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!

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 easier than Keyser Soze eluding the police to head Alan Ball’s invitingly curved 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 Dragon,¬†A 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 tendency 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 the 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, Richard 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, which contained a 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 council 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 foilowing 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 colour 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 future Chelsea boss Ian Porterfield’s first half goal. As for inveigling Richie into my¬† 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 & I wasn’t 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 by them, & 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 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, sometimes even rather than, 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 line up, were held up as far superior to those of Dalglish. It’s all nonsense. Stein is a fine player but he is no Kenny Dalglish. They are 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 an excellent squad of players? 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 their 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 somehow he is 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 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 subsequently conducted an ugly & puerile 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.¬† 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) by 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 with an autograph. He had played in the corresponding fixture the year before, 119,000 people largely 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. Around the pitch at the Manor Ground, immediately in front of the walls that separated the fans at the Osler Road from the action, was a layer 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 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 somehere 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 later 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 the handball itself was 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. See 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, but 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 touchng 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 turn up for his roast beef & Yorkshires either. He did diplomatically imply he preferred the Ramsey England era to that of Don Revie though 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 is consistent in remaining 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 kit 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 is cool. In return Knotty, a funny little man wearing a funny little hat, that left him 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 in his 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. I’m not sure we ever catch up with Ed, 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 did once see one of those list type documentaries where one of the celebrity interviewees that wasn’t¬† Stuart Maconie did sum 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. Would that 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, granite like 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 has 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 thinks. 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 as he was also completely naked. A furious Bygraves advised him incorrectly that he would never work again, whereupon Allen once claimed to have 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 later 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.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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.

‚ÄúScratch any cynic and you will find a disappointed idealist.‚ÄĚ‚Äē 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.

Ferdinand Documentary

This will be interesting. Neither Anton Ferdinand or John Terry have ever spoken outside a courtroom or tribunal about the notorious & ugly 2011 episode, though those investigations revealed that what both said during it was deeply unpleasant, heat of the moment as it may have been. The fallout for the Ferdinand family was appalling, especially for the late Janice Ferdinand, Anton & Rio’s mother. John Terry’s refusal to meet with Anton Ferdinand to discuss the issue is understandable in the context of the making of this documentary, but agreeing to a private meeting away from the cameras would have been a welcome gesture. Having been cleared in court in 2012 he was subsequently found guilty by the FA, whose recent chairman Greg Clarke was forced to resign only last week after inappropriate & archaic observations & use of language concerning issues of race caused widespread anger & disbelief. in 2017 Clarke also attempted, via a glib, cursory email, to sweep under the carpet accusations of racial harassment against Eni Aluko & Drew Spence by the England women’s national team coaching staff. Some esteemed members of our national press poured scorn on the claims which were subsequently authenticated. Despite their failings over that saga the same, tired old names will doubtless be lining up alongside all those brave social media warriors to construct a Whicker Man pyre once again for Terry. To his credit Anton Ferdinand would appear to be acknowledging here that this ultimately fails to advance the cause of combatting racism, sadly still proving to be widespread throughout society, not helped by the disgraceful words & actions of some of our politicians, including our current Poundland apology for a Prime Minister. Calculated, premeditated gaslighting by those governing us regarding racial issues shows us how far we still have to travel. Ongoing, pervasive, coldblooded racism such as Eni Aluko experienced is no less disgraceful than an outburst by an angry footballer just because said footballer is more famous & headline worthy than the protagonists in that case. If you voted for Boris Johnson you are not in a position to lecture anyone on the subject, & all those loyalists defending Jeremy Corbyn looking the other way as anti-semitism was given its head within sectors of the Labour Party can do one too. Not so long ago I thought football was growing out of all this nonsense. Clearly we haven’t even grown out of it in Westminster.

Hopefully the BBC has combined with Anton Ferdinand to produce a constructive, thought provoking & honest documentary. Triggering the idiot, Laurence Fox All Lives Matter bores is a small price to pay. When this shit finally stops so will programmes like this. Looking at some of the Twitter comments under the post reproduced at the top of the page here we shouldn’t hold our breath though.

Open That Door?

