What will they start with?

I’ve never been one for nostalgia concerts: singers and bands whose day has come and gone, but who go out on the road to play their old hits, usually in versions no way comparable to the recordings you love.
The first band I ever saw live who had split up and reformed was Pere Ubu, and they’re a different case entirely, because they were re-starting their career with new material (and everything post Modern Dance was off the menu anyway).
But the first time Madness got back together in the mid-Nineties, touring before Christmas, I was quick to buy myself a ticket. Indeed, I saw them twice on these annual Christmas tours, and had a whale of time on both outings.
I’d been a Madness fan almost from the beginning, from The Prince and I’d seen them on stage three times, touring each of the last three albums in their turn, so I had experience of the Nutty Boys, even if it was when they were shading towards the more serious.
The gig was taking place on the Sunday evening before Christmas, in G-Mex, the Greater Manchester Exhibition Hall, that had been created by conversion from the former Manchester Central Railway Station (a single platform used to run from London Road station – now Piccadilly – to Central that was reputedly the longest platform in Europe). As a concert hall, it was a massive venue, with temporary seats along both sides and at the back, but masses of floorspace, room for thousands to stand, mill about, dance and have fun.
I warmed up for the gig by driving to the far side of Nottingham for the day.
I’d lived and worked in Nottingham for two years and made quite a few friends there, but fifteen years later, the only one with whom I was still in contact was Julia, who, with suitable irony, was the one friend I’d known for the least time. For years, I’d drive down to where she lived, with her husband and two kids, on the east of Nottingham, for lunch and an afternoon’s chatter and catch-up. This year, it turned out the only time they were free was the day of my Madness gig.
So, 150 miles of driving and straight into the City Centre to park, and debating what to do about clothing. I mean, this was the Sunday before Christmas, which meant that it was bloody cold out there in the streets, but inside G-Mex, with thousands of us on the floor, it was going to be bloody hot. I debated with myself and made the wrong decision, to leave my pullover etc. in the car and walk through with my coat – which I then had to cling to throughout the entire gig.
And I was supposed to be meeting a mate from work who, despite his being a good fifteen years younger than me, was equally a Madness enthusiast. We were supposed to meet beforehand at an Irish pub, and go on together, with his other mates, but the pub was shut, so that was that.
So I took myself into the hall, where the crush was greatest the nearer you got to the front. I wasn’t too keen on getting crushed, or getting into anything remotely resembling a mosh pit, so I manoeuvred around until I was about halfway back from the stage, over to the (audience) right, with enough room to move whenever I wanted to, and with nobody especially tall in my immediate eye-line towards the stage.
The support band had just begun their set, Carter the Unstoppable Sex Machine, starring that duo Jim-Bob and Fruitbat (how can you not respect a musician who calls himself Fruitbat?).
Their music was high energy and pounding, with a high speed bassline that vibrated the soles of my feet every time I lifted one or other up from the ground. They were a decent support, fun enough to enjoy whilst waiting for the real thing, but unlikely to draw you into buying a CD of their stuff (this concert was taking place in the pre-Download days, where sampling was a more serious commitment).
And whilst they played, I wondered: it was well over a decade since I had last heard Madness in concert. I was looking forward to all the old favourites being pounded out with verve and enthusiasm. But what song would they open with?
I mean, what a question, even if I never spoke it out loud. I kept going over the hits in my head, trying to decide what would be the most suitable one to kick things off with. Which Madness song would be exactly right? It felt like an important question.
And at long last they came bounding out on stage, all seven of them, like they used to, Kix dressed up in something outlandish, Suggs as little changed as it was possible for a human being to be (don’t look in his attic). We cheered and howled and roared and revelled in their presence and Chas Smash came up to the mike in readiness and bellowed, “Hey you, don’t watch that…” and the crowd erupted, even the one on the right hugging a bulky overcoat and thinking furiously to himself, “What the hell else would they possibly have started with?”
I was a fool. But I was there. And it was bloody good fun.

The Mad Baseball Bat Century

Ian Botham, Headingley 1981

I made my Test Match début in 1968, an Ashes summer, when I inadvertently discovered BBC TV coverage of each day’s play. All day, every day, that summer I would sit in black and white fascination. All but the crucial final day at the Oval, when England raced time to mop up the Aussies on a drying pitch and square the series, whilst my Mam had taken my sister and myself to Southport for the day, and I had to try to follow the score from people’s transistor radios along the promenade. It was the start of a lifelong fascination with this wonderful game.
I made my real Test Match début, my first attendance at a Test, thirteen years later, again in an Ashes summer, on the third day of the Fifth Test between England and Australia, at Old Trafford, naturally. Popular opinion now, and for a very long time to come, will nominate the 2005 series as the Greatest Ashes Series ever, but for those of us who are a bit older, it doesn’t quite dislodge 1981 from our affections. There were all the same thrills and dramas, and England coming from behind, but that summer of the first Six Test series, of the first experiment with Sunday play, had more twists, more aspects, more turns. And where 2005 had Andrew Flintoff, 1981 had Ian Botham.
The series started at Trent Bridge with the 25 year old Botham as England captain. He’d made his début in the Test team in 1977 and had already made his name as a charismatic all-rounder, an exciting, aggressive batsman, a vigorous, dynamic bowler: so much so that, when Mike Brearley had stepped down after winning the Ashes in Australia in 1978/9, against a Packer-decimated Aussie team, Botham had been the popular and Selectorial choice to succeed him.
It’s an arguable point as to what was the cause, but Botham hadn’t won a Test as Captain, and his form had undergone a severe dip: he had scored a half-century in his first Test as Captain, but hadn’t achieved a similar score after that, and he’d taken no five-fors. The press and the public were sure that it was the pressure of captaincy affecting his performance, Botham that it was simply a coincidental loss of form, and the fact that all those Tests had been against the West Indies was certainly more than a contributory factor. Any Captain would have struggled to make an impression upon them at that time, and this was before the ‘Blackwash’ series’ of the Eighties.
The England selectors’ response at this point was to re-appoint Botham as Captain, but only for the First Test, which England lost. He was then appointed Captain for the Second Test only. This was virtually unheard of and served as a focus for Press attention, which was redoubled when England drew the Test at Lords, and Botham was out for a pair.
At the end of the game, Botham spoke to the Selectors and asked them to show their confidence in him by appointing him for the remainder of the series. When they refused to do so, he resigned, confirming this to the Press and explaining that the pressure on his family was unacceptable if he was to be appointed in this drip-drip manner. All resolved, painlessly and sensibly – except that Chairman of the Selectors Alec Bedser then bluntly told the Press that if Botham hadn’t resigned, he’d have been sacked anyway. A cheap, nasty, unnecessary, heartless statement, and absolutely typical of a dictatorial and impervious body of men.
So Brearley was back – a 37 year old man who was a good first slip, a respectable but not Test Class batsman, and a genius at the art of captaincy. That is what he was picked for, to straighten out the England side and get it to function again.
Brearley’s first self-imposed task was to contact Botham and sound him out about his mental readiness for the Third Test. Botham, of course, was up for it: no challenge refused.
Which is where the tenor of the whole series changed. At Headingley
Though Botham managed to hit 50 in England’s first innings, this was still Australia’s test, for the first three and a half days. They’d only made a modest first innings score, but England, despite Botham’s contribution, made a much more modest one and were invited to follow on. And only once in the whole history of Test Cricket had a side won after being asked to follow on. England’s only hope was survival, and that didn’t look too hopeful as wickets fell steadily.
At that time, I was working in Romiley to the south east of Stockport. It meant I got home about 5.50pm on the Monday afternoon, just ten minutes ahead of close of play. I went straight to the TV, switched on BBC2. I caught a shot of the Scoreboard and refused to believe it.
I thought it had said 326-8, but that just wasn’t possible. I had to have misread it, probably 226, that was more like it. But it was 326, and come the highlights I marvelled at the hitting of Botham and Dilley, the sustained attack on the Aussie attack, weakened by the decision to choose left arm spinner Ray Bright on a seamer’s wicket. At close of play we had a lead of 125. Not much, obviously not enough, and a complete surprise.
The next morning, I was in Stockport, at the Magistrate’s Court. As I walked back to my car, at 12.00ish, I passed a television shop and saw Australia were batting again. Obviously we hadn’t added much more, and they were on the way to winning, but at least we’d restored some pride in defeat.
The next thing that happened was, as the clock struck 2.00 pm and I came back off lunch, I stopped off in the Off-Licence opposite, to buy a cold can of Coke – and heard the radio news announce that England had just won the Test! How on Earth had that happened?
Well, we’ll all know about Botham’s 149 not out, and Willis’s 8-42, and what a game it was to watch as the tide of fortune swung so decisively in England’s direction in the last day and a half of the game, making history, overturning expectation in the most spectacular of fashion. Or what it would have been like to watch that, even on TV, which is something that I did not get to do.
It was a dramatic moment, but all it had done was to level the series, and there were few indeed who, at that time, expected better than that England would be better equipped to complete in the last three Tests.
Back in 1981, Test Match Summers had a smooth, enviable rhythm. Headingley ended on the Tuesday, and Edgbaston began on the Thursday of the following week, each Test occupying the traditional venues, at regular fortnightly intervals. We were ready and rested for the resumption of the fray, but it was a nondescript, low-scoring Test – one of the few in which not a single batsman scored a 50 – and once again Australia were chasing a low fourth innings score to regain the series lead. We were already calling the Third Test victory “The Miracle of Headingley”, but no-one expected miracles to repeat themselves. History seemed less flexible, the unexpected more unexpected, and certainly not a serial event.
This was one of the three Tests that were experimenting with no rest day, so the climax ended up on Sunday afternoon. The BBC’s schedules were not prepared for all day cricket coverage on Sundays, so the game was dipping in and out of visits to Birmingham, just like the stop-start nature of the usual Sunday League coverage, where equal time was devoted to other sports. To keep me going, I had on Test Match Special on Radio 3 MW.
It was Australia’s game again, making slow and unspectacular progress towards a low target, more time than anyone would need to get there, five wickets down and accumulating without worries. Then Ian Botham came back into the attack.
Almost immediately, he ripped out Rodney Marsh, clean bowled. It was a start, at least until the next ball, with which he did Bright, leg before! Two in two, the balance of the game changing in an instant, on a hat trick and I’m screaming at the screen for the Beeb to get their coverage over to Edgbaston, before that third ball, come on, move it!
With the slowness of tectonic plates grinding, they did shift their monolithic direction, in time for a third ball that zipped past Lillee without taking a wicket, but now we were at the cricket, there was no going back. Botham struck again, and again, suddenly driving England to the edge of a second unexpected victory, the Botham whirlwind suddenly blowing away everyone in its path, and this was unfolding in real time, not something you come home from work to, done and recorded. And he did it, bending the world to fit around him, five wickets, five wickets in five overs and one ball, and only a single run conceded in that breathless rush. It was England now who, from a Test down, had taken the series lead. No-one who saw the post-match interview with the Captains will ever forget the look in Kim Hughes’ eyes. It was described as the look of someone who’d been sandbagged around the back of the neck just before going on, and in thirty years I’ve never come up with something to surpass that.
And so we moved to Manchester and the Fifth Test, and me.
Old Trafford was the last of the Sunday play Tests that summer. In later years, I would arrange my holidays in Ashes summers (and the West Indian ones) so that I could go to all five days, but this first occasion I hadn’t thought that far in advance and I was only going to the weekend, and Monday.
It was going to be a sunny weekend, August at its best. The first day’s play was pretty nondescript, England struggling towards a low total, and only being boosted past 200 on the Friday morning thanks to a maiden unbeaten Test half century from Lancashire’s fast-medium bowler Paul Allott, making his England début in this Test, thanks to a lot of hacking, slashing and Chinese cuts! It carried England to 231.
I’d been in Court again and now I was back to the car to go back to my Office, and straight to Radio 3MW, where the cheers were still reverberating for Bob Willis’s second wicket in an over. He’s had Johnny Dyson caught at slip off the first ball and, though Kim Hughes had struck a 4, the Aussie Captain was then leg before off the fourth ball. And it wasn’t over: off the last ball of the over, Willis had Graham Yallop caught at slip and then Allott took his first Test wicket, trapping Graham Wood leg before off the first ball of the next over! 20 for 0 to 24 for 4 in seven balls!
It knocked the guts out of the Aussie innings, and England established themselves a 101 run First innings lead which they’d extended to 171 at close of play, having lost the still-far-from-established Graham Gooch cheaply.
The Saturday was a sell-out, Old Trafford was at capacity, 25,000. I’d never seen the ground remotely full so far, so I was completely unprepared for the realities of the situation. There were none of the individual plastic-bucket seats of today: the terraces were adorned with park-bench type seats, in cracked and peeling blue paint, on which people sat and sprawled out as they choice, relaying on primacy of arrival. The ground might hold 25,00, but my inexpert guess was that it could only seat 21,000, and I wasn’t one of them.
Health and Safety be damned, people were sitting themselves on the long, low concrete steps of the gangways between sections on the Warwick Road End, and I followed suit, taking my thin summer jacket off and folding it into as thick a pad as possible (not very) and sitting on that for almost the whole day. It was hard and cold under… well, not foot, was it?
And for half the day, the cricket matched my bum-numb perch. In the morning session, two hours play, England lost three wickets and advanced their score by 29 runs. 29 runs in two hours of play, and a single boundary, a straight drive for 4 by Mike Gatting in the final over before lunch, through long off. And then, typical Gatting, he went and padded up to a straight one next ball, and was out lbw.
It wasn’t much better for most of the first hour after lunch, although it was getting warmer as the fringes of grey cloud were dissipating. Brearley came and went, bringing Botham in. At the other end, Chris Tavare pottered and nudged and nurdled and defended and generally advanced his score at a pace that would have had snails looking back at it, and anyone frustrated at Jonathan Trott rapidly revising their stories.
I decided I needed a drink and squeezed round to the bar under the back of C stand, only to discover when I returned that Botham had hit two fours in the same over off Bright – the second and third boundaries of the day, and I missed them. This was not an introduction to be remembered.
Though Botham was beginning to show a little more aggression, starting to drive the score on a little faster, the second new ball was due before long, and we all knew what that would mean: back into the shell, playing defensively.
The first over with the second new ball was bowled by Terry Alderman from the Warwick Road End, pitter-pattering away from us with that never-too-fast run. Botham was cautious for a couple of balls, then he tried to launch one over long-off and got under it a bit too much. Mike Whitney, the left arm seamer who, a week before, had been the Pro at Fleetwood, up the Fylde Coast, was racing back with arms outstretched but didn’t quite get there: the ball fell to earth and Botham ran three.
That left him on strike for the next over, Dennis Lillee from the Stretford End. This was Dennis Lillee – no longer the flat-out tearaway of 1972 who made me feel scared just running in on TV, but still, this was Dennis Lillee. And first ball he unleashed a bouncer at Botham’s head.
And Botham swayed out of the way, swung the bat round in a vicious circle and smashed it into the crowd behind square leg for 6.
I’ve said before of cricket’s peculiar virtue whereby a game can be fixed solidly in a certain groove, the weight and the power running strictly in one direction, and then in a single ball, the whole edifice is smashed and the game revolves into a completely different thing in an instant. That one shot destroyed the frustrating grip on the game of the austerity so far. The crowd were electrified. When Lillee came up to deliver his second ball, all things had changed.
Botham pushed a single. Tavare, unbelievably, scored 3. Lillee’s fourth ball was another bouncer to Botham, which he again hooked behind square on a flatter trajectory, the howls of the crowd running with it to the boundary. A dot ball, then off the last of the over, a third bouncer and this time Botham wasn’t even looking at the ball, head ducked as he swung and sent the ball back of square for another 6 and out of the ground too!
Funnily enough, after that first over, and those three strikes that I can still see in my mind, as exact as if I were still sat there on the stone step, I remember very little of the rest of Botham’s innings. The sweep for six over long leg, off Bright, with Lillee on the boundary stretching but not reaching the ball, to send us into lunch, the almost perfunctory snick when he edged Whitney behind and waked off briskly, as if he’d just completed a decent 38 at Taunton, these are all that have stuck with me.
But there were three more 6’s than I’ve already mentioned in an innings of 118 that tore the game away from the Australians. It was just powerful, aggressive hitting, the kind that often inspires the word ‘flaying’ to describe it. Botham’s been described as hitting the ball about like a mad baseball player, of scoring so fast that the scoreboard wasn’t able to keep up with him. That at least is hype, but he more than scored so fast that his partner Tavare couldn’t keep up with him. But then, he didn’t try.
Tavare, who’d come in on the Friday evening, after the fall of Gooch, had progressed to 35 not out when Botham came to the wicket. By the time Botham departed, the partnership having added 149 Tavare’s score had gone on to 63. That kind of disparity in a partnership is not surprising when you’re batting with the tail (Viv Richards/Mike Holding, remember?) but it’s highly unusual when the non-scoring partner is the no. 3 batsman. But, until the end of his career, that was Tav. He just stuck to keeping his end up. This really was a one-man show.
Botham’s innings had changed the game. There was a sense of inevitability to things thereafter that, under a hot August sun, filled the crowd with easy enjoyment, fuelled by the drink, of course.
Brearley opted to bat on, to bat Australia out of any prospect of coming back into the game, there being two days and six sessions after the Saturday. So Knott and Emburey, overnight and into a simply glorious and uproarious Sunday, piled on the runs, despite a certain impatience on the crowd’s part to get at those Aussies. When England were finally out, for 404, Australia’s target was 505, a fourth innings total out of all imagining, but still only 100 a session for five sessions.
And they were obliged to go after it. Not just because they were Australians but because there was so much of the game, in perfect conditions, to play. Yallop made a ton, Border made an unbeaten ton, 123 not out, batting with a broken finger.
I remember the uproarious atmosphere, especially on the Sunday, with a capacity crowd revelling in English superiority. The batting and the bowling was of a very high quality – the very best moment was when Alan Knott tried a controlled ‘uppercut’ towards third man and Johnny Dyson, who’d been a bit of a butt of the English crowd’s taunting all summer, sprinted a dozen yards to his right before diving to take a one-handed catch.
But it was the sense of fun I remember most of all. The pitch invasion, in the afternoon session, by the bloke wearing a gorilla costume and trying to get to shake hands with Botham (whose nicknames included ‘Guy the Gorilla’). The even better pitch invasion by two blokes who simply climbed over the fence in front of H stand and, side by side as if they had every right to be there, strolling across the ground towards the wicket, ignoring the umpire going to meet them and, as soon as they reached the wicket, grabbing the bails at each end and sprinting off into the crowd, to raucous cheers.
The best moment however was restricted to those sat in my section of the Warwick Road End. There were girls wandering around, selling ice creams, and some guy, six or seven rows behind me, had cadged from one a piece of the dry ice being used to keep the ice creams from melting. he wanted to cool his beer down, so he dropped it in his glass, and it started foaming and bubbling, the glass vomiting broiling liquid from its rim, and he held the glass up for all to see, the dry ice kicking and spitting and the foam streaming down his arm, and everybody collapsing in laughter at the sight of it.
Monday was a complete contrast, the ground only about a third full and though the sun was still high and full, a certain coolness crept into the air. England bowled on, Australia batted on. They’d been 210 overnight, for 5, still needing almost 300 runs for the impossible victory, but in terms of scoring rates, they had clearly set themselves for the steady 100 runs a session, and they weren’t losing wickets. In the afternoon, with Lillee supporting the immovable Border, the nagging doubt began to creep in that maybe, just maybe, they might do it, or even get as close as the New Zealanders had done in 1972, less than a decade earlier, when I was still at School, in chasing down a 500 plus target and giving history a real fright.
But this was Botham’s year and it was his Test for the third time in a row, and Paul Allott was bowling at the Warwick Road End, to Lillee, with Botham in that position of arrogance at second slip, hands on knees until the batsman’s played his shot, and Lillee edged the ball wide of Botham, and he snatched it in both hands, the ball behind him.
From there it was merely time. The ninth wicket went down before tea, which was delayed a half hour, but Border managed to keep enough of the strike away from Alderman to extend the game into its final session. And then there was a bomb scare in the Warwick Road End, and we all had to evacuate to other parts of the ground, but the game didn’t last long after tea, and we were all running onto the pitch in the manner of the early Eighties, not that there were that many of us, because we’d won the Test, and won the Ashes. My first test. My first Ashes Test. The only time I’ve seen England beat Australia.
It was Botham’s summer, or at least those three Tests were. No-one could fail to support him then, falling, like the Australians before his invincible form. Like everyone in that summer of 1981, I wanted to see him play far more than any other cricketer alive.
The years were not kind to that veneration. Nowadays, I try to ignore Botham, rather than endure the sort of stuff that’s totally destroyed my respect for him, such as his public declaration that he would hang me if he had the opportunity (he being a Monarchist and I a Republican). I’d rather remember the days when he was an exciting and flamboyant batsman and bowler, rather than a 14 carat ****.
Like when he batted like a madman at Old Trafford, and I was there.

