For many older fans, including myself, this was a decade like no other.
It was 1972, and a mate at Christ Church Primary School in Heaton Norris, Stockport who I played footie with, alongside half the school it seemed, made me a “Dare”
He said, if I was at the bus stop on the A6 Wellington Road at 1 O’clock on Saturday we would set off together to Old Trafford to see United.
In those days life was relatively innocent, and although I was only 10, my parents let me go to many local places on my own, but there was no way they would let me go to Old Trafford. My Dad had a season ticket in previous years, but the building trade was in a bit of a slump and he had given it up.
So I started a lie that Saturday, which carried on for several years, telling my Mum that I was going to the park to play footie all afternoon.
My mate from school never showed up, undeterred, I caught the 192 to Lloyd Road, Levenshulme, bus fares for kids was just 2p however far you travelled, then the 94 which meandered across South Manchester passing close by the most appalling flats I had ever seen, the Crescents in Hulme, also known as the Bull Ring, before arriving at the Old Trafford bus stop, which was in fact about half a mile from the ground.
It didn’t take a genius to work out once I arrived that if I followed all the good folk wearing United scarves that I would find my way to the ground, once there I found the cheapest entry for a kid, 20p in the Stretford End Juniors and made my way inside.
I had no idea where to stand and I was there quite early, just after 2.00pm I think, I’m not 100% sure of our opponents that day but something tells me it was Ipswich Town, who were doing well at the time managed by Bobby Robson if memory serves.
The football however was very much a secondary diversion, the singing, the humour even the smell of the beer and burgers all created an intoxicating mix which once inside my brain has remained ever since.
The awkward thing for me was, in order to stand any chance of getting home close to my 5 O’clock curfew I had to leave the game 10 minutes into the second half, run like an idiot for the bus and take a minor telling off from my Mum for being 10-15 minutes late, before bursting into the living room and breathlessly asking my Dad if we had won.
I only confessed to these young adventures when I was 19 and my Dad had passed away, I was alone with my Mum and we had a bit of a heart to heart –a very rare thing in the Simpson household!
I seem to remember my Dad’s golden rule back in the 70’s was that I had to be shoulder height to him, in order to be allowed to go to a game, so I could see between the shoulders of the people stood in front. The problem was I was a bit of a short arse as a kid so it was about 1977, and I was 15 before I was “legally” allowed to go to matches with my mates!
In the Boardroom Louis Edwards spent the whole of the 1970’s acquiring by various means more and more shares in the club, by the end of the decade between the father and his son Martin, who had been rubber stamped as a Director of the club at the tender age of 24, the Edwards family owned 74% of the shares.
Martin Edwards took out a total loan of £600,000 to fund the acquisition and the first rights issues. Directors and shareholders were allowed up to 15% dividend, and not surprisingly this was paid out from 1980 onwards, when under rule changes directors were allowed to be paid.
Relationships between the Chairman and Sir Matt deteriorated rapidly not least as Louis had reneged on a promise to make Sir Matt’s son Sandy, a director of the club.
The overwhelming majority of fans could not give a hoot with regard to ownership and the running of the club so long as the team progressed and the manager had funds to buy players.
coverage was still in its infancy with Match of the Day and the ITV equivalent The Big Match, presenting highly edited highlights and only very rare live matches. The idea of games being moved to satisfy TV audiences was unthinkable.
Pay on the gate and eventually League Match Ticket Books along with Season Tickets were still affordable for the vast majority of those wished to attend, so much so that many of the Red Army became home and away regulars.
Season Standing Seating LMTB Season Ticket
1970-71 30p 75p £11 £14.50
1971-72 30p 75p £11 £14.50
1972-73 40p 90p £12.50 £17.50
1973-74 40p £1 £13.75 £19.25
1974-75 45p £1 £13.75 £19.25
1975-76 65p £1.30 £25.50 £26
1976-77 70p £1.60 £30 £32
1977-78 80p £1.80 £34 £36
1978-79 £1 £2.30 £42 £45
1979-80 £1.20 £2.70 £47 £50
As can be seen from the table above, provided courtesy of red11.org, the prices were relatively stable until promotion in 75/76, when season tickets in particular jumped a bit, the bottom line though is that whether standing or sitting watching the world’s greatest football team, well, in our one eyed opinion at least, was affordable!