 

There is a large whiff of corporate BS about some of Chelsea’s involvement with Pride but no matter. The club’s ambassador for this year’s London Pride was former Blues, West Ham & England footballer Claire Rafferty, interviewed here in a section of the ground that would once have been partially populated by people clutching¬† National Front newspapers purchased in & around the vicinity of the stadium. A bit of corporate BS can be excused in comparison to those dismal days. I followed Claire’s last few seasons as a player & also followed her on Twitter until she left the club for West Ham but had no idea that she was gay until she mentions it in this interview. Maybe she has banged on about her sexual preferences constantly &¬† I have spent the last five years in Vanuatu with that religious sect who pray to pictures of Prince Philip, believing him to be a divine being. Or maybe she is happy to acknowledge being gay in a natural, relaxed & unforced way when the subject arises but has more usually concentrated on talking about football & her own career within it. Either way it doesn’t really matter. She is able to choose when or where, or whether or not to discuss her private life. This illustrates a maturity & freedom surrounding societal attitudes towards women in sport that is wholly denied to gay male footballers in the most oppressive & suffocating way imaginable. When will this end?

As far as I am aware there have only been three openly gay male footballers who have plied their trade in England, & only one (Justin Fashanu at the latter end of his career) who played here after announcing it. I never saw Fashanu or ex Leeds winger Robbie Rogers play which leaves Thomas Hitzlsperger of the dynamite left foot as the only gay male I have ever seen on an English football pitch. Yeah. Sure. The masonic silence within the game on the subject is frankly ridiculous & very unhealthy. I have just heard the artist formerly known as Cat Stevens on Desert Island Discs be allowed to deny to presenter Lauren Laverne that he had approved the fatwa issued to Salman Rushdie in the late 1980’s. There is television footage on YouTube showing him do exactly that. Trump is a liar. Our own, abysmal PM appears to do little else but lie. Oh, & fuck. I’m sick of lies & delusion at present. We all do it to some degree but to see evasion & dishonesty hold sway to the extent it currently does is thoroughly depressing.

We are clearly on the cusp of a second lockdown & if/when it arrives any mooted return to professional football grounds by fans will doubtless be instantly shooed away for at least the remainder of 2020. There are clearly scores of footballers who are gay & many of them are doubtless of the wholly correct opinion that it is nobody’s business but theirs. What of the others, those that feel they live a lie but remain in fear of unwanted press exposure & open ridicule & abuse from fans? It feels like now might be a good time to grasp the nettle & come out. Of course this will still take enormous courage but there is unlikely to be any fan attendance at matches for at least 6 months now. This hiatus surely offers the potential for any news about the first currently outed gay footballer to become old hat by the time the situation changes. You would also suspect that more than one player would emerge once the ice was broken & the first move made. Just a thought.

Most football supporters in my childhood never baulked at buying records by gay artists or watching films starring gay actors. Sport was different because being gay was equated with a simpering, effete weediness as portrayed by cardboard cutout gay television grotesques like John Inman or Larry Grayson. This pathetic & outdated stereotype has long since been shown to be the lie it always was. Justin Fashanu was seemingly a sad, deluded, wayward & morally incontinent individual but was a superb physical specimen & hard as nails on a football pitch. Sadly the world was still not ready for a gay footballer in the early 1990’s when he confirmed publicly what had long been rumoured. His yearning to make money appeared to outweigh becoming a trailblazing icon in any case. Elton John becoming Watford chairman in the 1970’s was proof perfect that the concept of a gay footballer would remain taboo for decades. He’s shot/He’s come/Up Graham Taylor’s bum/Elton John/Elton John sang the Oxford United fans at their team’s game against Watford the first time the clubs met after Elton took over as chairman at Vicarage Road. I bet plenty of them bought Rocket Man though. I thought the chant was hilarious at the time. I was also about 14. Is everyone around football to remain a giggling schoolboy in perpetuity or are we ready to finally grow up? I believe we are but then my life won’t be picked over in The Sun or on Twitter in the aftermath of any announcement. Calling the bigot’s bluff has to be called sometime though. Why not now?

In the women’s game they are streets ahead. There are lots of openly gay women playing at the top level, five of them involved in the England team’s World Cup campaign last summer. There would appear to be little or no pressure on those who are also gay but simply don’t feel the need to announce it to the world at large. It’s all so sensible & adult compared to the anachronistic, paranoid claustrophobia of male professional football. Some players even have partners playing for rival WSL clubs. Former Chelsea forward Ramona Bachmann’s other half Alisha Lehmann plays for West Ham. Nobody seems fazed & neither should they, although¬† imagining similar scenarios in the Premier League does make the mind boggle somewhat.

In truth I’m not sure the world is yet ready for Harry Kane to announce he’s tying the knot with Harry Maguire.

One step at a time brothers. One step at a time.