Beyond a Balcony

Horslips in their prime

You’d probably have to be of my generation, or a little bit older, to remember the Irish rock band Horslips, who were at their peak in the Seventies.
The band’s interest lay in infusing rock with traditional Irish music which, with differing degrees of success, they pursued throughout the decade, although in the Eighties, when they gave up the traditional side of things and opted for just generic rock, they rapidly lost their appeal and their audience.
I don’t remember how I first became aware of them, probably through their being written about in New Musical Express, though I did have a lot of time for their jaunty 1974 single, Dearg Doom, taken from their album The Tain, a concept set based on Irish traditional stories of a famous cattle-raid.
But I first became seriously interested in them in the early summer of 1976, when Piccadilly Radio began playing the single The Warm Sweet Breath of Love. A lovely, flowing song, underpinned by electric mandolin, the track came from Horslips’ most successful album, artisticly and commercially, The Book of Invasions.
Again, this was a concept album, based on traditional Irish legends, which were recorded as three semi-continuous ‘suites’, one occupying Side One of the album, the other two Side Two.
I bought the album and played it a lot, and whilst I moved it on many many years ago, I kept on tape (and later CD) half a dozen Horslips songs, most of them from this album.
But whilst I was at the height of my interest, the band were touring The Book of Invasions and I was able to get a ticket to see them live at Manchester’s Palace Theatre.
Now the Palace was never one of Manchester’s Premier Rock Venues. In the Seventies, the Free Trade Hall was still the boss venue for rock gigs in the City, with the ABC Cinema, Ardwick coming up on the rails and not far off renaming itself the Apollo, where its endearing scruffiness would make it the venue of choice for the next thirty-odd years.
The Palace, however, was what its name suggested: it was a Theatre. Horslips was the first time I ever went there, and, with the exception of the Flying Pickets, a completely different kettle of fish, I’ve only ever been back for plays and comedy sets from the likes of Dave Allen and Victoria Wood (not together, sadly – how cool would that have been?)
I don’t remember much of the gig, to be honest. Horslips were supported by the then-critically acclaimed London soul band, Moon, whilst their set was enjoyable, but was one of those sets you got in the Seventies when the band’s major concern seemed to be in reproducing as exactly as possible their studio sound, as opposed to putting any great passion into their playing.
They did play The Warm Sweet Breath of Love, of course, and if I remember correctly, they did it as the first part of the three-song suite it opened on the album, which was the best sequence of that record (but not the best track, which in my opinion was the gorgeous love song The Rocks Remain, whose closing verses still send a chill through me, thirty-seven years later).
In time, the gig came to its last song. The band retired, we sought encores in the usual manner and, after a decent delay, the band came back to pay another three tracks and then disappeared out the back again.
That, in normal circumstances, should have been that. But, for no apparent reason, the crowd were not satisfied, and demanded more. People drifted down to the front, in the stals, the circle and the balcony. It wasn’t the kind of frenzied rush that would characterise the kind of gigs I would be going to in the early Eighties, like the Undertones, but rather a middle class saunter down.
And we started shouting and chanting for ‘Moooore’, with that peculiarly bovine low that characterised the era. The management put the house lights on, and we kept on chanting. they lowered the safety curtain and we kept on chanting. It was all kind of fun, and a gentle test of wills, that we won after a quarter hour, when it became obvious that we just weren’t going to go without another track.
The curtain went up, the lights went down and the band came out, looking none too pleased about it, actually. They certainly hadn’t planned for any more as they didn’t have another song ready to play! Instead, they launched into this relatively nondescript Irish-rock instrumental, to which everyone happily danced.
I was down the front, to the (audience) right of the stage. People around me were turning round and looking up. Some were drawing their neighbours’ attention and pointing.
I was nosy, I admit it. I looked up myself, trying to work out what they were pointing at, but I couldn’t see anything that didn’t seem normal. Were they just pointing out people they recognised? I didn’t recognise anyone.
But they were still looking and pointing. I looked up again, wondering what I was missing. The whole balcony was down the front, dancing and swaying… Swaying.
At the front, in the middle, where the greatest concentration of people were crammed togeoether, the entire balcony was swaying up and down in rhythm. From side to side of the hall, up and down and up and down in time to the beat of the band. In the middle, the balcony base was rocking up and down by about a foot, or so I estimated.
It’s not the most unselfish thought I’ve ever had but my first reaction was, “Well, at least I’m far enough forward not to be under it if that comes down.” Charming, wasn’t I?
Needless to say, my attention to the ongoing encore was divided from that point, and I was forever turning back to marvel at the sight of this supposedly solid structure swaying up and down as if it were elastic. The band didn’t know, as the encore would have been cut short bloody quickly if they’d realised what was going on, but thankfully the instrumental ran out, and nobody started demanding any more, and we filed out politely and quietly. And safely.
That gig took place on a Sunday evening. In Monday night’s Manchester Evening News there was an announcement that the Palace Theatre balcony was closed until further notice for structural investigations.
Needless to say, that was a unique experience, and as I am no longer a somewhat naive 20 year old, if I were ever placed in that position again, I would not remain in that position any longer than it took me to calmly and sensibly get the hell out. Which I should have done that time that I was there.

