I bet Rob will be late, he always is. The number of times we’ve been knocking on his front door, trying to wake him on a Sunday morning, only to find that’s he’s used the remains of last night’s Chinese takeaway as a pillow. When he does finally open the door, it’s not uncommon to find bits of noodle in his hair as he wordlessly ushers us in whilst he attempts to find his boots. Then we have to stop for him, as the would-be feathers come hurtling out of his stomach within ten minutes of leaving his house and yet somehow, he’s the one that holds this lot together.
When I say this lot, I mean the rather haphazard collection of old school mates and acquaintances who decided that it would be a good idea to start up a football team. This is at a time when most sensible blokes are getting seriously stuck into developing that oh so desirable “fuller figure” or settling down with a girlfriend or wife and maybe kids. Of course, some of them have the kids but are without the other key part of the equation. It’s not like any of us are really any good anyway, I guess that explains why five years or so after leaving school none of us were playing football any more, even though we all loved it.
I think it was Tim, who first suggested the idea of getting a team together. Someone that he worked with, played in a Sunday team.
“You should see him,” Tim said. “He must be at least twenty stone, he gets knackered doing the coffee run, let alone storming up the wing! If he can play for a team, surely we can.”
The inevitable mutual appreciation society began, “You were always a handful for defenders Andy,” said Mike. “I’m sure you could still score a goal or two.”
“Well maybe, and you would be great at the back,” said Andy nodding at his sleepy eyed mate Deano who had just spilt his first pint down the front of his new Pogues T-Shirt.
And on it went, by closing time the germ of an idea had developed into a plan for a full-blown training session the following Sunday morning. Normally plans hatched in The Flyer were discarded before the bolts has slammed shut on the double doors which closed onto the busy main road, yet for some reason this one stuck and here we are just over 12 months later, bags packed and heading off on tour.
Of course, as with everything the team did, it wasn’t really a proper tour, for one thing we weren’t even sure if we would be playing any games. There was a lose plan for a game or two but we were travelling more with the hope of playing than with any real certainty. And what a trip it’s going to be, we are actually heading overseas! It turns out that Rich has family in a small town in Southern Ireland, they know of a big, but importantly cheap B&B where we can all stay, so all we have to do is get ourselves across the Irish Sea.
Now that’s not quite as straight forward as it sounds, not only do the twelve of us need to get there but also, we need to be able to get around a bit when we are there. So in the same way as the Royal Family do, we have split our travelling party into two groups, partially so that we can avoid a 1958 Manchester United in Munich type disaster where virtually the whole team get wiped out, obviously our footballing legacy may not be at quite the same level as the Busby Babes but I’m sure that people would go misty eyed when talking about the great lost generation of Trev’s Twenty something’s should the worst happen. The other reason is that it’s a very long drive to Fishguard when you’ve got twelve blokes and their luggage in the back of a Transit van.
Yeah, I know it’s not the classiest way to travel but it costs us nothing other than petrol and as I’m the driver, I at least get a seat rather than rolling in the back like the rest of them. My Dad works for a transport company and can easily lose a van for a week, so here we are in our version of luxury travel.
It’s just after 9am on this October morning and I’ve just picked up Trev, or boss, as he’s known when on team duties. We decided that Rob should come with us in the van whilst the rest of the team make their way across Wales by train in order to meet us on the ferry, as at least we can be a little flexible about the time that we leave, if he were to miss the train he’d miss the trip and that would spoil the fun for everyone. We pull into Rob’s road and there he is, standing outside his house, bag by his side, team jumper proudly being worn ready for the big adventure.
“What’s up Rob?” shouts Trev through the open window of the van, “Haven’t you been to bed yet?”
“That’s a bit harsh boss. You know that I’m a new man, Mr. Reliable that’s me”
He jumps into the cab to sit alongside Trev on the passenger bench seat in the front and flings his bag into the back of the van. I press one of the many newly recorded tapes that I’ve been working on for weeks into the cassette player on the dash and as we drive away from our insignificant part of Bristol “The Sound of the Suburbs” by The Members echoes around the virtually empty van.
“This is the sound, this is the sound, this is the sound, this is the souowowowond” Rob and I shout along at the top of our voices, breaking the peace of this quiet Fishponds morning. Trev gives us a withering look.
“You and your pop music, isn’t it time you moved on a bit.”
Over recent weeks Trev and Rob have been having a succession of minor fallouts, which have resulted in some awkward nights in the bar. The last thing I need is for them to be chipping away at each other for the next few hours as we head west, so I’m pleased that Rob lets the comment pass without response.
The journey through Wales, towards the ferry port of Fishguard, is not an uncommon one for me. Regular trips to see family in their small South Wales town which seemed to have its very own rain cloud tethered permanently above its coal grey roofs, meant that I’m pretty familiar with the journey over the Severn Bridge. When I was younger, we would make the journey every other weekend, leaving the motorway to head north through the tightly angled valleys before arriving for a traditional Sunday roast chicken lunch to be followed by tinned fruit and evaporated milk. I never could get the hang of that, if the milk had evaporated what on earth was left in the tin? Anyway, this time we were pushing much further west and there was not a cloud in the sky, then again, we hadn’t crossed the bridge yet.
