Busman’s Holiday

Swindon Town 1 Plymouth Argyle 1

Saturday 12th October, 2019

There are many modern two word combinations that instill a potent sense of life sapping nausea & dread & in this ageing Englishman’s battered psyche. Fake news. Top Gear. Brexit update. Bowel screening. Michael Gove (a man with a body rendered uniquely ineligible for a bowel screening on account of the revolting head being wedged so deeply up its own arse). Bike bell. Dance off. Gym membership. Bono interview. Sun journalist. Tottenham Hotspur. My trip to the County Ground was inspired by the final entry on this far from exhaustive list.

International break.

International break. May God have mercy on all our souls. Regularly giving us the chance to squander our meagre salaries betting on the outcome of Andorra v Lithuania, & avoiding the glitter flecked clutches of Strictly Come Dancing, rather than getting out & watching our own teams. My heart aches, and a drowsy numbness pains my sense as Keats had it. Zip-a-Dee-Fucking-Doo-Dah in more modern parlance. Fortunately, Swindon are at home  & I take the chance to eschew my staff bus pass & lord it up on a train to dance off to Wiltshire & the County Ground, my first visit to Swindon since watching them draw 2-2 with Leyton Orient  back in 2010.

It turns out to be a good decision, two good teams deservedly sharing the spoils, on loan Eoin Doyle finishing off a neat 4 man move for Swindon in the first half, & midfielder Joel Grant capping off an equally slick passage of play for Plymouth in the second. There are a lot of loanees on display, & Argyle has also become  a refuge for a handful of former employees of Bury, four players & manager Ryan Lowe now gainfully employed at Home Park after The Shakers were disgracefully allowed to be driven out of existence by a despicable & unscrupulous owner, & a pitiful indifference from many others in the football world, some of whom may find themselves similarly shafted at some stage. ‘Never send to know for whom the bells tolls; it tolls for thee.’ Rave on John Donne. Once again, I find myself marvelling at the pace of the modern game & the excellent fitness levels of the muscular, supremely athletic  modern player compared to all those lower league cult hero centre forwards of the 60s, ’70’s & ’80’s, frequently brilliant finishers but with barrel chests that betrayed a liking for the beer sold in the pubs a lot of them ended up owning when a newsagents wasn’t available. The ‘player who could have been a contender’ slot, a reliable staple at lower division games through the ages, is filled by Argyle sub Jose Baxter. A first teamer at Everton at 16, later seeing a promising career at Sheffield United stubbed out when he tested positive for Ecstasy, Baxter is now 27. He comes on & shows from a deep lying role that the touch is still there, if not yet the match fitness. One of the many impressive gym toned specimens on show, imposing & composed on the ball for Swindon, turns out to be former Chelsea midfielder Anthony Grant,on loan from Shrewsbury. He appeared in my exile years & I have never seen him before in the flesh. He’s massive! Not a spare ounce on him though. I can’t help but wonder how Chelsea’s mid ’90’s team of minnows including Jody Morris, Mark Stein, John Spencer & Dennis Wise would cope now. Then I recall 18 year old Billy Gilmour, a slip of a boy physically, owning a 7-1 Blues Caraboa Cup win over a big Grimsby Town side a fortnight ago. If you’re good enough…. Dennis Wise probably isn’t a  name to drop in Swindon after he accepted the manger’s job back in 2007, only to walk out after a couple of promising months when his old mucker Birdseye Bates lured him to the then sinking ship that was Leeds. Dirty Leeds. A foolish move destined for disaster & he hasn’t managed since, notwithstanding hindsight always being a wonderful thing.

