SP20S1Pic4My first trip to Manchester was just a few months shy of the Warrington bomb that took the lives of Tim Parry and Jonathan Ball.
Their deaths came to mind last week in the wake of the Manchester Arena atrocity, which ranks among the worst manifestations of inhumanity.
But in the hours and days that followed the deaths of 22 innocent people, who were simply enjoying a night’s entertainment, the people of a city that so many of us are inextricably linked with, showed their true colours. They stood up. They came together. They embraced. And they sang.
They’re a great lot, the Mancs. A lot like us in many ways. The mills. The chat. The cuppa. The pint. The tune. The match. The craic. The bonds are many, be they made through sport, music or over a long weekend. As Tony Walsh might put it, there’s ‘sommat’ about Manchester.
October 1992. I was 13 years old, just a few weeks into secondary school life and was beside myself with excitement at the prospect of seeing my beloved Manchester United in the new FA Premier League.
Portlaw United, the biggest United in my football playing life, had organised the trip and a sizeable contingent of us travelled across the Irish Sea, full of the same levels of excitement, I presume, that the youngsters packed into the Manchester Arena had on Monday week last.
Events like this ought to be lifelong memory makers, days and nights that bring a smile to one’s face: I still have the notepad sheet Alex Ferguson signed for me, along with my match programme stub. My friends and I got to come home. Twenty-two innocents didn’t.
To travel to the famed Cliff training ground, where the Busby Babes cut their footballing heels, and see the likes of Denis Irwin, Bryan Robson and Peter Schmeichel training, pretty much left me slack jawed.
A youngster on the United books called David Beckham, who’d played his part in the club’s FA Youth Cup success the previous season, was among the ‘half-time heroes’ who were saluted for their efforts at the Bobby Charlton Soccer School. It’s fair to say he went on to do pretty well for himself!
I’ve had a consciousness of Manchester from the earliest outsets of my memory; United won the FA Cup just weeks shy of my fourth birthday, my eldest brother supported them and the squad featured Kevin Moran, Frank Stapleton, Norman Whiteside and future Après Match legend Ashley Grimes.
They felt like a good fit, even if final opponents Brighton were in Deise blue and white and featured Irishmen Gary Howlett, captain Tony Grealish, future Spanish football pundit Michael Robinson and substitute Gerry Ryan. United won the Final replay 4-0, my elder brother rejoiced, I joined in and the rest is history.
Through highs and lows, and there have been far more highs as a United fan than what most other clubs have enjoyed, I’ve a great love for mighty Manchester United – and that shall never fade.
On a local front, the link to Manchester runs deep. As Orla Fitzgerald noted in a piece published back in May 1999, the Malcolmson family first came to consider cotton production through a North West English business associate.
A Liverpool Quaker named James Cropper visited Ireland in 1824, the same year David Malcolmson had taken control of the Pouldrew Iron and Bolting mill, situated between Kilmeaden and Portlaw.
Cropper was a founding director of the Liverpool-Manchester railway (the world’s first passenger rail link) and he met with David and Joseph Malcolmson in Clonmel on December 13th of that that year.
Fitzgerald writes: “Cropper’s visit coincided with a time when David Malcolmson was beginning to express concern at the effects of what he perceived to be the forthcoming repeal of the Corn Laws. In a letter he wrote in 1825, he said that ‘it is clear that for every barrel of foreign corn imported into England she wants so much less from Ireland’.
“This letter was written six days after he had leased land at Portlaw for the erection of the cotton factory. The site chosen for the factory was situated on the edge of the greatest landed estate in County Waterford, that of Lord Waterford at Curraghmore, valued in 1850 at £22,099 with Curraghmore House the most valuable (property) in the county at £210.
“The leased lands were located at Mayfield where a corn or flour mill had been located. A second area of land, on which the Mayfield dwelling house was situated, was also leased. This became the residence of David Malcolmson’s eldest son, Joseph and the senior partner in the firm after the retirement of David in 1837.”
The 1968 European Cup meeting of Waterford FC with holders Manchester United was another historic occasion: the first time soccer was ever played at Lansdowne Road, thus creating a tradition that would in time see the stadium become FAI co-tenants, along with the IRFU.
The late Shay Brennan would become the greatest single link between both clubs, taking over the Blues as player-manager in 1970, helping the club to win secure back to back League titles in 1972 and 73.
Shay, a Busby Babe, who propelled into the United team in the wake of the 1958 Munich Air Disaster, would make Tramore his home and was taken far too soon back in 2000 when he died suddenly, aged 63.
Famously, in 1976, Bobby Charlton made four appearances for Waterford FC, while eight years previously, Martin Ferguson (brother of Sir Alex Ferguson), then aged only 25, managed Waterford FC to the League title in his sole season in charge at Kilcohan.
Ferrybank’s John O’Shea would match Shay Brennan’s European Cup winning feat in the red of Manchester United in 2008, and made the city his home for 12 senior seasons, during which he also played in five Premier League-winning sides.
“You should see this place on a Saturday,” John told me when we spoke outside Old Trafford in December 2001, having taken the metro from St Peter’s Square in the city centre.
“You get on the metro, which is absolutely packed and you come down here (Sir Matt Busby Way) and you can’t move sideways…I love it here.”
Just a few weeks previously, John had joined the first team squad on a night out. “Ryan Giggs forced me to stand up and make a speech. Himself and the senior lads told me exactly what I had to say and it was pretty embarrassing, to be honest….(but) after getting my first game, it helped me get rid of some nerves. I feel so settled here now.” And things didn’t exactly turn out too badly for John at the Theatre of Dreams thereafter. And part of John shall forever be red.
The city that gave us the Bee Gees, Oasis, The Stone Roses, most of Take That, the Inspiral Carpets, James, Joy Division/New Order, the Happy Mondays, Morrissey (the Smiths played in Waterford’s Savoy back in the 80s), City, United and ‘Corrie’ means a lot of things to lots of Waterfordians.
“Manchester IS Wonderful,” I proudly wrote in the Book of Condolences at City Hall on Wednesday last, having returned there many times since that first magical visit. And no twisted ideology shall ever destroy it.