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'Everybody just stopped. Everybody stood up. People were crying'
Inside a football pub in Stretford, the death of a monarch interrupted matchday
By Joshi Herrmann and Dani Cole
It was the sort of moment that comes around once in a decade — perhaps once in a lifetime. On match nights, Stretford’s Railway Club is a clamorous place, its bar and cavernous hall heaving with Manchester United fans. On a bad night for United — and there have been plenty of those in recent years — it might fall briefly silent after an opposition goal, except for the odd voice cursing.
No one can remember an atmosphere like the one that fell over the club just after half past six on Thursday night.
“Everybody just stopped,” says landlady Jackie Cosgrave. “Everybody stood up. People were crying, including men.” The regulars had asked her to put the BBC’s news coverage on the big screen instead of the build-up to United’s game against Real Sociedad, and very soon they were watching Huw Edwards delivering the news Jackie had dreaded all afternoon. "This is BBC News from London,” he said. “Buckingham Palace has announced the death of Queen Elizabeth."
Jackie, who is 54, started crying. So did her staff. “It was very eerie,” she says about that moment. “Very emotional.” Earlier in the day she noticed the BBC’s presenters had changed into black, as she followed the news on one of the club’s TVs. She had known what that probably meant, but she bristled at afternoon drinkers who referred to the Queen as if she was already dead. Now she had to face that fact.
“We’re heartbroken, she’s like a member of the family,” Jackie told us at her bar yesterday. We knew to come here because of the giant parties the club held during the Platinum Jubilee earlier this year, including what sounds like an excellent old-time singalong. “For me, she’s just somebody who gave up her whole life for this country,” she added.
There are lots of royalists in Stretford, she says. “I walked through the park and the mood was so sombre this morning. People were giving each other a little solemn nod rather than saying good morning.”
For Jackie, the Queen stood for certain values — hard work, loyalty, decency — which make for a good society. “If more people in this world were like her, God, we’d be in a much better place wouldn’t we?” she says. “She was loyal to the end, loyal to every one of us. For me, she just epitomises what people should be.”
Specifically, she epitomises “our granny” for many people in this community — a sentiment repeated across the country. Jackie articulates well what that means. “That woman, that stalwart who has looked after everybody and kept everything calm. Work hard, be loyal. Everybody’s nanna. That’s what everyone is saying.”
When we visited the club, she was waiting for the rain to abate so she could bring her three flags outside to half mast. Many people around here have family members in the armed forces. Jackie’s nephew, a Royal Navy man for 20 years, brought tears to her eyes when he texted her: “I’m going to miss my boss”.
‘We are made from earth, and we return to earth’
Is Manchester plunged into mourning? It didn’t particularly feel like it yesterday. A trickle of mourners left flowers around the statue of Richard Cobden on St Ann’s Square, the city’s designated spot for tributes, but they were outnumbered for most of the day by a gaggle of disappointed journalists.
After she had laid her flowers by the statue’s feet in the morning, Manchester’s council leader Bev Craig told The Mill: “The Queen has served the country and led the country over the last 70 years with dignity and dedication. It’s important that we take time as a city to reflect, to allow people to mourn and to pay tribute to her service that she gave for all of us.”
Inside St Ann’s, messages had been scrawled in a book of condolences (“We are made from earth, and we return to earth,” one visitor had written, quoting Ecclesiastes), but by the late afternoon most of the book remained empty.
According to a survey of 21,000 people this summer, Manchester Central is the constituency with the third highest anti-royal sentiment in the country — full, as it is, with a generation of young people consistently more ambivalent about the monarchy than their parents and grandparents. Even among older Mancunians, there are plenty who — as one Mill reader put it yesterday — “dislike the monarchy and what it stands for, particularly in these times when their 'subjects' are facing poverty and a fuel crisis over the winter”.
The same reader said they felt conflicted, however. The Queen had been “such a presence in all our lives”, standing out as a respected and principled figure in contrast to the chaos of recent governments. “On a human level losing the Queen reminds me of losing both my grandmas in recent years, which brings up all sorts of grief,” she wrote.
Julie White, a lawyer who we met on St Ann’s Square, said something similar. The Queen’s death reminded her of the loss of her mother, whose funeral was earlier this week. “They were both there for me throughout my life,” she told us, wiping away tears. “I will never encounter such people again.”
Nearby, at the Central Library, Ruth Johnson said she had driven in from Duckington in Cheshire with her husband Carl to sign a book of condolences. “She always showed courage and dignity,” Ruth said, her voice breaking up. “We were so proud of her.” A day after the funeral, the dozen books will be collected and placed into the library’s archive.
In an army surplus shop in the Northern Quarter, Daniel, 26, was sitting in front of a St George’s flag. “It’s era-defining,” he said of the Queen’s death. He lives in Salford, and learned that she had died after he found his four-year-old neighbour in tears when he came home. He grew up in 1990s Croxteth, Liverpool, the son of a policeman, with a grandfather who served in the Royal Navy.
“My mum and dad were very royalist growing up, and I was always taught to respect the royals,” he said. “I always thought she [the Queen] was brilliant.”
When he turned 17, he was given a choice: become a police officer or join the military. He chose the army. After six weeks of training, he took an oath of allegiance: “I do swear that I will be faithful and bear true allegiance to Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth, her heirs and successors, according to law. So help me God.”
A picture in the window
Jackie, the landlady at the Railway Club, comes from a family who are particularly invested in the pageantry of mid-20th century patriotism. Her mum was a big royalist and the whole family get dressed up in red, white and blue every Whit Monday. Her aunt Jeanette, who flies a Union Jack in her garden in north Manchester, has a cape that comes out on special occasions. It bears a stitched message on the back:
“Born in England. Live in England. Die in England.”
Jeanette is 76 and she’s known by her neighbours for dressing up smartly when she leaves the house, always with a full face of makeup. Yesterday morning, she did neither. She put a portrait of the Queen in her window with a black border around it.
When we got hold of her on her landline yesterday, we were the latest in a string of callers. “People keep ringing me and saying ‘Are you alright?’ And I just say ‘No’ and put the phone down again,” she said. “I’m too upset. I just keep looking at my bay window and the picture and all the black around it.”
She was four when Elizabeth II became queen, and she remembers watching the coronation on her auntie’s black and white TV at her house in Failsworth. On Thursday she was glued to the news all day. When the Queen’s death was announced, “I was just sobbing, heartbroken,” she said.
She knew the Queen would die one day, but something didn’t let her believe it. “I know it’s happened, and I suppose no one can live forever, but we just thought that she would,” she said. “It sounds stupid saying that to somebody, but we just thought we would never be without her.”