MARK FRANKLAND

The picture? Well the picture says that anything is possible. As in anything. The town is Darwen. And of course the guy is Gandhi. And those around him are unemployed cotton workers. When he heard they were all but starving because of his Indian boycott, he insisted on going to see them. Before he got off the train they were all ready to lynch him. By the time he got back on board he was their guy. Like they say - form is temporary, class is permanent.

Thursday, May 9, 2013

AN ANFIELD TRIBUTE TO THE DARK KNIGHT OF MORDOR



 
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Both of my sons are boys no more. They are men now. One is 26 and one is 20. And until yesterday neither has known so much as a second of their lives when the Knight of Govan hasn’t held sway in the dark empire of Mordor at the far end of the East Lancs Rd.

When he first arrived in his new lair from the frozen northern wastes, there was nothing to suggest the nemesis he would become. In later years we would hear that he made a solemn vow back in those distant days. He swore that one day he would knock ‘Liverpool off their fucking perch.’

And let’s face it, did he ever.

Seldom in history has anyone been so conclusively knocked off any fucking perch!

For a while all seemed fine. For a while it was business as usual as yet another manager strode through the doors of Old Trafford to throw money at rubbish. These were the halcyon days of Mike Phelan and Jim Leighton and Clayton Blackmore. Mordor started to empty out and for a while they couldn’t even manage 40,000. We sat high on our perch and laughed our heads off.

Little did we know that far behind the scenes he was tearing down the old with the blazing passion of a fanatical zealot. Far away from the public view Sir Alex was mining for Orcs, and by the time they clambered into the light they were already an unstoppable force.

They were the Vandals and the Visagoths and the Gauls.

And we were Rome.

And we got well and truly sacked.

When the true might of his re-booted and renewed dark empire was revealed for all the world to see, we didn’t come close to having an Aragorn to smite them down. We had Julian Dicks, and Torben Piechnik and Phil Babb.

And so it was that Bill Shankly’s shining white city on the hill was smashed and burned and reduced to broken columns and stray dogs mooching through its deserted streets.

And of course we have remained under the heel of the Dark Empire ever since. Hindsight makes me remember the greatest line from George Orwell’s 1984.

If you want a vision of the future, imagine a boot stamping on a human face - forever.’

They have been the boot, we have been the human face.

In the end he didn’t just knock us off our perch. He sawed up the perch and threw it into the molten lava at the heart of the mountain. We idiotically clung on to an era that was already fading fast. For us, 1986 was that golden summer of 1914 when the sun seemed like it would shine forever and nothing would ever change. But change it did. The old times were already breathing their last.

We never saw any of it coming.

But Sir Alex did.

He smelt the future on the wind and geared up for the new world of Murdoch and merchandising. He built a mighty money machine that would ensure that his newly mined army of Orcs would never suffer a day without the chance to eat some flesh.

And all of a sudden, we became an anachronism. A dream. A faded picture on the wall remembering different times. Better times. Times when money wasn’t everything. Times when Billionaires and stock markets were not required.

Our twenty six year long nightmare had well and truly begun.

But the man behind the mask was never what he seemed. Of course he never allowed too many cracks to appear. For two and a half decades he played the role of the Dark Knight of Mordor to perfection.

But everything wasn’t what it said on the Mordor tin. Rumours would creep out through the tiny cracks in the walls. Young managers fired by idiotic owners would tell of late night calls from the great man. Chin up lad. There’s always another job around the corner. When the sky fell in us on 15 April 1989, he was the first to call up Kenny and say whatever he could do would be done. Anything at all.

When Gerard Houlier all but died from a massive heart attack, the first visitor through the door was Sir Alex who begged that it should be kept secret. 

When the great Shipworker Union leader Jimmy Reid passed away in 2010, Sir Alex dropped everything to head north to give a heartfelt speech at his funeral. How the bloated money men of Old Trafford must have hated that. Their great leader deserted a pre season till-stuffing banjoree to remember a working class hero from the banks of the Clyde. Something tells me that the Glazers don’t do working class heroes. For the Glazers, a working class hero is someone to be stripped of every penny of their wealth and ground into the dust.

And so it was that the truth emerged as we looked up at the new world order from our new position on the floor under the place where our perch used to hang. And the truth was a hard truth to swallow.