The Ball of the Century

I hardly need set the scene for this recollection, do I? The title identifies the time, the place, the people, the moment. It brings up the picture in all cricket fans’ minds, that twenty years after, still has the power to awe us.
But this blog is for more than just the already aware, so let me describe what I’m talking about.
It was 4 June 1993, after lunch, on the Second Day of the First Test between England and Australia, at Old Trafford, a somewhat dark, overcast day, with the threat of rain at several points. I was, as usual, holidaying from work, taking the full five days of the Test, and sat in the Pavilion. Australia had won the toss and elected to bat, and had scored 289 all out. England began their reply comfortably enough, scoring 71 for the first wicket, which had brought former captain Mike Gatting to the wicket.
I confess to not liking Gatting, especially as an England captain. Everybody spoke of his qualities as a leader, that the players would follow him anywhere, without ever conceding that he had no idea where to lead his team. He’d played under Mike Brearley and hadn’t even absorbed Brearley’s simplest maxim – if it isn’t working, try something else. Nor could I admire his habit of deliberately misunderstanding the question whenever he was called upon to defend himself over the way he had thrown away his wicket, and England’s chances of success, in the 1989 World Cup Final against Australia.
Personally, I didn’t believe he deserved his place, but I wasn’t a Selector, and have never suffered from the apparent belief of Selectors everywhere that past success demands a player be selected forever. That he was to be at the wicket added a personal pinch of spice for me.
Australia had brought over a bowler, a leg-spinner, who was being boosted as the next greatest thing. And a leggy as well: that art had been virtually dead until Abdul Qadir opened the tomb and started entertaining everyone. His name was Shane Warne, and he looked like a bleached beach-bum and surfer, and in his only Tour Match to date, against Worcestershire, Graeme Hick had taken him apart quite thoroughly. So, another Aussie wonderboy who would prove to be unable to make an impression outside his native land, then. They got us with that one, and good.
Border decided that it was time to bring Warne into the attack, his first Test over in English conditions. They placed the field, somewhat conventionally. Gatting, the master of spin, the aggressor and smiter of the twirly men. Except in one mean and malicious heart, sat before the Pavilion, everyone was mentally settling in for some lusty blows from Fatty Gatting.
So Warne started ambling in for his first ball. Just an aimless few paces, wandering forward, before springing into his delivery stride: pretty much what I did when I bowled, in fact! Gatting clearly decided it should be left alone and didn’t play at the ball.
But wait! The Aussie slip cordon and the keeper were roaring, and sprinting forward, waving their arms! Warne was celebrating. Gatting was standing there, looking the picture of What The Hell. Was he out? He was out? How the Hell…?
Those people who were sat in Old Trafford with something like a straight on view of the wicket already knew what Warne had done: the rest of us, including the whole Pavilion, were left to look at the big digital screen for a replay of what we had witnessed but been unable to interpret. Even Gatting, heading back to the Pavilion, stopped to look at just what had been done to him.
These early big screens were far from HD, and often the ball was visible only as a dark blur, or smear, if it could be seen at all. It took two replays to comprehend it. One to simply stare in disbelief, the other to begin to look, with cold calculation, at what it was we were seeing.
Warne brought his arm over, released the ball. It was the prototypical loosener, pitched on leg stump and then drifting further out in its trajectory to pitch well wide of leg: imagine into existence a second set of stumps, continuing the line, and this would have pitched middle stump on set 2. And then it leapt, yes, leapt, spun viciously back on itself, spat past the precautionary edge of Gatting’s bat and hit off stump on the corporeal set.
Could a ball do that? I mean, it had, but it had never done that before, not in my life or my experience. In the moment of that first replay, there was a strange sound from the crowd, myself included. It was shock, awe, appreciation, all mixed into the sound of a moment of passage from past into future,
It was just a ball, just a bloody good leg-spinner, but in that moment, Shane Warne won not merely the First Test but the entire series, and he shifted Cricket itself into a future where, having shown what could be done, he had initiated a furious race to do it again. We have lived in Shane Warne’s world since then, and cricket has been immeasurably better for it.
And it was his first bloody ball too! What would he do when he’d warmed up?
The first thing he went on to show was that that was not a fluke, as if, in some corners of desperate English minds there was the faintest of hopes that it might have been some sort of freak ball, something that could never happen again. But later in that innings, he bowled one to Alec Stewart that pitched on leg stump of the imaginary set and came back so far it passed outside off stump of the real set.
The two sides were playing in different dimensions from that point on. The crowd was intent upon Warne’s every delivery, none of this relax and wait for him to come in and bowl, every delivery could be something unforgettable and no-one wanted to miss any of it. From the Pavilion, we were all helplessly reliant on the big screen to show us what we were watching. I remember laughing my head off, unable to control myself, when Warne induced Gooch to throw his wicket away with a hasty swipe to mid on: it wasn’t that ball that got Gooch out but the half dozen before it, the balls that Warne were making boom every which way, and Gooch unable to pick anything, until the sloppy full toss came straight at him and his desperate resistance broke in the chance of a hittable ball, an actual hittable ball, and he bagged it straight to the fielder.
Oddly, the same game offered another I was There moment on the final day. England were batting for the draw, hoping to hold out, and generally managing with relative comfort, thanks to the captain’s innings by Graham Gooch, which had already reached 133 runs. And in comes the gloriously moustached Merv Hughes, with his mincing, almost tiptoe run and his upper body bulk, and unleashing a delivery. Gooch tries to cut but it’s too close to his body. He chops the ball down into the ground behind him: it bounces to waist height and drops back. It’s going to hit the stumps, but Gooch sweeps his right arm at him, knocks it away off his forearm, and I’m going ‘oh shit’ and that’s before the Aussies go up.
He’s out. I’ve never seen it happened, but I know the Laws, he’s handled the ball. He could have knocked it away with his bat, and it would have been Hit Twice but he’d have been ok because of In Defence of Wicket. He’d have been safe with the back of his hand, as long as it held the bat. But his arm was free and he’s used his forearm and he’s Out. Only the sixth English player in Test History to be out Handled the Ball.
Dickie Bird knows it’s out, the Aussies know it’s out, but he tries to give them the chance to withdraw it, to not do this, for some, unbelievable reason to not claim the wicket of a top rank opponent holding out against victory, for a perfectly legitimate, merely rare dismissal. Are you sure you want to do this? he asks out there, as the crowd waits in suspense for a decision. But he’s out, clear as day, and why should Australia withdraw? So Goochie has to walk, and with him goes the faint hope of denying the Aussies victory.
Two incidents in one memorable Test. The Ball of the Century and a Handled the Ball, in one game. Almost an embarrassment of riches. You don’t expect such things to come to you in clusters, but they did, and I was there.

Red Roses, Go For It!

Graham Lloyd with a pull to the leg side

For better or worse, a Roses match at Headingley was always an event: three days of daily trips from Manchester to Leeds and back along a road that became so familiar that I could almost have done it in my sleep and, on one occasion, returning from watching United at Newcastle on a horribly foggy Sunday evening, did do in five yard visibility fog, judging every twist, turn, dip and rise with my body and memory as much as my eyes.
I never considered staying in Leeds – what, in Yorkshire? – not with it being so easy to reach – ninety minutes from gate to door, or seventy-five if you tested the speed limits for their elasticity as I did on one memorable occasion where I had to be back quickly. I even bought my first car to avoid having to mess with buses and trains for three days, when I paid my first visit in August 1981.
That was an experience in itself. Saturday was fine. I discovered the Winter Shed, enjoyed the cricket, found my way there and back by a mixture of luck and judgement. Unfortunately, on Bank Holiday Monday, I had barely got half way up the Saddleworth Valley when my car overheated rapidly and I had to pull up.
Fortunately, there was a call-box not too far distant, so I phoned my Uncle in Droylsden, who was the car expert in our family, and half an hour of lovely, sunny, cricket conditions later, he and Grandad turned up to refill my radiator and lead me back home, where he patched up the hose leak that was draining the radiator and causing the overheating.
(A year later, it would have been very different, for both would be gone).
Emboldened, I set off again, only for the engine to overheat a second time. By then, I was across the Pennines and running downhill towards Huddersfield, so I topped the radiator up again, with the water canister my Uncle had given me, and carried on. I had to do that a second time, north of Huddersfield, but I got to Headingley by Lunch. In Yorkshire, it was growing overcast, so much so that play was abandoned for bad light before Tea.
The car was frustratingly worse going home: I could barely managed five miles at a time before having to pull over, and I was lucky to find a tap at which I could refill the water canister halfway.
On Tuesday, I wasted no time in taking the car back to the garage where I had bought it, only a fortnight ago. They reluctantly agreed to repair it free of charge, so I set off for Headingley again: bus to Piccadilly Station, train to Leeds, bus to Headingley. I walked into the ground at 12.30pm, just in time to see the fourth Yorkshire wicket falling.
By Lunch, half an hour later, the Tykes were eight down, and within fifteen minutes after Lunch, they had lost their last two wickets and we had won by an innings.
All that messing around, for about 45 minutes of cricket.
I made a day of it, coming home, wandering the centre of Leeds on the way back then, on a whim, taking a train home that went via Bradford to Victoria Station. It was older, slower, stopped everywhere, but reversing out of Bradford, I found myself alone in the back carriage, staring through the windows of an empty drivers cab, as the train climbed into and snaked its way through the Pennines, in soft, early evening sun, travelling backwards through strange, remote, narrow valleys that seemed to go on far longer than the map would allow. It lent a lustre to the day that made up for the paucity of the cricket I’d seen.
One of my favourite memories of Headingley was of the Roses Match of August 1990. I was on my third car by then, a very reliable Nissan Polo that carried me back and forth without the slightest issue. As for the cricket, there was a substantial Lancashire First Innings, with only Fairbrother out of the top eight failing to contribute runs, and two quick Yorkshire wickets before close of play.
On Monday, one of Mike Atherton’s best bowling performances – he took a career best 5 – 26, as well as two catches – forced Yorkshire into the follow on, in which a match-saving 146 by Ashley Metcalfe contributed to a substantial Second Innings score that was taking the game towards a tame draw, until Atherton snatched the last two wickets.
By then, we were in the Twenty Overs in the last Hour period. In fact, after the break between innings there would be fourteen overs left and a notional Lancashire target of 148 . At least, you’d have assumed it was notional.
But Lancashire in 1990 were a fast-scoring, attacking side, full of batsmen who were full of runs. We were very strong in One-Day cricket: we had won the Sunday League the previous summer, and would create history that year by becoming the first County to win both the Benson & Hedges cup and the national Westminster Bank Trophy in the same summer. And this was a one-day run-chase.
There wasn’t another County in the Championship that would have gone for it, but we expected it of our Club, and the batsmen fulfilled our hopes.
The target was 10 an over from the beginning, and it was very rapidly 12 an over, with Graeme Fowler and Gehan Mendis falling early victims, and Fairbrother not long after. That left the methodical, cautious, accumulating Atherton at the wicket with young Graham Lloyd, nicknamed Bumblebee, after his father, David Lloyd’s nickname of Bumble.
And, in glorious fashion, they went for it! And they were hitting the ball extraordinarily hard and accurate, and within a couple of minutes every Yorkshire fielder was on the boundary. Because it might have been a One-Day target, but it wasn’t a One-Day match. There were no fielding restrictions here and if Moxon wanted to stick everyone equidistant on the boundary, he could do so. The target rate was two a ball: we’d never maintain that with the field so widely spread.
So we didn’t try. Athers went for power, and placement, pulling, cutting and driving with such precision that the ball would be at the boundary before either fielder could reach it, accompanied by Lancashire roars every time. And Bumblebee went for power, murderously smashing the ball to all parts, high, hard and handsome, out of any fielder’s reach on boundaries that suddenly seemed too short.
It was glorious, it was astounding, and with every over, we were getting closer and closer to the amazing possibility that, from this unlikely position, we could very well win it!
But it didn’t last. First Atherton, then Lloyd, caught in the deep going for his sixth six, for 70 runs scored off only 35 balls, fell. With the first of them, the task became exponentially harder: with the second it became impossible.
We still tried, for a moment or two, but a sixth wicket turned the tide too much. Now it was Yorkshire who had the prospect of victory more clearly in their sights.
So we shut up shop. The Tykes were still using their opening bowlers, Paul Jarvis and Steven Fletcher, but De Freitas and Hegg were aiming to bat out time, and though Jarvis eventually broke through and got De Freitas out, with another eight balls left in which to try to snatch the last three wickets, the draw was offered and accepted, and the players left the field with honours even (except in bonus points, where we came out with 8 to Yorkshire’s 5).
But we’d gone for it. And we were making it. And it was glorious to watch, to hope and to dream. I’m very glad I was there.