There is something palate cleansing about going to matches that don’t involve your own team. It is far more relaxing & helps sustain a healthier overall interest in the game. One of the sad ironies of modern football is the fact that its ubiquity on television often has a counter-productive effect in this regard. Most of us are busy people, if we can watch live feeds or extended highlights of every match our own teams play why bother watching anybody else? In my long lost youth, only highlights were shown, & Match Of The Day or The Big Match would have a maximum of 2/3 games. If you wanted to see some football, you had to watch these programmes, & consequently expose yourself to the experience of watching a match just as that, minus the passion & prejudice that automatically kicks in watching your own club. Small boys now will be au fait with the respective FIFA 20 stats for all the top players of the world. I would play table football creating knockout cups having familiarised myself with the current line ups of all 92 clubs in the old Football League. This may have made me an insufferable, anally retentive little know all, but also bred an inherent interest in all these clubs & their players. It was a thrill to see them in the flesh at actual matches, & to follow their careers. Unlike the FIFA kids I did not get disappointed when in real life they failed to dribble past 6 opponents & tee themselves up for a thumping 40 yard bicycle kick into the roof of the opposition net. There are no morality tales here, if I had been given access to computer games as a kid I would have stayed in my room all day too. Empty recreation grounds & a steepling average age of people actually attending matches are rather sad though, & a real threat to the much vaunted English footballing pyramid. The trip to the County Ground offers me an opportunity to doff an outsider’s cap at one of the footballing figures who helped define my attitude to football. The death of Peter Downsbrough, Swindon goalkeeper in their finest hour, the 3-1 humbling of Arsenal in the 1969 League Cup Final, is remembered with a minute’s applause prior to kick off, generously supported by the sizeable gathering of Plymouth fans. Swindon’s first away match after the sad news was announced was at Bradford City, the club Downsbrough left them for, a pleasing irony that assured his memory was observed with due respect & affection on that occasion too. The 1969 League Cup was the first domestic cup final I ever watched on television, & Peter Downsbrough greeting a collection of Arsenal corner kicks & crosses with safe hands or a firm punch is an abiding memory. Is it just a rose tinted childhood memory or are we fans all a more spiteful clan these days? I recall people being more pleased for Swindon than revelling in Gooner dismay. This even seemed true when Colchester beat dirty but mighty Leeds in the FA Cup in 1971, or Hereford beat Newcastle the following year, although there was some relish in the latter largely aimed at that eternal gobshite Malcolm Macdonald, who had confidently predicted he would score a hatful for the Geordies in the fateful replay. He tripped up again in 1974 when making all kind of bold claims prior to the FA Cup Final against Liverpool, who won 3-0. Supermac never got a kick. As Fulham manager he dismissed Chelsea’s promotion credentials just before the two teams met in 1984. Chelsea won 4-0. I delight in all this as he also is in my little black book of players who were rude to me in my autograph hunting years, calling me son in the process which I have always hated. Nonetheless, deserved though his humiliation at the hands of non league Hereford was,  the pleasure once again seemed more sharing the joy of the victors rather than sneering at the losers. How times change.

