10 years ago | Old Trafford, Manchester | 13th May 2013
Ten years ago, Sir Alex Ferguson retired as Manager of Manchester United and the club won their last Premier League title. A decade on, it’s difficult not to conclude that one of those facts has largely determined the other. I hadn’t attended a trophy parade since an unforgettable afternoon on Deansgate to welcome The Treble winners in 1999 but I decided to drive to Manchester to add my appreciation for the 13th and final title of Sir Alex’s reign….
That wasn’t the only reason. A couple of years previously, I’d managed to interest my son Charlie in going to United matches, freeing him from the clutches of the Liverpool-supporting elements of the wider family before it was too late. This was to be his first opportunity to experience a League Title parade and I didn’t want to miss the occasion – because I distinctly remember wondering (against all hope) that it might be the last for some time.
As we would for a match day, we parked up at The Lowry car park and crossed the footbridge you can see on ‘North West Tonight’, over the Ship Canal, and walked from Salford Quays to Old Trafford. There, we joined the growing crowd of fans waving flags and awaiting the appearance of the team. Behind us were raised camera gantries with several familiar faces: well-known sports correspondents from BBC, ITV and Sky.
Before long, an open-top bus appeared and the crowd cheered its appreciation. Vidic and Evra at the front of the bus, just in front of Van Persie, Ferdinand, Chicharito, Carrick and Giggs. Towards the rear you could spot De Gea, stadium announcer Alan Keegan, Sir Bobby Charlton, a bored-looking Paul Scholes and, right at the back, the man himself, Sir Alex.
A microphone was passed around the players, giving each the chance to individually thank the fans. One or two took the opportunity to show off their singing talents (if that’s the right word). Eventually, it made its way to the back of the bus where The Boss gave a short speech about the determination of the team and his appreciation for the fans’ support over the twenty-five-and-a-half years of his tenure. Predictably, every sentence was raucously applauded.
I thought back to those drab days of November 1986, when the club lost patience with the cavalier style of Ron Atkinson and appointed this dour Scot who’d spectacularly broken the ‘Old Firm’s grip on Scottish football and shared a Scotland dugout with the legendary Jock Stein. Even to a football-mad 13 year-old, his credentials seemed impressive but the big question was whether or not that pedigree counted for anything in the greater challenge of English football.
For the next quarter of a century, we found out – albeit not immediately – that it would. And how! From the shaky beginnings of the late eighties and an FA Cup win in 1990 that began with a supposedly make-or-break win in Nottingham, an avalanche of trophies followed: the first two Premier League titles, two League & Cup doubles in three years and, gloriously, The Treble. A second decade of domestic dominance followed, with another European Champions League and a World Club Trophy thrown in. It was all a far cry from that first game, a 2-0 defat at Oxford United in 1986..
Many of those watching the 2013 parade weren’t old enough to remember a team not managed by Alex Ferguson; nor were they likely to be familiar with the experience of many trophy-less seasons. Those of us who were qualified thus knew not to expect an unbroken succession of trophies from whoever would follow. Pessimistically, maybe – but as things turned out, realistically. I mean it shouldn’t have been like that, given the reputations of some of those who’ve inhabited the Old Trafford hot-seat since then, but the relative struggles of the last ten years have only served to further underline Ferguson’s genius.
When he arrived, we were searching for our next Sir Matt Busby. He eclipsed Sir Matt half-way through his reign and went on to deserve all the adulation he received on that day and since.
We shouldn’t expect to see Fergie’s like again – but another ‘next Busby’ is still not too much to hope for…
30 years ago | The Plough Inn, Galgate, Lancashire | 3rd May 1993
It was hard to be a Manchester United fan in the 1980s. It was a decade of inconsistency, frustration and under-achievement. Worse than that, the dominant team of the age was Liverpool, whose relentless accumulation of trophies further highlighted the gulf between hope and expectation. With each season, the number of years since United’s last league title (in 1967) was quoted ad nauseam by newspapers and rival fans alike. Today, you may feel the need to refer to the word’s smallest violin but that’s largely because in 1993, the counter finally stopped at 26 years…
The inaugural season of the FA Premier League had been another rollercoaster of a season. Unsurprisingly, we’d lost our first-ever game in the new competition, 2-1 at Sheffield United, with Brian Deane scoring its first goal, after five minutes.