1, 2, 3, it’s elementary


Cricket is an astonishingly difficult game to define for those who do not instinctively understand its subtleties, its rhythms and, most of all, its length. Worst of all, when you show them what the game is capable of producing, the skill and drama inherent in its every moment, they will say that yes, they’d be more interested in it if it were like that all the time.
But one of the fundamental aspects of cricket is that it is not like that all the time, but the potentiality is always there for it to be like that at any time.
One superb example is the ultra-rare circumstances of a hat trick. For those who are corrupted by too much exposure to football, a hat trick is not three of something. It is very simple and very precise. It is three wickets taken by the same bowler in three consecutive deliveries. In forty years of watching and playing cricket, I have only seen hat tricks on three occasions.
The joy and brilliance of a hat trick lies in the intensity of the moment of potential, of anticipation and desire, that covers the very short space and time between the second and third balls of the achievement. No matter what the state of the game, the drama or otherwise of the situation, the first wicket is, of itself, commonplace. Even if it only happens, at most, twenty times during a game, it’s one of the objects of the game: we expect it.
It is only when the next delivery takes a wicket too that the excitement reaches an immediate height. The second wicket is essential: without it there is nothing to expect. But it’s real function is to open that door onto the vision of a future memory, a moment you’ll take deep within you, for ever, if only…
But only is all too often only. How many times have we seen two-in-two’s, been brought in an instant to that line? There’s no longer any relaxation in the ground, no somnolence, no leaning back and letting the game flow. Everyone cranes their necks, concentration is shifted, with laser-intensity, on the moment that might be to come.
Then the batsman blocks the ball, or sways out of its way, or knocks it away for runs and it’s over, the bubble gone, and everyone falls back in denied tension. The game returns to its base state. But oh, when it doesn’t…
The first hat-trick I ever saw as it happened was bowled by me. It wasn’t exactly something to boast about, given the circumstances, though the figures – O0.5 M0 R1 W4 – are fabulous. There’s a more detailed account of it in my book My Brilliant Sporting Career for those who might be interested.
The second came in a game in which I was playing, for the Nottingham Articled Clerks in August 1979, and I had nothing to do with it. Thankfully. It was taken by Nigel Kay, our left-arm spinner and, if not our best bowler that summer, then certainly in the top two.
We played twenty overs a side after work and, as far as I can recall, the Articled Clerks were batting second. If I’m right, we must have had the game wrapped up by the time the last over started, with our opponents seven wickets down and with no realistic prospect of winning. Then Nigel got a wicket with his fourth ball, and another with his fifth.
What a situation. Last man in, last ball, last wicket and hat trick ball all in one. Our captain pulled us all in to surround the bat – I was one of two fielders in the decidedly short covers – and I didn’t know who was more nervous: their Number Eleven, ringed around by all of us, or me, in case the ball came in my direction at catchable height, at which point it was almost certain there would be no hat trick.
And Nigel spun it in, the batsman prodded desperately, it came off the edge and Rob Penna clutched it, throat height, at third slip, to give Nigel his deserved hat trick and get me off any nasty hooks.
But only once have I been through the full, breath-holding experience.
Flash forward to the summer of 1995, a summer of blazing skies, sun and heat and a West Indies tour. These were my second favourites: I marginally preferred Ashes tours, because of that visceral, deep-seated rivalry, but the WIndies were the only other side for whom I took off the entire Test to watch. Even in these diminished days – no matter how good he was, Brian Lara was, at the last, not Viv Richards – I waited hungrily to see them play. Even though we could now put up a fight against them, these were days when partizanship died on me: five days of cavalier cricket, fiery fast bowling, lusty striking, the sheer joy of watching the West Indies engage in playing their natural game: this was what I came to see.
Old Trafford was hosting the Fourth Test, to which England came 2-1 down, results having alternated thus far. England’s team included the Derbyshire all-rounder, Dominic Cork, winning his third cap, and having already making his mark on the series by taking the best bowling figures for an England débutant, 7 – 43 at Lords, as well as falling only 7 runs short of a début century.
I wasn’t having that great a summer. Three times in six weeks, my car had been broken into or had a window smashed whilst I was at the cricket, and it now seemed to be targeted, so for the rest of the season I kept it away. On the first Sunday after that decision, I’d parked it in back of Piccadilly Station and used the new Metro the rest of the way. I’d hardly been in Old Trafford for half an hour, having described my plight to my friends by way of explanation for being late, when there was a loud, reverberating bang from the City Centre. “Knowing my luck,” I said, “that’s probably my car going up.” (Thankfully, the joke did not rebound on me by coming true, though I did worry when I got back to Piccadilly…).
For the Test it was public transport all the way: bus to Manchester, Metro to what was still, then, the Warwick Road Station. Despite the freedom to drink all day, I brought Diet Coke: initially two 1.5 litre bottles but, when the days scorched down so hard, two 2 litre bottles, which were still only just sufficient to keep me hydrated until close of play.
Travelling was extra difficult on the Fourth Day, Sunday 30 July, but I was in place in the Pavilion well before start of play., basking in the sun and trying not to down too much Coke too early.
West Indies started play on 159 – 3, still 62 runs away from making England again, but with the batting power ahead of them to make that a formality and perhaps, by close of play, put themselves into a position where they could set England a last day target. That vanished in the first over of the day.
It was bowled by Dominic Cork from the Stretford End. Richie Richardson and Brian Lara added a single apiece in the first three deliveries. Off the fourth, Richardson managed to drag the ball onto his stumps whilst trying to leave alone one outside off stump. A noisy crowd was appreciative of such a quick start.
Junior Murray took guard at the Warwick Road End. Cork returned to his mark, bustled in again off that curved run, swept his arm over fierce and fast and rapped him on the pads. The roar went up in anticipation as Umpire Mitchley raised his finger. Two-in-two.
There was no indolence in the ground. This was a hat trick ball and everyone turned to the field of play, the vast majority I’d guess being like me, who’d never seen one and we’re once more caught up on the hook of that moment of is-it-this-time?, tuned higher because this was England with a Test series to level, and this is still the first over of the day. Bloody hell.
Carl Hooper wandered out, calmly took guard, looked round, keeping his nerves to himself. Cork started his run-up. The tide of sound from a crowd building their throats up to a roar rose with every step, and he was delivering the ball, and it pitched and shot through, and it smashed Hooper on the pads and that roar crested and broke into a collective howl of exultation, and I, in the Pavilion, sat at cover point, at ninety degrees, the absolute worst position to judge a leg before, was on my feet and roaring, because I knew, I KNEW he was out, that it was foursquare, it was plum, I’d just seen a hat trick after all these years, and Mitchley’s finger, overcome by the explosion of sound and fury, came up, even if, on sober recollection, that ball might have been sliding down the leg side a fraction, but fulfilment had come for once on that screw of tension that exists between the second ball and the third. A hat trick. The West Indies blown apart, their guts dragged out of them. And the second over to come.
England went on to win. Brian Lara held things together superbly, ninth out for 145, setting England a target of 94 to win, which they dithered over but won after losing four wickets, saving the game from going over into its Final Day. And there was the history of it: only England’s eighth hat trick and only the twenty-second in all Test Cricket: the first since Peter Loader almost forty years before and only the second since the Second World War: only the second home hat trick of the Twentieth Century.
None of which changes what is the greatest significance of that moment: it was my first hat trick. My only hat trick. It turned a Test Match on its head, it was the greatest start to a day there has ever been but most of all, I was there to see it. I was there.

How I Brought the Good News from Hucknall to Droylsden

The William Pace Stand, Butchers Arms, Droylsden

That astonishing season of 1998/99, the background of which I have described at some length in “The Mountaintop”, came to its own incredible climax with Droylsden on 1 May 1999.
To reset the scene, after a very long season and getting on for sixty games played, and four months of almost non-stop playing Saturday – Tuesday – Thursday – Saturday, Droylsden had secured promotion to the Unibond (Northern Premier) League Premier Division, three years after their previous relegation.
All that remained was to sort out which of us and Nottinghamshire’s Hucknall Town would be Champions. The ball was in Hucknall’s court: they had 85 points to our 83, and a two-goal advantage in goal difference. However, we had the edge in goals scored, which would be used if points and goal difference were levelled, having scored (and conceded) about twenty more goals than they.
So the options were limited. A Hucknall win would make them Champions irrespective of what we did, whilst our dropping points made them Champions irrespective of what they did. Only if we won and they didn’t could we top the table. Win-lose, and we were Champions by a point, win-draw and another factor crept in, for we would have to win by a minimum two goal margin, So, of the nine possible combinations of two results, only one-and-a-half options would serve us. So the odds were slim.
Hucknall were entertaining Bradford PA, who we’d beaten the previous Tuesday night, whilst we were also at home, to Stocksbridge Park Steels, a team from a satellite town north of Sheffield.
It was a bright, sunny May Saturday, and I decided to walk to the Butchers Arms. I’d done it before and, though there was no direct route, because of the Audenshaw Reservoirs, I could do it in an hour (that was then). It was ideal weather for walking and, whether we were Champions or Runners-Up, I intended to have a drink or three in the Phoenix, the Social Club, to celebrate our Promotion, so the car wasn’t being taken anywhere.
I arrived at the ground for 1.00pm. There was already a bit of a celebration atmosphere, and after the match was over, we were forming a new Supporters Club, which Chairman/Manager Dave Pace had asked a number of us, me included, to help form.
The only thing I had brought with me – apart from my wallet – was my notebook and a pen. Obviously, I didn’t have a programme to prepare until August, but I had a match report to do for the Tameside Advertiser, off whom I got a press card that got me into games free. Alan Slater, our Club Secretary, usually gave me the official team-sheet to fill in, meaning that I recorded goalscorers, substitute and times, which he then faxed to the FA within half an hour of the final whistle. And Nigel Randall, a really nice guy on the Committee, and a very hard and often unthanked worker for the Club, asked me to contact Radio Nottingham who, with the Hucknall connection in mind, wanted a phone number for someone to give them progress updates every fifteen minutes. I would be a busy boy,
Leechy, who lived nearest, was probably already there, or if he wasn’t, he was soon on the spot. Colin and Mark were also in before long, plus the High Street Choir: we were to be the basis of the Supporters Club Committee. I would end up as Vice-Chairman and Co-Treasurer with Mark, and responsible for signing up future members and collecting subs.
Basically, it was do or die, win or bust, win and hope for a bit of luck from Bradford.
The game is mostly a blur. The Radio Station, off whom I was supposed to be getting updates from Hucknall, barely called. At the other end of the Pace Stand were a group of representatives of the Unibond League, including the Secretary, who was known for not getting on with Pacey. They were in touch with Hucknall, where the actual trophy had been taken (this was the Northern Premier League, definitely no helicopters). We would get most of our updates from that quarter.
Needless to say, Stocksbridge scored first, but two goals from Wes Kinney put us 2-1 up at half-time, with Hucknall goalless. A goal from Lee Cooper made it 3-1 and put us in the frame. If it stayed that way at Hucknall…
But no, word filtered across, and around, that Hucknall had taken the lead, but ten minutes later, Bradford equalised, to swing the fragile balance back in our direction. All it needed was a goal, in either game.
And suddenly, Stocksbridge broke through on the right, down below us. Dave Williams came charging out of his area to try to hold the guy on the ball up, but he checked and went back inside, unleashed a curling twenty-five yarder towards an empty net… and there was Andy ‘Tate’ Taylor, appearing out of nowhere, to head the ball off the line. Where he’d come from, no-one knew, no-one in the ground had seen him run, that goal was completely unguarded when the shot was launched. I always said he’d travelled by TARDIS, moving to the exact instant of time and space to save us.
So that vital two goal lead was preserved. And minutes were passing and Hucknall were still being held.
I was always the one who rang to get the Hucknall result. With five minutes to go, I couldn’t stand it any longer and called their offices: still 1-1.
I couldn’t sit on my hands. I rang again about a minute later. And the minute after that. And the minute after that. Still 1-1, every time.
When I phoned the next time, Barney Quinn yelled up from the bench: “tell him to stay on the phone, Pacey’ll pay his phone bill.” So this time, when I got through, I gabbled out that I was from Droyslden, that we were winning 3-1, no, scratch that, we’ve won 3-1, the ref’s just blown the final whistle, and if you stay 1-1 we’re Champions, and I’m not coming off the phone until you give me the final score.
Having provided the guy with all the relevant information they needed, I’m faintly suprised that he didn’t hang up at such a rude outburst. I presume that he simply understood with where I was coming from, realised that if the roles were reversed he would have spoken in similar vein, so we settled to wait out the end of their game.
I was concentrating hard on the phone in my hand, pressed tightly against one ear, finger jammed hard into my other ear to cut out all extraneous noise. I had my head down throughout all this, but then I raised it to look around.
They were watching me.
Not just the rest of the Pace Stand Mob. And our Committee on my right. Or the Premier League committee over to the left and all the rest of the Pace Stand. But everybody. Everybody in the ground. Pacey and Pedro and the rest of the bench. The players, stretched out on the turf, lying, sitting, standing bent over, hands on knees. And the rest of the crowd, who’d come over the fences and walked towards the centre of the pitch, 250, maybe nearer 300 people waiting for my word. My word to tell them whether our season would turn, in an uncontrollable instant, into triumph or tragedy.
There was a commotion, crowd noise from the far end of the phone. Leechy said I went white in an instant. Later, I heard that Pedro had said that if I’d announced that Hucknall had scored, he’d have killed me. in the Non-League Paper, on Sunday, I discovered that Hucknall had hit the bar, in injury time.
It felt like ages but, overall, it was about three minutes, a flat, emotionless voice at the end of the phone said, “It’s over”, and I screamed “It’s over!” at the top of my voice and the ground went off like a firecracker. People cheering, hugging, shouting, jumping up and down and running round in circles, and everybody trying to get down the stairs onto the pitch ourselves. We’d won the League. It was the biggest thing the club had ever won in over 100 years, as big on its own terms, and maybe bigger relatively than the Treble United were approaching. I raced over to tate, shouting at him that he’d done it, he’d won the League for us with that header off the line and he yelled back that he had no idea, no-one had told him we had to win by a margin.
It was one of the strangest moments in my life, to be catapulted by chance into a moment when something that had gone on for ten months, to which I had contributed nothing but the skin of my throat, should put me at the very centre of of this story, completely undeservedly.
It wasn’t the end of the day. The players crowded into their temporary cabin changing rooms and started throwing their shirts out to the crowd (which pissed Pacey off because they were the club’s, not the players, and he’d have to buy a new set). I scored Willo’s jersey and got him to autograph it, and the players, Pacey and Pedro all to autograph the programme, my programme, the one I’d written almost exclusively. And we signed up over 50 people to the Supporters Club. And the High Street Choir nicked a ball and went out onto the pitch, kicking in at the Greenside Lane End, and I went out to join them in crossing and shooting and taking penalties, until I wanted another drink. And it was getting dark when I set off to walk home, but I didn’t get much over a quarter mile before Pacey overtook me and gave me a lift to Reddish.
I was there. And I was there for four more seasons, in the Premier Division, until the incidents that spoiled everything and I walked away for as long as Pacey’s still there, which means forever, basically.
I was modest about things: when I wrote the game up for the Advertiser, who’d given me 100 extra words in view of the importance of the game, I didn’t put my name in as the man with the mobile phone, referring anonymously to ‘a Club official’  (which, technically, I wasn’t, though I did get credited in the Unibond League Club Directory as Programme Editor). Anything else would have been too much: I was nothing but a messenger. But for those three minutes, the entire world revolved around me. I was there. And I’m never going to forget it.

