Colin was a leading member of the Manchester United travelling away fans back in the seventies and eighties, the Red Army, who I met on a few occasions at away games. I did not know him well, but well enough to hold brief conversations with in various public houses away at Aston Villa, Wolverhampton Wanderers, Coventry City, Derby County, Stoke City, Liverpool and many other venues.
As Colin pointed out in a short documentary, The Red Army, he made about the travelling United fans it was, in those days “all about taking the other team's end”. I recall the Red Army taking the North Bank at Highbury more than once, the Chelsea Shed which is well documented at Bobby Charlton’s retirement game back in 1973, the Gelderd End (Spion Kop) at Leeds in the early days, twice I am told, a little before my time as a regular. I was still under my Dad’s wing at that age - 1969 and 1970.
United managed the once unthinkable and succeeded in getting on the Anfield Kop, Liverpool, and took over the Kippax Terraces at Maine Road, Man City. The Kippax was too large to take, holding upwards of 27,000 and running down one side of the pitch so the object was to stand in their bit. It was rumoured the Liverpool Kop held a similar number but this was not the case. It was large, but around 23,000 would have been nearer the mark with only the centre active, vocal, not the whole end as the media would have us believe. Much harder places away from home were the Leazes End at Newcastle, though United had a go several times, and only the hard core of around four thousand, including Colin Blaney and Jeff Lewis, Tony O’Neill, Howard, Mick O’Farrell, myself were among some of those who ventured into barbaric Geordie land back in the day. Newcastle was a tough place alright and held out against all comers. They brought none to Old Trafford until the Miner’s Strike in 1984 which had as much to do with the dispute as football. During the early to mid-seventies no away supporters came to Old Trafford, Liverpool exempted but were never up for it. In 1974 when we were relegated our last home game, which the Stretford End tried to have abandoned by invading the pitch five minutes from the end, was against City whose fans were noticeable by their absence.
My own debut was the 1969/70 season at the age of nine, far too young for the Stretford End. I remember my dad drinking Double Diamond Ale (not available any more) and my mam grabbing Matt Busby. ordering the great man to give me an audience!! By the time we were relegated, 1973/74, I had gravitated to the Stretford End. Colin Blaney was a year or so older than me, and from Manchester so it would be imagined he was there a good bit earlier than me.
Colin was born in a working-class area of Manchester, Collyhurst. Apart from the huge support the estate gave United, it was a red area similar to Prestwich, Wythenshawe, Salford among other areas where no Blue (City fan) dared to tread. Collyhurst had a close relationship with United. Two icons of the all-conquering European Cup winning team of 1968, when “we defeated Benfica by four goals to one” came from Collyhurst. Brian Kidd and the late Nobby Stiles, both heroes that night. Kidd scoring on his nineteenth birthday, and Stiles keeping the great Eusebio of Benfica in check were both born and reared on the Collyhurst estate. During those days, despite the aggro, the team always came first and everyone had a good knowledge of Man United history, players, managers, culture, honours and certain games etc. Football in those days was a way of life, it superseded all other issues in life including school and later work. In taking a job it had to fit in with United games, for example working on Saturday was unthinkable, and Wednesday night matches had to be accommodated for regards time off work. If time off was not forthcoming, just take it.
During a short documentary Colin made, The Red Army:
it all started about 1968/69 time with the Skinheads who were all on the Stretford End, we called them the baldies and it was all about taking the other teams end.
As earlier pointed out I can remember many of these taking of ends. When in 1973/74 we were relegated, the Red Army had a virtually clear run in the second division and recording the highest home attendance average for all four divisions that season. This included Liverpool who won the first division that season. Opposition, in real terms in Division Two was only encountered away at Sunderland, who defended their end, the Fullwell End, chanting to the travelling United fans, “Oh where’s the Stretford End” to the air of On Ilkley Moor by Tat. The United terraces responded as to our whereabouts. It was our culture, our rules, our terraces and not, as is much the case today, the rich man’s game and rules.