To emphasise the earlier point I followed the careers  of many of the Swindon tankard winning heroes of 1969 (no medals for players in the League Cup back then!) for the rest of their careers. Full back Rod Thomas went to Derby & won the old Division 1 title there under the management of a former Town player-manager, the legendary Dave MacKay, a truly great player still capable of controlling games effortlessly from midfield in his Swindon years despite by this time sporting bigger tits than a Russ Meyer starlet, allied to an enormous belly straining against his red shirt & seeming likely to drag against the turf like a pregnant dog. Downsbrough won Division 4 with Bradford. Left back John Trollope MBE stayed at the County Ground for his entire career, playing over 700 games. Someone I knew refereed him in a reserve game towards the end of his career & maintained he was the most courteous & professional footballer he ever had the pleasure of dealing with. The wonderful Don Rogers, scorer of two of the goals on the mudheap Wembley pitch, moved on to Crystal Palace & scored more virtuoso goals for this most frustratic & erratic of teams  before ending up back at Swindon, running a sports shop & happily thriving to this day. At school I claimed to have had tea with him once after my dad had played against a showbiz football team at Thame United in the early ’70’s. Technically this is true, Don was indeed there with me for the egg sandwiches & battenburg cake stage of proceedings, but so were countless others! Gave me his autograph though. Good old Don. I also saw the late Stan Harland playing for a Division 1 bound Birmingham City alongside Roger Hynd (Bill Shankly’s nephew) in defence, with the goals & flair supplied by Bob Latchford & a brilliant 17 year old, Trevor Francis, whose obvious talent belied his youth, betrayed on the pitch only by the perennial adolescent curse that is acne. That disappeared, but the talent persisted through to European Cup glory, scores of England caps & a spell in Italy with Sampdoria. Dull pundit. Great player. The most poignant memory I have of watching one of these Swindon immortals was at Hull in 1982, when Peter Noble, then at nearly 38 approaching the fag end of his career, rolled up with Blackpool in  a tame end of season match at an unusually sun blessed Boothferry Park. In fact, apart from Hull winning 1-0 I remember very little else about the game other than one of the fellow students I went with, a Blackpool fan, spending most of the game mindlessly abusing one of his own players, David Hockaday, another future Swindon player. Noble had enjoyed a very successful spell at Burnley in the top division after leaving Swindon, converting from striker to full back  in the process. The Falklands War was happening at the time, & the cretinous jingoism of The Sun under its reliably repulsive editor Kelvin Mackenzie was transmitting itself to many of the  excitable overgrown schoolboys in my hall of residence. We returned from the match to a packed, but curiously silent television room. The HMS Sheffield had been sunk by an Argentinian exocet missile, the Boy’s Own gung ho atmosphere now replaced by the reality of war. People die on both sides. Who knew? Seemingly not Kelvin Mackenzie, who ended the decade printing vile lies about Liverpool fans in the aftermath of the horror of the Hillsborough disaster, still as disgusting a maggot infested sack of shit as this country’s newspaper industry has ever produced, & that’s up against some pretty stiff opposition. The relevance of this? Maybe not much at all, but if I had been given a Playstation as a boy I might never have known who people like Peter Noble were, never gone to Boothferry Park that night, perhaps never have been torn away from it long enough to even know that the HMS Sheffield had gone down until the following day. No man is an island. Rave on John Donne pt 2. Peter Noble, who famously took 28 penalties in his career & never missed one (eat that Messi & Hazard!) died in 2017. Dementia has also now established its hideous grip on some of his colleagues from their finest footballing hour 50 years ago. PFA chaiman & gutbucket Gordon Taylor really needs to step up to the plate given the growing number of ex players, often rugged defenders & strikers back in the day, who headed the ball constantly & have now been struck down with dementia. Football’s response (or rather lack of it) thus far has been a monumental disgrace.

Swindon are Angie’s team & Angie is the benchmark for what a proper football fan should be, loyal, devoted & clubbable (she has a sizeable core of friends she travels to, watches games & socialises with. The vagaries of team fortunes & club finances do not impact these tendencies one iota. I owe my seat next to her at the game to Malc, a big lad, but not as big as he looked on the pitch as his alter ego, on pitch matchday mascot Rockin’ Robin. Angie & I first talked football over a quarter of a century ago after our staff Christmas party had spilled over into the pub next door, as I became  aware that there was a rare interested ear cocked to  one of my regular, loud & tedious denunciations of the truly appalling former Chelsea player Dave Mitchell. The goal shy Australian had by then moved to Swindon, where he thrived, so Angie did not share my views. Swindon had a string of players who did well for them but failed to pull up any trees at Stamford Bridge, including the much maligned Alan Mayes (a County Ground legend) & fellow strikers Duncan Shearer & Sam Parkin. Roy Wegerle had a short loan spell there too before being sold to Luton for £75,000. Not long after he was a million pound player. True, Gareth Hall also played at the County Ground for a while but to every good rule there is an exception as my French teacher Mademoiselle Defay always used to say. Then again she always called me Vincent the mad old trout. Or should I say vieille truite folle?  CSE Grade 1 French  (1978) my friends. CSE Grade 1. A sort of O level for tramps. Angie soon revealed herself to be several leagues above the other football fans at work, myself included. On one dark January night in 1994 she sidled me up to at the bar (or home as it was known to me back then) & shamefacedly admitted that she had not made it to Swindon’s FA Cup 3rd Round replay defeat at Ipswich 2 days earlier.  She was entirely blameless, her promised lift had merely failed to materialise, but it was the first game she had missed in years. Gutted doesn’t cover it. On October 17, 1995, in the midst of another day of working tedium Angie waved a quick goodbye as she sped past our counter to watch Swindon in an Auto Windscreen Shield Southern Area 1st Round tie at Plainmoor, home of Torquay United. A 364 mile round journey. For an Auto Windscreen Shield Southern Area 1st Round tie. In midweek. The rest of us alleged club supporters should really have stolen a prevalent phrase in ’90’s popular culture, formed a circle around Angie & loudly & repeatedly chanted ‘We are not worthy’ though I doubt  other Waynes’s World catchphrases applied to the match itself, some grainy footage of which is supplied below. Party time?  Excellent? Not the appalling Torquay shot over the bar recorded below! I remember suggesting to her that developing an addiction to crack cocaine would probably prove less expensive & injurious to her mental (if not physical) welfare than following Swindon Town. Made no difference to Angie. Why would it? These days Angie does allow herself to duck the odd game & the EFL Trophy, the Auto Windscreen equivalent now, is understandably boycotted due to it being a plaything for bigger clubs to test their Academy staff against older, more physically developed opposition.

