Mark Radcliffe – Manchester City supporter
Crazy as it sounds for a team dubbed “the Loveable Losers” for so many decades, I fell in love with City because of the glamour. Long before we fell from grace in the 80s, then tumbled down the leagues and very nearly into oblivion, I’d already deserted my old native Bolton for something new and something blue.
I was born in 1958, so when my dad – a journo on the Bolton Evening News – decided to treat me to the ultimate live footie experience, away I was whisked to Manchester and the impossibly exciting world of Bell, Lee and Summerbee. City had been First Division champions in 68. Not that young Master Radcliffe would have known it as the 70s hoved into view. But there was something in that blue air, something beautiful and exotic.
City’s erstwhile fortress, the rickety old Maine Road situated in the even more rickety Moss Side area, was nothing short of marvellous. I was so taken with it that I sat in three different sides of the ground in my early season-ticket years after I first came to Manchester as a student in 1976. I never stood on the Kippax then – too much of a wimp. But I did my time in the innovatively titled Main Stand, which was officially the biggest shed in the world; the Platt Lane, named because it was near Platt Lane; and the North Stand, where “Big” Helen Turner rang an annoying bell all the time and keeper Joe Corrigan came round the back of his goal during a game to ask us fans what the time was, so little did he have to do.
But then, the dark days. Years spent in the wilderness sitting on the steps at the top of the Kippax with Marc Riley (I’d found some courage down among the pie wrappers), seeing the lights of Old Trafford illuminating Manchester United v Bayern or somesuch as we went down one–nil to Bury. Or was it Wigan?
Times have changed beyond recognition for us, of course, and now we meet the Latics in the Cup final. We’re in the top flight, as are Wigan themselves, of course. But there the similarities end. We have cash, a new ground and trophies in the cabinet. They’re in a permanent relegation dogfight.
I used to dream of City winning the League. After last season’s glory, I don’t have to dream any more. And yet somehow football has generally become less fun all round, and it’s hard to escape the feeling that the connections between players and supporters are now gossamer thin.
Still, I won’t be thinking anything so curmudgeonly on Saturday. City should win the Cup – and despite having never got a score prediction right in my entire life, I actually think that this time we will. It will be close-ish, though. “Rampant” hasn’t been a part of City’s vocabulary this season. But Wigan’s admirable desire to play football rather than stick ten men behind the ball could well be their downfall.
If the Latics were playing anyone else, I’d happily support them. But there can be no soft spot for them against my beloved Blue boys. 3-1 to Mancini’s men.
Stuart Maconie – Wigan Athletic fan
Milne, Coutts, Gillibrand, Breen; the names come back like an incantation, like the Shipping Forecast or the rosary, tolling like a bell at the bottom of memory’s ocean. The Wigan Athletic team at the beginning of the 1970s. A Pugh, Pugh, Barney McGrew of solid evocative old footballing names, ending not Cuthbert Dibble and Grub, but Temple, Fleming, Todd.
I saw my first Wigan Athletic match when I was still at primary school. Maybe even still in short pants, though probably not at the actual games. It was too cold on the Cowshed end of the old Wigan Athletic ground and my dad would take a cap and scarf, and sometimes on winter midweek evenings, a hipflask of something fiery. Back then, the glamour ties we would salivate over were fixtures with Altrincham, Stafford Rangers and Boston United. Today, as we cling to our precarious perch in the rarefied atmosphere of the Premier League, it’s Manchester United, Chelsea and Liverpool. But then and now, to play in an FA Cup final was and is a dream, a dream that will come true on Saturday 11 May 2013.
Our opponents that day will be Manchester City and there are several pleasing symmetries about the occasion. For one thing, it will be 40 years exactly since I last saw Wigan Athletic in a Wembley final, when I sat high up in the stands eating pasties with most of my family as we won the 1973 FA Trophy, a competition for non-league teams, by beating Stafford Rangers 1–0.
Two seasons before that, and still two years shy of the 11–plus, I was sandwiched between my dad and Uncle Brian on the terraces of the old Maine Road stadium on one of the greatest days of our long non-league existence. We had been drawn against Manchester City – then, as now, a glamour club riding high in the highest division, in the third round of the FA Cup. We lost narrowly, 1–0, which was a kind of moral victory and I can still remember the wave of agony that ran through our end when City’s Joe Corrigan palmed away a deft header from our centre forward Geoff Davies.
That game took place at 3pm, which of course is when this year’s Cup final should take place. It does feel as if we stand Canute-like against the tide of commercialism. But we should at least raise a voice in protest.
Football is still just about the game. It was when I saw Johnny Savage score from the halfway line, against Goole I think, on a freezing night lit by that moment as if by lightning, a game full of colour and life and community, borne aloft on the hopes and loves and passions of ordinary people. That’s why I’ll have to be there on Saturday. 1–0 to Wigan.
Coverage of the FA Cup Final begins on Saturday at 3:15pm (k/o 5:15pm) on ITV, 4:45pm on ESPN, 2:00pm on Talksport and 5:15pm on 5 Live
The Mark Radcliffe and Stuart Maconie show is on weekdays on BBC 6 Music at 1pm