Retrospective #17: Roy Keane’s departure – ‘I’m sorry, son. He’s gone’
Roy Keane’s departure – an anecdote
iSimangaliso Wetlands Park. Formerly known as ‘Greater St Lucia Wetlands Park’. The destination for myself and the future Mrs Pattison on a scorching hot Sunday in November. It was the final stop on our whirlwind three day safari before returning to our Charity project in Kwa Zulu-Natal. Drifting in and out of fitful sleep, I was enveloped by that maudling, detached, melancholic sense that an unforgettable experience was coming to an end; a fitting state of mind for the bombshell about to drop.
A jolt; and I was snapped out of my haze. Our guide for the trip Jannie was a long-limbed, iron jawed Afrikaaner; whose penchant for the worst excesses of early nineties rock had formed the backdrop to our high speed cruise along the monotous freeway. The abrupt interruption of James Hetfield mid-growl signalled that our trip to ‘Never Never Land’ would have to be put on hold as he had to ‘go take a pee mate.’ Naturally having a bladder the size of a pea, my beloved followed Jannie’s march to the facilities (either that or they were conducting an illicit romantic liaison in South Africa’s finest services). My thoughts as had become the norm on these roadside pit-stops turned to one thing: Liqui Fruit. Addictions can develop at a surprising pace; for me this invigorating fruit punch had become an obsession. Having made my purchase and happily slurping on my carton of ‘marula mania’ I turned to the newspaper section to kill time whilst I waited for Jannie and Laura to return. Of course, I couldn’t understand a word of the prose as it was entirely Afrikaans so my flicking through the pages amounted to looking at the pictures.
Then came two pictures of familiar faces that grabbed my attention. The only words I could discern from the headline was KEANE FERGUSON MANCHESTER. My heart started to race; what the bloody hell could it all mean? The headline appeared angry, but then again everything said or written in Afrikaans invariably does.
It’s okay, I’ll ask Jannie. At least I would if he wasn’t honking the horn of the truck, having lit a (hopefully not post-coital) cigarette. When a large South African with Metallica on full volume orders you to leave, it really isn’t the time to ask if he mind playing the role of translator.
Onward. For three hours. My mind was darting all over the place. Injury? New contract? Retirement? Soundtracked by Def Leppard and Roxette, I thought back over all my enduring images of Roy. In the tunnel with Vieira. Driving home the crucial goal against Bayern. Surging through to finish at Highbury. Dragging us back from the precipice in the Delle Alpi. I was now 22 and in that time the single happiest moment of my life had been sealing the trophy at Camp Nou. It felt like we had ‘completed football’ and Roy more than any other in my view was responsible for that. He was the foundation upon which our finest hour had been built. What the hell had happened?
The Wetlands was beautiful. On an open top boat we cruised up the river, observing families of hippos having the time of their lives whilst crocs sunbathed watching on. Yet whilst I was undoubtedly enjoying the experience the anxiety over the Roy story festered. I don’t believe in fate and all that nonsense but it does seem strange looking back that my expectations at that time were predominantly negative. It was a challenging time to follow the team; the climate of uncertainty of the new Glazer era sat uncomfortably with me and being on self-imposed hiatus from my daily feed of all things United I became naturally inclined to fear the worst. Fittingly the Teeside humiliation had been the last game I had managed to see. Glumly looking on from a Pretorian bar as my beloved Reds were taken apart, losing 4-1 to a rampant Middlesborough side made the prospect of two months without watching United seem a blessing rather than an unfortunate consequence of our ‘do-gooding’ exploits.
Arriving back very late it would ordinarily be unthinkable to call home but I knew in these circumstances Dad would understand. (It wouldn’t be the last time that United news would be shared from distant lands – two years later in Peru a call to share the news of our engagement was hijacked by details of the Tevez signing.) The phone rang for what seemed like an eternity. Hopes dashed, I became resigned to waiting a whole other day. Only to hear a crackle, a distinctive grumble, and a clearly furious voice come down the line. After quelling his initial concerns that something serious had happened my end, I explained about the newspaper story. My voice was a tremble with trepidation as I enquired as to what has happened with our captain, our leader, my hero.
A pause on the line. A deep sigh. And at that point, I knew my worst fears were about to be confirmed.
‘I’m sorry, son. He’s gone.’
This was written by Tom Pattison. Tom discusses music on his blog ‘Listen With Danger‘ and writes about United for The Faithful. You can follow him on Twitter. (The kind man has contributed to this series before – read here.)