What would it mean to you?

No history? 1880. 1894. 1904. 1934. 1937. 1956. 1968. 1969. Continental and domestic in 1970. 1976. Every year in between glued together with people, vibes, life and community. Deep shades of sky blue and glorious ambition, turmoil, truths, trouble, love and hope. This City has history as deep wider than the Manchester Ship Canal and deeper than the soils that Manchester sits on.

1981: a replay on a Thursday. I wasn’t born. I heard something happened. I kept hearing it again and again and again.

Growing up on European night stories and tales. The folklore. The tales. The late nights turned tables. Not going, not knowing and City not showing. Different times, fine lines.

Railway specials, walks from The Clarence, Kippax gone, homeless and nomadic, back to the new Kippax. Relax. Imre ‘Banana’ and blowing up as City implode and reload.

“Swales out!” “Lee out!” Ball in. Ball out. Coppell copped out. Frank Clark went to the park. Asa Hartford changing seats like underwear. Brian Horton left via Gorton. Book, Reid, Neal and Machin. Howard Kendall, any good? The managerial machine doesn’t need oiling – it needs scrapping!

Uwe! Uwe! Uwe!

Wondering how much sunblock Lomas applied as Kinky cried? Seeing torment arrive on a tide.

5-1 in our cup final, and Fergie’s baptism, and then schism after schism in stands of scaffolding. Walking back along the A56 year after year, without cheer.

Being unable to get to York away, unlike the other ten million Blues, because that day, work meant I couldn’t see us lose. The Blues. The blues. Boos. Chews and choose.

Lincoln, Halifax, Shrewsbury, Bury and Stockport, where are you now? We were with you and now we’re not. We’re not really here. Thanks for keeping us company. No hard feelings, we’re just like you, but we’re not. You know what we mean. Macclesfield, cheers.

Listening on the wireless to the boom of Fred Eyre, on Piccadilly Gold. Not always because sometimes City were shoved aside for that Red lot over in Trafford. We couldn’t always go. Tickets away not available on the day.

Get that Dickov! Feed the Goat. Oooohhh it’s Nicky Weaver… Andy, Andy Mor-ri-son… Super Kevin Horlock. Edghill edged and Pollock pledged. Terry Cooke, he’s not red! Surely not! Jobson, Howey, Wiekens, Whitley brothers,

Wembley! Wembley! Wembley! Nineteen ninety nine was ever so fine. The divine stood in line and created a path headed towards a goldmine. The crocus. Dickov! Slide, slide, slide away… Tears! Tears of relief! Tears of joy! A dream reborn! CITY ARE GOING UP!

Ipswich Town in the rain? What a pain! Do it all again? Why not! Give it our best shot! Gene Kelly? Inside stand toilets? SMELLY.

Ewood Park without dark, what an hark and a lark as City are back, with some clack.

Bernarbia and Berkovic! Is this as good as it gets?

Gary Neville is a blue! The Goat? Feasted. Fed. Full.

Watching Viduka, Owen, Fowler, and every Tom, Dick and Harry pick their spots and find it. Again and again.

Seeing Keane being mean, standing over Haaland imposing his ridiculous square bean.

Keegan attacked and attacked and then got got side tracked.

Pearce’s lofted penalty hit a carcass of the Sputnik or some such other floating tin.

Goodbye Maine Road. Fireworks and sounds faded. A new concrete bowl provided.

#SAVEOURSVEN

Welcome Barcelona and Total Network Solutions… Is this the promised land?

Pearce off. How many goals in one season at home?! A ‘keeper up front?! Don’t pull that stunt! Wonky toes and European woes.

‘The Moston Menace’, SWP, BWP, tiny, tiny Willow Flood was good, and Ireland is Superman. Nedum can head ’em. Michael Johnson was on some. The golden generation we were told. Same old, same old?

Things good shook up. New owners. New investment. New opportunity. New ambitions. WE’VE GOT ROBINHO! WE’VE GOT ROBINHO! WE’VE GOT ROBINHO!

