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Manchester United Terry Christian

At school football cards became the new currency and status symbols . The first person to collect the full set of first division players would be hailed a hero , but with only ninepence a week pocket money I would be hard pushed to get the full set . that’s why we played cards for keeps .

There were three different games we played with our football cards . Topsy , where you would alternately flick your cards against a section of wall from an agreed distance and the first person to land one of his cards on top of another won all the cards that had been flicked . Another game was knocksy where each player would stand an agreed number of cards against the wall and taking it in turn would flick a card to try and knock the ones leaning against the wall down . The person who knocked the very last card down won all the cards thrown . Knocksy was a test of nerve as it could often use up all the cards you owned , but the winner was always assured of a big haul .

Like golfers have caddies a top card player would have picker ups . These were normally mates who supported one player or another who would gather the winnings from each game and would be rewarded with any swaps you won . Of course in an ideal world when one was going for the full set , one only played with ones twicers anyway , but necessity meant I’d risk all several times before I became the owner of that first set of football cards in our year complete with team photo cards which had the full checklists. I was amazed to find that the team photos were Manchester City ( the current league Champions in the 67-68 season ) and F.A cup winners 1968 West Bromwich Albion . To this day I remember those cards featuring players which were so common you couldn’t give them away , there was nothing more disheartening than seeing five tatty cards bearing Jeff Astle or Jim McCalliogs photo thrown into the one game of topsy . “Go on I’ll give you six Jim McCalliog’s for a Bobby Moncur “. ” No chance ” . Every day I lived and learned .

At this time I found the football cards far more interesting than the game itself . Going to actually see a football game was a promised future event like getting a bike or winning the pools . “When you’re seven Tony will take you ” was all my mother would say ; I knew it would be torture , he’d hold my hand purposely too tight squeezing it with his long bony fingers and pull my arm half out of its socket as he dragged me across busy main roads , call me cynical , but I knew the only way our Tony could stop me from wanting to go to every game was to make sure my first experience of a match was as big a nightmare as he could make it . Going to a real match could wait . In the evening after school I’d take my wad of football cards out of my pocket and go to our Tony for his unbiased opinion on each player . Our Tony who was fourteen had seen them all in action and would tell me according to his red eyed view of humanity . This way I heard that Ralph Coates of Burnley was a fine player , but Bobby Moore was shit ; Jeff Astle was good , any Manchester City players , Alan Oakes , Colin Bell , Glyn Pardoe , Francis Lee Mike Summerbee were rubbish ( and dirty , ugly and lucky into the bargain , probably why they won the championship above United that season by three points , a small detail my wise older brother omitted to tell me as he brainwashed me daily with his special dianetics of the die-hard red ) . Oh how I would memorize his every word to inform my class ,mates at school . Ron Davies of Southampton , good header of the ball , Allan Clarke Leicester City good player , Jim Macalliog Sheffield Wednesday hmm not bad , Emlyn Hughes Liverpool , a whinger . I couldn’t keep up with him though when Willie Morgan who was playing according to my cards for Burnley went to Man United for £100,000 , his form as a player suddenly improved because our Tony went from describing him as over rated to telling me he was almost as good as George Best and not even the baby Jesus was that good . Of course any and every Man United player was described as brilliant from Shay Brennan through Law Best and Charlton to the ball boys and reserves , they were united by being world beaters . People joke about treating football like a religion and I did sometimes get confused from the Busby Babes in Munich up in heaven and all the saints who survived it like Sir Matt Busby , Bobby Charlton and Bill Foulkes to George Best , they like Jesus had come down to make the world a better place to live in and good would always triumph against evil . And yes I believed . I believed in Jesus and the Virgin Mary , I believed that there was a Holy Ghost and you shouldn’t be frightened of him , Guardian angels , St Michael defeating Lucifer and that Manchester United likewise were triumphant and glorious and won every game they played eight nil . I imagined Everton’s Howard Kendal turning to Alan Ball after a ten nil thrashing at Old Trafford saying ” well done Alan we kept them down to ten goals “.

In the evening after school I’d go home and get my full set of football cards out , dividing them into teams . Joe Royle , Howard Kendal , Jimmy Husband , Alan Ball , Gordon West , Ray Wilson ; Everton . Wyn Davies , Iam McFaul , Jimmy Sinclair , Bobby Moncur , Newcastle United , Rodney Marsh , Ian and Roger Morgan , Tony Hately ; Queens Park Rangers . George Graham , Bobby Gould , Ian Ure , Bob Wilson Arsenal . and so on . Then the team photos , West Bromwich Albion F.A cup winners . 1968 and Manchester City , League Champions 1968 . This Manchester City League Champions lark confused me . Our Tony told me Man United were the best team in the world , the champions of Europe Wembley 1968 versus Benfica ( St Michael conquers Lucifer ; Man United 4 Benfica 1 and I believed Eusebio to be SATAN) . He’d even been allowed by my mother to take two days off school so he could go ; while I watched nonchalantly at home on T.V , never in any doubt whatsoever that the reds would triumph . After all it’s what all the adults told me would happen , United never lost , I was just surprised it took them all that time to score four and George Best hadn’t scored the lot . What worried me though was if United were champions of the world and the best , then how come they weren’t on my checklists .

