Cardiff’s fixture at Sunthorpe always brings back reminders of that great day in 1993 when 4,500 City fans travelled to watch our team lift the 3rd Division title. That was a memorable side filled with iconic names like Nathan Blake, Jason Perry, Phil Stant and Cohen Griffith. But the real hero of that era was a man from Essex called Edwin Charles May.
Eddie May had been an uncompromising centre half for Dagenham, Southend and Wrexham. He even had a short time on loan in America with Chicago Sting. This may have been where he aquired his taste for shoulder-padded sports jackets and jazz-pattern ties. He was Captain of the Wrexham side with reached the Quarter Finals of the European Cup Winners Cup in 1976. He finished his playing days with Swansea City before embarking on a coaching career that would see him reach Norway via Leicester City, Charlton Athletic (as assistant manager to Lennie Lawrence), Saudi Arabia, Kenya, Iceland, and Newport County.
His appointment at Cardiff City co-incided with the arrival of Barry Island entrepeneur Rick Wright. They were strange bedfellows – Wright declared no interest in football, and only spoke about Eddie May in terms of his integrity as a family man, his decency and his honesty as a human being. Football was rarely, if ever mentioned. But Wright was the first man to invest in Cardiff City for at least 30 years and Eddie benefited.
If Eddie May was lucky in the timing of his arrival, he quickly won over the fans. He was ebullient, generous, popular, and very often seen around town after dark. He had time for everybody, and I remember that groups of City fans would see him as they wandered from bar to bar, and simply go and hug him. He was so big and tall and broad shouldered – he was simply huggable. Like a honey monster. A big cwtchy honey monster. And he was manager of our team.
City fans were much better at developing original material in the early nineties, and Eddie May soon had his own iconic chant. I remember Gwilym Boore starting it up in The City Arms one night.
“I said whats his name?”
People stared at him.
“What’s whose name?”
“Eddie May? Well his name’s Eddie May of course”.
A frustrated Gwilym had to educate the rest of us less familiar with skinhead/punk classics. He played us his copy of this tune by The Business called “Harry May,” and it all made sense.
That was one of the great chants. It was so easy to start. If there was a lull in the game, you could just bellow out . “I said a-what’s his naaame?” and a thousand voices would respond…“Eddie May!”
It was often easy to find Eddie May as he and his wife ran a Cardiff bar called “The Beverley Hotel”. I’ve heard many a story of a City fan at a loose end wandering into the Beverley at teatime, and emerging a few hours later having discussed football across the bar with his club manager. Simple times.
I have two favourite stories about Eddie. The first was the time he saved my life. A few of us had spontaneously jumped on the ferry over to Ireland for a pre-season Cardiff City tour which included a game at Kilkenny. We drank for most of the weekend, and a couple of hours before the game I was wandering out into a busy road when I was pulled back by the scruff of the neck. I turned round to see the big man with a friendly smile. “Watch yerself sonny – don’t want you to get knocked darn”. He guided me across the road like a lollipop lady. And that’s how he was regarded by young City fans – he was like our lollipop lady, loved and respected, helping us across the road into Division Two.
When I think of my second memory it still makes me laugh out loud. It didn’t actually involve the man himself, but it sums up the ubiquity of his personality around the city at the time.
It was Christmas Eve, 1993 and the Gregarious Crew were drinking up at The City Arms with midnight approaching. “Come on boys” slurred Knocker, “let’s go to mass”. None of us were Catholics, but the City Centre midnight mass was always known as a bit of a giggle and more importantly two very fit girls had just left the pub with the same intention.
Knocker and I took our places towards the back of the Cathedral near Churchill Way and the place was still filling up as the be-smocked religious blokes started wandering around waving their jars of incense which gave a superb smoggy, perfumed aroma to the atmosphere. It was like dried ice at a Motorhead gig. It was obvious too, that we weren’t the only revellers looking for a good time in the congregation that night.
After a lot of nudging and giggling, things settled down as the service began. Some people began to sleep. There were hundreds of people sitting in silence as the monotone drone of the Priest filled the cavernous space. It was getting boring now, and we were starting to regret the decision.
But then, just as we started looking for an escape route, in the driest part of precedings, the Priest began reading a passage from Judges 13 of the Old Testament.
And the angel of the LORD said unto Manoah, Though thou detain me, I will not eat of thy bread: and if thou wilt offer a burnt offering, thou must offer it unto the LORD. For Manoah knew not that he was an angel of the LORD.
And Manoah said unto the angel of the Lord- Lord, What is thy name?
It was too much for somebody. This was one temptation that could not be resisted. A lone drunken voice in a brilliantly nasal Cardiff accent boomed across the congregation…
For verily, that was his name.