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Friday, February 06, 2009

The man who kept United going - a tribute to Jimmy Murphy

This article first appeared in RN144.

Arguments over the AIG logo and David Gill's name on the Memorial tunnel aside, I think we can all agree that the clubs commemorations for the 50th anniversary were exemplary and hit just the right tone in tribute and education, allowing what could possibly, and sadly, be the last significant anniversary for those who survived to be shared by old and young United fan alike so those close to the tragic events can mourn their friends, and those far away in terms of the distance of time can keep their memory alive.

The most heartening theme of all the tributes that took place were that the almost forgotten man of that era, Jimmy Murphy, received more mentions and accolades from his peers and the media than I can recall from any recent anniversary of the Munich tragedy. Of course he has never been totally forgotten - the bust at the Museum is just one recent example of the club finally beginning to pay their dues - and the passionate defence of his fathers record and quite remarkable work and achievements in 1958 (and before and after then of course) by his son Jimmy Junior mean those who go out and learn about United's history will know just how important he was to the survival and revival of the club. But it's fair to say in terms of a greater understanding and thanksgiving from all who have served or watched United, then not enough praise is heaped on the man behind the scenes whose influence upon all of the successes achieved under Sir Matt should never be underestimated. The man who by a quirk of fate wasn't in Munich as he was leading Wales in a World Cup playoff match against Israel in Cardiff and whose absence meant, thankfully, there was someone left to pick up the pieces as the terrible events unfolded in Germany.
This is neither a detailed historical record of Murphy's life and career, nor a thorough account of all his achievements. There are far better places to research that (starting with Murphy's own autobiography and Starmaker by Brian Hughes); but this is Red News' way of also paying its due to a man who not only kept United going when all could and did look lost, but was integral not just in the emergence and creation of the Babes themselves under his scouting network - “The first time I saw Duncan Edwards touch the ball was enough for me. It was the same with Charlton” - but the remarkable triumph that came 10 years after as a tribute in the 1968 European Cup Final at Wembley.

For sometime now I've been planning this 4 piece. I've had the honour in recent times to interview or chat to a host of United legends; from Paddy Crerand, Alex Dawson, David Sadler and Bill Foulkes (sadly not well enough to conduct a full interview), and with each I've asked them about Murphy, for use here. It is fair to say that nobody seems to have a bad word about him. They may admit he could be a right tough bastard and taskmaster, but the respect is clearly immense.

And his work at United covers decades. An incredible achievement. Of course it is to Sir Matt we rightly laud as the leader but reading between the lines it is also quite clear that like all great partnerships, the main man may not have been able to achieve all he did without the wingman by his side. As David Sadler admitted to me, it was Murphy they saw most often: “Certainly Jimmy Murphy was the one we saw a lot more of in the normal footballing week than we did Matt, who we only got to see very occasionally between matches.”

Too often hero worship is made into a one dimensional pastime where flaws or tough character traits are ironed out or erased when detailing all sides of a persons characters - their strengths, their weaknesses get condensed into a less descriptive praise of their entire character - when knowing about their entire make-up, the positives and negatives, allows you to see the person as a real human being rather than some invisible ghost you are unable to picture in your mind.

Murphy was clearly one tough bastard, who didn't suffer fools. It is certainly not my role to delve too deep into his personal relationships, but on the surface of all the comments made this February it seems as though everyone admitted that Murphy had one love, one passion, Manchester United, above anything, even his family. As his son said: “He had no hobbies; his job when he got up in the morning was to go down to United and produce football players. He was a driven man even before Munich”. Jimmy Sadler saw both sides as he told RN: “There were two sides to Jimmy, there was the very hard, tough, shouting and cursing one and there was the softer, gentler Jimmy Murphy”. Bobby Charlton hinted at Murphy's singular passion at the memorial service: “I was sorry for Jimmy when the accident happened, he always figures himself as Number 2, and he suddenly had to make decisions and he did a marvellous job. He was in love with the game more than he loved anything else and that's very difficult to say when his family are here. He knew exactly how to make you a better player. I become a professional from an amateur and that was all down to Jimmy”.