The rest of the team are making the journey from Bristol to Fishguard by train, and the three of us entrusted with the new club coach spent a good part of the initial road trip speculating on who would have failed to get to Temple Meads on time for the shrilly piercing whistle which would signal the trains departure.
Ad’s had been entrusted with everyone’s tickets as we figured that it would be easier to have one person remembering something rather than nine. Part of me envied those that were going by rail, the chance to spread out in the train, read a paper, wander up and down the carriage as the countryside hurtles past your window even eat from a table as you travel it sounded like a good deal to me but no-one else was up for driving, so here I was, behind the wheel discussing the latest updates on the potential for a game or two at the end of our long journey.
Rob was, as ever full of tales of what he was going to do. It’s the first time that he’s left England and it had made him even more ebullient than usual. It’s a strange thing to leave your country for the first time, I know that when I went on a coach trip to Paris a couple of years ago, I was left feeling a little disappointed about the country of my birth, or rather the people that I shared the place with. The French people we encountered were all unfailingly polite, helpful and curious about us, even with our minimal use of their language, barriers were overcome and brief but enjoyable connections were made. By way of contrast, some of our fellow travellers were so lost in their misguided sense of superiority that you had to wonder why they ever bothered to leave their beloved England, if all they could do was moan about the supposed shortcomings of their temporary home. Thankfully none of the lads in our team had such small-minded attitudes.
“It’s like being an international,” said Rob. “Imagine it, being chosen from all the people in the country. Gradually over the years the forty odd million people in England are whittled away, first the women, then the men that are too old or too young. Then another chunk of people take them self out of the competition simply by choosing not to play football. That still must leave, what I don’t know, at least a million people that play the game but thousands and thousands of them are hopeless, you know absolutely chronic, so now you are down to tens of thousands and you’re starting to be in with a chance. But then you get injured and no one will ever really know what you could have done. The lucky ones though, they avoid that, the right person watches them play when they are still in school an invitation here, a trial there and then an offer, suddenly you’re a real contender. You’ve chosen your position and now that huge number of people has been whittled down to only hundreds that are in direct competition for your place. Things go well, you change clubs and then it’s just you and one other, you get the call to join the squad, the press say that you are the man for the role and then 8pm one dark winter evening, all the people in the country that could have been chosen, well they’ve been rejected. You are the only person in the whole nation that can fulfil that role – what a feeling that must be!”
“Yeah and then you go and cock it up by having a shocker and it never happens again,”
“But what a moment to have in your life,” Rob replies. “And this week we, we get to represent our patch, in Europe. How great is that?”
“As long as we actually get a game arranged!” chips in Trev.
“I think I realised when I was about ten or eleven years old that I’d never be good enough to play for England” I say “But there was still hope, seeing that my mum was Welsh, I figured that I’d have a chance of playing for them instead, everyone knows that they were really only interested in Rugby.”
“They even have Rugby posts on the Severn Bridge,” laughs Rob.
“But when I reached fourteen or so, I realised that I didn’t even have a chance there. That was when I asked Mum and Dad if we had any relations from Lichtenstein, San Marino or Andorra places that aren’t much more than pub teams, yet they get to play international games.”
“Doubt if there any many people called Jones in any of those places, I think that’s your problem,” Said Rob. “Yeah, I might have stood out a bit, what with that and my lack of any real ability.”
“So, this is as good as it’s going to get for us lot,” said Rob. “I was talking to Rich last night and it does look like we’ve got a least one game lined up, maybe even two”
“Do you think that they’ll be any good?” I ask. “Given all I’ve said about wishing I’d come from a smaller place, how embarrassing would it be to go to a tiny town in Ireland, play some locals and get walloped!”
“Funny you should say that,” said Rob. “Rich did say that some of his cousin’s mates are in a team and are going to play us, thing is though, they are a Hurling team not a football team!”
“Let’s hope they leave their gear at home then,” says Trev “still at least we should be able to beat them.”
“Don’t be too sure, they might bring their sticks with them!”
Just past Swansea and all is going well, the van may not be the speediest vehicle in the world, but it chugs along quite nicely. I’m not sure if it’s the van or me that’s unwittingly keeping in time with the tapes but there was a noticeable drop in speed when Rob and I were dreamily lip-synching along with Mac during Zimbo by the Bunnymen. Luckily The Redskins have just come on and “Keep on keepin’ on!” is both appropriate for our situation and has enough oomph to push up back over the 70mph figure.
