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Thursday, September 17, 2009

Exclusive interview between Patrice Evra and Red News

This is the sort of stuff you'll miss if you don't ever buy the fanzine.

This interview first appeared in the pages of RN158, out last May.

You can bag yourself every copy of the fanzine packed with interviews, news, gossip and laughs at

RN: How do you rate your form this season?
PE: It was very good in the beginning and I think when I got the four match ban and my injury, it was a little bit low. I don't think I played very well in the two games against Liverpool and Fulham as well but now I am back in my good form. Good form for this team but it was very painful for me to get that 4 match ban, it was very difficult to forget that because it was an injustice and I think this is just the bad thing from this season I've had.
RN: How long did it take to recover from what was a complete injustice?
PE: Yeah, it takes long because everything I think you think about that, as well they showed a lot of things in France, a few people think I was a fighter, and I'm not like this. I only like to play football. After as well when you see they have more things more important and some players don't get the ban and me, the stadium was empty, I didn't hurt nobody, I didn't punch anybody and I got a 4 match ban. As well when Ferguson say it's the worst decision he has got when he has been manager of this club, he show you how the decision it was hard to accept to me.
RN: Much has been written about your arrival and your debut, how do you look back at that city game?
PE: After the city game I feel very good because I say to a lot of people for me it was an important game for myself for Man Utd because it was very difficult. I got the welcome to England when I lost 3-1 against Man City, I got a lot of kicks in this game and I learned a lot about that game. I remember when I was in the summer and I said ‘Pat, now you need to show to everybody; to your teammates, to the fans, to the staff, you are the player of Man Utd’ and I learn well because I go in the gym. I've never been in the gym before when I was in France. I started just to working out with myself and it helped me a lot. I was thinking maybe it was very easy to play for Man Utd because I was from Monaco, I play the Final of the Champions League, I was in the international team. I think Manchester was more easy than what I think. That game just says to me: ‘Pat, if you want to be a player for Manchester United, you need to work out with yourself’, that's it.
RN: When do you think you settled into life at United and actually felt ‘I am a United player?’
PE: When we started pre-season in South Africa. I remember it was a good tournament and I was feeling very good because in the summer as well I didn't play the World Cup with my national team, so I was very angry as well with myself and when you start the pre-season I wanted to carry on, to look forward. I played that tournament very well and I remember Mick Phelan told me: ‘Pat, now you are the Man Utd player’. He told me that and I was feeling it as well and I see the Boss and everybody was happy with what I can do and I remember I played the first game straight away, 2nd game as well and Gabby was there, he was not injured anymore and I played a lot of games.
RN: Before you came to United there were a few clubs vying for your signature, what swung it to come here?
PE: Just the feeling. I remember just the feeling. It was Inter, Liverpool. I said to my agent: ‘I want to go to Man Utd’. Because it was four years I was playing for Monaco, I think for me it was the time to leave Monaco and when a big club like Man Utd want you, you go straight away! As well I speak with Ferguson, I had a lot of motivation because he was wanting me a lot and it was very important for me, as was Carlos Queiroz.
RN: Is it true your Dad was a Diplomat?!
PE: Nah! My Dad was working in the Embassy, he was not a diplomat. People write these things but he was just working in the Embassy - with a lot of people there!
RN: You left France for Italy for your first footballing opportunity, why was there a better chance to succeed there, why did you think you had to make that move?
PE: I think I had to make that move to Italy because it was an easy thing because when I was young I got a good education with my Dad and my Mum but in my quarter it was not easy, it was a difficult quarter and I do some things in some French clubs like Paris SG, Toulouse, Rennes, but everytime I do some tests to play, but everytime they say ‘we give you the answer in Christmas’ or ‘we give you the answer in...’ but they never give the answer, never say ‘yes or no’, and it was difficult for me. When I get the opportunity to go to Italy, I go straight away because it was good for me to be alone, to think only about football. And it was an easy decision for me.
RN: How bad was it being on your own in Italy?
PE: Yeah, this was what was hard. Because I was 17, I didn't speak Italian, I was alone. My Mum and my brother came later, my wife after as well, it was very hard because it was not a good city. It was Marsala, but the people were unbelievable, they were very lovely with me. After the game when the referee whistled the end of the game, I was at home and I was crying because I was alone, I had nothing to do and I just enjoyed it when I was on the pitch and it was a very difficult moment for me but it helped me a lot because now I'm the man and I think it was very important for me because I didn't go to the Academy, or something like it, I go to the club, to the street and play straight away in Italy, and this made me grow up very quick and this is why my mentality is so strong now.
RN: You started off as a striker, when did you get moved back to defence?