Sir Matt stood down as Manager in late 1969 and one of his coaching staff Wilf McGuiness took over, but a classic lack of renewal and investment while United were at the top would ultimately cause a significant downfall none had foreseen.
Over the following seasons it was a manager merry-go-round with Sit Matt briefly back, followed by Frank O’Farrell and finally Tommy Docherty taking over in 1972.
The holy trinity of Best, Law and Charlton were ageing and it was left to the courageous and self-confident Scotsman to show the three United legends the door.
I was at Old Trafford for Charlton’s last ever appearance at the end of the 72/73 season and emotions were on open show for this great player, his last game away at Chelsea was even more heart breaking as it seemed that all the great Sir Matt had achieved in terms of playing staff at least, was now finally confined to history.
Dennis Law was sold controversially to Manchester City, and few from either club could forget the result of that decision 12 months later.
The metaphor of United being a barometer of the wellbeing of the country could scarcely of been more accurate, the club was relegated in 1974 and although the support averaged nearly 48,000 in the Second Division, Britain was in a near revolutionary state and the violence at away matches in particular was not always avoidable, it was becoming all too common place.
And yet despite all the tribalism and passion involved following your team, trust of those in charge to do the right thing was unquestioned by almost every fan. They were more concerned about having the right amount of tokens on their programme sheet so they could get a semi or even final ticket than they were about the less than ethical means by which some business transactions may have been carried out, or how capable the FA and their nemesis the Football League, were of governing the game and the new challenges fans faced simply watching their team.
Although the relegation was a huge shock to the Red army, they quickly embraced the new towns and cities that could and would be virtually taken over by the five or ten thousand regular travelling fans. With a few notable exceptions –Cardiff City springs to mind, no local team would seriously try to take on the marauding Mancunians.
It is probably fair to say that this was an evolving situation and what started as just random fans gathering in town centres in a haphazard manner gradually became more and more organised.
These were the day’s pre video, mobile phones and cctv, so if some of the travelling fans went with the explicit purpose of inter-city warfare, enjoying the adrenalin rush and running battles it was by and large without the fear of being caught unless you were stupid or unlucky.
For the vast majority at home matches in particular the problems of violence was a complete side issue and one that only concerned those who went looking for trouble, for this majority the enormous excitement of just going to the game was front and centre, as explained by Dave Cullen from Salford.
“For the first few years of my attendance at Old Trafford I would stand in a queue (Stretford End Juniors) from 12 noon onwards ‘getting excited’, then the gates would open at 1-1:30pm (can’t remember which) and the excitement grew as we inched forward. All the time, the smell of the nearby factory (don’t know if it was glue or what) reminded your nasal senses that you were at OT. Inside the ground and the viewing spot was claimed (as a short-arse, I had to make sure that I didn’t give enough space for a lanky git to get in front of me), the programme, and ‘Football League Review’ were read from cover to cover. The rest of the ground started to fill along with the increasingly loud choruses of songs from the Stretford End, some dying before getting going, the rest generating full, blooded backing from the wings (like where I usually stood, in ‘the gap’ next to the cantilever). The odd swapping of ‘duelling chants’ between different parts of the ground was heard, and even more noise when a decent opposition crowd sang their songs and the Stretford End tried to shout/chant it down.
By 2:30pm the teams were ready to be announced. Before ‘the addicator’ (as the original electronic scoreboard was known) was there, the teams were announced over the tannoy, to cheers and expressions of surprise for the Reds, and silence or boos for the opposition. When the scoreboard gave the teams there was an expectant wait for the higher numbers (7,8,9,10,11) to see if there were any big surprises, to be honest, it was only those numbers that we were really interested in
The excitement and anticipation continued to grow until 2:50pm, when all eyes were trained on the tunnel awaiting an eruption as the teams came out (either raucous cheers for the Reds, or boos for the opposition and referee/linesmen).
