Admiring Our Balls

May 19, 1973   England 1 Scotland 0

 

In truth the YouTube footage here describes the action better than I can after 48 years. The winning goal aside, it is only Shilton’s excellent late save from  Dalglish’s well struck left foot crosshot that lingers in the memory. I hadn’t remembered Bobby Moore’s awful challenge on Lorimer. It was the only time I saw the great man play for England & the fact manager Sir Alf Ramsey had relegated him to the bench before his own dismissal in 1974 spoke volumes of the decline in Bobby’s form, exemplified by a shocking mistake away to Poland in a crucial World Cup qualifier during the summer following this match. Ramsey was usually hopelessly loyal to his tried & tested performers. I do  remember the goal exactly as it appears here however, Martin Peters ghosting through an unwitting Scottish defence like Keyser Soze eluding the police to head Alan Ball’s invitingly curled free kick past Ally Hunter in the Scottish goal.

The British Championship was an end of season tournament with all 4 home nations playing each other once over a 7 day period, starting a week after the English & Scottish domestic FA Cup Finals. A welcome addition to the season for us fans, starved of live football throughout the season, less welcome for the players at the end of a gruelling 42 game Division 1 season. The Scotland-England fixture was always live & sometimes one or both of the England matches versus Wales or Northern Ireland would be too. Home advantage would be alternated from one year to the next.

This was my first international match, ticket courtesy of my lifelong friend Richie Hewer’s eldest sister Annie. How she got them I don’t know but I am suitably grateful to this day anyway. The occasion may have outshone the quality of the game but it was a great day out & Richie & I spent a lot of time collecting autographs, freeing up his dad Eric to escape us & doubtless snatch the odd half or two before & after the game. Later in life, in the 80’s & ’90’s, there was a spell when I saw Eric more often than Richie, selling him a Bobby Moore biography at work once but more usually finding him sat at the bar, affable as ever, nursing a half pint in The White Horse Or Kings Arms or any one of a number of the Morse friendly pubs in the academic heart of Oxford. He became known by some within those quarters as Half Pint Eric, the lightwight image a canny facade as Eric regularly & happily supped a number of halves an evening in a number of these pubs.

The old Wembley lived off its own name in the most complacent manner imaginable in terms of facilities & comfort but there was magic in seeing those twin towers, especially at a showpiece event like this. As for the first sight of that lovely, lush turf on entering the arena……..well, anyone who has seen the scene in Fever Pitch when the misguided Arsenal fan views Highbury for the first time will understand. Many will have experienced the thrill themselves at one sporting stadium or another.

Memories of this day out at Wembley? Whisky fumes. Jordan sulks. All around, sound of breaking glass, to quote a Nick Lowe  hit five years ahead of its release, as endless  beer cans & scotch bottles were casually discarded, strewn liberally around the walkways & unlovely car parks around Wembley Stadium. An environmental horror maybe, but also a triumph for the respective shareholders of McEwans Export & Bell’s Whisky. Nick Lowe is one of a select bunch of musicians I have seen perform at  a football ground, knocking out a few pre-match tunes at Oxford United as part of Brinsley Schwarz a year or so after this game. Frankly the mists of time ensure I haven’t a clue if they performed the Lowe penned (What’s So Funny ‘Bout) Peace Love & Understanding, later adopted by Elvis Costello & The Attractions & now rightly regarded as a minor classic. It would likely have fallen on deaf ears in a mid 1970’s football stadium, neither peace, love or understanding being concepts looming large on the aggro heavy terraces of the day. For the England-Scotland match we had eighty minutes of The Massed Bands Of H.M. Royal Marines, Portsmouth, the last twenty minutes seeing them support Radio 1’s Ed Stewpot Stewart. Given Ed’s normal gig as presenter of Radio 1’s children’s staple Junior Choice we might have expected renditions of Puff The Magic DragonA Windmill In Amsterdam & Terry Scott’s My Brother. One suspects  the H.M. Marines might have struggled to get a handle on Sparky’s Magic Piano. No dice anyway as he cajoled the crowd into a mass singalong of a mess of hoary old standards such as The Happy Wanderer, with a decent smattering of Scottish fare also thrown in for good measure, including I Love A Lassie. Stalwart pre-war standards were supplemented by newer atrocities like Jimmy Osmond’s Long Haired Lover From Liverpool &, apropos of nothing, the latest Spurs terrace hit Nice One Cyril. Is it any wonder riots at football grounds became commonplace?

 

Fraternal love towards the English from large sections of the other populations within the British Isles was never better hidden than in this fractious era. IRA bombs, & a liking for feigned deafness at the sound of an English accent, from some of the population of Wales, during childhood family holidays, had already prepared me for a lifetime of antipathy from other corners of the United Kingdom. British military intervention into the Troubles in Northern Ireland in 1969 was by now intensifying rather than quelling sectarian strife, & the Northern Ireland – England Home International fixture the week before had been transfered from Belfast to Everton’s Goodison Park on security grounds.  Devolution referendums in Scotland & Wales at the end of the 1970’s eventually rejected any moves away from political control remaining in Westminster but that didn’t prevent a continuing fad for burning down English owned holiday cottages in Wales, nor the eternal Scottish resentment towards England from many of the bell bottomed, hirsute, tartan clad  hordes at this match.

Narrow defeat on the pitch aside, it must be said the 1973 Tartan Army owned this day. Raucous & passionate, they seemed to dwarf us England numerically, filling up large pockets of the ground throughout the arena. They certainly scored higher on the decibel count. Much higher. For an 11 year old boy it was all a bit daunting to arrive at Wembley to be greeted with the opposition’s fans singing, shouting , gesticulating wildly & none too amicably, & genuinely giving off an air of menace fuelled by a sense of historic injustice. And alcohol. Lots of it, & early in the day too. There were Scotland fans everywhere in & around Wembley, with their silk scarves & yellow flags, crowd segregation a non-starter. There was  plenty of anti-Englishness abounding within Caledonian ranks but it was not all naked hostility, &  I can only remember witnessing one act of intended fan violence, a small Scotsman, emboldened by being what used to be quaintly known as ‘in drink,’ running on the pitch during the second half & attempting to batter England’s 1966 World Cup winning midfield hero  Alan Ball. Like his father out on the Wembley concourse earlier (of which more later) Alan Jr, a similarly hot tempered character to his dad, conducted himself with commendable aplomb under severe provocation. It was a day for admiring our Balls. Our Alan Balls. He later said he respected his assailant’s fighting spirit, but was possibly still glad to have his Arsenal colleague Peter Storey swiftly arrive on the scene. No stranger to m’learned friends after retirement, future jailbird Storey was also a steely presence on the pitch. Or a right dirty bastard in layman’s terms.

Being confronted by a drunken Scotsman in the day was not entirely new to me. The pockets of Oxford city centre now populated with homeless, often drug addicted people, were then populated with alcoholics, more often than not male, over 35 & with a sizeable Scottish representation, frequently kitted out in Oxfam suits that, like their latest owners, had known better days in the 1960’s. Later on, in the ’70’s, as fashions shifted again, I waited in vain for their successors to start appearing at Bonn Square in the town centre kitted out in  afghan coats, kaftans, flares & platform shoes discarded by previous owners. It never happened. Even the most chronic alcoholic had more pride than that. Incidentally, the high level of Scottish representation within the street drinking ranks is a statement of fact rather than a lazy regurgitation of hackneyed prejudice. I used to be fearful of the street pissheads when they lurched towards you, all cider breath & piss stained trousers, cut foreheads & stubble. A nimble pre-pubescent could swerve their inebriated staggering easily so the verbals were effectively just background noise. Many of the fans at Wembley, off the leash for a big weekend in the smoke rather than 24/7 juicers, proved either disinterested or inapable of indulging in violence When one Scot made for our group just next to the turnstiles, slurring in a thick Scottish brogue, he merely took off his Scotland silk scarf & sweetly stuck it around Richie’s neck instead.

Scottish fans who were up for a rumble may have struggled to find any true opposition anyway. Prevalent though terrace biffo was by 1973, the standard England crowds at international games remained, along with the aforementioned military band pre-match entertainment, a Pathe Newsreel, collar & tie throwback to more placid times. Scotland’s win at Wembley four years later in 1977 may well have been the final nail in the coffin for that era. Seeing their oldest rivals tearing down the goalposts & ripping up chunks of the hallowed Wembley turf seems to have combined with poor performance in ushering in the dawn of a new age where our national team suddenly attracted the rowdier elements that had been causing much mournful head shaking in club football for the past decade. By the early 1980’s it was routine for Bobby Charlton, watching internationals as a pundit, to intone his mantra of being ashamed to be English as the fists, boots, bottles & smoke bombs flew.

Richie & I met as 5 year olds when I was placed next to him on my first day at infant school. The desk was decorated with pieces of cheap wood carved into the shape of animals, intended to be drawn around. Richie & I fought a grimly determined battle against each other to gain possession of them. When he wanted the elephant or giraffe so did I & vice versa. I don’t think we exchanged one word all day, though 1967 is a way off to be too certain about that. I  remember the highlight of the day was another boy in the toilets revealing the inner lining of the retractable, upper end of his foreskin to be populated with fluff, which he proudly announced to have collected there via his pyjama bottoms. This impressed me no end, & I fervently hoped that one day I too might get to successfully store pyjama bottom fluff in a similar fashion. Good to have a dream so early on in school life. It had been an inauspicious start but Richie & I soon became friends, although long before our trip to Wembley he could have been excused had he turned his back on me. In our first year we had a class known as Musical Movement, in the main assembly hall. Sadly, during one afternoon the only part of me the music moved was my bowels, as I shat my pants & was subsequently rendered immobile for obvious reasons. Moving into our second year we had a teacher, Miss Ellis, who frowned on any of us interrupting a lesson to request a trip to the toilet. Mindful of this I unwisely chose to piss myself instead. The humiliation was compounded by a total absence of spare pants within the school, meaning I spent the rest of the day wearing a duffle coat to cover my malfunctioning willy. My blushes remained unspared. Richie forgave me despite the widespread sniggering, but later foolishly joined me in a different but still inadvisable anatomical misadventure, namely the placement of unsuitable objects up one’s nose. I had form with this at home, when a chipple got wedged in my nasal passage, to my panic & everyone else’s amusement. Chipples are mercifully long gone now, a cheap alternative to crisps, shaped rather like oven chips are now & spectacularly lacking in taste. I was a greedy little boy so my sticking them in an orifice other than the mouth speaks volumes. Miss Ellis’s classroom offered other alternatives, & one quiet afternoon I dared Richie to join me in sampling nasal insertion options for a collection of crayons of varying shapes & sizes. This time I emerged unscathed but Richie had to seek medical assistance. I had at last learned something at infant school. Never work with amateurs.

Despite the crayons, piss & shit, Richie remained my friend. By the time we moved from infant to junior school football had got a hold on us. He might deny it now but Richie had a love for Man Utd back then. I liked them too, especially Bobby Charlton. Small boys of the late 1960’s tended to love all three of the holy trinity of Best, Law & Charlton unreservedly. Baldie headed Bobby was my favourite because the relatively paltry TV football coverage back then was stuffed to the gills with his trademark, piledriving 25 yard shots, hit with either foot with equal ferocity. Content rather than fashion was all that interested me & Bobby was a thrilling, dynamic player. Denis Law was impish & aggressive, & also the scorer of spectacular goals. He was the first player I ever saw score from a bicycle kick. George Best was beautiful, brilliant & in today’s parlance, a generational talent. No wonder Richie’s head was initially turned but he got over it.

As we moved into the 1970’s I spent quite a few evenings around at Richie’s house, laughter & cigarette smoke filling the room as his mum, dad & sister Sheila shared their liking for lively chat & frequent piss taking that neither Richie or I were exempt from. I loved it. We saw less of Richie’s older brother Michael, who had an older brother’s record collection, which fascinated me, & needless to say varied wildly to my older sister’s musical preferences. Crosby, Stills & Nash featured strongly. Michael not only had a hippy friendly record collection but also a hippy girlfriend called Flea, at least she seemed like a hippy to me, & had, Richie proudly informed me, once had tea at JRR Tolkien’s house. Impressive stuff, though I was happy enough having my tea at Richie’s, courtesy of his lovely, larger than life German born mum, which would frequently be supplemented before I went home with an ice cream from the van that always turned up outside their house in the early evening. I always plumped for a Screwball, with its ball of bubble gum at its base to keep the sugar rush going once the ice cream had been swiftly devoured. 2 for 1, I always liked to get my money’s worth. Sometimes we would  get involved in kickarounds with the older lads on the Town Furze housing estate where he lived. Being smaller than me Richie inherited my unusual but prized red Kingswell Gordon Banks football boots when I grew out of them. I had christened them by scoring a hat trick in my first ever school team match, the third scored as I searched in vain for a screw in stud that had dropped out. The ball came towards me by chance & I swung a left foot at it lazily & weakly. To everyone’s amazement the keeper fumbled it & it ended up, not in the net, as nets were a luxury our school could not afford, but over the line into the far corner of the goal. I never scored a hat trick again, & was soon rumbled for the one paced coward I was. By the time we made this Wembley trip the game was already up on that front, although I trundled away in boy’s football to no great end for another 3 or 4 years. Observing rather than participating in the beautiful game was to be my fate. Seeing England play Scotland was to be an early highlight.

