Charlton’s Burning


FRI APRIL 8 1977

Fulham 3 Chelsea 1

Oxford United 0 Swindon Town 0

SAT APRIL 9 1977

Chelsea 2 Luton Town 0

MON APRIL 10 1977

Charlton Athletic 4 Chelsea 0

Here we go rocking down the West London motorway
And on your left you’ll see the tower blocks
Built in 1963
With hard cash payments from the GLC
And over there you’ll see Westbourne Park
You don’t wanna go there
When it gets dark
London’s burning!

Strummer/Jones 1977

I went to four matches in four days during the Easter weekend of 1977. Many footballers played three times in that period. We can only imagine the reaction of Chelsea striker Alvaro Morata, currently on loan to Athletico Madrid (mercifully with no plans to return) if he were ever asked to play so many games in so short a time. Suffice to say he would be aghast at having to curtail such pleasures as posting footage of himself brushing his wife’s hair on Instagram & actually be expected to concentrate intensively on the activity that sustains his affluent lifestyle. One delicate flower is Mr Morata.

As things currently stand Alvaro can brush away to his heart’s content, stuck in lockdown limbo like the rest of us as a hideous global pandemic kills  thousands every day & brings nation after nation to a social & ecomomic standstill. The sun shines as I write this, as it did in 1977, but there the  similarities end. There will be no football, no family Easter gatherings & for myself & many others little or no direct social interaction at all. Back then the fears of those around me were based on the havoc wreaked by fellow Chelsea fans & the presence of predatory paedophiles in central London. Now a two metre or less intrusion into your personal space from the most innocuous fellow human imaginable could lead to them unwittingly writing you a death warrant. The economic uncertainty, urban decay & racial tensions of the 1970’s are well documented but I still feel like spending a little time back there today. Being 15 & frequently (if incorrectly) believing yourself to be invulnerable suddenly feels hugely preferable to being 58 & knowing you have never been more at the mercy of the fickle finger of fate. For those of us lucky enough to survive this nightmare, & see their clubs do likewise, the first football match attended afterwards will be a huge celebration of some kind of return to normality, walking to the grounds we love, smelling the onions & dubious burgers & hot dogs from the refeshment stalls lining the surrounding streets, drinking in pubs with friends, dodging the tedious ticket touts & sharing the joy or misery of a goal with the stranger in the next seat. We will not be so quick to take these things for granted again. Things did not go so well on the pitch for Chelsea on this Easter of 1977, but I loved it anyway. When you have actually been to the game & experienced it as an event defeat still stings but never feels quite as bad. The dreadful results at Fulham & Charlton hurt. The final score at the next Chelsea match will be irrelevant. Everyone there will be a winner regardless of the outcome.

FRI APRIL 8 1977

Fulham 3 Chelsea 1  

The Long Good Friday. History has it that the debut album by The Clash was released on this day. Naturally before the morning was out I had raced out into the street to declare war on the powers that be having set fire to all my flares, chopped off most of my hair, applied peroxide to what remained, pierced my ear with a compass from my school pencil case, sniffed the cheap glue normally used to paste match reports into my Chelsea scrapbook, smashed up my Emerson, Lake & Palmer albums & gobbed on my next door neighbour, the amusingly named Mrs Alcock. Quite a full morning really.

Remarkably none of this is actually true. The only punk rock thing about me in 1977 was not actually owning any Emerson, Lake & Palmer albums, a personal badge of honour for me to this very day. The Clash became a very important band for me but I did not have a clue who they were at this time. My meagre record collection at the time was confined to cassette tapes of The Beatles Red & Blue anthologies, a Four Tops collection, some Diana Ross albums, Gallagher & Lyle’s Breakaway & most recently, & at no little expense, Stevie Wonder’s magnificent Songs In The Key Of Life, purchased in instalments via my Auntie Freda’s Freeman’s catalogue. The kids are not yet on the street, at least not round our way. My hair was still a shapeless, page boy gone awry mess, the flares remained in place for another year, I was yet to develop any coherent political ideals & poor Mrs Alcock never did me any harm & also made magnificent rock cakes. When the smell of these drifted out of her kitchen window I would hang around the alleyway between her house & ours in the hope she would once again invite me in to sample one straight out of the oven, still piping hot. I was getting past the stage of doing this by 1977 but the memory still lingered. She was a funny old stick but was never going to be gobbed on, nor indeed was anyone else. Mmmm. Hot rock cakes. Why CBS, the not very punk rock record label to The Clash, released their debut on a Bank Holiday is a mystery, but Wikipedia records it as fact so it must surely be so….