 

 

 

 

The Chattering Classless

Guardian Pick

A Liverpool defence made up of gems found hiding in a Sunday morning car boot sale and gems in Harrod’s shop window. Tonight’s back 5 cost around 150 million for the 5 !!!!!! or 3/4 of a Neymar; 2 x Harry Maguires; 50 million less than Chelsea’s summer outlay

Tedious & destructive though our happily declining tabloid press is it has surely long been the case that anyone who still believes any of the poisonous cack emanating from them is beyond help in 2020 anyway. Increasingly I despair at the posher papers too, especially the sporting sections of the ostensibly left leaning Guardian. A day before the anticipated demise of Macclesfield Town was announced they chose the guff reproduced above as the pick of their post match emails following Liverpool’s win over Arsenal. ¬£150 million on defenders a mere bagatelle apparently. Jurgen browsing through the bring & buy. The PICK of their inbox…really?!

Meanwhile on Twitter as idiot Chelsea fans lined up to crucify Mason Mount for missing a Carabao Cup penalty against Spurs & rival Premier League supporters tried to do the same to Frank Lampard, a man who many of them seem unhealthily obsessed by, Altrincham FC supplied some welcome & urgently required perspective & class:-

Beautiful & heartbreaking in equal measure. Today you can peruse rightmove & see Macclesfield Town Football Club on sale lock, stock & barrel for £500,000:-

Rather less than Liverpool’s defence, Chelsea’s summer signings, or Gareth Bale’s monthly take home while we’re at it. Very, very sad & following the demise of Bury last season, & in advance of the full, calamitous & inevitable COVID19 fallout, likely the start of an avalanche if football does not get its collective act together quickly.

I am aware how unseemly Chelsea spending fortunes on new players appears. I am also aware that the club supplied free accomodation & thousands of free meals to NHS workers during the lockdown period, & unlike certain other big clubs did not attempt at any point to furlough staff. They also have a mass of spare cash from the sales of Eden Hazard & Alvaro Marata having been unable to spend money this time last year. However, if Chelsea spurn any advances to join initiatives to help clubs lower down the ladder then they are open to as much vociferous criticism as traditionally is thrown at them via all sections of the media routinely at the best of times. On this occasion it would be wholly deserved. Frank Lampard’s press conference last week offered some hope that the club hierarchy are open to support measures for EFL clubs being introduced. Let’s hope so.

We have already enjoyed the foppish, floppy fringed egotist Simon Jordan needlessly fanning the flames before Chelsea’s recent home game with Liverpool, the former club dismissed as a vulgar rich man’s plaything, the latter apparently an unimpeachable example of organic sporting beauty. Liverpool are a great team & Klopp an admirable coach but the days of Shankley socialism & his much vaunted Boot Room are a country mile behind the modern incarnation of the club, as the residents around Anfield who were bullied out of their homes to enable the most recent ground redevelopment can testify. They are part of the massive Fenway Sports Group, also the parent company of the Boston Red Sox. A blow for the little people has not been struck with their recent triumphs, impressive as they have been. I know three things about Simon Jordan. He used to sell mobile phones, he was the owner of Crystal Palace when they went into administration & he was rejected as a player at Chelsea when he was 16. He currently relies on TalkSport¬†to give his wretched opinions a platform, where compared to the gormless Jamie O’Hara he probably sounds like Rene Descartes. So what is driving slimy Simon’s idiocy here?¬† A bag of sour ones, being an attention seeking dickhead or merely earning his shock jock corn on the worst radio station on the globe? Who knows, & frankly who cares? On the subject of¬† the Chelsea-Liverpool match & intellectual titans an allegedly award winning journalist called Barney Ronay chose matchday to pen a repulsive piece dredging up all the usual prejudices against Chelsea, & more particularly coach Frank Lampard, disingenuously making counter arguments against those prejudices once he had¬† reiterated them fully & with relish. You may fool most of your smug, sneering, middle-class reclining armchair football fan readers Barney, but in the real world your phoney attempt at balance is about as credible as Prince Andrew once frequenting Pizza Hut in Woking. Chelsea-Liverpool is a game already awash with venom & spite without the liberal press stirring the pot with pointless relish. In the absence of crowds right now might it be an opportunity to tone this down a little? Not for our Barney. It was all there. Fat Frank the Tory Boy who has enjoyed a lifetime of wealth & privilege. Fat Frank eh? I would love to know the average trouser size for most of the people still using that weary veteran jibe. Frank was a supremely dedicated & passionate trainer his entire football life, lending a far greater explanation for his formidable achievements than the supposed silver spoon. Barney doesn’t care, he’s just supplying clickbait for his employers. Award winning clickbait of course. James Cameron & Neville Cardus must be turning in their graves. Lampard was indeed educated privately at the wish of his parents. This may have been unusual then, but hardly made Frank Jr Little Lord Fauntleroy. His father is a man of solid working class stock who was left back for West Ham Utd. Not the Duke of fucking Westminster. Will similar stories be thrown in the face of every Premier League footballer’s offspring in future? You can be sure that private education will be the norm for them nowadays, & that the players themselves (sadly) will more commonly vote Tory than Labour, as seemingly do most wealthy sports people. This is not a new development. If you read the masterly Glory Game by Hunter Davies, a brilliant behind the scenes look at Spurs in the early 1970’s, you will find that was already the case back then.