The very foundations of my faith were shaking . Kids in school who forlornly taunted the United suporting majority that Man City were the champions and the best and the fact that they were on the checklist lent heavy weight to their argument …our Tony was wrong . In the all red Christian household a crisis was looming , I was turning into a City fan . I began gazing at my cards with Lee , Bell , Summerbee , Mulhearn , Tony Book and Neil Young and saying if you are truly the champions let me see . Besides our Tony was getting on my nerves and I liked City’s socks with the bit of maroon around the top and the maroon stripe on their white shorts.

I confronted my brother Tony . How come City are the champions if United are the best . He explained that City were lucky and dirty and how Francis Lee was always diving for penalties and how Mike Summerbee couldn’t run fast in case his nose got stuck in the ground . So who wins when they play each other ? I asked : and this is when I became suspicious , mostly United won , but sometimes , just sometimes Man City won .

Well I was devastated . Here’s God making the world and the baby Jesus and all that and our Tony had as good as admitted that City were the champions and sometimes they won and now was one of those times and they were the best and they were indeed on the checklist . So I cried to the heavens and I rebelled against God , Matt Busby and George Best as I had against Miss Rooney ; from now on I would Blaspheme in the presence of our Tony the new Trinity of Bell, Lee and Summerbee and their mate Ringo Starr out of the Beatles ( who I loved and wished as an older brother instead of our Tony )

I thought our Tony was a fountain of all Knowledge but he did torment me so I wouldn’t want to hang around with him and the older lads on the Street . That was understood , but it didn’t stop him annoying me . He was an adolescent and extremely moody . He had a pile of United programmes , and you could only look at them if he showed them to you and he did indeed go mad if he caught me with my hand in his drawer . But he was mean .

The previous Summer we’d been on our first family holiday . A week at Pontins in Blackpool .Accompanying us were my mothers sister Nancy and her husband and their two lads , my cousins Colin , who was a year older than Tony and his younger brother Christopher the same age as my older sister Mary . This trip to Pontins was going to be fun , but I knew despite free access to the swimming baths and paddling pool I’d be the victim of all our Tony’s niggling . Even in the paddling pool our Tony Colin and Chistopher would come in and kick water at me when it was time to get out , except one afternoon when Colin was smiling and put his arm round me as he spoke to Tony. ” Wow look at his muscles , and in those trunks he looks like Tarzan” . Now I was a worldly wise five year old , but I’d never had to cope with being told I was like Tarzan before , so I believed it . . I flexed my biceps for Colin who called our Tony over , nor did they laugh when they said I must be really strong to have such huge muscles . Colin faked an arm wrestle with me pretending I’d really beaten him . Hey this was good , if I was stronger than Colin now and I was only five then Tarzan had better watch for me when I grew up , a five year old from Old Trafford who could arm wrestle thirteen year olds into submission and do a decent Chinese burn on a three year old ( God bless my little brother Kevin) .Suspecting that nothing was afoot I bit straight away when they came to the point of this conversation . Pontins were holding a Junior Tarzan contest for the under sevens and not only was I to be their representative , but I was going to win . For days I kept flexing my biceps refusing to wear anything but my swimming trunks and grimacing as only a true apeman can . This wasn’t show business this was serious , I was Tarzan .

On a sunny afternoon I was taken to the main ballroom on the Pontins site and lined up with a bunch of kids my age and younger who were all dressed in their Sunday best . I had my swimming trunks on beneath short cream trousers and a brand new light blue short sleeved shirt with pink and white bordering on the collar and pockets , in fact my Sunday best . But hey , no way would it be staying on , I’d be out there under the lights , stripping off and letting out such a Tarzan like scream that every animal in the vicinity would stop in it’s tracks before fleeing in terror . Then some over perfumed female in a blue coat gave me a large card with a number on and with the rest of the kids I was led across the stage as the announcer asked for a big round of applause for ………. all the children entering the Junior Prince contest .

“JUNIOR PRINCE ! ” The shame of it . To my mind the very word Prince meant some tarted up ponce in a little Lord Fauntleroy suit who played with their sisters and liked it , all dollies and tea sets , the kind of people who scornfully brought to mind the sort of person who appeared in our Mary’s Bunty comics . I’d never felt so humiliated in my life ( in retrospect , the shape of things to come ) but it was one of many incidents which fuelled my young cynicism of the world ; and as far as our Tony was concerned , deep inside I thirsted for vengeance . , my time would come .

