Ha, says my wife, the yolk's on Eric

My father would cry `Windy!', which mingled oddly with `Get your bloody glasses, ref'
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The Independent Online
I am sure we all remember where we were when we heard that Eric Cantona's end had come - after launching himself into the Crystal Palace crowd and kicking a spectator, who, as far as I can make out, hadn't even got the ball. I know where I was. I was in the kitchen. So was my wife. Our reactions were rather different. I thought it was a stroke of luck. She thought it was funny.

The reason is that she thinks people take sport too seriously. I cannot remember her ever asking after the result of any match or tournament, let alone watching it. She thinks it all a waste of time. But she also has a sense of humour. So whenever something occurs to put egg on the face of all this sporting seriousness, her silvery laughter can be heard in the land.

My reaction was not to laugh, as I am a serious sort of fellow, but to think what a stroke of luck this would be for Manchester United.

To remain stinking rich, United has to come up with a new strip every week to sell to gullible young fans, and if M Cantona had taken to assaulting members of the public and not just his fellow footballers, then clearly this would give United an incentive to come up with a new strip - a kung fu fighter's costume, perhaps.

It seemed even more of a stroke of luck for my own team. I grew up near Wrexham, and my father took me to see their games every Saturday as they battled their way up and down the middle reaches of the Third Division North, like the Germans and British inthe trenches in 1916.

During the week my father was a middle-class, middle-aged businessman, interested chiefly in making the world a better place by maximising the profits of the brewery he worked for, but on Saturday afternoon Dr Jekyll became Mr Hyde for an hour and a half, and my father became a football supporter. That is to say, he cheered for Wrexham, and varied his cheers with blistering insults for the other side, and hideous imprecations against the referee.

I heard my first swear words from my father at football matches, though they were mingled with public school slang. Whenever a player flinched from a tackle, I knew my father would be heard crying "Windy!", which mingled oddly with "Get your bloody glasses, ref!", and "Wake up, Wrexham!"

He cursed Wrexham just as hard as he cursed the opposition - harder, perhaps, as he knew their foibles better. And football was fairer in those days; never once did I see a player from either side take exception to what my father shouted and come runningup to kick him in the chest; neither did any referee go into the crowd and search out my father for physical assault, richly though he deserved it.

Although they've never been in the same division, Wrexham has been fated to bump into United once or twice over the years. Recently they met in the European Cup-Winners Cup; in the Fifties, they met in the FA Cup and I remember my father going off to thegame, saying, "Well, it will be a hiding to nothing but it will be a great occasion all the same." It was; 5-nil, I think.

When the two teams met again on Saturday, I couldn't help feeling that it might be a massacre again. The only comforting pieces of hope were a) that Manchester United might be so upset by the loss of Eric Cantona that they would go to pieces, and b) thatUnited are notoriously unable to beat foreign opposition, and Wrexham are a Welsh team.

It's curious, you know; United are, apparently, the best team in England, and yet they can't beat anyone who is not English. This season they have been beaten by Turkish, Swedish and Spanish teams and I don't think they have beaten one. So I nurtured a hope they might be unable to beat a Welsh team. Alas, although Wrexham scored first, Manchester came sneaking back and pinched it by three goals.

"Tell you one thing though," I can hear my father saying, "had it been the first leg of a two-leg match, I don't think United would have had much of a chance in the second leg...."

"Tell you one thing," I can hear my wife saying, "I'm glad that Wrexham are out of the Cup. Perhaps football can take a back seat for a while now..."

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