I got the good end of the bargain with this Scotland game. Richie had  been invited to stay over at our house two weeks earlier to watch the FA Cup Final & see The New Seekers at the Oxford New Theatre in the evening. We had not had a colour television very long & I was keen to show it off, also to see a major sporting event without the television breaking down, as our old black & white set had for the 1969 Man City – Leicester final, the fatal defeat to West Germany in the following year’s World Cup & a 1968 rainswept Ashes Test when  Derek Underwood span the home team to victory at The Oval with the Aussie batters surrounded by both a mass of ludicrously close in fielders & the odd puddle. All viewed at our kindly & long suffering next door neighbours. Sadly, the new telly also played up on the day, not packing up completely but effectively reverting mainly to poor quality black & white save for applying an insipid pinky hue to Sunderland’s famous red stripes. Richie’s family had their own colour set a while before we did so I feel responsible to this day for hampering his enjoyment of seeing the Rokerites delightful, shock triumph over Leeds, courtesy of a first half goal from a future Chelsea manager, the late Ian Porterfield. As for inveigling Richie into my shadowy New Seekers world, I can only hang my head in shame. I doubt he ever saw them again but I did. More than once. I was even in The New Seekers Fan Club & went to a convention at the Alexander Palace, compered by the seemingly ubiquitous Ed Stewart, minus any vampire lesbians sadly. More of that later. Conveniently I expunged this from my gig going CV for many years &  maintained my first live band were The Undertones at Oxford Poly in 1979. A lie. It is strange how often when  people of my vintage are asked  about their first musical loves they claim to be have been out there grooving to the first Velvet Underground album. Their first purchased single is invariably cited as one by the eternally groovy T.Rex or David Bowie, never Benny Hills’s Ernie. I think they are usually fibbing. As a prepubescent my first purchased album was not Frank Zappa’s Hot Rats, neither was I listening to Led Zeppelin  around the clock. I liked The Jackson 5, Simon & Garfunkel’s Greatest Hits, All The Young Dudes by Mott The Hoople & anything by The New Seekers. I had several albums & a first crush on one of the band members, Lyn Paul. George Best had beaten me to Lyn’s band mate Eve Graham. Ed Stewpot Stewart was also linked to Eve, but she later said he was more like a brother & she had enough of them back home already. Ouch. Nevermind, Ed had his vampire lesbians. More of that later. Liking The New Seekers sometimes entailed a playground walk of shame  that resonates to this day so advanced was the gleeful scorn & disdain of classmates. They had a point. The New Seekers were a bland, antiseptic, sickeningly sweet confection, the sort of group people’s parents approved of. The taunts in the playground came from people who had mostly adopted a new musical hero by 1973. Marc Bolan was on the wane & David Bowie seemed largely the preserve of older kids. The new man on the block had a forest of revolting chest hair that was presumably real, unlike the fulsome wig & fake sideburns on his head. Seemingly wrapped in Bacofoil, overweight & wearing absurdly high stacked heels he was enjoying a last, late stab at pop stardom. He is now better known  as the most famous predatory paedophile in the country. Step forward Gary Glitter. If only I had known then what we all know now. I was mocked by people for being sweet on a woman who later sang the theme tune for a film score composed by the impossibly great John Barry, for many years a Chelsea resident. They liked a fat, bald sex offender. Hindsight was no help in a 1970’s playground though & I should have been a better mate & kept Richie away from this unpleasantness. His family got me a ticket for England-Scotland, he got a ticket for the uncoolest music combo imaginable, having watched the FA Cup Final on a knackered telly. I think the highlight of that weekend for Richie was discovering we had an offcut from our living room carpet laid in the bog, rather than the lino more commonly used back then. On such slim pickings were relative levels of poshness ascribed back in 1973!

Come the big day & the trains funneling us to & from Wembley Stadium pleasingly featured the sort of compartments you still see in old black & white films & television programmes like Dad’s Army & The Fall & Rise Of Reginald Perrin On the last leg of the journey to Wembley there was a reminder that some Scotland fans were as busy hating each other as well as us English. With the compartment now packed to the rafters, one grizzled old campaigner emabarked on a lengthy diatribe about the brilliant Kenny Dalglish, still four years away from crossing over the border to Anfield from Parkhead. The longer he rambled the clearer it was that this is driven not by any actual impediments in the wonderful Celtic man’s immaculate playing credentials but merely in his representing the Catholic, green hooped half of Glasgow. The attributes of former Rangers striker Colin Stein, by now at Coventry City but also featuring in the day’s Scotland squad, were held up as far superior to those of Dalglish. It’s all nonsense. Stein was a fine player but no Kenny Dalglish. They were not even that similar as players. Has a failure to disentangle sectarian differences held Scotland back from fulfilling their potential, particularly later in the 1970’s when they had such an excellent squad? The reaction to the appointment of former Chelsea favourite Steve Clarke, the current Scotland coach, suggests it is still an issue today given the intense hate spewed out towards him by Rangers fans on social media, even after subsequent qualification for the forthcoming European Championships. Clarke never played for Celtic but is known to have a soft spot for them. Spain took years to fully assert themselves on the international stage for similar reasons so the Scots should not give up just yet. Then again, when Spain eventually won the World Cup in 2010 they waited until after the final whistle to celebrate rather than beginning the party before they had even left their own country, as Scotland did prior to setting out for Argentina in 1978.

The autograph hunting starts quickly on arrival at the stadium. Richie starts getting signatures added to his match programme. I am slightly smug about this, thinking, with a huge absence of logic, that he is somehow tainting it & needs to collect the autographs separately  to preserve the programme in its barest, pristine form. I am using my copy of Goal magazine, comprised of cheap print on thin paper, & unlike the glossy programme not built to last. Decades later Richie has the ultimate match souvenir. I have indecipherable scrawls cut out of the decaying magazine, signed against alternative backgrounds of smudgy black text, the borders of full page player pin ups. One autograph is on a Puma football boot from an advert featuring Alan Sniffer Clarke, another on the paisley shirt collar of a disembodied man touting the dubious virtues of  Barclays Bank. I had an autograph book, but bafflingly never seemed to have it at the correct moments, including a 1972 trip to the University Parks to see that year’s touring Australian cricket team. My mum took Richie & Bill along as well, and we got an early introduction to the differing responses of top sportsmen when dealing with eager & sometimes overbearing schoolboys. Aussie skipper Ian Chappell, a man generally regarded as prickly, who has subsequently conducted an ugly, puerile & seemingly ceaseless feud with Ian Botham, sat on a bench in the early evening sunshine & calmly & patiently worked his way through the queue while whistling Waltzing Matilda. Brother Greg was equally placid & amenable, which was apparently not always the case. Seems we got both of them on a good day but speak as you find. Wicketkeeper Rodney Marsh produced a packet of fags from his flannels & lit up before he had even left the playing area. An unassuming man who had yet to play a test match called Bob Massie signed readily but David Colley, who had played in the recent 1st Test, had clearly let his arrival on the international scene go to his head. Arrogant & offhand, the 24 carat tit contemptuously told us to buzz off. Could have been worse I suppose. Massie came into the team for the next Test at Lords & famously took 16 wickets (8 in each innings) with truly prodigious swing bowling. He never repeated this feat again but carved his name in Ashes history forever. If you can find anyone who  remembers Colley (6 test wickets at an average of 52) it is likely to be a rebuffed autograph hunter from the early 1970’s, & I can assure you they will remember him as an arsehole.

We get lucky early on at Wembley as two England reserves walk go by, strikers John Richards & Malcolm Macdonald. Richards had first announced himself as an emerging talent with two goals against Derby County for Wolves in 1971, a game I attended, to this day my only visit to Molineux. A terrific servant to Wolves & a superb player. Like Macdonald he is carrying a suit in a Sketchley dry cleaning cover, but unlike Macdonald he manages to quietly sign his name without snapping at me. Regularly betrayed himself as a proper bellend did Supermac, continuing into his managerial career. A proper legend of the game, Sir Matt Busby, emerges from a car & I am genuinely awed, so much so he is gone before I can approach him, though I think Richie may have been quick enough to react in time & beat me to the punch. Nevertheless, seeing the man who rebuilt his beloved, brillant young Man Utd team after the Munich disaster so effectively is still exciting enough to help me quickly forget Macdonald’s rudeness. Billy Wright approaches, sees us, & immediately breaks into a jog as he promises to return in five minutes. He never does return. Shortly to relinquish his status as the most capped England player of all time (105 caps) to Bobby Moore, Billy was Head Of Sport at ATV at the time. ATV had a sizeable stake in Wembley Stadium which as a young boy served me well. One ATV big cheese called Bill Ward had a son, Dave, who worked with my dad at British Leyland in Cowley. Dave got tickets for all the big games at Wembley, so my programme collection flourished in these years. Billy Wright had also given Dave one of his England caps which my dad brought home to show me one day. Nowadays mobiles & decent quality digital cameras would ensure a decent snapshot or 20 of me wearing the cap would now exist. Sadly my Kodak Instamatic was all we had & my dear mum proved to be as adept with a camera as she was with the hairdressing scissors, as the grainy image of me reproduced here illustrates all too well. At least Billy’s cap obscures some of the disastrous pageboy haircut recently imposed on me. Suffice to say that the word curtains followed me around at school for quite a while. Thanks mum.

Little Lord Fauntleroy capped by England. No Chopper or racing bike for this hipster, but his much derided Hercules Jeep, which according to one schoolmate he rode ‘ like a doddering old policeman ‘ Best days of your life my arse.

I collar a few managers too, albeit less exalted than Sir Matt. Benny Fenton of Millwall, the younger brother of ex West Ham manager Ted, was one, Wolves boss Bill McGarry another. He would return triumphantly to Wembley with his team the following season & win the League Cup, courtesy of a Richards winner against Manchester City. Ayr United’s Ally McLeod is one of a number of Scottish faces to emerge from a collection of coaches arriving within a short space of time. Five years later Ally would become one of the most instantly recognisable (& with that extraordinary nose, unforgettable!) faces in Britain when leading an extremely talented Scotland squad to a doomed stab at World Cup glory in Argentina. A great character who promised the earth was Ally. Couldn’t deliver pizza on the big stage sadly. A Hibs coach parks up & we snaffle the autographs of former Scotland & Liverpool goalkeeper Tommy Younger, plus Celtic legend Bertie Auld, a Lisbon Lion who was easing into retirement off the back of a leisurely, uneventful two seasons at Easter Road. Full back John Brownlie also obliged us. He had played in the corresponding fixture the year before, 119,000 people leaving Hampden Park disappointed as England won 1-0 courtesy of a goal by Alan Ball.

Alan Ball eludes us but his father, Alan Ball Sr. hoves into view & I feel an appropriate sense of trepidation as I approach him. Earlier on in the 1972-3 season I had seen his Preston team win 2-0 at Oxford United. The manager’s dugouts at Oxford were at the opposite side of the pitch from the dressing rooms. Ball & his assistant, a military looking man with a severe crew cut, in an era of overflowing locks & fulsome sideburns, were making their way to their dugout at the start if the second half. Around the pitch at the Manor Ground, immediately in front of the walls that separated the fans at the Osler Road from the action, were layers of a bright orange clay/gravel like substance. Having said something to attract Ball Sr’s attention one fan elected to lean over the wall, scoop up some of this stuff & throw it at close distance into the face of the Preston boss. Ball Sr promptly lunged across the wall into the crowd & engaged in some wholly justified fisticuffs with his new found adversary. Fortunately, his deputy extricated him from the melee before things got too involved, but the furious response from Ball underlined that despite his dimunitive stature he is a man it was unwise to cross. His formidable assistant’s name was Arthur Cox, later a well known manager himself, & reputedly every bit as hard as he looked. The orange clay incident is fresh in my memory, & my trepidation was compounded by the knowledge that Mr Ball had been freshly sacked by Preston. Bobby Charlton has been appointed in his place, recently retired after his glittering playing career with a parting gift of a cigarette holder from last opponents Chelsea. I meekly request Alan Ball Sr’s signature & randomly throw open the magazine. On the plus side it doesn’t land on the page with an application form for entering the Goal Girl Of 1973 competition. Unfortunately, it’s worse. Much much worse, as the eyes of the feisty one home in on the banner headline Why I Chose Preston underneath which regular Goal columnist Bobby Charlton is sat at a table smiling as he signs the contract confirming his assumption of the role hitherto occupied by Mr Ball. There is nothing I can do at this point. Alan Sr stares at the page & there is a dramatic pause, as the Earth stands still long enough for the entirety of my admittedly short 11 years & 1 month existence to flash before me. I haven’t come this close to shitting myself in public since the days of Musical Movement. Luckily age may well have come to my rescue as Alan turns his now slightly mad eyed gaze from the page & briefly to my feeble, quivering presence. ‘I’m not signing THAT. I’m not signing anything with Preston on it,’ he says with deadpan firmness but, in all fairness, without significantly raising his voice quite as much as I anticipate. I would like to think that deep down he has seen the funny side but evidence for this is slight. He deftly turns the page himself & signs somewhere else, managing both to avoid adding his monicker alongside the grinning Bobby Charlton & mistakenly applying to enter Goal Girl Of  1973. I smile weakly, pathetically grateful less for the autograph than the continued presence of my front teeth. Alan Sr has shown himself to be a pretty good egg under the circumstances. Sadly he died in a car crash in 1982 at the age of 57, leaving us at an even earlier age than his son, a mere 61 when he succumbed to a heart attack in 2007.

On entering the inner sanctum of the stadium the sheer volume of away support is again apparent. There are Scots everywhere. In years to follow I will see Chelsea away games  where my team’s followers make a more than decent stab at appearing to swallow up the home support. This is the first time I experience the phenomenon however, & from the reverse standpoint. 95,950 is the official attendance & to this day I would love to know what percentage of the crowd were supporting Scotland. A lot!

One man sat in front of us is certainly Scottish & introduced to us as Oxford United striker Hugh Curran’s dad. He greets us with a friendly smile, as indeed did his son when we got autographs from him at the Manor Ground. He would always have a little chat, ask your name & query if your parents knew where you were if you were at a night game. He had scored in the last England-Scotland game at Wembley in 1971 so he trumped some of his countrymen appearing in the line up today in in both achievement & social graces. Not that Hugh was a shrinking violet on the pitch. My brother-in-law played under him at Banbury United & it is fair to say Pep Guardiola has little to learn from some of Mr Curran’s pre match instructions, one being ‘John, go straight up to the centre half at the start & kick him hard. If he asks why just say it’s  in case you were thinking of  doing the same to me.’ Old school for sure was Hugh, & only at Oxford because of a dodgy knee, but a fantastic player & character, still working as a security guard at the local Park & Ride in Oxford as he approached his seventies. Joe Jordan has never had to do that. Then again, this afternoon’s late substitute Jordan proved to be a miserable git to autograph hunting kids. Unlike Hugh he also never scored at Wembley for Scotland.  11  goals in 52 games suggest image rather than achievement allows the word legend to be mistakenly applied to Jordan, who proved a typical Leeds cheat in winning a penalty during a crucial World Cup qualifier at Anfield against Wales in 1977, handball given against the defender marking him when the handball was actually committed by the man with even less charm than teeth. Maradona does it & is called out everywhere, while Joe’s despicability, appealing for, & celebrating, the wrongly awarded penalty, is largely ignored everywhere but Wales. Puke inducing double standards within British football are not confined to the modern game & messrs Kane, Harry & Maguire, Harry.

We are at the opposite end of the stadium from the player’s tunnel but the moment when the teams emerged, to a crescendo of noise, remains a highlight of the day. Both team’s kits were wonderful back then, not a sponsor’s name in sight, just the national badge. Simplicity being genius, England’s kit is plain white socks & plain round, white collarless shirt, with blue shorts. The familiar three lion badge on the shirt ensures they can never be mistaken for anyone else. Sadly Scotland had swapped to the v neck shirt with floppy collars recently returned to favour by most club teams at this juncture. I think Man Utd had started the trend. I’m blaming them anyway. The traditional shirt of old had been equally as beautiful as that of England, with its familiar dark blue alongside white shorts & red socks.  18 months later new boss Don Revie had assumed the reins of England boss & the transformation of our footballers into walking billboards began.

