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Billy Garton. An extract from We're The Famous Man United. Part 4.

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  • Billy Garton. An extract from We're The Famous Man United. Part 4.

    United’s defensive muscle came from elsewhere.
    “We had Kevin Moran, Gordon (McQueen) and Paul McGrath. My make up was different to those players because I was more of a footballing centre-half. I loved playing there because there was always action and a kudos from playing in that position. If you play well against a great forward – and more often than not the forward is the other team’s best player – then you get the plaudits. I played against Andy Gray a few times and played him really well.
    “Yet I loved the freedom of playing full-back because you could get forward and get crosses in. If I’m honest, I don’t think I had the speed to be a great full-back. It was tough for me when I came up against a fast winger. Newcastle had a Brazilian player called Mirandinha – he had blazing speed. Mickey Adams was very quick for Coventry too. I would have rather marked someone like Trevor Stephen who was a jinker rather than quick players.”
    Garton’s highs and lows on the field were mirrored off it. “My private situation wasn’t ideal,” he says. “I was living with a girl and we had a baby, my daughter Lauren. But I wasn’t happy there. In some respects being a young professional footballer was really exciting. The social scene was good and there was a great attraction. I was playing for Man United, had a nice car, wore the right clobber and went out with my superstar mates. I had a great time, but I have some regrets. It all came too soon. I settled down too soon and wasn’t faithful. It became really obvious that I was fucking around with other girls. I regret that.
    “You have to be careful that you take the right path,” he adds. “The social scene has slowed a lot of players down and yet some of my happiest memories were being with the lads on tours and in the pub.
    Garton’s best spell for United came at the start of the 1988-89 season. “I finally got over my back problems and I was in the team every week. Credit to Fergie, he said, ‘Don’t train all the time; get plenty of rest to make sure that you are fine for the matches.’
    Despite Ferguson’s patience, a sporadically fit Garton was not going to offer a long term solution for a manager who was under increasing pressure to win trophies. In October 1988, Ferguson did a deal for another defender, the veteran Ulsterman Mal Donaghy from Luton Town. In 1989, he bought five new £1 million-plus players, paying a record £2.3 million for defender Gary Pallister from Middlesbrough. It was clear that Garton’s future was not at Old Trafford and he began to look at his options.
    “I wasn’t sure that Fergie was going to keep me. Arthur Albiston knew Mel Machin (Manchester City manager) well and said that he wanted to speak to me,” he explains. “United agree to sell me and I signed for City in 1989.” The fee was to be decided by a tribunal with United asking £390,000 and City offering £150,000.
    “You always sign subject to medical,” Garton states. “My photo was on the back of the Evening News with Mel Machin and Wayne Biggins, another new City signing.”
    The contract, which he still has, was a good one.
    “It would have been a great deal for me with a £60,000 signing on fee. I was on to get a huge bonus if City were promoted, plus a contract of £700 a week for the first year. Leaving United and moving to City was a major decision for me, but I’d grown up by then. It was my livelihood, my profession. I’ll always love United, but this was a great deal that would have meant that I could have stayed in Manchester.
    Garton failed the medical, however. His voice trails off as he starts to explain why.
    “By the time I signed for City, an illness had kicked in. I had started to suffer symptoms on a pre-season tour of Malta. I had the shits for about five days and didn’t really feel myself. I was light-headed and always tired, but I thought it was a stomach bug. The symptoms stayed with me though. I had blood tests and they diagnosed me with having glandular fever and said it would be over it in a couple of months.
    “I had already started having blood tests to see what was wrong with me when I signed for City. City, understandably, said that they were not prepared to sign me until I had the all clear medically.”
