It had been a hard week at the office and I fancied a pint. As I walked up Oxford Street towards its junction with Portland Street at gone 7pm, I weighed up where would be the best place to go. The Circus Tavern would probably be full (as it usually was, having a capacity of approximately 14) and the Hare and Hounds would be busy for the Free and Easy singalong in the back room. A lot of the trendier places on the walk to my flat would be filling up with people out for the first night of the weekend, rather than those having a soothing drink after work. I decided on the Northern on Tib Street, a handy halfway house between pub and bar, and settled down with a Guinness and the paper.
One pint quickly became two and as I studied the sports pages, a man at the next table began a conversation based around what I was reading. He asked who I supported, which helped the chat take a tangent onto familiar ground as he was a Burnley fan. He knew what a couple of former Burnley players were up to, which interested me back then as I was still looking around for Bury players from years gone by to interview for the programme. Our clubs’ paths crossed when he announced that he thought he’d heard that Kevin Young was working in the prison service.
By the time Bury’s season ended a few weeks later, after defeat in a penalty shoot-out to Shrewsbury in the play-offs, my page in the programme had gone with it too. Kevin Young had never been an interviewee, simply because although I knew where he might work, I had no concrete method of getting in touch with him.
Three years later, as my plans for The Forgotten Fifteen began to develop, so did the realisation that Kevin, a classy midfielder schooled in the Turf Moor Way, was out there somewhere.
Three years later, as my plans for The Forgotten Fifteen began to develop, so did the realisation that Kevin, a classy midfielder schooled in the Turf Moor Way, was out there somewhere. I had a friend, Matthew, who now worked in the prison service; I asked him if there was a global email system on which it might be possible to search for colleagues from around the country. There was. I asked him if there was a Kevin Young based in the North East. There was. I asked him if he’d email him, outlining my idea. He did.
I was in Manchester on a day off, browsing second hand bookshops for anything about 1984 and 1985, when a text from Matthew arrived. The Kevin Young that I hoped had played for Bury had replied to his message and confirmed that he was who I was looking for. I let out a squeal of delight, which took the owner of the book stall on Church Street market by surprise, and went to find somewhere to call the number that Matthew had included on the text.
The Smithfield is a lovely real ale pub on Swan Street in the city centre, just before the industrious drag of Great Ancoats Street. A cricket match murmured gently on the big screen, for the benefit of one hardy soul who was propping the bar up. I excitedly made my mind up that this would be the place. With no exterior noise, it was the perfect location for the call I wanted to make as quickly as possible. After blagging a pen and a piece of paper (a William Hill betting shop slip) from the barmaid, I sat down and dialled.
Like a lot of former footballers who have since gone on to work in a ‘normal’ job after retiring from the game, Kevin was unfailingly polite, flattered and surprised that someone might want to talk to him about a football team from 27 years ago. After the initial quick chat to confirm he’d be interested in talking about the project, it was agreed that we’d talk again in future by email. I noted down his address on the slip which was now more valuable than if it had the winner of the 3.20 at Haydock’s name on it. Over time, we arranged a time to meet, but that time wouldn’t come for another four months as holidays and working times clashed.
When the day came, my train to Durham left Manchester at just gone seven in the morning. It was bound for the ultimate destination of "Migglesbrough" according to the annoying man behind me on the train, whose nasal drawl down his phone prevented me from sleeping as we sped north.
The programmes of each home game from 1984/85, kindly lent to me by my friend Craig, kept me occupied on the journey instead. As we slowed down to cross the magnificent Durham Viaduct, the nervous excitement I feel before every interview with a former Bury player took hold. After disembarking from the very front of a double header, I walked the long walk towards the busier end of the platform where I assumed Kevin would be.
Whilst the mullet from 1985 has now gone, there was no mistaking the genial Wearsider sitting on the platform bench as Kevin Young.
Whilst the mullet from 1985 has now gone, there was no mistaking the genial Wearsider sitting on the platform bench as Kevin Young. We walked down from the station, high above the city, to the murky brown- ness of the river and found a café. Dwarfed by the huge cathedral that dodged the Luftwaffe’s bombs during World War II, we sat and talked about Burnley, Bury and 1985.
It was a fantastically good-natured conversation that could have gone on for hours, but I was on minutes. In three hours I was due back in Manchester to interview John Bramhall in his office at the PFA. And that was an interview that couldn’t over-run either as England’s first game in Euro 2012 was kicking off later that afternoon. Every word and every minute would count.