As stated, the YouTube footage says more about the game than I can hope to after 48 years. I am glad I got to see two top Scotland full backs, Sandy Jardine & Danny McGrain, who never plied their trade at clubs south of the border. Two of this Scottish team went on to play for Chelsea, the versatile but injury plagued David Hay & Derek Johnstone, who could play up front but lined up in defence on this day alongside  Man Utd cult figure Jim Six Feet 2 Eyes Of Blue Holton. Johnstone joined Chelsea a decade later, by then sadly overweight & over the hill. He made just one first team appearance in two years. In the England defence alongside Moore was Derby County’s Roy McFarland, a wonderful player who nearly 10 years later I saw playing in the old Division 4, at York, as Player Manager for Bradford City, not needing to break sweat or move around at much more than walking pace so superior was his reading of the game compared to rival players. In fairness he often gave that impression in his pomp at a much higher level. Truly one of the great signings of the Clough/Taylor managerial partnership before it all went sour. I never saw Leeds & England striker Alan Clarke or Man Utd & Scotland’s Lou Macari playing at club level either, excellent footballers both.

The other major footballing figure of the era that I only ever saw live during this game was Billy Bremner. The contrarian impulse within me allows me to offer a more generous assessment of Billy Bremner than Joe Jordan or Peter Lorimer, both Leeds colleagues & fellow Scotland teammates. For those not around in the late ’60’s & early ’70’s, when Bremner was in his prime, it is difficult to adequately convey how much he united opinion within two camps in entirely different directions. Leeds United fans loved & revered him. The rest of us hated the fucker. He appeared to epitomise the club he played for. Aggressive, belligerent, ultra competitive, frequently brilliant, & horrible. A flame haired, pocket sized midfield dynamo, Billy, despite his captaincy status & closeness to crooked manager Don Revie, the Richard Nixon of English football, may ultimately have been given a bum deal from those of us who despised  Leeds United & all who sailed in her. In many ways Johnny Giles, also brilliant but a more quietly calculating midfield assassin, was closer to Revie in his cooler form of cynical brutality. When Bremner was famously sent off in the 1974 Charity Shield, for a dust up with Liverpool’s Kevin Keegan, the catalyst had been a quite outrageous Giles right hook to the Liverpool man’s jaw a few moments earlier. There is a recent YouTube podcast clip  where the smug thug happily admits to the crime under the title Why I punched Kevin Keegan By Johnny Giles. Don’t bother watching it, the answer is simple. Giles was a psychotic little shit who nonetheless would not have dared try something similar on Keegan’s team mate, pock marked, man of granite Tommy Smith. Billy liked to wear his heart on his sleeve as well as opposition blood on the soles of his boots, & consequently seemed more likeable than the odious Giles as a consequence. It was rumoured that colleagues of the famously tight Elland Road unit avoided him off the pitch so keen on a drink & a ciggie was he. There is a touching naivety reviewing his observations on the famous Chelsea – Leeds emnity when interviewed on the terrific 1995 documentary series Kicking & Screaming. Billy described it as a nice rivalry in which Leeds tended to win out in league games, Chelsea the cup matches. Cut to Chelsea’s Ian Hutchinson for his impressions. ‘Hate. No other word to describe it.’ Bremner sadly died at 55 but I am glad I got to see him play his heart out, especially in the blue of Scotland rather then the white of Leeds. Dirty Leeds. The first Leeds fixture after Billy’s death, in December 1997, was at Chelsea. Despite my trepidation (silences for both Bobby Moore & Sir Matt Busby in the same decade were rudely interrupted at Stamford Bridge) the minute’s silence was immaculately observed,the death of a small man clearly casting a giant shadow over the football watching lives of anyone there over 30. By half time Leeds were down to 9 men having had Alf Inge Haaland & Gary Kelly sent off, but still held on for a bloodyminded, defiant goalless draw.

It’s what he would have wanted.

Mick Channon – in the England line up on this day wearing a much nicer kit than this eyesore! Some people remember this post Ramsey Admiral England  kit with fondness. Not me, it evokes unhappy memories of an era when the crooked Don Revie turned all matters surrounding our national team into a circus, its players into clowns. Mick Channon was an excellent player & one of England’s better performers throughout the mid ’70’s. He signed this for me at the opening of a sportshop in 1975, & was thorougly obliging & pleasant to everyone, despite my Uncle Tony haranguing him to ‘tell your mate Osgood to cut out the rough stuff’ at the same time as my Auntie Freda was inviting him round for his Sunday dinner any time he chose. Channon had scored a hat trick for Southampton at Oxford the year before, in  a 4-0 win capped off by Peter Osgood nonchalently hitting a shot into the roof of the net. Osgood had earlier committed a shocking foul on U’s winger Brian Heron, having stalked him from one end of the pitch to the other following Heron’s shocking decision to legally nick the ball off the former Chelsea legend. I suspect Mick Channon failed to pass on Uncle Tony’s message sadly. He never did turn up for his roast beef & Yorkshires either, but did diplomatically imply he preferred the Ramsey England era to that of Don Revie when asked about their contrasting managerial styles. ‘Alf was Alf. Revie’s ‘The Boss.’

After the game, Richie & I continued our quest for autographs. The Scottish hordes evaporated surprisingly quickly, en-route for continued drinking throughout the hostelries of Central London, prior to a hazy, hungover, Irn-Bru laden Sunday morning. An air of stately quiet Englishness is quickly restored & Richie & I are free to pursue more autographs as Eric leaves us to our own devices & slips off for another quiet half or two. Perhaps Billy Wright will reappear. Perhaps not. There is nothing doing for a short while but eventually we see two well dressed young men, in conversation & pacing the concrete aimlessly. The sky has been moody all day, mirroring the Wembley concourse. Grey. There is nobody near the two men as we check them out. It is two of Scotland’s Leeds United contingent, Peter Hotshot Lorimer & striker Joe Jordan, a 74th minute substitute for the splendid Lou Macari during the match, still not that well known then, now regarded as the totem for toothless ’70’s line leading muscular aggression. In 1973 Mick Jones is still the Leeds number 9 that most of us recognise, but injuries are taking their toll & will force him into premature retirement by 1975. Lorimer is already a legend, owner of the most ferocious right foot shot in Britain . I approach him first & he silently adds his signature to my copy of Goal. Fortunately I do not proffer the cover page showing Sunderland captain Bobby Kerr gleefully holding aloft the FA Cup won a fortnight earlier at this very venue. Lorimer was denied an equalizing goal in that game courtesy of a now legendary & utterly breathtaking close range save by  Sunderland’s stalwart keeper, the wonderful Jim Montgomery. Today, Lorimer had squandered Scotland’s best chance with a tame effort which Peter Shilton had dealt with rather more comfortably. He couldn’t look more miserable if he had simultaneously discovered his wife had left him, his dog had been run over & his todger was caught in the zip fly of his flared suit trousers. Nonetheless, he had given me his autograph. I am less lucky with Jordan. He ignores my polite request, & indeed my very existence. Richie has less luck with Lorimer than I do. Perhaps in solidarity with his mate he decides he cannot spare another 5 seconds of his life to sign Richie’s programme too. This pettiness almost seems worse, at least Jordan consistently remains a surly prick throughout our short & joyless encounter. With the battle hardened optimism of the seasoned autograph hunter I plaintively request Jordan’s signature again, lest he has merely not seen me as he continues mumbling to Lorimer. Richie has also persisted  with Lorimer, not unreasonably given that Hotshot has already come across for me. No joy. Richie also asks Jordan. Eventually there is a sotto voce two word response from the man soon to become one of the most fearsome target man in Europe. The second word’s off. Softly spoken as it is I think the first word is buzz. We’ll give him the benefit of the doubt. Big Joe has gone full David Colley on us. At some point Richie offering up his programme leads to it tumbling to the floor but this fails to move our two star footballers either, as he stoops & scrambles to recover his prized possession around their feet. Off the pitch Jordan & Lorimer are conducting themselves in a manner befitting their match status that day. As losers. You never forget the rude ones. Looking back objectively it is possible to have some sympathy. Two proud Scots who have just lost to the auld enemy, a fortnight after defeat to Division 2 opposition in the showpiece event of the season, looking for a few moments peace without being hassled by these pesky kids. But was 10 seconds apiece to scrawl their names & help make the day of two prepubescent boys really too much to ask? Nobody was asking them to mine coal or recite a soliloquy from Hamlet. The irony these days is there are  legions of players from the 1970’s only too happy to sign photos for  memorabilia sites to help supplement their pension funds. It is a popular contemporary device for many players of this era, often a way to make a few extra bob when plodding the after dinner & golf club evening beats. I note that ebay  isn’t short of material like this  featuring Lorimer & Jordan, & doubtless the market for such stuff largely hails from dewey eyed nostalgics around during their playing days. Many of them were probably 11 year old boys in 1973 too. Evidently, Peter & Joe can spare the time now. It’s a no from me. 48 years too late. I am confident Richie feels the same. Players in the modern era are often dismissed as pampered, overpaid primadonnas too distanced from today’s fans. Ex-players from my youth are often quick to condemn this & cite the greater closeness to the fans they enjoyed in days of yore. A lot of them are being, at best, slightly disingenuous here. Furthermore, a couple of seasons ago I mooched around the Fulham Road after a game waiting for the obnoxious Cardiff City away support to make themselves scarce. On returning back towards the ground, pending my walk back to Victoria, I found the traffic there had come to a standstill, impatient motorists beeping away less than merrily on their horns at the three vehicles nearest to the Stamford Bridge forecourt, apparently the root of the problem. The drivers of the three cars were Eden Hazard, Willian & Victor Moses. No autograph or (more commonly these days) selfie was refused, & if making people’s day meant holding  up traffic & incurring the wrath of idiots dumb enough to  drive past a Premier League ground on matchday so be it. I can think of plenty of players from the 1960’s & ’70’s who would have driven out of the ground without winding down their windows, or indeed giving these fans as much as a second look. Two names spring to mind immediately….

 

We only catch up with one other Scotland player who had featured on the day, Man Utd’s Willie Morgan, who toys with us by dragging us a decent distance all the way to a hideous car park before signing for us. Why? Because he can presumably. I am fond of Willie because he was the star on one of my first ever football cards, a handsome young man in a Burnley kit. I suspect Willie didn’t want for female attention although our brief (but not as brief as it should have been) encounter here suggested his biggest admirer confronted him via reflection first thing every morning in the shaving mirror. Still pops up here & there does Willie, & the old bugger still has an impressively full head of hair. A couple of years later the legendary England wicketkeeper Alan Knott showed a canny & mutually agreeable propensity for exploiting schoolboy attention by agreeing to sign his name only if we carried his kitbag to the boot of his car. We were then summonsed into the Kent dressing room where West Indian John Shepherd was in conversation with Deadly Derek Underwood. Deadly, one of the finest slow left handed bowlers in the history of the game, was clagging off a cigarette. We got to see behind scenes, which was cool. In return Knotty, a funny little man wearing a funny little hat, looking like an extra from The Sound Of Music, got the requested errand fulfilled before signing. Fair exchange is no robbery. Willie was just pulling our plonkers for the sake of it.

We do snare one England player, & a significant one at that. He is wearing a light coloured raincoat, a tall, slim figure hunched under a shelter in the car park. By his feet was an Adidas bag, a bit posher than the ones we usually had at school but not hugely different. Nobody but us took a blind bit of notice of this unassuming figure as he stood there, seemingly waiting for his lift or a taxi. It was Martin Peters. An hour earlier he had scored the winning goal. Martin didn’t engage in cheery banter with us either, & though we would have loved it if he had, just giving us the prized autograph is enough. It is not untypical of his career that during match commentary Brian Moore disparages Martin’s overall performance on the day. A clever, elusive, frequently misunderstood player, who would definitely thrive in the modern game, there seemed to be many occasions when his contribution to a match was ridiculed only for him to have scored or made crucial goals at the crunch. Suffice to say Sir Alf Ramsey didn’t leave him out too often, & he scored in a World Cup Final. He sadly died in December 2019 having suffered from dementia for several years beforehand, all the more shocking as when I last saw him walking into Stamford Bridge, prior to a Spurs match in the early noughties, he looked, then approaching 60, little or no different from his goalscoring pomp on this day in 1973.

The need to locate Eric coincides with a murmer that Ed Stewpot Stewart is around, fresh from his  attempt to lead us all in a communal, singalong rendition of Long Haired Lover from Liverpool. Mercifully this has been erased from my memory, the match programme my only guide to the grisly setlist. I’m not sure we ever catch up with Ed on this occasion, although the ownership of many of the illegible scrawls on my cheap, yellowing, Goal magazine originating scraps of paper are a head scratching mystery to me now. He also popped up at Blenheim Palace the following year, when Richie’s mum & dad accompanied us to a charity cricket match featuring Goodie Tim Brooke-Taylor, a Womble, & one each from the cast of Please Sir & The Benny Hill Show, the wonderful Bob Todd, who lived near a friend of mine & used to wear his slippers down the local. It turns out Ed was something of an amorous swordsman in these days, linked with both Ingrid Pitt & Madeleine Smith, who co-starred in a film called Vampire Lovers long beloved by many from my generation, largely due to a scene in which the former seduces the famously buxom latter. A saucier Hammer horror film than usual, it featured on ITV’s regular 10.30 Friday night horror film series one summer night towards the end of the seventies & I get the impression that every teenage boy in the country saw it.  I  once watched one of those list type documentaries where one of the celebrity interviewees that wasn’t  Stuart Maconie summed up the effect of Vampire Lovers on both himself & countless other hormone frenzied youths in the 1970’s. ‘I started watching it a boy & finished it a man.’ We’ll leave it there. Stewpot wooed them both? Respect. Losing out on Eve Graham to George Best must have lost its sting pretty rapidly. If only Ed had appeared at Wembley with a vampire lesbian.

We eventually find ourself weaving our way round a bar/eaterie which has a uniformed doorman, posh hat & all. He looks fed up, & a colleague sniggers at him that he is narked because Cloughie wouldn’t  give him his autograph. In the latter stages of his glorious Derby County managerial career, & also revered for his idiosyncratic punditry, we prick our ears up at the prospect of nabbing Brian Clough’s autograph but we don’t track him down either. We do find Eric & as we do another man comes up  from a stairway towards us. With the eternal optimism of the schoolboy signature hunters on the prowl we sense he is famous. I am not sure why, because neither Richie or I have ever set eyes on him in our lives, although for a split second I wrongly think it might be Colin Stein. Our prey has seen us &, via body language, betrayed  his eligibility. He signs my magazine & on Richie’s programme he also kindly reveals his identity. He is a well built chap with chiselled features that are offset by the kindly smile he wears while dealing with us. Screw you Joe Jordan. We initially think he has written Poland’s number 5 on Richie’s programme but  it was possibly number 2. His name is Jacek Gmoch, a former Polish international, by then the assistant to their national boss Kazimierz Gorski. A few months later they both return to Wembley with Poland & break our collective hearts by claiming a 1-1 draw & qualifying for the World Cup ahead of England, effectively finishing the reign of Sir Alf Ramsey. Poland go on to claim third place, proving they were no mugs in the first place. In 1978 Jacek has the top job & Poland go out in the group stage behind Argentina & Brazil. England again fail to qualify. Scotland reach both both the 1974 & 1978 tournaments but never make it out of the group stages despite possessng a fine array of talent within both squads, & making, as ever, a huge amount of noise. Now 82, Jacek Gmoch later had a long coaching career extending deep into the first decade of this century at club level, including two stints in charge of Panathinaikos, a quarter of a century apart. He was nice. I hope he’s well.