As for the police? As far as we were concerned it was none of their business!! I do not expect any of today’s supporters, many who have never been to a game, to understand the camaraderie which existed within the massed ranks of the Red Army. An injury to one was an injury to all and no red would be left alone to take a beating, if only the best that could be done was get the victim away from the gang who had him. Put it this way, and without sounding vindictive in any way, Liverpool had a similar set of supporters, lesser perhaps in numbers, but nevertheless at home they were formidable enough. In a European game, a few seasons ago, an innocent Liverpool fan was put into a coma by the supporters of Roma. This happened outside the Albert pub behind the Kop and back in the day that just would not have happened. No away fans in such tiny numbers would have dared venture to that part of the ground, let alone make their presence known as did the Roma fans that fateful evening. The next time you modern so-called fans call us hooligans think on. If a ground had a reputation, like Newcastle, the Red Army would stick together, safety in numbers. A meeting place in Manchester for many United fans after the game was the Golden Gate Club, outside Oxford Road station. Despite its flashy name this place was anything but. You could throw up on the floor in there and nobody would bat an eyelid, just carry-on playing dominoes or cards and drinking.
By 1973/74 I had gravitated to the Stretford End and suddenly felt part of something, something important, more important at the time than life itself. This was the feeling of euphoria around the Red Army of the day. I recall back in 1972/73 season it was a night game away at Leeds. My dad decided we’d go. I recall driving down Marsh Lane in the centre of Leeds and a group of Leeds fans fleeing the Red Army, my red and white scarf saved our car from vandalism as other vehicles were smashed and jumped on, Dad’s car was one of ours. Trevor Anderson scored for us that night giving us a surprise away win. We avoided relegation that season, though it was only a matter of time.
Colin Blaney spent some time in a German Prison and on his release decided to turn his life around. This he was successfully doing, writing several books. One of them, Grafters, published in 2004 has a chapter about the Red Army, Docs Red Army, in Tommy Docherty’s day as manager. It is generally about the best gang of sneak thieves in Europe, Man Utd fans, written in in its past tense. Colin was finished with crime, including football hooliganism, but, like many of us from different parts of England, Scotland, Wales and Ireland, still attended Man Utd games. For me, I left the Stretford End having acquired an LMTB (League Match Ticket Book) for J stand. Many others moved from the Stretford End terraces to the paddocks (not the Scoreboard Paddock which was perhaps more notorious than the Stretford End) and though well able to defend themselves, if necessary, no longer went looking for trouble. For myself, pubs were far more interesting pastimes, once in my twenties, than searching for opposition fans. That had become childish and boring and certainly outgrown - a teenager’s hobby.
What today I find sickening and, frankly disturbing, is grown men of my age in their sixties still carrying on as if in their teens. For me, there is something wrong with a fella in their twilight years leading gangs of teenagers into “action”, perhaps they should seek medical attention! In my day twenty-one was getting on a bit let alone sixty- one. They were great days, in their day, and at that age, I wouldn’t swap the experience, but times change as does age.
Colin Blaney, the Collyhurst lad, Red Army member, Man United fanatic and later on reformed character and author succumbed to cancer on 4th July 2022. Many tributes were sent, not only on social media, but physically through the post and not only from United fans of that era but one time terrace enemies, later friends, from Liverpool and Man City along with other clubs. Many other United fans, who I knew much better than I did Colin, have also died in recent years. Some of the lads who were on the Drunkard Bus to Videoton, Hungary, in 1985 are no more. Mick Burges “low Profile” as he was known died, Cockney Norman, a Drunkard Bus veteran died in 2019, Fireman Phil also of Drunkard Bus fame died some years ago as did his mate, Banksy.
Many of the Red Army members of that era are no longer around which if I dwell too long and as we all lived a couldn’t give a fuck life, I often think who could be next? Sleeping rough on train stations, park benches, even gutters was bound to take its toll long term over several seasons. Still, for me, so far, so good.
In memory of: Cockney Norman (Morris), Fireman Phil, Steve Banks (Banksy), Mick “Low Profile” Burges, Theresa Chiltern, Hubert Crofton, Dobbin from London, and Colin Blaney to name but a few.