18 months earlier Swindon had been relegated after one season in the Premier League, manager Glenn Hoddle having been lured away by Chelsea chairman Ken Bates immediately after a thrilling 4-3 Wembley play off victory over Leicester had secured promotion in May 1993. The courting of Hoddle by Bates had been typically less than subtle  & less than helpful for Swindon’s preparation for this game. Having to start their one season in the Premier League without their influential player manager didn’t help much either. A few years earlier, in 1988, the ending of the reign of a previous Chelsea manager had moved ever closer after John Hollins saw his increasingly beleagured charges thumped out of sight 4-0 in a third round Simod Cup match at a muddy County Ground. The first time he had heard both sets of fans singing ‘Hollins Out’ the soon to be ex Chelsea boss ruefully admitted. Angie went to that game. I didn’t. In 1994, Angie was in the crowd of 11,180 watching an end of season game between Chelsea & Swindon at Stamford Bridge. I had spent the early part of that day at the ground queuing for FA Cup final tickets, & had to return back to Oxford for what was left of the working day, giving me no chance of travelling back for the match. It’s an excuse of sorts but in the same situation Angie would have found a  way to do both. Swindon were rock bottom of the table with a minus goal difference of 51 at the time, 53 by the end of the game despite £2.1 million flop Robert Fleck making a rare Chelsea appearance up front. Many would have found a reason not to go, but Angie is made of sterner stuff. One game we were both at was a ZDS cup tie at Chelsea in 1991 a cold evening with 5,712 fellow brave souls, though I still believe that when Vinnie Jones headed in a last minute winner at the Shed end that Angie & I may have been the only people left in the stadium, albeit at different ends. Stamford Bridge was an awfully big ground for such a sparse crowd back then. In 2015 I spent Easter on the coast at my mother’s & watched on television as Chelsea beat Stoke on the way to a fourth Premier League title in 10 years. I was 11 years into my self imposed Stambord Bridge exile by then. At the same time Angie  joining the 92 club made the Swindon Town programme. Given the plethora of new grounds & different clubs coming in & out of the league she has probably got nearer to 120 grounds visited now. She has followed the Swindon, over land & sea. And Leicester. (both Filbert Street & the Walkers Stadium no doubt). Her late father, who first took her to Swindon & accompanied her to matches for many years would be mightily proud. And rightly so. What memories are in there too. The Lou Macari years of the mid to late 1980’s, Wembley play offs, relegation rather than promotion for financial irregularities, seeing Dave Mitchell score a goal, entire weekends in Blackpool to tie in with the fixture at Bloomfield Road, & once being chatted up by the Seasider’s own legend, Wembley play off hero Brett Ormerod. I can’t begin to compete with the sheer volume of varying football based experiences Angie has enjoyed watching Swindon, many of which I envy, though not, in fairness, the Brett Ormerod incident. Sorry Brett you’re just not my type. Nor Angie’s as  it turned out!