What I really did that Good Friday was rise unfashionably early for a boy on the eve of his 15th birthday & make my way round to my friend Nick Bradley’s flat on the nearby Wood Farm housing estate. Chelsea were away at Fulham in the old Division 2 , an 11.30 morning kick off. Nick’s dad was driving us to the game, but Nick lived with his mum. His parents were divorced & not on good terms, so we were primed for a toot on the horn of his dad’s trusty old Morris Minor as he won’t come to the door. Nick told me his dad sometimes phoned the flat to speak to him & just said something rude & hung up if his mum answered, lacking the PA that Alan Partridge employed to do the same on his behalf a couple of decades later. The more trying practical issues of having divorced parents had not really occurred to me before, busier envying kids at school in the same boat joining a shorter, separate queue to collect their dinner tickets, which they didn’t have to pay for either. Possibly I was a tad shallow back then. I do remember being in a state of nervous excitement, a pre-match standard for me until my late 30’s when the football had improved, the team were winning more regularly & it belatedly occurred to me that there  might be more important things in life to worry about. Fulham was to be my first away London derby & the season had entered an important phase. Having not signed a player in nearly 3 years, manager Eddie McCreadie had built a new team around Ken Shellito’s successful youth squad of the mid ’70’s, ditching several colleagues from his own, illustrious playing career in the process. The transition had not been painless but the current season had been exhilarating with the last three games all won, the most recent a 3-1 home victory against Blackburn, earned while I was watching the late Laurie Cunningham crown an impressive home debut for WBA with a goal against Jack Charlton’s joyless but ruthlessly efficient Middlesbrough, all as Red Rum won his third Grand National at Aintree. The finishing line is approaching in the football season as well, & dreams are growing of Chelsea breasting the tape in a promotion winning position. With the anticipation comes the nerves however. Chelsea have been letting fans fans down consistently since 1971 & the thought of being overtaken by Bolton & Nottingham Forest (Wolves seem sure to be promoted) & killed by the hope once again is too much to bear.

Once Mr Bradley had picked us up my anxiety about the game would have grown. I cannot remember my exact thoughts as we made our way to London that day, but can have a pretty decent stab at it. For the home game against Fulham a few months earlier Nick had a box set of Sherlock Holmes novels in the back of the car & I enjoyed a first introduction to the brilliant detective  via Conan Doyle’s debut Holmes novel A Study In Scarlet. There were no distractions this time so my thoughts would have been concentrated on the match, possibly punctuated by wonderment at Mr Bradley’s favourite driving party trick, informing us all of the exact place of origin of whatever fellow motorist incurred his wrath & inviting them to fuck off back there. He had a temper did Mr Bradley, though this had its comic moments. At one game a Chelsea goal caused  enough of a celebratory scrummage in the East Stand Lower for the person next to him to hurtle into him at force. Mr Bradley’s reaction veered in a split second from an expletive laden barrage of abuse to a contrite  ‘I’m terribly sorry madam’ accompanied by a simultaneous  doffing of his trilby on realising that his unwitting assailant was female. This was carried off with some elan & I have never seen such a complete volte face applied so  seamlessly since. He was not a glad sufferer of fools & naturally this made me, a fool on the verge of his 15th birthday, a little anxious on occasions.

The sound of the Westway. Legendary frontman Joe Strummer coined this phrase to describe the music of The Clash. London’s Burning was written from a derelict house as he witnessed the cars weaving their way around this elevated dual carriageway connecting central London to the urban sprawl in its Western quarter. The Westway is not a beautiful construct & once at White City the concrete greyness of London was overwhelming, ageing, decaying housing dwarfed by the ugly high rise tower blocks bedecked with people’s washing, the Portobello Road  street market adding some much needed humanity & colour every Saturday then as now. In 1977 the country was firmly in the doldrums economically & the occupants of such sub standard living quarters were having to deal with inflation, rising unemployment & perennial industrial unrest. The seeds for growing racial intolerance, planted by the sinister mischief of politicians like Enoch Powell less than a decade earlier, are seemingly flourishing. Chancellor Denis Healey had been forced to go to the International Monetary Fund for a huge, record breaking loan to bail the country out the year before. By the time North Sea Oil revenue began to flood in Healey (a formidable politician who would eat Boris Johnson alive in Parliament today) was in the Shadow Cabinet & had the time to buy books on Spitting Image & Chinese art from yours truly, working in a bargain book shop after more than a year on the dole. Leaderene Thatcher, the great patriot, subsequently greeted the North Sea windfall by crushing the miners & their communities, alongside other traditional British industries, selling out home produce by swamping us with imported foriegn goods & fighting an old style colonial war in the South Atlantic caused by the incompetence of her own government.

Joe Strummer finished off London’s Burning with guitarist Mick Jones at the latter’s flat near The Westway. Jones is a QPR fan. At the height of the band’s fame Strummer lived in a flat at the World’s End, a mere hop, skip & jump from Stamford Bridge. Many Blues followers claim him as one of ours. He never stood next to me on The Shed or helped rock the teabar in the old West Stand but at least one biographer claims he did go in the 1970’s & I am more than happy to acquiesce. In an NME interview Paul Weller once recalled watching Chopper Harris in his youth & included a Chelsea programme among the artefacts on a Style Council album cover but other then The Jam once playing at Stamford Bridge in their formative years there is little evidence of him strolling down the Fulham Road on matchdays too often. Steve Jones of the Sex Pistols supports Chelsea from his home in LA now but didn’t back in the day, & John Lydon may also have lived just down the road but has always been a (predictably vocal!) dyed in the wool Gooner. Their drummer Paul Cook remains the one figure from the iconic early days of punk to have nailed his Chelsea colours to the mast ever since. You still see him at games now. The image at the top of this piece is therefore something of a conceit based on the band’s association with The Westway, my gateway to London since it opened in 1970, the same year as my first ever trip to Stamford Bridge.The Clash is a 35 minute angry tirade encapsulating the frustration & anger engendered by the state of the nation’s capital in 1977. It is also a salute & clarion call to those finding (or searching for) ways of countering the suffocating, overpowering emotion the status quo provokes in its youth. Boredom. Songs about dreary Labour Exchange experiences, incompetent bureaucracy, police brutality & lying, drug addicted girlfriends sit next to celebrations of minor pop stars turned sex party hosts, the black community’s response to growing prejudice & inequality, cramming as much pleasure into your weekend as you can & the dubious joys of obtaining cheap prophylactics from pub vending machines. You can’t fit all of London life in 1977 into a 35 minute snapshot but The Clash remains a pretty decent stab at it. I don’t listen to it often these days but it shits all over Gallagher & Lyle.

