In the build-up to the forthcoming Manchester derby Kevin Henning recounts when his life took a detour due to a sharp-eyed lecturer and a tell-tale cameraman.
My education at Eccles College didn’t get off to the best of starts back in 1995 after a dinner time pint became half a dozen and me and a mate turned up for our first A Level maths lesson half cut. We’d entered the class room late, with no equipment and obviously looking a little worse for wear despite convincing ourselves that we could pull off the perfect crime.
Word quickly spread and before we’d even settled into the college, the Head of Year Mr Josephs (a dead ringer for Bubbles the monkey from the Orville show) was on our case. Now my previously mentioned friend was always the one who knew when enough was enough and straightened himself out over those first few months, I however, was under the misapprehension that student life was all about going out, getting wasted and paying as little attention to the lessons on offer as possible.
By the turn of the first college year, Cornsy had sorted himself out and was flourishing whilst I was Mr Joseph’s number one target. Parents’ night (another example of how wrong I was about secondary education) was where things came to a head. My English teacher told my parents that I should consider a career as a second hand car dealer such was the frequency and creative nature of my lies. My maths teacher was more ambitious in his appraisal, he told my parents to imagine the classroom as a swimming pool. There were students, he said, swimming length after length quite happily. Others were enjoying some good swimming but weren’t there completely for exercise purposes and enjoyed the social aspect of the pool. Others weren’t swimming at all and a small few were struggling to even tread water and keep their heads above water.
“Kevin”, he said, “appears to be unconscious as he lays motionless on the bottom of the pool.” He informed my parents that he saw my future elsewhere and had told the Head of Year as much. Before they left, Mr Josephs himself had a word and stated that I was in the last chance saloon. One more hiccup, be it academically or caused by the ale, and I would be thrown out of the college forever.
Now Bubbles, sorry Mr Josephs was a keen football fan and a supporter of Manchester United. During his happier moments, he would often amuse himself by mocking the continued mishaps that were occurring at an alarming rate over at Maine Road – home of my beloved blues, knowing full well that I was a City fan.
I convinced myself that this was the real reason he was after me rather than the fact that I skipped lessons for reasons ranging from broken down buses (when I lived a five minute walk from the college) to Oasis concerts in Blackpool that I simply couldn’t miss.
So when City played an FA Cup replay on a Wednesday night at home to Coventry City, Josephs knew I’d be there. He also was aware that the winners of the tie were to play Manchester United at Old Trafford the following Sunday. Whether he stuck his nose into the ticketing arrangements of all clubs or he knew I’d be in the queue on the Thursday morning instead of double English, I don’t know but can hazard a guess.
I returned to college on the Friday and was enjoying a coffee in the canteen when the hairy head of year confronted me demanding to know why I hadn’t attended a day earlier. “In all honesty Sir, I couldn’t get off the toilet.” I claimed to muted laughter from my mates. I shouldn’t have continued but was in full flow, “You should have seen the mess Sir. There’s no way I could have sat still in class for any length of time.”
Josephs gave me a look that suggested he was on to me and calmly said he hoped I was telling the truth and wasn’t in the queue in Moss Side instead of college. My look of anguish that he could even suggest such a thing wasn’t washing and he departed with a promise of swift action should he find out I was lying.
On the day of the big match, I started getting ready early. City had the entire Scoreboard End and I was determined to enjoy the day. Dressed in my City shirt, hat and scarf and carrying a huge inflatable banana, I headed for Old Trafford full of misguided hope that Alan Wilkie wouldn’t ruin my day by giving a penalty for a light breeze that floated across the pitch.
The game was to be screened live on BBC’s Match of the Day Live programme and this was the beginning of the end of my further education. As the teams walked out, some inconsiderate fool behind a camera decided to zoom in on me and my mate Higgy as we stood on our seats and cheered the blues out.
City were robbed that day and Uwe Rosler should have scored the only goal but such was United’s luck under Alex Ferguson, I quickly accepted the inevitable. What did come as a surprise though, was the huge hairy hand that landed on my shoulder as I sat in the college canteen a fortnight later when the next term was underway.
Mr Josephs had spotted me on the telly as he sat watching from his living room and my diarrhea story went down the pan. He sent me directly to his office where he smugly explained that my time at Eccles College had come to an end. He said it would reflect better on me in the future if I decide to leave of my own accord rather than be expelled. I considered his words, left his office and began the search for gainful employment. The Manchester derby had begun its reign of terror over my life and my college days were over.