That drive, that commitment is obviously something we can relate to nowadays with Fergie, but there are so many stages of United's history under Busby (and Murphy) that it's hard to know where to start. Of course the days after Munich will always be the ones mentioned the most, not just managing to keep the survivors going and somehow to get the team playing again, but to find the time to bring half a team in, whilst attending funerals of his and Matt's boys, and of course heading to Munich to see how they were doing in hospital. All this as other top sides eyed their opportunity to bag him as their own manager.
The following tale is not a myth, or urban legend. Sir Matt asked Murphy in that Munich hospital to ‘keep the red flag flying high’, and it's exactly what he did. So he took Gregg and Foulkes back with him, by train, just days before a game where the emotional baggage must have been unbearable. “I travelled back with Bill Foulkes and Harry Gregg and, amid all the tragedy and all the sorrow, I had to get a team together again. I had to find players from somewhere... My heart ached for these two players... I don't mind admitting I felt like crying... Ten years work and planning had been wiped out in a flash.”

It is difficult to imagine how Murphy coped upon his return to Manchester. “How can I describe what it was like? I was completely alone, isolated. There was no Matt Busby, no Bert Whalley. No one I could talk with on my level as far as the team was concerned. Then the coffins started to arrive at the ground. We put them in the old gymnasium. And there were all the funerals. And all the time I was wondering where I could get players. The League game against Wolves had been postponed, but things had to be done quickly. No one knows what I went through during that time.” But not only had Matt asked him to keep the red flag, and club, going, but Director, Harold Hardman spoke to him on his return: “You have got to keep it going, Jimmy. Manchester United is bigger than you...bigger than me...bigger than Matt Busby. It is bigger than anybody. The club must go on”.

However uneasy it feels to bring up any negatives at this point, you have to proportion blame to some at the club who seemed culpable for not giving Murphy the credit he deserved. It isn't just in making sure he's detailed in our history, it's what they did to him as a person (and he was not alone, the sacking of John Aston senior another such example). It is perhaps symbolic of the Louis Edwards era, as Starmaker details the sad period at the turn of the decade from the 60s to the 70s where though promised by Busby a ‘high and honoured’ position when Wilf McGuinnnes was appointed, that did not materialised and he retired in September 1971 when he clearly did not want to. His son Nick explained that Murphy still went to OT every single day: “It was his whole life. Manchester United was his whole life. He loved the place, loved going there, he couldn't keep away”.
As Hughes explained in his book: “It would seem that United never repaid the loyalty Jimmy had given them since joining in 1946. Jimmy did not drive and had a regular taxi which picked him up at his home and took him to Old Trafford. The club suddenly ceased paying his taxi fare and stopped paying his telephone bills. Jimmy... felt very sad, disenchanted and let down by Matt Busby... Matt blamed the Board but everyone knew Matt was the Board”. Hughes later explains that there was never a fall out between the two whose inspiring partnership had achieved so much: “Obviously things were never the same again between the two men... the two men simply drifted further apart. Matt was busy with his boardroom duties while Jimmy was basically a footballing person, happiest mixing with the players, trainers and coaches”.

But his United career was not over. He'd still go in ever day - how could he not, it was all he knew after all. McGuinness was later to admit: “Of course I would have loved it if it had been possible for Jimmy to have worked alongside me when I was put in charge of United”. Tommy Docherty did bring Murphy back on board though, and it's also here where history forgets what Murphy achieved in his later years in continuing to scout players as he had done in 4 help finding the Babes. As Docherty explained: “Jimmy quickly found Steve Coppell and Gordon Hill, two brilliant wingers. To be straightforward, I never saw Coppell play before he joined United. I just followed Jimmy's advice... Matt was wonderful but he would not have been half the man without Jimmy”. He also scouted Pancho Pearson for United, but sadly his advice to sign ‘at the earliest opportunity’ the young striker in Leicester's reserves, one Gary Lineker, was ignored.

Norman Whiteside remembers his early days: If I ever saw Busby or Murphy, around Old Trafford, they were wonderfully encouraging and complimentary. I wouldn't have thought they would have bothered giving someone potentially so insignificant the time of day, but whenever I bumped into them they would say: ‘I hear you're doing well’ and ‘keep going’, building me up all the time.”