All of this was ‘normal’ even during the sad days of relegation and lower attendances. For the bigger games, there was an omnipresent noise level, the buzz, which continued irrespective of any songs and chants for at least 30
minutes before kick-off.
So … a goal (for United). All I can say is that it was met by absolute mayhem! Standing in or near a gangway (as I usually did), I would find myself falling forward down the terrace for at least 10 steps, then having to retreat, off balance, immediately back up the terrace before falling down and coming up again a few more times. In the bigger games there were definitely ‘man-hugs’ aplenty, with total strangers, as the passion flooded through the crowd.
The immediate reaction to a goal conceded was also standard … within 5 seconds the chants of ‘United, United, …’ would go up from the Stretford End followed by a roar of encouragement to get back into it. No matter how poor the performance, it was extremely rare for anything other than encouragement and backing to come from the Stretford End.
Even the half time scores going up presented the opportunity for roars of delight or groans of disappointment. Back in the day, the process of memorising the letters and teams from the programme in preparation for the updates on the old manual scoreboard really raised the tension, when the door was opened and the numbers put in before being shown to the crowd. I think that we lost something with the introduction of the electronic scoreboard (when it worked!) and, of course, the current days of ‘instant availability” has totally taken away that excitement.
For the big games it was a complete feeling of excitement from start to end with heightened senses”
Prior to relegation in 1974 things had become so bad for United that if a rare penalty was awarded then the Stretford End would immediately start chanting “Stepney, Stepney” as our long serving keeper and one of the last members of the European cup winning side of 68 was encouraged to make the long walk up to the opposing penalty area and more often than not score!
It was funny, but not a great compliment to the team mates around him.
Gradually under Tommy Docherty’s shrewd stewardship the old school was replaced with a new vibrant team with pace and that much loved basic requirement for many years at United, two wingers.
But all this came too late to save United from relegation and that memorable Derby against Manchester City. The record books will show that due to a very poor season, United were beyond redemption on that final day unless other results went our way, but ask a blue or bitter as United fans christened them, and they will tell you with absolute confidence that Denis Law’s instinctive back heel sent United down.
That was not factually correct, but since when have facts dictated any fans recall of history amongst the swirl of passion and emotion sending all rational reasoning into the junk folder!
That day I couldn’t make it to the game and was indeed playing footie in the local park, I raced to get home, as 12 year old kids we didn’t have anything as sophisticated as a radio to keep up to date with developments, as I burst into my living room the first images on the telly was the Stretford End in full voice singing “You’ll never walk alone”.
I assumed that by some miracle we had stayed up, the fans had invaded the pitch and the police were doing their best to maintain some kind of order when the person reporting the scenes said United were relegated.
I burst into tears and ran upstairs, how was this possible just 6 years after Wembley 68?
My Dad, I think it safe to say was not the most compassionate of people, his upbringing during the War had affected him like many of his generation, but he could see I was distraught and even though he had given up his precious season ticket that season, he promised to take me to some home games in the Second Division, as he thought it would be easier to get in and I was now 12, although still a bit on the short side!
He was never to know that I had been surreptitiously raiding his cash tin in his bedroom drawer to the tune of 50p or sometimes a whole £1 to fund my secret journeys to United for nearly 3 years!
Besides, once I was 13 I had a paper round so I had my own means of getting there and back, for me the 74/75 season was a real turning point and I saw more united games than ever and would try different parts of the ground for atmosphere.
One game my Dad did take me to during that season was the home game against Sunderland, who the previous season had beaten the hated Leeds United in the FA Cup Final, a major upset at the time as the great Revie team of Bremner, Lorrimer and Johnny Giles has threatened to dismantle all before them for the previous 5 or so years.
We went to buy tickets from the cricket club not far from Old Trafford, off a tout I think, either way we ended up in the Scoreboard end terrace which was seriously chock a block.
I can honestly say that for the best part of two hours I did not stay in the same place for more than a few moments as the crowd would surge in response to action on the pitch or as more fans pushed in from the back. I’m not sure what the official capacity was but we must have been over in that section at least.
If you look at videos of the game which we eventually won, you will see that the 60,000 packed in that day were loud and raucous as ever and there were a few Sunderland fans in the seats at the top of the main stand with a few sporadic fisticuffs going off now and then.
