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Billy Garton. An extract from We're The Famous Man United. Part 3.

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  • Billy Garton. An extract from We're The Famous Man United. Part 3.

    “I’d try not to be big time,” explains Garton, “try just to be one of the lads and yet you’d still get the odd knob head saying, ‘What are you doing coming in here, Flash Harry?’ I think it is a lot worse now for footballers. People don’t have the same respect and it’s not cool to have a hero who’s a footballer, to be seen to kiss arse. And
    I used to get one or two jealous bastards saying things like, ‘Our Peter was better than you and he could have been a pro’ or ‘Our Joey was on United’s books but he walked away from it.’ They were from the type of people who sit at a bar slating players on the box. To this day, I hate it when I’m in a pub and someone says that so and so is a crap player and that they could do better than them. If I know them, I am not scared of saying, ‘No, you couldn’t do better; he’s playing at the highest level.’
    Garton's connections meant he didn't have too many problems.
    “I grew up with a lot of lads who became villains. I’d get the hero status and the lads were fine with me because I was the local boy made good, the working class hero. Most of them were proud that I played for United, but there were one or two arseholes who made playing for United a double edged sword. My dad was the proudest man around when I played for United and for me nothing changed. I’d still go down to the Jubilee pub on Ordsall with him after playing at Old Trafford. I didn’t have pretensions of going to Worsley to sit in The Bridgewater (a canal side pub frequented by footballers and perma-tanned babes).
    Garton's roots were something that Ron Atkinson put to good use in the dressing room.
    “United were getting criticised in the mid-80s by people who said that the players did not appreciate what it meant to play for Manchester United,” he explains. “So Big Ron used me as an example and got me to tell the players what United meant to the people of Manchester and Salford. It was dead easy. I told them that there were people who would go without food and spend their last penny to watch United. They’d travel to Newcastle on a Wednesday night when it was freezing, take the following day off and risk getting the sack. It was that message and I believed strongly what I was talking about. I told the others players from my perspective what it was like to be a United fan from Salford and what the club means to the people. Further down the line, when we got our arses kicked 5-1 by City in September ’89, that was the only reason why we lost. There was no-one in that team who really knew what the Manchester derby meant. We lay down and got what we deserved that day. If you had a Keano or a Robbo in your team and you were getting your arse kicked, they would break someone’s fucking legs.”
    “I wasn’t a hard player or a hard person,” he says. “I was very streetwise; you can’t help that where you come from where I’m from. I could have a fight, but I didn’t go looking for trouble. I boxed when I was at school so if I had a fight I’d get a few good early punches in and try and win that way. As a player I was quite fast, smart, I read the game well and I could play.”
    “I went to a lot of games and watched United away at Liverpool, City at Everton,” he says. “I had a couple of situations where my mates were involved in hooliganism and there were skirmishes. When I was an apprentice I would go to games in my jeans and regular clothes. I would hang out at the top of Warwick Road with my mates who were looking out for away fans, but I had to be careful not to get involved in any trouble. Then I would use my players’ pass and go and watch the game from my seat. It was a mad existence. I had to stop that when I was in the first team.”
    He didn’t drop his mates though.
    “I’d meet my mates in town after the game and they would be looking for Scousers or whatever. That was the culture. It was a buzz, being with your mates as they talked about the events of the day. I had to be so careful because I knew the dire consequences if I was involved in trouble.”
    He avoided it, but once dropped his brother in it, badly.
    “I got my brother seats for Everton away,” he explains, pronouncing Everton as ... ‘Everton’ in the most Salfordian of accents. “They were in the main stand and he went with his hoolie mates. They were clocked for being Mancs straight away and started fighting before being chased outside. Our Dave was like, ‘You could have told us that the tickets were with the Everton fans.’
    Following the 1985 FA Cup final win, Garton travelled to the Caribbean with the first team for a post-season holiday, which he remembers for Gordon McQueen’s antics.
    “Gordon McQueen was so funny. We went on a glass bottomed boat and it was fair to say that that (assistant manager) Mick Brown was never going to be a male model. We stared at the fish through the glass and Gordon said, ‘The fish are paying to come and see Mick.’ Gordon was ruthless. We were hanging off a raft in the ocean off Trinidad. There were a few birds around. Gordon dropped his trunks and had a shit in the water. The shit was floating around the raft near people’s feet and that that. He was such a fucking lad with a real unique sense of humour.”
    There were problems with the accommodation on the trip. “We stayed in the shittiest hotel to start with in Jamaica,” he says. “And Gordon wasn't having it. He said: ‘We’re the famous Man United and we’re not staying here.’ We had a team meeting in this crappy hotel with Les Olive (United’s club secretary for thirty years and later a director, Olive died in May 2006), who held the purse strings. All the senior pros said: ‘We’ve just won the FA Cup, we’re not staying here.’ Big Ron was already staying in the five star Royal Caribbean so he was sorted. Les agreed with us and we moved out. As we sneaked out of the hotel, the hotel owner was just putting the finishing touches to his ‘Welcome Man United – FA Cup Winners’ banner by the front entrance. The poor guy was devastated.”
    Garton liked the camaraderie in the team.
    “You lived and breathed your team mates. It was more like a family than work because you spent so much time with them. You really became close and there were never any secrets. If anything had something on then everyone in the dressing room knew.”
    Yet injuries blighted Garton’s early United career and he featured infrequently for United in Ron Atkinson’s final two seasons at the club. “I had problems with my hamstring and that’s one reason why my early career floundered,” he says. “I think United had big expectations for me, but I kept pulling hamstrings. Later on, I found out it was because I had a protruding disc which was pressing against my sciatic nerve. I had this pain down the back of my legs. I had a back operation to sort this out and that kept me out for six months. The injuries got me seriously down. Every footballer will tell you that. I wasn’t a good watcher; I wanted to be out there playing and not sat on my arse.”
    In March 1986, he was fit enough to go on loan to Birmingham for three months. “Birmingham was the perfect escape because I wasn’t getting in the first team at United and I needed to be playing a high level. Birmingham made me a better player. I went from being young Billy Garton in a team of internationals at Old Trafford to someone who they looked up to at Birmingham. I was a bigger fish in a smaller pond and it made me grow up really quickly. They were fighting relegation and I played five games there in which we won three. We beat Villa 3-0 which made the fans very happy. John Bond was manager. I had heard loads of bad things about him but he was great with me.”
    Birmingham wanted to make the move permanent but Brian Whitehouse, United’s reserve manager, watched Garton’s five games for the Brummies. “I played really well and went straight back into the first team when I went back to Old Trafford,” he says. “Birmingham ended up getting relegated which was sad.”
    Garton’s face seemed to fit when Alex Ferguson arrived at the club in November 1986 and he played in Ferguson’s first FA Cup team, a 1-0 victory over Manchester City in January 1987.
    “We were confident of beating Coventry at home in the fourth round and I really fancied us to get to Wembley that year, but that was the year they won it,” he remembers. “I played against Cyrille Regis and bounced off him four or five times. It was if I was a fly and he was squatting me. If I have one regret as a player it was that I wasn’t physically strong enough. I didn’t do the weights to build myself up until much later in my career.”