The Mountaintop


Who put the ball in the German’s net?

Of course, this is the ultimate I Was There.
I can’t possibly tell the whole story, because the whole story lasted ten months and incorporated two football seasons, both of which, at their separate levels, involved glory and delight and a reward that still shines in the memory. It was the single most involving, stirring, exciting football season I ever experienced, and every single incident was part of the tide of events that ended up in glory glory glory, culminating in that instinctive swing of Ole Gunnar Solksjaer’s right boot that took all of us to the mountain top.
When the 1998/99 season began, I was starting my third and, unexpectedly, my last season as a Manchester United season ticket holder, and my fourth return season as a regular at Droylsden FC. It was also my second season as Programme Editor and the Bloods’ third season in the Unibond (Northern Premier) League First Division after relegation in 1996 (for more details of that season try my book Red Exile.)
Droylsden had finished fourth in 1998, and United had finished second to Arsenal in the Premier League. Promotion to the Premier Division was the Bloods’ aim, the recovery of the Premier League title was United’s. Not to mention another tilt at the European Champions League, which we entered, somewhat shamefacedly, as Runners-Up.
The previous season, when Newcastle United had become the first English non-Champions to compete in the European Cup, I’d called it the ‘European Champions and Also-Rans League’, and honesty compelled me to keep doing so.
The first half of the season was more memorable for Droylsden than United: at Old Trafford, the signing of Dwight Yorke brought fun and flourish up front, and turned Andy Cole into a reliable goal machine for the first time since his arrival in January 1996, but it was otherwise first-half business as usual for the Reds. Field promising youngsters in the League Cup and go out, win games, lose a few frustratingly. Schmeical, who would eventually announce his intention to leave at the end of the season, making some uncharacteristically and seriously sloppy mistakes.
In Europe, the group stage proved no real barrier, even though United drew four of their games, and double-buried Brondby in the other two. 3-3 home and away against Barcelona (those were the days…): twice two-up at home but pegged back by two penalties, that telepathic Cole/York goal of angles in the Nou Camp (who knew…?). Conceding a stupid goal at Bayern in the last seconds to draw, the semi-leisurely return game when 1-1 was enough to see both teams through.
At the Butchers Arms, there was more going on. There was the astonishing FA Cup run: beating Conference Northwich Vics on a mud-patch, with me phoning from Old Trafford at full-time to get the score. The fortnight of rain that prevented any game between them and the Fourth Qualifying Round – the first time we’d got so far in nearly twenty years and only the fifth time ever – that robbed the team of match practice and of its captain and top box-to-box midfielder Carl ‘Sergeant’ Holmes, who had no chance to work off his one match suspension.
It was a magnificent effort but we went down 2-1 to Leigh RMI, with a missed penalty and another, absolutely blatant one, refused only sixty seconds after we pulled a goal back. Leigh went on to score a giant tie – and a draw! – against Second Division (i.e., League One) Fulham (who would be knocked out by United in the Fifth Round). Later in the season we would joke that, but for Holmesie being out, Kevin Keegan would never have got the England managership – because we’d have knocked Fulham out.
But the Bloods were on a roll. They were the last team to still be in all three Unibond League Cups, and they would end up being losing finalists in the First Division Cup but winning the Presidents Cup away to a Premier Division side – ironically, Leigh RMI.
It was making for a very early fixture pile-up, what with postponements as well, so Droylsden Chairman/Manager Dave Pace applied to the Manchester FA to withdraw from the Manchester Premier Cup, only to be refused because the FA insisted that all its senior clubs had to play, ‘to preserve the credibility of the competition’. So Pacey registered himself and coach Pedro Orr to play, in order to relieve pressure on the squad: he even put himself on as substitute in the First Round tie away to Maine Road, where we’d been one down after seven seconds and two down after seven minutes. He even claimed two assists as we ended up winning 4-2 after extra time, and then we were expelled from the Cup for fielding an ineligible player – Pacey. Who had been registered over 15 days before the game, but not over 15 days before the original date for the game, which had been called off because of fog. What a farce.
Throughout the season, I was doing what I had been doing for the past three and a half years, which was watching every United home game (plus the occasional away trip, when I won a ticket) and going to watch every Droylsden game I could. I prepared the programmes, which didn’t mean much effort: they were professionally printed in Congleton, which meant the editorial space was very limited and I just submitted it ‘raw’ for them to format.
United came first, but at Droylsden I was involved. It was a great year. I already had a mate, Dave, who had recognised me from Droylsden when I forgot my ticket and had to pay for a duplicate at the Old Trafford ticket office where he worked. We started sitting in the new main stand, the William Pace Stand, and before long our little band grew to include Mark Rustigini, and Colin Donald, whose younger brother had been in a band. For away games, I used to drive the Pace Stand nob all round northern England.
Opposite the Pace Stand Mob were the High Street Choir, a similar group of fans, who stood together and sang terrace songs, mostly reworded chants compiled by their ‘leader’, Mike Holmes (no relation).
It was fun, and, between my slowly worsening financial position, putting the cost of another year’s season ticket out of reach, and the ever-increasing sense of involvement at Droylsden, where we were all on first name terms with the players, I would end up relinquishing my season ticket to my mate Steve’s niece.
That half-year though… United had lost just before Christmas at Middlesbrough, but there would be no further defeats that season. The Premier League was down to a two-horse race with Arsenal, the holders. It was still early in Wenger’s reign, when the poison still flowed between him and Fergie, when they still won trophies, were a threat.
And the FA Cup offered that Fourth Round tie at home to Liverpool, still the great enemy for all that they hadn’t won the League in nearly a decade: their total was still six better than ours. That little weasel, wunderkind Michael Owen, put them ahead with a header after only two minutes, and we chased our tales over and over until, with maybe a minute to go, a free-kick lifted into the box was deftly nodded down by Coley for Yorkie to run over the line. An equaliser! A replay. Until, in a moment of foreshadowing that so many of us looked back to on that night in May, our perennial dangerman sub, Ollie, twisted in the box and smashed the ball through Grobbelar to steal us the game!
Who put the ball in the Scouser’s net?
Who put the ball in the Scouser’s net?
Who put the ball in the Scouser’s net?
Ole Gunnar Solksjaer!
In Europe, it was the knock-out stage. Two first half goals – two crosses from Becksie on the right, two nod-ins from Yorkie – gave us a substantial lead against Inter Milan for the second leg. They battered us in the San Siro, pulled one back midway through the second half, when a freak bounce fooled Keano, but we were holding on to our lead when, in the last minute, a high ball to Coley was nodded down with delicacy into the path of the mist cold-blooded player on the pitch, the Ginger Genius, the man who, in any one-to-one situation, you’d bet your mortgage payment on scoring, and Scholesy sent the keeper one way and slotted the ball in like he was in training at the Cliff. Semi-finals again, like two years ago.
I don’t remember when it was suggested first but it was suggested. The Treble. The League, the Cup, the European Cup. No-one had ever done it (at least, hastily correcting everybody, nobody had ever done it who came from one of the five biggest European Leagues, England, France, Germany, Italy, Spain. Don’t let’s spoil the big story by admitting that it had already been done in 1967, by Glasgow Celtic, who’d gone one better by adding League Cup to the mix, a clean sweep of everything they entered, and all with a team of 11 players born within 30 miles of the ground. United couldn’t match that.)
For Droylsden, the stakes were lower but no less important. Until that defeat, at home to Ashton United in the First Division Cup Final, a second Treble was on. But the cost was unimaginable. Because of that fixture backlog, from the first week of January until the Easter weekend at the beginning of April, the Bloods played three times a week. Every week. Saturday-Tuesday-Thursday-Saturday, over and again. Relentlessly. And they were winning.
I still vividly remember the February Saturday morning when it snowed. Leechy rang up at 10.30am, and half an hour later I was at the ground with him and another handful of volunteers, shovelling snow off the pitch all morning, nattering with the players as they started turning up, Pacey standing us sausage and bacon barms from the local café We were the only game in the Division to be on that day, though when Burscough scored first, we were all for shovelling the snow back out there. But Droylsden recovered to win, and go top of the table for the first time that season.
The President’s Cup was the first tangible reward, but the real goal, the success-or-failure measurement, was promotion. There were four teams in it: us, local rivals Ashton, Lincoln United and Hucknall Town, who were newly promoted from the Northern Counties East League. A ritual began: after each final whistle there was a hasty phone round to the grounds where each of our rivals were playing, to get scores and immediately plot the new top four.
Dave had a mate who played for Ashton, so he always phoned him. I became the Hucknall specialist, whilst Col would chase up on Lincoln. The most memorable occasion was up at Netherfield (now Kendal Town). We’d won 2-0, Lincoln weren’t playing, so Col phoned Rusty who hadn’t been able to make it that day, and was watching Final Score. How have United done? Oh great, they’re winning 6-2, no hang on, it’s 7-2, no, wait a minute, it’s 8-2.
This was the famous game away to Nottingham Forest when Ollie came on as an 80th minute sub and scored four goals!
Back to Europe. United have got Juventus in the semi-finals, first leg at home and they score first. We’re not used to losing at home in Europe, though it’s happened a couple of times by now. We batter away and batter away, and it’s in injury-time when Juve finally concede, Giggsy smashing the ball in from close range, another foreshadowing.
Before that, we’ve another semi-final to negotiate, in the FA Cup. The Treble is still there, to be dreamed of but not yet taken seriously, not to be dared, fate cannot and must not be tempted. We dreamed of the Clean Sweep in 1994/94 and came perilously close to blowing the lot, instead of just one.
The semi-final is against Arsenal, Double-candidates themselves. It’s goalless, thanks to another piece of anti-United ‘misinterpretation’ of the rules by England’s ‘premier’ referee, David Ellary (whose autobiography will reveal his bias against United). Keano’s goal is ruled out by deciding that Giggsy’s push-and-run into the corner, past Dixon, is actually ‘playing the ball forward’.
But it sets up magic, a midweek match of awe and ebb, the last ever F A Cup semi-final replay. Becksie breaks down the Arsenal defence with one of his best ever long range shots, but with twenty minutes left, a deflection off Jaap Stam from a Bergkamp effort puts Arsenal level.
Then Keano got sent off. Whether it merited the card is arguable, but it’s Elleray and Keano’s walking because he knows the fussy little pratt won’t be able to resist it. Ten men, and the disaster gets worse as we suddenly cut back from the replay to see Anelka put the Arses ahead. But he’s offside, indisputably so, and it’s ruled out.
But in the last minutes, Little Nevvy gives away a penalty. Nailed on. Nothing to do but watch Bergkamp slot it home and kill the dream of the Treble. But Scmeiks beats it away! And I am falling to my knees in disbelief and delight, whilst having to contain my desire to scream because I’m watching this at Uncle Jack’s and he had a heart attack earlier this year and can’t be doing with loud noises, so imagine watching this game with your mouth shut.
So it was extra-time, but it’s still all against United as Schmeical pulls off a stunning stage but signals frantically to the bench. He’s not moving. Please, not this, on top of everything. But they repair him, and it goes on to the changeover still level.
Giggsy’s on as a sub, but he’s playing shite. Anonymous, ineffectual. I’m glaring at him like poison, want to speak harshly of his performance but I don’t use that sort of language in front of my Aunt and Uncle who’ve got Sky and let me come and watch when United are on.
And then it happens, like we’ve seen it so often in replays, the goal to end all semi-final replays, but to watch it unfold, not knowing what magic’s about to shine, as the kid who’s playing like a dollop tonight suddenly connects to every atom of his talent, and he somehow bursts between what feels like the whole of the Arsenal defence. And he’s in space and sudden, incredulous chance of a goal is dragging you out of your seat, but before even you can take in that we might be about to score, he hammers it into the roof of the net and goes running with his shirt off, and your heart is bursting out of your chest as you can’t believe you’ve just seen that, but you have to sit there and marvel and just repeat inside, “ffffffuck me!”.
The Double’s on.
A week later, exactly seven days, Steve comes round to watch the second leg against Juventus at my house, where he (and I) can scream and shout as much as we want. Not much to shout about at first, as Inzaghi scores twice in ten minutes, one superb, one horribly flukey. So much for the Final said Steve, who’s been a Red far longer than me and can often be more pessimistic/less naïve than I. And Keano’s booked, a reputation booking, if it had been, say, Dennis Irwin, there’d have been no yellow for that, but if we make it to the Final, he can’t play.
But he doesn’t let it affect him. He smashes on into the game, dictating play, turning up everywhere and, oh wow! We’re back in it, that sweet glancing header from Becksie’s corner. And then Coley chips one in and Yorkie dives to head it in, and suddenly we’re not just level, we’re ahead! Away goals, two to their one.
The second half is never-ending, but we hold them out. The Final – after 31 long years – the Final is coming closer. Our feet are in the door – and Yorkie’s away, luck of the bounce but it’s one on one with the keeper, and he’s hauled down, Penalty! Penalty! Nailed on and red card too but Coley’s behind him with one thing in mind and he slides the ball into the net and WE’RE GOING TO THE EUROPEAN CUP FINAL!!!!!
It’s without Keano or Scholesy, for whom the heart breaks, but we’re going to Barcelona to play Bayern Munich. And I’m going to be there. I have the season ticket. I have all the tokens. And I have a mate working in the Old Trafford ticket office. I’m going to the Final. I’ve ever been out of the country before, never flown before, only had a passport for two years, having got it in hope of a European Cup Final then, before Bayer Leverkusen.
And Leechy’s sorting out not just me but my friend Shirley, a fellow Lancashire member, and her daughter Lynette with FA Cup Finals, so we all three sit together. And he gets me my Nou Camp ticket – just imagine how long I spent looking at that – but there’s a cock-up, because I was supposed to be travelling with United too, but the guy to whom Leechy passes it on to sort out doesn’t get the message, and they’re sold out.
So I go to the Travel Agents two offices along the row and book a ticket for a Chartered Flight. He tells me that Andy across the road, who owns the hairdressers, is on the same flight so I go over and introduce myself and we make plans to travel together.
Meanwhile, it’s the sharp end of the season for Droylsden. After a week off at Easter, by which I mean Saturday-Easter Monday (when Geno Ashton scores a glorious last minute equaliser at Ashton) – Saturday, it’s back to the old routine. Because all Unibond games have to be played by Saturday 1st May, without fail.
Lincoln have dropped away, but if we win at Harrogate and Ashton lose, we’re up. United are at home, only three more home games before I surrender my season ticket. But after all this season, I can’t miss the moment of promotion, so Steve’s niece Natalie goes to Old Trafford and I go on the coach to Harrogate, where we scrape a win, but Ashton draw so it’s not decided.
The team is looking ragged, as who wouldn’t be after almost 40 games in 14 weeks and it’s worse the next Saturday, when they go down 3-2 at Flixton. Ashton lose, so we are promoted, but by heck it feels flat. And this is the worst week of the season, because we’ve got two games in 24 hours, at Radcliffe Borough on Monday night and home to Bradford Park Avenue on Tuesday night.
Monday is a disaster, a 4-2 defeat, the team have got nothing left, no petrol in the tank. Plus there’s a half-time altercation between Pedro and the ref, during which the infamous Liverpudlian threat, ‘know where you live’ is uttered, and for which Pedro will get a four month ban next season, not just from the touchline but the ground.
Miraculously, the team find something from somewhere to beat Bradford 2-0 on Tuesday night. We’re top of the table, until Hucknall win on Thursday night to go two points clear. Bradford promise to do something for us on Saturday, at Hucknall.
That final match of the season deserves its own space, and so I will say nothing more now than that we won, and that Droylsden went up as Champions.
That left the end of the season to Manchester United. There was still some fencing in the League, the controversial 2-2 draw at Liverpool in which David Elleray awarded an erroneous penalty to the hosts after United led 2-2, the sending off of Dennis Irwin, costing him the Cup Final appearance (a second yellow card, valid in Law, but noticeably NOT produced when a Liverpool player committed an identical offence in a much more dangerous position) and a last-minute equaliser from former United favourite Paul Ince.
After being on Arsenals heels for months, United finally pulled ahead. They missed the chance to secure the title at Blackburn, and so this amazing season came down to three games in eleven days.
At home to Spurs, on Sunday, we just had to win and it wouldn’t matter what Arsenal did. So Les Ferdinand put Spurs ahead after only nine minutes. Becksie missed a sitter of a header but, with just over five minutes until half-time and the anticipated ‘hair-dryer’ from Fergie, made up for it by drilling in an equaliser.
Coley came on at half-time, and within three minutes repaid for all those struggling years, all those horrible misses: Big Nevvy chipped the ball from deep, Coley got behind the defence, controlled it in mid-air and then chipped it over Walker into the net to give us the lead that, if maintained, would win the first leg.
It got horribly tense after news got through that Arsenal were one up. We’d won four Premier Leagues by then, one when playing away, the other three sat on the sofa as rivals lost. We wanted this one to be done at home. I wanted it especially, my last home game. As the game went on, everyone was horribly aware that a single mistake, a moment of Spurs ingenuity, could take it all away. On such a slender thread…
But at last the final whistle, our fifth title in seven years. The beginning of what might prove to be history.
Six days later, on a gorgeous sunny May morning, I was off to Wembley. Rusty had also got a ticket through Leechy, so I picked him up first, leaving Manchester at 6.00am, driving and chatting all the way to Wealdstone, where I always parked my car on visits to Wembley, it being uncrowded (unlike Stanmore, the first Tube Station off the M1), at 8.45am.
A couple of hours wandering Central London and my usual target shops, a quiet pint than off to Wembley, Wembley Way and the Twin Towers in their penultimate year, with Rusty wanting his picture of course.
It was a weird team, picked with Wednesday in Barcelona in mind. Keano and Scholesy played, of course, though Keano’s finally was cut short after six minutes by a cynical foul. On came Teddy Sheringham, who opened the scoring three minutes later: a quick one-two with Scholesy, sliding it through the keeper’s legs and in. I was sat at the far end: Shirley, Lynette and I were right behind Teddy’s shot: we saw it slide over the immaculate turf with its ridiculously fussy diamond patter of cutting.