And then 2011 arrived. Things changed. But still they laughed. Still, we held our pride. Welcome to Manchester F.A. Cup. It wasn’t long before a young man name Sergio arrived… And an academy beyond our wildest imagination… and ever-growing ambitions…

But, now we’re here, watching super City from Maine Road, in Shenzhen on a television screen bigger than the North Stand at Maine Road. In China, fans are growing. Porto game showing. The Champions League Final. Whatever the weather, we’re not fair-weather. We’re not really here.

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 spirit of football.

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

“We’ll go on getting bad results.” (Jimmy Hill)

13/5/2012

The daylight emerged between the window frame. The curtains had been positioned in a way ill-prepared to create darkness. I had slept surprisingly well despite sticking to the sofa in a slight sweat. I went to the bathroom, had a shower, cleaned my teeth and generally prepared myself for that Sunday’s sunny day. With a spring in my step, I dressed and sat on the sofa. Bhagira the cat and Fuzzy kept me company. The red laser pointer pen activated and entertained my feline friends. Eventually Dan emerged, a little worse for wear. It may have been a cal by our friend Jack Daniels the previous night, or his seemingly strenuous job delivering home deliveries for Asda Walmart, either way his eyes weren’t awake. A coffee fixed that. It was Nescafe but I didn’t care. I enjoyed the warmth and milky taste. With a new sense of alertness, my buddy gave me a lift to Kirkham and Wesham railway station.

Waiting on the platform, pigeons fluttered and the cold polished bricks of over 100 years felt very familiar. I couldn’t recall if I had been there before or if it was just the Lancashire style of old stations. The two-platform station surrounded by sealed off arches and historic sidings had an air of calm, despite the Northern rail service rattling in quite loudly. The train departed, bound for Manchester Airport. I’d exit on platform 13 of Manchester Piccadilly. There, I’d change for Levenshulme, then drop my things at my mum’s house before heading back into Manchester city centre.

That day, May 13th 2012, was a far cry from several 1990’s conclusions to the season. The Castle and Falcon Club, Manchester city centre, was a backstreet dive.  The Dantzic Street location, just off Shudehill hid it from what is now The Printworks and far more modern uprisings. The bar has long closed and the Burtonwood Ales signage has long gone. It was here following a game at Stoke City, I sat with my Dad and his partner Bernadette. Manchester City F.C. had been relegated despite a wonderful 5-2 win at Stoke City. We’d been relegated before in my lifetime, the Premier League in 1995-96

Uwe Rösler as top scorer with just 9 league goals hadn’t helped at all. City were beyond woeful and the moniker as a club that could win cups for cock-ups was born. City had looked happy with a 2-2 draw against Liverpool. They never chased the win. Rösler’s penalty and Kit Symons’s goal that day gave no pleasure later in the evening. But, for me, I did not understand relegation back then. After changing from the very familiar sky blue to Kappa’s laser blue at the beginning of 1997-98, City’s crest also changed and an air of positivity crept in. The results did not have many highs, a 6-0 battering of Swindon and a friendly 2-2 draw in a Manchester Derby as part of Paul Lake’s Testimonial

During 1997-98, Murtaz Shelia, from well-known team Alania Vladkavkaz (sounds like a fashion model?) arrived. Nothing changed. City faced Stockport County and lost 3-1. They hadn’t played their local rivals for 87 years before that day! Another Georgian player entered the fold by January in Kakhaber Tskhadadze. City slipped into the relegation zone. Frank Clark was fired. Joe Royle came in to steady the ship and try to climb up the table. Combative midfield-enforcer Michael Brown won Player of The Year, as City lamented relegation to the third tier with a bizarre friendly game against Jamaica’s national team.

The 1998/99 season was an incongruous one. It had a great climax that remains fresh in club folk-lore but few discuss the oddities of that season. The club had changed from a team of stars and names to a team of relative unknowns. 16 friendlies accommodated a huge squad and before long City’s stuttering season began to build. One player, Ray Kelly, left to play part-time for Bohemians and study in Ireland. Little old City were struggling for off the field stability. As 1999 arrived, City looked far off the promotion race. City stuttered towards the finishing line looking like they’d sneak it before being whipped 2-1 to Wycombe Wanderers at Maine Road. The play-off semi finals arrived and City visited Springfield Park. Paul Dickov’s late crucial equaliser kept City in the tie. The return leg at Maine Road saw a Goater goal, which Wigan fans argued as being hand ball. Graeme Jones had struck the woodwork but City would return to Wembley for the first time in 14 years. The 1999 play-off final is, as they say, history.

