I was working for Manchester’s City Life magazine in 1999, and in the euphoric immediate aftermath of that night in Barcelona, when I wanted to explore the wider ramifications our unprecedented Treble might have on the city, Wilson, naturally, was one of the first people I turned to. “I think the most amazing thing is that we’re the great Northern industrial city,” he enthused, “and yet what we’re known for is stylish, attacking football. We may be this great industrial centre, but our fame rests on the skill of Best, Law and Charlton, the intuitive exchanges between Cole and Dwight Yorke, and Beckham’s fringe.”
To Wilson, of course, the style was just as important as the substance. “What I thought was great was not just the victory, but the manner of it,” he stressed, “the style and the shock of the narrative.” As a United fan, as in life, Wilson was by turns infectious and infuriating, never afraid of voicing what might be a minority opinion.
He was, for example, in favour of Rupert Murdoch and Sky’s proposed takeover in 1998. He also argued passionately in favour of players such as Juan Sebastian Veron and Mikael Silvestre, who polarised opinion amongst Reds.
In the autumn of 2002, New York hosted part of the Transatlantic Express festival that promoted Manchester and Liverpool’s music and creative industries. There was a screening of 24 Hour Party People followed by a Q&A with Wilson. He was greeted like a rock star.
United were playing during the festival, and Wilson and his partner Yvette came to Nevada Smiths on Third Avenue to watch the game. As soon as he walked through the door Tony was besieged by ex-pats, desperate to bend his ear about Factory, or their own halcyon days in the Haçienda. It became a bit much and Tony and Yvette had to leave at half-time.
Generally though, he’d stop and chat to anyone, particularly about music or his beloved United. Manchester was his life: United an integral part of that. A tireless campaigner for the city, he loved the image of Manchester his football team projected.