Rob and I share huge amounts of musical touchstones; I’ve lost track of the number of bands that he’s introduced me to over the years. Along with John Peel and the NME he’s cost me a lot of money since I started working. It’s just the way he’d wander into The Flyer and say things like “Have you heard Candyskin by The Fire Engines yet? Really, it’s the perfect single to put on when you are deciding what shirt to wear, I can’t imagine how I ever got dressed before.” And then, even though I’d always wear a black T-Shirt with a black jumper, I just had to have the record in my life. There are different shades of black you know, and I need all the help I can get when it comes to clothes.
We weren’t really mates at school to be honest. We didn’t dislike each other but he was a year ahead of me and Trev and most of the other lads in the team, and there wasn’t much banter between the age groups, unless you count avoiding a beating at the hands of his classmates as a worthwhile exchange. Unfortunately, the old iron fence at our own crumbling example of the Bristol education system was partially overgrown with Blackberry bushes, so come that glorious day at the start of September when we would enter the playground in our brand new, bright as a Colgate smile white shirts, Rob’s classmates thought it would be the best fun to see how many instant Ribena samples they could make by crushing those berries into our shirts.
Rob wasn’t the sort to join in with those sorts of high jinks, but I still kept him and his mates at a respectful or was it a fearful distance. It was only when we had both left school without those bothersome qualifications, which forced people from other towns to leave their home and head off to university towns that we really got to know each other. He spotted me at a gig and came over to have a chat. His mate had let him down at the last minute; I didn’t have any friends that wanted to spend an evening in the company of The Monochrome Set in a partially derelict church in a run-down part of Bristol, so by default we watched the gig together. I liked the way that he didn’t talk when the band were playing, any chat during the gig was kept to a minimum,
“This one’s going to be the next single”, “They’ve changed the lyrics to that one since the Peel session” and the like. At the end of the gig he seemed most impressed by the way guitarist Lester Square played the whole set standing with his legs crossed, a suitably sleight and stupid reason to like a band and impress me with his sense of the gently ridiculous.
He does love to drink though and initially I tried to keep up with him, not in an alcoholic way mind you as I normally drove to gigs. If he had a pint, I’d have a soft drink, which was fine in theory, but after one particular day when the fourteen orange juice and lemonades I’d consumed left me feeling more bloated than an over inflated beach ball, I decided to let him go at his own pace and I would make my way to the bar only when it suited me. Unlike some mates Rob didn’t take umbrage about the fact that I didn’t want to drink myself into a shambles, he let me do things my way and he just became more excitable as those nights wore on.
Many years earlier it was Trev and I who had shared a musical awakening, but with music of a very different style. At the time when punk was shaking the world or at least causing a minor tremor in Bristol, we threw ourselves headlong into the mystical, magical world of proper grownup longhaired, loon pant wearing Rock music. The longer the track, the more bombastic the album titles, the more we loved it. How wonderfully sophisticated we felt as we listened to seventeen minute epics, whilst others had to make do with mere three minute pop songs.
Due to a strange quirk of science Trev could receive Radio Caroline loud and clear at his house. Although I lived less than a mile away from him, I enjoyed only a fleeting relationship with the station. The power of the signal appeared to come and go on the merest breeze, leaving me with a scrambled collection of guitar solos, wailing vocals and masses of strange static hum. By contrast when calling for him on the way to school I would normally be let in to the house by his exasperated looking father, barely able to make his “Mornin’” heard above whichever rock classic Radio Caroline had decided would make a suitable breakfast treat.
“Who’s this?” I would nervously ask. No reply as Trev perfectly replicated the fingering for the guitar solo, using the bread knife as his fret board. This went on for some time.
“We’re going to be late,” Still no reply. “Trev c’mon it’s twenty to, we better go.”
“You can’t rush Rainbow man. It’s the new album.”
“Ah, Rainbow” I mumble, well beneath the volume of the ear-piercing vocals of Ronnie James Dio which have just entered the fray of Trev’s breakfast time, “great”.
Obviously our seventy something teacher Mr. Carey would understand the situation. White haired, with the more than a touch of the elderly Alistair Sim about him, he was not your standard, fresh out of teacher training, tutor. He had apparently retired at least twice before getting bored and heading back to work. We loved him, as although he was an excellent maths teacher, as he could be distracted by just the slightest hint of an interesting non maths related topic. Whole lessons could be lost to the development of post war cinema in Italy or the detrimental effect that TV had upon the poetic soul of the nation. We learnt a lot in his class, very little of it was related to maths though.
“Why are you late boys?”
“Radio Caroline had an exclusive play of Man on the Silver Mountain from the new Rainbow album sir”
“Really, the new live album?”
“Understood. You didn’t tape it by any chance?”
“No Sir. Sorry sir”
“Shame, Dio may not be in the same league as Ian Gillian but as rock vocalists go, he makes a much better foil for Blackmore than David Coverdale ever did. I look forward to hearing the results, I doubt that it shall match the glory of Deep Purple’s “Made in Japan” live album but we can live in hope.”
