As Manchester City go for a record-breaking 10th win on the spin against Watford this Saturday it heralds a three-day rollercoaster ride of emotions.
The man who took me to my first ever City game died on August 30th, 19 years ago, I married the love of my life on August 31st, 30 years ago and the most amazing moment of all occurred on September 1st, 26 years ago, with the birth of our son.
Admittedly, Sergio Aguero at 93:20 on May 13th, 2012, isn’t far behind the highs, but it has to be family first!
In this edition of Read But Never Red, I beg your indulgence as I look back on some memorable Manchester City moments shared with my hero and my mentor – Joseph Colin Walker – my Dad.
When asked who played the best after Arsenal had drawn 0-0 with Manchester City at Highbury in the early 1970s, the man replied with typical deadpan delivery: ‘The Metropolitan Police Band.’
No mention of Bell, Lee or Summerbee or the two titans of English football slugging it out on the muddy North London turf.
No, the half-time entertainment provided by a different set of uniformed players more adept with cornets, euphoniums, tubas and trombones, had caught the ear, if not the eye, of the man who was accompanied by a little boy, swathed in a thick black duffle coat to keep the chilly October elements at bay.
The lad, 9-years old and proudly wearing a Manchester City tracksuit top and sky blue, maroon & white bar scarf beneath the coat, had badgered his Dad to once again take him to see his favourite team.
It was a rare treat for the youngster who lived on the wrong side of the country when it came to watching his beloved City.
His staple fortnightly football diet was served up locally at Blundell Park in Cleethorpes, by Grimsby Town – the only team who never play at home in English football.
The man with the dry wit and no particular passion for football was my Dad – Joseph Colin Walker – the kindest, most loving and caring of fathers a boy could ever want – the only drawback being he wasn’t bothered about the beautiful game.
Born in Barnard Castle in County Durham in 1932, if young Colin was to have been a footie fan he could have gone for Darlington or, more glamorously, either of the giants of the North East – Newcastle United or Sunderland.
Back in those days the attractions of steam engines and being a train driver held more of an allure for a young lad, especially since my Grandad ‘Big Joe’ worked on the railways.
It made it all the more perverse that 44-years on from his birth, my Dad took me to the 1976 League Cup Final at Wembley to see City take on none other than Newcastle United.
What a wonderful wonderful day it was.
Once again dressed from head-to-toe in sky blue and white, I found myself in the Newcastle end, accompanied by my Dad – an eminent journalist – along with his friends – two avid City fans, Keith Walton and Jack Abbott – a school headmaster and a local vicar, both from Lincolnshire.
Not quite your typical football-going quartet and one that the Geordie hordes couldn’t quite figure out. How or why we had tickets in the ‘away’ seats I will never know.
Nonetheless we were accepted into the Toon throng and despite City’s 2-1 victory after Dennis Tueart’s spectacular overhead kick winner, nothing untoward occurred. Maybe the elderly vicar’s black & white dog collar saved the day?
As a child, ‘holidays’ were normally restricted to a fun-day at the ironically named ‘Wonderland’ on the seafront at Cleethorpes.
Foreign destinations may as well have been a million miles away, so imagine the excitement when we had our first family vacation in 1970 – a week in the capital – London.
City were also due to play away at Crystal Palace that week, so the grand plan to take a then 7-year old Junior Blue to his first ever City game was hatched.
Once again we somehow contrived to be in with the opposition fans, but that didn’t stop me jumping up and cheering when Alan Oakes scored to give City a narrow 1-0 win.
A heavy set ‘Cocker-nee’ type ‘bruiser’ sitting immediately in front of us turned to face my Dad at the final whistle.
‘I ‘ope you’re takin’ im ‘ome to give ‘im a good fumpin’ said the intimidating Palace fan.
Not sure as to whether he was joking or serious, Dad ever the diplomat, replied: “Oh yes, he’ll get a good thrashing…” his voice bereft of any conviction.
Dad had written to City Manager, Joe Mercer, a few weeks before the match, explaining that it would be my first ever City game, asking if it would be possible to meet the players – an innocent, if not slightly naive, approach.
We received a type written response, hand signed by Gentleman Joe, which went something like this:
‘Dear Mr Walker,
Many thanks for your letter about young David coming to see his first City game – hopefully the first of many.
Sadly I am unable to grant your request for him to meet the players after the match. Obviously we want David to see us win but, if it doesn’t go to plan, there might be some industrial language in the changing room – not suitable for a seven-year old boy.
Great to hear that David is a Blue and thank you for your letter.
Manager, Manchester City FC
It was quite something to get the letter with Joe’s signature. Sadly it’s now long gone, lost somewhere over the ensuing decades.
We didn’t have a car when I was a kid, so we always travelled by train to matches. Sadly, from Dad’s perspective, the Golden Age of Steam had passed, replaced by soulless diesel engines.
As well as Palace and Arsenal, the old man – I jokingly started calling him ‘Pa’ in later life – took me to various away games including Chelsea, West Ham, Nottingham Forest, Notts County, Derby County, Leeds, Leicester,Sheffield Wednesday & Sheffield United, as well as a few trips to Maine Road.
At 14-years of age, my parents decided I was big enough and ugly enough to catch the train from Cleethorpes to Manchester Piccadilly – often changing at Sheffield – to attend City’s home games on my own.
It was the end of the line for my Dad as a reluctant football traveller.
Obviously, he always wanted City to win and I remember him jumping out of his seat when Dave Watson’s bullet-like header gave City a last gasp 2-1 top of the table victory over Ipswich Town on April 2nd 1977.
It was Good Friday, it was also my birthday – it was a Great Friday.
I’ll be forever grateful for the time he sacrificed helping me follow City, but more than that, I owe him an eternal debt for being the best Dad ever.
He followed that up by being a smashing Grandad to little Jack – a beautiful relationship, cruelly and tragically ended just two days before Jack’s 7th birthday.
Jack is 26-years old this Tuesday and he’s been able to absorb all of City’s recent glories, with the prospect of many more titles and cup successes to come. I wonder what my old ‘Pa’ would’ve made of it all?
If his reaction to Big Dave Watson’s goal was anything to go by back in 1977, God knows what he’d have done when the Aguerrrooo Moment came along.
While we were all going delirious in Sky Blue Heaven, he would more than likely have been lamenting there wasn’t even a hint of a brass band at the Etihad on that fateful day in May.
By David Walker
Dedicated to the memory of ‘The Best Dad in The Land & All The World.’
A mention in dispatches for another Father & Son combination, as 5-year old Mark Lawson attends his first ever City game on Saturday, all the way from Glasgow with his Dad, Brett – a Blue for more than a quarter-of-a-century. Enjoy the ride ‘wee’ man, it won’t always be smooth, but with City it will always be eventful.
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