Driving along The Westway may be a mundane daily necessity for thousands of motorists daily, but it has inspired art since its opening, & continues to, from  two works by the author JG Ballard, Crash in 1973 & The Concrete Island in 1974, through to Blur’s lovely Under The Westway in 2012, penned & sung by Damon Albarn, another Chelsea supporter. Crash delves into the world of symphorophilia, specifically those whose erotic demands are only satisfied by the staging of traffic accidents, sometimes watching, sometimes directly participating. Sustaining serious injury is an incentive rather than a barrier, the prospect of death likewise. Not how most of us get our kicks on route 66 but a genuine phenomenon nonetheless. Crash was eventually adapted for cinema in 1996, directed by David Cronenberg & starring James Spader, Holly Hunter, Elias Koteas, Rosanna Arquette & the stunningly beautiful Deborah Kara Unger. I would say pulchitrudinous but that would be pretentious. Oops. Too late. Good word pulchitrudinous. One day I’ll learn how to pronounce it as well. Musical tributes to Ballard’s novel  had begun before the ’70’s were out via The Normal’s Warm Leatherette, this pervy opus later covered by the great Grace Jones shortly after on the album of the same name.

A tear of petrol
Is in your eye
The hand brake
Penetrates your thigh
Quick – Let’s make love
Before you die

More tea vicar? In the absence of Nick’s Conan Doyle box set teaching me about Sherlock Holmes’ cocaine habit  a distraction on the way to Craven Cottage would have been welcome but perhaps not that sort. Mr Bradley would not have approved of 1977 incarnations of James Spader & Deborah Kara  joining me in the back seat & at best merely soiling the upholstery. The hundreds of coach trips to & from London  I have made since have all been marked by an absence of symphorophiliac activity. I suppose Morris Minors & public transport are not conducive to getting your car crash rocks off. One of my big regrets from my bookselling career is not staying to the JG Ballard event we held one evening in the late ’80’s. I went to the pub instead. Ballard would probably have understood though. Even in those less puritanical times the rider requests of most authors were usually fairly modest, a glass of wine or mineral water frequently sufficing. Muhammad Ali & his entourage had a McDonalds. Ballard asked for a bottle of scotch. Good man. Hope he didn’t drive home though.

On Good Friday 1977 the journey will have involved two hours  hours of ruminations on the threats posed by an out of form Fulham & the recent injury to my favourite player, Scotland international David Hay, beset with a detached retina & out for the season. Two years earlier a dismal home defeat to Manchester City had opened the relegation trapdoor ever wider. A cheeky Steve Kember chip had set up Hay inside the opposition 6 yard box & he contrived to miss his kick completely. He had a cataract problem & was suffering from blurred & double vision. He later recounted that in one game he had missed an easy chance on account of the double vision leading to him kicking the wrong one of the two balls on view to him! I have a pretty good idea what game that was. He had played well in the 1976-7 season until receiving an elbow in the face. Subsequently he lost the sight in one eye. Professionally the move from Celtic to a financially imperilled  Chelsea immediately after impressive performances in the 1974 World Cup was a disaster but he has never been remotely disparaging towards the club, & turned up at the Eddie McCreadie reunion/book launch 40 years after this season apparently as courteous & gentlemanly as ever. A class act. There are more iconic Chelsea players from this troubled decade for the club who could learn a thing or too from David Hay. They never have & never will. Their loss.

David Hay

There are two players who concern me in the Fulham team. One is Teddy Maybank, recently replacing Rodney Marsh as the cocky, blonde medallion wearing central striker in the Cottagers line up. Teddy had been loaned out there successfully from Chelsea earlier in the season, recalled to Stamford Bridge for a goal free three game spell owing to Steve Finnieston’s injury, then sold to Fulham for £75,000 prior to the transfer deadline. Maybank had scored twice in the previous match against Sheffield United & the odds are short on him invoking the immutable law of the ex & scoring against a Chelsea side containing so many of his  successful youth team mates from a few years back, first team colleagues mere weeks ago. The relish with which fans of other teams goad you about a goal scored by a player you have sold to another club is never easy to stomach. If it involves a local rival in a vital, high profile match it promises to be unbearable. Fulham have plenty of experience, former Spurs full back Ray Evans & seasoned Division 2 midfielder Alan Slough amongst them, not to mention the great Bobby Moore, in truth no longer at his best & set for retirement but still a legend likely to pull out all the stops in this match. Hard man Peter Storey, a fellow England international & Double winner with Arsenal in 1971, has also signed just before the deadline, doubtless set to put his foot in & ruffle a few opposition feathers with Fulham just one point off the bottom three. Bar Maybank there is only one other player who truly troubles me & that, needless to say, is George Best. Why? Because he’s George Best. Just back from a car crash thought likely to rule him out for the season, George had played well in the corresponding Christmas fixture at Stamford Bridge. Heavier & slower than in his pomp, but still only 31 & able to control large passages of play from the midfield role he had now adopted, George had taken defeat badly in that game. Referee John Homewood had been confronted in the tunnel & a heated argument led to George being shown a belated red card. Red cards had only been introduced in 1976 & George was one of the first to see one, away at Southampton on October 2nd, the late David Wagstaffe narrowly beating him to the dubious honour of being the first player ever to get one earlier on the same day. Following his tunnel dismissal at Chelsea George had flamboyantly flicked the V’s at Homewood, later denying he had done so at the disciplinary tribunal. Nick & his dad had their season tickets right next to the player’s tunnel & we had seen the whole thing. The old rascal was as guilty as sin. He had a habit of turning it on against Chelsea throughout his career & I feared he might have a point to prove. Loaded editor/Creation Records types who started sucking football’s blood following Gazza’s weepy Italian meltdown have encouraged a received wisdom that primetime George  Best is the bearded renegade in red, as depicted on the cover of The Wedding Present’s album from 1987, entitled, logically enough, George Best. Dave Gedge & his boys may have been ahead of the curve but they unwittingly helped spawn a tedious phenomenon, namely music biz tossers flooding the media with their mindless revisionism regarding football generally, & George’s career specifically. How many of them  set foot in a football ground during George Best’s career? The birds, booze, incessant public scrutiny & carrying a declining Man Utd team around on his back for 4 years were telling on the man by the time the beard surfaced regularly. You simply cannot compare the George Best of the late 1960’s with the slower, chunkier, facially hirsute Best struggling not to kill manager Tommy Docherty in the 1973-4 season. As he was a genius there will be some fount of footballing knowledge who will produce the odd clip of George coming up with the goods wearing the face fur, but there are lots more when he isn’t. In football as in life George was actually immeasurably better when clean shaven. Best’s first wife Angie told an interesting tale in the last of the plethora of Best documentaries that  have appeared over the years. She explained that the painful progression towards an imminent alcoholic binge was aways signified by George putting down the Gillette & developing stubble. It was all downhill from there. Ignore the now geriatric hipsters. Beards are bad man.