Well this was all highly unlikely (I think Mr. Carey preferred Hawkwind), luckily for us the track came to an end rather suddenly and we were free to leave, dashing into our classroom with minutes to spare.
Fortunately for Trev, his dad’s building company was obviously doing very well and for a quiet (well almost!) life, Frank was happy to dish out a weekly amount of pocket money, which I would just about equal in a month. This meant that Trev’s album collection grew in size at about the same speed as the newly sprouting hairs on my top lip. He was never very keen to let me borrow any of his beloved record collection but if pressed would deign to record a couple of albums onto a C90 cassette for me, so that I could master my own imaginary guitar playing technique in the comfort of my own bedroom.
Sometimes I even had enough money to buy my own records, often they were second hand with the additional scratches and bumps that this could entail. In the days when I only had ten albums to listen to, the endless repeated plays meant that I knew those records better than I knew my own parents. Those scratch’s which were initially annoying, eventually became part of the record, so much so, that if I heard someone else’s copy without my additional extras, it just sounded wrong.
Eventually Trev decided that listening to music at home was all well and good, but we needed to experience some real live music.
“Look at this,” he said in the school dining hall one day as he thrust a copy of Melody Maker in my direction. “ELP are playing at Longleat in the summer. We have to go.”
“Wow, that’s great. How we will get there?” I said.
“Don’t worry about that, we can hitch there”
“Oh, yeah I suppose so.”
“It’ll be great; I’ve heard that they are so loud that the vibrations from the bass can make you feel sick.”
“Oh, is that good?”
“Of course it is, what an experience. We could camp out after the gig; I expect that we’d meet up with the band the next day”
“We don’t have a tent”
“We can borrow one”
“What if it rains?”
“Sounds like you’re scared to me”
“No, no I’m not scared, it’s just…”
“Just what? C’mon man it will be the best night of our lives!”
“Yeah, I suppose.”
Luckily for me, given my lifelong aversion to camping the gig didn’t happen, so I didn’t have to lose face in front of Trev by saying I didn’t want to go. Eventually we did start to go and see a few bands; thankfully they all took place in venues within spitting distance of a bus stop.
At last we reach Fishguard, we’ve actually made pretty good time and are here about an hour earlier than we aimed for. We park up in the short Ferry queue that’s started to form and decide to walk over to the station as the rest of the lads should be coming in any time now.
“What do we do if they aren’t on the train?” I say, “Should we go over anyway, or do we drive back to Bristol with our tail between our legs?”
“They’ll be there,” answers Rob “Everyone’s been looking forward to this for months, nothing’s going to stop them now.”
“I hope so,” says Trev. “I just hope they haven’t been drinking too much on the train. This crossing can be a bit of a spew fest from what I’ve been told, they won’t just be thinking the rooms spinning, it could be a reality.”
We have a pee and then grab some crisps from the shop in the station and check the arrivals information, all looks good, they should be here in the next couple of minutes. Sure, enough five minutes later the train glides in and our nine team-mates step of the train.
“Howdy Boss, we’ve got a bit of time on our hands, where’s the boozer?” shouts Andy.
“I’ve been in this town for, oh what, fifteen minutes in my entire life. Why would I know where to go?”
“Because you’re our leader, we can’t do anything without you, you know that.”
And sure enough, Trev rejects the first pub that we walk past and we all dutifully follow him onto the next one.
“OK drinks kitty time boys, £20 per person,” announces Rob as the train travellers drop their bags in the corner of the bar.
“That won’t get you to Ireland.” shouts Ad’s.
“Well it might if no-one else has a drink.” says a laughing Andy. “C’mon let’s get ’em in, get your money out.”
“Boss, where are the loos?” asks Rich.
“How the hell do I know? But since you ask, that big sign behind you tell me, they are up the stairs.”
How much longer? This is awful, I think to myself. We’ve only been on the boat around an hour and already I’m contemplating the benefits of suicide. Things looked bad when members of the crew were hurriedly moving around the boat distributing extra sick bags as we were settling into some seats in the bar area.
“Could be a rough one,” Rob says. “Better line our stomachs with some spirits’. Give me some of that kitty money Ad’s.”
“I’m not so sure about that,” I say. Already the gentle motion of the water is setting up a corresponding movement deep in the pit of my stomach. This could be a very long crossing.
Sure enough, as soon as we edge clear of the protection that the harbour offered, I start to feel distinctly uncomfortable. I decided that maybe it would be good idea to walk around the boat, give myself something else to concentrate on, rather than just trying to ignore all my mates telling me how dodgy they are feeling. The boat is absolutely packed and a sizeable proportion of my fellow passengers are elderly Americans with a hideous line in loud checked clothing. Why do people from Wisconsin, or wherever this lot are from, think that a purple and blue stripe check over a green background would make attractive pattern for a pair of trousers or pants as I’m sure they would call them? “Of course”, they would say that the “pants” have a lovely plaid pattern, of course it’s tartan, not plaid and the fact that they even give the ridiculous pattern the right name only makes me feel more annoyed, none of this is helping with my state of health, I’m rapidly developing a searing headache and I’m sure that the bizarre sartorial styles are not helping, yet everywhere I turn there are more of them. The swell outside is getting bigger and my discomfort increases with every lurch that the boat takes. I decide it’s time to visit the toilets, in case the contents of my stomach decide that they want to pop outside and take a look around for themselves.