PE: It was very funny because I was only playing striker as well when I was in Italy and as well when I played in France, I'm back and I play for Nice and I was left-midfield. And I remember one of my friends said: “Maybe one day you play defender!”. But I say: ‘No chance, I never play defender because I like to do skill, I like to dribble and everything’ and when I play for Nice, it was the third game, the left back got an injury. The manager who was Sandro Salvioni, an Italian guy he say: ‘Pat, you need to finish the game at left back’. ‘Me? Left-back?’. There was 15 minutes left and we were winning 2-1 and I played the last 15 minutes very well, we win and two days later after in training, he gave the team but he put me at the back. And I say: ‘Why? Why you put me at the back?’. He said: ‘You don't want to play?!’ Big character, that manager. Laughs. I say: ‘No, I'm ok! Relax, I play! But I'm not a defender’. ‘I know you're not a defender but you play there or you didn't play’. So ok, I play and I was very angry. I play the next game, we win again, I played very well, people are happy. I play next game, every game and I finish the season, the best left-back in the 2nd Division in the Championship. And I was angry. I was so angry with myself. I said: ‘I don't want to play’. I was not happy to play.
I was playing, because I was playing but I was not happy to play as a defender. I moved to Monaco, I think maybe I'm back to play midfield, and they buy me to play left-back as well. I speak with him (Monaco manager) and he say: ‘You know why you are good in this position?’. ‘I don't know...’. ‘Because you don't want to play there, this is why you are good!’. I say: ‘Ok, no problem’. And I try to play, and I play left-back and in my first season I win as well the best left-back in the Premier League in the French League and I win the best young player as well in that league. And the year after, we played in the Champions League, I play left-back, and I start to like the role for me to be honest. Maybe three years you see to like the role! But I was liking but I always prefer to attack, to attack, to attack, and the day really when I like to play left-back, it was when I play for Man Utd in my 2nd year, after my six months. I was happy to give a good tackle, I had the desire to defend more than attack. I was very happy. And I think it's there that day that I started to feel that I wanted to play left-back.
RN: Does Ronaldo on the left with you affect your attacking mentality?
PE: No. I've got to do more jobs in the back because Ronnie plays a lot forward, but I just use it sometimes only because some defenders mark him and I can go inside or outside because sometimes I don't give the ball to Ronnie and just go and the defender doesn't follow me or Ronnie goes inside and I go in the back and the defender follows me and Ronnie can go inside to shoot or something like this. Nah, it's very easy, it doesn't change. I just say maybe I need to be more focussed in the back because Ronnie can do the job as well alone.
RN: When you were growing up in football, did you encounter a great deal of racism, certainly in the lower leagues in Italy from the opposition crowds?
PE: Yeah, it was difficult because I was the only black (player) in the whole Division. It was not easy. It was so ignorant as well. I remember, I see one guy with his kid and the kid was saying: ‘Look, look, the colour’. The Dad was saying ‘it's ok, it's ok.’ The Dad I remember he say ‘Can I have the picture with you but for my Son?’. I say ‘Ok, no problem’. And the reason, it was not because I was a player, because the kid had never seen a black guy, you know it was very funny. But it's true, when I play against other teams when they do the boo, like the monkey (chants), it make me strong. It was difficult to accept that in the debut but after that the more I got the boos the more I was playing well, now I be strong for some act like this. So I say, it was the best moment of my career when I was playing in Italy because the people were lovely, it was only sometimes (from) the opposite team, they do that.
RN: It's been said you learnt up on United's history when you first arrived, how did you go about doing that, did you sit yourself down with DVDs and books?
PE: Yeah, because you see as well I think this is a definite before being a player for Man Utd because when I came in my first 6 months I was just playing and I was not interested a lot about the story of the club and I started to watch the DVDs, to read some books and I was feeling more that I was a player for Man Utd and I think when Man Utd sign some player they need to show the story because it was very important for me and now I've got a lot, a lot, a lot, a lot of respect for this shirt. It's very important to know the story, what's happened, why when you play there, why when you see somebody in the club you say ‘Hello’ and you check then and you don't know who it is, ‘who is that guy?’. And now I know, and it's very important because it help me a lot and I give more than my 100% for that club. Definitely the story of Man Utd is very important because a lot of clubs don't have the story like Man Utd and I think this is why Man Utd stay in the top.
RN: Is it true you visited church after you signed to say thank you for the move?
PE: Not thank you to the move. I generally go to the Church. I don't like to speak about the religion because it is a private matter but I go when I get time to visit Church. Before I go every Thursday because when I was playing in France, the Thursday afternoon I was free. As well when I was in Italy, I was going to the Church. Now I can go anywhere, I can go the Monday, the Tuesday, etc, it doesn't matter. In France the training is in the afternoon, and I like to sleep in the morning, and I didn't go. Here I've got more time to go to the Church. No, I just say thanks to God, that I'm well, my family is well, don't have a lot of injury and just to keep my feet on the ground and don't try to be somebody I'm not, only because I play football. Every day (I'm thankful). When I finish my career I can say thanks to God, to get the privilege to play for Man Utd because how many big players never played for Man Utd and when you know you are part of this history it is just unbelievable. Everyday it is just a dream, it just look like a dream and you just need to fight with yourself if you want to continue to live the dream.
