|6th March 2012, 20:10||#1|
Join Date: Oct 2004
Location: Houston Texas
Down Our Street
Down Our Street
“Down Our Street
There are married men and ladies fair
Dancing mad in the midnight air
And there’s several jawbones missing, where?
Down our street."
So goes the chorus to a famous old song, but never were those words more apt to describe the street where I lived in Chorlton-on-Medlock, Manchester, during the early, formative years of my life. C-on-M as it is commonly known to Mancs, lies just about a mile to the south east of the city centre. These days, when you pass through the area, it bears little resemblance at all to the place where I spent my childhood, and the early part of my adolescence.
Our house back then was no different to thousands of others throughout the inner city. Upstairs there was a front bedroom and a back bedroom; downstairs, a front parlour, and a back utility room that served as a kitchen, dining room, and living room. There was also a cellar, which housed a coal chute, and a room running off it that was supposed to be a laundry room. A stone ‘dolly tub’ was in the far corner of the cellar room for laundry purposes, but few, if any, were ever used.
The toilet was outside in the back yard, and during the night, or through the long winter months, the trip had to be navigated in darkness. For some reason my Dad always had a padlock on the khazi door, and he had a fetish about it. If he was in the house when you were about to take a dump, he would always say; “Don’t you forget to lock that toilet door.” It was a thing that perplexed me for years. Even today I don’t know why he was so obsessed with it. The thing being, that I have never known anybody ever pinch a bucket of **** - yet!
Like the rest of these dwellings, our house had no electricity; gas lamps were the order of the day, but only in the two downstairs rooms. The gas meter was in the cellar, and as I grew older I would have the job of going down and putting a penny into the slot to replenish the gas supply. The upstairs rooms, and the room down in the cellar, had to be lit by candlelight. There was only one water tap in the whole house and that provided cold water only. We had a small gas stove for cooking, and our house was heated throughout by an open coal fire in our utility room downstairs.
Number 14 Royle Street still holds myriad memories, and those memories have remained undimmed with the passage of time. It was, as I said, my home in my formative years – I learned about life there that’s for sure. To show that house to anybody in this modern era would, I am sure, see them recoil in horror, because by today’s standards it would be classed as uninhabitable, and would certainly be condemned by the public health, housing and building inspectors. Most of the inhabitants of those inner city areas were actual immigrants from Ireland, Poland, Ukraine, Italy, and many, like my own family, were descendants of immigrants who had arrived in Manchester before the turn of the century.
The street itself was around 200 yards in length. It was narrow in width, just about25 feet, and with a central road area made up of cobbled stones. It ran between two busy main roads – Rusholme Road, and Grosvenor Street. At the Rusholme Road end – on one side of the street was the local chip shop, and on the other side, the obligatory pub, The City, a Groves & Whitnall’s house. The City pub was notorious throughout the area and all sorts of dealings, as well as supping, went on in the place. At the Grosvenor Street end was two factories. Both were involved in the rag trade. Redfearns on one side employed about 120 women, all machinists, and in the summer months, the bosses would open the doors so that the cool air could circulate and make conditions better for the girls. For me though, it brought out the devil in me and many was the time as a young 5/6 years old, that I would go and stand in the doorway looking into the machine room, then would turn around, bend down, drop my trousers, and show the women my arse. Not content with that, I would then stand up, turn around again and wave my little pecker at them for 30seconds or so. The girls would scream in merriment, but nothing that I had at that age was ever going to worry them.
In between the two sets of commercial premises were 24 run down, single brick houses – 12 on each side. On the pavement outside each house was a coal grid, which was used by the coal merchants to drop bags of coal into. The grids were heavy and made of cast iron. Each house was very uniform with two front steps, a front door, and an upstairs and downstairs window frame. On the roof was a single brick chimney stack which would belch out all the black smoke from the ***** that would be burning in a grate in one of the house’s rooms. It’s no surprise therefore that many was the time that it thick with smog at 1p.m. in the afternoon – even in the summer! We lived at number 14, but in 1954, the council re-housed eight of the families on the opposite side of the street to us, and their depressing abodes were demolished, and the spare ground then became my Wembley.
Redfearn’s wall was the place where I chalked a goal, and at the other end of the croft the goal was chalked on Henry Connell’s wall. Poor Mr. Connell, how much he had to endure with the constant thump, thump, thump, of the ball banging on his parlour wall. He never complained though.
Chorlton-upon-Medlock was quite a notorious area in the 1940s and 1950s, and I certainly witnessed things during my childhood that I would hate for any child to see today. It was a harsh existence for families, and for people as individuals. Prostitutes plied their trade freely, both day and night, and they were not too fussy where they entertained their clients. Mostly it was in the back alleyways between the rows of terraced houses. During the evenings they would congregate in groups on street corners, soliciting for clients. The evenings would see drunks roaming the area, and physical violence was often perpetrated by, and upon, these people. An area with such notoriety attracted a wide range of people, from those that we termed ‘money people’, to the ‘down and outs’.
To say that weekends were lively back then would be an understatement. For all the area’s poverty, the pubs in Chorlton-upon-Medlock were always full at weekends, at lunchtimes, and during the evenings. Pubs licensing hours meant they would open from 11am till 3pm, and then again from 5.30pm till 10.30pm; Sunday hours were from noon till 2pm, and 7pm till 10.30pm. Problems arose after closing time when people were full of ale. It is no exaggeration to say that on a Saturday evening it was commonplace to see two or three fist-fights outside a pub at the same time, and afterwards, especially during the summer months, an impromptu midnight concert would evolve in the streets, with many of the adults who were full of ale, doing their “turn.”