George Best in his late ’60’s pomp playing at Craven Cottage for Manchester United. Fellow Fulham legend Les Barrett in the backgound. A 7th birthday present from my Auntie Elsie. 5 Bob well spent!

Craven Cottage remains a unique ground, & undoubtedly one of the more attractive football stadiums in England. In 1975 Chelsea fans had misbehaved as the team slumped to a 2-0 defeat but rightly or wrongly I never sensed a great hatred towards the club from Fulham supporters back then. Perhaps that incident was the tipping point, but the vocal abuse & vandalism from the surprisingly large feral element within their own fan base during Fulham’s  last trip to Stamford Bridge in 2018 certainly reflected how much things have changed. It may be grounded in resentment as younger supporters have grown up watching Chelsea win umpteen trophies, or maybe tickets for Chelsea matches became so difficult to obtain that some of them were thrust into Fulham’s arms by default. I am not sure but the hatred is not reciprocated & maybe they find that infuriating too. Like other close neighbours QPR obsessive hate will largely be met with indifference by Chelsea supporters, too busy fixing their dislike on Spurs, Leeds, Liverpool or Barcelona. I just can’t hate Fulham & Craven Cottage remains a joy. Sorry Chelsea haters, this is not an attempt to patronise but a simple statement of fact.

Archibald Leitch, the architect of many an old British football stadium, designed the pavilion & the main stand at Fulham, both now listed buildings. The pavilion sits on the corner behind us as we take our place on the packed terraces at the Putney End, & I will not be the first or last away fan to believe it is the cottage that gives the ground its name. That sadly was destroyed in a fire at the end of the nineteenth century. Situated right next to the River Thames the ground offers Boat Race enthusiasts  a first rate view of the first mile of the that famous encounter. It’s a great setting, though that is one sporting spectacle that holds no interest for me whatsoever. The turnout for this morning kick off was spectacular. It is a local derby of course, but my first experience of standing with Chelsea’s awesome away following. When the teams emerge George Best is ominously clean shaven. Chelsea are wearing their away kit, red shirts & shorts, with the green socks topped off with red & white. I loved this kit, a homage to the great, Puskas inspired Hungarian team of the early 1950’s, apparently the brainchild of former manager Dave Sexton. In the same way Don Revie had changed the Leeds kit to white in the early 1960’s as a homage to Real Madrid, the kind of team & club the crooked old spiv was trying to create. There remains much boiling of piss about Chelsea wearing red as an away strip & I cannot understand why when the alternatives are presented. Spurs & Leeds wear white. Arsenal & Spurs have frequently had yellow away strips. Referees wear black. Not many wear jade green like we did in the ’80’s nor the Coors sponsored grey & orange away togs of 1995. There are reasons for this. They were both hideous. You can make negative associations with any colour, even ludicrous political ones. I had managed to track down the green socks eventually, buying them from a recently opened sports shop that later gained  a steady track record of losing young female staff very quickly due to the wandering hands of its owner. Here we go again. The 1970’s eh.