For this Dark Knight of Mordor was in fact a new Bill Shankly. A genuine tough as teak, straight talking socialist from pre Thatcher Scotland. He shared Shankly’s remorseless passion and determination. He shared Shankly’s unstoppable will to conquer everything in his path. And underneath their ferocious public face, they shared the same rock solid humanity.

They were true men of the people.

Maybe the last men of the people.

My one brief contact with the great man shines a light on his true greatness. It was the early days of First Base and I was helping a client along the hard road to becoming heroin free and the hope of a Rehab centre. The client in question was a genuine disciple of Mordor and never missed an opportunity to crow about it. I spoke to him on the phone when he was a few days into the unforgiving regime of the Rehab Centre and when I finished the call I had little optimism he would stay the course.

Slowly, but surely he was being drawn back towards the comfort of heroin’s warm and jealous embrace.

Without much hope I decided on the wing and a prayer option and penned a letter to Sir Alex. I explained how far my client had come and how he was now hanging by a thread. I suggested that Sir Alex must have seen at first hand how the Scottish heroin plague had eaten away at his beloved Govan. I implored him to maybe drop a note to my man and I hopefully included the address of the rehab centre.

I remember clearly dropping the letter into the postbox.

Sir Alex Fergusson. Manchester United Football Club. Old Trafford. Manchester.

Mordor.

And I was almost totally convinced that my letter would disappear into some cavernous post room in the bowels of the dark Empire.

How wrong I was.

A few days later I got a call from my man at the Rehab Centre and the voice was that of a completely different human being. He had received post that morning. A package. It contained a long, hand written note and a signed photo from Sir Alex. And these words were all that was needed to make my man believe in himself. He stayed the course. He found his new life. He was inspired.

After that, I became an unshakeable convert. So what that he had knocked us off our fucking perch. Shankly knocked everyone in sight off their fucking perches. After that, the football and the tribalism became secondary. After that day I saw only a great man with the heart to find the time to write to a lost lad in a rehab centre who was hanging by a thread.

So farewell Sir Alex and may your retirement be a golden one. I hope your horses win and your grandchildren behave themselves. In the god awful money mad world of the Premiership and Champions League, it seems inconceivable that we will ever see your likes again.

Now at least we might just have a chance of getting back onto our fucking perch again.     

44 comments:

  1. Absolutely fantastic. I don't know what Orcs etc are but this was a great article.

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  2. They are the monsters from Lord of the Rings who have something of a taste for human flesh. You know, the kind of characters you tend to find in the Stretford End!

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  3. Brilliant article, Thank you Mark.
    I was one of the idiots calling for Fergie's head in the late 80's, how wrong I was and how glad I am that he was never sacked.
    It annoy's me when I still hear people say 'great manager, horrible person' I just wish there were more fans like you.
    Here's to the birth of the Moyes empire, and keeping you off your fucking perch!! Ha ha, let battle commence...

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  4. Moving article Mark. Well done. shame you had to spoil it with your Stretford End comment, they are no different from the kopshites.

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  5. Thank you. I can't believe that the best tribute to Sir Alex comes from a Scouse supporter but in its way, it makes poetic sense. Thank you, I say, through tears because I didn't know 1/2 of the off the pitch stuff you've mentioned, which is, you are right, what makes him truly great. Thank you.

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  6. This is the best piece I've read about Fergie in the last two days.

    Some of the stuff I've read in the likes of the Guardian and Independent have been so lazily misinformed that you'd think he was nothing more than the one-dimensional "hair dryer" caricature.

    Really good, cheers.

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  7. That truly is a fantastic piece. A mate of mines Dad died last year. He had been a goalkeeper back in the day. My mate was only the other day telling us all on Facebook how he received a lovely letter from Sir Alex saying how sorry he was to hear of his father's passing. You can't buy class like that.

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  8. Bloody good write, a fellow man praying for the end of our demise into mediocrity

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  9. Absolutely awesome. Have no words, Mr. Frankland...

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  10. A stunning, revealing and classy piece of writing. Thank you.

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  11. Frodo of Anfieldton, that was brilliant. As an old Stretford Ender from the 60's, I never hated Liverpool. Tommy Smith was my favourite, except when he played the brilliance of Best, Law, and Charlton. Oh, by the way, that perch will never be occupied by a Liverbird. It will be doubly painful that the ex-toffee manager will be the new SAF.