Six weeks later, I’d started University. Having chosen Lancaster over my second choice (Salford), I knew the opportunities to get to Old Trafford would be fewer than I’d enjoyed over the previous few seasons. While I was enjoying life as a Fresher, we continued to stagger into the season, drawing five games in a row and then losing to Wimbledon and Aston Villa.
Not that feelings were to be trusted. We’d finished the previous season in second place after imploding spectacularly with weeks to go. And then there was the heady 85-86 season which began with ten straight wins and ended with 16 points dropped in the last ten games. Bitter experience had shown that winning titles required more than mere excitement.
Cantona continued to galvanise the team, inspiring a crucial win at Norwich. Steve Bruce famously did the same, deep into added time, at home to Sheffield Wednesday. A midweek win at Crystal Palace meant that Aston Villa had to beat Oldham to stay in the race on the Sunday. When Oldham got an unlikely win, the wait was finally over – the title was coming back to Manchester.
On Sky’s Monday Night Football, the match at home to Blackburn became the coronation of the first-ever Premier League champions. Kevin Gallagher threatened to dampen the party by scoring for the visitors before goals from Giggs, Ince and – improbably – a Gary Pallister free kick made it 3-1 to United.
I was watching with friends at the Plough Inn in Galgate, a short walk from Lancaster University. At the final whistle, it was a scene of celebrating United fans finally exorcising the ghosts of Charlton, Law and Best. For many, like me, the wilderness years had extended well beyond their lifetime.
As Bruce and Robson lifted the trophy, we witnessed the genial smile of an octogenarian Matt Busby and knew that, truly, the flame of greatness had been passed. For as long as I could remember before that point, I had supported a team, that weren’t the best in England. Now, finally, the pecking order had changed…
10 years ago | Ashton-in-Makerfield Golf Club, Wigan | 20th April 2013
Ten years ago, I was at a charity fundraiser run by our local rugby club and arrived to find that I was to be seated next to a man you’d describe as rugby league royalty – although my grandma might have called him something else…
I had no idea there was going to be anyone noteworthy there but when we arrived, we learned that the organisers had pulled some strings and secured the after-dinner speaking services of St. Helens, Leigh and Great Britain legend, Alex Murphy.
And so I spent much of the evening chatting to a man who’d captained three different teams to win the Challenge Cup, a man who’d had a brief, controversial time as coach of Wigan and the man I’m pretty sure was only ever referred to by my grandma as “that dirty bugger”.
When he rose to speak, I got the sense that he was ‘phoning it in’, probably from delivering the same classic material several times a week over many years to an invariably uncritical audience. But that didn’t matter to me because when I spoke to him, one to one, it was the Alex Murphy I remembered: the gravelly voice, “the Mouth”, the glint in the eye, the fire still burning in his belly.
You’re advised never to meet your heroes but that didn’t bother me because, like anyone in Wigan, ‘Murph’ was always more of a pantomime villain – and even in his seventies, he knew how to play his part. He might have been a swine on the field to opposing fans but the charisma that gave him his competitive edge as a player was still there that night – and it made him great company.
30 years ago | Old Trafford, Manchester, UK | 12th December 1992
Thirty years ago, we saw a shift in the tectonic plates of English football – and I was there to witness it: a 1-0 victory over Norwich City…
Manchester United spent the 1980s as perennial under-achievers and the 90s as a dominant force. Many people believe the single turning point was in their Third Round victory at Nottingham Forest in 1990, won by a Mark Robins goal that supposedly saved Alex Ferguson’s job.