The families tended to be large with anything between 4 and 10 kids being the norm. The poverty didn’t seem to affect us as kids - why should it? We were all in the same boat – chained by the fact that we were the children, and grandchildren of immigrants, and that carried a stigma. We were looked down upon. So the families who lived in those inner city areas would close ranks whenever ‘outsiders’ became involved.
When I look back at those times, I can get very emotional, especially when I think of all the mothers (my own included) who were blessed with such stoicism, fortitude, and strength, in the way that they brought up their kids in such draconian conditions. Their lot was a harsh one, and the sacrifices which those mothers made to ensure the well being of their children, will always be with me.
For us kids, we attended our local secondary modern school, and if truth is known, being the areas that they were in, not too much was expected of us academically. Most of our fathers were nothing more than labourers, dustmen, navies, brickie’s mates, timber carriers, **** house cleaners for the local council, or even ‘tatters’ (rag-and-bone-men). The expectation from the majority of the schoolteachers that taught us in those days was that we would follow our fathers in life. Fortunately, for a lot of us, our mothers rammed the education thing down our throat, and though it was at times a pain in the arse because we wanted to be doing other things (mainly being outside playing football or cricket) for some of us we saw the wisdom and benefit of their goading.
Some of us each year – but not many, managed to pass the 11 Plus exam and were able to go on to Grammar School. Mothers were so proud, and happy to see their kids resplendent in their new uniforms for all to see – a step up in the world. Fathers were not so happy because of the extra costs involved. Sadly, our Mums did not realize the change in our lives that was forced upon us. Kids in Grammar Schools were fair game for the street urchins we were – and whenever these poor unfortunate children had passed through our neighbourhoods on their way to, or from, school, a kicking was the order of the day. When any of us crossed over (as I did), suddenly we were on the other side, and became ‘one of them’. In my own case, once I went to Grammar School, I don’t think that there was a day that passed that I didn’t have to fight for my title either going or coming from school.
But notwithstanding all that is written above (and I could go on for hours) there was so many happy times despite the poverty. The one thing that glued all the local male kids together was football and cricket. We just loved to be outside playing one of those games. Any kind of ball and there was a game – normally it was a tennis ball, and it was amazing just how many gifted young players of both sports came out of those inner city areas and had careers in professional sport. We’d play on all kinds of surfaces, and for all the hours that we could. Our skills were honed in those years and on those many different kinds of surfaces. So much so, that the control of a ball became second nature to us. I wince today when I see highly paid footballers who cannot ‘kill’ a ball, or so called world class batsmen who have no idea how to read a spin bowler and remain ‘wooden legged’ within the crease.
The games in the school yards were always competitive and where football was concerned, it was always City against United. No matter how hard I try to pick the back pocket of my memory though – I can’t remember there ever being enough City fans to make up their team. It is no exaggeration that the ratio of Reds fans to Blues in those days, was roughly 4 or 5/1. It’s why I laugh today when I hear the nonsense about the majority of United’s fans coming from outside of the city boundaries.
Playing those games in schoolyards, in back-streets, on crofts, we would all imagine that we were our favourite player – Tommy Taylor, Johnny Berry, Duncan Edwards etc etc We all longed to see them in the flesh. Many kids in my school were lucky in that their dads could afford to take them to a first team match at Old Trafford. Football was cheap back in those days. An adult could pay two shillings (10 pence) to stand on the terraces, whereas a junior entry would cost just seven pence (two and a half pence). The thrill of attending your very first senior game stays with you all of your life. Match day became part of your life. From the moment that you woke up on Saturday morning only one thing concentrated your mind. What time were you going to leave for Old Trafford.
Back then the game was a game for the working classes, and it was affordable. Saturday was always the day of the week that you looked forward to. Saturday meant football and vice-versa. We took the game for granted in those days, it was all ours back then as there was no form of corporate hospitality, no media saturation, just a stadium full of raucous United fans. Manchester United was the release for both adult and child alike from the week’s drudgery, and for those few hours people forgot their worries and their hardships. They gave us an appreciation that goes beyond mere trophies. They gave us the passion and the pride. The team tied us to its umbilical cord, and that cord, once tied, never comes undone. It’s there until we go to our graves. It’s the team that drives us on, and inspires us to hold on to an ideal that has been handed down to us through generations. It’s the way that they play the game that ultimately counts most -win, lose, or draw.
Over the last 60 years I have seen United as a club, change so much. I’ve ploughed the depths, and risen to the stars, and have been so lucky to witness so many great players performing in our red shirt. I’ve been lucky to see the two best managers in the world produce some of the finest teams you could ever wish to see. And I was really lucky to be able to watch the player who forever in my eyes, will be termed as the greatest football player to have ever put a boot on ….. Duncan.
It saddens me today to see the way that the club is run. There used to be such an affinity between the club and the fan. Yes, we’ll follow the team and support them through thick and thin, but the ordinary fan is now slowly being cleansed from the stadium. Prices have risen so much that families now find it hard to justify spending so much money taking their kids to a game. Large numbers of corps root fans have given up their season tickets, but you reap what you sow. The raucous, vibrant, fanatic who supported and screamed for United through the lean times, is now no longer needed. The club has become so big and so powerful, as the Glazer’s corporate juggernaut bulldozes its way forward. Football wasn’t meant to be like that.
I’m so pleased that I have lived in the era’s that I have – particularly the earlier years. These days I fear for the future of the game. Someday, the Premiership financial bubble will burst, and United will once again see days of mediocrity. I probably won’t be around, but who will the likes of the Premiership, Gill, the Glazers, (although they may well be long gone) look to, to pull them out of the **** then?
Yes, I loved those Saturday match days in the early years. The excitement, the anticipation, the expectation, and the thrill of seeing my heroes – the ‘Babes’ – and all for the princely sum of just Seven Old Pence! Those bloated, ignorant, ****ers in their corporate seats, no matter how much they spend, will never beat that!