Back to June, and Xiamen Gulangyu International Football Tournament 2018 saw Murray’s F.C. finish 7th overall. Not bad from 16 teams. Our first quarter-final game was hellishly muddy and concussion didn’t help my appearances from the bench so well. Every team battled and worked tirelessly in dire muddy conditions and the eventual winners Quanzhou Spartans deservedly took their second title in as many years. It was good to play Chilean Alex, now at Kunming Turtlebar, and also teams we’re familiar with in Hong Kong Krauts and Shenzhen Lions. The organisers of the tournament certainly know the spirit of football.

Returning back to 2012, I’d opted for a hospitality package at City. The QPR game had something about it. The possibility of a title win and being there in style didn’t take much to clutch onto. I’d dreamt of trying the City hospitality for many seasons but never wanted to leave the South Stand. Now, Nat Fatorechi who I shared my seasoncard with, gave a situation where we both wanted a ticket. It wasn’t a tough investment. But now, there is another unfamiliar moment of football, England at the World Cup and in the semi-final since the 1990 edition. I wasn’t in double digits of age then and can safely say I don’t recall any of that tournament.

Fair play to Gareth Southgate. So much more than the butt of a dozen crappy jokes about an under-par golden generation. He has his head firmly screwed on in football. He looked average as a manager at Middlesbrough and dropped into the ranks of England. Unlike many who do that, he didn’t drift off or head to Spain, or punditry too often. His spell as temporary gaffer wasn’t groundbreaking (the games weren’t huge tests, except Spain where a 2-0 lead was chucked away). But, the FA appointed him and for once they gambled on fresh blood with all the qualities of a modest manager and someone who keeps the game simple. He has benefitted from the role of FA’s head of elite development. He seems to know the future youth players well and his squad selection seemed geared to building for Euro 2020 and the 2022 World Cup. Best thing out of Watford since DCI Hunt/Philip Glenister (or Ginger Spice?).

“We’re not creative enough; we’re not positive enough.” (Trevor Brooking)

Remember a game when City faced Boro? We played in our away kit at home. Southgate had his bonce wrapped up and played a blinder. We drew. They went to Europe. That’s the kind of spirit England need, and not that of Rooney or Beckham with their egos and sponsorship deals following them. Look at Messi, he has more minutes advertising per year and it never paid off. Same for tRanaldo. Graft and the kind of grinding football that Leicester City did, with flare, that’s the future in cups. And, City can learn from this England spirit.

“I think it’s bad news for the English game.” (Alan Hansen)

Good to see City links all over the World Cup. Guidetti for Sweden, Boyata with Belgium, Corluka of Croatia, and the list goes on and on. I claim any City link I can. One that stands out is Bury-born Keirin Trippier. During his time at City, Micah Richards was linked with Chelsea and Ar$enil, as Zabaleta was talked about heading to Barca. Coupled with the fact Trippier still was developing physically, he was quite far down. We had a clutch of first teamers that could play RB as an unnatural position. He had little chance. Fair play to him in his evolution at Spurs. His football formation years also featured clubs like Burnley and Barnsley. He knows the game well enough to play for many years. He has appeared for England U18s, England U19s, England U20s, England U21s, and now the senior England squad. He is capable of joining the Masters team one day and could well reach national legendary status with the chance before him now. I wonder what the away friendly game for City, against Barcelona did for his vision. Did it inspire? That came a season after lifting the FA Youth Cup with City. Good luck to him with England and in his future of football.

The Lightning Seeds wrote and released Three Lions in ’96, it had a re-write in 1998 and now 22 years later it is being played in epidemic proportions. David Baddiel and Frank Skinner must be dusting off their karaoke microphones, surely? Will 2020 or 2022 feature new pessimistic quotes to amend Three Lions as a song once again? Tout est Possible. I do get the impression that this song will not go away, regardless of any results! The Lightning Seeds, despite being Scouse are a cracking band, so I won’t complain.