My Dad, who had suffered a slipped disc several years earlier and was on the slight side build wise, I could see, was close to panic due to the chaotic movements, over which no one had any control.
He was I remember very quiet on the car journey home and NEVER stood up at a game again, although I think we did go in the seats a couple more times that year.
Regardless, I had absolutely loved the Sunderland game and as most 12/13 year olds would have been, was cheerily oblivious to any potential dangers of crushing or the like. There but……..
As my 13th Birthday passed I got a paper round and I remember one of my deliveries was to a social club in Heaton Moor owned by Fairey Engineering. At this time the Doc, a Jock himself was turning United into a minor Scottish colony with great players like Lou Macari, Alex Forsth, Gordan McQueen, Martin Buchan from Aberdeen and several more.
It got to the stage that going to United was a bit like going to see the biggest pop group of the time, the Bay City Rollers, there was Tartan everywhere, with Saltire’s a plenty on the Stretford End.
As I approached Fairey Social Club I noticed they had amongst other flags a Gold and Red Lion Rampant flag, it was half six in the morning and …confession time, I shimmied up on to the roof…and nicked it. Sorry!
I was ridiculously proud going to the next United game draped almost head to toe in my 4ft newly acquired Scotland flag , I must of thought I was the Bees Knees!
After the five or six years of drastic downward spiral for United, to get back to winning ways, albeit in the Second Division was truly mesmerising with Steve Coppell and Gordon Hill rampaging down the wings crossing for Pancho Pearson to bury the ball in the back of the net, it has still got to be one of my all time highs watching United.
The” mammy” chant that we used to do for our centre forward bought from Hull for I think £100,000 was looking back, quite amusing —–wwwooaaahh Stuart……Stuart …I’ll walk a million miles for one of your goals by….Ssttuuuaaarrttt !
I was in the Stretty more often than not and we had a routine of going through the whole line up with a song for every player, before breaking out into a Celtic/Rangers shout off, then abuse those in other parts of the ground and quite often finishing it off with Middy, Middy Middy Middleton –SHIT!
I never quite got that one if I’m honest.
All this madness would take place before about twenty to three when our anticipation of the main event would go stratospheric, especially if a few away fans had ventured into the Scoreboard End.
It was always interesting to see the size of the away support, sometimes only a couple of hundred would occupy the Scoreboard terrace behind thick red metal fences, all the way up to perhaps half the end for one of the Cockney teams, with the Scousers and City sometimes having it all. More the merrier –better the hatred , better the passion. I was just a kid after all, and knew no better.
Both then and now I truly believe that the hatred and bile, as unpalatable and ugly as it is, is perhaps much better kept within the confines of a football ground where 99% of it caused absolutely no harm to anyone, other than middle class sensibilities.
People could get their anger and frustrations caused by any number of factors, most completely out of their control, out of their bodies and mind simply by shouting or singing their heads off.
Once the game was over all that negativity was left in the ether and most fans would go back to being rational friendly individuals, the steam had been let out of the pressure cooker!
The final game where promotion was I think already guaranteed was against Blackpool and I set off from home about 10.30 and arrived at the ground before noon, thinking it might be a bit busy.
I was wrong, it was mayhem, with huge queues everywhere as I circled the ground looking for the smallest one, I eventually settled on the Stretford Paddock, the turnstiles must of opened about 1.00pm and by 2.30 or so they were shut, it was a lockout with estimates of between 5-20,000 unable to get in!
Inside, the whole afternoon was electric, I think we won 4-2, but the game was almost a side issue, the fans were entertainment in their own right, a tremendous experience for anyone lucky enough to be there.
The following season United had a reasonable first year and ended up in the FA Cup Final against Southampton managed by a true gentleman in the form of Lawrie McMenemy.
Things did not turn out well and United lost, the next day I joined many thousands in the centre of Manchester outside the Town Hall where the “Doc” made what seemed at the time like a rash promise to go back to Wembley the following year and win it.
Around this time when United were a relatively ordinary team, the balance of power had shifted 30 miles down the East Lancs road to Merseyside and Liverpool, initially under the hugely likeable Bill Shankly, and then under Bob Paisley, they were going from strength to strength.