Serious mistake! As soon as I push the door open, my nose is attacked by the acrid smell created by the discomfort of people, who have already gone to the next notch of the scale that marks the journey from a person who thinks that a plate of wriggling Elvers could make an interesting culinary experience, to someone who is unable to keep a few crumbs from a digestive biscuit within their tempestuous bowels.
Suddenly my foot slips beneath me, the floor is a constantly moving, glistening mass of yellows, browns and a mysterious opaque colour the like of which I hope never too see again. One of my American friends has lost his footing, the pattern on the rear of his not so delightful “Pants” now smudged and distorted and getting darker by the second. I think about bending down to help him up, yet should I try this straightforward manoeuvre, I know that the contents of my stomach could well cover the poor chap in further embarrassment. So, with all the cubicle doors locked firmly shut, I look towards the urinals.
These are unlike any urinal I’ve seen before, instead of being individual bowls, we are presented with one long trough, stretching the length of the room. Fair enough, I’ve seen that at many football grounds around the country and a very efficient use of space it is, when you are presented with a large number of men who need to remove fluids in the shortest possible time. As long as nobody takes offence at some shoulder contact and you keep your eyes firmly focused on the wall – at eye level- directly in front of you, then everyone is happy.
However, this particular vessel, for this is what it has become as nothing is moving freely through it, has been fitted with an enormous clear frontage, coming up seven or eight inches from the base of pipe which has been built to take our collective fluids away. I guess it’s meant to stop any “splash-back” issues, which as all men will know can be a problem if you’ve selected a light pair of trousers for that days adventure. Sadly though, due to the lack of cubicle space many of the previous (and indeed, several current) visitors to the facility had been forced to drop the swirling torment of their stomach into what was rapidly becoming a huge sludge tank, the height of which was rising rapidly, occasionally slopping over the top as a particularly large wave smashed the boat this way and that.
I had to get out of there, clutching my as yet unused sick bag in hand; I gingerly squelch my way towards the door. The poor American has just about made it back to his feet and I edge past him and into the corridor as the lurch of the boat sends me crashing into the wall. Even out in the walkway, the air is claustrophobically warm and filled with an overpowering stench. I look up and see a small child being shaken violently around as his father somehow keeps hold of the young boy’s hand whilst adding to the chaos as his stomach spews forth its contents.
Maybe if I can get outside the cool air and lack of nauseous smells may calm my own stomach. I try to run but my legs have been sapped of all their energy, so the best I can muster is a jerky, half speed skip. A door to my left swings open as a crewmember bursts in with a mop and the largest bucket I’ve ever seen. I push through the gap he has left and as the wind hit’s my face I momentarily feel cooler and slightly more relaxed, then I start to shiver. My body is now in some frantic spasm and my stomach decides to join in as well. Up it comes; I clutch the bag, bend over and out comes a mighty torrent. Through mouth and nose, last night’s tea, breakfast, those crisps and assorted drinks are channelled into the bag. Temporary calm envelopes me before uncertainty starts again, three hours to go. Why bother? Why don’t I just end it all now by jumping overboard?
I’m in luck though, I notice a small door, which opens to reveal a large cupboard whose only contents are some old ropes and a stool. I lower myself down, still desperately clinging onto my bag and somehow, I manage to fall asleep in my own private hideaway. When I wake, things are relatively calm, land is in sight and I’m fairly confident that I can stand up unaided. I make my way through the carnage of the boat to the bar.
“Eh up drives, fancy a cheeky drink before we dock?” asks an unconcerned looking Rob.
“No thanks, let’s wait ‘till we get to Carlow. It might have a chance of staying down by then.”
The rest of the team are in a reasonable state, apart from Deano who looks as though he has spent most of the crossing, spitting beer down the front of his T-Shirt.
“How you doing mate?” I ask him.
He shrugs his shoulders, belches, grins and takes another glug from the plastic pint glass in front of him.
Suddenly the idea of driving with a load of drunken mates, wanting to stop every five minutes is looking very unappealing. It’s almost as though Rob can sense my unease and he tells Tim to make sure that all the lads on foot go to the loo as they come off the boat. We’ve arranged that they will walk off the boat and then we will pick them up just outside the gates, as someone official may think twelve blokes leaving the boat in a Transit is a little odd.