 

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

J3: The Secondary School Years

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

I woke up one morning in September drenched in my own urine.  The bullying had gotten so bad that I was physically shaking.  It was seven-thirty in the morning and I did not want to return to school.  I was scared.  The very few people I had talked with since entering the school were not strong enough to stand up to the bullies, with me or for me.  Since entering Mr Redmond’s class (7DR) I did not know where to turn to.  I was not enjoying my arrival to Reddish Vale High School at all. If I seemed to be smiling, during my first year at school, it was superficial. It was a lie. Inside my head was dizzy, lost and full of fear.

The high school had a farm located close-by to our tutorial room.  I would often go here at lunchtime throughout my first three years in Reddish Vale.  To protect myself from getting hurt I would not allow people to become too close a friend.  I sat on the 177 bus to school with James Cliff and Ben McGreavy but would not really associate myself with them in school.  James was a hit with the girls, I was not.  Ben was in a different class, and had his own interests with other groups, I did not want to intrude.  The armed forces of the U.K. mustn’t have had have more ranks than Reddish Vale High School, there was Peggy Rowe (head teacher), Mr Fowler (Deputy head teacher), Mrs Huntingdon (our head of year from year 7 to 11), and numerous teachers.  Yet I could not speak to anyone about the bullying. And when I tried to do so, I was watched.  I felt trapped, unsure of what to do.  I did what Mum advised me to, that being to get my head down and work.  So in classes I worked.  I competed for our tutor group in the Science Challenge, the Inter-Tutor group, and played as much football as feasible.  65 merit points, and 99.5 percent attendance later, and July arrived.  I, Ben, and James as a treat for great attendance were taken with many other 99% upwards students to Alton Towers for free.  That early summer’s day was mostly spent avoiding queues and riding the new ride, the Nemesis. We had to force James Cliff onto the ride but he went back for more. He was a good friend.

Every high school student around me had heroes, be they from bands, sports teams, the movies, family and friends, etc.  I chose to have several heroes, Morecambe & Wise, and my Nana amongst them.   One such hero was a German footballer called Uwe Rosler.  Uwe was brought into Manchester City F.C.’s line-up by Brian Horton from Bundesliga club FC Nurnburg.  Uwe was a holder of five East German international caps.  Rosler’s enthusiasm, and 64 goals, made him hugely popular with City followers like me – in his first three full seasons he was the top scorer with 22, 13 and 17 goals respectively.  His performance even outshone his more illustrious countryman Jurgen Klinsmann and won him City’s Player of the Year trophy in 1995.  In April 1998 he returned home when he joined Bundesliga leaders Kaiserslautern.  He was not a glamour-loving footballer, nor a man who asked too much, but he always gave his all, and his spirit encouraged others to give theirs too.  That is why he was my hero, and remained a hero even in 2005 when he was a football club manager in Norway.  He even battled off cancer.  Uwe Rosler is a true living City legend. He now manages Fleetwood Town, and his sons play at City. Colin and Tony are named after City legends Colin Bell and Tony Book.

By June of 1996, I was rewarded a prize for my effort and work in English by Reddish Vale High School.  This was similar to the Nobel Peace Prize, but much smaller and of less of an international recognition.  I would have also won the Inter-tutor group athletics long-jump had someone not jumped that extra centimetre beating me!  During the course of year eight I lowered my guard to Michael Clews, William Duncan, James Cliff, and David Jackson.  Occasionally, I even allowed the highly immature Adam “Madman” Morris into our group.  Me, William and Adam became known to our P.E. teachers Mr Moore and Mr Short.  I would only ever do P.E. if it was swimming, or football.  They would have to find me spare kit and force me into other sports, as I would purposely forget my kit on other occasions.  However, they would always seem to find me kit.  It also meant evading bullies. Adam and William were compulsive users of excuse-notes from their homes.  My effort grades were above average in everything, with the exceptions being the nothing subjects (drama, art, and music).  These grades carried on into year 9, by which bullying and bed-wetting was rife.  I did however manage to gain an award for I.T. in year 9.  Something they would later regret in year 10, as I crashed every school PC calling for many technicians to repair PCs.  Well it beats Adam putting Smarties in the floppy disk drives to see what would happen!

