Randall Butt's story: Episode Two
I wasn’t aware these ramblings were going to appear as the Randall Butt Story until I had a look at the Coconuts website. DM-J didn’t actually tell me that, and he therefore qualifies for a job as a newspaper sub-editor. This is a strange, embittered breed of men whose sole raison d’être is to make life difficult, and often acutely embarrassing, for the far superior race of writers. Many times during my decades of U’s coverage, often while confronting an angry manager, I thought about – but never got around to – making myself a badge that stated: ‘Don’t blame me, I don’t write the headlines.’
If there is some nonsensical heading above one of Aaron Mason’s reports, don’t blame the boy. We writers are rarely, if ever, consulted. Often after a match at the Abbey I’d be asked by a supporter: ‘What’s the headline going to be on Monday?’ And I’d answer: ‘I haven’t got a clue, but probably something daft.’ And here is the reason why. What is the main criterion for a headline? It should reflect the story? It should attract readers? Don’t be so naïve. It has to fit into that little space. That’s why the CN often uses ‘David’ in a Histon headline, much more than it uses ‘Jez’.* Livermore is too long. Some subs even chop and mangle perfectly good copy to fill the allocated space, which often changes after a story has been written.
Now, as these ramblings should always include a tale from down Newmarket Road, come with me again through the Time Tunnel (What a naff TV series that was) to an era when a dark shape loomed over the Abbey. Godzilla? King Kong? Or Mr Blobby? No, it’s Rhino. Aargh! That’s what John Ryan liked to be known as. And when someone, unprompted, tells you their nickname, you kind of know it’s not quite right somehow.
And Rhino’s reign was indeed not quite right, in almost every way. It started with a 5-2 defeat at Charlton and went downhill from there for 44 more ghastly games, including just five victories. But he does have one claim to fame, unrivalled by any of the other 13 managers in the first Football League era, all of whom I worked with – or, some would suggest, against. Rhino was the only one of them to leave the ground before the end of a home match (even Elvis used to wait until the end of the show), and – this is the really special bit – it was a match in which he was playing.
It’s 10 November 1984. United go into a 2-1 lead against Burnley. Only 27 minutes to go. Could this be a rare victory? No. Rhino, the boots back on in a bid to save his job, handles the ball totally unnecessarily, having
already been booked. Off he goes, and the ten men crumble to a 3-2 defeat. ‘It’s going to be a while before he comes out of the changing room this time,’ we hacks think. While you, to our eternal envy, head for the pub or home, we often have to wait ages to speak to managers after defeats, usually at places like Hartlepool on a freezing winter’s day.
And indeed there was neither sign nor sight of him. Eventually I knocked on the door to be told: ‘He’s not here. He wasn’t here when we came in. Somebody said he’s gone home.’
A dozen games (nine defeats) later he was gone for good. An egotistical, but also unfortunate man in the wrong place at the wrong time, ill equipped for a difficult job, and chosen badly by a board who thought they were getting another Ron Atkinson.
Next time I will try to get around to having a go at the RB story (I was born at one of Britain’s major sporting venues. Work that one out). And come to think of it, there is one other Rhino tale worth telling. About the time he decided, as many faltering managers do, to ban something. Find out what, and how … as they used to say during Saturday morning pictures at Cwmcarn Park Hall cinema … in the next thrilling episode.
* These memoirs were written in 2012.