Opposites attract. Another two word beacon of semantic banality & rarely is this cliche true. A flipside of like minds repel works better for most football fans. The majority of most followers of the beautiful game spend large chunks of their time vehemantly disliking supporters of opposing teams & expressing that dislike in the strongest of terms. Ironically this is triggered by universal & identical tuning forks regardless of which team you back. The illogical refusal to allow opposing fans to make the same criticisms of your club that you frequently express yourself.  The week to week victory to defeat wavering from believing you support the best club in the world to having been cursed in pursuing a lifelong relationship with a gutless, spineless, pampered, overpaid ragbag of disinterested mercenaries, overseen by greedy, egotistical, uncaring owners. The universal conviction that referees discriminate against your boys more than any others, rather than the simpler, more accurate conclusion that their ranks are apparently terminally riddled with gross incompetence. One minute we’ll support you evermore, the next preparing to hurl your season ticket at the nearest steward. If you are an Oxford United fan then Swindon fans are vile, inbred scumbags with little or no right to walk this earth. Swindon fans feel similarly towards Oxford. This is hilarious when you stand outside the bubble of rivalry. I can happily recount that if blinfolded when listening in to a group of supporters from either side venting their spleens that the anecdotes & conclusions each have & draw about the other are almost indivisible, & bleeping out the names of players, teams & grounds involved in the conversation would make which of the two clubs are their own almost impossible to decipher. This pattern could be repeated around the football world from Burnley to Buenos Aires, with similar results. Indulging in a wholesale painting of opposing teams & their fans with the scum brush is, of course, illogical, mad &  plain wrong. Unless it’s Chelsea fans ripping anything or anyone Spurs a new one of course, which will for eternity be both perfectly acceptable & enormous fun.  Why? Because I say so.

There is often a certain schizophrenia which dilutes all this apparently pure hatred though. Friendships are formed between supporters of rival clubs in a milder form of Alf Garnett style racists befriending the black person at work or next door. You know the sort. ‘He’s alright it’s the rest of them I can’t stand’.

Angie depises Oxford United more than anyone, but being a thoroughly nice, balanced human being she can’t carry it through beyond a certain point. Annette, her close friend & colleague from the days when we all worked for Blackwell’s bookshop in Oxford, has a season ticket at the Kassam Stadium, seated near a collection of fellow former colleagues from those days, none of them ever dealt with in a vitriolic way by quite possibly the truest football fan I have ever met. When I first met Angie she was actually married to an Oxford fan. It didn’t last, but the fact that they married in the first place betrayed an ability to compartmentalize her loathing for the boys from up the hill, as Oxford were sometimes called back in the day when they played in Headington. Somebody once told me that the wedding cake had been iced one half in red, the other in yellow, as a nod to their different teams, but I don’t believe Angie has ever confirmed this to me. Never mind, it’s a nice image, & harmless if untrue. Print the legend!

None of this denies a genuine aversion to Oxford United on her part though, not diminished one iota by the dismal Joey Beauchamp saga of the mid 1990’s. Beauchamp was a very talented footballer indeed, a winger who was quick & skilful, blessed with good dribbling  & crossing abilities allied to a happy knack of scoring goals, often long range & spectacular. I first saw him play as a 17 year old in a reserve game against Chelsea, a game I attended beacause my then favourite player Micky Hazard (also a Swindon player a few seasons later) was playing. A frustrated & disgruntled Hazard was sent off for an awful & uncharacteristic foul, soon to be followed to the dressing room by team mate Colin West, but Beauchamp played well & was clearly already a darling of the reserve set within the Manor Ground faithful, admittedly as weird a bunch as you are ever likely to share football ground space with. His conduct during his brief stay at West Ham may have seen him derided as a wimp by former Hammers boss Billy Bonds & pathetic by almost teammate Tony Cottee (who rejoined West Ham shortly after Beauchamp’s miserable 58 day stay had ended) but on the pitch he had shown the cojones to continually make a monkey out of another Irons legend, the fearsome Julian Dicks, in a game a year or so before his £1.2 million pound transfer to Upton Park in the summer of 1994. The desire to sign him was probably inspired that evening so comprehensively was Dicks embarrassed, a feat equalled a few years later at Stamford Bridge when Gianfranco Zola twisted the old bruiser’s blood in the most humiliating fashion when scoring the opening goal. Beauchamp got Man Of The Match by the sponsors, a well known publisher, which I remember only because I was one of their guests & got a vote, plumping unsuccessfully for midfielder Les Phillips.

