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Thursday, March 22, 2012

Tom Clare remembers his first visit to Old Trafford on Wednesday September 1st, 1954

Tom Clare remembers his first visit to Old Trafford on Wednesday September 1st, 1954

written in 2006.

Wednesday September 1st, 1954

Anticipation, adrenalin, expectation, excitement, happiness, frustration, disappointment, despair, anger, depression – ten emotional things that I can readily think of, that have all, at one time or another, been part of the drug that has been ‘match day’ for me. Football, to those of us that found a real true love of it, and the ‘special love’ that is Manchester United, has affected us in so many, many, different ways. Certainly, it affects our emotions, the way that we think, our rationality, our objectivity, our perception. It affects our calendar, our finances, and most of all, our relationships! Even today, after more than fifty years of going to watch my beloved Manchester United, I still experience those same sensations that I experienced as a young 9 years old, attending his first senior match, especially when my journey is taking me to Old Trafford. There has been lots of changes to things relating to football during my time, and Old Trafford is unrecognizable when compared to the stadium that I first entered as a 6 years old, to watch a reserve game. Following Manchester United is a drug – there is certainly no known cure! It is not something that you can just cast aside like a worn out coat – once you have had the ‘experience’, it’s with you for life. These past fifty years and more, have provided me with a fascinating journey - one that has brought me to the pinnacle of happiness, and has also seen me plow the troughs of despair.

My senior journey began on a lovely sunny Wednesday evening – September 1st, 1954, the second home game of the 1954 – 55 Season. For the previous three years I had attended most of the Reserve team games that were staged at Old Trafford. September 1st, 1954 changed everything for me. As I was growing up as a child, I had listened to my schoolmates as they told me how their fathers had taken them to first team matches at Old Trafford, or for the City fans, at Maine Road. To say that it used to get under my skin and make me jealous, goes without saying. I was football daft, and United mad! I would read, listen, watch, anything to do with the game. My waking spare time hours were spent playing football, anywhere, and everywhere, that I possibly could.

Listening to my young school friends on a Monday morning as they recounted their tales about the previous Saturday’s ‘match’ used to hurt me so much, although I would never show it openly. I resented the fact that their fathers could take them to matches, whereas mine couldn’t. In 1952, my Dad’s sight had started to decline, and by 1954, had gone almost completely. During the month of May 1954, my Dad underwent one of the first corneal grafts to be performed in Britain, and both eyes were operated upon. I can remember how excited he was, mainly because the eye surgeon was so optimistic and had built up not only his hopes, but also those of the family that the operation would be successful. Dad was so convinced that after the operation his sight would return as normal. Unfortunately in those days, corneal grafting was still in its relative infancy, and in my Dad’s case, the outcome was one of rejection. It was later that year that he became officially registered as a blind person. My Granddad, whom I was very close to, was a Season Ticket holder at Old Trafford, but he would never take me along to a match, and there were a number of good reasons for that, which I understood. He lived over the other side of the city, and he had his own circle of friends that attended matches with him.

Red News' very own Tom Clare's (and excellent) Forever a Babe is now available to read on the kindle, link here to order

Throughout the summer of 1954, all the odd coppers that I had accumulated were lovingly, and meticulously saved in an old jam jar. Unbeknown to any of my family, I had found a hiding place for this jar behind some bricks in one of the walls in the backyard, and it was well disguised. That season had started off for United with a home game against Portsmouth, which they had lost 1-0, and as usual, I’d had to listen to my young mates going on about how they had enjoyed their trips to the match. I was determined that come hell or high water, I was going to attend the next home game. In those days, there was no floodlighting at Old Trafford, so the mid-week early summer games kicked off at 6:45p.m. and the next home game happened to be on Wednesday, September 1st 1954 - the opponents Sheffield Wednesday.