While it was certainly a significant moment, it still only led to a Cup win, something United had done twice in their under-whelming previous decade. Even more elusive, over the previous 26 years, was any sense of expectation of league success.
In December 1992, the inaugural Premier Leagues season, recent Champions Liverpool and Arsenal were in transition. Leeds United were Champions, Blackburn had arrived as a cash-rich challenger and Norwich had somehow climbed to the top of the league.
Over at Old Trafford, 5th-placed United had been cajoling performances from a team that had faded dismally the previous spring, handing the last ‘old’ League title to Leeds. There were moments of quality but, as ever, inconsistency seemed to limit the team’s potential. Yes, the Youth Team had – as is now legend – won their cup, months previously, but it was still too early to see the ‘Class of 92’ realise their potential.
Two weeks earlier, an astonishing transfer coup had taken place, with the arrival of the mercurial Eric Cantona from Leeds. He’d only in played the second half in the derby victory six days beforehand and was making his first United start against the league leaders.
Played against the backdrop of a half-built ‘new’ Stratford End, with twinkling Christmas lights on the cranes and free plastic capes for fans sitting in the uncovered seats, this was my first sight of ‘King Eric’ in a United shirt.
The game wasn’t a classic but it wasn’t as close as the 1-0 scoreline suggests. United spurned several chances before Mark Hughes seized on a defensive error to spin and finish in his usual emphatic fashion. Here’s the highlights:
More impressively, this was a team with the grit to withstand an impressive Norwich team who were eight points clear at the top, after eighteen games. As we streamed out of the ground after the game, there was a sense in the crowd that Cantona could really be the final piece of the puzzle after so much unfulfilled promise.
The next two games were both away draws (at Chelsea and Sheffield Wednesday), with Cantona scoring in each. The next home game seemed to confirm the optimism of the Norwich game: an impressive 5-0 victory over Coventry City, with that man Cantona scoring a penalty and providing two assists. I was there for that game too.
Something had changed in this team. Maybe they were capable of finally emulating Busby’s ’67 team. An increasing number of the crowd began to dare to dream again – but it would take another five months before the hope became a reality. I’ll tell you where I was that night, when we get to 30 years after that event…
10 years ago | Orrell St. James RLFC, Wigan, UK | 18th November 2012
This is a post to mark the dedication of junior sports team families. For nearly five years, our Sunday mornings were mostly dominated by junior rugby. To the uninitiated, that may sound like an hour or so on the touchline but the reality is more like a lifestyle choice.
Two-hour training sessions, twice a week, travel to away games across the North West, pre-match team breakfasts, social occasions, fundraising activities, club outings and parents’ nights out. Then there’s all the stuff you need: the kit, training kit, footwear, safety wear, kit bags, a first aid kit, balls, kicking tees, raffle tickets, club merchandise. And then all the constant, incessant washing, It quickly takes over a large part of your life.
But then you wouldn’t have it any other way. The opportunity to reinforce the importance of achievement, of belonging to a team, the life-lessons of sacrifice and effort, the irregular moments of pure joy when everything goes well and the value of forbearance when things get tough.
It doesn’t end there. There’s a camaraderie amongst parents, a pooling of resources to keep the club functioning well and stories of club events that will only ever resonate quite as strongly to those who were there. What often starts with an invitation to ‘join in’ can become a defining part of family life.
And then one day, with almost no notice, it can all come to an end. You can’t force kids to carry on in a team just because you’ve moulded your life around it. You have to respect that and mould your life around something else. In many ways, it can be like a bereavement. As such, the best advice is not to mourn the loss of what was there but to be thankful that it was ever so special.
35 years ago: Central Park, Wigan, UK – 7th October 1987 I’m almost certainly on this picture. I was one of the 36,895 who packed into Wigan’s old Central Park ground to watch the cherry-and-whites become World Club Champions. That we were packed tightly at the very back of the corner terrace, far behind the floodlight pylon, suggests, as many believed, that there were well over 40,000 present – today, pretty much anyone in Wigan over 40 now claims to have been there! Wigan won a tense, physical, try-less affair 8-2 and history was made. Thanks in part to this game, 30 years later, I took the Manly ferry from Sydney and spent the day there.