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  12. Let me start this by saying I don't follow football, I'm a Rugby League girl and know next to nothing about footie. I know 'of' Alex Ferguson of course, my entire family is from Manchester and all but one (a Blue) are Reds.

    I came across this piece through a retweet on Twitter and found it beautifully moving. It reminded me of a memory of my own, something I felt compelled to share since reading this. About 6 years ago my uncle was in a terrible fire. He'd fell asleep with a candle burning and the resulting blaze left him fighting for his life. He spent nearly 18 months in hospital with 80% burns, lost all but one of his fingers, an ear and suffered extensive skin graft operations. He also contracted MRSA and septicemia during his stay and more than once we were told he wouldn't see another 24 hours. As you can imagine his recovery was slow, painful and difficult for him mentally as well as physically. During the early days, when his life hung in the balance a member of the family wrote to United asking if maybe they could send a team photo for his hospital room wall. At this point my uncle was in a medically induced coma and we had no idea if would ever come out of it. United are a big club and they must receive hundreds (if not thousands) of appeals for photos, charity items etc every single week. We didn't really expect anything back, or maybe just something small from the PR office.

    A week passed and a very large envelope arrived from United. In it was a team photo, signed, along with a lovely, handwritten note from Alex Ferguson commending my uncle's bravery in his recovery and sending his good wishes for the future. We were amazed. That a man as busy and important in his realm as Alex Ferguson would take the time to personally write to just one man, no matter how seriously injured he may be, blew my mind. After all, we hadn't asked for that, the letter had just been addressed to 'Manchester United, Old Trafford'. What a generous and caring spirit to recognise his standing in the eyes of others and use that to help, support, encourage and comfort others. Since that day I will never let criticism of Alex Ferguson go unchecked in my presence. Aside from his success and trophies, aside from his legendary status in football, he is a great man.

    As (I'll be honest)a football-hater, I'm very sorry to see him go.

    Cath x

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    1. Thanks for that Cath. It is such a shame that when this kind of thing happens the media never considers it to be remotely newsworthy. Little wonder that our society struggles so badly to live with itself when these kind of actions are denied the spotlight they deserve.

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  13. Respect ten fold, I've been drafting a tribute of my own of the great man for my blog but Mark yours just fucking brilliant esp so coming from a scouse. Would u be against me putting this on my blog word for word I'd just ad pics. Its that good mate.reply Jadadams@gmail.com of @jcba on twitter
    JADE

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  14. No problems whatsoever. The reaction to this blog has pretty much blown me away - 10,000 hits in less than a day. Crazy, crazy.

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    1. I have added pics to ur tribute and posted it on my blog http://jcbasportsunited.blogspot.com/?m=0
      Have a look
      I'm sure its crazy posted ur blog address as well.
      Respect

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  16. Am I missing something?...Is he dead?..and why has this sycophantic eulogizing claptrap had so many hits?.....yet another sick bucket inducing, tongue down the back of Ferguson's kecks puff piece that wouldn't look out of place in Old Trafford Gazette, aka the Daily Mirror.

    Not sure who you are but what am I sure of is that your forelock tugging blogblowjob doesn't remotely reflect the opinion of the overwhelming majority of Liverpool football club - and indeed would insult a great many - For true managerial greatness, laced with grace, dignity, humility and sheer class as opposed to bitterness, vindictiveness and bullying look no further than our very own Sir Bob Paisley...with his huge grin, arms wrapped around his 3 European Cups and STILL on his perch.

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    1. Actually, there is no need for you to preach to me about Bob Paisley. I spent an evening with him in the months after he retired - I was chauffeuring him to an after dinner speech he was giving. You are quite right about 'grace dignity, humility and sheer class'. One of the things I remember talking about as we drove back to Liverpool was the Kop's tradition of applauding off teams who had come to Anfield and played us off the park. Not that it happened much. The most recent was a small Polish team called Widzew Lodz who tipped us out of the European Cup in 1983. They had no supporters in the ground due to the fact that the Iron Curtain was still very much in place. So they ran to the Kop and took their applause from us. This is something that has always made us different. We recognise class and give it the respect it deserves. Do you seriously think Bob Paisley would be slagging off Sir Alex right now? I don't think so.

