FROM THE STARS : Extract From The John Ludden Novel

What follows is an extract from the book ‘From The Stars’ released earlier this year, written by John Ludden. Buy it from Amazon here.


It is a beautiful, sunlit, June morning in Manchester and Wilf McGuinness is first to arrive at United’s training ground, The Cliff. He is nervous but equally excited. It his first official day as team coach. Wilf wants an early start. Later he will get everybody together and lay down a few house rules. No one is going to fool around with Wilf. A new brush… nail them before they do for him.

Wilf is sat at his office desk going over his speech notes when suddenly a familiar voice makes him look up.
‘You look good, Wilf. It suits you.’
Wilf stands: ‘Sit down boss.’ I smile and shake my head.
‘It is your desk here now lad. Are you ready?’
‘Just a few welcoming words,’ Wilf points to his notes, at least four pages deep.
‘Keep it short and to the point, son. No need for War and Peace,’ I smile, ‘most importantly be yourself, that is why you got the job. Don’t change, be straight with the boys and they will do good by you. They are good lads. They just need a new voice telling them the right things to do. That voice is yours Wilf. Always remember you have the tools to do the job. Handle them firmly but with respect and everything will be fine. Okay?’ Wilf smiles. I pat him on the arm. ‘Good lad. Right I will leave you to it. Oh one last thing.’
‘What’s that boss?’
‘Forget about Colin Todd, Mick Mills and Malcolm Macdonald. We don’t need them. We are okay with what we have. Let’s keep it the same for now.’

A part of Wilf crumbles, it is worryingly soon to feel such disappointment. But the best of days remain relatively untouched. Still plenty of time for dreams.

Wilf gazes out of his office window at The Cliff. He makes the sign of the cross and says a swift prayer. And a quick aside to Eddie, Duncan and the boys. ‘Help me out lads. This is a big day.’ The players are all gathering together, waiting for his speech. The grand oratory. Wilf’s opening message as team coach of Manchester United Football Club.
He knows they will be watching for weaknesses. Some may try and take the piss. He will remember faces that are looking at him, whose eyes are on the ground. Who is smiling, who is laughing. Who is saying with their eyes, ‘not for me McGuinness. You are not for me.’

Jack Crompton and John Aston senior, his mates and now his staff, have rounded them all up before training starts. George, Bobby, Bill, Denis, Paddy, Alex, Shay, Nobby and Willie. The entire squad. They will be judging. Watching and listening to his every move and word. Life will be strange for a while, especially with the senior players. Men he has laughed, fought, cried, drunk and played cards with. Bobby and Bill who survived the hell of Munich. Bobby and Bill who walked out of the flames. What will they be thinking today? But ultimately Wilf knows, for he is the boss. Now he will decide careers and pick the team. He will be the judge. Wilf has a speech and he has rehearsed it well. Churchillian! The old man will be proud. Things will change; training, tactics. United will join the real world.

‘All right lads listen up’ says Jack, ‘the boss is going to say a few words.’ There are a few grunts and awkward coughs, but nobody speaks.
Wilf looks across to Bobby Charlton who is staring at his boots and appearing to wish he could be anywhere but here today.
‘Thanks Bobby’ thinks Wilf. ‘Thanks for your fucking support.’ Jack moves aside and Wilf steps forward.
‘You all know me’ begins Wilf, ‘I like to think I am a fair man. I have had fall outs with many of you. Whether it be on the training ground, in the dressing room or in the pub or on the coach. But I have always ended up shaking hands. I have never held a grudge. So I am not going to change.’
Wilf points at the crowd of players.
‘You are going to change. You. Not all but some. And I think you know who you are. Don’t you? This club stops for no one. The old man may have stepped down but I will ensure United go on to even greater things. You are either with me or…’ Wilf smiles, ‘Well I am sure I don’t have to draw you pictures.’
Wilf meets no one’s eyes but is aware of many boring a hole through his head.
‘Don’t balls this up Wilf’ thinks Paddy.
‘Little man in big shoes’ thinks Denis.
‘He better not be talking about me’ thinks Bobby.
‘Just try it Wilf and see how you get on without me’ thinks George.
‘Steady on Wilf’ thinks Nobby.
‘You are not going to last lad’ thinks Alex.
‘Taxi for Willie’ thinks Willie.

‘There is going to be more emphasis on tactics. Everyone will be made more aware of their jobs. All aspects of the team will be improved. In so many areas of our game we have slipped behind sides such as Leeds, City, Liverpool and Everton. I will change that. We have to become more professional, we have become sloppy and soft in our ways. Our attitude is not good enough. Well I will change that. The word out there is that we do not have the heart for a fight anymore. That we can be bullied and just cave in. Believe me, so long as there is a sun in the sky, I will change that.