The Guardian have actively pursued readers like me to subscribe recently.¬† Some chance. Mr Ronay is a Millwall fan I am led to believe. How many column inches is he devoting to promoting the cause of struggling lower level clubs like Macclesfield or weeding out of the vermin at The New Den who¬† stab opposition fans or sang I’d rather be a P**i than a Scouse at Everton supporters during last year’s FA Cup tie. Maybe he has done, or maybe he is too busy badmouthing someone for an educational background they had no control over. Either way I won’t be reading anything the slippery prannet writes again. For if Oxbridge educated Barney Ronay was really such a scourge of privilege & elitism you might think he would have eschewed the academic path he himself pursued after his own schooldays. Evidently a man who can have it all ways. Lucky old Barney. Perhaps I caught his award winning prose on a bad day. A really bad day.

Good luck to all employees & fans of Macclesfield Town. Hopefully a new club emerges from the ashes. We all want to see our teams play live once again & seeing that prospect taken away  permanently & brutally is truly hideous. You deserve better.

Hancock’s Half Cocked

If you can watch the heartwarming clip above without it instilling a goodly measure of much needed joy in your heart (& a tear in the eye at around 1:22) then you are either not human or a member of our malevolent & shambolic Dominic Cummings led Tory government. I guess it is possible to be both. Well done Ashington AFC, truly a grass roots football club embracing its community responsibilities & lifting spirits in the process, not least for dear David.

There has also been some heartening activity within the upper echelons of the game in England during the current pandemic. Some of the widely held, lazier assumptions deemed to be true of all within the cash rich world of the Premier League have been challenged, not least by the recent activity of Manchester United’s Marcus Rashford. I did think the stunning free kick I saw him score against Chelsea in the Carabao Cup last October would be my abiding memory of Rashford this season but it is fair to say his current wrong footing & shaming of the government eclipses it somewhat! During lockdown he has worked with poverty & food waste charity FareShare to¬† raise over ¬£20 million to provide food for children who would usually have been receiving free school meals, assisting 3 million schoolkids in the process. Following the government’s decision not to extend free school meal vouchers through the summer period Rashford sent an open letter yesterday imploring them to rethink. Boris Johnson has backed down today, although not before his arrogant & miserly indifference to the plight of the less fortunate has been publicly exposed once again. Marcus Rashford grew up in a family that relied on free school meals & food banks. He knows. The blonde bullshitter & his wretched band of venal, corrupt & inept weasels have no such real life experiences to draw on. It sure shows. Johnson has today praised Rashford’s efforts in trying to eradicate poverty, doubtless through clenched teeth & seemingly oblivious to the fact that achieving this aim is actually his job. None of us are holding our breath.

The humbling of these top hatted chancers by a 22 year old footballer is all the more ironic given the early efforts of the government to reveal their usual class prejudices in specifically singling out football as an industry that should pull out all the philanthropic stops during the current health crisis. Charisma free Health Secretary Matt Hancock played to the gallery in a speech on April 2nd. ‚ÄúGiven the sacrifices that many people are making, including some of my colleagues in the NHS who have made the ultimate sacrifice I think the first thing that Premier League footballers can do is make a contribution, take a pay cut and play their part.‚ÄĚ Nice one Matt. Seem to remember your chaps all cheering in Parliament when denying nurses a pay rise in the Commons the last time MP’s voted on it. No matter, turn the heat on footballers while doctors & nurses die, nothing to do with years of government NHS cuts, absurdly inadequate PPE & a sickening indifference to the potential of the virus that saw the Prime Minister vitally duck all 5 COBRA coronavirus meetings in February. He was on holiday some of the time, having not had a break since his Christmas vacation ended in early January the poor lamb. Billionaire Richard Branson furloughed 8,000 Virgin staff & is now reported to have seen his net worth rise from ¬£2.7 to ¬£3.34 billion in the last 3 months. How anyone knows this is unclear but if true it is nauseating in the extreme. Branson originally requested the government bail out Virgin Airlines to the tune of ¬£500 million to counteract the fallout from the pandemic & ensuing lockdown. It is a similarly puke inducing story with Sir Jim Ratcliffe, once linked with a buy out of Chelsea, reportedly adding to his ¬£12 billion plus while brazenly using the government furlough scheme for 800 staff. Have Formula 1 drivers, tennis players or golfers, also paid ludicrous sums at the top of their respective sports, been cajoled similarly to footballers in public? Of course not. There is plenty of cash wafting around racecourses too. The headquarters of flat racing are at Newmarket. The sitting MP has been the beneficiary of many thousands of pounds in donations from the more affluent quarters of the sport. His name? Come on down Matt Hancock…