Crerand explained Murphy's time - of the man who loved a few pints talking football and life, with a smoke, who called everyone ‘son’ and admitted: “I found it hard to make out with the small talk” - as such in his recent autobiography: “Munich didn't just destroy Jimmy's life in seconds, he lost his great friends including Whalley. He virtually ran the club during Matt's recovery in hospital, re-arranging fixtures and signing players. A proud Welshman from a little village in the Rhondda Valley, he still took Wales to the quarter-finals of the World Cup in the summer of 1958. He stayed loyal to United despite lucrative offers from Arsenal, Juventus, and the Brazilian national team. High profile jobs were never for Jimmy, he was far happier teaching youngsters”.

On Murphy's treatment, Crerand added: “Jimmy was cut out and clearly very upset at his diminishing role at the club. It seems that no-one at United gave much thought to what Jimmy would do and while he stayed on at Old Trafford, he didn't really have a role. He should have been treated better by a club he had served so well. Jimmy had even camped outside players' houses, refusing to leave until their parents signed United's forms.”

That isn't to say behind the deep respect from the players - his players - there wasn't fear. Crerand: “Jimmy was a more aggressive foil for Matt. He would say, ‘Fucking sort so and so out, Pat’, Bobby Charlton: “My whole career from the age of 15 was linked with Jimmy Murphy. He was so intense he used to frighten me. He was hell to work for and at times I used to hate him but I owe more to Jimmy than any other single person in football. Everything he did was for a purpose and I am grateful to him. The success of Manchester United is a testimony to his work”.

Alex Dawson is too much of a gentlemen to repeat in print the swear words Murphy aired at the time but I loved his tale to Red News from that FA Cup game against West Brom in 1958: “I don’t know what came over the West Brom manager, Vic Buckingham, saying things like: “We’re sorry for what happened to United. But we won’t stop at 10 goals” before the game. Jimmy was right up! He gave us this team talk, well the words, ‘effing’ this, he was really going, Jim! ‘Now I’ve told you how to beat them and when we do, I’ll go in there and I’ll pee all over then”. You never saw Matt really angry, but you knew, you knew he wouldn’t show it but underneath he was annoyed. Jimmy gave us team talks, and when the game was finished he’d say: “Well done, I tell you, that’s how to do it”.

And of course to the 50th anniversary, where mentions of Murphy littered the memorial service. At last! Harry Gregg stole the show, with his description that Murphy's tongue “could cut teeth” and the coaching set up was described thus by Jimmy Junior: “Matt was the architect, my Dad the masterbuilder, who went out to get the materials with Bert Whalley laying the foundations.” David Meek later that week admitted: “I don't think he was appreciated enough after Munich. There was a real danger of the club going out of existence.” and Paul Mcguinness - (a great speech) himself - talked of Murphy's legacy: “Jimmy's special one was the Youth Cup, winning five in a row, Jimmy's legacy is the way United (youth to senior) play now”. Gregg ended with a tale that had everyone smiling: “I owe Jimmy a lot, he could laugh with you, cry with you and fight with you. Jimmy and Matt were like hand and glove, wonderful people. I hadn't a clue what they were talking about though! Matt would say 'Up together, back together,' Jimmy would say “Attack in strength and defend in depth”.

But of course it will always be to 1958 where we identify his inspiration at work. On turning down the chance to manage elsewhere: “My heart was at Old Trafford. I wanted to help Matt pick up all the pieces and start all over again. Just like we did in 1946.” Murphy was at the ground when fans flocked to it upon hearing news of the tragedy: “Thousands hurried down to the ground to see if they could help; the police threw a protective cordon around relatives and friends who had lost their loved ones. Those of us left at the ground did our best to calm and console the grief stricken. But what word of sympathy could I find to comfort the bereaved. There was nothing to lift the blanket of despair”. On his return to Manchester from what must have been a heartbreaking trip to Munich: “I have seen the boys. Limbs and hearts may be broken, but the spirit remains. Their message is that the club is not dead – Manchester United lives on.”

Charlton explained the toll that it must have taken on Murphy: “Jimmy, typically, was the strongest presence in those days when the Old Man was surviving only with the help of an oxygen tent. He said that we had to fight for our existence – and the memory of the teammates we had lost. He had been through a war when men had to live with the loss of so many comrades, had to fight on through the suffering and live with what was left to them. It was the same now at Manchester United, Jimmy insisted. But later I heard that it was just a front that Jimmy put on. One day he was discovered in a back corridor of the hospital, sobbing his heart out in pain at the loss of so many young players.” Bill Foulkes: “The doctors told me that I should go away and have a long holiday away from it all, but how could I? I couldn't stop thinking of poor Jimmy Murphy on his own at Old Trafford”. Murphy admitted: “I suffered. I said cheerio to Tommy Taylor, Duncan (Edwards) and all the lads in the gym and told them I would see them on Friday... when they came back they were in coffins.” 10 years on he said: “The heartache of Munich is still there. To the generation which has grown up since then, those may be just names, but to me they were Matt's boys. My boys!”"