I knew as a fan that things were changing when towards the end of the season the Stretford End had as it had done for a the best part of 20 years broke into “You’ll never walk alone” and some had started to either not sing or boo the familiar anthem.
The more Liverpool were successful the greater the dislike of the song until we simply stopped singing it, the Toshack, Keegan, Emlyn Hughes team that the media had fallen in love with were a potent reminder of all we once had, and had now lost.
Needless to say the antipathy between the two clubs which had always been there was cranked up to a whole new level.
1977 and I was 15, United were playing exciting dynamic football and after winning another raucous semi-final at Hillsborough had made it to Wembley where Liverpool were expected to complete part two of an historic treble. In the lower section of what was meant to be the Liverpool End, thousands of United fans had found their way in.
In those days the FA Cup final was all about the regular fans having a huge day out, and when a deflected goal sealed a United victory thus denying an historic treble tens of thousands at Wembley and hundreds of thousands like me at home went ballistic.
The ill feeling between United and Liverpool went back as far as the industrial revolution and the fact that the finished cotton created at hundreds of mills in and around Manchester needed to travel via the docks at Liverpool to find the international markets, its final destination.
The dock workers and owners of the Liverpool docks ensured they absolutely maximised any revenue they could from this “fait a complis”, so when Peel Holdings in Manchester decided to build not only large scale docks on the Trafford/Salford border but construct a thirty five mile canal deep enough for ocean going ships to circumnavigate the Merseyside issue, resentment and bad feeling between the two cities escalated hugely.
A hundred years later this would escalate into bitter tribalism with both sides participating avidly.
In September 1978 I found myself in the grey concrete surroundings of Salford College of Technology. Although I had been bright enough to pass my Eleven plus exam and go to the last year of Mile End School in Stockport calling itself a grammar school , an all boys school, I did not have the will or perhaps wit to do well there.
As a result I had only passed 2 grade C’s at GCSE and my first option of studying Hotel Management had been taken off the table and I was offered a place doing City and Guilds in what was described as General Catering……I was going to train to be a Chef.
Something of a culture shock, the multicultural nature of Salford Tech was a long way from Stockport School Mile End which had from memory out of 1,200 boys, one black lad and one Asian lad.
There was something else I hadn’t really thought about, in those days cooking or cheffing was NOT a cool career path for a lad, so the class was about two thirds girls, a result.
After a few days of being very quiet one of the lads “Nesty “ I’ll call him started talking a lot about United, and he had some photographs from the pre- season tour of Germany including Cologne.
He said he had been over there with “the boys” and told a few tales about the fun and games that taken place.
He had some very smart clothes, Kicker and later Pod shoes’ jumbo cords Fred Perry shirts, for him and his mates the Denim and silk scarves were definitely a thing of the past. United had played St Ettiene a year earlier and fashion envy had struck a chord.
He started taking the piss out of the idea that singing “Your gonna get your fuckin heads kicked in” from a hundred yards away on the Stretford End was pretty meaningless, he had a point!
And so my education about the other side of watching United started, if you are 16 or seventeen and your eyes get opened all of a sudden to a world you did not know exist, it is hard not to be curious.
For clarity I never really became one the boys,or ICJ as they became known, I just hung on to the coat tails of those bigger and braver than I, and enjoyed the buzz.
This book is not about the violence, but it is a part of the experience of being a United fan that sometimes in those days was inevitable, especially if you watched United away, so I will share with you just one day when I was very happy indeed, to make it home in one piece.
Firstly though, this is the tale of the exact same day from a different pair of eyes.
Bob –a Whalley Range Red, in his words.
“The buzz of the semi v the Liverpool in 79 at Goodison always stands out. I’d been to the first game (2-2) as a cheeky 16 year old and there was carnage outside Maine Road as hundreds of reds (and a lot of blues) got together to destroy anyone who spoke in that stupid accent. They were planning revenge before the train even limped out of Manchester that night.
