Sunday Watch: The Class of ’92


I think it’s safe to say that this is more one for me than most of you. The Class of ’92 is a 2013 documentary focussing on the remarkable – oh, soddit, let’s not go all profesional and neutral here, let’s say incredible – sextet of youth team players who almost simultaneously became first team players for Manchester United in the years 1995/6 and who were the heart of the team that won the unique Treble of League, Cup and Champions League in the same season in 1999. This is another of those DVDs that I bought quite some time ago but which I’ve never found the right time to watch. It’s the extended edition too, running nearly two hours instead of the original ninety minutes, with no inkling whatsoever where the additional material has been interpolated.

It’s about, in alphabetical order, David Beckham, Nicky Butt, Ryan Giggs, Gary Neville, Phil Neville and, my favoiurite player of all time, the Giger Genius, Paul Scholes. It’s about what made them stand out amongst a generation of young footballers that included players as good as and better than them, but who lacked the drive, the determination, the internal discipline to be footballers, to play for the club they all grew up supporting, and for their country. It’s about the common, utterly working class backgrounds of each boy, the East Londoner Beckham a product of Leytonstone and Chingford but no different in his formation from the five Mancunians, who came from working class districts in Manchester: Salford, Bury, Middleton and Gorton.

It’s about their experiences in breaking through and the wonderful, natural, cohesive respect, affection and admiration each of the six has for the others, both their abilities and their personalities. Gary and Phil Neville are brothers, but all six are ‘brothers’ to one another. It’s about male bonding, in a shared, mutually desired enterprise, an easy, non-toxic appreciation for one another.

And it’s about the years they shared together in the red and white of Manchester United, their parts in the Double Double on 1996 and the film is structured around the Treble year of 1999 – Ryan Giggs’ incredible goal in the semi-final replay against Arsenal that took ten seconds to make him immortal, Gary Neville’s ‘left-foot-hoick’ that set up the goal that won the League, Paul Scholes’ pass and goal that won the FA Cup, and finally David Beckham’s two corners that won the Champions League in Barcelona, my first visit to a foreign country and my last as an active United fan going to games (how could it get any better?).

It’s about United’s part in the changing times, the culture of the Nineties, the shift of emphasis from Liverpool to our city, not just in football but in our musical culture – Madchester, the Stone Roses, Happy Mondays, Inspiral Carpets, Oasis – the overthrow of the dead hand of Tory Government, the Manchester Bomb and the beginnings of a wholesale regeneration of Manchester, all by our own hand, without the aid of Tory Government, indeed, one suspects, against its wishes.

And it’s about me, though I appear nowhere in the story, except in those big three games at the end of the 1999 season, one in the mass of United fans at, successively, Old Trafford, Wembley and the Nou Camp, but it’s about the time when I was an Old Trafford faithful, a True Red. It’s about seeing all of these six players making their home debuts and watching them turn into a phenomenon, a phenomenon that Gary Neville, sadly, can never happen again. Six working class kids, products of tough areas, brought up by tough but fair parents to understand hardship, coming together at the club all support and dream of playing for, and coming through together. I think he’s right, and if he is we’ve lost something we could do with.

The story is a mass of memory. Choosing it to watch today was, largely subconsciously, a badly-needed corrective to the events of the last seven days. A week ago, the news broke of the proposed and utterly despicable European Super League, with Manchester United one of the leading lights. It collapsed with almost comic speed, though punishment has yet to be visited on the participants, and that should be strong punishment, a righteous kicking. My relationship with the club I’ve supported for 42 years is now fractured, though my instant reaction to the news was that it was broken, completely. Where it goes from here, nobody yet knows, because you can bet your bottom dollar the bastards haven’t given up for one second.

But I needed to be reminded, and on a visceral level, of just what United in the Nineties were and meant, and not just to me only. The Champions League Final is one of the three most intense events of my life (the top two are more personal). The Class of ’92 contains all those memories but, in its intimate and honest discussions among the players brought it back to me at the same level of my near-simultaneous enthusiasm with Droylsden, where the football wasn’t in the same elevated plane, but you could sit and talk with the players in the bar afterwards, and travel to away matches on the team coach, and everyone was much closer for it.

As Steely Dan once put it, those days are gone forever, over a long time ago. Woe, yeah.