Out of school during years 7-9, I was close friends with Dan and Peter Ridyard who lived on Crayfield Road (having moved half a mile from Broom Lane).  This was convenient as they both lived around the corner from me.  Peter was the eldest, a few months younger than I.  Dan was a year younger, cheekier and bolder.  Over time we would get into trouble playing knock a door run, trespassing on golf courses, stealing golf balls, making dens, making bonfires, playing in builders’ sand, etc.  Dan and I became close friends as Peter drifted off.  Dan and Peter both attended Burnage High School for boys only.  Dan introduced me to Rob Hanna his school mate.  Rob kept a huge distance between himself and personal hygiene in 1997.  He is most definitely not gay.  Rob remained this way until in 2002 when he moved to Cleethorpes! I’m sure since then he has discovered soap and a tooth brush.

By September of year 9, Mr Rob Oxley had taken over from Mr Redmond.  Mr Oxley was tall, loud, and strict.  However, he was easy to fool or pushover.  He did not have full control of our class.  Graham Rothwell, Barry Rhodes, John Duncan, and Chris Grimes were expelled from our class.  He was now taking more control of class.  The exceptions being the lunch hour we opened up the tower lockers, removed the inner-shelves and locked James Cliff in there for a laugh.  Sadly, David Jackson found James too easy a victim for a laugh, and James would not defend himself.  After a month of this going on, I stepped in and ended up with a steal toe-cap in my face bruising my face and alleviating James’ bullying problem.  Who better to go for than defender of the victim?!  I could easily fight people off if needed to, but found the verbal name calling and constant taunting too much.  The teachers themselves seemed too afraid to help stop the bullies and this allowed the bullies the upper hand.  When alone the bullies would befriend me, but in their packs they would pick on me.

The Sunday afternoon that followed Asa’s 19th birthday celebration night would scar me for life, and cause me to miss two weeks of school.  I was on Scotland Hall Road Park playing field near my Nana’s home.  The park was behind Seven Acres Lane, in Newton Heath.  Me, a lad called Noel I’d met and his two friends were talking whilst I cycled around the swings they sat upon.  A large group of thirty or so males (ages ranging from 11 to 19) entered the park from an illegal pathway beyond the Clayton Vale railway track.  The group looked intimidating so Noel, his friends and I moved to the park edge.  My mountain bike would not go any faster, and I could see that the large group was running at us.  I jumped off the bike leaving it on the ground.  I ran as fast as I could onto the road, just behind Noel.

Noel and I returned to the park field twenty minutes later.  My mountain bike was where I had left it.  Without a worry I ran to the bike, grabbed it, lifted it up, and turned ready to leave the park.  From behind several trees behind me emerged several of the large group.  They had been waiting to ambush somebody.  Rocks hurtled past me, stones and sticks hitting the ground around me.  As I turned around to see how far behind me they were, a large piece of tarmac thrown from about 10m slammed into my face.  I fell over.  I was dazed and unsure.  I could hear them getting closer.  Confusion set in.  Panic did not set in.  I was dazed.  I looked up.  I was ready to die there and then.  I was awaiting torture.  My attackers closed in.  They looked at me.  They could see how they damaged me.  They could see how I was.  They ran.  I was ready to collapse.  I wanted to pass out.

An arm reached down to me, Noel had returned.  He lifted me up so I could stand.  All my weight was on him.  I was floppy, exhausted and dazed.  He helped me back to Nana’s house.  Nana rang Dad, who was now at his house at the top of Ludgate Road.  Nana called for an ambulance.  I collapsed.

I awoke in the bathroom upstairs, Nana holding a cloth over my face.  I was shaking, tortured, shocked, and deep into fear.  I could see my burgundy and white Manchester City shirt was below the blood that covered it.  Nana was rubbing my back trying to calm me.  I could taste the blood running down my lips.  I looked up and saw myself in the mirror.  The left-hand side of my cheek was swollen up as large as a tennis ball.  A gash stretched from under my eye to the side of my face.  Small cuts punched red patches around my eyebrow.  Blood poured from the top of my nose.  Below which I had no distinguishable nose features down to my nostrils.  The nostrils were flaps of skin waving about.  I could see fragments of my nose bone.  Blood was everywhere.  I could not see through my left eye.  I was horrified.  I panicked more.