Truth be told, Newcastle were never in it. Scholesy, bless him, scored a second after half-time, and of my three Cup Finals with United – wins all, Doubles all, no goals conceded – this was by far the easiest.
I picked up Rusty for the long drive home, up the A1 as far as Milton Keynes, then transferring to the M6, stopping off for a pint in St Albans, in a pub full of football fans congratulating us on the win (no jokes, please, you haven’t come up with an original one in forty years).
Two down, one to go.
And then the day itself. I drove across to Andy’s place, back of East Didsbury, to leave my car and take his to Ringway. I also met his wife Valerie, who turns out to be the new blonde cashier at RBS that I’d been fancying for the past couple of months. So I made my first acquaintance with the business of getting yourself on a plane: the checking in, the bags through the X-ray machine (what about the film in my camera?), the hanging around. I bought myself a Barcelona map but no books, which is unusual for me.
Then boarding a plane for the first time in my life, at the relatively young age of 43. My ex-girlfriend had told me about how she absolutely panicked the first time she flew, so I was wondering how I’d handle it, but it was a breeze. Roll out onto the runway, start moving, hit that sudden, hell-for-leather surge and then off the ground, so smoothly I didn’t notice it at first. I’m in the air, I’m flying, look down there, that’s the ground.
But the cloud level soon arrived and I spent most of the journey unable to see anything much. It cleared just in time to see us cross the South Coast, see the first bit of France – I’m above a foreign country for the first time ever – but there was no true clear views until we were in the Pyrenees: long, steep valleys, high peaks, a scale beyond any I understood from the Lakes. And blue skies and circling to land. In another country.
All the United planes were going to Gerona, all the Bayern ones to Barcelona. Not to worry, Girona’s only 20k away and there will be coaches. We descended onto the tarmac under my first Spanish sun,the air a haze, distant mountains looking pale. Through customs and into the coach park, a dozen coaches, more, Andy and I hurrying past each of them, looking for our travel company’s sign – and there wasn’t one.
Apparently, their coach wasn’t back from taking the previous plane-load’s passengers into Barcelona.
Every other coach left. Andy and I and the other stranded passengers waited. He’d planned to meet some friends at the Café Geneve in La Place de la Concorde, I wanted to do a bit of sightseeing, abroad the first time, visit Las Ramblas, see La Sagrada Familia. Some people got anxious, ordered taxis, left. We waited.
Eventually, a double decker turned up. Andy and I scrambled upstairs, got good views of the countryside. A strange country, driving on the right, the sun bright and hot. 20K? It was 40 if it was a metre! It was 4.30pm before we reached the outskirts of Barcelona. A glimpse of the Mediterranean – The sea! The sea! I can see the sea! – then turn towards the Nou Camp.
According to our tour packs, the coach would park in the Coach park, and stay there until after the match, but when the driver signalled to turn into the road to it, the Garda refused to let him through, directed him back onto the main road. So he found a space and parked. We were told to make our way back here, get this coach only, not later than 11.00pm, or we’d be left behind, but as Andy and I started to walk away, the Garda turned up, ordering the driver to remove the coach.
No chance of sightseeing, but Andy still wanted to try the Café Geneve, in case his friends were still there, so we headed into the Centre on the Metro. We emerged at the Place de la Concorde station, into the late afternoon air, and the first thing I saw was Marks & Spencer. Seriously.
My mother, rest her soul, would have been over there in a flash, to see what they had that was different from Manchester. Had things been otherwise I’d have gone in in tribute to her, but the whole tourist thing had been seriously fucked by our travel company, so I followed Andy into the Café, but his mates were gone. So we used the loos and headed back north.
The carriage was already standing room only, but as we made our way back, it got more and more crowded, until we were all hemmed in. An anxious bloke, just in front of me, asked his daughter if she was ok: I’m alright, she replied, but I’ve got somebody’s hand on my bum. “It’s not mine, sadly,” I quipped, getting an appreciative roar of laughter from those who could breathe out, her included.
Back at the Nou Camp, with the evening just starting to darken the sky, we made our way towards the ground. The Garda had set up barriers at which you had to show your ticket to get through. Two yards outside the barriers, vendors were selling United flags to wave. Two yards inside the barriers, the Garda were watching this and seizing the flags, snapping the stick off, making them impossible to wave. But ‘harmless’. We located a programme stand, walked straight to it and got there as it sold its last programme.
Then we split for our separate parts of the stadium.
Inside, as I was getting hungry, I paid for two hot sausages on dry baguettes and some coke. Not easy to force down, but I did it. Then I climbed up to my second tier seat.
I was only four rows from the front, almost on a gangway, slightly behind the goal-line at the end where all the goals would be scored. It was a superb view.
The setting alone was magnificent, a huge bowl, climbing high into the sky in three massive tiers, 90,000 people filling it with sound. I’d been in crowds that big at Wembley but they had never been so obvious as here. The light dying out of the sky but the heat remaining as we headed into a soft, Spanish night, the festivities and entertainments spread throughout the pitch, but of no moment.
Thirty-one years before, United’s other European Cup Final had fallen during our week away in the Lake District. Because we were welcomed guests, and from Manchester, the Troughtons invited us into their kitchen to watch the game, but when it ended 1-1, after my bed-time, I was sent upstairs, only to be called down again fifteen minutes later. I saw all the game except the bit where we won it. This time, win or lose, I would at least see everything that mattered.
Both sides had brought their own stadium announcers to do the team read-outs, and Keith Fane read out a hodge-podge of an eleven, hurting from the suspensions of Keano and Scholesy. That line-up had never played together before and, with Schmeics leaving after this game, never would again.
Then Bayern’s announcer read out their team, fascinating me with a brief cultural difference: for each player, he read number and first name, pausing to let their contingent – strong but vastly interior to ours – roar out the player’s surname.
So it began, after all the season, the two seasons, that had gone before it. In heat, in excitement, in amazement at being there, and trepidation of failure.
Which was strengthened after only six minutes when Collini gave a bogus foul against Ronnie Johnsen. The wall lined up, Schmeics hid behind it, Basler hit a scabby shot along the ground, past the near end of the wall and I sat there and watched it run in. A goal down.
A lot’s been said about that game. Ferguson’s maintained that United were the better team in the second half, that Bayern were holding on in fear but not to me. My doubts were underpinned by the misery of having come so far, having left my country for the first time ever, and seeing only disaster, but the makeshift midfield didn’t function, and worst of all, we were not having any shots. Nothing that required Lehmans to make a save.
Then Bayern hit the post, drifted shot over Schmeics head, empty goal, 2-0 and game over, all this way. But it hit the post and bounced back to him. Fresh blood: Teddy Sheringham on for Coley, then Ollie for Jesper Blomqvist. A glancing header from Ollie that was our first, real effort, after 80 minutes. Pounding at Bayern’s defence. Then they hit the bar. The woodwork twice, but we were still only a goal, only an instant from extra-time. Was someone on our side?
The were big digital clocks at either end of the stadium, that started from 00:00 at the kick off of each half, and stopped dead on 45:00. No further counting. No-one in my section saw the fourth official’s board: at 45:00 we went into mystery time, time that could end abruptly at any second. What stoppages had there been?
But we’d won a throw-in on the far side at that moment. Dennis had the ball, but I could see Big Nevvy sprinting across the field, screaming for him to leave it. One final throw, into the box. But it was headed out to Becksie, who tried to shield it, working back towards the touchline, looking for a gap but finally slipping it back to Nevvy, who crossed with his weaker foot. Not good enough, and deflected, but Effenberg put it behind anyway, just for safety’s sake.
And we looked left, expecting and seeing, Schmeics racing forward. It’s last ditch, oh shit this is vital time. Besides, he’d scored in Europe, and I’d been there to see it. Could he do it again, give us the tale to end all tales?
Becksie certainly looked like he was aiming for him, but it was over Schmeics’ head. Yorkie was backing of, taking it on his chest but unable to control it, and it was sliced away to the edge of the area. Giggsy took a swing but it was his right foot, the one he never ever tried to work on and improve, not like Bestie with his left foot, and he didn’t catch it clean, it scuffed through the area and Teddy, side on, helped it on and it ran through, over the line and into the corner of the net.
A tiny moment of hesitation, a look down, like Teddy was looking across, fearing to see the linesman’s flag raised to bar the door against celebration, but he’s already running back to the centre-line and it’s a goal and we’re level and we’ve saved it and give us extra-time and many other thoughts of extreme incoherence as we scream and roar and hug strangers, because we’re not dead, oh we’re not dead and it’s there before us.
So stunned Bayern kick-off, and immediately lump it forward. I’m sure I was far from the only Red who, at the instant, flashed back to 1979, to the Cup Final, to two goals in a minute to drag us undeservedly level, only to concede a winner a minute later. Don’t fuck it up now, just get it up this end, out of danger.
And Dennis does just that, sending Ollie away on the left, tracked by Kuffour, playing it off him for another corner, same side. Over goes Becksie, Schmeics stays back. It couldn’t happen again, could it? It couldn’t happen again, could it? IT’S HAPPENED AGAIN!!!!!!!!!!!! and the roar is instant and visceral, 60,000 hearts and disbelieving minds as one, as the shorter, harder corner is glanced on by Teddy, and Ollie raises a boot and flicks it into the roof of the net, and it becomes clear that this whole night is a gigantic story that Roy of the Rovers’ editors would have rejected, because fiction’s under an obligation to be plausible whilst real life operates under no such constraints and we have won the fucking Champions League in the most incredible fashion anyone ever can or will.
To my amazement, when Bayern kick off again, for the final, ritual seconds, less than half their team are standing. Six players are sitting or lying down on the turf. Of those standing Khuffour is not in it. He’s throwing himself around, crying wildly, taking onto himself all the blame, for giving away the corner. It’s unbelievable. And it only lasts another twelve seconds.
But this is still far from the end of the story. It’s one of those moments that you don’t want to let go of, a potentially endless party that won’t break up  as long as you never leave the room. And the players tour the trophy round the stadium except that, when they get down to the corner in front of me, the United end, the games start.
The Cup is placed on the goal-line and the players retreat ten yards, and one by one they walk, sashay, strut and dance forward, in their own styles, teasing the trophy until they seize and raise it and we roar our heads off again, drawn into their public but very personal celebration of a moment no-one will ever feel again.
And then they break away, grab the two gray-suited figures who are standing back, watching with thoughts none of us could possibly imagine. Against their wills, for they have not done anything in their own eyes to win this game, and at least one is hating the feeling that he’s being dragged into something he doesn’t deserve, Roy Keane and Paul Scholes are given a players’ Guard of Honour, two lines standing applauding, as they reluctantly walk forward to us, to pick up the Cup themselves.
And I understand your misgivings, Keano, but this is good, and it is right and proper, because without Captain Fantastic and the Ginger Genius, we would not be here, and we feel your pain at not playing, but this night would not feel right without the chance for us all to take you into our embrace as fans still drinking the gold of glory. You deserve it.
But it cannot last forever. I’ve a coach and a plane beckoning me, an office to open tomorrow, a country to go to where I can speak the language so, though the celebrations are still going on below, I break away into the aftermath, walk away from the stadium, and reach the main road.
The coach isn’t where it should be, well blow me down, but there’s a coach with the sign for our travel company so I grab a seat on that, and three minutes later Andy turns up and joins me. It’s a coach of Reds all simultaneously charged up and drained. I’m so far from fully understanding what I’ve seen that I’m still saying that Ollie’s winner against Liverpool is the most dramatic moment of the season for me!
Who put the ball in the German’s net?
Who put the ball in the German’s net?
Who put the ball in the German’s net?
Ole Gunnar Solksjaer!
Eventually, we start off for Girona. It’s a long convoy of coaches, with a Garda escort, and it crawls. At no point do we get above 20mph, and Girona isn’t as close as my Travel Agent claimed. It’s frustrating, especially at the tollbooths, where we’re pulled over to one side for ages. People who have relatively early planes are starting to get anxious. We’re not due to take off until 1.30am, so it’s not too bad for us, yet.
At last the Airport lights appear. We turn onto the approach road but, almost immediately, two Garda wave us into a lay-by on the right. People whose lane is due to take off now are frantic. Two guys who speak Spanish argue with the Garda – not furiously, but politely. Apparently, this coach is ‘linked’ to a flight not taking off until 3.00am, so they plan to keep us here, on the coach, in this lay-by, until then.
Logical argument gets us through. We set off along the approach road, get one hundred yards, and two more Garda wave us into a lay-by on the right. This is insane. They must know that we haven’t crashed any barricades or anything stupid like that, that we’ve been let through.
Another, longer argument, and we’re allowed to proceed. This time we get into the airport itself, swinging round to pull up outside the Terminal building, but, oh for God’s sake, the Garda grimly refuse to allow us even to stop, go away. The driver would happily go back to the approach road where they want him to sit, but he’s persuaded to let us off in the car park, so we shoulder bags and set off for the front door, but no.
Somehow Andy slips inside but I’m not so sneaky. We’re ushered away into the car park, to mill around or stand, in the warm early night, staring at the airport from which we’re supposed to leave this country, bit whilst the car park is fine, the pavement around it is not, and anyone who seems to be trying to get near to that is dramatically warned back, and these Garda have sticks and guns and an air of willingness to use them.
It’s a nice night for it, I mean, it’s gone 1.00am and I’m standing round in shirt sleeves, but it’s so bloody unnecessary. This is NOT the Red Army of the Seventies. It’s people like me: happy, tired, middle-aged, middle-class people and their families who only want to go home. I joke about attacking a Garda: you could probably get deported home faster. I wish it WAS the Red Army 1976, there wouldn’t have been a brick left standing of Girona Airport.
Some groups are being let in, and I manage to get amongst them, which is good because my flight takes off at 1.30am. The woman on the desk where I show my ticket and boarding card doesn’t seem to understand it, but I’m stamped in, so to speak, and scurry up to the vast Departure Lounge, where I find Andy. It’s chaos, utter fucking chaos, no-one knows what the fuck is going on, the truth is that Girona is not a big enough airport to handle this amount of traffic and they’ve lost control.
And we’re English, and Manchester United as well, so I suppose we should have expected to be fucked over.
I don’t sleep a wink. I brought a good, thick, easily readable book for the flight and I sit in a chair and read it through the night, Orley Farm by Anthony Trollope, which is now indelibly wed to that night. The hours pass with the alacrity of frozen treacle dripping. It’s insane. We’re not out for trouble, we just want to go home. You want us out of your country, why are you keeping us here?
The experience takes some of the short term gloss off the day, but at least it doesn’t sour me on Spain as an experience. But it’s daylight and then some before we’re called into a waiting room, to wait for ages, then ferried out to a plane that’s been stood there since 12.30am, which we could have caught at any time and gone home.
I’m a Solicitor, with my own practice. I’m tired, I’m miserable, I’m angry at the start-to-finish shambles our travel company have made. Andy’s pilfered the coach sign as a souvenir, so I borrow it, go to the back of the plane and, row by row, introduce myself as a Solicitor who plans an action against the travel company, get something, maybe £50? back off our tickets.
Rows and rows of people sign up, over 100 names and addresses, as I walk back to Manchester. It’s a strong number, and on a purely commercial level, it’s a chance for my young firm to impress over 100 new clients in one go: repeat business from 10% of them would be a substantial boost, plus word of mouth.
But we’re on the approach path to Ringway, and I’m in my seat. We go out east, turn round. I catch sight of my street, my house below, and then the long descent, the landing, the overdue exit from the airport, the taxi to Andy’s, retrieving my car and home for a shave and shower.
I’ve got to open my office, but first I want to get a set of newspapers. After all that messing around coming home, blurring the experience, it’s not until I step into a newsagents and take in that panorama of front pages that what happened really hits me, really and truly becomes real.
Once I reach my office and collect the post, I lock myself in. Normal service will resume on Friday and it’s going to be a busy weekend catching up, but first I spend two and a half hours typing up names and addresses and writing a comprehensive statement of the day before. These go off to my litigation partner at one of our other offices. He, being a lazy sod and a Bolton Wanderers supporter, lets the matter drift into oblivion after a couple of exchanges of letters, letting me down twice over: as a Partner in need of fresh clients that he’s, in effect, blown off, and as a claimant who got shitty service.
So that was it, from end to end. There were ramifications from that season that run on a long way, not least that, as an odd and unlikely twist, I was to meet the woman who would become my wife, but these things are part of the strain of that glorious year that is represented by Droylsden, not Manchester United.
With the exception of a testimonial game, which I attended in the company of my cousins from Canada and Australia, that was the last game I went to see United: I have watched them on television only, since. It was down to money, to begin with, and to the more intimate involvement at Droylsden, in very large part (with rare exceptions, with United you always felt that they’d really rather you sent the money but didn’t actually clog up the stadium by attending – just think how much outlay they could have saved).
But to end with the Treble, and to have those three minutes as the last I spent. I could not have designed a greater conclusion. How could it be topped? How could it even be equalled? If, one year later, United were 1-0 down in the Final in Paris, going into injury time, how could a repeat of what Teddy and Ollie did be so meaningful again? We’d be expecting it next time, and every time after.
No, I’d had the mountaintop. I’d had Everest, not even Scafell Pike, beyond which there was nothing. It could be my last match and no sense of loss, because mountaintops cast long shadows and in some ways I am still in the shadow of that moment, which I can summon up whenever I choose. Becksie, Teddy, Ollie!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
Who put the ball in the German’s net?
I know. I was there.