The journey back home is more subdued & free of Glaswegian bitterness. An elderly lady sat opposite from Eric bemoans the fact that the West End tickets her son has given her are to see Anthony Newley in The Good Old Bad Old Days rather than for the Max You’re A Pink Toothbrush Bygraves schmalz fest she had originally anticipated. Being both a polite man, & possessed of some musical taste, Eric does his best to discreetly persuade her that she has in fact got a better deal than she imagines. Newley, recently divorced from Joan Collins at the time, was a fascinating character with a long & distinguished showbiz career, still widely recognised, accurately, as the man who had David Bowie’s voice before David Bowie did. A cursory listen to either of their recorded outputs, epecially Bowie’s early albums, will quell any opposition to this theory. He was the Artful Dodger in David Lean’s 1948 cinema adaptation of Oliver Twist, & also the man who broke the fourth wall on British TV for the first time in the visionary, ground breaking 1960 comedy series The Strange World Of Gurney Slade. Like Nina Sinone’s Feelin’ Good? Newley wrote that, along with several musicals in tandem with Leslie Bricusse, including Willy Wonka And The Chocolate Factory in 1971. Bygraves was a hideous, Apartheid friendly old ham famous for his hugely popular Singalonga Max series of records, undoubtedly beloved by the blue rinse brigade back then, & undoubtedly, irredeemably, awful. The actor Keith Allan, working as a West End stagehand in the mid 1970’s, once joined the high kicking chorus calls at the curtain call for a Bygraves show at the Victoria Palace, totally undermining Max’s wringing the last drops of audience adulation by also being completely naked. A furious Bygraves advised him incorrectly that he would never work again, whereupon Allen decamped to a pub over the road where he was besieged with autograph requests from simultaneously shocked & delighted elderly, female audience members. For the ending alone that may have been one Bygraves performance more worthy of a visit than Anthony Newley in The Good Old Bad Old Days, by all accounts not his best work, but with a jaunty theme tune very apt for 1973, befitting so much about the era, football & all, at least as far as these eyes & ears are concerned.

Trapped in the middle of the changeover to the comprehensive system, Richie & I subsequently spent two years at Margaret Road Middle School, until then a secondary modern, & effectively a glorified holiday camp where little happened save for blowing out Mr Jackson’s bunsen burner whenever his back was turned in Science lessons, & the occasional sound of teenage boys’ balls dropping. At 13 we went to different schools. Being coerced to stick crayons up your nose or go to see The New Seekers had possibly lost its allure by then. As the years passed Richie & I saw each other less & less, the odd night in the pub aside, but it was always good to catch up with him. I visited him in hospital when he had a motorbike accident in our teens. In 1999 we bumped into each other on the coach back to Oxford after supporting opposing teams at Stamford Bridge, Chelsea winning a 4th round FA Cup Replay against Oxford United having pushed their luck as far as was humanly possible in the first game at the Manor Ground. A few years later, not having seen Richie in a couple of years, I had a random dream that I was back in my schooldays & visiting  him & his family once again. About to go through the front door at work the following day I heard a voice call out to me & there parking his car in Broad Street was Richie. In my last job he came to do some work on the telephone system & we had a chat about our 1973 Wembley trip. Confused by my stupidity in using Goal for autograph collecting purposes he kindly obtained a match programme for me 45 years after the game, assuming I had failed to buy one. A lovely gesture. I had crudely scrawled the substitution details on the centre pages of mine back in the day so another copy was still welcome. Eric sadly died in 2019, having taken to his bed for the last 10 years of his life. Given the current mess we’re in he may have had the right idea. Prior to that he had continued his half pint pub crawls deep into his 70’s, latterly staying out for longer than had been usual. Richie went looking for him one night, the puzzle of this change in pattern explained when he found Eric in The Old Tom. This is a pub I can never take entirely seriously since a friend recounted seeing mutton chopped actor Ronald Magill in there many years ago, ardently pursuing a couple of young male friends  around its confined spaces. Ronald played Amos Brearly, the irascible co-owner of The Woolpack  in Emmerdale Farm, for what seemed like forever tha knows. Ask your grannie. Eric was well away on the evening Richie found him in there, having quietly taken to adding Jagerbombs to the hitherto strictly half pint menu. No wonder it was taking him longer to find his way home. He is much missed. Richie assures me his mum is as physically robust as ever, but sadly she is now stricken by Alzheimer’s Disease, that most hideous form of dementia. Richie is currently back at home acting as her full time carer. This makes meeting up difficult, especially during the pandemic, but we have stayed in touch, & plan to have a drink together very soon.

I got home from Wembley that night & proudly offered up to my dad the pitiful presentation offered up by the signatures on my copy of Goal. He had his customary swipe at the poor handwriting of many of the players before his brow became furrowed & he looked at me quizzically prior to asking the inevitable question. ‘Why on earth didn’t you just get them to sign your programme?’ Game, set & match Richie & with my own father confirming his belief in my own idiocy another appropriate tune is evoked. It was released in 1973, & I first heard it in Richie’s bedroom on his tiny cassette player all those years ago. Memories, like idiocy, can be sweet too.

Unless they involve asking Joe Jordan for an autograph of course.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Let’s Talk About 6 Baby

After this afternoon’s feeble 0-1 defeat to Fulham, Jurgen Klopp’s team have now lost an extraordinary SIX home games on the trot. Chelsea got relegated in 1988 & only lost two home games all season. No fan attendance & the long term injury to the pivotal Virgil Van Dijk are undoubtedly key factors in this. Liverpool will be back of course, doubtless bigger, better & noisier than ever, & sooner rather than later. Nevertheless, the fall in grace from the triumphs of the last two seasons is, to quote the late David Coleman, quite remarkable.

And, let’s face it, for the rest of us it’s pretty hilarious too!

Let’s Play Master & Servant

Sunday January 26, 1997

Chelsea 4  Hughes (50) Zola (58) Vialli (63,76)

Liverpool 2  Fowler (10) Collymore (21)

Attendance 27,950

Two days ago Chelsea beat Luton Town 3-1 in this year’s FA Cup 4th Round, at a bleak, snowy Stamford Bridge. Fan & atmosphere free, it was a joyless, bloodless, undernourished pastiche of a real cup tie. Yesterday saw the sacking of Frank Lampard. Mr Abramovich & his boardroom lackeys may or may not recruit (& shortly after sack) better coaches in the next few years. They certainly won’t appoint anyone who understands the club & its genuine supporters better. Social media has been packed to the rafters with oddball anti-Lampard trolls during the recent barren run that all top sides have had to endure at some point in this oddest of seasons. The nadir was reached when Frank’s wife recently announced her pregnancy on Instagram. One Chelsea ‘fan’ responded by imploring her to miscarry. You can’t help but wonder if the Lampards aren’t better out of it. Vile, disembodied voices like this seem to resound & find audiences more readily than normal at present, or is it simply that the true fans cannot drown out perennial backgound malevolence by showing the appropriate trademark love for a legend like Frank Lampard at matches?

Recalling my favourite ever Chelsea game, which took place 24 years ago today, is a welcome release from the all pervading sourness around Chelsea Football Club at present, & I pity the haters, most of whom have likely never even visited Stamford Bridge, let alone enjoyed the vibrant, manic, action packed match I am about to try & describe. Reliving both the events on the pitch & the crowd reaction to those events is all the more poignant given present pandemic circumstances.

“It is only by way of pain one arrives at pleasure” – Marquis de Sade

Operation Spanner. The title of a book recalling the managerial hiring & firing policies of Roman Abramovich since 2003? No. It is actually the name of a cause celebre that reverberated around the British (& eventually European) law courts for nigh on a decade following the Greater Manchester Police being handed the first of a series of videotapes in the autumn of 1987. These contained a variety of wince inducing acts of violence committed & received by men. A nail was passed through a hole in a foreskin prior to said nail being hammered into a block of wood. Ouch. The man’s penis was then subjected to a series of cuts with a scalpel. Double ouch. Leather straps, canes & nettles were used as objects of torture, with some branding thrown in for good measure too. Hair dryers & ice cubes came into play as instruments for alternate supplies of painful hot & cold  applications to the genitals. Hot wax & ball weights were involved. Ball weights?  One man had his testicles sandpapered. Try that on me & you would definitely need to put a dust sheet down. Expecting to discover a trail of grotesquely injured & possibly dead bodies the police instead tracked down a group all steadfast in claiming all  activity was consensual. As gay men in an era when more conventional sexual practices could be a death sentence many civil liberties campaigners supported their right to evade criminal procedures for indulging their preferences, odd & unfathomable as they appeared to many others. In 1989 16 men were eventually charged with a range of offences. This at least deflected The Sun from lying about Hillsborough for a while. 8 men were eventually jailed & 3 unsuccessfully appealed to the European Court Of Human Rights around the time this match was played, a decade on from the beginning of the original investigation. Caning a man’s cock & inflicting injury, willing victim or not, was thus officially unlawful as well as an affront to the sensibilities of the guardians of social morality. An Englishman’s home may be his castle, but lose the scalpel & the ball weights matey. Ball weights?

One thing still baffles me now. Other avenues of suffering existed in the mid to late 1980’s. It was  possible for grown men to inflict  pain & torment on each other, to torture themselves & watch others endure unimaginable agonies at the same time. Legally & played out in public, all for a fiver apiece. Just get yourself & your pals along to Stamford Bridge once a fortnight, where John Hollins & Ernie Walley were respectively manager & coach of Chelsea Football Club. The Operation Spanner crew may still have ended up feeling like they were serving some kind of a  sentence, albeit in an open prison, but think of the saving in hot wax & nails.

Happily, by 1997 watching Chelsea had become fun again. We all loved player-manager Ruud Gullit almost as much as he loved himself, & a cosmopolitan & flamboyant team was being constructed. Like the 1970 team it emulated when winning the FA Cup, this Chelsea team could be as infuriating & inconsistent as it was often brilliant, & unlike the sides imprisoned in the Hollins/Whalley era it was rarely dull. I am advised by people with drug knowledge that a shot of pure China White heroin is likely to be the pathway to a blissful death should you be bedridden when the moment comes. I would settle for shutting my eyes & enjoying a 25 minute rerun of the second half of this extraordinary FA Cup tie, starting with Mark Hughes opening the Chelsea scoring & concluding with Gianluca Vialli (or ‘Gianluca Of Vialli’ as John Motson excitedly mispronounces his name at one point in match commentary) heading his second & Chelsea’s fourth goal 25 minutes later. This insane, pulsating, thrilling match had everything & is undoubtedly my favourite Chelsea game of all time. It would be crass to say that this game enabled its spectatators to completely cover the waterfront of human emotional responses, but it is difficult to think of many life experiences that enables us to be aquainted with such a variety of them over such a short period of time. In the final at Wembley four months later a stunning Roberto Di Matteo strike after 43 seconds gave me one of my happiest single memories ever, but as a consequence we spent the next 89 minutes wishing for nothing but the sound of the final whistle. Imagine going to see Prince in the same era, hearing him start with a stellar version of Little Red Corvette & immediately wanting to pack up & go home after that on the grounds it can’t get better. No music fan reacts like that. Football supporters do. For an hour this Liverpool game was a tortuous, painful, bleak & embarrassing nightmare for Chelsea fans. Less than an hour later it was Liverpool fans left with the feeling that someone had just nailed their todgers to a collective block of wood. Both sets of supporters enjoyed the extreme discomfiture of the other as events unravelled. Sadomasochism was alive & well at Stamford Bridge on this chilly January day. However it was blue joy that was unconfined  as we spilled out of the Stamford Bridge forecourt to the exits, gliding across fresh layers of black ice now forming on the pavement, courtesy of countless recently deposited Liverpudlian tears.

My physical & emotional responses to this match, from several hours before kick off until the end of the day, can broadly be broken down as follows:-

  • Twitchy apprehension
  • Increasing tension & nervousness
  •  A growing sense of impending doom
  • Despondency as this pessimism increasingly seems to be justified
  • Dejection
  • Disillusionment
  • Fear of abject humiliation.
  • Anger
  • Resignation
  • Laughter in the face of adversity & opposition scorn
  • Forlorn clinging to any remaining shreds of hope
  • Cautiously embracing a heartening & unexpected lifeline
  • Simultaneous relief & delight
  • Ecstasy
  • Hyterical ecstasy
  • Euphoria

Euphoria after a football match ends usually subsides to be replaced by the need for sleep within hours. This time it survived through the rest of the day & for several days after. Roll the rollercoater video.

 

After 27 years of much suffering I was attuned to my careworn brand of masochism, but the sadistic glee I took from seeing Liverpool fans squirm was a little surprising. Usually I responded to glorious victory by saying little or nothing to followers of the vanquished opposition, remembering how irksome their crowing had been to me on the more usual occasions that the boot had been on the other foot. Not reacting in kind threw them, giving me a moral high ground (possibly illusory) on top of the other spoils of victory, a sort of kind to be cruel tactic. Outwardly I maintained this even on this occasion but inwardly there was an additional glow. Liverpool were different, a fanbase never slow to gloat, not attuned to much on the pitch adversity themselves. I had been scoffed at enough by Liverpool fans over the years. I had earned that additional inner, glow, tinged with sadism as it was.

‘It’s so so easy being a Liverpool fan isn’t it?’ said Dave to his pal Euan, observing their victorious opponents swaggering into the Birmingham night all around them as they make their way to the car for the weary trudge home. It is April 1992 & after two matches & four hours of FA Cup Semi-Final football, during which Liverpool have never once been ahead, their team Portsmouth have finally tanked miserably in the penalty shootout at the end of this goalless Villa Park replay. Euan has flown back from Australia especially for the match. Quite possibly he may have mentioned this a few times in the intervening years. For Liverpool it’s another day at the office. Another Cup Final beckons. Doubtless they are delighted to win but their ecstasy appears to be on a vastly diminished scale to Euan & Dave’s deflation. Dave was right in the purest footballing sense, but off the pitch Liverpool as a city as well as a fanbase had plenty to contend with back then, not least the club’s presence at two of three hideous ’80’s stadium disasters. What Dave cannot be expected to know is that Liverpool’s predominant position within English football, which has lasted since the early 1970’s, is about to be put on hold for at least a quarter of a century. They will still be major players but not the biggest boys in the playground. Manchester United will win the league for the first time in 26 years the season after this game, & enjoy a spectacular twenty years of similar triumphs until Sir Alex Ferguson retires in 2013. Arsenal will be their main rivals for many of the coming years, winning the Premier League without losing a game in 2004.  I experience a similar sensation to Dave & Euan at a rain soaked Wembley Stadium Rail Station after Man Utd clinch the Double in 1994. Their fans regularly prove to be vainglorious, glib & smug in victory. Think scores of Terry Christian clones. Yeah, that unbearable. Arsenal fans are generally glib & smug anyway, it’s in the Gooner genes. When Chelsea’s turn arrives in the noughties the sense of entitlement escalates horribly & very, very quickly. Having had far more barren years than the aforementioned clubs you might expect Blues fans to have a bit more humility, but in truth it is pretty well concealed, especially in the first era of Jose Mourinho, always a man whose default standpoint of more talent than grace rarely strays far from the surface. I have gone into fan exile by then, happy that the club are thriving, but uncomfortable at the financial doping that both accompanies & fuels this success. Somebody refers to me as a foul weather fan at the time. Others see the timing of my exit from the Matthew Harding Upper as mere perversity.