As a Wiganer, I don’t mind admitting I’m still getting over our 18-14 defeat to Hull in last weekend’s Challenge Cup Final. I feel I probably shouldn’t be so affected by it, these days – I’ve been here enough times before: in 1984 (crushingly), in 1998 (inexplicably) and in 2004 (rather drunkenly). I’d like to think that those experiences, plus of course the very many Cup-winning years (including the famous eight-in-a-row) would give me sufficient perspective to absorb the disappointment a little more adroitly.
Sadly, just like Tony Clubb’s doomed attempt for the line, it was not to be. Now, four days on, the anguish at the outcome has dissipated slightly. I know this because I’ve now come to believe that the scoreline was not, for once, the most significant statistic of the day.
Before I explain what I believe is, I should move to deny any stirring suspicions you may have that I’m displaying sour grapes or even revisionism. Of course I wish we’d won but the day highlighted an issue much more concerning than merely the non-adornment of yet another trophy in cherry and white – it’s an issue that has implications on the future of the sport of rugby league itself.
You may or may not have picked up on the story that the attendance of 68,525 was the lowest at a Challenge Cup final since its return to the re-built Wembley in 2007. There are a number of facets to this simple stat, together with a fair degree of context, to increase or reduce the level of alarm it elicits, depending upon your viewpoint. If nothing else, this is very much a matter of interpretation and opinion, which rather thickens the plot but also fuels the conspiracy theories. It all brings to mind the phrase, often attributed to Mark Twain who believed himself to be quoting Benjamin Disraeli (although no record of Disraeli saying it exists): “There are lies, damned lies and statistics”.
Before we go any further, is this story true and by how much is the figure lower than any before? According the BBC match report, the figure was “by some distance the lowest” but what does the data say? As ever, my friends at Wikipedia are a handy place to check:
So, there you have it: in headline terms, no different to last year (which was itself the lowest post-2007 figure) but almost eight thousand fewer again, quite a significant drop.
The chief reason for the sudden discrepancy appears to be the widely-quoted accounting change that for the first time this year, debenture-holders’ seats were not automatically counted as occupied, giving a more accurate figure. This is basically a way of suggesting that every previous new Wembley figure was utterly fictitious and that in real terms, this year’s attendance figure was no different to any other year. It all sounds incredibly convenient to spare any blushes the RFL may have – but can it be true?
At this point, most people would probably just shrug their shoulders and move on with their life but this requires a level of stadium geekery that I feel able to provide – and to some extent, corroborate. When the current incarnation of Wembley Stadium was built, part of its funding came from a debenture scheme (“Club Wembley”) in which holders were given a middle-tier seat for use at any event held at the venue – a sort of super season ticket. Inevitably, most of these were seen as justifiable investment by companies with an eye on the corporate hospitality opportunities they afforded and they signed up in their thousands. I know someone who did, a print supplier with whom I used to spend a lot of money. In 2011, as I was one of his biggest rugby league-following clients, he offered me his seats to watch that year’s Challenge Cup Final.
You can most easily see the seats in question in the ten minutes after the re-start in any home England football match as the mostly corporate inhabitants struggle to down their half-time pints until about the 55th minute. It was, I believe, at one such occasion that the seat-holders’ conspicuity by their absence provoked Adrian Chiles to give it its most scathing (and most apt) nickname: “the ring of indifference” – perhaps the most John Lennon thing he’s ever said. Anyway, as their debenture holders were seen as ‘customers’, it seems every official attendance at the new Wembley has counted each and every one of them, whether or not they were represented on the day by anyone in person.