Beauchamp has recently given an interview to Sky, offering a wheedling & somewhat unconvincing version of his 1994 transfer to West Ham, claiming that he was guaranteed he could travel from Oxford for training each day, did not know how much travel that involved as the negotiations took place at Heathrow, only 45 minutes drive away from Oxford, & that he simultaneously did not want to leave Oxford but did want to play for West Ham. He also cited having suffered from depression twice in his life, but did not clarify that this era was the scene of either of these  (we do know that drink & a gambling addiction contributed to one breakdown years after he retired). The progression in support networks for modern players compared to 1994 was also mentioned, & the fact that he had been made very aware that Oxford United were in dire need of the money. In short the failure of the move & the ensuing debacle of a flag of convenience transfer to Swindon was everyone’s fault rather than his. I do not downplay the effects depression can have on a person’s life, having had to walk away from a job because of it myself, but the interview offered a few pointers towards an arrogance & sense of entitlement possibly not untypical within the football world. Firstly, by 1994 the Premier League was in full swing. If not the bloated cash cow it is now, a player with the potential to become an international footballer moving into the big league from the Championship in a seven figure transfer would not have been short of offers from agents who could have clarified the terms of his contract, including daily travel arrangements. Secondly, it is safe to assume that Beauchamp received handsome salaries at West Ham & Swindon, & having not requested a transfer from Oxford would have also taken a nice slice of that fee too. Rumour had it that before signing for Swindon he asked West Ham to pay the loyalty bonus included in his contract, after 58 days & no competitive appearances. A decade & a half earlier another gifted local born Oxford player, Kevin Brock, rejected a move to Brighton just as he was due to put pen to paper. Still a teenager, unlike Beauchamp, 23 but already a seasoned professional by the time the West Ham move surfaced, Brock had enough presence of mind & strength of character to stand  his ground in a room surrounded by angry & desperate men. These included Brighton boss Alan Mullery, a fiery character at the best of times, & Jim Hunt, secretary of a financially imperilled Oxford, who despairingly told me & a collection of other people this story a few days after it happened. Brock stayed at Oxford until his mid 20’s before moving on to QPR having both won Division 2 & the Milk Cup,   growning up a bit in the process. Fair play. Are we really to believe that Beauchamp had not considered the journey from Oxford to London? If not, then stupidity is his only bargaining plea, it is a common one for many in Oxford. Scores of people travel to London & back there for work every day, some of them struggling with stress, anxiety & depression, most working 8 hours a day or more rather than a couple of hours training to do the thing they love. Beauchamp could have commuted & still have been home long before any of them most days, but was still in tears on one of his early appearances at the West Ham training according to Harry Redknapp, who took over as manager from Billy Bonds at this time, Beauchamp’s attitude cited by some as a contributory factor in the latter’s disillusionment. Joey never kicked a ball in anger in a meaningful match for West Ham, but he did play in a pre-season friendly at Oxford City, conveniently close to home (he arrived separately from his colleagues) & distinguished by Harry Redknapp inviting  a courier from Milton Keynes called Steve Davies out of the crowd after hearing him loudly barrack Hammers’ striker Lee Chapman. A 30 a day smoker with a few beers already on board, Davies took Redknapp up on the offer & proceeded to score a second half goal, which remains one more goal in the claret & blue than Mr Beauchamp ever mustered. He was deemed to have shown little or no commitment during the game, & the Hammers cut their losses a month later, selling him to Swindon in a deal valued at £800,00 with centre half Adrian Whitbread moving to Upton Park as the makeweight in the deal. Now everyone was pissed off. West Ham had lost both money & face given their feeble rejection from a player seemingly with the world at his feet. Oxford fans were livid that he had ended up at their most hated rivals, though  subsequent alleged death threats & harrassment of family members were  clearly disgusting. Swindon ended up with a player who continued to appear lethargic & unhappy, having also seen a valued defender sacrificed in the process of acquirng him. Joey  was correctly perceived by Town fans as an Oxford man to the core &  the clearly underwhelmed Robins manager Steve McMahon, an old school hard man as a player in his ’80’s Liverpool pomp, was happy to see him sold back to Oxford for litle more than two bob & a pickled egg 39 appearances, 3 goals & little more than a year later. The next time Swindon visited the Manor Ground the misery of a 3-0 defeat was compounded by  Beauchamp scoring the final goal at the Cuckoo Lane end directly in front of the away supporters. He played another seven years for Oxford before injury curtailed his career prematurely, showing  frequent flashes of his old brilliance in the process.