Four of us got the train from Victoria feeling bullish but not daft enough to take scarves. I seem to remember thinking this was it, on and off the pitch. I had been buzzing all week for the midweek game. I’d been asked to leave school at 15, so was knocking about with older lads (17-18) and we went down on our own earlier in the day.
The day in Liverpool was ok, didn’t see anything of note. We drank in town and got a taxi to Goodison. Fuelled by beer our excitement was getting the better of us as we approached the walk to the ground.
Shit, the place was swarming with mickeys looking to swoop on anyone looking vaguely Manc!
I remember feeling exhilarated but worried. The four of us vowed to stay together and our leader (RIP) said if any of them came to us he would smash him and we’d then leg it to the turnstile. Adrenaline was pumping and we must have looked like rabbits caught in headlights as we got to the ground. Anyway, we got in without a peep. The game itself, well, to this day that goal is a standout moment for me. Forget the 99 years, the other finals etc, only our first Premier League trophy comes close for me to the feeling it generated.
After the game, well, that was different.
The four of us were all split up and I guess we all thought the same, every man for himself getting back to Lime St. As soon as they opened the gates to let us out the initial cheers of UNITED soon died down. There were skirmishes everywhere that you looked and it was hard to see who was who in the dark. Nerves were all over the place, but I also recall the excitement of walking amongst the enemy towards where I thought the bus would get me back to town.
I saw a bus heading in the right direction and amongst the throbbing mass waiting I barged my way on. Right behind me a scrap broke out with 3 or 4 lads hitting a lad on his own, screaming and punching him. He fought back but was pretty battered. He did get on the bus and sat by me. We didn’t speak but I winked to acknowledge him.
On the bus some lads who had seen the fight came to him and said he was getting it when he got off on his own.
I said to him, you’re not on your own, and the journey to town was nervous but no one touched us.
The memory and joy of the game had vanished by now and all I could think of was getting into Lime St and on a train home.
As we got into town and I recognized St. Johns, me and my new mate tried to get off, but these twats around us had anticipated this and started all they could to stop us and tried a few sneaky slaps. We got off eventually and they jumped off after us and we were chased about ½ mile to the station where there was hundreds more of the bastards all over waiting for any reds! We ran past the station to the side entrance with about 7 lads now chasing us. We were knackered but not stopping.
We made onto the concourse and there were police all over who were happy to slap any United fan who approached them for no reason. We just stood around them till our pursuers gave up. By now more and more reds were arriving and the mickeys weren’t so keen to try picking people off.
After what seemed like the longest night we boarded the Manchester train and I met up with my mates back in Manchester who all had similar tales to tell.
Great excitement for a 16 year old. (This story is cut short as shit loads more happened that day).
From that day on every away day with United was fun, exciting and usually had some sort of fighting involved. At times it was a bit scary, but generally we marched into towns all over the country en masse and only a few came close to challenging our pomp.
Leeds, Millwall, Arsenal, Spurs, Everton, many others were always places you had to have your wits about you, but it was such a buzz for me personally as a 16 year old entering a mans world.”
I had also been at the first semi- final at Main Road, but as usual I was one step behind, certainly in the fashion stakes, I still wore a Levi jacket and amongst all the shenanigans pre match I probably stuck out because of it –but it shouldn’t of been a problem.
As kick off neared, Nesty and I tried desperately to blag a ticket, but it became clear that we were struggling, the game kicked off, when, as we made our way down one of the infamous ginnel’s, or passageways for southern readers, I guy offered us two face value tickets, great, but they were for the Liverpool part of the Kippax!
Undaunted we went in, desperate to see the match and keep our mouths shut, naturally, however my early 70’s throwback denim stood out in one mickey’s memory, and we were immediately sussed.
I tried to blag that I was from St Helens hence the lack of scouse in my accent, but almost immediately United scored, we both pretended to curse and then with a wink started to make our way to the back of the stand, within seconds half a dozen lads were chasing us, baying for blood.
Thank god the barriers separating the two lots of fans were relatively low and we were able to vault over them and once our fellow mancs were convinced we were united, safety was reached.
The return leg was for me the worst I ever saw –although I didn’t travel to as many places or as often as many other reds, so cannot comment on their experiences.