Hindsight thus permits us to view the bumptiousness of Liverpool fans in the last quarter of the twentieth century with a little more tolerance. A little more. Numerous league titles & 4 European Cups in seven years would warp anyone’s perspective as well as  blowing their mind. Contending with the recent horrors of Heysel & Hillsbrough was anything but easy, unimaginably awful in fact. On the pitch failure was usually a stranger, but beneath it all their fans were not hugely different to anyone else’s. I stood on The Kop once, in 1982, a disappointing 0-0 draw against bitter enemies Man Utd. After half an hour without a goal supporters around me started getting on the back of one of their forwards,  struggling for form & goals at the time. His Name? Kenny Dalglish, quite possibly their greatest ever player. Dalglish soon returned to his brilliant best, but the speed with which terrace impatience manifested itself on the day was telling. The club’s recent renaissance under Jurgen Klopp has reminded many of us of what became unbearable all those years ago. The endless, nauseating media love & the Scouse not English, People’s Republic Of Liverpool bollocks, as if nobody else in England rejected Brexit in 2016 & a Johnson administration in 2019. This member of the electorate would doubtless be inaccurately regarded as a Chelsea Tory boy by many Merseysiders, keen to invoke negative cliches on the likes of me that they understandably resent when similarly broad & sloppy sweeps of the stereotype brush are applied to themselves. As it can be with Chelsea fans I did encounter Liverpool followers in the 1980’s through until the early ’90’s only too happy to conform to the stereotype. Dave, the emigre Scouser, who spent many a Friday afternoon & early evening in my local bemoaning that Oxford ‘wasn’t a place for a real drinking man, not like Liverpool’ while spending years living in Oxford & seemingly doing little else beyond proving that the city actually provided ample recourse for the drunken bore. Then there was the unbearable young woman I spent two days with on a course, who championed all things Liverpool & trashed all things southern constantly. It later transpired this was her first visit to the south & throughout it she never once left the site of the course, an Alan Partridge like travel tavern on the outskirts of Oxford. One late ’80’s summer night in the pub a lairy young Koppite had me pointed out as a Chelsea fan by an unhelpful & idiotic work colleague. ‘Yeah, he looks like a fuckin’ southerner’ he exclaimed, leering at me scornfully from the bar. A southern born man, living in the south, in a southern pub, looking like a southerner. Spotter’s badge Mr Einstein. Some of us wear our place of origin more lightly than others, accepting it as an accident of birth rather than something that has to define us. I must try walking into a Liverpool pub one day & trying the same routine in reverse, &  doubtless could look forward to sampling some of that much vaunted superior northern friendliness in the  process.

Football was an escape from an unhappy period at work throughout this 1996-7 season. Inconsistency, including too many home draws, & a 2-4 mugging by Wimbledon, failed to dampen my enthusiasm at being able to watch the likes of Lebouef, Petrescu, Vialli, Di Matteo & the recently arrived Gianfranco Zola weave their magic. I broke my leg in July during a kick about on an all weather pitch & spent the rest of the summer in a large plaster cast seemingly striving to ape the one sported by Oliver Hardy in the sublime County Hospital. Stan Laurel doesn’t bring me any hard boiled eggs & nuts but my first journey of any distance gets me to Stamford Bridge to see Roberto Di Matteo score the first home goal of the season in a mid-week game against Middlesbrough, Juninho, Ravanelli & all. Too embarrassed to use the lifts I struggle up & down the steps to & from my seat in the Matthew Harding Upper & arrive home exhausted as a result of this brainless act of bravado. When Frank Lebouef cancels out Andy ‘Judas’ Townsend’s opener for Aston Villa a few weeks later the false teeth of the man next to me fall out in the celebrations. As he scrambles haplessly around my oversized cast in  search of them I fear I am about to be the unwilling recipient of an accidental act of fellatio. At least he already had his teeth out.

My 6 year old nephew Nick’s remarkably accurate depiction of my broken leg incident in July 1996. He had hitched his star to Liverpool Football Club by the time the FA Cup tie in 1997 came around, & I am reliably informed that he burst into tears as Chelsea’s remarkable second half renaissance unfurled in front of his sorrowful young eyes back home on BBC1.

This one is from my friend Andy’s son Matt (scarily now older today than I was then). Following his unwise decision to support Man Utd I had given him a few old programmes from Cup Finals & games at Old Trafford over the years. I fear  ‘Sporting Hero’ may be pushing it somewhat!

Eventually returning to work I am overlooked for promotion, correctly as my rising bitterness has affected my performance & added to a growing lack of respect between myself & immediate colleagues, mutual & justified from both sides, but nothing compared to the contempt I feel for the mendacious, cowardly, & arrogant standards of management on display higher up the ladder. This is a family firm where brothers refuse to be seen in the same room as brothers. The chairman would have suited the football world to a tee. Every two or three years he makes an inappropriate high level appointment, presents them as a new messiah, tires of his new toy & pays them a handsome lump sum to disappear prematurely into the sunset. Sound familiar? The current retail MD  has had his honeymoon period & is on the verge of being deposited into an affluent wilderness. When he  disapproves of something in my department he puts an angry note in the customer suggestion box rather than deign to speak to shopfloor guttersnipes like me. Staggeringly puerile. Other members of the management team kowtow to this weapon, displaying little respect for anyone else in the process, not least themselves. He is supposedly a ladies’ man, despite being an arrogant, socially inept dick looking like post-Roxy Music era Brian Eno on a spectacularly bad day. Minus the talent.  ‘It’s in the eyes’ says the shop manager. I suspect it’s more in the job title & wallet but can’t comment on the eyes as the  brave soldier has avoided eye contact with anyone in our department since the pathetic suggestion box fiasco. Eno does go beyond eye contact with at least one deluded female member of staff, caught in flagrante in his (doubtless deliberately) unlocked office by another member of the managerial team, a classic, cringey, paper shuffling,’I’ll Come Back Later’  No Sex Please We’re British moment. What was her name? Virginia Plain reputedly. I may have been mediocre but strangely had usually used our office to conduct book related tasks rather than turning it into a filing cabinet, paper clip & sellotape filled alternative brothel. While he is being paid an inflated salary to boost his inflated ego by inserting his inflated phallus into the lower orifices of the terminally dim, half hearted secondments are offered to me in the wake of my failed job interview. It is considered desirable to put some distance between me & the new boss in my existing department. They don’t trust me to conduct myself with enough professional decorum to assist the new incumbent on his arrival the day after the Liverpool match. They had trusted me to run the department during the massively busy Christmas period of course. Politely declining any exciting new side alleys I instead take two weeks holiday leading into the Liverpool match. I promptly go down with the flu. Happy New Year.

It is more than my traditional Eeyore fearing the worst pre-match tension that makes me fear the worst as I make my way to London on the day of the match. Liverpool are top of the league, but I am less concerned by the early season 5-1 gubbing they handed out at Anfield than our recent avenging of this defeat on New Year’s Day, courtesy of a neat, first half Roberto Di Matteo finish. A cup game shortly after a league encounter between two clubs frequently comes up with two different results. The match tickets arrive alarmingly & unusually late & are for the Matthew Harding Lower. Bill & I have largely plumped for  Upper since sitting in Lower for the first game ever in the  stand, a 1-0 home defeat to Everton in November 1994.  Being sat there fuels my superstitious side in a bad way. On taking our seats we find we are scrunched together at the back of the stand, & a decent view of most of the pitch can only be achieved by straining the head at a slightly odd angle. Claustrophobic & uncomfortable, the discomfort is soon accentuated by the first half action. Liverpool score twice at the deserted Shed End, then under reconstruction, through Robbie Fowler & Stan Collymore. They should have scored more. A well placed Fowler heads wide, Steve McManaman shoots weakly instead of squaring the ball to Fowler for an easy tap in. McManaman also dribbles a shot mere inches past Kevin Hitchcock’s right hand post. Chelsea don’t get started. The recently out of favour Gianluca Vialli neatly evades a Liverpool defender only to balloon over the bar horribly with only David James to beat. Otherwise the best effort is a long range, right foot drive by Scott Minto, & when your best effort is a long range right foot drive by your left back you know you’re in trouble. Half time comes &  0-2  is, if anything, a relief. As the teams leave the field Dennis Wise overhears John Barnes say ‘ this is easy, no problem’ to Robbie Fowler. Few could have disagreed with this appraisal of events  at that moment.

Bewitched

Scouse joy unconfined as their team leads & dominates

Half time is usually respite, sometimes a temporary life raft before an impending monsoon but at least renewed hope, however foolhardy, can be allowed to breathe & expand. Here it appears to be stifled at birth. Half times at Chelsea are dominated by the pitchside antics of Neil ‘Spy’ Barnett, a man inordinately fond of the sound of his own voice at the best of times. This is not the best of times but Neil either misreads the mood horribly or bravely invites the noisy scorn from the Liverpool fans that his fuckwitted intervention invites on this occasion. They are massed in the East Stand Lower tier, next to where Spy dispenses his traditionally smartarsed pitchside addresses. Among the usual announcements, Chelsea Pitch Owers Share purchases & the score & scorers of the youth team’s morning 6-3 win over Gillingham, he will frequently make provocative, humorous asides at the opposition fans with varying degrees of success. A former player will usually be introduced & that man today is Eric ‘Rabbit’ Parsons. It would have been ungallant to cancel this but Neil gives it the big ‘un when introducing Eric, including the fact that he was in our Championship winning team, then our ONLY Championship winning team, back in 1955 no less. Liverpool have won 18 Division 1 titles at this point. Had we known there would be no advance on this until 2020, during which Chelsea would win the league 5 times, Neil’s unveiling of dear old Eric might not have tickled Scouse funny bones as much as it did. Clearly nobody did know this, so Neil bigging up our sole title win in front of a fanbase with 17 more of the same was staggeringly ill judged. Barnett could have done the introduction in a more understated way & kept all the same information in the process, but Neil doesn’t do understated, so there is a dramatic sweep leading to Eric’s pitch entrance. ‘He’s 73 now’ he bellows & on hobbles the former winger, now on a walking stick. Cheers Spy. Scouse glee knows no bounds. In all honesty you can’t blame them but at this moment I don’t want to live this life anymore (a reminder at this point that this is my favourite Chelsea match ever!).

Barnett’s love of the spotlight has seamlessly played into opposition hands & our misery appears all but complete. Despair turns to rage for Bill as Barnett continues to crap on rather than slink away like any normal person with a semblance of humility would do after opening a 73 year old man up to quite unwarranted ridicule. I want everything to stop, the game to be cancelled, to call it quits & slink back home. The thing Bill most wants to stop is Neil Barnett. ‘What are we getting next, a fucking meat draw’ he shouts in frustrated fury as Spy’s self absorbed waffle continues unabated.  I need this. Nobody else but me responds in any way or laughs. Bill is apolplectic. The combination of his rage & the absurdity of this entire interlude transfers me from a state of despair to one of helpless laughter. For the first time all afternoon I am, perversely, beginning to enjoy myself. Years later we go to a 3rd round FA Cup tie at Watford & they actually DO have a half time meat draw on the pitch. Fortunately Neil Barnett is unavailable for comment. We’ve heard quite enough from Neil by then.

Minto is replaced at half time as Ruud rolls the dice & puts Mark Hughes up alongside Vialli. Sparky is a famously rugged & spiteful physical presence &  Norwegian defender Bjorn Kvarme, Liverpool’s newest signing, is about to experience a 45 minute footballing hurricane his Anfield career never really recovers from. Hughes has form against Liverpool from his glory years at Old Trafford. I can even remember a loud radio commentary reporting him scoring as I waited to board a packed post-match tube train back to Victoria at Fulham Broadway late one Wednesday evening. We cheered the goal. Cheering a Man Utd goal was rare, cheering a goal scored against Liverpool less so. Alongside Kvarme in the Liverpool defence is England’s Mark Wright, who went to school in Oxford a few hundred yards away from where I am typing this. Dominic Matteo is also in the centre of the Liverpool rearguard, with Stig Inge Bjornebye at left back & Republic of Ireland international Jason McAteer at right back. McAteer is the star of a shampoo advert for Wash & Go around this time. He is a perfectly pleasant looking man, but I am led to believe this is a prime time for  handsome footballers, Davids Beckham & Ginola to the fore. In this match alone there is the aforementioned Scott Minto & Jason’s pretty boy colleagues Patrik Berger & Jamie Redknapp. You suspect the big cheese at Wash & Go settled on Jason after a flurry of rejections, but fair play to him anyway, a decent player who seems like a good lad & shares my healthy dislike of Roy Keane to this day, not least his confirmation that the eccenticities & perversity of the latter’s wildly overrated punditry are a carefully contrived & bogus construction.

Hughes arrival sparks a turnaround in fortunes so dramatic that McAteer’s shiny haired head will be spinning by the final whistle, Kvarme will already be pining for the fjords & John Barnes will be choking on his half time complacency. Five minutes after the restart Hughes chests down a Steve Clarke cross on the edge of the box, holds off the advances of Wright & Kvarme with ease, & hits a low right foot shot past James. The start of something good, a partial saving of face, or the tail tweak incurring the wrath of the beast that had all but devoured our cup hopes in the first half? It takes eight minutes for the moment in the game that swings momentum inexorably towards the first & most pleasing of these alternatives. A Chelsea move finds them on  the edge of the Liverpool penalty area once again, the ball breaks untidily & Hughes emphatically overcomes John Barnes in working the ball back to Zola using what looks like a full, menacing set of studs in the process. The stunning, powerful left foot drive that follows dips & swerves as it passes the helpless James & roars into the top left hand corner of the net. 2-2! Bedlam!! I don’t buy into the big happy football family fan myth. Frequently I feel alone in the crowd at Chelsea, adrift from the general mood & linked only by an entirely illogical affinity for the same 11 men out on the pitch, who equally I share little else in common with. The beauty of moments like the Zola equalizer is that all that melancholy introspection evaporates, at that moment you really are one. Everyone, regardless of race, gender, political persuasion or relative wealth, is consumed by it. The Hughes goal brought hope & kept the tie alive. Zola’s gem is on another level. Gianfranco has only been in the country for 2 months but had already cemented himself in every Chelsea fan’s affections. The man was a delight & already had his own song, the first (& best) of several over his 7 year stint at Stamford Bridge, an amendment of an old Ray Davies classic. Zola. La la la la Zola.