We gotta get out of this place

The relaxation of lockdown conditions opens up a number of possibilities for the stir-crazy, including the ability to get on a train and go somewhere for no more reason than to come back again. I have been having a play on British Rail’s Journey Planner, looking at prices and timetables and things that are clearly affordable.
Days out to places like Stafford or Lancaster. I could do York for just over £30 or London for £94… well, maybe not that. Then there’s the obvious destinations: Windermere for £16.20 on two singles, Penrith on the same basis for only £18.60 if I set off from Piccadilly at 06.26am (and £25.40 if I wait till 8.00am).
To put it plainly, I have options. In the past fourteen months I have only once gone further than Manchester City Centre. Anywhere that is not Manchester City Centre, or more confiningly Stockport, suddenly takes on a massive appeal. Just to be somewhere else, see something else. Especially if it happens to be a Lake, and mountains.
Naturally, the major question is, should !? I haven’t gone through the past year in complete safety without being sensible from day zero. Before I take off to look at the grass on the other side of the fence, I should wait and see the impact of the new conditions. Knowing the lot out there, stupidity is going to play an important part in the reaction to even limited relaxation of the rules. I’m expecting infections to go up again.
And given that I have my second COVID-19 vaccination booked for Saturday coming, it’s going to be the 24th before I could even consider going anywhere. Time enough…

Our Esteemed Lieutenant: Yaphet Kotto R.I.P.


It never ends, does it? There’s always another one, taking away another piece of all those things you welcomed, those highlights that mark the different stages of your life. Between 1991 and 1997, Yaphet Kotto played Gee, Lieutenant Al Giardello, in Homicide: Life on the Street, one of the very best television series ever made. Gee was the Shift Commander for Detectives like Frank Pembleton and Tim Baylis, John Munch and Stan ‘the Big Man’ Bolander, Mike Kellerman, Meldrick Lewis, Kay Howard and Laura Ballard, big, thoughtful, smilimg, effortlesly in chaege of one of the most difficult jobs you can play. And he was superb, just as they all of them were superb.

And now he too has passed, aged 81. The firmament dims yet again. Where are the people coming from to stand beside him? Not replace him, or surpass him. But stand on the level that Yaphet Kotto stood, to make the memories for the future.

Night falls far too fast these days

Peter Lorimer R.I.P.

He was one of the players of my time, and even though he was one of the enemies, a Leeds United player through and through, I honour the passing of Peter Lorimer, the man officially recorded as having the hardest shot in football. Isn’t it ironic though that the thing I remember most from his career was a shot that was saved? A miracle moment in the 1973 Cup Final, Second Division underdogs Sunderland leading the mighty Leeds, holders and powerhouses, one of the very first teams to take the field with a tream consisting of eleven Internationals: Bremner loops the ball to the far post, Trevor Cherry hurtles in with a spectacular diving header, Montgomery twists back his body, dives to produce a two-handed parry that drops at the feet of Lorimer… and Montgomery comes up from the ground to block the ball, diverting it against the bar and out. As one, the entire Cup Final watching population awards the Cup to Sunderland, because if Leeds didn’t score there, never would they score. And so it was.

If it seems harsh to rememvber Lorimer for a miss, that only a Manchester United fan would think that right, don’t take it that way. Peter Lorimer did nothing wrong. It’s just that in that split second of getting it all right, he can up against a player who got it all better than right.

That save will last forever. Peter Lorimer is an imtrinsic part of it. Like Malcom Nash, his name will live on. Immortality doesn’t come the same way every time. And he had enough in the rest of his life to be honoured. Another good man gone. Even if he was Leeds.

One Sunny Afternoon in Old Trafford

I’ve just spent the last thirty or so minutes on YouTube, reliving something I’d all but forgotten that happened thirty years ago.

It was, I think, a Sunday afternoon, bright, sunny, Old Trafford packed to its then much smaller rafters. It could have been a League match for which this was a prelude, but the more I think on it, the more I’nm convinced that there was to be a full Testimonial Match for our beloved Sir Matt Busby.

It was prefaced by a seven-a-side game, United versus City, but a veterans game, played on a section of the ground, from eighteen yard line to eighteen yard line, about half the width of the pitch. United turned out Alex Stepney, Paddy Crerand, Billy Foulkes, Nobby Stiles, David Saddler, Brian Kidd… and the legend, George Best. Seven of the immortal eleven from that night at Wembley in 1968.

Of course it was slow, leisurely, without any of the intensity of a Derby game of that era, except perhaps for Mike Summerbee, on City’s side (thank God they didn’t select Mike Doyle). The skills were there, but not the energy levels, nor the accuracy of daily practice. But we in the crowd took it seriously, enough to boo every touch from a City player. And of course, whilst there were only two fouls in the game, they were jokes in their way, and both were from Nobby. Who else?