Rob, Trev and I make our way down to the bowels of the boat to clamber back into the van. Luckily my stomach appears to have completely settled down so the drive is not as worrying as it could be. We head out of the boat and take the relatively short drive to the port gates and park up to wait for the rest of the gang. We wait for a while, most of the foot passengers appear to have left already but there is no sign of our teammates. The trickle of pedestrians has now stopped completely; ten minutes go by and still there is no sign of them.
“Maybe they walked further on.” Says Rob
“Why would they do that? The plans were perfectly clear, what’s wrong with these people?”
“C’mon boss, let’s not jump to conclusions, something must have happened.”
Another five minutes pass and there is still no sign of them.
“Why don’t I go back and have a look for them?” Rob suggests
“What are you gonna’ do, scour the whole boat looking for them? Drive up the road Jonsey. They must have got out before us and just kept walking.”
“D’ya reckon?” I say. Rob’s giving me look saying that we should sit tight but Trev is insisting.
“C’mon, just drive on a mile, then if we don’t see them, we can just turn round and come back here.”
“OK,” I start up the van and push on slowly but there is no sign of them as we edge tentatively into Ireland.
“They must still be on the boat; they wouldn’t have walked this far. Let’s turn round,” says Rob
“I think he’s right boss, we should head back.”
“If you want.” Trev says.
As soon we are within sight of the Ferry entrance, we can see them.
“There they are, where the bloody hell did they go?” Trev shouts.
We drive closer, Tim spots us and starts waving, I can hear the cheers from the others, and we pull up in front of them. The back doors of the van are opened and they all pile in. The previously cavernous space behind me fills up rapidly and the moans soon begin as they try to find a comfortable space.
“Bloody hell, it’s a tin can on wheels.”
“Watch me foot!”
“No, get in the corner, you can’t sit there, that’s where my legs have to go.”
“What happened to you lot?” barks Trev.
“Well we were almost off the boat when Deano realised that he’d left his jacket in the bar and that he had all his money in it, so we went off to find it,” Andy says.
“But we couldn’t get back in the way we’d come off,” adds Tobes. “So it took ages to find the bar, then we couldn’t get off the boat because half the doors were locked.”
“Deano, what’s wrong with you? You’re a nightmare.” Shouts Rob.
Looking over my shoulder, I see Deano struggling to form some words of explanation.
“Well, it was, the um, y’know, I thought that, but when I, it was…..”
“Oh, shut up,” Says a now weary Trev
“DEEEE-NO, DEEEE-NO, DEEE-NO” Chant the lads in the back.
Eventually they all settle down and I pull away.
“How long will it take Boss?” shout’s Andy.
“Well it’ll be shorter than the gap between your goals,” Trev snaps back.
“Should be around an hour,” I say, “As long as Rich’s directions are up to scratch.”
“They will be fine, my auntie went over them about twenty times on the phone with me last night,” Replies Rich, who’s moved into the front, forcing Rob into the back.
Fittingly “The Passenger” by Iggy Pop comes on about ten minutes into the journey.
“We are the passengers and we ride and we ride.” sings the good naturedly drunken choir behind me, carrying on the refrain long after the tune has finished.
The roads are quiet and we bounce along the slightly uneven roads at a cracking rate. We only have to stop once for an emergency slash break so, ahead of schedule, we see the signs indicating that we are on the edge of Carlow, our home for the next few days. A huge sign advertising “The Green Lodge” tells us to take the next right and then a large break in the hedge marks the driveway that we are looking for.
“I’ve never driven up a long drive like this before,” shouts Mike.
“That’s because you live on a council estate, you don’t need a long drive if no one has a car,” Trev rather harshly points out. “They don’t even give you proper roads; you’ve got those weird slabs of god knows what which look like they’ve been put together like an enormous but very simple jigsaw puzzle. It’s like the council couldn’t be bothered to lay proper Tarmac roads, they just chuck them down to form a road, they don’t even join up properly so when you drive along them you get these odd clicks all the time as you go from one slab to the next.”
“Hey it’s just like that Southfork Ranch from Dallas,” says Tim. Soon the sound of the team singing the Dallas theme tune whilst banging on the side of the van drowns out the sound of Trev’s dismissive rant and the music coming from the speakers.
“Easy boys,” says Rob “we don’t want to get turned away before we’ve even signed in. Let’s try to keep it down.”
We needn’t have worried; our host is the living embodiment of the laid-back Irishman cliché. He greets us in the lobby area with a huge grin on his face and a small whiskey in his hand.
“Hello Gentlemen, I hope that you had a pleasant trip, but experience tells me that at this time of year it would have been worse than being locked in a shed with that old fool Iain Paisley. If any of you still have a few problems in the bowel area, and the contents of your stomach wish to travel up rather than down, please try to make it to the toilet rather than the sink. Plugholes just weren’t designed to cope with that sort of thing you know.
If you can manage that, and not make too much of a commotion in the small hours, we’ll all get on famously. The bar will stay open as long as you want it to, and you’ll be getting a large breakfast in the morning to soak up any alcohol that you might have taken in. So, you will be able to face the day with a smile on your face and that’s the way the people around here will want to see you.