Bothered

Tight lips & folded arms abound as half time Liverpudlian smugness evaporates in the London mist

Liverpool are stunned. I don’t know it at the time but they have not surrendered a two goal lead in nigh on 33 years, when Blackburrn Rovers beat them 3-2 at Ewood Park in August 1964. The atmosphere is now electric in all areas bar the lower tier of the East Stand. From the depths of despair less than 10 minutes before hope now springs eternal. Perversely the joy is more intense for the suffering endured in the previous hour. Like losing your wallet & after a sweat drenched, panicky search finding it in the last place you look, in my case traditionally entangled in the laundry basket among the grubby t-shirts & Calvin Kleins. The difference here is that you are with more than 20,000 people reacting with similar joy & relief.

The cramped seating  & crooked neck are irrelevant now. All 6 goals are scored at the other end of the ground, populated only by advertising hoarding obscuring the rubble where The Shed had once stood. I don’t have the greatest view but it’s good enough to witness all the vital action. The West Stand to my right, itself to be replaced & demolished at the end of this season, is rocking. Even the staider areas of the East Stand, the middle & upper tiers, the posh seats, seem to have been taken over by the growing hysteria. Five minutes after Zola’s goal  Chelsea take the lead, a clever slide rule pass from Dan Petrescu wrongfooting the Liverpool defence & putting in Vialli for a one on one with David James. Luca wins, flicking the ball past James with the outside of his right foot, & all around is now gleeful chaos, save for the now static, stunned, punch drunk away following. Their numbness is clear, so swift & unfathomable has been the change in fortunes for their team, so masterful a mere half an hour earlier. Like we care. The wallet has not only been retrieved intact but closer inspection now reveals that the 1967 incarnation of Brigitte Bardot has slipped her phone number into one of its inner pockets on the back of a Gauloises fag packet. These days Luca’s goal would be put on hold pending a monstrous, life sapping VAR offside check, starving the moment of it breathless, urgent, electric flow. During the home game against Derby the previous week  Dennis Wise had celebrated his goal by running up to Vialli on the subs bench & ripping off his shirt to reveal a t-shirt bearing the amatuerish but heartfelt marker pen message Cheer up Luca we love you. The love was all around him now. The deft movement to elude the opposition defence was peak Vialli, a perfect foil to Hughes. His blunderbuss strike partner has instilled the traditional fear & loathing in his opponents which has paved the way for this devastating turnaround.

Bewildered

Man up & face the camera ponytail

Face the camera ponytail! The rest of us regularly get to feel like this.

Logic should ensure a sense of sobriety at this point, foreboding at what this Liverpool team can conjure up. They pile on the pressure at times during the rest of the match, & Kevin Hitchcock’s goal survives a few scares. However, football at both its best & worst frequently shows contempt for logic & I would guess very few people at this match deflected from this doomy old twat’s instincts that this was now Chelsea’s day. A team that had looked like piling up a cricket score in the first half could probably have stayed  on the pitch until the following day & not scored again now. It has been decreed, God only knows by who. James makes a fine save from a long range Di Matteo shot but the next goal, 12 minutes after the last, also goes to Chelsea. From wide on the right Zola floats a lovely inswinging free kick across the Liverpool goalmouth. Vialli meets it & powers a header into the net, virtually unchallenged by a defence that would probably have cleared the ball without blinking in the first half. Vialli’s second goal heralds the sudden arrival of 25,000 people into football heaven, 25,000 people who less than half an hour ago had foreseen a forthcoming week wearing ear plugs & averting the eye of every rival fan on the planet. For the first time in 33 years Liverpool have blown a 2 goal lead & they know it. Hands clasped despairingly to the sides of the head is their template in the aftermath of this goal, on & off the pitch. One exception is Mark Wright, one hand on each hip as he stands forlornly, staring into space, looking for all the world like a man who has just had his balls sandpapered red raw. The game is up. And over. I doubt that Rabbit Parsons was ever familiar with the ode to S&M that is the Velvet Underground’s masterly Venus In Furs. It’s a shame, because in an ideal world Eric would now have applied fresh dubbin to his 1955 shiny shiny boots of leather, thrown his walking stick into the Liverpool end & made a late, glorious comeback, rolling back the years & leaving the dandruff free head of Jason McAteer for dead with a pinpoint cross onto Viall’s gleaming head for the Italian’s hat trick. I suppose you can’t have everything.

Beaten

Nice to see Lily Savage putting in an appearance

Dry your eyes la

Chelsea went on to win the FA Cup & break their 26 year trophy drought, a mere fortnight after 18 years Of Tory rule had been ended with a landslide Labour election victory on May 3rd. Less than 3 weeks after the big day at Wembley I watched England bowl out Australia for 118 on the first day of the Ashes series at Edbaston. England won the Test handsomely. Things were going swimmingly but Australia soon hit back & won the series comfortably in the end. My penchant  for repeatedly backing the winning team had only lasted a month or so but it was great while it lasted. Liverpool finished 4th in the Premier League. The League Cup in 1995 would be their last silverware of the millenium. I am not sure this was ultimately such a terrible thing, not for their followers & certainly not for the rest of us. Taking success for granted may have been an inevitable consequence of their most golden of years but this was a fanbase so unused to failure that recalibration through an enhanced sense of perspective was long overdue. Unlike those poor birds, the Grey Landes goose & the Barbary and  Mulard ducks, hideously force fed corn and fat through a tube to unnaturally enlarge their liver so that gluttenous fools can eat foie gras, the liver of the liver bird had been engorged via a similarly ceaseless diet of glory & silverware. In 1997 I craved a taste of success, not an endless stream. Had I been offered a Faustian pact at the final whistle of this magnificent match, whereby Chelsea would win the 1997 FA Cup & nothing else again in my lifetime, I would probably have taken it. Had it been offered at half time, at 2-0 down, with only Neil Barnett’s ego, Eric Parson’s walking stick & Liverpool laughter for company, I would have bitten the devil’s hand off. As it was I enjoyed more triumphs at home & abroad before I stopped going in 2004 & walking away then ensured I never got the advanced sense of entitlement, & eventually ennui, that afflicted some Chelsea fans when the ruthless, relentless pursuit of glory began in earnest during the Mourinho years. As for Liverpool, they had to wait 30 years for a league title, but still managed to accumulate trophies in a manner that remained the envy of many. There was a domestic & European treble in 2001 & the small matter of two more Champions League victories, one achieved from a half time position of three goals down against AC Milan in 2005. Liverpool are a great team again now. Humility still appears to have often eluded them in the meantime, but pulling their trousers down in 1997 is still a thrill that lingers, & offered a sharp reminder to their supporters of the realities of fandom that came with the territory for most of us during those 25 years that they imperiously strutted through the football grounds of Britain & Europe. For Chelsea this was one of a handful of games that were giant steps across the bridge between the old days & the Chelsea of today, a half great team, in a half finished stadium, offering a glimpse of the potential this club had. Standing on that bridge was an enormous thrill even if I failed to make it all the way across to the other side. Would I swap the memories of this match for a seat at Bolton in 2005 or Munich in 2012? Scoff if you like but I think the answer is no. We all have our time & this was mine. I’m back watching Chelsea now anyway, happy that merely spending money doesn’t even guarantee a place in the top 4 these days, let alone a league title, though only too aware that the finances of football remain horribly skewered in favour of the big teams.

Returning to a job after two weeks off is usually difficult, not least when your work colleagues & managers have thumbed their collective noses at your abilities & made it clear your presence is no longer welcome. No matter. I floated into work the following day. The first thing my new boss did after shaking my hand was congratulate me on the epic events of the previous day. Adam was a Geordie & consequently a fan of the Toon. No distance between us was required after all. He only stayed a year or so, but we worked well together & I can’t remember a single cross word being exchanged between us during this time, though his partner objected to my polishing off a full bag of chocolate footballs she had left in our office for him prior to luring him away for an extremely long coffee break. Like Sparky, Gianfranco & Luca I saw the chance & took it. No big deal anyway, there was never a chance that the sandpaper & ball weights would come out.

Ball weights?

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 


Cynics v Romantics – No Xmas Truce

FA Christmas Card Sent To To Oxford City 1976

Two more 1970’s Christmas Cards for Oxford City – one from the Met, the other from Middlesex Wanderers, a club formed in 1905  (the same year as Chelsea) who still specialize in overseas tours. Jersey was slotted in for 2020. Sadly we can safely assume that didn’t happen.

More from the Fred Munday archives!  Not directly yuletide related but welcome proof that the odd maverick figure at the upper echelons of the game have been known to reveal a sensibility in line with that of the paying spectator from time to time. More commonly known as Jack, John Woodley not only played over 900 games for Oxford City but also scored over 400 goals, despite spending quite a few seasons at the end of his career playing at centre back, as his knee problems intensified & reduced his mobility to some extent. He was a fabulous player who could undoubtedly have earned a living playing at a higher level, as several FA Cup goals against Football League opposition proved. Hearing  QPR’s veteran skipper Frank Mclintock attributed the longevity of his career to taking aspirin prior to a game Jack followed suit in the 1970’s. A knee operation was cancelled when the wear & tear where gristle meets bone was found by the surgeon to be too advanced for any effective repair work to be undertaken. He liked to recuperate post match with a lengthy soak in the team bath, so from the horse’s mouth we knew that in 1979 new manager Bobby Moore’s decision to rip it out & install showers did not go down well!  Moore’s arrival subsequently signalled the ending of Jack’s remarkable career at the White House & he slummed it playing cricket with idiots like me for a few years instead. My unbecoming teenage puniness contrasted strongly to Jack’s impressively muscular & toned physique, which many modern day gym narcissists would still kill to replicate today. Reproduced below is a copy of the letter Brian Clough sent on the occasion of his testimonial, having instructed all his first team players to purchase two tickets each for the game, 34 in total. He then promised to match their combined value with a separate donation himself. A hugely flawed man he may have been, but his failure to kow tow to  suits like Harold Thompson, allied to gestures such as this, only serve to reveal how much closer Cloughie was to understanding the true meaning of the game, & matching the mindset of the fan, than just about any other major figure of the game in my lifetime. Liverpool’s legendary Bill Shankley is his only rival here as far as I can see. Wonderful characters both, & this was a magnificent gesture from the extraordinary Mr Clough.

 

Another card from the FA, signed by chairman Sir Harold Thompson & secretary Ted Croker. Thompson never came across as a pleasant individual, callously sacking our only World Cup winning manager Sir Alf Ramsay with what appeared to be dismissive contempt. “He was a bastard. He treated the staff like shit” according to one FA official at the time. Not really a ringing endorsement. Thompson was an Oxford chemistry don which obviously left him superbly equipped to deal with the thorny issues of the day, including rampant hooliganism & safety within stadiums, not to mention hiring & firing for the top managerial post in English professional football. That’s right. Professional football. It was no longer 1856 but nobody appeared to have told the FA. The brash, arrogant & brilliant Brian Clough was never going to get the England job during  Sir Harold’s time at the Lancaster Gate helm, & the crooked, mercenary but doubtless suitably servile Don Revie duly took over from Ramsay with disastrous results. Our World Cup winning captain Bobby Moore retired in 1977 & had to wait 3 years for a managerial opportunity – at Oxford City. A fine way to treat a national hero, who most countries would have fast tracked into the international coaching set up. Posthumous statues & stand naming are all very well but where were you West Ham Utd by the way, while your most distinguished former player lapsed into near obscurity? Bobby’s middle name was Chelsea, & his son Dean ran the Imperial Arms on the King’s Road in the 1990’s, famously the favourite pre-match Guinness quaffing waterhole of late vice chairman Matthew Harding, still a hero to many Blues fans, alternatively an evil man if your name is Ken Bates. One of Thompson’s Oxford chemistry students was Margaret Thatcher. Ted Croker stood up to her after the Heysel tragedy in 1985 & was duly denied the  obligatory knighthood usually awared to retiring FA secretaries. Typically petty & spiteful behaviour from Thatcher but never forget that Croker was Eric Dier’s grandfather. Dier looks & behaves on a football pitch like one of those big, thick playground bullies who got a rise out of painfully flicking the ears of tormented smaller boys. As if playing for Spurs wasn’t bad enough in itself. Mourinho  likes him of course. Mourinho would. He has been known himself to enjoy the cowardly gouging of rival coaches in the eye with a finger. They all get together in the end.

One from local rivals Oxford United. Rather cheap & nasty paper quality in truth, times were hard at the Manor Ground in the latter part of the 1970’s! Competitive games between the two clubs have been fairly rare though I do recall United squeezing past their Isthmian League opponents in an Oxfordshire Senior Cup Final in the mid 1970’s, two late goals sparing their blushes after Martin Gilligan had given City a shock lead. In 1980, after the non-league game escaped the ankle chains of phoney amatuerism that the likes of old school tie tosspots like Thompson had imposed on it deep into the 1970’s, City made a futile attempt at buying their way to success. From Sir Harold Thompson to Sir Harry Redknapp, the devil & the deep blue sea anyone? Old soaks like Spurs defender Phil Beal & John Frazer of Fulham rolled up once a week to help City get relegated, reputedly on then handsome £90-£100 a game wages. I cannot verify the actual transfer fee for Trevor Francis’s move from Birmingham City to Nottingham Forest in 1978, the most significant of the age as it is widely believed to be the first £1 million fee exchanged between two British clubs. However,  I can confirm, via my brief, inglorious junior banking career, that in 1980 I saw a cheque for £4,000 confirming the transfer of centre half Andy Bodel from Oxford United to City. Unthinkable, in fact illegal, a few years earlier. Before the decade was out City were evicted from their long term home & out of business, landlords Brasenose College losing patience after members of the club hierarchy had ignored repeated requests not to conduct private business matters unrelated to Oxford City from the ground. Then architects of their own downfall, happily they successfully reformed, but in truth sympathy for them seemed surprisingly thin on the ground at the time.