In truth, I wouldn’t like Joey much if I were a West Ham or Swindon fan. In truth, despite admiring his football ability, I don’t like him anyway. After he retired I would frequently see him in my local Ladbrokes or William Hills when placing my weekly £10 accumulator. Beauchamp would be sliding a bundle of neatly banded notes on to the counter from his back pocket to place on the next race at the dogs, usually revealing an identical bundle of banded notes sat behind it ready for the following race. He was then a professional gambler, an enviable existence on the surface, approaching his ’40’s having never had a proper day of working drudgery in his life. Good luck to him I thought, though it did occur to me that maybe helping coach the kids at Oxford might have been a constructive idea if time hung so heavy on your hands that you could seemingly live in the bookies. Ultimately, the wheels came off, depression & heavy drinking apparently fuelling a breakdown. Oxford belatedly gave him a jont testimonial with Dave Langan, & in his early ’40’s he did join the ranks of the workers for the first time. I know because instead of standing in front of me in the queue at the bookies it was him who served me. This seemed a bit like a crackhead getting a job as a drug dealer & when  I say he served me, it is more accurate to say he took my bet. Having worked in customer service roles for years I can confirm that it is difficult to conclude any transaction with even the most objectionable customer (I like to think I’m not one of these) without saying as much as a please or thank you very much in the process. Traditionally, Ladbrokes staff  usually say ‘good luck mate’ when handing you your betting slip. Not our Joey, mute throughout, as dim, dismissive & arrogant as anyone who has ever served me anywhere. I have never betted in Ladbrokes since & my response all these years later when recalling the incident is identical to any West Ham or Swindon fan of my vintage recalling his career. Fuck off Beauchamp. As stated previously, on Sky last month, tongue now miraculously restored, he claimed both to have not wanted to leave Oxford but be nonetheless keen to play in the Premier League with West Ham & further his international ambitions. On joining Swindon he said that a move there had always interested him (they originally bid for him at the same time as West Ham)  & wished he had gone there from the start. Long after retiring, In 2010, he was quoted in another newspaper as saying he had not wanted to go to either West Ham or Swindon!  He does get awfully confused doesn’t he? I believe he managed to accept all the cash that came his way & bought him the house in Oxford that doubtless enabled his booze & gambling fuelled lifestyle for many years. To repeat, depression is a terrible, frequently indiscrimanate illness & Beauchamp was but a callow youth back then, but sympathy outside of the ranks of the Oxford United faithful, where he presumably (& justly) remains a hero, wears rather thin for this seemingly still rather deluded & self pitying individual.

Lots of retired footballers get stuck in a web of depression, often with drink & gambling as contributory factors. It is a short career &  filling the void when the roar of the crowd subsides must be tough. Like an ageing, once beautiful woman, walking into a room & not immediately turning heads for the first time, they have to adapt to navigating their way through the rest of their life coming to terms with no longer being an effortlessly acquired focus of public attention. For all the money & adulation many footballers get I sometimes think that supporters like Angie & her mates get the best deal in the end. Over the years they may  get fleeced  by their club, have their opinions ignored, be treated with contempt by some of its playing staff, get sold out to the television companies by the football authorities & mishandled by stewards & police. However, they form bulletproof friendships in the process, taking time off work to travel the length & breadth of the country backing their team, forging bonds that have nothing to do with earning money or furthering professional ambitions, in the process achieving a genuine togetherness that endures.