The atmosphere was cracking, the crowd at just under 30,000 was 25,000 less than for the game at Stamford Bridge, but in a much smaller stadium it’s perfect. What can go wrong as Chelsea defend the goal we are stood behind? Pretty much everything as it goes. Fulham raced into a 2-0 lead & Chelsea never recovered. The considerable frame of striker Alan Warboys stooped to deflect a header past Peter Bonetti & Best scored the other goal in front of a silenced Chelsea away gathering. Objectively, it was a lovely goal, a sweetly struck right foot volley that Peter Bonetti could only dream of stopping. Best’s famously handsome face broke out into an instant broad smile. I am glad I saw him score it now, as I am a Paul Gascoigne free kick at Stamford Bridge in 1990. For Spurs of all people. An original press copy photo of Best’s goal was available on ebay a few years ago. Despite its exhorbitant price & me being one of the sea of soon to be anguished faces behind the goal I was tempted to buy it. It is a testimony to talents like Best & Gascoigne that when the dust settles their ability to produce footballing moments of wonder transcends traditional tribal loyalties, & the often grim facts of their turbulent lives off the pitch. The smile said it all, when on song George Best, like Gascoigne, who he sadly seemed to resent, both found & dispensed enormous joy & happiness. Of course at the exact moment it happened I momentarily hated his guts, & wanted that smirk wiped off his face permanently. We’re a funny lot us football fans. Nobody went to the ballet to see Nureyev & Fonteyn perform hoping that one of them had an off day or slipped & broke their ankle, but if a football legend is wearing the wrong shirt you want them to be out of sorts or injured rather than do damage to your team. I think this era signifies when this reaction became universal. The holy trinity 1960’s heyday of Best, Law  & Charlton at Manchester United is probably the last hurrah of the days when people went to watch & enjoy the performances of opposition players regardless of the result. My father used to recall Blackpool once playing Charlton at The Valley & when it was announced that Stanley Matthews was not in the opposition line up there was a sizeable number of home fans heading straight for the exits before the game had even kicked off!

People are interested that I saw George Best play & score, not in the result that day, but at the time the result was all. After two years of staving off bankruptcy we really wanted that promotion. The two points Fulham gained in this match eventually saved them from relegation, a mere one point standing between them & Division 3 a month later. John Mitchell scored a third goal for them early in the second half, & a comeback never looked likely as George Best continued to pull all the strings as adeptly as an increasingly lairyTeddy Maybank pulled his former colleagues plonkers. Maybank not scoring became the last remaining ambition as hopes of a comeback withered on the vine. Fortunately he didn’t, although he did provoke a couple of flare ups with Ray Lewington & Ian Britton, as did Peter Storey after a typically spiteful tackle. Towards the end a free kick on the edge of the Fulham box was touched to our brilliant 20 year old skipper Ray Wilkins & he blasted a splendid consolation goal into the roof of the Fulham net, a token moment of brilliance in an otherwise miserable 90 minutes for those whose sympathies lay with the team from Fulham Road rather than Fulham. Teddy Maybank was a Chelsea boy at heart. He eventually went to Brighton for a lot of money, & also had a spell at PSV Eindhoven & a second spell at Craven Cottage before injury finished his career prematurely. He later surprised everyone, reputedly including the then Mrs Maybank, by turning up as a contestant on the hugely popular Blind Date. Nobody’s idea of a shrinking violet our Ted.

FRI APRIL 8 1977

Oxford United 0 Swindon Town 0  

I can recall the journey home from Craven Cottage largely due to the glorious early afternoon sunshine, taunting us so strongly did it contrast with the gloomy atmosphere within the car. White City Stadium, host to the 1948 Olympic Games, may have been a largely unwanted relic of the past by 1977 other than for speedway & dog racing, but I liked it, & it was a welcome distraction as we trudged through the post match Westway traffic. At the time it was the home of speedway champions White City Rebels, a franchise that had moved there a couple of years before from Oxford & the currently disused stadium near where I live now. I wasn’t a speedway fan but several of my friends were, & would sometimes involve me in a baffling speedway game involving no more than a pencil each & an exercise book. We had to make our own entertainment back then Vol 215. The names of some of the Rebels still linger on now. Gordon Kennett. Trevor Geer. Dag Lovaas. Especially Dag Lovaas. Give the recent spate of deaths of footballers from this era I checked them out online with bated breath. They are all still going strong. Good to know. We must have got away pretty promptly once through Uxbridge, most shops being shut for bank holidays back then, as we arrived in Headington just after 3 & Nick’s dad dropped me off immediately outside the Manor Ground. The turnstiles were still open & I nipped in to join my dad, uncle & cousins for the A420 derby between Oxford & Swindon. This remains the only time I have seen two matches in one day. The previous year Oxford had played Bolton on Easter Saturday & the United players had come out with an Easter egg each. Derek Clarke, a pocket sized, Corinthians model doppleganger of his famous brother Sniffer, the legendary Leeds & England striker, trotted over to us & with a pleasant smile gave my cousin Stuart his egg. Had it been his brother the box would probably have been covered in stud marks. There were no gifts on this occasion, on or off the pitch. I can honestly remember precisely nothing about the match. This is no reflection on either Oxford or Swindon. Bitter derby games in England were almost always dour affairs in those days, usually goalless or 1-0. A 1-1 draw was the best you could usually expect. In truth I also  recall little about previous Oxford-Swindon matches other than as a 7 year old boy infuriating my dad when I chose to announce that he would have to escort me through a packed crowd from the Osler Road through to the toilets behind the London Road stand for me to take my first (& to date last) football ground dump. Can’t remember the score though. 0-0 or 1-1 for sure. Ron Atkinson was playing. The toilets were a predictable disgrace. I do remember that. For this Good Friday fixture my home knit blue & white Chelsea scarf (thanks Nan) attracted me to the usual wisecracks from those who had heard the details from Craven Cottage, which I bore with reasonably good grace as I was expecting it. I found the common question from those who had not increasingly trying. No! Teddy fucking Maybank didn’t score!!

If he had I would have been at home avoiding Grandstand.