“Scratch any cynic and you will find a disappointed idealist.” George Carlin

I unreservedly adore the evocative image of small boys playing football next to a lamppost as shown at the top of this page. Sadly date & location are not recorded on the Christmas card from the FA it appears on. It was rescued from the bin at the White House Ground, then home to Oxford City, alongside various other yuletide greetings included above, by my grandfather. There is a primary school opposite my flat & once upon a time I would make my way home from the shops & smile indulgently over its hedgerow as the kids noisily played out the latest attack v defence playground thriller, the one goal being the perennial painted bar & post on a concrete wall. The pleasures were entirely innocent from all sides but the hedgerow has long since been left to grow to a height disabling the view of the school playground. Denying visual access to grown men is probably more than a coincidental side effect of this tactic. Currently unemployed, I have recently been trying to ward off a growing sense of my own irrelevance & uselessness in the eyes of society by picking litter along the nearby streets & cycle paths. It’s been an eye opener as disposable masks & gloves have joined the perennially discarded items, bottles, cans & hypodermics supplemented occasionally by disposable nappies & on one occasion a dead, presumably baited badger in a huge white plastic bag. Sadly the internet means I am denied the pleasure of retrieving the torn up pages from porno mags, once a prime feature of the landscape, now residing in the English street missing items file along with white dog shit & indeed stray dogs, likely the predominant suppliers of said shit. Collecting the litter stick & relevant plastic sacks involved a long walk taking me past my own primary school, my destination being a stone’s throw away from Oxford United’s old ground in Headington. The school field on which we played football has been concreted over now, an act of bureaucratic vandalism that I can never forgive. Our year left the school in 1973 but not before we had supported the government’s ‘Plant A Tree in ’73’ campaign, launched in the wake of Dutch Elm disease wreaking havoc on millions of UK trees. A new one was duly planted on the the approach to our beloved football pitch. I had been with my ex Chelsea partner in crime Bill on the last occasion I had witnessed the concrete hell with which time & the council have replaced both tree & pitch. ‘Plant a fucking tree for ’73’ was Bill’s succint summary of the current, soulless vision. You could look over the hedgerow & watch the football there too back in the day, & unbeknown to me my mum was doing just that when I scored my first ever goal, as a ten year old playing for the third years against our triumphant double winning school team. It was a belter too. She would have missed that moment were it to happen now. Then again there is no pitch for it to happen on anyway. Adjacent to the school field further along the road was an alleyway next to a small play area. Rather unimaginatively we called it Shit Alley as its pavement was always liberally coated with dog faeces in various states of decomposition. Both Shit Alley & the play area have survived, a small crumb of comfort for Village Green Preservation Society types like me, not to mention lazy owners of incontinent dogs. Having collected my litter tools I made my way home via a different route, laden down with a sense of melancholy that the days of my school field & Oxford United at the Manor Ground are both long gone. How I wish they weren’t, but to quote Billie Bob Thornton’s brilliantly portrayed, dark hearted Willie in Bad Santa, possibly the greatest cinematic yuletide cynic ever, ‘wish in one hand, shit in the other. See which fills up first.’ However, even Willie finds some sort of redemption at the end of the first film (we shall not speak of the sequel, a veritable stinker that is not even salvaged by the presence of the glorious Christina Hendricks) & before I have left Headington  a semblance of the same is glimpsed for me. I cut through Rock Edge, a nature reserve, & on the grassy area at its borders are four lads having an after school kick around. Older than the small boys in the photo at the top, 13-14 at a guess, but entertaining themselves with nothing other than a football nonetheless, a commonplace sight in my youth but rarer than a Penny Black nowadays. On the corner of the entrance to Rock Edge, next to the busy main road, stands a house that once belonged to Arthur Turner, the Oxford United manager when I first started going to football. Arthur had once managed a team to an FA Cup Final, namely Birmingham City in 1956, a game now immortalized by the victorious opposition goalkeeper, Man City’s Bert Trautmann, playing on with a broken neck. Trautman had once been part of the Luftwaffe but refused repatriation after WW2 & overcame much hostility to become a much loved figure in English football. Arthur Turner took Oxford from the Southern League to the old Division 2 so is rightly a revered figure in the club’s history. I like the idea of his ghost looking through the back window of his old house & seeing these lads, school uniforms & bags in situ, keeping the dream alive. The litter picking has its consolations too. Rare is the day that nobody thanks me for doing it, or beeps on a car horn & offers a cheery thumbs up. It would seem there is no need to give up on humanity just yet. Not all of it anyway.

Balancing the need for precaution against the safeguarding of personal freedoms has never been a more vexed issue than in this pandemic year. The rights & wrongs of mask wearing & lockdowns have triggered constant, furious debate. Keeping children off the streets & away from potential predators has long been  a preoccupation of the nation’s parents. Understandably so, although evidence that there are more paedophiles on the street than in my childhood appear relatively thin on the ground. At the age of 8 I would regularly return home as dusk beckoned or had called, from mass kickabouts on local recs, the golf course, & once a week the patch of grass near our cub scout hut behind the church. Parents seemed relatively unconcerned back then, & as it is today the kids were more usually in greater danger of abuse when back within the walls of the family home. Nonetheless, there is no judgements to be made here, especially from a non-parent like myself. Relatively rare it thankfully may be, but child abduction is a terrible thing & societal criticism of perceived lapses in parental judgement are swift & merciless. My nephew is now in his early ’30’s & a father of two himself, but in his childhood computer games had already become a major consumer of youth leisure time. Nevertheless he would sometimes take to the street with friends for a kick around. On one occasion an aggrieved neighbour called a halt because a man was taking pictures of them. This sounds sinister. It may have been sinister. However, at one time I used to carry my smaller camera around in the streets of Oxford to capture the sights & sounds of spontaneous street activity & colour. I would have loved to stumble across a game of football taking place in the street, & would have wanted to take pictures. The memory of this incident would have stopped me in my tracks though. My gueriila photo antics stalled long ago anyway due to another reason, namely a marked absence of talent. The man photographing my nephew & his friends may have been a pederast. Then again, he may have been attempting to capture a moment of youthful exuberance in the same way the FA Christmas card of 1976 did so sublimely. Hats off to whoever took it. Illusory it may well be, but it gives the appearance of representing if not a more innocent age then certainly a less cynical one.

I like the definition of cynicism outlined by the late American comedian George Carlin, although like the virus, it is a disease offering many mutations & the Carlin variant is one of the more flattering ones, possibly with a bit of self mythology thrown in. Its author was clearly something of a cynic himself. The football world is no more immune than any human activity where money rears its ugly head. Because fans are imbued with concepts of love & loyalty to their clubs they find the cheerful pursuit of cold, hard cash from the sport’s players, managers & administrators hard to stomach but doubtless many are happy to change their own place of work when more lucrative opportunities are presented to them. Football is a short career & players do not always have the same love of the game as fans, let alone a sense of long term duty to the team they represent. Fans tend to have a purer love of the game, the match going supporter the most pristine example. The investment in time & money required to attend matches across the country (&, for those at the top end, the continent) is huge, impacting hugely on income, family life, spare time & working arrangements. This is not helped by the constant tinkering with kick off times by the football authorities & television companies. At the moment the pandemic has halted all  this for much of the year, but the devotees are not grateful. They make the sacrifices because they love their club, & the current crisis clearly imperils  the future of many clubs. At the top end the suspicion grows that removing the fans may suit many. This is foolish. Fans responding to the action in the stadium is a vital part of the entertainment. I feel myself losing interest in the game as a whole in the face of endless opportunities to watch matches played in largely empty stadiums. The backdown of the television companies regarding the recent pay per view controversy is telling. Long term this unfulfilling spectacle has no future. We need full stadiums again as soon as it is safe to happen. For many years fans were treated as an unwanted inconvenience & it ended in stadium disasters & multiple deaths. It is vital for the soul of the sport a different mistake is not made this time, namely any misguided belief that the money machine will keep churning regardless of spectator presence at big games.

We shouldn’t pretend that cynicism is a new phenomenon in sport, nor that it is confined entirely to its top levels. My grandfather retired in 1972 & for the next five years he would divide his time between watching a new afternoon ITV drama called Emmerdale Farm (an altogether gentler, less action packed entity than it is now!) doing a cleaning job at the bingo hall & helping out at Oxford City. A lick of paint on the fencing & buildings here, a swept terrace there, allied to the saving of otherwise unwanted ephemera. As the only other option seems to have been watching Amos Brearly & Mr Wilks bicker behind the bar of The Woolpack he was probably glad to get out of the house. The bingo job enabled him to supply us with ample spare bottles of Cresta, a soft drink of various unpleasant fruit flavours, produced by Schweppes & famously advertised by a badly animated bear with the byline it’s frothy man.

It was frothy as I recall. And revolting. The Christmas cards & programmes from Oxford City were more welcome, though his treament by the club left a similarly unpleasant aftertaste. He gave his time & labour free & for love. Of course. He was a true fan. The love may be unrequited but that didn’t put him off. When he became ill Oxford City were conspicuous by their absence. He had spells when he was well enough that some small gesture, say the offer of a lift to an away game, would have been treated with glee & gratitude. Nothing doing. Out of sight out of mind. For all the annual rosy cheeked, rosette wearing, rattle waving representation the suspiciously large turnout of non league fans get in the FA Cup from avaricious tv companies, desperate to see a big club get its pants pulled down, there isn’t much romance about the way smaller clubs operate further down the chain. Egotistical, often unscrupulous owners & players lured away to rival clubs at the drop of a hat are as commonplace as in the full time game. It is merely the size of the wedges that differ from the bigger boys. By the time John Woodley played the last of his 900 games in 1979 the Amateur Cup had disappeared & players were at last being openly being paid at that level of the game. My future brother in-law briefly  played at the White House Ground in this era, but subsequently enjoyed a nomadic career, taking a few bob extra when he could as he moved from club to club. This has become the norm & nobody stays long enough to play 900 games for one team these days. Who knows what decisions John Woodley would have made had his magnificent career started 15 years later than it did but he may well not have stayed in one place for the duration.

Not everyone exploited their new mercenary opportunities with intelligence. One lad I had once played alongside boasted of the £2 a week rise he had received (£10 to £12) when moving from one local club to Wallingford. Sadly, Wallingford was a 28 mile round journey from his home in Oxford. It had not occurred to him that the inconvenience & cost of this extra travel rather negated the value of his princely salary increase. When Oxford City chose to go for glory & spent handsomely recruiting unwisely, one, now legendary, footballing money guzzler was rather ungrateful. Bobby Moore a footballing god, should never have been expected to cut his managerial teeth at such a lowly level. The fact that he was prepared to try speaks volume about the famous humility of the man. Harry Redknapp was a different kettle of fish. Twenty years after arriving as Moore’s assistant he was still whingeing about the allegedly awful salary on offer, quoting in the process an amount that would have sufficed for many a skilled worker in the late 1970’s, let alone a rookie coach failing at an already struggling Isthmian League team. The jam roly-poly enthusiast & future king of Ant & Dec’s annual crocodile cock eating circus  was a resourceful fella even then in fairness. My cousin was a youth team player (& a West Ham fan to boot) & Harry was known to fling open the boot of his car at training sessions & pursue a neat line of second income via selling the selection of trainers contained therein. He isn’t the cleverest member of the Redknapp clan though. That award surely goes to Rosie, now sadly deceased, the family bulldog who managed to open a Monaco bank account earlier this century, depositing £189K into it in the process. We had a dog called Rosie. Good at chasing balls & chewing extremely large tree branches but no financial acumen whatsoever. Hopeless. As a player with limited first team action in the previous 6 or 7 years, the opportunity to learn the ropes alongside Moore might have seemed welcome. Harry has always been a master of self promotion though. Highly regarded by many in the game ( Brett Ormerod at Southampton & former West Ham playing & managerial colleague  Billy Bonds seem to be exceptions but nobody leaves football with no enemies) he has subsequently had a long, very high profile managerial career. Just the one trophy though, the FA Cup with Portsmouth in 2008. It took him nearly 30 years to achieve what Bobby Gould managed at unfancied Wimbledon in a year back in 1988. Gould went on to manage Wales but neither jam roly-poly salesmen nor Little Ant & Dec have ever subsequently beaten a path to his front door. There are no sold out evenings with Bobby Gould at your local theatre. Redknapp  lives in Sandbanks, the desirable millionaire’s row looking out over the sea at Poole. That supposedly paltry salary a small club paid him as he started out in management at Oxford City doesn’t seem to have done him too much harm. A couple of years before my dad died in 2011  Harry turned up at nearby Barton On Sea following inclement weather in search of an open gold course. The course there was indeed open, but the conditions meant there were restrictions in place. Harry duly tried to arrange a discount. On failing to procure one he drove off in a huff without troubling its fairways, a millionaire cutting his nose off to spite his face for the sake of a few quid. This is the man who threw a fit at a reporter labelling him a wheeler dealer in the transfer deadline market, which he famously & transparently was. His angry response only amplified the high level of the man’s deluded self image. In many ways Redknapp’s managerial career is the template for attitudes within modern football. Fair play, it’s been his livelihood & his overriding commitment has been to furthering his own career & maximising its financial potential. Doubtless many football fans approach their own careers the same way, but what is nauseating is the insincere badge kissing duplicity of players within the game in recent years, & the voice of the fan transplanted to the dugout schtick as perfected by the likes of Redknapp. Doubtless he loves the game but he isn’t a fan. He’s a businessman, albeit one who may sometimes have sailed close to the wind on occasions. Fine as far as it goes but all the everyman patter in the world shouldn’t con anyone. He has profited from the loyalty of football fans rather than represented them. Oxford City were a better team & club in the decades before Harry & his ilk rolled up, even if shackled by the ludicrous limitations of amateur status. I am glad my grandfather got to support them during those years rather than the ones that followed.

Dear old Harry – no stone left unturned in the pursuit of a pound

In the earlier part of the 1970’s the upper echelons of non-league football  maintained the pretence of amatuerism, along with Rugby Union & Athletics. Rugby Union players who turned pro & migrated north to play Rugby League were prevented even from coaching kids afterwards. I think the word is draconian. Cricketers were only paid for the months they played in the summer & many had to seek other employment through the rest of the year. The Kerry Packer breakaway series announced in 1977 was the key to ensuring better financial packages for its star players. Until then the rewards, even at that level, were relatively piffling. The ’80’s heralded the sweeping away of many of the barriers erected by old school tie elitism, administrators reluctant to move their sports forward & properly reward the performers, those who actually attracted people through the stadium gates. Ian Botham, the first English superstar cricketer to emerge following the Packer revolution, although he didn’t join it, once referred to the MCC dinosaurs still living in the Gentleman v Players era as ‘gin swilling old dodderers.’