RN: You haven't got a fans' song, have you thought of anything you'd like to be sung?
PE: No. They gave me a CD of the fan (RN: Boylie?). I think it was this one. Nice songs as well. And I play sometimes in my car, honestly, and some people come in my house and I put the cd on and they laughed because it is very funny songs. Yeah they can sing that in the stadium I think I'd be happy because it's very good when people sing your name like this in the game. And it's true, I've been here 3 years, say to the fans, they need to start to sing my name please! (laughs).
RN: We also hear you and Rooney are the practical jokers in the side, what's the best prank you've pulled?
PE: My best practical joke... hmmm... When Ji Sung Park goes to take some food and I put some salt in his glass of Coke. He went ‘blaaaargggh!’, like he was going to vomit! I do stuff like this sometimes!
RN: You, Park and Carlos Tevez are very good friends, there's this video of Ji Sung's birthday?
PE: Laughs. You've seen that! It was unbelievable because Ji didn't know that, it was a surprise for him and they showed that in Korea and Ji say the Koreans are crazy about this video because we are so crazy. We just bring the cake and have some joke with Ji, it was very good but I can say Ji and Carlito, we are very close. It is strange, no? But I can say thanks for Man Utd to have a good Korean friend, and an Argentinian friend. I think If I don't play here, I never have some opportunity like this and it's so nice because you have three different cultures and you can understand each together and it's very funny because every day, every day, we have a good joke, every day is funny, every day you try to make Ji and Carlito happy, but after is all the team. I like to joke with every player, this is my nature, I like to do a lot of jokes.
RN: Do you feel that it is a family club?
PE: Yeah, definitely. I say when I arrive and I say I see, this club is not only the big club but the big family because everybody works together, you don't have the star. You can speak about Ronaldo, about Rooney, everybody you want but the star is the team and the manager's first thing, the first priority is the team is the star. And when you see (elsewhere) nobody is agreeing with that I think you can get problems with that club. And this is why I say this club is a family. The people working here as well, Kath at Carrington at the reception, the staff, everybody want to play their best so you know when you see Baz (players liaison) you can ask him anything, you can call him anytime and he say everytime he's free. When you have problem with your car or the jacuzzi or with the light, everytime he is there. Clearly he give the 100% of his best. In the gym, when you need some programme, all the time they are there, all the time they are ready for you. When you see the people like this work with their heart, you want to make them happy and to just win every game.
RN: Would you like this place to be your home for as long as Giggsy?
PE: The legend. Giggy's a legend. You never know what can happen in the football. I just say in the present I'm happy and I don't like to speak about the future because you never know what can happen. I can say something and after it's different in the long term. But I just like to speak about the present. And in the present Patrice Evra is very happy at Man Utd.
RN: How have you settled in Manchester itself?
PE: It was not easy, this was not easy. I remember the papers kill me because when I was in France I do the conference with the national team and they asked me how I feel, I say it's difficult, the weather it was no good but now, after when I'm back I remember I have seen in the paper ‘Evra, the food is no good, the weather is shit’, and everything like this but I didn't say that, I was just comparing about Monaco, from one place for Monaco for four years, and for my family, and I come to Manchester and I can't lie, it's a massive difference. I just want to explain that, people kill me but now it's ok! My stomach is strong, I can eat everything, I can eat fish and chips. When the weather is raining, I'm happy because my family is happy and I'm happy to play for Man Utd. And I've got my house, I buy a house, and I'm happy.
RN: You were on the mutv cookery programme, which was also very funny, is it true you do eat fast food before a game?
PE: Laughs. No, I was joking! No chance! Food is very important for the athlete, I just say for something funny for the tv. I didn't go like Maradona or something like this because for the muscles it's not the best way.
RN: You seem to get on very well with the manager, as most players do, is he more of a father figure than a Boss?
PE: Yeah, I'd say definitely. I think the priority of Ferguson is to protect the player from the press, outside, he care about everything. When you are not well, he just comes to speak with you, ‘why you are not well?’, ‘do you need something?’, ‘do you need a rest?’, ‘have you got a problem with your family?’, for me he's like the Grandfather. Before every game he say just: ‘Good luck son’, ‘enjoy your game son’, speaks to everybody, calls everybody ‘son’ and he's got a lot of protection (for you). When he speak with you, sometimes he can be angry, sometimes he can be happy, but this is Ferguson, you need to accept that but I definitely believe he wants the best for Man Utd and he protects a lot of his own player.
RN: Did you see the competition with Heinze as two people vying for one position overall or that we're part of the squad, this is what happens? Did you feel one of you would win?