It was all done according to what was proper. City went 2-0 up, United stormed back to take a 3-2 lead, City equalised with the last kick. Honours even.

I remembered none of it, only that it had happened, and that I was there, and that it was the only time I saw George Best play, in the flesh. He was full-bearded and getting stout around the waist, and he had none of that pace you can see in those other clips, the young Irishman, El Beatle. But by God he was still George Best! I never got to see any other of the European Cup-winning team play in the flesh, not even Bobby Charlton, nor yet Denis Law. But even if he was only a flicker of himself, I saw George Best play and counted myself lucky.

As I am today, for finding that clip of a forgotten afternoon in Old Trafford.

Not just heroes, or legends…

The Exile Begins (Again)

Almost a year ago, March 17, 2020 to be specific, I told my then Operations Manager that I had Type 2 Late Onset Diabetes and was told to go immediately, go home and self-isolate for fourteen days. Which I did. When I got back, I was one of the first to be issued with a laptop to enable me to work at home. I declined. I had already learned enough to know that I couldn’t possibly work from home. My pokey little flat doesn’t give me room to create a workspace separate from the ‘homespace’, and leaving aside the security concerns associated with dealing with company data and customers’ personal information, my job involves taking calls from customers whose services are not working. Indeed, as a senior Agent shortly to ‘celebrate’ ten years service, I frequently take repat calls, customers whose faults have not been fixed at first insatance (or second instance, third, fourth…). As you can imagine, not all those customers are philosophic, reasonable or capable of recognising that you are on their side and not just willing but eager to help. Two or three of that kind of customer a day, and you need time and space in which to decompress, and a physical severence between work and home .

Anyway, I couldn’t cope with the distractions available within easy reach. I can function in the ofice and, what’s more, concentrate. At home, I would be crawling the walls in less than half an hour.

It’s gone ok since then. I miss the friends I haven’t seen in nearly a year, I miss the buzz and energy of people about. I am the only one of my team who works in the office, but I haven’t felt as if I’m part of a team for a very long line.

Not of this is meant as a litany of complaints, though it sounds lilke it. It’s a factual account. This is work. Only it’s not right now, nor for the rest of this month.

I was shocked to get home from work on Thursday and find a letter from the Council, telling me the NHS has added me to the Critical Patients List and I am required to Shield until 31 March. Shocked because I have managed well so far. I have not contracted COVID nor have I infected anyone that I know of. I was sent home from work for a fortnight in October because somebody on my floor had tested Positive for COVID and they were closing the floor for two weeks as a precaution, and to undertake a deep clean. Since the Monday before Xmas, I have been off ill once, for two hours, with a headache.

But I have not survived this far by kicking against the medical precautions that have been urged on us. Work agrees: I will be put on Shielding Status (that means at least one holiday I’ll get back because I’m not on Duty to take it). I have to obey instructions, if I choose to work it’s entirely at my own risk. Despite feeling a fraud, I have sorted things out at work, let them take a copy of my Shielding letter for evidence, and was back home even before my shift should have started today.

Being on my own with no Support group, I cannot perfectly Shield. I was only going to four places as it was: work, food shopping, the chemists, the launderette, and the furthest of those, the chemist, is only two miles away at most. For the rest of the month, that’s down to three.

The Exile observes his solitary, and rather pokey, kingdom and is thankful for the sheer volume of books, comics, CDs and DVDs that are his sole companions. Maybe I’ll even clean the place properly as well…

More Crap Journalism

In the Guardian today, author Namina Forna wrote about discovering fantasy through The Lord of the Rings and subsequently how disappointed and cut-off she felt on watching the film Trilogy and discovering that it featured no black or African characters. Maybe it’s just the fact that this is appearing in the Guardian, who have to find some means of denigrating any work of creativity that doesn’t conform to Twenty-First Century identity politics and sectionalism, but the piece comes over to me as critical of John Ronald Reuel Tolkien for failing to be more multi-cultural. I don’t think that’s meant to be Forna’s angle but under a sub-heading of ‘As a Black Lord of the Rings fan, I felt left out of fantasy worlds. So I created my own’ the slant is plain to see.

My first response was, what do you expect? This is a book written between 1936 and 1951 by a middle-aged Midlands white male who was a Professor of Ancient Languages at Oxford University and whose lifelong creative impulse stemmed from wishing to give Britain the kind of myth-cycle enjoyed by the Norse and the Greek. Is that a multi-cultural theme. It’s rather me, as a white European male, feeling excluded from the Afro-centric myths of Sierra Leone that she’s used to underpin her own fantasy fiction.