The excitement built up in me from the Monday of that week, and I had formulated a plan in my young head – it unfortunately, did mean me having to tell a few white lies to my Mum and Dad. I forewarned them that I would be late home from school on the Wednesday evening as I was going to altar boy training, and then on to the School Youth Club which had its rooms underneath the Holy Family Church, in All Saints. That church is still there today. I told them to expect me home around 7:30p.m. knowing that I was going to be home later than this. Before leaving for school on that Wednesday morning, I furtively removed the bricks from the wall in the back yard, emptied my jam jar into a small purse that I had, slipped it into my pocket, and very unobtrusively, left the house. Counting my coppers as I walked to school, I can remember that I had the princely sum of 2/4d – 12 pence in today’s money! School was at St. Augustine’s which was on York Street, close to where the BBC studios are today on Oxford Road. The classrooms were three old prefabricated buildings that housed two classrooms each. Outside of the buildings was a small area of playground which then opened up to a big concrete rectangle of ground which was affectionately named “the big pitch” – and was a sacrosanct area for the playing of football for the older boys in the school! As a youngster fresh into the senior side of the school (the junior school was housed over Oxford Road in the Cavendish school building) it was your ambition to be found good enough at playing football to be “invited” to play in one of the teams battling it out on “the big pitch!”

From where I sat in my classroom, I could see the huge tower and clock of the Refuge Assurance Company building, standing tall above the other commercial buildings that plied their businesses along Oxford Street. The excitement that built up inside me throughout the morning was making knots in my stomach – my mind was on one thing – going to the match that evening! The time passed so slowly for me, and every minute was like an hour as I watched the huge fingers of that big clock tick away every minute of every one of those hours! At the 3p.m. playtime break, I slipped out through the little school gate, and into York Street, carried on over Sydney Street, past the Old Garrett Ragged School Mission, then Duncan and Fosters bakery, and on into Grosvenor Street. Turning right, I then crossed Oxford Road into Cavendish Street, and on to the bus stop that was across the road from All Saints Park. Fortunately, the bus that I wanted, the number 49, arrived fairly quickly, and after paying my penny ha’penny fare to the conductor, I was at last on my way to Old Trafford, the place of all my dreams!

Even at that young age, I could sense that this was something different – not like attending a Reserve Team game. It must have been around half past three when the bus stopped just past the Trafford Pub and Warwick Road. Not too many people were around at that time. Things were a little different back then, there were no vendors to be seen along Warwick Road, there was no Souvenir Shop, and there was no Development Building. As always, I crossed Chester Road and made my way down Warwick Road. Then across the railway bridge which, on the wall on the right hand side of the bridge, had, in big white letters painted against the black, soot, and grime covered bricks, the slogan; “Ban the ‘A’ Bomb – United We Win.” Being at Old Trafford for a first team game for the first time was like finding El Dorado for me! First, I walked around the ground. Even though I had attended many reserve, youth, and junior games at the ground, it was always a source of fascination for me. The Scoreboard End, and the Stretford End, were only small terraces back then – the two main features of the ground were the Main Stand (where my Granddad sat) and the Popular Side, which was affectionally known as “The Glover’s Side” because of the big Glover’s Cables Factory and it’s two towering chimneys that was immediately behind that side of the ground. As I walked down what is now United Road, I was able to see which entrance I would be negotiating to get into the ground – and found that the entrance fee was just 7 pence for a junior – 3 pence in today’s currency! (Interestingly, the Adult admission in those days was only 1/3d – 7 pence today!) I continued around the ground walking past the Stretford End, and then down alongside the main stand with the railway line to my right hand side. The pedestrian bridge which crosses the railway line at the Stretford End wasn’t there back then, it wasn’t built until many, many, years later. As I approached the main entrance the windows of the dressing rooms were open up above me, and that smell that has become so synonymous to Old Trafford for me, permeated the air…. Liniment! I walked on down past the ticket office and back up Warwick Road to Chester Road. The shop that is situated on the corner facing Quick’s, the Ford Dealership, and that has the small clock tower, was a grocery shop, and next door to that was a fish and chip shop. My tummy was telling me that I was hungry, and so I joined the small queue and obtained fish and chips, wrapped up in newspaper, for the princely sum of sixpence – 3 pence today! I can remember devouring those fish and chips, sat on the steps of the old Dog and Partridge pub – the site on which The Bishop’s Blaize stands today.