PE: I just believed in my potential. I remember as well when my debut was not the best of Evra, but I just believe in my quality, and I say it was unbelievable, first to see three left-backs, because I never see in the world, three left-backs of this quality in one team and it was not easy but I was very proud because I fight every day with myself and I know if I don't play one game in the top of my level I can go on the bench or in the stand, this is why I was keeping going, to working out with myself. And now as well if I don't have challenge I need to work out because now if I play a normal game, people will say ‘Pat played a bad game because last year and two years ago, Evra just play in the top’. I think my quality is to be regular, and when I play one game not well, people no understand because my quality is to be regular every game. And when I play normal maybe the people now think Evra, I don't play well.
RN: Is that your target for the next phase of your United career, to play at that (high) level, all the time?
PE: To stay. For me football is like a pyramid. You need to stay in the top. I can't say when you play for Man Utd it's easy to win the title because that club and that story win every time, but it's more easy to defend. To keep your trophy like the league this year, and like the Champions League, this is the big challenge. And this is why I think Man Utd is a different club because you need to prove to everybody you can stay in the top because in football it is easy to go to 90%, but to 100%, the 10% (difference), that is very difficult and after the programme you need to stay to that 100%, because if you back to 90%, you don't have your place to play in Man Utd.
RN: What's the highlight of your United career so far from your perspective and also that of the team?
PE: I say the Manchester City game, after my first game, because it was my debut and I was knowing nothing about English football, it was very difficult for me that day. I say that day and the Moscow Final, this is both things I think are my highlights to play for Man Utd.
RN: You say you didn't know a great deal about English football, playing in Europe and looking on at English football, what is the perception of English football?
PE: Speed, brutality, intensity, challenge; being one against one a lot in England. It's so different. It's the best football in the world. If you look, every season now you see 3 English teams in the Champions League, this is just the reality. I was very happy when Chelsea, Arsenal, Liverpool were still there because it just shows all the powerful is in English football and I think when I go with the national team, when I speak, a lot of players ask me the question: ‘Who is this?’. And I say guys, it is just a privilege to play in England.
RN: Italy and Spain can be a little disparaging of England because though we've still got 3 teams in the CL Semi Finals, they say it's money, throw money at it... we're still seen as the outsiders...
PE: I tell you the difference. You can say the money but the stadiums. I think this is the big difference. Because when you see in France, the stadiums they are old now, in Italy, the stadiums are old, in Spain as well. As well the security, because in England you can see a grandfather, with the son, with the little son, the family can go in the stadium, but a lot of places you can't go to watch the game easy in some places in France, you can't go with your family, or you need to move 10 minutes before the game because you don't know what the fans can do. But in England it is unbelievable, the security, because they got the problems with the hooligans some years ago and now they got the best security.
In France you've got the barriers because some fans can throw some things, in England I think this is the big difference, the stadium and the people. When they come in the game, the fans I think, for English people to watch the game, they look like, it's the same like to go in the Church, it's the religion, the football is the religion and when I see the fans here, sometimes the fans can wait two hours after the training, it's raining outside, and they wait for just a signature. You need to stop because you need to respect that. And they have a lot of respect for you when you are with your family they don't come to stare, or can I also have some time. They come but they just say ‘please, I know, sorry, you are with your family’ and you just sign. But in France or in Spain or in Italy it is not like this, the fan, they just try to touch you. It doesn't matter if you are with your family, they don't care. If you are in a restaurant they can come and just turn up at the table. I have a lot of examples. Or they give you the phone, sometimes to speak with their grandmum or the Mum. It's funny but it's like this. The English fan is unbelievable. When the English team play you see how many people outside with the shirts, only the shirt of the national team. I don't see a lot of people in France with the shirt with the national team because it's different, it's not the culture. In England, it's the culture.
RN: One final question, there's a very famous video of you on youtube shouting something about Frank Lampard, what's that all about?
PE: Let me tell you about this thing. A lot of people killing me for this! No, it was a funny video. I do a funny video before the Semi Final against Chelsea with Monaco and I was just shouting not a nice thing, but just to make a joke. After as well when I closed the window I say: ‘Oh my God, now I'm in the danger’, because I was trying to say something that the players for Chelsea were downstairs and they come in my room to kill me, or to punch me but it was only the joke. It's funny you know because how you see? I play in England, I play for Manchester and this video was 4 years ago. It's not six years ago, it's very strange but it was only a joke but now people with the internet they put everything on.
RN: Thank you very much.
PE: A pleasure, thank you.
Interview, John Shaw. Transcript, BC. thanks to Di Law for arranging, copyright Red News 2009. (credit RN, when stealing you pesky hacks!)