Football has always been both a convenient whipping boy & smokescreen for governments in this country. The repulsive antics of far right extremists last weekend, defending statues, monuments & memorials by pissing on them, attacking the police & abusing people enjoying picnics saw much reportage linking individual miscreants to the football team they supposedly support. There hasn’t been any football anywhere in England for 3 months, let alone in London last Saturday. Is the sport or society as a whole responsible for the hatred that clearly burns within these simultaneously scary & pathetic wretches?¬† There is nothing new here. Hooligans were never stored in freezers for 6 days a week & just thawed out ready for action on match days. After rampaging Liverpool fans contributed to the appalling Heysel disaster in 1985 Margaret Thatcher seemed open to a blanket ban on football & told FA Chief executive Ted Croker that something had to be done about his hooligans. Croker replied that they were society’s hooligans, therefore her hooligans, & football wanted rid of them too. Unlike his predecessors Croker never got a knighthood when he retired in 1989. A year later Thatcher bestowed one on Jimmy Savile having been advised against doing so on 4 separate previous occasions owing to his dubious private life. Haven’t we been governed by some charmers?

What makes Hancock’s speech so despicable was the way it ignored significant efforts made weeks before & prior to lockdown. On March 18th Chelsea announced that their Millenium Hotel would be exclusively available free of charge¬† to NHS workers with owner Roman Abramovich picking up the tab. On the same day Gary Neville did the same with his two hotels in Manchester. Neville deservedly received many plaudits, Abramovich significantly less. I believe The Guardian failed to even mention it when giving Neville the thumbs up the following day. The Premier League liaised with the PFA to ask the players to take 30% pay cuts, with a welcome¬† ¬£125 million to be handed down from the Premiership to clubs in the Football & National leagues. Better late than never on that one. ¬£20 million was also pledged to the NHS, communities & vulnerable groups. Some clubs furloughed their non- playing staff, most inexcusably a couple of bigger boys usually quite happy to puff out their chests & boast of their impressive financial returns. Some backtracking did fortunately ensue in their cases. Chelsea did not agree a pay cut for their players. Instead Roman Abramovich retained all staff at the club on full wages & implored the players to make charitable donations at their own discretion. The government has thus benefitted from there being no significant reduction in player tax returns during the pandemic. Along with Liverpool, Everton & West Ham Chelsea also pay all staff the living wage. The other 16 Premier League clubs, appallingly, are still dragging their heels. Sainthood may never be bestowed on Roman but we’ll take him over the likes of Jim Ratcliffe & Daniel Levy thanks very much.

At this rate I see a statue for Marcus Rashford being erected one day too. With a few vacant plots emerging in the landscape as icons of the slave trade are removed we need some suitable heroic figures of the modern age.

Mr Hancock need not apply.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Father Christmas

Christmas On The Way – Kings Road, 10/12/19

October 10, 1953

Headington United 0-1 Chelsea

1953-54 FA Youth Cup (Attendance: 1,200)

‚ÄúIn three words I can sum up everything I’ve learned about life: it goes on.‚ÄĚ – Robert Frost

Two Wingers РBrian Munday  & Peter Brabrook

‘Remember when we played against Bobby Charlton in the Army?’ My dad’s best friend Bert’s eyes would light up as he repeated this question every so often to him, & the response was usually a tight lipped, barely perceptible nod of the head. My father was too polite to deny Bert his pleasure at recounting the tale, but too honest to wholeheartedly encourage it. Why? Because there was one fatal flaw in this otherwise pleasing anecdote.

It wasn’t true.