I can only presume that in 2017, ten years after the stadium’s opening, the debenture terms have elapsed and different rules now apply. The good news is that 68-odd thousand is not really any lower than any other year so the “lowest attendance” story is (and I hasten to give this term the credence it ill-deserves) ‘fake news’. The bad news, rugby fans, is that for a decade, we’ve been kind of kidding ourselves about the true numbers. The case is perhaps most clearly made by this Getty Images picture, taken during the 2010 final between Warrington and Leeds. The official attendance that day was 85,217, purportedly less than five thousand people shy of a 90,000 full house and yet, despite the tightly-packed crowds in the upper and lower tiers, the whole middle tier appears sparsely populated.
Does any of this bean-counting matter, then, if it’s all built on a farcically inaccurate trend? Clearly, not as much as is being made of it – but it does beg the rather more fundamental question of why we’ve probably now had a decade of Challenge Cup final attendances that were ‘only’ c.70,000. In the days before the old Wembley had its capacity reduced to 70-odd thousand, finals regularly attracted crowds in the 90,000s.
Looking at the pictures from this year’s final, it’s easy to see that this year, the RFL knew the problem was coming. I’d already received increasingly urgent emails from them with various last-minute deals, including “£5 for under 16s”. On the day, this tweet of Wigan legend Martin Offiah in the Royal Box clearly shows the upper tier opposite ‘blanked off’ by decorative red*-and-white/black-and-white sheeting over vast swathes of the seating area which were not expected to sell.
*by the way, RFL, Wigan’s colours are cherry and white, not red.
What’s most interesting about this development is where the empty seats where. If you know Wembley, you’ll know the Royal Box is directly opposite the TV camera gantry. To the viewers at home, it would, for most of the time, seem as though Wembley was full. Depending upon your viewpoint, this is either a case of good PR or managed decline. It’s also something in which the RFL have a fair degree of form. Remember the 2013 World Cup? The opening fixtures were a double-header in the Millennium Stadium, Cardiff. My son Charlie happened to be a mascot that day and I took as many pictures as I could of him with the England and Australia teams as they lined up before the game. The attendance was 45,052, the capacity in Cardiff is 73,000, leaving around 28,000 empty seats for the organisers to hope no-one sees. From the picture below, would you care to take a wild guess which side the TV gantry is at the Millennium Stadium?
To be fair to the RFL, there are exceptions. For six of the last ten years, the Grand Final has attracted a 70 thousand-plus crowd to Old Trafford (nominally with a 75,000 capacity but slightly reduced for such occasions to allow a stage to be built on the South West quadrant for the pre-show live act). As a percentage of capacity, the Grand Final is now almost always in the upper 90s.
And then there was the success story that was the 2013 World Cup Final – a crowd of 74,468 which is still, I believe, the world record attendance for an international rugby league match. Much as I’d prefer to gloss over the fact that this game didn’t include England (thanks to both a piece of sublime magic and a last-minute try from New Zealand in the semi-final), the absence of the home nation makes the subsequent sell-out for the final even more worthy of praise for the organisers.
The common denominator to both these successes is, it’s safe to argue, the fact that they both took place at Old Trafford, Manchester, set almost perfectly within the very heartland of rugby league. Wembley and Cardiff, on the other hand, are not.
The point is, I would contend, strengthened further by the somewhat chequered achievements of the ‘Magic Weekend‘, the newest kid on the block of annual rugby league showpiece occasions in the UK. The reliance on compound attendance figures for these two-day festivals has more than a whiff of an initiative seeking attention via the biggest number it can lay its hands on, which is why I prefer to look at average attendances over the two days. Over the last ten years, the numbers have barely edged beyond plus-or-minus 10% of 30,000 per day. That sounds great, compared to a regular fixture (in 2016, Super League fixtures averaged 9,134) but for three fixtures in a day (and sometimes, it’s four), 30k seems like a case of negligible uplift. Add to that the fact that the fixtures for these events tend to be ‘marquee’ games like Wigan v Leeds or derbies like Hull v Hull KR which tend not to struggle for numbers when left to be played in their normal surroundings and the whole thing feels like it might just about be ‘washing its face’ and no more.