The State of the Game and Nostalgia by Tom Clare

I suppose that since I first began watching the game of football, the world, and the game has moved on, time has flown by, but everything still seems to appear to me as though it was only yesterday. Has what has happened during that period always been for the better, and for the good and benefit of the fans, the local communities, the players or the Clubs? For me, be it personally, professionally, and even socially, it has been one hell of a roller coaster of a ride. There is so much that I can look back on. Memories that bring to me a feeling of warmth as I remember all the good times; especially where football is concerned. Playing the game at a decent level for many years, sometimes in different countries; following Manchester United; meeting so many people who I am proud to call friends; and all through this game which captured my heart at such an early and young age. There has also been some sad and dark times along the route, and I tend to try and put them to the back pocket of my memory, although as most of you know, one of those sad times will never go away.

I suppose that the older one gets the more nostalgic one seems to appear. Nostalgia can be a good, and a bad thing. Some would even say that it is dangerous. However, many is the time that old farts like myself are accused of living in the past; of looking at those good-old-bad-old-days through rose tinted glasses. I suppose that in a lot of cases that accusation could be construed as being more than truthful. However, speaking for myself, I hope that this is not the case. My explanation to those kind of accusations is that I can only relate to what I have actually seen, and tell it without any embellishment. So where is all this leading me to?

Well, something has been happening to me for well over a year now, in fact for a good few years if I am really honest. It is something that I never ever expected would happen to me. But it is there and I can not deny it any more. Put very simply, and I say this with a great sadness, but it has certainly come to the point where I am no longer enjoying watching the English game at the very top level. That doesn’t mean to say that I don’t love my club any more, even if today, it is nothing like the club that I began to support all those long, long years ago. There is no denying that I still really do enjoy my trips over the Pond to Manchester. The thrill of walking down the Warwick Road (it will always be Warwick Road to me) on a United home match day, and of entering the fabulous stadium that Old Trafford has become, still fills me with awe as it did when I was such a young boy. I also feel a huge amount of pride in what I see, but in truth, that is due more to the history of the Club and how I have seen it evolve. What stands there today has come at a price. As I have said many times before, the love of Manchester United will go with me to the grave or wherever it may be that my remains end up!

So why is it that I have found that this has happened to me? As I said, it is not something that has been an over night thing. Maybe it is an age thing, I just don’t know. But these days, the Premiership does not fill me with the same joy, the same happiness, the same overwhelming appeal that the game of football at its top level in England once did. Simply and purely, I am finding that these days, I can take it or leave it. There were times in my life when I would have walked over broken glass to watch a game of football. It didn’t matter one iota to me which teams were playing, or where. The game devoured me, and I loved it, and embraced it totally.

If I was to sit down and think about it, and if I had been more observant, the first warning sign began to flash in 1979 when Louis Edwards and his cohorts came up with their first rights issue, multiplying their own number of shares and dividends in Manchester United by 209 times. This began the trickle that became the ocean of money which has since steadily flowed outwards from the Club. It was the time when the stone first began to roll and slowly gather the moss - or should I say the money! Before then, football had been relatively protected by the checks and balances put in place years before and safeguarded by both the Football Association and the Football League.

Over the last 30 years, the game has sold its soul. The greed and avarice began in those 80’s years when the “new kids on the block” arrived, people like Edwards, David Dein, Noel White, etc. But the juggernaut began to roll on that dark day in 1991 when the FA got into bed with the Premiership and the formation of new Premier League was announced. Premier League? May I dare to say that it is just Premier for an elite few – those that have the financial clout. For the rest, it is more of a matter of survival and being able to dine off the scraps left by those clubs that sit at the top table. When Alan Sugar cast his casting vote regarding the television rights back in 1991 it opened the door to a new breed of people entering the game. There were already a number of parasites at the top table of the game (Manchester United’s Board included) who were only interested in one thing – making money. The well being of their clubs and of the game itself didn’t even come in to it with them, even though they had a moral duty to protect it. No, for them, avarice and greed became the name of the day, and it is still there today. Unfortunately, those vices have spread like an army of ants feasting upon a ravaged carcass, and just like those ants, the parasites have fed off it relentlessly ever since.

You look at the people who flooded into the game from the moment that the Sky money came pouring in. People who before 1992 would not have touched football with a barge pole. Alan Sugar, Irving Scholar (who found the way of circumnavigating the FA’s rules on individuals making money out of football clubs), Peter Johnson, Dave Richards (who is now the unelected President of the Premier League, and who virtually bankrupted Sheffield Wednesday), John Hall, Danny Fizman, Jack Walker, Ken Bates, Doug Ellis, etc etc. If you look at their initial investments in the clubs which they purported to represent, and then look at the amounts of money that they eventually walked away with, money that was lost to both the clubs and the game, it is nothing more than obscene.

In years gone by, the controlling interests in football clubs was held by the local butchers, bakers and candlestick makers, and some of them were without doubt, contancrous old bastards, and hard to deal with. But the one thing that you could never say about them is that they didn’t love their clubs. People like Bob Lord at Burnley, Albert Alexander at Manchester City, John Moores at Everton, Lord Westwood at Newcastle, and even our own Harold Hardman at Manchester United, and there are many more to numerous to mention who were just like them. Many were in it for the prestiege, the glamour etc but the majority were in because they loved the game and their clubs and few, if any, benefited financially at a cost to those clubs. In a large number of cases they dipped into their own pockets whenever the need arose.