I’m something of a rarity among Lancastrians in that I actually like Headingley.
There are plenty of reasons not to, not least the preponderance of Tykes around the place. The playing area is surrounding by a concrete track, around which, throughout the day, endless numbers of folk of the White Rose County perambulate perpetually, halted only by stewards closing the barriers at alternate ends to keep them from walking behind the bowler’s arm.
So, if you want a view of the cricket uninterrupted by Yorkshire bodies, you must either take one of the glorified school-type chairs ringing the boundary boards, or must seek somewhere to sit with a little height.
Unfortunately, in the glory days of my regular visits to Headingley, this was limited to three places, the Football Stand, the Western Terrace and the top deck of the Winter Shed. And the Football Stand (which was named for how it was two-faced, backing onto the Rugby ground), was inside that half of the ground that was only accessible by Members, Yorkshire or Visiting.
(There was, I discovered by chance, a way around that restriction, as described in my novel Tempus Infinitive (https://mbc1955.wordpress.com/2012/10/03/tempus-infinitive-the-tempus-trilogy-book-2/), though becoming a Lancashire member in 1986 removed the need to sneak about).
The Football Stand was superb, and you could get yourself a seat directly behind the bowler’s arm at that end. As for the Western Terrace, which now rings with controversy at Test level, lies 90 degrees to the pitch, and is of such a low camber that, by the time you reach the highest row of seats, you are nearer to Bradford than to Leeds.
Which left me, at first, with the Winter Shed, high, exposed, with a glorious view, albeit from a widish long on/long leg position vis-à-vis the wicket.
Mind you, as the photo above demonstrates, it’s all changed now.
I’ve had a variety of experiences at Headingley, but one in particular stands out as especially outstanding. Given Headingley’s reputation as a bowler’s wicket, it seems utterly improbable that I should spend a day there during which 382 runs would be scored, in three successive unbroken century partnerships. Yes, 382 runs, in a single day of County Cricket, without a single wicket being taken. At Headingley! How did this come about?
This was, of course, taking place during a Roses Match, there being no other game below Test Matches that could lure me to Headingley. It took place over the 1st, 3rd and 4th August 1987, in the days when County Cricket was still all three day games. Lancashire scored 356 all out in their first innings and Yorkshire, beginning their reply on Monday, had reached 125 when the second wicket went down in the middle of the afternoon session.
I was sat on the top deck of the Winter Shed, as usual, enjoying the sun, and a good, exposed tree-top level view towards the centre of Leeds. That’s how I picked up early on the clouds beginning to mass.
The ground was still in sunshine, but the clouds in the distance were merging into an increasingly dark mass, and they were drawing slowly nearer. The combination of approaching dark clouds and a clear, sunny sky overhead is a definite sign of trouble, and I decided to gather my things together and make a break for the Football Stand and the only realistic shelter in the ground if it started to pelt down, which I was convinced was going to happen with at most the next thirty minutes.
I walked around the concrete track, mingling with the Tykes, diverted to the Gents down the side of the Football Stand, quickly exercised the facilities and emerged out the other end into the Rugby Ground. I’d been here often enough to know what to aim for so it was a simple case of across and up, through the door (once the ongoing over at this end finished) and slip into a seat. Once you were in the charmed half-circle reserved for members, you were never challenged for a member’s card.
From here, I could no longer see the advancing cloud, but the sky above the cricket ground was getting increasingly dull, and I was congratulating myself on my fore-sightedness. And then it started. Big, heavy, single drops, splattering on the walkway, quickly turning into a continuous rain that had the Umpires halting play and signalling for the covers to come on, whilst the players started to disperse, rapidly, in the direction of the old Pavilion.
For this season only, the MCC were carrying out an experiment with leaving pitches uncovered during breaks in play. This had been the old way of things, and it had led to tense situations were the breaks were extended whilst the pitch dried sufficiently for play to resume, but came back as a ‘sticky dog’, a pitch on which spinners could work marvels, making the ball rear, spit, turn and misbehave in a way only possible on a drying-out pitch.
But for many years, breaks in play resulted in groundstaff racing out to cover everything in sight on the square: pitch, run-ups, the works. The result was play resuming much quicker after rain, but on blander pitches.
This season’s experiment was a hybrid. Run-ups etc. would still be covered, permitting play to resume quickly, but the wicket was left uncovered, to try to give the bowlers an old-fashioned chance.
And the rain came down, There was no thunder or lightning, not any that I recall, but the rain came down in a solid, unbroken wave, hard, heavy, sluicing, solid. I watched it in awe, as with horrible speed it took over the walkway, water rushing along it, one, two inches deep, as the fall far exceeded the capacity of Headingley’s drainage. Those supporters who had not been able to take shelter like me were trying to hunch under raincoats, with the rain turning the seats beside them slick with water. Others huddled in the limited shelter of overhangs, or under the Winter Shed stairs. It was a good, old-fashioned deluge.
And it ended after about thirty minutes, the rain abruptly turning to a trickle, as the storm cleared Headingley and moved away north. No longer swamped, the drains eventually conveyed away the copious surface water. The next question was when would play resume?
There was half the day left but, without even a halt for Tea, the Umpires took one look at the pitch and called play off for the day.
Thus we returned for the final day of the match, with Yorkshire on 168-2, Richard Blakeley and Kevin Sharp having already added 43. They batted on until declaring, having extended the score to 250. The undefeated Third Wicket partnership had added 125 runs
Lancashire started their Second Innings 106 runs ahead. With two full innings to play, the chance of a result was very slight, but with some fast scoring, it might be possible to engineer a target for a run-chase. The young Mike Atherton, still FEC, was promoted to open with Geehan Mendis and the pair ran up 180, exactly 100 to Mendis, runs before declaring without a wicket loss.
This set Yorkshire a notional target of 287 to win, but there hadn’t been the remotest sniff of a wicket in the day, everybody knew the game was heading to a draw as soon as the Laws permitted the acknowledgement, and at least one member of the crowd would have been bitterly disappointed if a Lancashire breakthrough had interrupted this quite unique spectacle.
And so batsmen’s averages continued to prosper whilst bowlers’ averages continued to be dumped on from a great height as this astonishingly blanded-out pitch performed to the last. Yorkshire duly racked up 102 runs for no wicket before the game was ended as soon as decently possible. To think that thirty minutes of rain should produce such a devastating effect.
Full days of First Class Cricket in which no wicket falls are very rare (except when it’s raining) and  those instances I can recall have been when two batsmen have resisted, or commanded, the whole day. That one innings might conclude without a wicket on the day and the next remain wicketless until the close seems at least possible, but three? Each celebrating century partnerships? Even cricket’s equivalent of Roy of the Rovers would jib at trying that one on.
It’s my only experience of a wicketless day, and it added a layer of charm and fascination to a day that would otherwise have been an exercise in tedium: pure cricket, played for the sake of delivering the ball, with no aim or end in sight but the eventual entropy of time: not that much fun to watch, to be honest. Instead, I watched an unlikely feat unfold.
And, as I said at the outset, for it to happen at the Batsman’s nightmare that was Headingley was the icing on an improbable cake for me.
It’s never happened since. When it did, I was there.