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    2. And there's no need to preach to me about Widzew Lodz...I was at the game and applauded them from the Paddock.

      Paisley wouldn't have been slagging off Ferguson....but one things for sure he also wouldn't be grovelling at his feet in the manner that you are.

      The article is an embarrassment to LFC fans everywhere...an insult in fact......but hey its got your Blog some hits so job done eh?

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    3. and one more thing...where do you get off calling this load of areslicking shite 'An Anfield Tribute'? ...it's nothing of the sort - in fact its caused outrage to every genuine Liverpool fan I know who has read it...its a hugely subjective, mawkish, personal and somewhat insulting point of view by someone who I suspect is spamming the article in an effort to raise the profile of his ebooks. Disgraceful if you ask me

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    4. Mr Kettle, You are not a football supporter at all, you are just a member of the racist mob that has brought so much shame on your great club. The true football supporter whether they support Liverpool FC or Manchester United FC or any Football club can acknowledge greatness whether it is within your own club or from elsewhere. Bill Shankly, Sir Bob Paisley, Sir Alex Ferguson have all been great managers in their time. Where has LFC club been since Sir Bob ?.
      Mike Bourke (Football supporter and MUFC fan)

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    5. Stopped reading after the puerile 'racist mob' card. Dickhead

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    6. Oh dear, you really are one angry guy Arthur. Having had a season ticket since 1971, survived the Leppings Lane End, made the trek to Istanbul and had one of my books turned into a play to be performed to 4000 school kids at Anfield (it was an anti racism story by the way) I kind of think that I might be allowed to air my point of view. Obviously you disagree. And thank Christ for that because it shows that we still just about live in a free country. I can however cheer you up enormously and make your Sunday morning a sunnier place. As things stand right now, the blog has been read by 19,500 people and the page has been visited by 24,000 people. Wanna know how many of my e books I have sold over the three days since I posted the blog? Two! Each for the princely sum of £1.53 of which my share is a quid. So my enormous personal wealth has jumped by two whole pounds since I wrote the blog. So Arthur, you can rest easy. My cardinal sin of paying my respects to Sir Alex shows no signs whatsoever of turning me into the next John Grisham. There's a relief.

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    7. Its not just me that disagrees...trying posting your grovelling eulogy on any - and i mean any - LFC forum and see what you reaction you get. I say again, its insulting to the name of Liverpool football club and the nerve of you to call it 'An Anfield tribute' is the biggest insult of all.

      Lets get it straight and add a bit of balance to your bullshit...it’s no coincidence that Ferguson exits as he ruled: with the tongues of so many journalists wedged so far up his arse that a sudden outbreak of Cherry Bosom poisoning on Fleet Street would not come as a surprise.

      These journalists have been as complicit as anyone in allowing Ferguson an unhealthy amount of power in the English game .For example, Daniel Taylor of the Guardian wrote an article entitled “The Eulogy, the Apology, the Thank You”.

      This is a man, like many others, who Ferguson has banned from Old Trafford for years. It did not stop all of them falling over each other to get down on their knees and bow to the “Great Man”.

      The sycophancy of the press during this last week has been vomit inducing and completely unsurprising.

      Not a single article raised the fact of how powerful Ferguson was, or the unhealthy relationship which exists between his club and the Football Association. Not a single article highlighted the abuses of power, the bullying and the double standards that were such a fixture of Ferguson’s reign.

      And as for the issue of the refereeing selection process and the strange “coincidences” involving Manchester United... forget about it. The media do not want to research, report of highlight this matter.

      And not a single one highlighted a key fact: Ferguson has certainly left his club in very good hands. The new FA Chairman, Greg Dyke, is an ex Man United director. The FA Vice chairman is David Gill, current United CEO and future Board member (like a certain Mr. Ferguson). And the new Premier League chairman, Anthony Fry, is a self confessed United fan.

      Taken individually, there is nothing wrong with that. The current FA Chairman has links to Man City while other heads of the FA have had links to football clubs.

      But at no stage in history (anywhere in the world I imagine), has a club held all 3 powerful positions as strongly inside the country’s football institutions. That this has been allowed, without comment, to happen is the final nail in English football’s media “fair and balanced” reporting.