SAT APRIL 9 1977

Chelsea 2 Luton Town 0  

I celebrated my 15th birthday by taking my small Kodak camera to this match. The pictures were terrible, which is a shame as one is of Ray Wilkins & another has the great Peter Bonetti embracing opposite number Milija Aleksic as they entered the player’s tunnel near to where we were sat. Another lovely, sunny Spring afternoon with a far happier conclusion as two first half goals from Steve Finnieston & left back John Sparrow saw off Luton, then managed by Harry Haslam, Happy Harry as he was always referred  to, supposedly owing to his permanenetly genial demeanour. I have no reason to doubt it, he did always seem to be smiling. The presence in the Hatters boardroom of director & comedian Eric Morecambe, probably the country’s most universally loved popular entertainer at the time, can’t have done any harm. The win was both a boost & a huge relief after the previous day, but apart from the goals, the sunshine, my out of focus pictures & Luton’s horrible orange kit I remember very little about the game. Sparrow’s arrow, as it was coined by one of the Sunday papers, was a low left foot drive from the edge of the Luton box, the second & last Chelsea goal of his career. The journey home was undoubtedly more buoyant than the previous day. The day ended with an attractive brunette asking me how my birthday had been as I stood at the bar in an Oxford pub. Sadly she was old enough to be my mother, my parents were the people keeping me company in the pub & I was drinking fruit juice. The Clash were unavailable for comment but my punk rock credentials would appear to have remained dubious. The answer was simple enough though. Chelsea had won 2-0.  My 15th birthday had been just fine. Exactly 17 years later my 32nd was marked with a trip to Wembley for the FA Cup Semi Final. The opponents? Luton Town. The score? 2-0. Welcome to The Twilight Zone. You can pay your mortgage off via Betfred if the same fixture occurs on April 9th again.

There were no games on the Easter Sunday so I watched the highlights from the Luton game I had attended the previous day on London Weekend Television’s The Big Match presented by the splendid Brian Moore, baldy head later recorded for posterity by Half Man Half Biscuit as ‘looking uncannily like the London Planetarium’ on their 1986 single ‘Dickie Davies Eyes.’ Both Brian & the Planetarium are now long gone sadly. We could not get a signal for London Weekend Television at home, so Sunday football highlights there were confined to the Midlands & Star Soccer with match commentary from the genius that was Hugh ‘what a whacker’ Johns. Hugh’s brilliance was no consolation for missing Chelsea matches though so it was good to give him & Gary Newbon the swerve on this occasion. Fortunately we were having a family meal at my cousins’ house & the Sunday roast tasted even better for my being able to relive Steve Finnieston’s opener, quickly followed by Sparrow’s arrow, both accompanied by Brian’s reliably excitable commentary. Later that evening we all watched the culmination of Lew Grade’s lavish television extravaganza Jesus Of Nazareth, then considered both a triumph & something of a televisual milestone. It never seems to get shown now, I have no idea why. It must surely have inspired Monty Python’s Life Of Brian & a glance at the cast list might offer other reasons that people might not be able to take it entirely seriously. Jesus was played by Robert Powell, & the last thing I can recall him doing was playing a supposedly comic foil  to Jasper Carrott in the painfully unfunny The Detectives. He was also married to blonde & brassy Babs, one of Pan’s People, the clunkily choreographed dance troupe ( take an out of synch bow Flick Colby) ruining one of the main hits on Top Of The Pops every week throughout the 1970’s. I must have always been a bit odd because I seem to have been the only heterosexual male in the country who remained impervious to their supposedly erotically charged charms throughout the decade. The man who played Young Mr Grace from Are You Being Served? also popped up in Jesus Of Nazareth, as did Mark Eden, later to be notoriously flattened to death by a Blackpool tram as the evil, Rita Fairclough abusing Alan Bradley in Coronation Street. Ian McShane had a major role as Judas Iscariot, looking rather like the bearded version of George Best. The link does not end there, as a couple of years later he played a thinly veiled version of Best in the remarkable, Jackie Collins penned Yesterday’s Hero. In this cimematic extravaganza McShane, whose father Harry actually played for Manchester United, conquers a drink problem long enough to become a valedictory FA Cup winning hero with two goals against the lazily named Leicester Forest?! Despite his family background McShane’s efforts in the film failed to lure audiences to the cinemas at the time, & reviews of this camp classic remain less than flattering. ‘Irresistibly bad’ from Time Out is the best I can find. Currently unavailable on any format. Sort it out Netflix or Amazon Prime.

Ian McShane as Judas Iscariot – looking more like George Best than he did playing a fictionalized version of  George Best in Yesterday’s Hero. Lovejoy never had a beard. Nor did George Best in his finest hour. No further questions your honour.










MON APRIL 11 1977

Charlton Athletic 4 Chelsea 0

‘Let’s get out of here.’ After 75 minutes & with Chelsea 4-0 down Mr Bradley had seen enough. Dismal defeat on the pitch was one thing, having it accompanied by a mini riot & bonfires on the terraces quite another. This was the third & last time I have ever left a football match early, & on every occasion Charlton Athletic were one of the teams playing. The first time was in torrential rain & the final whistle had blown before my dad & I had left the stadium. The second time was a mid-week League Cup tie at Oxford United. When Charlton scored the opening goal in the dying minutes of extra time I thought it safe to make my way home. The ensuing roar told me all I needed to know. Oxford had gone straight up the other end & Steve Aylott had equalized. You wait two hours for a goal & then two come along at once…

An enjoyably sunny Easter weekend had been interrupted by rain earlier in the day. By the evening the only thing raining at The Valley was goals.  Charlton goals. Oh, & planks of wood. A notorious evening in the annals this one, as a significant number of fellow Chelsea supporters took umbrage at the comprehensive shellacking meted out to our hapless heroes &  smashed up as much of Charlton as they could, vandalising turnstiles & breaking windows in the adjoining Valley social club. Sparks flew as well as fists. Planks were stripped from a stand & either hurled towards the pitch or used to start bonfires. Perhaps copies of The Clash were already circulating with  London’s Burning being taken a tad too literally. A bus transporting terrified passengers home after the game was bricked. There was an upside to all this for a shallow teenage boy, namely that it meant nobody wanted to talk about the football on my return to Oxford, the notoriety around Chelsea fans continued to grow & my presence at the game briefly bestowed on me a temporary cachet of adolescent cool that neither I or the event warranted.