Red News' very own Tom Clare's (and excellent) Forever a Babe is now available to read on the kindle, link here to order

More and more people were beginning to arrive, and I found it all so exciting and fascinating – this was certainly not like any reserve team match that I had attended. After my sumptuous meal I walked back down Warwick Road again, and as I got close to the railway bridge, I could hear music. It was being played by a band of four “buskers” and there was a one legged man standing with the help of crutches, holding out an old flat cap collecting any donations that the passing football fans were willing to give. That band was an integral part of the match day scene at Old Trafford for many, many, more years afterwards. I can recall standing on the corner of what is now the Old Trafford forecourt, just past that railway bridge and seeing Jack Rowley, Allenby Chilton, and Jack Crompton, walking down Warwick Road chatting to the fans and passing me as they turned left and walked down alongside the wooden railway fence towards the Player’s Entrance. The person I was waiting for though was not too long in making his arrival – I spotted him as he wheeled down the road on his bicycle and I couldn’t take my eyes off him. The fans were shouting to him as he pedaled along, and he acknowledged them with his shy smile. Duncan was just short of his eighteenth birthday then, and as he wheeled past me, I was off after him. Down to the old ticket office he went, and I just stood there, close by him, absolutely mesmerized by his presence, as he lined the kids up and signed their books and pieces of paper. I didn’t get his autograph that evening, but it was so thrilling for me just to stand nearby him! How I idolized that boy! Even at that tender age, he had such a great aura. After he had tied his bicycle to the lamppost by the Ticket Office, he disappeared inside. I made my way around to United Road and the junior turnstile, and joined the small line of kids waiting to gain entrance. There was a real buzz around the place now, and the turnstile door was soon opened, and the click-clack, click-clack of the rotating turnstile could be heard as the gateman quickly attended his duties, and the line moved along fairly fast. I handed over my seven pence, and once inside there was the Programme Seller, and I duly parted with four pence - two pence today! – and I had my first senior programme in my hand.

The covered enclosure of the “Popular Side” had a tunnel in line with the half way line, and it was through that tunnel that I walked, and there I was at last, inside the ground. People were entering the stadium from all directions, and I made my way down the steps to the front, leaning against the wooden perimeter fence staring directly across the field of play to the Player’s Tunnel! I read through the programme, marveling at how much was in it. Strange how those old programmes can tell a story of what times were like back then. Nothing so grand as the glossy magazine that you see today. Inside were adverts for tailors, florists, raincoat manufacturers, boot polish and dubbin. The Railways had there schedules and prices for the next United away game. I looked at the team sheet in the centre pages, and all the time, the ground was filling up and the buzz becoming louder. A funny little fellow dressed in a red and white coloured evening suit with tails, and carrying a large red and white umbrella, adorned with red and white balloons, wearing a red and white bowler hat, was walking around the pitch. I was to find out that this was Jack Irons the United mascot. The Beswick Prize Band had set up on the half way line, but over in front of the main stand, and were playing a selection of music, mainly military marches. The crowd whistled along with them. Then, just before they formed up to march around the pitch, their lovely young female cornet player, Sylvia Farmer, sang the Judy Garland number, “Over the Rainbow” to the fans.

Steam from the trains drifted over the top of the main stand as a number of locomotives pulled the carriages containing the fans arriving from London Road, and they alighted alongside the little platform facing the back of the main stand. White billowing clouds just drifted over the top of the stand and moved downwards towards the pitch, but dissipated just as quickly as they came. The ground had filled, and I was just so excited – here I was at last seeing my heroes “in the flesh.” 6.40p.m. arrived and there was a big feel of anticipation and buzz as kick off time neared. I can remember well, the people that were stood around us youngsters packed down by the perimeter picket face. Ordinary working class folk, many still in their work clothes. I can recall four or five miner’s stood behind me, their faces white but the area around their eyes still bearing signs of the coal dust from their work far down below in the bowels of Central Manchester. Yes, there was a pit at that time situated in Manchester, not a short walk from the city centre! Looking across to the Player’s Tunnel, I could see the players in red shirts begin to trot out – they were led by skipper Allenby Chilton, and as they entered onto the pitch, a huge roar engulfed the ground. In those days, the United team always went to the Scoreboard End to do their “kick-in.” There was no such thing as “warm up” then. I looked around and spotted Big Duncan, pushing the ball in triangle made up of him, Jeff Whitefoot, and Chilton. I could see Colin Webster, Jackie Blanchflower, Jack Rowley, Denis Viollet and Johnny Berry, firing balls at Ray Wood, and over in front of the main stand, Bill Foulkes and Roger Byrne were passing a ball up and down the line to each other. Jack Froggatt skippered Wednesday that night, in a team that also contained his brother Redfearn, and Albert Quixall.

