Win one for Mannion !
Many years ago there were a couple of brilliant footballers. There names were Wilf Mannion, and Albert Stubbins. That’s really about all I know of them. There names are very familiar to me though, because they were the nick-names that were used to identify my Dad (Stubbins) and his brother (Mannion) in their early teens, and in the way these things pan out, for most of the rest of their lives.
Why ? well because they were good footballers. Not quite so good as the real Mannion & Stubbins mind – but they both cut a dash in the Spen Valley League for a while.
Last weekend though my uncle, Mannion, died of cancer, after a relatively short illness. Diagnosed with cancer of the oesophagus only in August, he only became really really ill a couple of weeks back – and it was quite a surprise when he died. So this blog is my tribute to him.
My Dad & my Uncle were two of five brothers born in Manchester, but brought up in the Heavy Woollen District in a working class family. They lived (and my Dad still does) a typical West Yorkshire (or perhaps I should say West Riding) working class life.
I suppose I could do a blog, talking about how they triumphed over adversity, through community spirit and support for the Labour party.
I could – but it would be a lie. I’m reasonably sure that all the members of my extended family on both my Dad’s side & my Mum’s, could have been loosely described as floating voters. Neither did any of them particularly triumph over adversity. They worked hard, and got by, none spectacularly successful and none of them failures. None of them wealthy but equally none of them ever poverty stricken (although it’s all relative).
No – the common thread which bound my family together was not politics. Nor was it religion. Nor was it the working class community spirit. It was actually … Football !
That’s not strictly accurate – it wasn’t just football – it was Huddersfield Town Football Club.
I was taken to my first Huddersfield match in what I think was 1965 – by my Dad, and three of his brothers. Including the aforementioned Mannion. We played Blackburn Rovers at home, and I recall the Town supporters chanting the name of Alan Gilliver – who later played for Blackburn (and more recently was involved behind the scenes at Bradford City). in truth I remember little about the game. I do remember though my uncle lifting me above his head to get a better view of the match, and promptly banging my head on the low roof of what was the “paddock” in front of the main stand at Leeds Road stadium – which had disappeared for ever by my next visit to the ground.
From that day onward I unwittingly became the subject of a plot to indoctrinate & initiate me into something that was part religion, part family, and partly a downright curse – I was about to become a Huddersfield Town supporter.
My Dad, Stubbins, played his part by dragging me and my brother to every home game. Kicking & Screaming ? You bet we were – we begged and pleaded not to go, but were told we had to – for my Mum’s sake (never been quite sure about how that figured).
Meanwhile Mannion would see us fairly frequently, and would test us on our football knowledge. This was achieved by studying the Littlewoods year book, which was delivered by the football pools collector at the start of each season. Along with details of how to complete an 8 from 14 Full Perm, or a “Lit-Plan”, it contained details about every club in the league (Question 1 – How many clubs are in the league ? Quick ! Quick ! Answer : 92 ! Yes – that’s right !)
Information – Important stuff. Like what colours each team played in. Like what colours they played in away from home, like which stadium (or more properly – which “ground”) they played at, and what was their record attendance, and ground capacity (all the good teams had a record attendance far bigger than their ground capacity)
So every few weeks my brother and I would find ourselves being grilled by Mannion. “What colours do Blackburn Rovers play in ?” “Blue and White ?” “Stripes ?” ” er … Quarters” – “No -it’s halves – you’ve got to know your strips”
“Who plays at St James’s Park” “Newcastle !” “That’s easy – but who else ?” “Exeter City !” – “Well done – You’ve got to know your grounds”
We of course enjoyed every second of this and I gradually realised that most of it was tongue in cheek, but nevertheless it worked its magic. We gradually started to enjoy our forcible abduction to Leeds Road on alternate Saturday afternoons, and really did become quite knowledgeable about football in general, and Huddersfield Town in particular – the first team by the way to win the League title in 3 consecutive years (but can you name the others ?); and so it was on a Saturday afternoon in August 1970, I made my way out of the first match of the season – a 3-0 home win against Blackpool – our first game in the “top flight” for some 14 years – and back to the car with my Dad and my uncle – who pointed out after listening to the results coming in on the radio (which was held up to his ear – no flashy in-car entertainment systems back then), that as we’d got a better goal average (not difference) than anyone else who’d won that day, we were top of the league. I accepted this news as a confirmed Town supporter. As if it had ever been in doubt.
The years have not been so good to our team since then – certainly we’ve never been in that exalted position since then – and the next few years were a real trial for Huddersfield supporters, seeing us slide down to Division 4 whilst near neighbours Leeds (excuse me while I wash my mouth out with soap) enjoyed their best ever seasons under Don Revie. At school it seemed like every one was a Leeds supporter, save a few hardy souls like me. It wasn’t pleasant. We were teased and bullied and generally made to feel like a race apart – but we began to notice something interesting.
If you looked at a class full of about 30 kids and asked who supported which football team, you’d find maybe 26 for Leeds, 4 for Huddersfield. If you then asked who had ever attended a live game, you’d find around 8 for Leeds and around 4 for Huddersfield. If you then asked who attended every home game, You’d find around 3 for Leeds and around 4 for Huddersfield.
So we actually found that we had a more cohesive network – we all knew each other, knew people from other schools,other Towns, and we actually found that the Leeds supporters envied us. If we needed a lift to a game, someone’s Dad took us, or their Uncle, or Grandad or whatever, because in all of our families, supporting Huddersfield was not an option. It was seen as our birthright.
It may seem weird now, but I grew up in a family in which my parents, all my grandparents, all my 4 Uncles, and 5 Aunties, and all my various cousins – all of them, but all of them, were Huddersfield Town supporters.
In later life it wasn’t quite as easy to get to all the games, and I didn’t see as much of my uncle as I did as a boy, but when “Abide with me” was sung at his funeral, in typical cup final fashion with half the crowd not really knowing the words, I have to admit that I was tempted to break into a loud cheer at the end, and could picture in my minds eye, the team breaking towards their following supporters at Wembley.
I’m not a believer in God myself, but if my uncle is looking down on us from on high, – he may not be at God’s right hand, but if there’s a God, I’m sure Bill Shankly will be close to him – so Mannion : Have a word with Shanks – point out that he owes us after winning the cup for Preston & also taking us down a league, point out that Denis Law did some good stuff for Scotland, and get him to have a word with the big guy to see if he can sort something out : Huddersfield to gain promotion to the First Division – or England to win the World Cup – either will do (although both would be nice !); Oh and if any Huddersfield Town players are reading this – Win one for Mannion ! He was a good man, and it’s what he would have wanted !