I was reminded of this in December 2016 while listening live to the Chelsea Fancast podcast in the Mixlr chatroom. The former Chelsea & England winger Peter Brabrook had just died & Fancast supremo David Chidgey, aka Stamford Chidge, was intrigued by my mentioning in the chatroom that my father had once shared a pitch¬† with a man who later played in West Ham’s victorious 1964 FA Cup final team. For dad may not ever have played against the great Sir Bobby but he did once line up against a Chelsea team including Brabrook & John ‘Snoz’ Sillett, whose brother Peter scored a famous penalty winner against Wolves 18 months later which helped seal the club’s first ever League title. John later went on to co-manage Coventry City to their only major silverware, an FA Cup win in 1987, pleasing all virtuous souls as it was against Spurs. Later on he shared punditry duties at ITV with his old Chelsea team mate Jimmy Greaves. Brabrook only played 3 games in Chelsea’s 1955 League Championship season but eventually made over 250 appearances for the club before moving on to West Ham, where he was managed by Ron Greenwood, another member of Chelsea’s only pre Premier League title winning team.

My dad, a small but speedy winger, eventually saw his football career ended at 26, around the time I was born, following a dreadful challenge by ‘that bastard of a full back at Wycombe Wanderers’ which caused a knee ligament injury severe enough for him to be advised that he should retire or risk ending up in a wheelchair. Afterwards, he played squash, & his beloved cricket into his early ’50’s, when his hips began to give out, but serious football was given the swerve after that fateful day at Loakes Park, Wycombe’s home in their non-league days. Until I discovered he had played against Chelsea I always assumed his finest hour was in the early 1970’s when he played for a Thame United veterans team against a TV All Stars X1 & a small boy eschewed the chance to chance to claim the autographs of luminaries from the entertainment world like Dennis Waterman (pre-The Sweeney) ¬†Richard O’Sullivan (pre-Man About The House) Robin Asquith (pre-Confessions films) or Radio 1 DJ¬† ‘Diddy’ David Hamilton (pre-toupee)¬† & preferred instead to get the immaculate signature¬† of the legend that was Brian Munday in his book. I accept that few of these names will resonate with anyone under the age of 50 but take it from me they were famous enough at the time. Certainly more famous than my dad. Sadly for me Ray Davies of The Kinks, who regularly turned out for the TV All Stars, was a no-show, but I do recall goalkeeper Jess Conrad, clad all in black in the style of the legendary Russian stopper Lev Yashin. Suffice to say the resemblance ended there, Jess’s performance in the Yashin kit being akin to me buying a cheap King Of Vegas outfit on ebay & kidding myself I’m Elvis Presley. Well, it’s a hobby. Conrad later gained fame by having three of his own execrable songs from the early rock’n’ roll era¬† justly included in an¬† album of the worst records of all time, compiled by the late Kenny Everett. Suffice to say that one of them was entitled Why Am I Living? & most of us who have had the misfortune to hear it have immediately found ourselves asking the very same question. The only celebrity to linger at the bar after the game was Tony Booth, then famous for playing Alf Garnett’s son-in-law rather brilliantly in Till Death Us Do Part, later perhaps most renowned for being father-in-law to our former Prime Minister & walking, talking, lying disgrace Tony Blair. Dad’s friend Alan also played for Thame that day, & as his daughter left the clubhouse I distinctly recall Mr Booth, known to like a drink & presumably well lubricated by this point, turning to the man next to him as he propped up the bar¬† & saying ‘come back in a couple of years love’ out of the corner of his mouth. I was 9 or 10 at the time so Kim would have been around 12. Men said weird things like that quite routinely in the 1970’s but even to my young ears the remark seemed beyond the pale. Booth later came close to burning to death when a drunken escapade led to him falling into a drum of paraffin. He may have played Sid Noggett in the appalling Confessions Of A Window Cleaner & got his tackle out on stage in Oh Calcutta but unlike the other Tony in the family at least he never got us involved in a war justified by a whopping untruth, namely insisting on the presence of weapons of mass destruction in Iraq. Dodgy buggers both in truth.