The journey to Goodison was by train then a large police escort walking us all the way through the valley, but there were hundreds of us and so it was a bit edgy but not too bad.
MAYHEM AND MADNESS. Then reality set in.
The singing as we left the ground died out almost immediately.
There were hundreds of lads waiting outside and we knew there was only one way to get back to Limey and that was to stick together, I spotted a well known lad from Gorton, with a decent group of 15 or 20 and going by their reputation thought it was a very good idea to stick pretty close to them.
It was kicking off literally every few yards, and the police were either unwilling or unable to keep the groups apart.
About half way back, a biggish scouser with a crew cut walked right into the middle of the group and offered anyone and everyone out-he was laughed at and ignored, which only went to wind him up even more –he was warned on several occasions, and carried on his antics 10 or 15 yards behind us, when next minute there was a scream of agony –he had pushed his luck too far, another of several dozen who would be visiting A & E that night.
We half walked and half ran all the way back to Limey with multiple attacks countered, I must of seen a dozen or so badly beat up United and Liverpool/Everton fans that night just lying at the side of the road, Liverpool and Everton had joined forces for sure, the sense of relief on making it to the platform at Lime Street was palpable with everyone checked if their mates had made it, as most fans had got split up in the chaos.
It was a night to remember,I had been at 17, both terrified and exhilarated in equal measure and for the next five or so years many scrapes were had or narrowly avoided, until an incident in the mid 80’s convinced me enough was enough and it was time to leave the edgier side of football behind.
Today as I type, the 21st January 2016 some shocking news came through, the death of Coco.
Gary Anthony Thompson aka Coco RIP
Around the same time as the semi final, I had made another slightly less dramatic trip to Goodison for a league game with Everton.
Peer pressure I guess you would call it nowadays, but Nesty had asked if I fancied going to a night game at Everton and he said we would be travelling not with the majority of straight goers, fans, surrounded by the police, but with the boys on a different train from Victoria.
I met a few interesting characters that night, from the lad who would constantly ask “ Have you got 10p mate” an innocent enough question if you were naïve. The problem was if you said yes he knew you were a soft touch and he would up the anti of what he could blag off you.
Then a large mixed race lad appeared in a very expensive looking leather jacket who was clearly one of the main lads, Coco had arrived.
Intriguingly by the time we had arrived at Lime Street he had an even better looking jacket on, someone had been taxed!
I cannot remember much about the game but on leaving the ground many of the original crew of a hundred or more had inevitably had got split up and there was probably only about 30 or so of us who stuck together.
The plan was to get a bus back into town, but Everton were waiting, at least a hundred of them and they were keen that we didn’t make the bus.
Insults flew from either side and they were just about to avoid the few coppers knocking around and have a go when Coco charged across the road straight into them, and put two or three straight on to their backs, the coppers dived in, he was only a few feet away when he said the immortal words “Whats the matter officoh, I was only getting me programme out of me pocket and me hand slipped” in his nasal broad mancunian.
We all laughed but also made the most of the mayhem by charging through the gap Coco’s programme mishap had created and made a dash for the bus.
Most if not all of us made it back in one piece that night, and time and again through various means Coco would show quite how game he was, and often save his fellow reds from a kicking.
Perhaps older reds will eventually get organised and put down on paper many more of his escapades, but the only other one I will share for now was the Chelsea away trip of 78/79 when United were banned.
I was not there, so this is heresay and quite probably a bit innacurate, but it has gone down in United legend.
After various other problems at United games that year and in truth for the last decade the authorities had decided to ban all away support for the Chelsea /United game, never the less somewhat inevitably the lads had decided they were going, exact numbers are hard to say but between 100-200.
As the tube pulls in to either Edgware Road or Fulham Broadway it becomes clear that a large Chelsea firm are on the platform waiting. The tube driver wisely refuses to open the door and the two sets of lads scream abuse at each other, at this point Coco has had enough, takes a Fire Extinguisher out of its cradle and smashes it through the glass doors before launching himself straight after into the baying mob, reports about what happened next vary, especially if you ask a red or a Chelsea fan, but it is fair to say this secured Coco’s position as one of, if not the main lads of United’s soon to be renowned ICJ (Inter City Jibbers), later to become the MIB (Men in Black)
As a last tale and direct from todays reissued forum is how Coco’s immaculate (usually) sense of style could sometimes work to his advantage
Courtesy of “cockers”
“Some of the gear he wore was pushing it, it has to be said. My abiding memory is on Euston Road, early 00’s or late 90’s, it going off everywhere, I think with West Ham in the Euston flyer.