When New Order weren’t New Order

As a Joy Division fan, I was lucky enough to see the band perform live twice, given that for the majority of their effective career, I was living seventy miles away in Nottingham. I had barely returned to Manchester when dear old much-missed John Peel gave us the horrible news of Ian Curtis’s suicide.
Naturally, I became a New Order fan, and they were my favourite band for much of the Eighties, at least before they came under serious challenge on my discovery of R.E.M.
Being back in Manchester, I had far more chances to see the new band in concert, at various venues, from my first gig at the Haçienda in 1981, and my last, also at the Hacienda, in 1987.
That first gig was not, to be honest, the best of experiences. It was my second gig in as many days, the previous night having been taken up with The Nolans at the Free Trade Hall – and the Nolans were the better night.
But that was the only time I had to make that complaint, and perhaps it was something to do with the band still being in that early period of uncertainty when they were still cleansing their souls of the traits of Joy Division. From 1983 onwards, New Order were powerful and focussed, and at its best, their music was propulsive and overpowering when performed live on stage. It had a tremendous physicality to it that I’ve never experienced in quite the same manner from any other live band.
So the gigs racked up, and they were great fun every time: Salford University when the nascent Happy Mondays were in support, and you can hear my voice roaring on the bootleg when Barney announces they’re doing an encore because Man United have beaten Liverpool in the FA Cup Replay that evening, G-Mex for the eleven hour Festival of the Tenth Summer concert, finishing the day by inspiring my first and only indoor Mexican Wave.
Encores were always something to think about at New Order gigs. The band rarely did them, and most of the time, once they left the stage the house lights went on and it was up to you whether you chanced it and stayed, more in hope than expectation.
This was certainly so the night I last saw New Order on stage.
It was May 1987, back at the Hacienda again. The band’s fourth album, Brotherhood, was out, but not yet True Faith, which would break the commercial mode for the band. By 1989, New Order would have recorded Treatment, their most overtly dance music oriented album, and the first break in the continuity of my enthusiasm for their music.
But the gig was another stormer, from beginning to end. I had taken my usual position on the balcony, clinging to the front, overlooking the floor below. One thing I didn’t like was the band’s habit of not coming on before 11.00pm, meaning a finish somewhere about or after 12.30am. Add in the return to my car and the drive back to South Manchester, I wasn’t getting into bed until 1.00am, and getting up again at 7.00am to get ready for work.
This time it was 12.40am when they finished the last number and went offstage, the Hacienda house-lights coming up immediately. There was a buzz in the air from the gig. Some people drifted out, but the majority of the audience stayed, me among them. There were no indications – there never were – that they might come back, and it was late and I was tired and I had work in the morning, but I stayed. There was something in the atmosphere, something telling me to stay, that it would be worth it to me if I did.
So I hung around, dehydrated, clammy from the set, whilst nothing happened. Then, without a change in the lighting, or an announcement, the band drifted out again, plugged their instruments in and prepared to play an encore. It had been worth waiting.
It had been more than worth the waiting. The rush of chords, the insistence of drums were instantly recognisable and a cold thrill went through me: they were playing Love Will Tear Us Apart
I’d only once heard that song live before, at the Apollo, that Saturday night in 1979, supporting the Buzzcocks. To hear it again, by the only band who, in my mind, had the right to even think of playing that song, was an astonishment and a dream. I was there. It had happened to me, as it had for a tiny number of audiences over the past three years, as the band chose a solitary gig, near the Anniversary, to remember Ian Curtis. I’d got the bootlegs of those three instances, but now I was here for one.
But the strangest thing of all was the band. They were the same four people, dressed in the same clothing that they had worn during the ninety minutes of their set, the four who had gone off-stage more than five minutes ago, but they were no longer New Order. They weren’t Joy Division, but for the four or so minutes that they played that song, with Barney misremembering the words, but with that oh-my-god, so brilliant a riff that I had missed so very much in the hearing live, they were… different. It was if the song existed in its own zone, into which everyone that entered had to leave their selves behind.
And it was over. There wasn’t the voice in the world with which to scream my delight, my gratitude, my delirium at what had happened.
I went home, undressed, got into bed. It wasn’t a deliberate decision on my part not to see New Order live again: the chance just didn’t happen for long enough that my enthusiasm began to dim, my loyalties shift from Manchester, England to Athens, Georgia. By then it had become fitting that the last song I’d heard New Order play had been the only time I’d heard them cover Joy Division, and become something different in the process.
They had touched magic, and I was there.