Adieu to fair man

Adieu to fair man who gave me football

Simon Hattenstone
Wednesday February 14, 2007
The Guardian – www.guardian.co.uk

Dad died on Sunday. He was 91, and had had what we call a good innings (91 might be a terrible score to get out on in cricket, but life and sport sometimes go their separate ways).

Dad wasn't a natural sportsman. He preferred to sit in his armchair with a fag or 50 and watch the telly or read a good thriller. (This was before he became cultured and discovered Classic FM.) Occasionally, he developed an interest in sport, but even then it would be the kind you could play or watch with a fag in your mouth. When I was in my teens, he took me down to Hurricane Higgins' snooker palace by the Rialto. It was dark and dingy, stank of smoke and beer. He was never a drinker, but he felt at home.

He loved his snooker. Not playing - his biggest break was, like mine, around the eight mark - but watching. He was glued to the telly, hour after hour, day after day, watching the Worlds unfurl on the box. He always had a favourite - the ones who played it as they lived it. First the Hurricane, then the Whirlwind, and lastly of course the Rocket. A few years ago I interviewed Ronnie O'Sullivan for the first time, and came home with one of Ronnie's cues, signed by him for Dad. I can still see Dad's smile. "And he gave me this? For me?" he said with disbelief.

Mum wrote a letter to Ronnie on Dad's behalf to thank him. Last year, he lost his sight and had to give up on the snooker. So I had to report directly to him the Rocket's doings and wrongdoings. A few weeks ago, I saw Ronnie at the Masters at Wembley and told him Dad was very ill. "Tell him, I'm gonna win this one for him," he said. Ah, that's lovely, I thought, but he's not won a big snooker tournament for close on two years. Anyway, he did.

When Jewish people die the family sit shiva, sometimes for a day, sometimes for a working week. The mourners sit on tiny chairs, bottoms next to the ground, and visitors wish them "long life" and reminisce. It's a surreal scene - something you might expect to find in a Fellini film. Visitor after visitor comes up to me and the first thing they all say about Dad is that he was honest and fair; he never tried to shaft anybody and never expected to be shafted. It makes me proud of him, and reminds me of our football days together.

Our football days were limited. It wasn't that he didn't like the game, he just wasn't interested. When I was nine, I caught encephalitis and was bed-ridden for the best part of three years.
It was when I was ill that Dad and I became much closer. He'd always been working too hard to take much notice beforehand. He used to lie on the spare bed in my room, listen to Dark Side of the Moon with me, our eyes shut, and he'd say: "This is the best bleddy music I've ever heard. Marvellous."

I started playing football, largely in my bedroom. There was a period when I seemed to break a window a week, sometimes two. Mum and Dad were so relieved I was alive, they didn't even give me the bollockings I deserved.

When I was better, Dad got us a couple of season tickets at Maine Road. It was a huge sacrifice because he worked on Saturdays. He started to enjoy the ritual - Big Helen ringing her bell, the couple behind us with their blankets and whisky, the half-time chatter - but he invariably missed the goals, too busy lighting up.

When I think of his sense of fairness, it takes me back to a particular day, one of the greatest in my life. It was the last time City won a cup in 1976, and Dad took me down to the final at Wembley. He decided to make a real day of it, splash out, so we went on the Pullman, ate lunch on the train, fantastic. Best of all, we won, beating Newcastle 2-1, and Denis Tueart's overhead kick is still one of the greatest goals Wembley has seen. Dad missed both goals - he was lighting up, of course.

At the end of the game, we walked back down Wembley Way. I was 13 years old and drunk on success, Dad was pleased but still his sober self. The flip side of his decency was his naivety. It was the mid-70s, but somehow football violence and sectarianism and the notion of provocation had passed him by. As we were walking, we passed a couple of Newcastle fans. I put my head to the ground. Dad looked at them, smiled and said: "Well, boys, do you think it was a fair result?"

I waited for them to smack him, and prepared to run. But they didn't. They just smiled back, and said "Aye!" Of course, they wouldn't have hit Dad. They could tell he was a football innocent - a fair man asking a fair question.

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