My dad never took me to a Boxing Day fixture at Chelsea, & my grandfather never went to Stamford Bridge with me, but they will both be in my thoughts when I take my seat for the Southampton game this year. With just the one quoted exception, Boxing Day was the one day I can remember as a child when my dad would dig out his boots & play football in the morning, with his cricket mates at one of Oxford’s many college grounds, usually Brasenose. If Oxford United were at home in the afternoon this would then be the one time in the season my grandfather would foresake Isthmian League Oxford City & join us at The Manor Ground. The Osler Road terrace was always jollier on Boxing Day, as yuletide cigar smoke mingled merrily with my Uncle Tony’s Embassy cigarettes & my grandfather adding to the then omnipresent football ground aroma of piped tobacco. This combined attempt to recreate Didcot Power Station would usually be accompanied by the passing around of a hip flask, us kids having to settle for the normal match day diet of Trebor mints & Wrigley Spearmint gum. In 1974 the opponents were my grandad’s boyhood team Millwall, Oxford winning 3-1 & leaving him, never much of a drinker anyway, slightly less jolly than the rest of the adults. My 12 year old self didn’t need nicotine or hip flasks that day as Chris Garland scored twice to give Chelsea a rare away win at Highbury. On Boxing Day two years earlier Oxford had beaten a pitifully poor Brighton team 3-0 with two goals from a young man called Keith Gough, recently signed on a free transfer from Walsall. Gough never set the Thames on fire after that, although he did once make a decent stab at winning a bravery award by responding to a brutal challenge from Nottingham Forest’s long-legged full back John Winfield, booting his redoubtable opponent back hard enough in the upper thigh¬† to poleaxe one of the many physically imposing Division 2 defenders of the age. Wingate was a man with what would politely be described as a robust approach to playing the game. The Brighton Boxing Day team included two of Chelsea’s fine crop of 1960’s talent, utility player Bert Murray & former England striker Barry Bridges. Bridges had also appeared in recent years at the Manor for QPR & Millwall but it was fair to say he was past his considerable best by the time he moved to the Goldstone Ground. Lest we seem to romanticize the past a tad too much, on one occasion in his QPR years Barry got caught on the ground with the ball trapped between his legs, & as Oxford defenders prevented him from regaining his feet by hacking away at the ball the home fans responded to this amusing spectacle with the chant ‘Bridges is a spastic.’ Charming. Brian Clough took over at Brighton after their inevitable relegation in the season of the 3-0 loss at Oxford, but things would still get worse before they got better. Shortly after Cloughie’s arrival they played high flying Bristol Rovers, featuring their famous ‘Smash ‘N’ Grab’ strike duo of Alan Warboys & Bruce Bannister, both of whom were to impress against Chelsea with different clubs in future years. Brighton lost that game 8-2. At home! Even Cloughie had his off days.¬† As did my gran on that Boxing Day of the Brighton match, who stayed in the pub with the rest of the womenfolk after the men had gone to the football. Being nothing if not a polite person, she was famous for waiting to find out what the person sitting next to her was having before deciding she would have the same. Presumably she must have had quite a few people sitting next to her that lunchtime, as a combination of sherry & whisky macs saw her disappearing regularly to the toilet on arriving back at our house, a rueful ‘I shouldn’t have had that last drink’ lament apparently accompanying each journey up the stairs. By the time Keith Gough had enjoyed his finest hour in professional football she had taken to her bed. Never mind Nan, happiness makes up in height for what it lacks in length to quote the estimable Robert Frost a second time.

Although my dad had told me about his game against Chelsea I could not even answer Chidge’s question about who he had been playing for. I was guessing at it being a friendly game & possibly Oxford City or the Army. Wrong on both counts. My mother reminded me that he had in fact been playing as a guest player for Headington United & thechels.info¬† surprisingly filled in the gaps, listing the day, date, result, attendance, & indeed the Chelsea line up, Sillett & Brabrook’s involvement confirming the match as the one dad played in despite the Headington teamsheet being disappointingly blank. I certainly never knew it was an FA Youth Cup game, or even that the tournament even existed back then, apparently having started in 1952. Only the venue remains in doubt, Oxford for sure & likely either The Manor or Oxford City’s White House Ground, my money being on the latter. Chelsea won 1-0 & Greavsie’s future short-term television sidekick Sillett evidently scored the winning goal. Dad never played for Headington United again but later became a loyal fan after his own career ended & Headington had changed their name to Oxford United in 1960. Two years later they entered the Football League, & twenty four years after that, in April 1986, their victorious open top bus passed me as I walked home from work following their splendid 3-0 Milk Cup Wembley triumph over QPR. Chelsea were 15 years into a trophy drought at that point, a barren spell that still had 11 years to run. QPR had recently beaten them 6-0, & had knocked them out of the Milk Cup earlier in the tournament as well. Oxford also won 4-1 at Stamford Bridge a couple of months before the final. For a so-called gloryseeker I was doing spectacularly badly. I had also attended far more Oxford United matches than had most U’s fan who carped at me about my love of Chelsea. My father went to the final though. I still have his ticket. I didn’t begrudge Oxford United or their followers the¬† Wembley triumph but had no desire to go to the game at the time, nor regrets about missing it ever since, my colours long since having been nailed to a blue rather than yellow mast. I would much rather be able to time travel back to 1953 & see my dad play against Chelsea, but¬† in the absence of a suitable tardis remain inordinately chuffed that he did so in any case.

