As promised, an oopdate on my adventures oop North over the weekend.
First thoughts as I arrived were that there was nothing familiar about the place. It's been 10 years since I've visited, it's true, and that was only a flying visit for a wedding, but even so I used to live and work in Manchester. For quite a few years as well. But it just felt as if it was somewhere I had never been before.
My admirable guides collected me by car and we drove from Piccadilly to leafy Didsbury. Only the Mancunian Way and the old UMIST (chief among the aforesaid guides told me that UMIST no longer exists, but has been subsumed by the gargantuan University of Manchester, home to 400,000 students) building rang any bells for me. Apart from that, only the place names were familiar, but not the way the place looked. Wilmslow Road, Fallowfield, Burnage (home of the Gallagher brothers) and Hulme. I saw a 47 bus, one which I used on a daily basis, and that brought a tinge of nostalgia.
Saturday night, out in Didsbury. Crowded is the word. The first pub we hit was the D&P - Dog & Partridge, just after the France All Blacks game had kicked off. It was heaving, and reminded me of the halcyon days of pub-going, when you would stand shoulder to shoulder with loudly talking blokes and tuck your elbows in to hold and drink your pint. Monkey nut shells were strewn all over the floor. The only difference from those distant times was the smoke-free atmosphere. Thank you NuLab for that one. I very much enjoy a good bitter when I get out of London, where I drink only Fosters, so a couple of pints of Timothy Taylor Landlord went down very nicely indeed. Unfortunately the many fine Lancs ladies in the pub did not. Fnarr.
Following that we moved on to the Nelson, just across the road for a Buxton or twain. Karaoke on one side, rugger on the other, but considerably less crowded than the D&P. Watched the end of the game in there, and was oddly pleased for the French, mainly because I never thought they could do it. By this time, our laughter was getting a bit more strident and the Nelson was filling up, so we headed for the Station, which was as packed, if not more so, as the D&P. 80s disco, very narrow space in front of the bar and toilets right at the back, past the DJ stand. Good though. Marston's Pedigree was the beverage of choice.
Then home for sweet dreams of the sporting day ahead.
As my train was pulling into Piccadilly on the Saturday, a Middlesbrough train was pulling out. I took that to be a good omen, being as I am, highly superstitious when it comes to football. It was a bit difficult to see inside, but I'm sure the occupants resembled those on the bus in the Woody Allen film - "I prefer your earlier, funny films" later ripped off by the crisps (?) ad.
We drove through Manchester towards 'Sportcity' and the Commonwealth Games spread in Beswick, heading for the B of the Bang and into a quite frightening and very run down housing estate, arriving just before 2 o'clock, to be greeted by a little girl with ginger hair who made my day by asking for a quid to look after the car. Our driver, who was local and wise, handled it well. "Tell you what, if it's still 'ere when we get back we'll talk, all right?" The girl nodded and stumped off. Through back alleys, past boarded up shops and young scallies carrying bits of ripped fence we made our way to the ground. It was a magnificent sight, rising out of the wasteland around, and the sound of the faithful cheering, even almost an hour before kick-off gave me a little frisson of pleasure.
Bought an obligatory KOTK on the way in, and I'm trying to write this in a homage style to one of the City history pieces you see in there.
Once in, the impression was better than Wembley, where I saw the England Brazil match back in June. I'm not a big fan of this trend for branded mega stadia complete with shopping malls and oyster bars, though I'm not misty-eyed about squeezing into some torture chair at Selhurst Park either. Eastlands seems to have got the balance right. You do get a 'special' feeling, but you can also buy a chicken balti pie and a pint of lager - priced at £2.40 and £3.00 respectively from the bars situated at each block.
Up the steps... and there it is. The hallowed turf. Mecca. The Only One I Know was on the PA as I reached the top step.
To be continued... due to a total fucking pain in the arse with uploading a frigging video.