It is testimony to Murphy that so many participants of the era suggest without him United wouldn't be who they are today. Colin Webster: “If Murphy had not been at Old Trafford, the Busy Babes would never have existed. He brought in 80 per cent of them – I don’t think Matt Busy could have done it on his own.” Albert Scanlon on his inspiration: “I woke up again later in Munich to hear a voice saying: ‘Albert Scanlon will never play football again.’ Jimmy Murphy came in and I was crying and I told him what I had heard. He said: ‘That's not true, Albert, you are all right.’ Given that it came from Jimmy, it was enough for me.” Frank Taylor, the journalist: “Three men saved Manchester United from oblivion. They are Jimmy Murphy, Bobby Charlton and Matt Busby. But Murphy was the key figure.”"

And the most known tale of all. Murphy's promise to keep the red flag flying high. “The surgeons felt Matt might live, but no one except those of us close to him, ever felt he would be a force again in football. But I knew. In one of his conscious moments he whispered: ‘Keep the flag flying Jimmy. Keep things going until I get back.’ At that moment Matt didn't even know how many of his boys had been killed. I did. As I stumbled out of the hospital into the snow which still lay as a thick carpet over the city of Munich I was close to tears”.

Matt Busby recalled his Assistant as: "A kindred spirit, together we have shared the triumphs as well as the heartache and tears of Munich. When all seemed lost, Jimmy took over the reins and not only kept the club going, but took it to the 1958 Cup Final. Jimmy's superhuman efforts then were typical of the man, who shuns the spotlight of publicity...his unflagging4 efforts and optimism in those dark and tragic weeks concealed his heartbreak over the loss of such wonderful boys, and gave us the time and opportunity to rebuild Manchester United again until by the 1960s we were once more a power in the game”. And Murphy ended his own book: "I know in my heart I made the right decision those many years ago in Bari. And if it were possible to turn back the clock I would still give the same answer: ‘Sure Matt...I'll be happy to join you’. That's what Matt and United have meant to me. I would do it all over again”.

Murphy's son will never stop beating the drum for his father - “My job is to keep my family memories alive. He deserves credit for what he did. I've got a list of people I'm going to write to who have got things wrong recently in the press, and those that (also) got it right” - but the hope is that more younger Reds, and all at the club, listen to it. If there are wrongs to be righted, it is too late to point fingers or lecture on what should and should not have been done for Murphy in his latter years, but what can be done now is something which sounds a radical suggestion but one that I have long since felt would be the most fitting and telling tribute to Murphy and his contribution to United.

To have a statue erected next to the one of Sir Matt. The men who built United into a dynasty, who kept it going after the crash and the partnership that should be seen - in permanent display - for the crucial dual relationship that it so clearly was. As Matt said: “It must have been a terrible time for Jimmy and everyone at the club after the crash. It needed someone who, though feeling the heartbreak of the situation, could still keep his head and keep the job going. Jimmy was that man.” Later, in 1968, Matt, looking back, described bumping into his old friend Murphy and seeing him coach some army lads in Bari in 1945 as “one of the most fortunate things that has ever happened to me. This was the man for me! And for nearly 23 years we have marched shoulder to shoulder as comrades in sport, working for a common ideal: to make Manchester United the finest club in Britain, in Europe and the best in the world”. That they did, and shoulder to shoulder is where both should be hailed for all to see at Old Trafford in lasting legacy.


Thursday, February 05, 2009

Fergie Radio Interview an overview by Tom Clare

Driving home last night from work, I had the "Sports Show" on the Sirius sattelite station, channel 125. It's a two hour programme hosted by a couple of guys that get right up my nose (Charlie Stillitano (Sillyarsole), and former Italian player Giorgio Chinnaglia), but I listen to it because sometimes there are some interesting interviews on the show.