So why bring all this up now? Two reasons really. It is Christmas, & Christmas is a time for family, celebrating with those that are still here & remembering those who are no longer around, but were such significant figures in the yuletides of our youth. As a child I thought my grandparents would live forever, let alone Uncle Tony or my father, all no longer with us, though in fairness my grandparents would be 112 now! My grandfather was the first close relative under 90 to die. I was 23 & the last time I saw him was on Christmas Eve. I visited him in hospital, taking a bunch of flowers ( you could still take flowers into hospitals in 1985) & spent a short time sat by his bed as he lay unconscious, slowly dying from the undiagnosed peritonitis that would kill him. At one point his eyes opened briefly, he recognised me & said ‘Hello Phil’ very quietly before they closed again. I instinctively knew then that the hello doubled up as a goodbye, the final farewell, & I never visited him again over Christmas, aware that others needed to share a similar moment & that it wasn’t going to get better from there.

Most of my earliest ‘Match Of The Day’ memories involved being allowed to stay up way beyond my normal bedtime at my grandparents tiny living room to watch David Coleman present the then paltry two game edited highlights¬† on their sizeable black & white telly. I watched my first ever live football match in that room, with my father & grandfather, the 1968 Fairs Cup Final 1st Leg between Leeds United & Ferencvaros. Dirty Leeds. When I stayed there at weekends, the illicit ‘ Match Of The Day’ viewings would¬† be followed up the following morning with a kick around in nearby Florence Park, comfortably the most beautiful park in Oxford, with its perfectly kept flower beds & Weeping Willows. My grandfather, over 60 then, would don football boots & tracksuit bottoms, though unfortunately the only football he owned¬† had the valve rattling around inside it & would not stay fully inflated for very long. He loved football, & talking about football, frequently recounting the same anecdotes of matches & characters from the past, a trait I fear has been passed down. The difference was that he always had at least one happy recipient of the umpteenth retelling of the same tale. Me. On Saturday 28th December, 1985, there would normally have been plenty for us to chew over with that day’s results. Chelsea beat Spurs 2-0 & his beloved Millwall put 5 past Hull, where I had only just severed my ties a few months earlier. He died that evening with the most minute of small consolations for me that his last ‘Grandstand’ teleprinter results service, or whatever it had morphed into by then, brought good news for us both, albeit without him being conscious of the fact. I miss him very much.

My father died of cancer in 2011, reduced to mere skin & bone in the three months from diagnosis to death, but still able to raise a quizzical eyebrow the last weekend I saw him at the news that Chelsea had just paid ¬£50 million for Fernando Torres, & a broad smile at finding out that Babestation was on the options menu on the small television next to his hospital bed. Next month marks 50 years since he took me to my first Chelsea game, a 2-2 4th Round FA Cup draw with Burnley. The nearest fixture to this anniversary in January? A Premier League fixture against…….. Burnley. This poignant twist of fate is slightly contrived, as there is a fixture nearest to that date, the Arsenal game, but that is¬† kicking off at 8.15 & destined to lead me still wending my way home deep into the early hours of the next morning. My ¬£70+ is staying in my pocket, my ageing limbs at home. So Burnley will be the game nearest to the anniversary that I am actually present for at Stamford Bridge, unless there is a home draw in this year’s FA Cup 4th Round. Perhaps that will be Burnley too. As on Boxing Day I will be attending the Burnley game by myself, but there will be a feast of memories, overwhelmingly happy ones, swirling around my head & keeping me company as I take my seat in the West Stand, just as I did with my dad all those years ago in 1970.

I am never truly alone at a football match.

 

 

 

 

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 have 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 delighted 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 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 & looking likely to drag against the turf like a pregnant dog at any moment. 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 that 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 dozens of 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, 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 fixtures 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 blindfolded 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, growing 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 trek 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 was 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 a year or so later, after 39 appearances & 3 goals, for barely more than two bob & a pickled egg . 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 slipping the Sarri straitjacket 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.