Dad came rushing in.  He told me not to worry.  Dad rubbed my back, covered my nose in the cloth, and lifted me up.  He helped me down the stairs.  A taxi drove us to Asa’s nearby house.  Ace drove us to Crumpsall Hospital.  From here on a combination of nausea, dizziness, and confusion make the story patchy.

I remember waking up in Nana’s house and spending several days recovering in the same room.  Despite two witnesses and details I could remember the Police failed to catch anyone.  Many stitches, and some nose surgery later and I recovered.  I returned to school slightly traumatised but none the less more determined to avoid problems.

During year 11, my careers advisor Jenny Edge had persuaded me that there were more routes after school than A-levels or working full time at McDonalds.  She had told me of the BTEC National Diploma in Animal Care, and even found me several colleges to which I could study at.  This talk had also advised me where to do my work experience.  I was to carry my placement out at Manchester Pets and Aquatics in Ardwick.  This placement came and went, and Ron Bale (the manager) offered me a part-time job.  This job lasted until the following summer, where I worked full time until August 1999.

On the day Manchester City beat Macclesfield Town two goals to nil, I contemplated buying a pet mouse.  I wanted to name any new pets after the goal-scorers that day (Gareth Taylor and Shaun Goater).  The next day I went to work, and returned with three mice.  Silverside, Redcoat, and Dash were the three male mice.  Speedy Gonzales was a female mouse amongst them.  Speedy Gonzales killed all the males except for Dash.  They lived in my room happily for a long time, and reproduced several times (allowing me to sell them to Manchester Pets and Aquatics).  Mice will always make brilliant pets, as they are active, rarely aggressive and inquisitive little friends.

On a Sunday in January 1999, Manchester Pets and Aquatics experienced an armed robbery.  The criminals forced staff member Lee into the store with a knife to his back.  They had bats, knifes, and a sword in their possession.  They forced us to the ground.  Debbie was forced to the ground behind me, and one thuggish member spotted the phone nearby to me.  He lifted the phone, slamming it onto my right knee.  As he walked past he kicked Debbie in the back.  They forced Ron the manager up the stairs.  He was forced to hand over the days takings.  The criminals left with their new found wealth.  Within minutes half of Manchester’s Police force was on the doorstep.  It was too little, too late. I broke down in tears much later.

On the 9th of March, 1999, City beat Burnley by six goals to nil at Turf Moor Stadium.  Shaun Goater bagged a hat-trick, with Andy Morrison heading home, Horlock curling one in, and Allsop bagging a strike.  This gave City hope of returning to the Nationwide Division One.

Nana had been unwell for many months.  She had always suffered from Diabetes since I was born.  A silent car pulled into the farthest car park at Crumpsall Hospital.  Dad, Ace, Uncle Pud, and I climbed out of the car doors.  We walked into the hospital, neither of us speaking.  Our feet slapping the cold concrete ground echoing down long corridors.  We walked directly to a ward.  A body lay still, motionless on a bed three beds to our right.  “Come on Nana, get up. Let’s leave here now,” I thought.  Her silence, unconsciousness, peaceful body beneath the blankets did not remind me of how Nana would act.  This was the first time Nana had not offered me a Vanilla Slice or packet of Chewitts on my arrival to the same room as her.  A tear trickled down my cheek.  I could see Dad, Uncle Pud and Ace struggling to hold back their tears.  Ace was crying, he had moved into Nana’s spare room in recent years whilst he was studying at Salford University.  Nana’s battle with Cancer was coming to an end.  Her body was being pumped with Morphine to alleviate her final pain.

The phone rang on the 29th of April, 1999.  Mum answered the call.  She could not hear anyone.  Bernadette took the phone.  She told Mum that Nana had died.  I knew she was dieing, but I did not know to react when she had died.  Nobody so close had died, whilst I was over the age of five.  My wise, humorous, loving, caring, and hugely influential Nana had died.  I could talk openly with Nana about my ambitions, and we would talk about animals all day, whether in Morecambe, Morrison’s supermarket or Newton Heath market or even her family home.