Police vans came from nowhere and everyone walked swiftly away from the scene of the crime. A couple of police dived into the throng and grabbed Coco and pulled him away.
They explained to him that he was surrounded by Manchester United football hooligans and that they would get him away from the area, thinking that his foppish garb, complete with manbag and umbrella meant he could not have possibly been involved in the preceding shenannigans.
Little did they know that he’s been leathering cockneys with his beautiful umbrella thirty seconds earlier.”
An incident which at the time received little if any media attention would sadly act as a warning for a tragedy on huge scale ten years later, and change British football forever, if not for better.
Prior to the infamous semi- final ties against Liverpool, United had played Spurs away at White Hart Lane and I had managed to get a ticket.
TV reports said that some gates were locked 75 minutes prior to kick off with nearly 52,000 crammed inside.
I got into the ground just after 2.00 but it was packed solid already, I couldn’t understand quite why it was so full, then the guy next to me explained that him and loads of his mates had paid the guy on one of the turnstile cash –I think about a tenner, rather than using official tickets and had been clicked through.
This may or may not be true, I do know that on at least two or three occasions I had done the same, once word had got round at various grounds that one of the turnstile operators was bent.
So it is easy to argue that we the fans were partially to blame for the fact that by 2.15 the lower terrace was so full that I was getting crushed..and scared. Soon afterwards the United fans in the upper section who could see quite how bad it was were putting their hands down and pulling people up into the top section, by the dozen.
It was no good I could not see a thing I was getting tired from fighting for space to breathe, I jumped up to grab an arm offering assistance to rescue me from this chaos …when another huge arm grabbed my shoulder and a copper said words to the effect of, your nicked!
I was taken through the ground to a Sargeant who asked my name and address, given a caution and thrown out behind the main stand straight into the midst of the Spurs fans.
I was determined to get back in, if memory serves I did the old thumb nail fold trick!
As we entered the ground first time the end quarter of the ticket which had been partially perforated was handed in and we kept the rest, so, as I was to do on two subsequent occasions at Wembley I simply folded over the opposite quarter and using my thumb nail ensured it was well folded, I then tore the first quarter of an inch.
Once at the turnstile and this must have been later on with most reds already inside I played the fool and as I breathlessly went through said which bit do you have mate, the big bit or little bit –little bit he helpfully replies with that I tore off the rest of the fold handed it over and was through before the guy noticed…if he even noticed at all.
The game was a 1-1 draw with Spurs easily the best in the first half including a stonewall penalty for them not given by another referee who wanted the limelight, Keith Hackett.
In the second half United sprung to life and were unlucky not to grab a winner, I ended up at the railings nearest the shelf and hundreds of coins rained down on us throughout the match, to little effect fortunately.
So a potential life threatening situation was narrowly averted more by luck than judgement, fans had become a victim of their own actions arguably, by finding their way in by any means, particularly a greedy employee on a turnstile, resulting in totally unsafe numbers in a standing pen.
The authorities be it the media, the FA, or the police had all come to regard fans as sub human, to be treated literally like animals.
Rather than ensuring the safety of fans who simply wanted to watch a football match by correctly managing any given situation they allowed chaos on numerous occasions, sadly a decade later the inevitable happened.
It was a classic chicken and egg scenario, did the fans act like animals because they felt as though they were treated like that, or did their mob, tribal behaviour of the past decade cause the establishment and authorities to sanction their appalling treatment.
Football was to go on wrestling with this dilemma, creating ever more secure, caged environments for another decade until finally the perhaps inevitable happened.
The trust between the fans and those governing the game in the late 1970’s and continuing for the next decade would evaporate completely, the people’s game was moving out of control on a pathway to disaster.