Of course, all of the above is not the be-all and end-all: the Magic Weekend adds a marvellous sense of occasion to those there, it helps to generate extra national press from a largely union-centric media and it ‘spreads the gospel’ further afield and all that but after all that effort, it’s difficult to claim that, empirically, it’s added even a single extra bum on a seat. Throw in the fact that the venues (Millennium Stadium, Cardiff; Murrayfield, Edinburgh; Etihad Stadium, Manchester and, latterly, St. James’ Park, Newcastle) are all much larger than 30k and you’re back to the same game of ‘hide the empty seats from the cameras’ – average daily occupancy has ranged from 40% at Cardiff to 67% in Manchester. Just how commercially successful is the whole enterprise, really?
It’s an important point to make because one theory I’ve read is that the existence of the Magic Weekend is the most likely cause of the trimming of Challenge Cup final crowds. An alternative away-day at which your team is guaranteed to play does seem like a slightly more appealing alternative to the more traditional, relatively vicarious pursuit of turning up at Wembley in your team’s colours “for the day out” even though two other teams are actually contesting the final. Having been part of the convivial, ‘rugby league family’ atmosphere, it would be a shame to see it lessened but equally, it takes a bit of fortitude to walk proudly down Wembley Way in a Saints shirt, for example, knowing you’re going to suffer a few hours of (mostly) light-hearted ribbing from the assembled hoards of Wigan and Leeds fans milling around outside the stadium when your team isn’t even there. As someone who must admit to being part of that ‘friendly fire’, I can confirm I’d think twice about taking the time and expense of going all that way not to see my team, knowing I’d be on the receiving end of it.
I think there are other factors. Bank Holidays are divisive things: enabling grand days out for many but also providing prohibitive alternative attractions which aren’t always easy to avoid, like weddings, long weekends away or, in my case, family holidays (I was driving home, trying to avoid being drawn onto the Péripherique in Paris, last Saturday, while asking for regular updates from Wembley on the BBC Sport app). Bank Holidays also seem to promise extra travel problems too. A terrible crash on the M1 and the closure of Euston station, last Saturday seem to be further invitations not to bother again, in future. I appreciate there were many finals held on the Saturday of the May Day weekend, years ago but was the Challenge Cup not equally well served by holding its final in the last weekend in April? It seems so: 94,273 Wigan and Halifax fans attended the 1988 final on April 30th, that year.
The mood music is not great, wherever you point your ear, though. Earlier this year, the RFL caused some consternation by raising the possibility that future Challenge Cup finals may not be played at Wembley, surely a red line-crosser for most fans of the sport. Even in Australia, the home of the dominant Kangaroos and the all-conquering NRL, all is not rosy in the garden. As in England, parochial imbalances afflict the sport there, with comparable constraints and similar initiatives to counter them. In particular, the go-to remedy to address the suburban Sydney clubs’ willingness to exceed their local confines is to play selected regular season games at the 83,000-seat ANZ Stadium, the cavernous-when-empty home of the 2000 Olympics. If you think the hastily-decorated bank of empty seats at Wembley signify problems in our game, wait ’til you’ve seen a round of NRL played before barely 10% occupancy and a veritable Southern ocean of blue seating blocks.
I’ll soon get over Wigan’s loss at Wembley, I’m sure – possibly as soon as Friday if we can bounce back and put one over on our bitter rivals from St. Helens. I’m also sure that this year’s Grand Final will attract around 70,000 or more again this year (hopefully with around half of them wearing cherry and white, again). The real litmus test will come the next time the game holds a showpiece away from the M62 corridor. The location of the 2018 Magic Weekend is, as yet, unconfirmed. The three most-attended incarnations have all come at Newcastle – albeit no single day there has ever left fewer than 12,000 empty seats – so it’s the most obvious choice. An outside bet may be the Ricoh Arena in Coventry: desperate for the money, tried successfully for home internationals in recent years and offering an achievable capacity of over 32,000. It would be a venue less likely to visually advertise any shortfall in ticket sales but its very selection could be seen as a tacit admission of the RFL’s desire to play safe and not over-extend.
