by Kevin Henning
We all have a reason or explanation for the choice we made as youths when deciding which football club we would give our heart and soul to. I’d say that the vast majority of match going supporters would have made their decision based on where they grew up or parental guidance. A large number would have chosen a team because they once saw them on the telly and were attracted by a stylish kit, cocky striker or silky skilled midfielder. Then there’s the gloryhunters. You know the ones. They live in Plymouth, Hull or Croydon, rarely leave their home town but like to tell anyone who’ll listen how devoted they are to a club – usually it’s a club with a glorious recent history such as the SKY 4 of Manchester United, Liverpool, Arsenal or Chelsea. They purchase every replica shirt and subscribe to satellite channels but couldn’t tell a Stretford Road Paddock from a Clock End. Occasionally though, something truly magical happens and lifetime dedications are formed.
I grew up being taken to both Old Trafford and Maine Road on alternate weekends due to family circumstances. I wasn’t made to choose either but members of my clan both red and blue tried their upmost to get me to commit to their own preferred choice. It was the same for most of the lads in my primary school class. For various reasons, most of my group of friends had two teams. We were too young to realise that split loyalties never work. That was until one majestic play time when a hastily arranged conference changed our lives forever.
I can’t remember who called the meeting but I remember almost everything that was discussed during it. Basically, one of the boys in my class had come to the conclusion that the time was upon us to decide once and for all who we’d support for the rest of our lives. The choices and results have stayed with each and every boy present ever since.
We lined up on the edge of that Eccles school playground knowing that within the next couple of minutes the spotlight would fall on each and every one of us and there would be no going back. Not ever. We’d choose a team and live with the consequences, the highs, lows, triumphs and heartbreaks. At the time (the late ’80’s) Liverpool were the dominant team in English football, United regularly beat them in head-to-heads but couldn’t topple them in the league. City were languishing in the second division, Everton, Tottenham, Arsenal and Cloughie’s Forest made up the also rans.
So there we stood, ten young lads lined up with a decision to make. Actually, only nine had to choose. Cornsy never had any doubts. He was United and no other team ever had a chance. He stood at the start of the line-up and told us all he was a red. Joe was next, the cousin of Cornsy and he was determined to follow his family. He discarded his flirtation with Champions Liverpool and plumped for the Red Devils. When Smithy turned his back on City and chose the red half of Manchester, it was beginning to look like a whitewash.
Then came the first shock of the event. Diggsy, influenced by his older brother not to support United, decided that Liverpool were the team for him. At this point I must state that I’ve never once questioned his motives for choosing a Scouse team over a local side and believe that the fact that Liverpool regularly swept all before them with Barnes, Rush, Beardsley and Craig Johnstone was purely coincidental.
Turkey was next in line. His nickname coming from a similarly arranged conference where we all voted on whether his surname of Turner would be used to make the nickname Turnip, Turkey, Turnover or Turncoat for the rest of our lives. Turkey won out unanimously but was given the addition “burger” in later years. There can be no debate that Turkey followed his best friend Diggsy’s decision when he chose Liverpool.
It was to get even stranger before another lad chose a Manchester team. Barratt had always had a ‘thing’ for Aston Villa and shouted for both the Midlands giants as well as United. Cometh the hour, the lad that would turn out to be bang into his heavy metal music showed the early signs that all was not right upstairs and went for Villa! He’d well and truly set the cat amongst the pigeons and there was still four lads to go.
Keany always followed Everton and United but was not going to go against the blue half of Merseyside after he’d proudly learned the latin motto of the Toffees “Nil Satis Nisi Optimum” which he’d inform us all on a daily basis meant “Nothing But The Best Is Good Enough”.
Order was restored when Heavo, whose uncle often took him to the City Ground, Nottingham, decided that he couldn’t commit to a long distance relationship with Forest and went for his Dad’s team United. Kenny stood before me in the line and was in a similar situation as me. We’d both gone to see United and City for a good while. I believe he followed the crowd when he chose United.
All eyes were on me. It would have been so easy to follow the choice of five boys before me and choose red. If it was safety in numbers I was looking for, I could have formed a trio of Liverpool fans. I’d even have had a confidante if I’d gone for the more obscure choices of Villa or Everton. In the words of ‘Trainspotting’s’ Mark Renton though, I chose not to. I chose something different. I decided on a childhood and youth of having the piss royally ripped out of me by all and sundry as my team stumbled haphazardly from one debacle to another. I chose Manchester City. I can’t really explain why I did it. I’ve always liked an underdog and maybe this was the first sign of this character trait.
I spoke to a lad mentioned above recently and he vaguely remembers this life changing play time. For me, it will never be forgotten and will never be matched in the meeting rooms of the World down the corridors of power. Ten schoolboys got together that day and made a grown up choice. To a man, we’ve all stayed true to our word and for that reason, I believe it was the greatest conference ever known.