No one else is staying here whilst you fine body of men are gracing us with your presence, so all the guest rooms have a key in the door and on the table inside the room. There is also a front door key on each fob, so feel free to come and go as you please. I’ll let you decide which rooms you want to use, if I can help you in any way just ask me or my wife Claire. My name’s Shane by the way. Now off you go and choose your rooms. I’ll be in the bar if you need me, oh and breakfast is served whenever you want it, up to around noon in the dining room next to the bar. If you can’t make it by noon, I guess we shall call it lunch.”
We split up into pairs and head off to choose our rooms. I’m with Rob, Trev with Mike, Rich with Tim, Andy with Deano, Pete our goalie is with Jimmy and finally Ad’s and Tobes are sharing. The rooms are pretty similar, but Trev pulls rank to get the biggest one, not that anyone is too bothered really. Someone shouts out that we should meet up in the bar in around fifteen minutes, what were they thinking? We aren’t really the sorts to carefully unpack and hang things up, so around two minutes later everyone is back downstairs having dumped their bags, Shane is already pulling what I anticipate will be the first of many pints of Guinness.
The Green Lodge is a couple of miles outside the centre of Carlow, Rich had arranged to give his auntie a call when we have arrived, then we all head over to her place to say hello before having an initial look at what the nightlife of Carlow has to offer us. Whilst he is off in the hall way using the payphone, Rob is already trying to work out if he has time for a second pint as the first one has disappeared in a couple of hearty swigs.
“Shane, you’re my hero! That sir, is the finest drink I’ve ever had. We have truly come to heaven boys.”
“Glad you like it, young feller. There’s plenty more for you where that came from.”
“I hope so. I’m Rob, I expect us to become very well acquainted over the next few days.”
“It’s a pleasure to meet you. Shall you be paying now, or should I set up a tab?”
“Best pay as we go, or this could get way out of hand I suspect.”
Rich joins us in the bar “She’s ready for us, I think that we are honoured guests by the sound of things. I expect she’ll have the best china out for us.”
Everyone piles into the van and the ones in the back discover it’s even less comfortable without having the bags to sit on or lean against, still it’s a short journey and pretty soon we are pulling up outside a small terraced house. As soon as I put the handbrake on the front door of the house is thrown open and a tiny lady emerges.
“Hi Auntie Jean, shouts Rich.
“Ah it’s lovely to see you Richard,” she says whilst giving him a huge hug. “Bring all your friends in, so that we can say hello properly. You don’t want to be hanging around on the pavement now, do you boys.”
It’s a pretty average semi-detached house, so fitting the twelve us into the heavily floral patterned room was a bit of a squeeze. To make matters even more interesting a couple of other people are already in there watching the TV at an implausibly high volume.
“Come in, come in,” says Auntie Jean. “Now then, I need to know all your names, so come on Richard introduce your friends, then you can all have a nice piece of the fruit cake I made for you.”
Rich takes his auntie by the hand and moves her around the room, so that she can have a word with all of us.
“This is Jonesy, he’s our driver.”
“Nice to meet you” I say. “Thanks for helping us to arrange this trip.”
“No problem at all Mr. Jonesy, it’s my pleasure. How else will we get to see young Richard here? A visit from him is long overdue.”
The rest of the lads are unusually quiet, now this may be because they can’t compete with the TV or it could be because of the two other people in the room. They are a couple of very pretty girls who have already given Rich a kiss on the cheek, so it looks as though he knows them. Eventually they get introduced to us as Suzanne and Janine, they are Auntie Jeans daughters.
“Come on girls, give me a hand with the tea and the cake now. I’m sure you boys must be gasping for a drink after that long journey of yours.”
The ladies head for the kitchen and immediately Rich is surrounded.
“Well you kept those two quiet.”
“Saving them for yourself eh”
“Come on lads they’re my cousins, I’m hardly going to make a move on them, am I?”
“Well I hope not,” Trev says. “Could probably get you lynched over here. So, are they “with” anyone?”
“I don’t know, haven’t seen them for about six or seven years, they didn’t look like that then!”
“I’m sure they’d like some new company, must get very dull in a small town like this.”
“Oh yes boss, and you’re the one to make things interesting for them, are you? What about Tracey?” Asks Ad’s.
“C’mon Ad’s you know the score, what happens on tour, stays on tour. I’m not saying that anything will happen,” he says with a distinct leer. “If it does, no one at home needs to hear about it.”
“Just be careful boss,” Rob says. “You know that Trace will kill you if she hears of you getting up to anything.”
“I’ll be ok.”
Then the door swings open and Janine comes into the room with a large tray laden with cups, saucers, milk and sugar in her hands.
“Hey, let me help you with that” Shouts Trev. “How can a delicate thing like you be expected to carry all that around?”
“Don’t you worry yourself, I’m not so delicate, you know.”