After the Plymouth game we return to the pub. As Angie had tried to warn me the Arkells I am drinking is indeed suspect. It might be a long trek home. I can’t drink for shit these days as it is. Rockin’ Robin (Malc) announces that a Plymouth fan has just snarled ‘fucking four eyes’ at him coming out of the ground. Clearly we may have to extend our search for the country’s next comic God beyond the south coast of Devon. The Plymouth fans have generally been decent though, they always travelled well in my experience, right back to the 1970’s when they had Paul Mariner & Billy Rafferty up front, before Mariner went on to play  for England & bequeathed Chris Waddell his mullet. There had been an old school atmosphere on arriving at the first pub before kick off, with Plymouth fans stood rather ominously on the other side of the road & a healthy smattering of Old Bill present to oversee any potential action. As far as I can tell nothing had really happened though, & the atmosphere at the game had certainly been an improvement on the deadly combination of entitled elders & box ticking tourists that frequently make Stamford Bridge feel like a pre-match minute’s silence has been extended to 45. As the Plymouth team coach starts the long journey home another of Angie’s mates runs out into the middle of the street, bends over, drops his trousers & moons its occupants . I would never dare do that. With my dodgy back & increasingly massive arse I might never get back up & end up being mistaken for another of Swindon’s many roundabouts. Malc insists I must be rich as a Chelsea fan, not understanding that supporting Chelsea has been one of many factors ensuring that I will never be rich. It would be tempting to point out that I walk the 6 mile return journey from Victoria to Stamford Bridge every home match, unlike Angie & pals catching a taxi between boozers as they had done earlier. Flash gits! Malc also tells me that I  came to watch some proper football for a change, as if a season of Eden Hazard last year had been some kind of hardship. I am happy to take a back seat & understand my place. I am a Chelsea supporting ponce from Oxford. I go to Stamford Bridge on my own these days so it is nice to stand in a pub & witness the natural camaraderie. There is a lot to be said for suporting your local team, but my blue plaque tourist walk to the ground & escape from my home town is a massive part of my matchday ritual, & Chelsea grabbed me in its greedy Child Catcher from Chitty Chitty Bang Bang like paws when I was 7. I had no real say in the matter, & no apologies will be forthcoming at this late stage. Angie is actually travelling to Oxford later for a night out. Malc is considering going too, but is clad in clothing extensively advertising his allegiance to Swindon Town. I suggest he goes the whole hog & travels to Oxford in his Rockin’ Robin outfit. This is understandably ignored. He is convinced that gloating Oxford United fans will be flocking into town that night still wearing their scarves & team shirts, celebrating their own team’s 3-0 win over Doncaster Rovers. Those days are gone in Oxford. Malc also has memories of being on a Swindon supporter’s coach that broke down in Blackbird Leys, a notorious housing estate close both to The Kassam Stadium & my own home. It has to be said, there are better places for a Swindon supporter’s coach to break down. Eventually alternative clothing is found & I decide to travel back to Oxford with them on a bus. They are good company. Malc does other things bar dressing up as a 7 foot tall robin, which includes being a proud father. The trip home includes some nostalgic YouTube viewing of Swindon’s finest Premier League performance, a 2-2 draw with Man Utd, that season’s Double winners. Malc & Angie add some lively accompanying commentary that annoys a man in a shabby looking Man Utd shirt, who pointedly gets up & moves to the other end of the bus, fixing us with a series of angry looking stares over his shoulder as he does so. They are passionate these bus dwelling, badly dressed 60+ Man Utd fans from Swindon. At least the reliving of Cantona’s despicable stamp on John Moncur, Mark Hughes exchanging blows with the Swindon crowd & Luc Nijholt’s wickedly deflected shot flying into the Man Utd goal distracts me from the absence of a toilet to relieve my bladder, reeling from the combined effects of old age & dodgy Arkells & from Faringdon onwards screaming  ‘why didn’t you get the fucking train back too you stupid old twat?!’ at its hapless owner. Angie & Malc kindly offer me the chance to join them on their evening out, unaware of the war I am waging against a first  brush with public incontinence. I politely decline. When splashdown at Oxford occurs (not literally I am relieved to report) they go their way & I go mine. Their matchday ritual is very different to mine but in our differing ways we love our teams, & football itself. The day has been spent in the company of good people, Strictly Come Dancing has been avoided & William Hill have failed to profit from my ignorance of the footballing merits of Andorra or Lithuania. I have also managed not to piss my pants on a bus.

Result.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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