, is one of a handful of cult songs, even the catchy Yaya/Kolo version of 2Unlimited’s No Limit has been sung by rival fans – and isn’t unsual at darts tournaments. City have shot a long way since their inception by Rev. Arthur Connell and William Beastow as St. Mark’s (West Gorton). Not that the international scene is the only focus.

City as a club has maintained roots. The Connell Sixth Form College, fanzines such as King of the Kippax. There is a historical movie called Trautmann, and then there is the movie, There’s Only One Jimmy Grimble, which showcases how dire City were at one stage, yet the spirit shines on. Each football kit under Umbro had a piece of Manchester and a feel close to the heart of the City. The Academy Stadium is a short step from the Etihad Campus to the Etihad Stadium via footbridge. All are commercial, yet a clear vision from childhood football to juniors to that of a senior level is in place. The Manchester skyline is setback and every now and then a Lancaster bomber flies over the visable Pennines to the east. The successful Women’s team also have platforms to progress and a sizeable crowd is following them. The sites of the old Hyde Road and Maine Road grounds are a stone’s throw away.

Artist L.S. Lowry painted a piece called Going to the match, and was a keen City fan. Yes, we’ve had Curly Watts and other celebrity fans like Ricky Hatton and the Gallagher brothers. Real fans have become feature stars in Blue Moon Rising. This movie was updated the following season to show City’s first major trophy in a gap of 34 years. The sky-blue colour, mostly with white, sometimes with a dash of maroon or dark blue has been synonymous with Manchester City incessantly. Fans with yellow bananas, singing renditions of Blue Moon (after years of singing You’ll Never Walk Alone) have followed City home and away, loyally. For long periods City were known as everyone’s second favourite club. Typical City and doing things the hard way had made City loveable over the years. The club’s ability to be a soap opera and our fans’ die-hard approach, following in lower leagues and glory days makes up our DNA. Yes, there are new fans, but that is the wider world and how the internet and TV have changed things. Historically, City have yet to beat Wycombe Wanderers and Bristol Rovers, in over 4500 league games against many opponents. We know where we were, know where we are and are excited by the endless possibilities ahead.

Journalist Eric Todd, said of City fans in 1968, “like patience on a monument smiling at grief”; Joe Mercer was quoted as saying, “Like the players they deserve to have their perseverance rewarded”; BBC’s Mark Radcliffe in 2001, “when we are bad we’re just as bad as we always used to be, so that’s got to be good hasn’t it?”; journalist Paul Morley in 1998, “To support United is too easy. It’s convenience supporting.” Bands such as Doves, 10CC, Badly Drawn Boy, and photographers such as Kevin Cummins have used their materials to lighten up Manchester City. Comedians have shown along the way like Jason Manford, Chris “Frank Sidebottom” Sievey and Eddie Large. James Bond’s Timothy Dalton, John Henshaw, Alan Rickman, David Threlfall, Ian Cheeseman, Andrew Flintoff, Mary Anne-Hibbs, Natalie Pike, David Green, Marco Pierre White, Sir Howard Bernstein, Sir Richard Leese, money saving expert Martin Lewis and Princess Beatrice of York join fans that range as far as Arsenal F.C.’s CEO Ivan Gazidis (a former Mancunian school student). Beyond fame, a working class fanbase and supporters loyal for twenty five or more years remain. City have, in recent years, capped seasoncard sales at 36,000 seats and have sold-out. There is a waiting list. Even in the late 90s (City spent one season in the third tier of football), City gates averaged gates of 30,000. Gallows humour has always been present. Cult status has been awarded from benchwarmers Gláuber Berti to ever-presents Pablo Zabaleta and even visiting players like now Guangzhou Evergrande forward Alan. Being a City fan means you can have a laugh. Some comments may be tongue in cheek, or off the cuff – after all, winding up opposition fans is part of the parcel of being a City fan. Talking and drinking with them before or after a game, is also essential.

In 1881, St. Mark’s (West Gorton) lost 3-0 to Newtown Heath LYR. The Ashton Reporter noted it to be “a pleasant game”. The first recognised derby in Manchester. Derby games became central to Mancunian spirits, and in 1889, the first floodlit derby (at Belle Vue Athletic Ground) was held to support the Hyde Coal Mine disaster fund. In 2017, City and United sported the Manchester bee following a terrorist attack in the city that year. Each club came together, and it filled many with pride. After that, normal rivalry resumed, and why not? After all, attacks shouldn’t change out way of life. In the 1970s derby games added bite and controversy, legs were broken and cards dished out. United were reportedly relegated by Law’s backheel. Perhaps, when their fans invaded the field and caused the game to be called off, it was a factor? Who knows. It wasn’t as simple as Law’s backheel. It added, but it wasn’t the cause. City were underdogs for decades following this. From 1989’s 5-1 win over Ferguson’s side until 2002’s win at the last Maine Road derby, City hadn’t won a game against Utd. This is the period of time I grew up in. Every Red Arrogant Git made themselves known. Welcome to Manchester?

I worry that City are upsetting too many football fans. It is a shame really. There are 6 billion people on Earth and a reported 12 billion United fans. Maybe like other club supporters they feel threatened. Man U have more than double the value on Forbes, as City. More than 160 million Euros difference on Deloitte. They have board members on the Premier League and UEFA. If power is a worry for The World’s Greatest Football Team™ – then you have to worry. If you christen your ground, The Theatre of Dreams, you must live up to that, surely?

For the first time since April 1974, City enjoyed a monumental win at Old Trafford in February 2008. Since 2008, the derby games have been more level with Sir Alex Ferguson proclaiming the 09/10 derby at Old Trafford as “probably, the best derby of all time” but I would argue the 6-1 away win in 2011 or the two dominant wins under Guardiola as far better games. The blue line of City, since World War 2 has sat below Manchester Utd’s red line for far too long. Oddly City have scored far more goals than United, but lost a staggering 72 games to 51. Roll on derby day 176. History and the derby go hand in hand.

On October the 21st 2010, City allowed Lech Poznań a larger than usual away support. Their Grecque bounce soon became known as doing the Poznań. Just like that movement and style had been seen time and time before, and after, fads like transfers fees come and go, and shape the game. They keep the debate and pub arguments alive and kicking. I’ll never support Man Utd and I’d never expect their fans to back us, but this is the beautiful game, put aside your differences and agree to disagree, or agree that football and money are out of control – and it is not a new phase to the game! You’ve gotta roll with it…

再见/ Zài jiàn / Bài bài / Ta’ra / Goodbye