Red News' very own Tom Clare's (and excellent) Forever a Babe is now available to read on the kindle, link here to order

The United team that night was; Wood; Foulkes and Byrne; Whitefoot, Chilton and Edwards; Berry, Blanchflower, Webster, Viollet and Rowley. The attendance that night is recorded as 31,371.

The game passed by so quickly for me – but I was so happy – United won by 2-0 – both goals from scored by Denis Viollet. All too soon for me it was all over and time to make my way home, and face the wrath of my parents. After getting off the bus at All Saints, I walked home in the twighlight, along Grosvenor Street, wondering what fate was waiting for me – it was approaching 9:30p.m. I turned into Royle Street where we lived, and entered the house. My Mum and Dad were besides themselves with worry, and had my brother out looking for me. I think that they were relieved more than anything that I was safely home. Dad was cross with me, no two ways about that, and at first, he didn’t believe that I had been to the match! It was only when I pulled the creased programme from my pocket and passed it to Mum, that they believed me. Although I got an earful from my parents, I was allowed from that day onwards to attend first team matches at Old Trafford on my own. I was a happy, happy young boy that went to bed that night, and an even happier young boy that proudly related his experiences to his schoolmates the following morning!

Interesting to look back on that evening and reflect that out of my original 2/4d, I had spent 3d on bus fares, 6d on fish and chips, 7d on entrance, and 4d on a programme – a total of one shilling and eight pence – a total of 9 pence in today’s currency! Oh that I wish the kids of today had that opportunity!

That was the beginning of what match day meant to me. Even today, I like to get to the ground relatively early – I still feel that excitement, the expectation, the buzz, the rush of adrenalin. I saw the great “Babes” team, and the happiness that those boys brought to United. I plunged into the depths of despair with the Munich tragedy, and then watched as the Club rebuilt. I experienced the heady days of the middle sixties and the period of what I call “ Of Busby, Best and Bachus”. The European dream was fulfilled on that May evening in 1968 and Sir Matt had achieved his goal. I saw the break up of a great team and the mediocrity that followed, and the anger of relegation. The candle was lit again by “the Doc” and I watched and hoped that a new young team was being built, only for that to founder on “Doc’s” infidelity. I watched the years of Sexton and the boredom, frustration, and disappointment that they brought. Ron Atkinson briefly sparked, but again foundered on his own shortsightedness, and finally I watched as Sir Alex came and once again the sun has shone, the seeds grew, andthe harvest was reaped. We were all fulfilled.

Unfortunately, it hasn’t always been roses along the way. The off the field politicking and the direction in which the club was taken by the Edwards’ family did hurt and sadden me. Both father and off-spring have so much to answer for, not only at Old Trafford, but also, especially in Martin’s case, the commercialization and direction in which football in England has been taken.

We now have an American family who own Manchester United. I doubt that they will ever feel, what the genuine Manchester United fan feels for their beloved Club. This family have managed, in such a short space of time, to do what many have tried, but have so spectacularly failed to do – and that is systematically destroy and divide, what used to be, the “Manchester United Family.” They will never feel what I feel for the Club, their experiences will never mirror mine, nor thousands of people’s like mine. How could they? Even now, little more than a year after their acquisition, they don’t understand what Manchester United is all about – and they never will. Certainly, they won’t be here forever, but after they have departed, they will never be remembered with the reverence that the Davies and Gibson families are. Nor will any of them ever be remembered with the fondness and love that people like H.E. Magnall, Louis Rocca, Walter Crikmer, Joe Armstrong, Bert Whalley, Tom Curry, Harold Hardman, Billy Inglis, Ted Dalton, and Les Olive, are. The other sad thing is, that I doubt if they even know who those people are!

Match Day still means so much to me. As I am passing into old age, and due to my having emigrated, my visits to the grand stadium that it is today, are now, not as often as I would like them to be. But when I do travel over to Manchester, the arriving on Chester Road, the walk along Warwick Road (I know it’s now Sir Matt Busby Way!) the passing over that old railway bridge, and arrival at the ground, still fill me with that same surge of excitement and anticipation. I still get that same rush of adrenalin, and upon entrance to the magnificent stadium that it now is, I sit there and visit the cradle of all my nostalgia and revel in the kaleidoscope of over 50 years of memories.

Red News' very own Tom Clare's (and excellent) Forever a Babe is now available to read on the kindle, link here to order