As a fan, I wouldn’t be terribly concerned, either way, about the choice of venue for a round of Super League fixtures in late May. I would however worry what the implications would be of anything that could be construed to be ‘damage-limitation thinking’ on the future of the game’s oldest and noblest occasion. Wembley is a non-negotiable part of the Challenge Cup and more must be done to ensure it is filled on the one day a year our sport has it.
Brett Ashton is a difficult man to pin down. I called his mobile one morning to discuss this article, only to be met with the reply “Sorry, I’ll have to do this another time – I’m in a nuclear power station”. As conversation-stoppers go, it’s a pretty good one so we rescheduled at a later date.
Of course the reason Brett can be so elusive is that he’s simply just so busy. As Engineering Supervisor for CSG, he brings an extensive knowledge of pumps and pumping – an ideal specialism as moving liquids is a mainstay of our services. He alternates his time, seemingly daily, between our Head Office in Fareham and any of a number of sites that he oversees.
Service and Maintenance team based at our Head Office in Fareham. Brett Ashton far left.
“I’m really a troubleshooter”, he explains to me, when we find a more appropriate time to speak. “I carry out the surveys, examine the data, provide the quotes and source the parts. I do still get my hands dirty but I’m really here to pass on my knowledge when it’s required.”
Aged 32, he started his career in the Royal Navy, not uncommonly for a son of Portsmouth, and served for two years as an Engineer, mostly aboard HMS Manchester. Thereafter, he worked in London, maintaining pumps for a variety of clients: “hotels, department stores, fast-food restaurants; mostly heating systems but all pretty similar pumping requirements”.
For the last four years, he’s applied his specialist knowledge here at CSG. He patiently explains the rudiments of pumping: “you’re either looking to get the right level of flow (in litres per minute) or the right distance, which is represented as a curve on a graph. The complicated bit is when you need to move the curve with the current you have”.
Slowly, it dawns that ‘current’ and ‘flow’ are not interchangeable terms. ‘Flow’ refers to the liquid motion but the ‘current’ is of the electrical variety, the means of powering the whole operation. Brett casually confirms the realisation “I’m actually a trained plumber and a qualified electrician, which is funny really because usually, they don’t get on!”
Confident and yet self-effacing, he certainly doesn’t give the impression of a person given to internal struggle but his point is well observed – anyone who’s worked on a building site will know the two trades can be capable of mixing about as harmoniously as… well, electricity and water.
It’s certainly not a job for people who don’t like exams. Brett has had to undertake confined space training, is a qualified slinger and banksman and is UKPIA-accrediated to work on a forecourt. He’s recently added to this roster by taking a Level 2 & 3 City & Guilds qualification to bolster his electrician’s credentials. “It involved two years of travelling to London for weekends and a lot of A-level maths!”
Perhaps the most enviable aspect of Brett’s work is the wide variety of places it takes him to. Aside from his regular presence at that nuclear power station he’s responsible for operations at schools, Forestry Commission sites, RAF barracks and even TV and Film Studios. As it’s a working studios, you have to check your mobile phone in at the front desk because there’s a strict ‘no photography’ policy – so there’s no chance of a selfie with any of the film stars you might come across!”
Occasional brushes with celebrity are nice enough but they pale in comparison to ensuring a job is well done. Brett explains how smarter technology is helping him to do exactly that. “Many of our pump stations now have a smart element to them. This means that not only do they monitor the levels and spot a fault, they can diagnose the problem and email the client and the team here at CSG. Now, we often don’t need to send out an engineer to look at what’s going on, which is more efficient all round and saves the client money.”
Unsurprisingly, for someone so busy, Brett remains just as active outside of work. A black belt at karate at the age of 13, he also boxed for the Navy at Lightweight (60Kg). Running and weight-training burn off whatever excess energy remains at the end of the day.