When football arrived on the scene in the late 19th century, its roots became deep seated in the local communities, and there was a clear identification, and affiliation, between those clubs, their players, and their followers. On the sporting, and pass time front, football became a way of life, an institution, and Saturday afternoons in the autumn, winter, and spring months, became that way of life, as did cricket in the summer months. The Football Association and Football League were the watchmen, putting in place checks and balances to make sure that the powers that be who were running the football clubs, could not take advantage, nor could they gain financially from them. Those two organizations were not perfect by any means, bureaucracy has its faults, but it is true to say that on the whole, their systems and rules did work, and they allowed the game to evolve, and for more than a century it worked without too much rancour.

There was a flow of the game’s income to all the clubs throughout the four divisions of the Football League. The game thrived at both the non-league, and amateur levels, and its main arteries were clear of any major obstructions. Yes, there were rumblings of discontent from players about wages and their terms of contract. But have players ever been satisfied with their lot? When I look back to those days in the 1950’s when I first started to watch the game, and reading a lot of today’s historical accounts of that period, players are referred to frequently as slaves. But is that the truth? My own experiences and recollections of that time tell me different. I would agree that the situation regarding freedom of contract had to come, that was inevitable. But where pay was concerned I do not believe that footballers, especially those at the very top of their trade in the First Division, were hard done by. Yes, there was a cap on wages back then – 20 pounds maximum with bonuses of 2 pounds for a win and 1 pound for a draw. Not many players at that time were on the maximum wage, but when you consider that in the mid-fifties, the average take-home pay for a male worker was some 6 pounds per week, it puts it in perspective. Most First Division players had contracts that paid 13 – 17/18 pounds per week during the playing season, and 12-15 pounds per week during the summer months when they did not play! My brother at that time was a miner at Bradford Colliery in Manchester, and even with overtime, working 12 hour shifts underground, he struggled to make anywhere near what a footballer made. You also have to take into account that the cost of living index at that time was also relatively low. A large number of the top players also supplemented their income by having their names put to ghost written newspaper articles, advertising products etc. Slaves? In my old eyes they were far from it in reality.

Those times are now often referred to as ‘the good old, bad old days”, and whenever old farts like myself nostalgically look back upon them, as I said, we are often accused of looking at those times through “rose tinted” glasses. But do we? I am reminded so often when this subject arises of the poor stadia, piss sodden terraces and bad toilet facilities, bad food etc. I will always dispute this, especially when I am in conversation with somebody who was not around at that time, and whose knowledge is based on what they have read, and hearsay. By today’s standards, yes, those stadiums look archaic and run down. But for their time, they weren’t – they were a product of their time, just as stadia are today. Old Trafford, Maine Road, Goodison, St. James Park, Roker Park, Ayersome Park, Hillsborough, Villa Park, The Hawthorns, Molyneux, Highbury, Stamford Bridge, White Hart Lane, could hardly be described in those days as poor. Because they were football stadia, they tend to get labeled as such which in my opinion is unfair. If you look at the cinemas and theatres during those old times, and look at those same things today, again you will find much the same difference and comparison. Piss sodden? The toilet facilities in those theatres and cinemas were much the same back then, mainly because they were inadequate in number for the enormous number of people that used them. I can recall times at those same theatres and cinemas, wading through the piss wet floors after standing in line to use the urinals. My local cinema which seated some 750 people had two urinals and 1 wc to facilitate it’s male customers. You never ever read or hear of these entertainment centres being mentioned in the same way that old football stadia are.

Attendances at games could be enormous back then, but for the most part it was safe. Why? Because fans behaved themselves. Yes I know that there were disasters like Burnden, and Ibrox, but they were caused by congestion more than anything. There was certainly more patience and tolerance back then, and more self discipline. I find it amazing when I recall those games that I attended as first a young boy, then as an adolescent, that despite the huge attendances at a lot of those matches, it only required a minimal police presence to overlook those games. The fans from opposing clubs mixed freely together on the terraces and there was never the hint of any trouble. They had come to watch a football match, nothing more, nothing less. Win or lose, there was never any kind of trouble between the two sets of fans at a game, quite the opposite in fact, and there was a lot of friendships that ensued from attending football matches that lasted for years and years.

The game was affordable for the working man and lower income families. This was even the case up and until the close of the 1991/92 season. You could still get a seat at Old Trafford during that season for the princely sum of a fiver, but the juniors could still get in for 90 pence, whilst standing could cost you between three pounds fifty and four pounds fifty. Groups of mates were able to stand together in the various terraced sections of the stadium. They used to get to the ground early and an atmosphere would gradually build towards kick off time. Nothing like the sanitized state that we see at the majority of today’s games.