      Ferguson leaving has to teach English football lessons. English football needs to put measures in place to ensure that the years of abuse of power that have formed Ferguson’s reign never happen again:

      Never again should a football manager have so much power within the game, to the point where he has his key allies in positions of power inside the country’s football institutions

      Never again should a football manager be allowed to abuse the system

      Never again should a football manager have his colleagues punish other clubs for firing his son

      Never again should a football manager be allowed to bully referees without punishment

      Never again should a football manager be allowed to build political connections while working in the game

      Never again should a football manager be allowed to ban and bully reporters at a whim

      Never again should a football manager be allowed to tamper with the refereeing selection process

      Never again should a football manager be allowed to go years without fulfilling his media obligations, with no punishment

      Never again should a football manager be allowed to ban referees from taking charge of this team (ask Graham Poll or Jeff Winter)

      Never again should a football manager force his players to use his son as an agent, and threaten punishment if they don’t


      I suggest that the ideal person to take the first step is the new Manchester United manager, David Moyes.

      After all, in 2009, Moyes, as Everton manager, demanded the FA investigate Mike Riley. Moyes wanted to ascertain whether Riley was a United fan, such was his bias while refereeing United games. Over to you Davey

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    8. Mmmm - you forgot to tell us who was on the Grassy Knoll.....

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    9. Sounds like it was fergie on the grassy knoll

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    10. Sad to see such a beautiful text sullied by a angry, bitter )(¤/()" like Arthur.

      Mark, that was beautifully writen, a good read and it brought a tear to my eye.

      Also thank's to Cathy for sharing her story!

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  17. Great article. Respect for an entertaining, informative and impartial read.

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  18. Hi Mark, loved the piece but I come from an opposite perspective, I always saw Fergie as Yoda fighting against the dark forces within the Premier League.

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  19. One Manager to rule them all!
    Lynn :D

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  20. Good article, apart from one minor issue - you pick on Blackmore, who was actually at Utd from 1982, long before Fergie, and whilst never an outstanding star player contributed a lot to the early successes of Fergie (FA Cup, Euro Cup Winners Cup, and even through to the first Premier League title).

    And what everyone forgets - United had a very good first full season under Fergie. 1987-88. United finished with a points total (81) that could have been good enough to win the title in another year. It was an exceptional season by Liverpool that took the title though, and fair play to you for that.

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    1. Bloody hell - I had completely forgotten that. I guess memories of that time tend to stay focussed on losing at Wembley to bloody Wimbledon!

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  21. Amazing article! :D I am a Red-devil and an LOTR fan as well. This was a smacking literary treat! :) Loved it <3

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  22. Fergie was behind the tribute to Hillsborough and worked hard to build a relationship with Liverpool in his own private way. Thanks for your personal view on the man

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  23. Fair points by both Mark & Arthur, he is known to have scuppered the careers of anybody that crossed him however, there does appear to have been some humane side to him. Having said all that I am glad to have won as we did with humility & dignity, not the snarling arrogance of Ferguson's sides.

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  24. Mark, just one correction: it is Gandhi (Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi in full) not Ghandi.

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  25. Thanks for that. I am actually dyslexic which means that I am entirely dependent on spell checker to keep me right. Thankfully my books get proof read which makes them reasonably free of such errors. I am somewhat amazed that spell checker does not have the wherewithal to recognise a mis-spelling of Gandhi. There is probably a message in that somewhere. Anyway, cheers for the heads up and I will correct it straight away. If ever there was a man who deserves to have his name spelt right it is he!

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  26. Thank you for this beautifully written article. I am United, from India, and many times i question my love for the game and for the club because of so many hypocrisies. It is the faith in humanity that you speak about that makes me still believe, and for that I thank you.

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  27. Many thanks for that. As a United fan in Mumbai I hope you approve of the photo of Gandhi at the top of the blog. I would be very interested in your thoughts on one of my blogs about the Hillsborough cover up where it seemed to me there were many similarities to the cover up put in place in the wake of the Amritsar massacre. Here's the link.http://goo.gl/JhcIF
    All the best

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    1. Hey man, it tells me i do not have access to view that page :)
      Ironically i had never seen that photo of Gandhi until i came across your blog!

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  28. Arthur kettleMay 12, 2013 at 3:32 AM

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