I did not cry immediately.  I walked up the stairs at our home on Broom Avenue.  I opened my door, closed my door.  I sat by my bed, and pulled the quilt onto myself.  A torrent of tears released over me.  I cried myself to sleep.

The funeral of my Nana was to be held midweek during the spring school term.  I wanted to go to the funeral.  My Dad had passed the message about where the funeral would be held, and the time it was to be held.  I would have to make my own way.  I wanted to go, but did not have a black tie or white shirt.  I decided I did not want to let Nana down by going to the funeral in my scruffy clothes, so I would go to school instead.  I started walking to school, across the Highfield Country Park.  I could not walk anymore, I wanted to break down and cry.  I found a spot in some bushes to sit down.  I sat there all day crying.  Had my Dad or some other family member collected me, I would have gone to the funeral.  I wanted to say my goodbyes at the funeral, and Nana’s final resting place.  It would take me almost six whole years to visit Nana’s final resting place.  My memory of where it was wiped away and I was too afraid to ask Dad for the location.  I would visit Nana’s house and expect to see her, and for her to offer a friendly hello.  The once warm house grew cold, and Granddad grew lonely by the day.  I’d sit on the three-cushion settee by Granddad and expect Nana to come around the glass lounge door and offer biscuits and cherryade.  I hope there is a heaven, for Nana will be caring for everybody there.

In May 1999, City looked to be remaining in the Nationwide Division Two.  89 minutes had passed at Wembley Stadium, and Gillingham was leading by two goals to none.  Kevin Horlock hit a lucky strike in, the deficit had been halved but time was running out.  City were dominating, but time was against them.  Somehow in the moments of injury time, Paul “Crocus” Dickov had broken away from the defenders.  Goater’s shot ricocheted off the defence, before Paul Dickov fired the ball into the net.  City was level when the full time whistle went.  Thirty agonising minutes of extra time was played.  The penalty shoot out went ahead.  Dickov’s penalty hit the right post, and ran behind Bartram hitting the left post.  It never crossed the line.  Nicky Weaver saved a shot from the Gillingham striker moments later.  City had won 3-1 on penalties.  City was back in Division One for the 1999/2000 season. What a day!

In June 1999, following my year 11 exams, I met Joanna Fallows at work.  She was on work experience from a school in Hyde.  She lived in Gee Cross.  We would enjoy many nights at 10-pin bowling, the cinema, Pizza Hut, and Lazer Quest (where Dan and I often went each weekend).  Joanna was a tall lady, brunette, 36DD, and a very sporty lady.  We enjoyed swimming at the Hyde Leisure pools a few times together.  This was a very good relationship, especially as I did not feel anyone would ever like me.  We drifted apart by August, as I had quit Manchester Pets and Aquatics to spend more time with Joanna.  This backfired as Joanna seemed intent on just shopping.  I hated shopping.  We split up, and I started work at Co-op Pioneer in Gorton.  My first kiss and my first taste of foreplay came with Joanna. I was too young though. Young and naive.

In August 1999, Mum and Paul took Astrid, Paul and I to Barmouth (Abermaw).  The Welsh town is located on the west coast of Wales south of the legendary village of Harlech.  We stayed at a holiday village called Sunnysands.  The sandy beaches were clean and white.  The sea was warm and clear.  I would often walk south down the coast six miles into Barmouth.  In the mornings the beach was often undisturbed, and many a Cormorant or Blue-Velvet Swimmer Crab would be observed.  I would leave Barmouth with sunburn and a perfectly relaxed state of mind.

Registration for college was looming, and on the day I received 8 grades Cs, a grade B in Geography, and a grade D in Electronics at GCSE level. Not the best, but by far not the worst. I hadn’t revised at all, ever, not once.  I attended North Trafford College, handed my grades to Elaine Lamb (the potential tutor) and agreed I wanted to be part of this college (even if it was in the shadows of Old Trafford football ground).