Finally, & in case it seems I have entirely removed the Chelsea from Chelsea blog, I give you, for the second time in three years, an old Christmas card from the club. It depicts the great Gianfranco Zola hitting one of those sublime free kicks over a wall of snowmen while wearing a Christmas hat. Gianfranco,  like Harry Redknapp, also managed West Ham for a while. He remains one of the least cynical of modern footballers, warming the cockles of your heart with his behaviour on & off the pitch. Would there were more like him. Some other once revered sporting talents of yore have let themselves down quite badly during the pandemic. If you thought ex Southampton & England maverick Matthew Le Tissier was an admirable one off throwback during his 1980’s & 90’s heyday then join the club. He always came across as a good bloke too. Sadly he has revealed himself as a deeply odd individual of late, dismissing both the seriousness of the COVID19 outbreak & many reasonable online counter arguments, blocking some showing mild dissension to his viewpoint or employing rows of that scornful, sniggering emoji often favoured by the smug. Having angered many with his contempt for intelligent debate he then made a po faced video denouncing those who have trolled & abused him, laughably presenting himself as a victim. Abuse is never justified but when you block, demean & ignore the courteous you are swimming in murky waters yourself. Ashes 2005 hero Michael Vaughan has always come across as a narcissistic, arrogant prat but he has also outdone himself this time. During the first lockdown he & Le Tissier gave themselves away by making it clear that a main grievance was being prevented from playing golf. As men of some affluence who can doubtless self isolate with rather more space at their disposal than the rest of us these entitled buffoons might have been well advised to keep their gobs shut & count their considerable blessings. They haven’t even got the Noel Gallagher plea of mitigation that he squandered the last remaining family brain cell snorting those mountains of cocaine that can only be the explanation for 1997’s abysmal Be Here Now, presumably also the reason he has struggled since to write anything other than songs that Badfinger wouldn’t have considered for a B side, or indeed wiped their arse on. Apparently not wearing a mask & ignoring social distancing means it is ‘on him’ should he contract the virus. The elephant in the room is of course that in the process he might infect & kill others, is aware of this & basically doesn’t care. Live Forever eh?  This Man City fan (when it suits him) may not be a sportsman but as Sky prepared us for a Liverpool-City Carabao Cup final a few years ago with a lengthy interview between this nobhead & Jamie Carragher I include his vile contribution to the pandemic debate here too. Vaughan put up a truly execrable Instagram post online in October showing a host of WW2 bomber planes & announcing that the weekend’s changing of the clocks should see them all put back to 1944 when the country ‘had some balls’ – pleasingly there was a swift riposte to this nonsense, which pointed out that Michael was born in 1974 rather than 1944 & that as the Advanced Hair Studio disciple had shat his bigoted, foppish pants as soon as a few strands of hair started dropping from his empty head then perhaps the days of the Luftwaffe & ration books might not have been to his liking. I suppose he could have tried rubbing powdered egg into his scalp. God alone knows what the late Bert Trautmann, the man who served in the Luftwaffe & played on in a cup final with a broken neck, would have made of lame,ill considered, halfwitted guff like this. There are a lot of entitled cretins like Noel, Matt & Michael around. Let’s briefly entertain Twitter cliche & say don’t be like Noel, Matt & Michael. We are now back to 1,000 deaths a day as a new mutation of the disease takes hold. The NHS may soon be overwhelmed. Dark days lie ahead. Perhaps one of these three will show some humility this time. Perhaps not. Vaughan has already been querying restrictions on playing golf. One time dope smoking scourge of the cricketing establishment, the recently ennobled Ian Botham has become something of a reactionary pillar of warped nationalism himself these days. Lord Revitive of Almeria owes his elevation to the House Of Lords to either his impressive & relentless charity walking endeavours in the past, or a stunningly hypocritical commitment to Brexit, depending on what you read &/or choose to believe. Now a Spanish resident Botham is apparently happy to wave the Union Jack while living in another country, denying  us plebs the same opportunity for future free movement in Europe that he has clearly enjoyed. He is as drearily boorish now as he was inspirational during his cricketing pomp. In a radio debate on fox hunting with Al Murray a few years ago, he responded to the latter querying the fetishistic need to dress up & hunt in packs to terrorize foxes rather than shooting them. ‘Waste of a bullet’ was the stupid & surly reply from arguably the most dynamic & exciting English sportsman of his generation. Seemingly more Gammon than Beefy these days, he may guzzle his own wine brand rather than swill gin but nowadays he frequently resembles those he once despised. The Al Murray incident revealed a dismal talent for maintaining an intelligent level of debate so I don’t think the great parliamentary orators have to much to fear from this latest representative of the blonde manbaby’s latest appointments to Westminster. Thanks for lighting up my teenage years Lord B but perhaps you should stay in Spain. Many of us might like to in the future. Thanks to people like you that won’t be possible. Cheers.

Thank God then for Marcus Rashford. His campaign may not be as cuddly & Tory friendly as dear old Captain Tom’s undoubtedly delightful fund raising but he has managed to marry philanthropy to a serious, polite, determined, avowedly non-party political  & most importantly successful interrogation of the government’s refusal to ensure schoolkids from poor families are being fed. The validity of his campaign has now been backed up by UNICEF’s recent financial intervention concerning the same issue. It is an intervention that shames us all, apart from top hatted twat Jacob Rees-Mogg, another Westminster parasite as free of shame as he is a chin. The only cynicism in the Rashford campaign comes from his sour, wrongfooted detractors, who seem to resent the fact that a rich young black footballer can also find time to invest in property to ensure his own family’s future at the same time. Does a principled stance mean the man has to falsely wander round in sackloth & ashes? Why? Rashford scored a hat trick in a Champions League game a couple of months ago but was back posting on the child poverty campaign within half an hour of the final whistle. Man of the year for sure.

Perhaps Harry Redknapp could chip in to to the campaign & supply him with some jam roly-polys….

Update 06/01/21

Oxford City announced the sad news that John Woodley  had died via social media earlier this week. He had been unwell for some time. RIP Jack.

‘Chilly’ Leaves Me Cold

Nothing wrong with Ben. Plenty wrong with Chilly.

Nicknames are bad names. So says David Brent, iconic comic creation of Ricky Gervais, hitherto a fan of jokey workplace monikers until he finds out that Toad Of Toad Hall & Bluto are two assigned to him & are circulating widely around the office behind his previously unwitting back. They certainly can linger. At school a boy named Kevin Goodwin would habitually have the dried green remnants of a runny nose trailing down perilously close to his top lip. As a result he was known to all as Snot Goodwin & even today, well over 40 years since I last saw him, I guarantee anyone of my vintage recalling his memory would not refer to him as Kevin, no matter how many mountains he may have climbed in adult life. As it was then so it is now. Snot has stuck. At college there was a girl whose actual name I can no longer remember. I do remember her nickname though. The Swansea Swallower. It’s a cruel world. She was a rabid Thatcherite so that tempers any potential sympathy somewhat. Was the nickname accurate?  I am unable to shed further light. She had a Welsh accent but I have no idea if she was actually from Swansea.

The world of the British football dressing room has long been notorious for both the durability & lack of imagination of the assigned nicknames for its occupants. Tag on a y or an o (or less frequently an s) to the end of the subject’s name & Bob’s your uncle, or should that be Bobby’s your uncs? Holly. Clarkey. Wisey. Speedo. Steino. Furs. The personnel at Stamford Bridge changes, the cliched nickname formula remains. Even the late, great Peter Bonetti, widely referred to as ‘The Cat’ given his feline agility in goal, had that altered to Catty by his team mates. We all give in to it in the end. Nearly twenty years after leaving for Leicester City Dennis Wise is still Wisey.

However, hearing coach Frank Lampard (Lamps to most or Lampty if your name is Jody Morris) refer to new signing Ben Chilwell as Chilly is making me shiver. The preeminent figure in the current dressing room giving the royal seal of approval means it is unlikely to go away. Does this mean Mason Mount is known as Mounty or Reece James as Jamo? Possibly, even probably, & I had hoped the new foreign arrivals might herald a further shift from the nickname status quo. One of them conveniently has a y tagged on the end of his surname. Take a bow Eduard Mendy. Timo Werner is a no-go & good luck with amending Kai Havertz to fit the template lads. The fact is that foreign names generally don’t lend themselves to the continuation of the trend. Chelsea have had a lot of oversea players in the last 25 years so I suppose it is inevitable that any opportunity among the home grown lads to revert to the norm is grasped eagerly. Ben Chilwell has made a splendid start to his Chelsea career. Two years ago Blues social media ‘experts’ were loudly trumpeting his cause when potential new signings were discussed. A dip in form at Leicester last season led to a widescale volte face & suddenly it was Telles or Tagliafico they were heralding, anyone but Chilwell. Now Ben’s name is back in lights but when he has an inevitable dip in form, however mild, these intellectual & emotional incontinents will doubtless be screaming for him to be tied to a lampost & tarred & feathered outside The Butcher’s Hook before you can say Chilly. Best ignored on the whole. Chilwell is a more than welcome addition, although Tagliafico would at least have avoided the curse of the English nickname, while the Old Trafford dressing room now has its work cut out maintaining the nickname bantz hilarity with Alex Telles. Chilly it is though. Will we never be set free from this tyranny?

Nicknames in school years may be short of subtlety & frequently strip the recipient of any remaining shreds of dignity but compared to British football they are a beacon of originality. How did footballers fare themselves in schooldays, in tags given by them to others & vice versa? Sadly I have only a couple of examples. The only professional footballer to attend our school was Chelsea’s very own Clive Walker, but he had left years before I got there so if he had a playground nickname I have no idea what it was. In a recent joint  interview with former ’80’s colleagues Colin Pates (Patesy) & John Bumstead (Bummers) it was clear though that Clive had not avoided the dressing room curse himself. They still refer to him as Walks. He did famously earn another nickname on the terraces courtesy of an unfortunate off the field indiscretion in the late 1970’s but we’ll draw a discreet veil over that. As indeed Clive should have done at the time.

Spins a web any size…

My best friend at college had been to school in North London with Terry Gibson, later a striker with Spurs, Coventry, Man Utd & Wimbledon. At school he got his name in lights amongst his peers by disrupting an assembly, mooning the teachers from a balcony area immediately above the stage, in the process displaying an arse decorated with a profusion of hair impressive in one so young. He was known as Spiderman after that. Whether colleagues at the four top division clubs he frequented ever got past calling him Gibbo is unclear. In the modern Premier League dressing room some specific & immediate manscaping would doubtless be called for before Terry & his formerly hirsute buttocks were allowed through its metrosexual door.

A lovely woman called Julie used to sell books to me in my buying days at Blackwell’s, sometimes lightening the gloom of the surroundings in Oxford’s second best bookshop with tales of footballers she had known. She also revealed that at school she had  made such a noise wearing a heavy pair of shoes that she been nicknamed Stompie. Many years later a friend phoned her from the Etihad Stadium halfway through a Man City game telling her he was sat next to an old school colleague of hers who wanted  to say hello. The phone was duly transferred. ‘Alright Stompie, how are you?’ were the first words in a couple of decades Julie had heard from the lips of one time England winger & her aforementioned former classmate Trevor Sinclair (Sincs?) .You see, nicknames really don’t go away. As with Gibson’s Spiderman antics at least Stompie was unique & earned. Where Frank & the team’s use of feeble nicks like Chilly is concerned I can only conclude with that well worn teacher’s rebuke throughout my schooldays, a phrase doubtless also employed in the Goodwin household when monitoring poor old Snot’s incompetent nose blowing efforts all those years ago.

Must do better.

 

 

Frank Wins The Real Quiz

05/12/20 Chelsea 3 Leeds 1

I am an admirer of the work of actor Ralph Ineson, a talented & versatile performer in scores of television & film productions for many years. Much of it is inevitably if unfairly overshadowed in the eyes of many by his masterly depiction of odious sales rep Chris Finch in The Office. He comes across as a good bloke too as far as I can tell. Dog lovers always get a pass here. He clearly hates Chelsea though. I can still recall some predictably salty comments following Chelsea’s 5-1 Carling Cup victory at Elland Road in 2012 . These seemed justified on that occasion, provoked as they were by nouveau Chelsea fans in a pub mistaking the great Kerry Dixon for a certain former Arsenal full back with the same surname. Chelsea hating goes with the territory for Leeds followers & is largely all grist to the mill. After all, we all  hate Leeds & Leeds & Leeds, Leeds & Leeds & Leeds & …. well I think you get the picture. Chelsea songs are traditionally long on vivid expression & short in lyrical content. The resentment has clearly grown in the fifteen years since the teams last met in the Premier League. Chelsea’s spending power & bulging trophy cabinet upsets far more than just Leeds fans. Equally, disgust at the knowledge that the magnificent team Don Revie built at Elland Road in the  ’60’s & ’70’s was underpinned by foul play on & off the pitch extends way beyond the Fulham Road. Bribes were offered, we only know about the ones refused by the whistleblowers. These include the late Bob Stokoe, approached by Revie in person in a dressing room at Bury in the early 1960’s. Stokoe exacted sweet revenge years later by masterminding one of the most famous & universally celebrated FA Cup final upsets in history when his Sunderland team beat dastardly Don’s mighty whites in 1973. Mighty but dirty. Dirty Leeds .

We’re none of us perfect. Not even Ralph Ineson. As a grown man I am as discomfited by the unequal nature of wealth distribution in football as elsewhere, but I didn’t create it & being the object of casual, hackneyed, chippy northern bigotry & hatred gets a bit tiring after a while. Leeds fans have a well earned reputation for malevolence over the years. I have also frequently been embarrassed by acts of puerile excess from Chelsea fans at times throughout the decades since that notorious 1970 FA Cup Final between the two clubs. My own record has been less than saintly, especially during the course of a live match. For that reason I never use social media during a game. Nobody is interested in my tweets anyway but really, why does anyone do this, how about concentrating on the football? It is the essence of self indulgence. Nothing is achieved by rushing to pronounce & publish while emotions are heightened, & even countless likes & retweets never changes the result. Ralph was stirring the pot before & after the game too.

All due respect indeed. Also to the patrons of the pub who clearly responded to it in the right spirit. Would a bar worker wearing a Chelsea shirt in a pub near Elland Road on matchday leave in one piece? Just asking. After all everyone is so much friendlier up north….

Ooh you’re hard as David Brent would have said. By your own admission everyone in the pub, including your son, had a good night. Nobody died or even got glassed yet you make a dark & hollow allusion to acts of violence had you been there. Why? You weren’t there. You lost. It happens. Get over it. Grow up.

It is possible to dislike another football team & acknowledge facts. The current Leeds team have a refreshing approach & really took the game to Chelsea at times in the first half. The future looks bright. You need enemies in football & they have been missed. Naturally I still hope they lose every week & defeat in the return match at Elland Road will still be as bitter a pill to swallow as all those suffered up there in my youth. For me they have often been a horrible club with many horrible fans, which is exactly what many say about Chelsea. You can still glower with rage at Chelsea Football Club & acknowledge the facts too though Ralph. Frank Lampard’s team is shaping up well at the moment & this was a thoroughly entertaining match. If Frank & Bielsa can move on from the Spygate/Play Off shenanigans between Derby & Leeds two seasons ago perhaps it’s time your bitter lot did too. Once again the abuse towards Lampard from rival fans this week has been absurdly disproportionate & raised about as many laughs as a Xmas episode of Mrs Brown’s Boys. Ralph was far from the worst but as defeat loomed & the euphoria at his team’s early lead & bright play evaporated he was reduced to this sad, rather pathetic aside:-

Never mind mate. A case of one up the bum no harm done for your lot in the long run surely? Anyway, you’ve thrown a copper kettle over a pub. What’s Frank Lampard ever achieved compared to that?

Answers on something rather larger than a postcard please.