The game itself was a joy to behold. For the most part it was played in the right spirit with no quarter asked or given. The skill level was exceptionally high and I do have to smile when I so often hear those days referred to as “black and white” football. I hear that today’s players are exceptionally fitter, faster, and more skilful than their old contemporaries of yesteryear. My old eyes can only relate what I saw and what I see today – and I find that statement to be untrue. I know that comparison of different eras is dangerous, but I would give an arm and a leg to see today’s full backs take on the likes of Mathews, Finney, Berry and Pegg, Medwin and Jones, Hancocks and Mullen, and many more of their ilk whose dribbling skills were a joy to see, but who also had so much end product. I look at the artistry I saw in the halfback pairings like Colman and Edwards, Blanchflower and Mackay, Barnes and Paul, Slater and Flowers, and so on. There was so many of them. Just as there were centre forwards; Tommy Taylor, Don Revie, Jackie Milburn, Trevor Ford, Dave Hickson, Bobby Smith, Roy Bentley, Nat Lofthouse, Stan Mortensen, and a whole host of others. How many of today’s goalkeeper’s were of the calibre of ‘keepers like Bert Trautmann, Harry Gregg, Ted Ditchburn, Bert Williams, Jack Kelsey, Sam Bartram, Eddie Hopkinson, Ted Burgin, Ronnie Simpson, Pat Jennings, Gordon Banks, Bill Brown, Ray Clemence, Peter Shilton? I could go on about defenders and full back pairings. Great players are great players in any era, but today, there seem to be fewer around than ever before.

When I look at the Premiership overall, I find it rotten to the core from top to bottom. It has forgotten where it originated from, and dare I say it, where it will eventually return to. From the day that it coerced the FA into accepting its proposals it has only had one thing in mind, total domination of English football, and that they have achieved this is unquestionable. We now have a situation where we have people in the corridors of power in the English game who serve both masters. They wear two hats, and that they have conflicts of interest is again with question. Since 1992, the Premiership moguls have in fact made the FA as inert as it possible could be, so much so that in this day and age, the tail now wags the dog.

The Premiership is supposed to be the best league in the world – but is it? We have seen some tremendous foreign players grace the Premiership and they have certainly contributed to the image perceived of the league today. They have been a joy to watch, but sadly, for every great foreign player that has wooed the English fans, there has been a multitude of foreign journeymen arrive in England who have been instantly forgettable. It may surprise people to learn that since August 1992, over 3500 foreign players have graced the Premiership……. How many of them can you remember and you would say with all honesty, brought something better to the English game? Since its inception, we have also seen an influx of foreign managers in the Premiership. They have all arrived amid fanfares and hype and have been welcomed as the second coming in most cases. If my memory is correct, they total in number 25. These days, the top jobs in the game seem to be handed on a plate to these fellows and our own guys rarely get a look in. If you look at what the foreign managers have accomplished since 1992, in reality, it is very little. I would dare to say that only four of them have been what you could call relatively successful.

Their legacy though is one that does irritate me. They have changed the cultures of the clubs where they have worked, and in my eyes, not for the best. Can anybody seriously believe that Arsenal, Chelsea, and Liverpool are what you could call English clubs? The number of English or even British players plying their trade at these clubs is minimal to say the least. It’s getting exactly the same at a host of other clubs also. The foreign managers play the market that they know best… overseas, and they flood the club with foreign players. In my opinion it creates a log jam and definitely interferes with the progression of home grown kids who are trying to make it in the game.

What we have seen, particularly over the last six seasons, and are now seeing more regularly today, is the ownership of clubs changing hands for enormous amounts of money, and mostly falling into the hands of foreign “investors”. That the FA, the Premiership, and dare I say it, even the Government, stood by and watched impotently whilst two of the greatest football institutions in the game of football were purchased with vast amounts of borrowed foreign money, loans that were then dumped upon the clubs, thus leaving them in a “house of cards state”, is an abhorrence that is hard to take. These people have landed in our game for one thing only – money. They have no love, nor any real affiliation to the clubs that they have bought, and certainly do not care about the club’s histories nor their fans. Fans are treated with disdain. Again we have a situation wherby these people have changed the fan culture at a lot of clubs. It used to be that fans were the lifeblood of the clubs. Fans who would be there week in, week out, home and away, in any kinds of weather, often going to unbelieveable lengths to get to a match. These people were what I call Saturday people – loved the game loved their clubs, and were a throbbing vibrant part of the weekly match scene. Today, most of the clubs are not really interested in the every day football fan, the man/woman who eats, sleeps and breathe for their clubs. No, they have just become an irritant, a boil on the arse, a fly to be swatted. Today’s owners/CEO’s, Marketing Moguls, call them what you will, would much rather have the new type of fan who goes to a match for the “experience” and who will part with an abundance of bank notes in the Megawhores and Restaurants within the stadiums, than have a raucous, throbbing, incandescent mob of real supporters cheering on the teams. Saturday’s people unfortunately are becoming a dying breed. The game is being put beyond them financially, and for the majority of young kids today, seeing a match “live” at the very top level is an experience that fewer and fewer of them are becoming familiar with.

