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Tony Wilson

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  • Tony Wilson

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    Getting a lot of comments about Tony Wilson today, the seventh anniversary of his death. There was almost no social media when he passed away and we wrote a lot about him when he did. Here's the editorial from the issue the month after his death, in which we put him on the cover.

    Where to start with Tony Wilson? Much has been written about a man who had so much to answer for since he passed away. The obituaries and tributes have been wide ranging, but while many spoke of his involvement and influence in Manchester’s musical and cultural industry, few focussed on another great love in Tony’s life: Manchester United.

    It’s a weird one for us because we knew Tony. We first requested an interview with him in 1998. We wrote him a letter and a few days later he called us from Miami to say that it would be a great pleasure. A few weeks later I headed to his Factory offices expecting a half hour interview. It turned into a three hour chat.

    “I was born in Salford in 1950 when the Port of Manchester was still really busy,” he said. “Old Trafford was just down the road and from the age of nine this little old lady who lived nearby would take me to matches. At first they were reserve games – I saw and heard Wilf McGuiness break his leg which ended his career.

    “In my teenage years I went to De La Salle School and had an LMTB in the Stretford End. I went to university where I studied English at Cambridge before working for ITN in London for a couple of years. I came home and saw matches a lot but I never expected to move home permanently until I saw a job at Granada. Even then I only expected to stay for a couple of years before moving back south, but every time I was about to move something better came along in Manchester and I had another excuse to stay.

    “We formed Factory records in 1978 with Joy Division, OMD and A Certain Ratio; three bands who we knew were great and we had to prove it to the world. As with all our bands, this took time. It took six years for anyone to take notice of The Happy Mondays and a lot of time for people to notice Joy Division and New Order.

    Back on football Wilson, disposed of the notion then being put about by the Gallagher brothers that it was somehow ‘cool’ to support Manchester city saying: “That’s bollocks. I’ve worked with a lot of blues in Manchester, they’re usually from Wythenshawe, but it’s no cooler to support city than any other club.”

    “My best ever United game was an FA Cup 6th round tie against Sunderland in 1964,” he continued. “We were 3-1 down with ten minutes to go and scored two goals in the last five minutes. The game went to a replay where the score was 2-2 after extra time. In the second replay United beat them 5-1 at Huddersfield.”

    “I think United are good enough to win the European Cup again (remember he was speaking in 1998). The three foreigner rule hit us hard and we’ve been unlucky with injuries. People talk about us buying world class players but we’ve already got them at Old Trafford. I don’t think we should buy players if they only want to come for the money. We want gems like Cantona and Solskjaer. I have total faith in Alex Ferguson because he knows his players and they are good enough to win the European Cup.”

    On Manchester, he opined: “The best thing is that no-one can define or explain and it’s to do with a hospitality to life, openness to life. We’re a great immigrant city, the immigrant city of Europe and it boils back to the question, ‘Why has Manchester consistently produced quality music bands for so long?’ It’s because Manchester kids have the best record collections and that makes them open to new ideas and influences. The students come here and many of them stay. Outsiders quickly become insiders and maybe the same theory is true with being a Manchester United fan.

    “The worst thing about Manchester is that life is tough. In other countries the prestige is shared out between the cities. In the States you have New York, L.A, Chicago and Washington. In Australia you have Sydney, Melbourne and Canberra. In England you have London and everywhere else can forget it.

    “Football and music have always been two great ways out for kids. That feeling what you got when you walked into the Hacienda in the summer of ’89 was like I used to get when I walked into Old Trafford. I just hit you.”

    “There’s always been people coming to Old Trafford in Jaguars and I don’t think the social mix has changed that much. It’s just this British disease about being resentful of success catching on at Old Trafford. On one hand United fans accuse rival fans of being jealous which is true, yet on the other they are jealous of wealthy fans. I know lots of wealthy United fans who came from nothing and ended up doing well financially.”

    “My favourite ever player was Crerand but my personal hero is Martin Edwards because he’s not taken an ounce of credit for what has been achieved at Manchester United. Everyone wanted Fergie to be sacked and he had the foresight to stick with him all the time. And the greatest ever human being I have met in my life was Bill Shankly, although he was destined not to win the European Cup.”

