Just as I was tearing apart the keema naan opposite the girl who’d become my wife, the panic set in.
In a tatty curry house in the arse-end of Dudley – in the days of Proudlock and Pollet – I looked into the eyes of the rest of my life on our first date, knowing in that precise moment in time that I’d be screwed without her in it.
I look at Nuno in much the same way.
Watching the great man emasculate an uninformed reporter with those dark, dismissive eyes has my heart skipping in a manner rarely felt since I saw Rach dancing to Toca’s Miracle down the union.
Seeing him at the final whistle, serenading us with his engine-piston fist pumps make me belly-laugh like the time I put Rach’s ring on the wrong finger at the altar. When the Priest looked up to the heavens for mercy.
Nuno’s impish grin to accompany a win is so seductive I find myself smiling all goofy at the TV like I’m actually looking at the wedding photos. (Rach, in mild bemusement, tells me I do this).
Every lilting ‘Mowl-inoo’ has me drooling like the time she wore that black sleeveless top in Sedgley. And like the same girl who stole my heart to a Turin Brakes single way-back-when, I worry what my life would be without Nuno Espírito Santo in it.
So deep is my love that I’m doing the exact same thing I did when I somehow punched above my weight to snare my future wife all those years ago…
…Namely, I stop enjoying the best days of my life for what they are and worry what I’d do if she ever left. What if Nuno jacked it in?
When Steve Bull was butchering defences and plundering 100-plus goals at the blink of an eye, Dad pulled me to one side by the subway in Chapel Ash and told me not to expect another of his ilk.
‘He’s a one off, son,’ he’d say. ‘Enjoy him while he’s here because when he’s gone, there’ll never be another.’ I must have been 10.
From Darren Roberts through to Denes Rosa, his words would echo from the same tunnel I walk along today, from those same cracks in the pavement I fixed upon when I heeded Dad’s words.
No more heroes anymore.
Until now. Until Nuno, who represents the first genuinely inspirational cult hero since Bully hung up his boots. That he doesn’t even have to lace his only adds to the lustre.
In the space of 18 months, he’s become such an integral part of my life that I don’t think there’s a coping mechanism robust enough to deal with my grief if he left.
His tactically progressive mind and mild contempt for anyone outside his inner sanctum has me in awe, but not nearly as much as his capacity to immerse himself into the very fabric of our club like he was genuinely born to be here.
He’s so engrained in our ethos that if we ever did meet, I swear he’d tell me he was at Chorley in ’86 (if not the Curry Cottage in 2000).
“When I came here it was to build something and create an idea and a philosophy, to build an identity. It’s more than a football pitch – it’s a club, it’s a city…it goes beyond prizes.”
It goes beyond a naan bread in my eyes Nuno.