    However, the doctors struggled to find out what was wrong with him. “I felt the same for three years,” he says. “It was later called M.E or ‘chronic fatigue syndrome’ in the States. It’s when there has been a virus in your system and your body reacts like it is still there, with your cells acting like they are being attacked. I did not have a clue what it was. The worse thing was that I always felt light-headed and dizzy. I think I could have got away with working in an office, but I had to play football. I felt shattered all the time. I got bad advice too. United’s club doctor, who wasn’t the most popular man in the world, basically dismissed my symptoms and said ‘get on with it.’ He told me to train and push myself through it. When I later spoke to specialists they told me that that was the worse advice that could have been given and that I should have rested. I had 18 months on my contract when I was first diagnosed and even though Fergie was very supportive, I was devastated. I was embarrassed driving to the Cliff every day. Alex was making me report in as I was under contract and I had to explain to people that I wasn’t getting any better. I would waste away the morning, read the paper or walk around the field. It was embarrassing just being there. Nobody believed what I was saying. I felt like I was going nowhere, that nobody was listening to me and that I wasn’t making sense. I went in to see Alex one day and broke down in his office. I demanded a second opinion and he agreed. It brought some relief when my condition was then diagnosed.
    “I felt like a lot of people thought I was on the blag, that I was imagining things and people questioned my mental state. The problem was that I didn’t look ill. If you have a broken leg people can see the evidence. I heard rumours about myself, based on ignorance rather than malice. The other players were great and I don’t ever remember anything me said, but lads in Ordsall would say, ‘What the fuck’s up with yer? Just get out there and run.’ I knew that a consequence of not recovering was that I was going to be released when my contract ended, and that’s ultimately what happened.
    “I had a mixed bag with Alex. I got into trouble a couple of times for coming in late. He wanted people to report players if they were out pissed up misbehaving. He nurtured a grass mentality which put everyone on guard. I can understand why he did it because a lot of players were going off the rails drinking in the afternoon. People reported me a couple of times. I came home one night drunk as a lord to my little apartment in Worsley. For some reason I needed to get a music tape out of the car, but I was that drunk that I walked out with nothing on except one big monster slipper. I walked into the car park and in my mind I was gone for five minutes. My mate came out and said: ‘you’ve been gone about half an hour, what are you doing?’
    “I was called into Alex’s office after training the following morning. He said: ‘Where’s your other slipper?’ I pretended to act daft but then he gave me a dressing down and fined me two weeks wages for embarrassing the club. One of the neighbours had called in.
    “I played for three years under Alex and he gave me the chance to play and to prove myself after injuries. I fully respect him for that. He’s a fantastic manager because he’s so good at man management. He turned that club on its head when he arrived and completely changed the mentality of the place. To do that at an organisation as big as United was a massive achievement. He did little things like trimming down the excesses on away game. We would be used to a-la-carte menus in five star hotels. He would say that the set meal was good enough for us and banned room service. It felt more professional and better organised. I felt that I had to be more responsible. Players would load the club up with expenses and Alex just stopped all that.
    “Alex sorted the training out too. We had to play by his rules and if you turned up for training smelling of beer you would get fined. If you carried on then you would be out of the club. Nobody could believe it when he got rid of Norman Whiteside and Paul McGrath – who was one of the best players in the country at the time. Alex took a brave decision, but he realised the damage that a drinking culture could have.”
    In May 1990, as Ferguson won his first trophy with FA Cup success over Crystal Palace, Billy Garton retired from professional football.
    “I was depressed and seriously sad that my time at United was up,” he says. “My first thought was ‘How am I going to survive?’ I had a mortgage and a daughter. I needed to run a car, yet I was still sick and unable to do a proper day’s work. Did suicide cross my mind? Yes. There were a couple of times when I was driving when I thought about it. I thought of my options and suicide was one of them. Then I started to think of how I would do it. I was so desperately sad, yet I’m not the type of person who would take his own life and that’s why I didn’t do anything. I felt that suicide was the selfish way out. I know that some people do it because they are not thinking rationally, but you leave everybody else with the hurt, pain and financial worry. It might have been the selfish answer for me, but it wasn’t the answer for my daughter, mum, dad or other people close to me.”