The Premier League has bred all kinds of monsters and has done things to the game that I never ever thought that I would see in my life time. It has allowed the rich to get richer, and the rest of English football to play on uneven ground. It has bred a fear into the English game and a fear that permeates throughout most of the clubs in the Premiership. It’s bred greed, and a complete lack of loyalty both on and off the field. It’s taken the fun out of the game with that same fear that is now so endemic in the Premiership. Players no longer play with a smile upon their faces – everything is too intense. Where are the game’s “characters” today? It’s bread a lack of respect between clubs, managers, players, and fans. Every season you now see the same nonsense – the tit-for-tat jibes, accusations, counter-accusations. It does get tedious.

Television has also taken a lot of the romance out of the game with its prying cameras. I suppose that it’s only to be expected given the enormous amounts of money that they pay for the privilege. It is tremendous that people in countries all over the world are able to see the English game “live” and that supposedly it “grows” the game. But it comes at a price. One of them is “trial by television”. Another is the enormous amount of pressure that it has put upon Referees and Linesmen (I still can’t call them Referee’s Assistants!). Every decision is minutely dissected, it doesn’t matter that the poor old Referee has a split second to make that decision. They are human, they do make mistakes – just as players do. But on the whole, I’ll guarantee that most times they do get it tight. For over a hundred years players got on with it, they accepted decisions, even if they went against their team. It was all part and parcel of the game. Today that is far from the case…. We have pundits pontificating in television commentaries who would have you think that the game was invented by them, players who question every decision a referee makes – and what an example that is to the millions of kids watching worldwide! Video eveidence is being called for more and more…. But if it was brought in….. where do you stop? It used to be that the Referee’s decision was final…. Sadly, not anymore it’s not. Who would be a referee in today’s modern game? When you sit back and analyse it, it has to be a thankless task.

Television now dominates the timing of matches. Saturday football was a way of life, but since 1992 that’s been consigned to the garbage bin. In a lot of ways television has destroyed the newspaper report. Years ago the back page of the dailys contained the “scoops”, the “exclusives. Most fans would pick up a morning or evening newspaper and go straight to the back page to see what was going on in the game or with their club. On Sunday’s and Mondays they would read the match reports, mostly eloquently written. That doesn’t really happen today. The television breaks news much faster is more quickly on the spot. So newspapers have to look for another angle… it’s why we so much sensationalism today. The match reports I see nowadays aren’t really match reports at all. Editors and Journalists are always looking for the tid-bits, the stories that they can manipulate and expand and will sell print. Law suits against newspapers are more prevalent now than they have ever been.

As a spectacle, the game has lost that sparkle for me. I see so much cheating going on, players having little respect for each other, and when I see them trying to get fellow players carded or even sent off, it abhors me. Cheats do prosper in this modern day. The heart and soul has been knocked out of the game. It is fast becoming a non contact sport (except that is in the penalty areas) and you can’t even go near a goalkeeper to challenge for a ball. The game was there to be enjoyed, but is that the fact today? It amuses me to see players running towards their fans and kissing the badge upon their shirt, supposedly in loyalty for their club. Loyalty? It’s a forgotten word in football today. Most players would sell their souls for money. That is what drives them today.

I worry about Manchester United and what the future holds for them. Should United hit a sustained period of little, or even limited success, then the impact of that is going to be quite serious, both on and off the field. Off the field, I already think that the financial situation is beginning to bite, irrespective of the mutterings that I hear from David Gill. The money that United pocketed from the sale of Cristiano Ronaldo is lying dormant in the bank apparently – yeah right – if you believe that then you will believe anything. It seems strange to me that the manager was not able to secure the signings of the players that he really wanted. In days gone by money would not have been an object… but all of a sudden, we now hear of the over 26 signing policy, and of United not paying silly money for players. I don’t believe any of that nonsense at all because if the money was there, believe me, Ferguson would have no hesitation in paying for the targets that he had identified.

I worry that there is so much money leaking out from the club, and out of football in general. Money that is lost to the game that could be used for so many different purposes. I worry that we now have an Academy that is providing a conveyer belt of young talent just for other clubs. How long before the likes of Welbeck, Macheda, Gibson etc are moved on? It does sadden me. The Premiership has bred a beast that has long forgotten what time and patience is. It no longer gives managers time to build their own teams – success is demanded now. The amount of tenure of managers have enjoyed in the Premiership over the last 10 years tells you just how volatile the turnover in manager’s job is. I worry about the ticket pricing policy at Old Trafford and the way that the infernal ACS is enforced. The fans as far as the club are concerned are no longer fans. They are customers, and the club couldn’t give a hoot whose arses fill the seats at Old Trafford as long as those seats are occupied. It hurts when I see the so small numbers of kids that are able to attend games these days – where are the new generations of supporters going to come from – television screens?

Yes, as I said at the beginning of this narrative, the appeal of English football for me is waning. I know through talking to my peers of the same age that much the same is happening to them. Guys who have supported United for more years than they can remember, share the same antipathy towards the game today, the same fears. I wonder just where this once great game of ours is heading?

by Tom Clare, author of the excellent Forever a Babe, order below