Manchester United – Man and Babe
By Wilf McGuinness and Ivan Ponting
Hardcover: 272 pages
Publisher: Pitch Publishing (October 1, 2008)
With a generously bubbly 1200 word Foreword penned by the author’s good friend and former team mate, Sir Bobby Charlton, and no fewer than 140-plus photographs within its 316 page format, it is quite unbelievable that, 14 months on from its original publication date in October 2008, Manchester United Man and Babe, the long-awaited autobiography of Wilf McGuinness of Man U and England, has received nary a mention in the local or regional press. Because there must be thousands of north Manchester folk and Reds, too, inquisitive about their team’s past, who would love to get their hands on this story of a local boy done good. Which, of course, they may do, courtesy of Waterstone’s (where I first found it on sale @ £17.99), or– www.amazon.co.uk where I bought it @ a discounted £12.49 inc. p&p.
This is a book I would not be without. Well, not permanently at any rate. Because, though I had been aware that Wilf was planning to write his autobiography (see above, the old advertising slogan I suggested as a title), I knew not (for reasons already mentioned) of the book’s existence for fully 6 months after its publication date. Moreover, an additional 6 months would then pass by during which time this same book has been devoured hungrily by yours truly and assorted alumni of Shepherd Street University (aka Mount Carmel, Blackley) who gleefully borrowed it from me. Not the least of whom is my good friend John Gilligan of Moston, photographed on page 21 herein alongside the boy McGuinness himself, the late, Tommy Seale (younger brother of Fr Brian Seale of St John Vianney’s), and other assorted reprobates from Blackley and White Moss who made up the school’s U-15s’ football team in the early 1950s whose names escape me for the present, Tony Burgess apart.
As ghost writer to his autobiographical task the author has recruited Ivan Ponting of The Independent. And, technically speaking, the guy makes a good journeyman’s job of it, particularly with regard to the boy’s professional career — playing days sadly foreshortened due to injury; life-span happily extended because of it (Wilf having been unfit to travel to Munich). So Man and Babe is certainly a better title than my own suggestion. But I really do wish there was a bit more detail here about Wilf’s north Manchester roots, as indeed there is concerning Collyhurst and Ashington, respectively, in the Nobby Stiles and Bobby Charlton autobiographies that were ghosted by The Independent’s James Lawton. (See Life, April 2007.)
Notwithstanding this single reservation, however (and my preference for the inclusion of an index), the generous provision of photographs of local characters (long since dispersed; hardly forgotten) will surely conjure up a vibrant north Manchester yesteryear for anyone who may care to recall it . . .
Witness the likes of headmaster John “Mickey” Mulligan (Snr.) . . . Canon F W Kershaw, who famously berated broadcaster, Gilbert Harding at national level . . . Wilf McGuinness with hair (a quiff I recall being jealous of) . . . Mrs May McGuinness, too, the loveliest of womankind: deaf as a post, she had a voice like a corncrake and a heart of gold . . . and Wilf’s elder brother Lawrence, practising the trumpet (or cornet: I never did know which) in the front parlour of No. 52 Westleigh Street . . . trumpet-playing that was accompanied by a drumbeat: BULUNG – skit, skit, skitter! BULUNG – skit, skit, skitter, as Wilf and his pals kicked a Size 5 ball against the gable end, halting just occasionally for Wilf to essay a throw-in technique that would take the ball all of 30 feet to the apex of the roof, the chimney pot beyond . . . and the practitioner of such art to a career at Old Trafford that many would die for and, sadly, some have.
Reviewed by Bill Keeth