There was an away ban on Chelsea fans imposed after this game. My mother had threatened me with one earlier in the day. As the rain threatened to ruin yet another English Bank Holiday we sat in the living room that afternoon & to alleviate the boredom she challenged the entire family to pick winners from the  horse racing on the television. None of us were usually that interested in the gee-gees & I don’t recall us ever doing this before or again. I proceeded to pick several winners in a row. I don’t recall that ever happening again either sadly, though as no money was on the table the empty pocketed status it left with me with was to become familiar. Growing a bit cocky at my run of beginner’s luck I was banished from the living room & threatened with being denied a trip to The Valley that night. That was never going to happen. Unlike the weather I wasn’t that wet, & my last successful gamble of the day was to sit it out in my tiny bedroom & let things calm down before requesting the necessary readies to join Nick & his dad at the game a few hours later.

The Charlton game was my first foray into South London to watch a match, & we left the car at Park Royal to catch an underground train on the journey that seemed to take forever in a classic ‘are we there yet?’ 15 year old’s way. Nick & I’s spirits were lifted on the train by an entirely serious piece of advice from his dad that we found completely hilarious. If either of us get lost, he advises us, we should only ask assistance from a policeman, nobody else, ‘not even a parson, because some of these fucking perverts dress up as parsons.’ Nick catches my eye & we both corpse like Dudley Moore halfway through a Peter Cook rant in a Derek & Clive sketch. I think it is the use of the word parson that sets us off. The advice is sound & doubtless inspired by a famous two part television documentary called Johnny Go Home, a memorable, powerful & wholly depressing tale of paedophilia & murder centred around a man called Roger Gleaves, aka the Bogus Bishop or the Bishop Of Medway, who prowled the streets & railway stations of London befriending juvenile runaways & under the pretence of concern for their well being luring them to low rent accomodation. You can probably guess the rest. Gleaves, a figure of true evil, was still making headlines decades later when on yet another release from prison he was found to be living perilously close to a school. He was 84 then. in the mid 1970’s I had attempted briefly to learn the trumpet before being thrown out for gross ineptitude. I had also broken the trumpet. The man taking the classes moved from school to school in the area failing to unveil the next Louis Armstrong  & also ran a rival boy’s football team, Skylarks, mainly comprised of lads who weren’t good enough to get a game anywhere else. He drove an old Bentley & small boys from the team would clamber into it ready for the journey home after the game had finished. He was lauded for keeping a team used  only to heavy defeats together for no other reason than a love of the game & sense of community spirit. He was an oddball, but that was hardly unique. Johnny, the manager of another bottom of the table team, always clad in a battered old hat, lived near some of the lads I went to school with. One of them once visited his house to find a mound of human shit perched proudly on the living room carpet. He once greeted my dad like they were bosom buddies addressing him by his first name. My dad had no recollection of ever having met him before. Good job really. We might have been invited round for tea. Despite my trumpet rejection the tutor would stand in the school car park & regale myself & my friend Philip James with pictures of his cars & proud boasts about their rareness. He also invited me to join his football team, which despite my lack of pace & innate cowardice I was not quite talentless enough to join. We mocked him mercilessly but he didn’t seem to care, quite unlike any other teacher at the time. It was several years later, as I lay in a hospital bed reading the local news, that his crimes against children & subsequent imprisonment were finally reported. It was shocking to read but at least I had broken the fucker’s trumpet. Another local teacher taught chess to children, satisfying the middle class aspirations of many a parent. It took even longer for that sorry saga to unravel. Johnny may have been a bit slow getting the Shake N Vac out but at least he wasn’t a  nonce. I think. Nor probably was Frank, who ran another boys football team near to my middle school & was referred to by players there as Benny ‘because he’s a fucking bender.’ I recall evidence to back this up being rather thin on the ground. A few weeks after the Charlton game I attended cricket trials for the county schools under 15 team. The man running the trials, Dick, was the headmaster of a rival school & took a shine to my rather innocuous inswing bowling. ‘Keep bowling those wobblers Munday’ was his mantra throughout the summer of 1977, to my horror & everyone else’s huge amusement. I made the team which occasionally meant getting into his car. Dick, in late middle age, still lived with his mum & reminded me of the randy vicar in the ’70’s BBC1 version of Poldark. Neither of which is in itself a crime. However, in the car he would fondle my inner thigh frequently & with great enthusiasm, my eyes drawn to the seemingly ever present crust of dried spittle glued to the corner of his lascivious, repulsive randy vicar from Poldark mouth, as the inevitable words ‘keep bowling those wobblers’ tumbled out. Clearly he wasn’t just a cricket loving refugee from a top private school in Kent, applying a balm to his own thwarted dreams via coaching the game to those in the lowlier world of the newly initiated comprehensive system. Another lad who foolishly accepted a solo ride in Dick’s car had a road map spread out on his lap in the car as Dick’s finger conveniently located the desired destination in the section adjacent to his genitals. He may have been merely a deeply frustrated pederast who went no further than these  pathetic car antics, but would you trust a man like that with the cane, which he readily employed to punish boys at his own school? The answer in 1977 was clearly yes. The universal reaction to our separate tales of woe? Hilarity. Everyone thought it was funny, schoolkids & parents alike. Myself & the other boy also laughed & spoke openly about it with amusement. Nowadays they would be forming a lynch mob & giving dirty Dick an Edward Woodward Whicker Man style send off within the hour. Nick & I laughed at the word parson but also, I susect, because we thought real, ruinous sexual abuse was something that only happened to other kids, kids in care or on the street like in Johnny Go Home. Looking back we had more luck than judgement.

