I am writing this from Budapest at the flat of a friend, but want to continue the series as a lead-up to the Fergie High Plateau, an eminence I hadn't ever thought to reach.
The long romance was only five years old and I was fourteen when the sixties team began to climb to its first peak since 1958. It started with the FA Cup Final on 25 May 1963, almost exactly fifty years ago to the day as I write. Bobby Charlton was in place, Denis Law had arrived but Georgie Best was not yet ready. His first appearance was to be in the November of that year.
I mentioned names before. The numinous ones here are Gaskell, Dunne, Cantwell, Crerand, Foulkes, Setters, Giles, Quixall, Herd, Law, Charlton. Leicester had Ken Keyworth, Mike Stringfellow, Colin Appleton and Frank McLintock. Names like Keyworth and Stringfellow seemed the epitome of England to my forming verbal imagination. A man worth a key and a fellow that looked like string.
I had to look the United team up to check those numinous names, but with a little thought I would have got them all. All except one: Albert Quixall. It is as if Quixall were a time visitor from a previous era, a childhood figure mixed up with teenage dreams; a Victorian among the Moderns. Albert Quixall - a record buy from Sheffield Wednesday for £45,000 - was a quick-heal straight after the Munich disaster. Quixall the Quickheal.
He was a boy with a blond quiff, and unusual in being called Albert. Not many boys of his age were, and, if they were, they tended to shorten it to Bert, or possibly Al. Albert was the Victorian part of him. He was gone by the end of 1963 so his brief blond comet trail only entered my consciousness as it was leaving it. Quixall looked as though he might have been part of a backing band on a rock 'n roll gig. He had a boyish face, still a little plump in the cheeks. To me he will forever represent the pre-Beatles and Philip Larkin pre-sexual intercourse days. Those were my impressionable days too of course, between the ages of ten and fourteen.
Boys like Quixall were my elders at co-ed state grammar school. They were glamorous, slightly threatening semi-adults, whose magnetism preceded the magnetism of girls by a year or two, maybe less. They were a possible realm of being. They might appear in the school football team or be found hanging around the corridors. Some would be smoking down by the bike-shed. Some might have transcended class barriers or have been born into the lower middle class. Some became engineers, some doctors. Other would work in garages, offices or shops.
My own ambitions, apart from football, were determined by the ambitions of my parents. Penniless refugees, set up in jobs and accommodation in London with invaluable official help, they had brought their aspirational backgrounds with them. Their children's lives were to be secure and assimilated. My brother was to be a violinist (he had the talent for it) and I was to be a doctor (they thought I had the talent for it). My Hungarian school results had given them plenty of encouragement though the English results were not quite as glittering. It's the adaptation to the language, they must have thought. My personal ambitions were survival, a different face and body and a top quality bicycle to tour with, ideally a racing Raleigh with Sturmey-Archer five-speed gears. Of these, only survival was a realistic ambition. In my heart of hearts I already knew that I would fail to win an England cap at football, and that I might even struggle to make the school's under 14-team.
This was North-West London so the boys I knew supported Chelsea or Arsenal or Spurs, with the odd Watford or Brentford fan among them. I remember asking a tall thin scholarly boy what team he supported. He didn't look the football type. Chesterfield, he replied. We were nowhere near Chesterfield geographically. Chesterfield was nowhere near glamour or even hope. It was an admirable answer, like a gasp of northern wind. I like the crooked spire, he said.
The Quixalls of early teenage life were objects of envy, fear, and tenderness. It was as if I knew that their opportunities might be limited, their flowering brief. Looking back on it now I am sure there was a trace of homo-erotic love in my feelings though Eros was no conscious part of it. There was something baby-faced about them, though in certain lights there was a hint of Richard Attenborough as Pinky in Brighton Rock.
I was not of them. I was not that face. Bobby Charlton's face was the benign aspect of older boys, mostly blond, mostlly British. They nearly always came with quiffs or other not-too-tidy but fancy hairstyles. Quixall's was their passing aspect, just as he was United's.