‘People are looking at Manchester United as a fallen giant. A busted flush. I am sick and tired of that big mouth, Malcolm bloody Allison saying they rule this city. It is a blue city. Well this is a United city and I want that title back. I want to shut that idiot up. Boys’ smiles Wilf, ‘United, us,’ he puts his hand on heart. ‘We are now seen as a bunch of players living on their past. Other not good enough, or simply not bothered and more interested in the birds and the booze. Well I promise you, this is a red fucking dawn and take it from me I was there at the beginning of this rainbow and I will be fucked if I will be there at the end. For United are going to go on and on. And anyone not wanting to come with me, speak up now. For this is a new day. This is my time – now’.

‘Calm down son,’ thinks Jack Crompton. Jack catches John Aston’s eye, he shakes his head. Both men feeling Wilf has begun like a hammer smashing apart a wedding cake. The grand speech goes on.
‘Now my door is always going to be open, so any of you whom feel they are not getting a fair crack come and see me. Don’t go bothering Sir Matt, he has far too much on his hands now. You will not be doing him or yourselves any favours. All first team affairs are down to me and if anyone does go running telling tales, well, no one likes a sneak.’
Wilf claps his hands together. ‘Right speech over; let’s get down to some hard graft.’ If the new United team coach was expecting a standing ovation he is sadly mistaken, as a cold silence cuts across The Cliff training pitch.

Wilf’s frenzied excitement and eagerness to get his point across has seen him get carried away. Jack whispers quietly to Aston as the players scatter in small groups with looks of incredulity on their faces.
‘He’s just a little hyped up John. Give him a week or so and he will calm down.’
‘I hope you are right Jack’ replies Aston, ‘otherwise we are going to have a bloody revolution on our hands.’
‘Blimey mate’ says Nobby Stiles to Paddy Crerand, as all the players begin running together around the training field. ‘Wilf thinks he is going to war.’
‘Aye that he is Nob’ answers Paddy, ‘and it is one he will never win.‘
George jogs up alongside Nobby and Paddy. He is smiling. ‘I wonder who Wilf’s comment about birds and booze was aimed at?’ Both men laugh.
‘Where did you end up last night then?’ asks Paddy.
‘I cannot remember where, but she was an air hostess. Scandinavian type, blond haired, long legged, blue eyes. She dropped me off here this morning.’
Nobby shakes his head. ‘Lucky sod, are you seeing her again?’
George smiles like only George can. ‘You are kidding aren’t you Nob?’ George is genuinely amused by Nobby’s question. ‘I asked her to marry me but sadly she is flying out today. So I am just going to have to find another bird tonight. You can come and watch if you like?’

Nobby attempts a playful slap on George’s head but he ducks and sprint away just in time. ‘Cheeky bastard’ smiles Nobby.
‘Where does he get the energy Pat?’
Paddy is still staring at George now twenty yards away. ‘I don’t know but I can smell the booze on him from here.’
Willie Morgan sidles up next to Alex Stepney. Willie is worried. ‘Well that went well don’t you think. Not exactly the old man is he Alex?’ The United keeper is breathing heavily and does not really need to hear Willie’s woes at this time.
‘Give me a break Willie, I am dying here!’
Watching the players closely, Wilf spots Stepney and Morgan chatting.
‘Oi Willie, Alex, this is not the fucking golf course. This is work, put some effort in.’
Stood next to Wilf is Jack, who rolls his eyes at the new coach’s comments.
‘I am going to get some more balls from inside Wilf,’ says Jack. Desperately needing to get away for a moment to compose his thoughts. As Jack walks off the training pitch he hears Wilf shout out:
‘All right lads gather round. I am going to educate you now. Listen hard because this is a whole new bible. I am going to tell you about restarts.’

I never listened to Wilf’s speech, I chose not to – thinking all eyes would be on me and not him. No, my time is over on the training pitch. It is Wilf now. Instead I will venture out when the press lads turn up later for the photo shoot. One big happy family. I did watch through the window and Wilf appeared animated. Hopefully he has managed to keep his emotions in check. If not I am sure I will be hearing about it soon than later. I see Jack walk past my open door.

‘How did it go old son?’
‘Like the Saint Valentine’s Day massacre boss. Wilf got a little carried away. Maybe you could have a word?’
‘No Jack, I cannot interfere. He has only been in the job five minutes. You and John will have to keep an eye. Wilf will be fine. Trust me, things will settle down.’
Jack sighs and does not seem convinced. ‘Okay boss.’ He goes to leave but suddenly turns around. ‘Oh by the way, have you ever heard of restarts?’
I shake my head. ‘No why?’
‘Something Wilf is keen on.’
Jack smiles ruefully. ‘A new day.’


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