Friday, 1 February 2013


Gerry with a dawn scrapper
Generosity is seldom a dominant trait in folk these days but friend Gerry Higham has it in spades. I first fished with him when on the Cauvery River in India, indulging in a marvellous overdose of ‘mahseer magic’. Sharing the sunrise with him while enjoying bite a chuck action and missing most of them is as good as life gets – lots of laughter in the best possible company.

Perfect Spanish roach

We shared a river bank again in December when roaching on the Ebro in Spain and got talking about football – as you do. Gerry has been an ardent supporter of Man U. since childhood and my local team is Southampton so he kindly invited me to watch the contest at Old Trafford on Wednesday evening. He also challenged me to a return fishing contest, for I had beaten him in Spain and he wanted revenge. [A full description of that match and witness statements etc. will follow in a future post].
The greatest football club in the world?

Gerry had kindly arranged for a tour of Old Trafford, so on Tuesday evening there I was at arguably the most famous football club in the world, standing by the hallowed turf in the ‘Theatre of Dreams’. 
Just a few of the stars
In the 'theatre of dreams'
They've won a few

Sir Alex didn't even put me on the bench

As I didn’t expect our football team to beat Man U. and keen to keep up the honour of us ‘southern softies’, I had secretly prepared a deadly cheese paste to ensure I beat him in the fishing match, not a nice way to show gratitude but it had to be done!

Gerry had already done a pitch inspection on the River Dane to ensure the match could go ahead. No doubt he had also sussed out the best swim for himself too! He had even bought a box of extra strong Kleenex, expecting my tears to flow twice during the day … dream on Gerry.

Coloured but fishable

Otters had been fishing here first
Despite arriving at the river earlyish, we immediately realised that we weren’t the first to fish the stretch that day, a family of otters having walked and swum upstream only an hour or so before our arrival. It sure is an indication of how well otters have recovered in England when they are breeding successfully within half an hours drive of Manchester.

Should be chub here don't you think?

Gerry's not smiling as he nets my first chub - funny that!

The match rules hadn’t been set, just so either of us could change them to ensure victory. Being the away team, Gerry gave me first choice of swim – I told you he was generous – which he immediately regretted because almost first cast my secret cheese paste that came with a government health warning had snared a modest chub from the heavily coloured flood water. 1: 0 to Southampton. I wondered if the score would be prophetic. [I doubted it as I had predicted a hat trick for Rooney].

A spectacular kitchen

No more scores by half-time when Gerry brewed a life-saving cup of tea and tasty bacon roll. I had hoped to fish a couple of chub swims to die for but the wind was so strong and the crack willows so tall that I didn’t intend to do so literally, even if it was a match to the death.

The 2 : 0 chub

The contest remained tense until I landed a second chub – nearly four pounds this one – and the Gods must have been smiling on us southerners as Gerry lost both of his chub … cracking under the pressure I reckon. Instead of chub he landed a giant minnow but felt he had a chance of winning when a text from friend Pete Reading suggested to Gerry that chub shouldn’t count – how disloyal is that! No last minute rule changes were allowed so the result remained 2:1 to the southerners. Would this be the score at Southampton v. Man U? Gerry was worried.

It was a big minnow
Sir Bobby Charlton in his youth

Anticipation builds as you walk to Old Trafford for the match, thousands converging from all over the world. And when greeted with friendly warmth and fed a great dinner in the executive lounge you realise that you’ve come to a very special place.

Just before kick off

On entering the stadium, the sight of this massive ground filled to the roof – 75,600 to be precise is impressive and when United equalised the noise of celebration was breathtaking. Southampton had scored first … to stunned silence from the home fans but much jubilation from the Saints supporters.

 Home fans nervous already
Man U on top in first half
I imagined keen fan Chris Yates at home, cheering as he listened on his radio. When Rooney scored again before half-time, with United creating some wonderful flowing moves, my prediction of a hat trick for Wayne looked promising.

Rooney scores his first

The Saints battered them in the second half

However, the second half was all Southampton, silencing the home fans as the Saints battered against United’s famous defence, nearly equalising but for a fine De Gea save from Lambert’s free kick. The Saints fans were in full voice and I thought I might have to offer the Kleenex back to Gerry as he was apoplectic with exasperation.

The Reds fans weren't happy

Despite Southampton's dominance, 2:1 it remained, reversing the result of the fishing match. So honours were even, especially as Sir Alex said that it was the best any opponent had played against them at home all season. I felt proud just to have watched them.

Van Persie free kick

It was an honour to be there

What an experience it had been, the spectacle, the colour, the noise, the friendship and the brilliant football ; sharing all this was one of life’s great privileges. Thank you Gerry, it was really kind of you, though it might be wise not to expect too much generosity from me when we next hold a fishing match!

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