Perhaps the most surprising part of our discussion comes when he declares he’s a big fan of rugby league, in particular the Leeds Rhinos. Portsmouth is a long way from the sport’s M62-corridor heartland and over 250 miles from Leeds so why the affiliation? “My Dad used to play for Leeds – when they were just called Leeds – so that’s the main reason but I’d still far rather watch a game of rugby league over union and I try to get up to Headingley to watch a game, when I can.”
What does the future hold for this rugby-league-supporting ex-serviceman of many talents? “I’ve always preferred to see money as a means to travel rather than just owning stuff and I would like to see more of the world but with a young daughter at the moment, we can’t be too ambitious”. It’s clear that, sooner or later, this elusive engineer is hoping to be even harder to pin down – for a few weeks of the year, at least!
Originally published as a FB Note, on 28 May 2008 at 00:19
Two weeks ago, I was very close to writing a post on the disgraceful trashing of Manchester by Rangers ‘fans’ during and after their appearance in the UEFA Cup Final. Exasperated in equal measure as I was by all concerned, I saw no real injustice, so I decided to leave the subject alone – until now.
To recap, where there are 100,000+ Glasgwegians, copious amounts of alcohol and a high potential for disappointment, it doesn’t take a genius to work out what might happen next. Given what did happen, it’s easy to paint the Rangers following as the villains of the piece. Of course, they were the ones charging the police and breaking windows so whatever way you wish to look at it, they are hardly able to complain of victimisation.
Consider though for a second the role played by Manchester City Council here. Despite toeing the sensible line of advising ticketless United fans not to go to Moscow the following week, when it came to their own gig, the Council mysteriously and repeatedly trotted out lines beginning with ‘Despite all the advice, we know that more Rangers fans will want to be here than can be accommodated in the City of Manchester Stadium…’
When it comes to the injection of a few Bank of Scotland notes into the city’s coffers, it seemed the Council ‘bottled’ it – rather ironically. Hey, what’s a bit of extra police overtime against a potential £50m in extra revenues? At the last minute, the City Council decided to lay on some big screens to make “better provision” for these fans that, had they been similarly following United in Moscow, the same Council would have advised not to travel.
So, as sure as a hangover follows a party, we had the flashpoint, the violence, the clean-up and the recriminations. Another of the ironies of the situation was that the reported failure of one of the big screens was cited as a spark to the flame. Like a rowdy regular, the Rangers fans took a certain delight in having their pint spilled and so had their fight to make their night. Like a greedy landlord, the city knew who they were letting in and only did it to sell a few more pints. Both parties deserved what they got.
What about those caught in the crossfire, though? The real injustice only occurred eight days later when Manchester United’s Champion’s League victory was denied a civic parade by the same Council, on police advice. That’s right, the same supporters who voted for and pay their Council taxes to Manchester were asked to accept that the previous week’s maurauding Scots had irrevocably changed the risk levels of such a gathering that had caused no problems only eight years previously.
I was in the crowd at Deansgate on May 27th 1999. The city’s main thoroughfare was carpeted with scores of thousands of people, all waiting patiently for the five minutes or so that they would have to see the team pass by. Aside from the odd over-enthusiastic building-scaler or lamp-post-climber, I saw nothing that would worry a police officer. The mood was overwhelmingly good-natured. The atmosphere was almost identical to that at a festival or a major concert before the main act came on, euphoric and full of anticipation.
At the time, I was struck by the uniqueness of the situation that combined a Glastonbury feel with a city centre location. Now the moment has passed and calls for a parade can only diminish to the extent that even if one happens, it will be a pale imitation. Damn the brainless Rangers fans for their drunken idiocy. Damn the spineless City Council for their greed and double standards and damn then feckless Greater Manchester Police for having the nerve to suggest that the two situations are even slightly similar.
Sadly, it seems I was right about the ’99 parade, but not in the way that it turned out to be unique. We may have a football team to be proud of , but
Manchester’s supporters deserved much, much more than they got from the people paid to act as a team supporting them.
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