Randall Butt's story: Episode One
Greetings from the press box, which I still inhabit from time to time despite handing over the Cambridge News poison chalice to the boy Aaron just over eight years ago.
These days , as a very free lance, I cover the U’s for the Non-League Paper, although I missed the recent Wealdstone ‘thriller’ because I was dispatched to one of the most uneventful matches I have ever yawned through, at Histon. Not that I mind a trip to the Glassworld. You won’t find a friendlier bunch of people in the sport (providing you don’t wear your CU scarf), and there are not only sandwiches but also cakes at half-time. Free food is something of an obsession with all ranks and variations of the press and media. The News photographer, for instance, was covering both Histon and Cambridge City on Saturday, but made sure he arrived in the Glassworld press room just as the first teacup was being filled.
I am also allocated a car park space at Histon, unlike at the Abbey, where after I'd covered the club for about 35 years, that exalted football administrator George Rolls withdrew the privilege. He thought he could sell it to somebody. Would you buy a used … ? Never mind.
You will be wondering why I am rambling on. Blame it on Dave Matthew-Jones, a man of many parts and more than enough names. Having noticed that my curls are getting thinner these days, and that the old green coat is significantly shabbier, he reckoned there was a place for me in a museum, albeit a virtual one. ‘What sort of thing are you after?’ I asked. ‘I’m not quite sure,’ he said. ‘What do you think?’ ‘I don’t really know,’ I answered.
I realised I felt at home, because the exchange, almost to the word, took me back to ‘planning’ meetings at the CEN for those United supplements. I, and others, would wander away and write enough material for the agreed 12-page special, to be told just when we’d finished the work: ‘Sorry lads, the ads department have only sold enough space for an eight-pager.’
Anyway, unless there is a mass protest against the idea I will be contributing the odd missive and memory – I think they call it an ‘occasional’ series – to this excellent concept. This time I leave you with memories of my encounter with Mr Kenny Dalglish, who some people thought recently was naive, or innocently misunderstanding, in his effusive support for Uruguayan diplomat Señor Suarez. My experience is that Kenny, as I’m sure he would not want me to address him, calculates tactically his every action to the minutest detail. So jump into the time machine, and come back with me to a freezing winter’s day in 1992.
I walked into the CEN office on the morning of United’s big midweek Division Two clash with Blackburn Rovers to be told: ‘Kenny Dalglish wants to speak to you.’ What, the Kenny Dalglish who was ‘unavailable’ whenever I tried to get his comments for my match preview? Quelle surprise, as we say in South Wales.
This was in the era when today’s news rather than yesterday’s appeared in the CN, but deadlines meant I couldn’t get to his hotel in time and would have to talk on the phone. I got through to the great man immediately – amazing. But after a few seconds I realised to my horror that I could
hardly understand a word he was saying: his Scottish/English was more a dialect than accent. There are only so many times you can say: ‘Sorry I didn’t quite get that, it’s not a very good line.’ So after five or six tortuous minutes I was left with little more than a rough outline of what he wanted to get across. Fortunately that was enough, because every pressman knows (I probably shouldn’t tell you this) that the interviewee doesn’t remember much of the conversation either. My shorthand is rubbish, but I can’t recall any complaints from thousands of interviewees.
It transpired that Dalglish, a few days earlier, had said all the usual anti-John Beck stuff in an interview which he thought was only for northern circulation, but had gone national. He knew a motivator of Beck’s calibre – and they don’t come much better – would be pinning the story to the changing room wall and was anxious that in the build-up to that evening’s game United and their fans should know how much he admired the plucky little club’s rise through the ranks against all the odds, etc.
Come the game, Kenny’s Rovers were struggling on a skating rink of a pitch. It was goalless at half time, but it was United who were getting to grips with the conditions. There was no dramatic change in those conditions during the interval, but then the match was suddenly called off, apparently after some conversations the referee had with the managers. ‘Why did he abandon it?’ Beck was asked. The reply: ‘Because I’m not Kenny Dalglish.’
OK, canny Kenny got Blackburn promoted to the inaugural Premier League via the play-offs that year, but there was a satisfying last laugh for United, who finished above them on goal difference. When the abandoned match was restaged in February, United (in front of 7,857 at the Abbey) won 2-1 with a goal from Phil Chapple and a David May og.