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Thursday, February 05, 2009

Wimbledon, 30th December 1989. And one painting...

the sort of article you miss if you don't ever give the fanzine a go, this article appeared in an old RN...

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Those forgetful few Reds who like to overtly criticise United these days must suffer from selected amnesia. How else could they manage to moan about the side nowadays when in truth they are a dream to watch compared to the turgid, often rancid football we had to put up with for much of the 70s and 80s. Simpler still, maybe they just weren't around and think that we've always been this good and successful. Trust us, we weren't.

For a very long time.

Those of us who endured, suffered and experienced the pain of the trophyless years still carry the scars (remember how you used to suffer a poor defeat for weeks, carrying it around like lost luggage) and it's not an exaggeration when we regale younger Reds with tales about just how bad things were. The Sexton Years can send a shiver down the spine upon mere mention and the 10 game winning run ending in spectacular failure is enough to provoke hysteria. If you wonder why we talk with such fondness about the craic off the pitch back then - from the Red Army Years to taking over grounds where we played - it’s because for many a season it's all we could boast about.

Of course these times were legendary and saying so is nothing new. Those days are long gone though - due to any number of changes enforced within football. But it's not so long ago when the past and present clashed in perfect disharmony. There was a belief that you may as well have as much fun before and after a match than during it because you'd only be let down during the 90 minutes itself. Winning two on the trot meant the local pub would run out of champagne and more than three goals saw us head off to Albert Square to watch the parade. Most Reds saw these relatively dark days as an excuse to imbibe as much as was physically possibly to blur out the pain, and then some. So out of their skulls were many Reds (myself included) that during games it wasn't unusual to find some experiencing the 90 minutes in a comatosed haze. You could have told them any scoreline on their waking and they'd have believed it.

Indeed, well known United fan 'Fat Kev' seemed to make 'sleeping it off' a match time favourite and from Sunderland to Ipswich he made a concerted effort at becoming a member of the '92 grounds sleeping club'. It was left to stewards to decide what to do with the big fat mound now flat out amongst their seats. They usually - and wisely - decided to just let him be, unless his earthquake inducing snoring became too much. At Ipswich, Kev once woke up thinking he'd actually not missed any of the game, and was sure we'd drawn 2-2. In fact we'd won 3-2. Asking an Ipswich fan for confirmation of the draw, Kev became irked as he thought the rival fan was taking the piss by saying we'd won. The Ipswich fan was also getting the arse wondering why a United fan had chosen him to wind him up and goad after their loss and thus both men squared up to each other and started fat man wrestling on the floor. One fight, a pub and three pints later, Kev was finally convinced he'd missed a great, late winning goal.

Perhaps it's just fanciful that so many of us recall these off the pitch times with such fondness, but I doubt it. It really did seem like an 'anything went' period. Not violence, just an air of unpredictability and surrealism. One Red News contributor in the late 80s saw his radio confiscated at Hull away in the League Cup because it was deemed an offensive weapon, whilst little over two weeks later another coming straight from work on a building site and not wanting to leave expensive tools in the car managed to get a literal set of hatchets and hammers through all manner of searches and beneath his seat for the match. Luckily he's not violent and didn't use them - although I once sat next to a Red who was so angered by a refs decision that he threw his meat pie at the general direction of the 'bastard in the black' , Obviously ill educated in the law of physical volume and velocity of said item we all watched as it landed down the back of the neck of someone 5 rows in front. Clearly a cheese and onion pasty would have been better to use. But I digress.

By 1989 the time had come when even a tissue was seen as an offensive weapon and confiscated by over zealous police. So how did we end up arriving and getting in to a ground with a 3 foot high bloody painting? The game was at Wimbledon on the 30th December 1989. We drew 2-2 with Hughes and Robins scoring. Eric Young & Alan Cork (who was one of those obscure players I truly hated for some equally obscure reason that I still can't recall) scored for them and despite the excitement of a few goal, suffice to say the standard was pretty much bog. It was our 7th game without victory, a run that was ended by beating Forest in the FA Cup 3rd round (what happened next...).

It's safe to say that few members of the Red News team would make very good detectives. We've got the alcoholism part of the role off to a tee but in researching this article I've asked the lads what exactly the painting was of. None of us can remember. The lad who had inexplicably decided to bring it down for the game - Fred - was looking at moving away from his parents at the time (ie; they were kicking him out) and said painting was given to him by a friend's father as a house warming gift. It was so bad presumably it was the first item to be used in the fireplace. In describing its lack of artistic merit I will just inform you that it was double sided. I don't think you find many of those hanging up in the National Gallery.

But try as we can as a collective we have no idea what the f**k the painting on either side was of. Fred vaguely remembers a spear on one side, I recall some blur of an ugly family, or is that my own? Yet the lad who actually ended up with it on his wall for the following three years (a few of us reckon it was that picture hanging up in his living room that finally sent his wife round the twist and out the door) is adamant it was not a set of paintings but in fact a photograph! See youngsters, please note what alcohol can do to you.

In a desperate attempt to get rid of the f**ker before he moved in, Fred gave the painting to Paul when we met before the game as a present. It was a bit like giving a mate the flu. Fred recalls that Paul: "was naturally very proud and a little over whelmed." Paul needed to get out more often. My painting by numbers vomit looks prettier. Years on and I recoil in horror every time I check into a euro away hotel that all seem to find such paintings on their walls mandatory. Somewhere out there is a very bad painter making a hell of a living selling to hotel chains across the world. He must be pissing himself.

Anyway, we then all made our way to the pub. I think the painting was thirsty. It was whilst walking with the painting around the streets of Wimbledon (Plough Lane days remember) that somehow it seemed like a good idea to hold it up above our heads and start chanting: "What do we want? Equal rights for paintings. When do we want it? Now!" There were a fair few of us that day and this was repeated loudly for sometime, all the way to the ground, causing much bemusement to everyone passing us in the street, particularly a large Saturday lunchtime crowd queuing outside the local ice rink. Suffice to say when we passed the Wimbledon end - where they still pointed at lightbulbs such was their excitement - we were watched without blinking by their yokel mass. All you needed was a banjo and we were performing that scene from Deliverance (without the pig

The game must have been pay on the day but I can't remember. Wimbledon only had about 3 seats for away fans and if you think it was hard to get a city ticket, getting a seat at Plough Lane was well and truly sown up by 'those in the know'. By this time Paul could not be separated from his painting. He paid his money and went in but was unable to conceal the painting from the copper who was searching him. He explained that it was his painting, he was taking it home and was putting it up on the wall so what were they going to do about it. The policeman had never faced this situation in training, could not cope and turned his back to let him through.

Paul looked after the painting like it was his own child during the game making sure it did not come to any harm as we all tried to boot the fuck out of it, though I did feel sorry for those watching behind him as he held it aloft and they suffered a 3 foot picture obscuring the pitch. It says how crap we were that nobody complained that they couldn't see the game - they'd rather stare at a shite, still painting. Come to think of it they had a point.

With every chant for United we followed that up with one about "equal rights for painters" and with the excitement of our second goal, Paul once again raised it above his head in celebration for all to see. This happened to include watching Match of the Day cameras who not only caught the sight of celebrating United fans (the stand was about half full) but were later to show that night on BBC1 one very large painting bobbing up and down in joy in the United end. At least the painting had enjoyed the game.

The moral of this rambling story? Stop moaning at this United side. Because thank f**k we've got some decent football to watch these days, thus stopping us fans from acting like twats!


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