I wish her luck with her work. The thing about fantasy nurtured by myth is that it plays upon people’s unconscious attachment to those myth, upon the sense of resonance with things buried deep in our sub-consciousnesses. I would not expect Forna’s myths to necessarily resonate with me as I haveno cultural connection to the mythology of Sierra Leone or any other part of Africa. That she found resonance in Lord of the Rings probably indicates a broader mind than mine (I hope it doesn’t indicate that ashe may have been subjected, in the worse sense of the word, to European Cultural Colonial dominion).

But the Guardian‘s seeming incapbility to distinguish between then and now pisses me off more and more each week.

‘The Second Best Dan Dare Artist in the World’

It’s not been made the subject of any public announcement that I’ve heard or seen, but I’ve just learned from John Freeman’s ‘Down the Tubes‘ that Don Harley, Frank Hampson’s most skilled and reliable assistant on Dan Dare, has passed away earlier this week. It comes as no surprise as Harley was in his nineties – this year would have been the seventieth anniversary of his joining the team at Bayford Lodge – but any loss of a man so talented, and who brought imagination, colour, life and, most important of all, pleasure into the lives of so many diminishes us all.

It’s not to demean Harley that I quote Frank Hampson’s own words of tribute to him. There is no shame to being ‘The Second Best Dan Dare Artist in the World’ to Hampson himself. How many times, during the Man from Nowhere trilogy, did Hampson co-sign Harley’s name to his own as the artist of record? Who stayed on to assist Frank Bellamy? Who took over the strip himself, supported by Bruce Cornwell?

The good do not always die young, but they always leave a gap that cannot be filled.

Breaking the Wall of Sound: Phil Spector R.I.P.

He was 81, and he’s died from that supposedly non-existent virus, COVID19.

He was apparently one of the nastiest persons ever to enter a recording studio, and he ended upconvicted of murder, which seems to support the point.

His wife, Ronnie Spector, lead singer of the Ronettes, couldn’t wait to divorce him.

And no-one who ever heard a Phil Spector Wall of Sound production will ever forget how it made them feel.

Blog Stat

I started this blog without meaning to.

Once upon a time, nearly ten years ago, a bunch of us broke away from the Guardian‘s general comment thread, ‘What Do you want to Take About’, or Waddaya for short. We’d turned it into something of a social thread, especially on Friday nights. The Guardian didn’t like that and we saw the way the wind was blowing with som unsympathetic moderation, so we made the decision to jump before we were banned. To move to our own forum – which exists to this day with some of the original members – we each had to sign up to WordPress and we automatically received an amount of free blogspace.

I named mine Martin Crookall – Author for Sale because I had no intention of using it as any kind of blog other than the desultory, indeed only promotion of the books I had written, and would go on to write, self-published via the then handy and convenient

From the very start I was an administrator on our forum. I had the Monday slot, opening the daily thread. Needless to say, before too long, after we’d all worked out how to import photos, I put up one of the Lake District, my favourite ever shot, of Scafell Pike and Ill Crag rising above Upper Eskdale, with a short paragraph explaing where and what this was. It became my theme: every Monday a Lakeland scene and a short, but slowly growing longer, essay in explanation.

Unfortunately, things don’t last forever. Details are unimportant. Something happened in contravention of the only serious rule we had, aimed at me. I canvassed my fellow admins but found I did not have the majority opinion with me. I resigned as an admin, and took a break that shortly afterwards became a breach.

I still had more photos and essays I wanted to publish but I no longer had a venue. but I had a blog…

That’s how it all started. I’m writing this short piece to celebrate a stat I never envisaged because I never intended to write a blog. I used to celebrate anniversaries but, being idiosyncratic, I would number these in ‘Nelson’s: 111, 222, 333 etc. After 999 that became impossible to maintain and I stopped checking my Stats in that aspect. This little reminiscence is to celebrate that this is now the 3,000th post on my unintentional blog and to say thank you to those who read, not just the pleasurable number of regulars, and especially those who have become friends without me meeting you (excepting Charlotte, who I have met and who is as delightful as she looks) but everyone who has looked in here however occasionally, to the extent that in December 2020 I recorded the highest number of visitors in a single month, ever. And who, if they keep going as they are doing now, might just beat that this month.

Thanks people, guys, gals and everyone in between. Have I got another 3,000 in me? Only one way to find out.