 It was fine & dry again once we reached The Valley. Charlton moved away for a considerable while in the ’80’s & the ground has been considerably transformed, but like Fulham had its own unique style in its original incarnation. It had hosted handsomely attended concerts in recent years for The Who & Lou Reed, & in the team’s Division 1 heydays attracted crowds of over 60,00 so the official figure for this match of 25,757 was dubious. The ground was packed. John Phillips replaced Peter Bonetti in goal & this was ominous, as the Welsh international had played in both the 4-0 beating at Luton & the 3-0 FA Cup home defeat to Southampton earlier in the season. Charlton had lost prolific striker Derek Hales to Derby earlier in the season. Hales looked like an off duty pirate. It didn’t matter one iota as Mike Flanagan, another beardie, not only kept the face fungus quotient up but plundered a splendid hat trick. Charlton were terrific & Chelsea truly woeful, snuffed out completely after conceding Flanagan’s two first half goals, dead on the floor after winger Hugh McAuley added a third ten minutes into the second half. Hales, the only man to reply to Shoot magazine’s famous player profile question ‘What would you be if you weren’t a footballer?’ with the reply ‘a robber’ later reunited with Flanagan briefly at The Valley. Sadly they were sent off for fighting each other as the team laboured at home in an FA Cup tie against non-league Maidstone, Flanagan having responded to Derek questioning his ability by referring to his colleague as a ‘one bollocked bastard.’ That begs a question to which I can offer no definitive answer. Hales was sacked but then reinstated & Flanagan left for pastures new very soon after. My Auntie Pam once gave me advice you should have heeded Mike. Never trust a man with a beard, he always has something to hide. Oh dear, you’ve got one yourself.*

Leaving early did us no good. The next train did not arrive until after the game had finished, the last 15 minutes, on the pitch at least apparently proving uneventful. The defeat had been resounding & the fear that promotion was to slip through our hands began to grow, though the following day’s headlines were not going to be about football. By the time the train arrived its potential clientele were a motley crew indeed, & we shared our compartment with a colourful array of lumps, bumps, cuts & bruises, though their proud owners were reasonably subdued by this point. This did not stop the emergency cord from being pulled several times on the way home, extending a tedious trek back to West London to get back to the car even further. The tube stations all seemed to be bearing the same poster, seemingly of a mystic called Bagawat Soham. Eastern gurus were ten a penny in Britain during the 1970’s. Nick & I had been scornful of the bowl cut our 19 year old striker Tommy Langley was sporting. Clips of him from 1977 now see him actually  coming out of this monstrous era for male hair rather better than the rest of the younger Chelsea players, & God knows how I had the gall to point the finger at anyone else’s barnet. Nick was always well turned out so can be excused more readily. After several Underground sightings of the Bagawat Soham poster we decide that Tommy’s haircut was down to him having joined a religious cult & for the rest of the journey & indeed our schooldays he is always referred to as Bagawat Langley. I have searched in vain for the existence of Bagawat Soham recently to no avail. Bagawat translates as an uprising or mutiny. Bhagwan means god. Soham means to identify with the universe or ultimate reality. Sohan is an Indian name for a boy meaning charming or handsome. Maybe it’s down to a typo, or maybe the poster referred to a general Hindu spiritual meeting or happening rather than a gathering for a guru. Maybe I imagined the whole thing. If not, then in his dotage Bagawat Soham has drifted further into obscurity than John Sparrow, Teddy Maybank or Derek Hales’ testicular status. He nonetheless remains in the back of my memory bank as a tribute to my puerility. Sorry Tommy. Many apologies to you & every Hindu on the planet.

I am bloodied but unbowed by this eventful but not terribly fruitful Easter. Five days later Nick, his dad & I are back at Stamford Bridge again. Ken Swain & Gary Stanley are dropped & replaced by Langley & veteran Charlie Cooke, the coolest man in London, with a haircut that would still pass muster today. Chelsea scramble past promotion rivals Nottingham Forest 2-1, & both teams eventually reach the promised land of Division 1 at the end of the season. Langley scores the goal that ensures promotion in a 1-1 draw at Wolves, who go up as champions. Following the Charlton fiasco Chelsea supporters are banned from this game by then Home Secretary Denis Howell. Thousands turn up anyway & most gain admission in what ends up as a joyous & largely amicable joint knees up. Trepidation temporaily abates at the prospect of further Chelsea fan misbehaviour as the football season comes to a close. However, the world of under 15 schools county cricket will shortly have a new menace to contend with as summer arrives &, under the watchful eye of my very own Uncle Monty from Withnail & I,  my wobblers are unleashed on an unsuspecting world.

  • Since writing this piece it has been pointed out that Mike Flanagan, while  sporting masses of hair & a faintly hideous moustache, was not usually seen with a beard. Many apologies Mike.

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