My guardian angel was in and our Tony’s out when I discovered the Typhoo tea offer . This involved cutting out twelve picture tokens of footballers off the empty tea packets and sending them off for a big card board colour photo of a football star of your choice . Already adorning our wall were football pictures of Bobby Charlton , George Best and Dennis Law . It was after a visit to my Aunty Katy’s when I saw that her husband , uncle Charlie had Typhoo tea pictures of Colin Bell and Francis Lee on the wall that I determined to hi-jack our Tony’s monopoly of the tea tokens and get a couple of photos of my own on our bedroom wall . Maybe my uncle Charlie had poisoned my mind ., but he used to give us two bob each when we went visiting and he was at least telling me the truth when he said that City were the champions . Tony had shattered my illusions , so I decided at least on the home front , that I’d become to all intents and purposes a City fan .

After what seemed like an age of turning around and asking my mam why she couldn’t drink more tea , I had twelve tokens to send off . After this purgatorial phony war my first ammunition arrived in the form of a large brown envelope addressed to Master Terence Christian . Inside a photo of Colin Bell . , the anti-Christ to our Tony .Immediately a drawing pin was demanded and Colin Bell became the first non Man United player to adorn our bedroom wall or any wall for that matter in the Christian household . To make matters worse I then recruited my little brother Kevin who was nearly four into the plot . I told him how City were the champions and if our Tony was a United fan , me and our Kev would be City fans and get all the Typhoo tea pictures of City players , Neil Young , Mike Summerbee and Francis Lee to join Colin Bell on the wall and we’d drive Tony mad . This driving our Tony mad was the whole point , especially as I wasn’t even that knowledgeable about football’s crazy rules . In retrospect my propaganda job on my younger brother Kevin worked so well that even today , raised in Old Trafford and having spent his formative years at Catholic schools , young Kevin Patrick is still as loyal and as bitter a blue as he became the day that picture of Colin Bell was exhibited on our bedroom wall . Now as far as Tony was concerned that wall was leased from the room’s owner , i.e him , and he made life very hard for young Kevin and myself . The fact that Kevin called football , kick kick and cornflakes Lorlakes and Father Christmas Father miss-miss must have helped his painless conversion to the boys from Maine Road . Of course our Tony tried vainly to get our Kevin to do a U-turn from blue to red , but he was having none of it . Personally I think he was a bit frightened of that Bobby Charlton picture and the fact Colin Bell had a full head of hair and didn’t give him nightmares eased him into the trauma of being a bitter blue-nose for life .

City were over the other side of Moss Side from where we lived , and ninety percent of the lads at school were Manchester United fans . So I became a City fan at home to annoy our Tony but at school I would carry on being a United fan ( with a sneakingly silent regard for City ) .At this point Tony changed tack and started trying to get into my good books . First he took me swimming with him and Johnny Marky to Trafford Park baths one Saturday morning . The water was freezing and kept going up my nose and in my eyes . Tony took me in the deepish bit and said I should lie on my front and kick and he’d hold me up , then he’d let go and I’d start sinking . I might have had faith in the fact that the water would hold me up , but I couldn’t say the same for our Tony . After drying off and getting out , we went to the chip shop before getting the bus home . I decided that as far as Tony was concerned I’d remain a City fan .

At last came the offer I’d been holding out for . He would take me to a proper football match . We walked from Brookes Bar the half mile or so to Old Trafford . It was only when I said there didn’t seem to be many people around that Tony explained that it was a reserve match with all the players who couldn’t get into the first team . So who were United playing , I asked . Netherfield Town I was told matter of factly . Now I was a collector of football cards and I’d heard of a lot of first and second division football teams when I’d watch the results on T.V on Saturday , but who the hell were Netherfield ( apparently big in the Northern Premiere League at the time and based in Cumbria I’ve since discovered ) . To be fair there were a few United players I’d heard of playing in that game . John Fitzpatrick who was coming back from a broken leg , Willie Morgan , David Sadler , Francis Burns and Shay Brennan , but the star player that evening under the Old Trafford floodlights was a ginger haired slightly dumpy Italian called Carlo Sartori , the first in a long line of “the next George Bests” , he never quite made the grade but he did score the only goal of what was a very dull game indeed . I suspected that City or even City reserves would be preferable to this.

Terry Christian

Terry is a writer, actor and award winning TV and radio presenter. Terry was a presenter on the ground breaking Channel 4 series The Word. He has entered the world of stand up where his Naked Confessions of a Recovering Catholic has been well received by audiences and critics alike.

Follow Terry on Twitter @terrychristian

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