The thump of leather against leather produced an echoing wall of sound, vibrating around a packed Stretford End, as the merlinic magic of Best and Law concocted another Manchester United goal and what was to be another victory on the march to glory.
Some seven hours later, refuelled with a decent portion of chips and the local delicacy, meat and potato pie, washed down with a couple of pints or so, the eardrums were once again subject to more abuse, but it was now a deep thumping beat, backed by a distinctive female chorus, as predominately male voices sang more tuneful anthems than those which had heard earlier. The venue had moved from Warwick Road and Old Trafford to Whitworth Street and the Twisted Wheel.
Man United had been followed via Radio, television and newspapers for a number of years (they were the first club that I can remember hearing about on my grandmothers radio on a Saturday night – thanks goodness it wasn’t Rochdale or Partick Thistle!)
But with a little bit of cash in the pocket, Manchester moved that bit closer and trips over Hadrian’s Wall were planned with precision.
A journey south in those now distant days meant leaving home on the Friday night, sleeping in a station waiting room at Preston Station and then on to Manchester. A European away these days takes less time!
There was also no hurry to get out of Old Trafford at full time and back to the city centre, as the Wheel didn’t open until eleven.
First stop was Victoria Station to reclaim the holdall from the left luggage locker, followed by a quick wash and change in the toilets. Who cared for street cred in those days?
With the Wheel’s late opening, there was always a few hours to pass and more often than not, it was a quiet drink in one or two pubs in the city centre. On occasions, the Ritz would produce a pre-Wheel buzz, something that was required from time to time if United failed to deliver.
Music, or I should define that to Northern Soul, moulded those weekends into some unforgettable times, which passed too quickly. Unforgettable moments there certainly were.
Springing immediately to mind is the massive frame of some vagrant female silhouetting the waiting room door at Preston Station in the early hours of a Saturday morning – a regular place for getting the head down, prompting a hasty exit. The plain clothed police would pounce and ask where you had been. Mention the Wheel and they were through your bag to see what they could find. The mass of sweating bodies in the cellar like areas beneath Whitworth Street and the sight of Law with his cuffs pulled down and Best tantalising yet another full back.
The whole United concept was entirely different in those days of course. If I got down to the ground before ten in the morning, there was the possibility of a chat with some of the players, as security (never mind security guards) was non-existent. The selected players would arrive at the ground and then ago for a meal at some hotel or local golf club prior to the game, and with the odd gate alongside the main entrance open, you just walked in.
At that time of morning, it must be added, there was nothing like the numbers of people about that there is today. You would luck if there was half a dozen.
One Saturday morning saw me sitting on the steps leading up to the main stand, talking to Best, Crerand, Aston and co., while on an early ‘70’s autumn morning I watched a young Willie Watson put through his paces out on the Old Trafford turf with Jack Crompton, Jimmy Murphy and Sir Matt, prior to his debut against Blackpool.
The Twisted Wheel was, like Old Trafford, incomparable, with an atmosphere to match. Afternoons produced entertainment by football’s finest, the nights, and the early Sunday mornings – it didn’t close until 7.00am, brought the likes of Edwin Starr (who in later years prior to his untimely death was often seen at United games in the Midlands), Jimmy Ruffin or Ben E King and many others. Who said Manchester wasn’t heaven on earth?
It must be noted that the Wheel was not licensed and the crowds who flocked along Whitworth Street late on a Saturday night went purely for the music, the sounds spun by dj’s behind a wall of bicycle wheels, honest, bring back memories of my early days as an adopted Mancunian.
The footwork of some of the dancers out on the floor at the Wheel would have put any of the United players to shame, yes, even Bestie with the lads often better dancers than girls. But who cared how girls danced?
Sadly, like United, the Wheel went down. Drugs and constant police raids bringing its demise and unlike my Old Trafford hero’s, it failed to bounce back.
The love for the music continued elsewhere, with Blackpool Mecca and it’s Highland Room becoming a place to be if United were away too far from home, or a detour on the journey home was preferred.
The journey back home from Manchester was always spent asleep and I am still surprised that I did not end up in Glasgow or Inverness!
Today, the return journey home by coach on a Saturday night (or whenever), within an hour of the full time whistle, is frequently spent with the ipod headphones on, listening to many of those classic, time stopping sounds, casting me back through time.
Best, Law and Charlton have been replaced by Rooney, Little Pea and Nani, but the music remains the same.
Northern Soul might not be everyone’s cup of tea, but then neither are Manchester United, but both have been a way of life for me.
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