    Months later, Tony rang us and tell us that we had to get the fanzine online. "It’s the future,” he said. He'd just been to America. He said something similar about MP3 players in 2000. I wasn’t convinced about the web and replied: “Putting our best content on the web for free will harm the printed edition.” Still, I agreed to meet him and one of his partners. Tony, ever the conduit, hadn’t thought of the financial aspect. He never talked money and wasn’t interested in profits of losses. We agreed to put a selection of the mag on the internet to give people a taste of UWS.

    When we launched UWS online in 2000 he was on the site every day. There’s better websites and my attitude to the web hasn’t changed, but he’d be on the message board gauging opinions. He never posted, but used to collar me about things people had written.

    I flew back from Barcelona with Tony and his long term partner Yvette a couple of years ago. The reaction he created among the other passengers on the budget airline was interesting: some looked at him disdainfully, others whispered about ‘that bloke off the telly’ and a few asked for his autograph. If he wanted to stay incognito then he didn’t help himself, offering outspoken opinions on everything from Roy Keane to IMUSA, the proliferation of cheap air travel to Manchester’s gangsters. He was writing a book to go alongside the 24 hour Party People film and didn’t shut up for two hours. Yvette had seen it all before and buried her head in a book.

    The last time I saw Tony was before the West Ham game in May. It was sheeting with rain, but he came to buy a fanzine outside Old Trafford. Some with a public profile expect a free fanzine, but Tony always paid for his copy and would often discuss the previous issue. He didn’t look well, but he stopped for a chat in the rain. It was weird, but I thought then that I’d never see him again.

    “I’ll keep an eye out for the summer special,” he said, before tucking his UWS into his oversized coat and walking slowly towards the main stand turnstiles. To see United.


    UWS received loads of letters in about Wilson. Here’s one from Jonathan Deakin…

    “I decided to go and stand outside Tony Wilson's funeral at St Mary's
    Church on Mulberry Street, a tiny church known as "The Hidden Gem". I
    was uncertain about going – the family had asked to grieve in private.
    In the end I needn't have worried about that aspect. Those ordinary
    Mancunians outside stood in silence as people arrived. It was
    evident that many of those outside were on nodding, chatting or
    hugging terms with those going in. The public were a familiar, welcome
    group. In contrast, the press formed an inner ring. Most of the
    media were similarly respectful, but it was unnerving to watch some
    photographers break ranks to get shots of notes on flower bouquets or
    close-ups of Wilson's family.

    Why did I go? I usually pour scorn on displays of public grief from a
    public who don't know who they're there for. And I didn't know Tony
    Wilson – I'd only ever exchanged a couple of sentences with the man at
    a couple of gigs, seen him introducing bands at gigs or watched him on

    But as a teenager striving for identity, the twin influences of music
    and football loomed large. From football, United We Stand has always
    stood for more than just sport. A lot more has been gleaned from
    these pages than just what's going on with the team. And Factory
    Records was always about more than just the music. Football and music
    became elements of my life and I was no longer just passive; I was

    A man once told me it doesn't who attends your funeral as long as they
    think something of you. And I thought a lot of Tony Wilson. So it
    came down to this. I didn't go to star-spot or be part of an event; I
    went there to do something. To say my goodbye to a man who helped
    soundtrack my life and someone who made me proud to be Mancunian.

    As Judge Parry said, "Manchester is the place where people do
    things…Don't talk about what you are going to do, do it… That is the
    Manchester habit. "

    At the end of the service, those inside spilled onto the street and
    stood amongst those who were outside around the funeral vehicles. As
    the convoy pulled away, for the first time in the afternoon, the
    silence was broken. People began to clap, then some cheers, then
    whistles and even an attendee of the funeral shouting, "Manchester in
    the area!" It was like a faint echo of the Ha├žienda to end
    proceedings, a moment to bring all those that were there together to
    remember that Tony Wilson didn't talk about things; he did them.”