Last night they had Fergie on for about 25 minutes, and it is probably the best interview that I have ever heard him give. Probably because he was dealing with the media pack in UK he felt that he could relax and didn't need to be on his guard. You could tell from the tone of his voice how much at ease he was. But it was very enlightning and he told a few stories that I don't think that he would ever have let the uk press gang hear.

He was telling the story about when he first arrived at the club, that he told Martin Edwards that until they got a solid central defensive partnership that had real consistency, the team would go nowhere. He also said that the scouting system that he inherited was woeful, and that he had to get rid of 99% of the people that were involved, and then had to restructure it completely. He pinpointed having Robson, and the signings of Bruce, Pallister, Hughes, and Ince, as the meat around which he could build. He went on to say that to have consistent success the backbone of the team had to be solid, and by that he meant that a team must have real consistency in the triangle of goalkeeper and centre backs, plus the central midfielder and central striker.

Sillyarsole asked him who in his time at United was his best signing. It was interesting - he mentioned Cantona, Schmeichel, Ronaldo, RVN, but he reckoned probably the most influential signing, given that he got 12 years service out of him, was Roy Keane. Fergie said to see him at close quarters and to work with him and see the influence that he had on the other players around him, made every penny of the money that he paid for him worthwhile.

Chinnaglia asked how did he manage to keep his drive, determination, and passion for winning things as enthusiastic as he does. Fergie's answer was that first and foremost, he was at the right club - he said there is not another club like it. He then went on to say that during his time at United he has gathered around him a very good nucleus of staff - people he trusts implicitly - most have been there a minimum of 15 years, a lot of them 21 years. He can trust them to do their jobs which allows him to do his own job without the distractions that managers at other clubs have.

He was then asked how he prepares the team for games, and his answer was surprising to me as I don't think that he would have told a British journalist what he told Chinnaglia. Fergie said that the planning for games starts a minimum of two weeks before the match is played - he said that there is a lot of forward planning done looking at the forthcoming fixtures. He said; "For instance, two weeks before the Chelsea game was played, I called Ryan Giggs into the office to tell him that he would be playing central midfield in that game. It gave him two weeks to prepare for what I wanted. This is the sort of specific planning we do."

Sillyarsole asked him how did he keep so many players happy, particularly the midfield players. Fergie's answer was classic - "Success! Success keeps players happy - no matter how many games that they play in a successful set-up, they all like to feel that they have played their part. It's hard to tell a player that he is not playing - they all want to play in every game - but in this modern day, that's just not at all possible. The one thing I have always done though, is to personally, and on an individual basis, talk to a player who I have had to leave out, first - before I announce the team. As regards the midfielders I have, it's a wonderful situation to be in, and it gives me options - the beauty is that other teams can never accurately guess who is going to be in there. When you take it over a season, everybody normally gets their fair share of games."

He was aksed about bringing players through from the Academy and he said that nothing gives the club greater pleasure than seeing a local kid come through the ranks and make it. He lavished praise on the Neville's, Butt, Beckham, Scholes, Giggs, and said that the local lads really are the heartbeat of the dressing room. He eulogised about Giggs and held him in such esteem saying that he was the absolute perfect roile model for a player. He confirmed that both Scholes and Giggs would be given another year's contract.

Asked what would be his all time United team, he just laughed and then went on to tell of Paul Scholes selecting his team in the programme for the Tottenham game. Fergie said that it was funny to see the looks on a lot of the foreign lads faces as Scholsey had selected all of his mates!

Chinnaglia asked him about Beckham and the situation between him, Milan and Galaxy. Fergie said, that whilst he understood why Becks had gone to Galaxy, he said that he thought that the lad had to be selfish, because the opportunity to play regularly at one of Europe's top clubs may well never come around again for him. He said that at 33 he still had a few years at top level left and he should grasp the opportunity.

The subject of the European tie with Inter came up and the question was asked; "Do you have any special plans for Jose?" SAF replied "Yes, maybe a glass of poor wine!" He went on to speak about Cappello and said what a nice guy he was - he also let it slip that he would be having dinner with him on February 5th.

The final question posed was did he think that United could win all four major competitions? His answer was an emphatic "No!" Fergie said that to do that United would need an awful lot of luck and that you had to keep all of your players fit and well and away from suspension. A little quip came out and that was that as long as you're still in competitions, you had chance. However, he reiterated though that to win all four was unrealistic.

It was a great interview to listen to and I only wish that there was a podcast around of the programme that you could all tune in to.

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!