“Is that right?” he says as he takes the tray from her hands and immediately passes it to Pete.
“There you go Pete, don’t worry he won’t drop it, he’s our goalie. So, Janine, what should we be looking out for whilst we are here?” Trev continues.
Before she has a chance to answer Suzanne and Aunty Jean have come into the room with slices of cake and biscuits. The room is so small that this requires virtually everyone to move around and Janine very nimbly distances herself from Trev as she ensures that we all have a drink; I see Rob suppressing a laugh as he catches the look of frustration on Trev’s face.
“So then boys, I have to tell you that the people of the town are quite excited about all you coming over here to spend some time with us,” says Aunty Jean. “We don’t get many visitors you know; you will be quite the celebrities. I’ve had a word with the girls here and they will be happy to show you around and of course my door is always open for you. I’m sure that you’ll have a wonderful visit.”
A few of the boys mumble their thanks and belatedly the TV is switched off, leaving a rather awkward silence. Everyone has a plate in one hand and a cup and saucer in the other, making eating or drinking rather tricky, in the confined surroundings. Deano tries to lift the plate to his mouth so that he can take a bite of the cake, however it’s not as easy as he thought and with all his concentration focused on the cake, he fails to notice that the cup and saucer combination in his other hand is tilting at an alarming angle.
Finally, he manages to nibble a few crumbs of cake, having lost all awareness of the cup of tea, he is surprised to feel the sudden movement in his left hand as the cup topples over, sending hot tea onto Jimmy’s arm, causing him to yank it violently away and before anyone knows what is happening everyone is involved in a jerking, twitching, swearing mass of bodies, crockery, tea and cake.
“Bloody Hell lads, watch what you’re doing.” Shouts Rob.
Some have got off more lightly than others and I’m feeling rather pleased that my black jeans and jumper combination discretely soaks up the tea that was splashed in my direction. Poor Tobes must be ruing the choice of a white T-Shirt, now that the large dark stain is racing across his back. Luckily none of the cups and saucers appears to be broken and Aunty Jean is taking the calamity in her stride.
“Don’t you worry about it boys, it’s my fault I should have put the tea in a mug. Anyone want a top up?”
“We better not, I think we’ve caused enough chaos for you already Aunty.” Says Rich. “C’mon lads let’s make a move.”
Shame faced we start to make our way out into the hallway, towards the front door.
“No-one going to offer to tidy up then?” asks Rob.
“Don’t you worry about it boys, I’ll take care of it,” Aunty Jean replies. “Go on girls, take the lads round to Davey’s, I expect some of them fancy a pint.”
“We can’t leave all this to you mam,” Suzanne says.
“Yes you can, go on now, on your way. I’ll see you later in the week boys, have a lovely night.”
Out on the street Rich and the girls lead the way, on what turns out to be a short walk to the bar. The clouds are gathering but we arrive at the nondescript looking bar before the rain can add to the tea stains, which are shared around the team.
The pub is large but sparsely populated; the few people that are there turn their heads to watch us make our way to the bar. The barman looks at us and waits for someone to order; inevitably Rob starts the ball rolling by asking the girls what they would like to have. So he orders two small ciders, an orange juice and lemonade and eleven pints of Caffreys. Ad’s produces the kitty money to pay for the round and we stand around a series of tables, drinks in hand, taking in our new surroundings.
Rich, Suzanne and Janine are catching up on family gossip, and I realise that I’m absolutely exhausted. It’s been a long day of travelling and could happily just head back to The Green Lodge and climb into bed. Most of the other lads are chatting away excitedly, so I guess I’ll be out for a while yet. Rob has discovered an old jukebox in the corner of the bar and is giving the song list a thorough going over.
“Not much here for me, it’s more down your street Tim, come and pick something decent from all this soul stuff.”
“Leave it Rob, you’ll only tell me that it’s music for girls, like you always do.”
“No, I won’t, come on, it’s our first night abroad we need some tunes.”
“Let me have a look,” says Andy, moving towards Rob. I go over to join them.
“You aren’t much better,” laughs Rob. “We don’t want any of those nursery rhymes that you play for your daughter mind.”
“Yeah, I’m sure they’d be on a pub jukebox,” He shoots back. “Here we go The Temptations, can’t go wrong with them.”
“Talking of nursery rhymes, how are things back home? Do you get to see much of Shelley at the moment?”
“Not really, that bitch Michelle makes things as awkward as she can for me. I still can’t work out what I did wrong, but she won’t talk to me. She’s seeing a right slime ball from Kingswood at the moment. I don’t want Shelley thinking that he’s her dad as she’s growing up.”
“Sorry mate, don’t really know what to say, still at least you’re away with the lads. Try to put it out of your mind and have a laugh.”
“Yeah, how’s things with you then? Been a bit frosty between you Trev lately.”
“He’s on a bit of a power trip at the moment, seems to spend most of his time putting people down, I don’t get it. We all go back a long way, why he’s suddenly got to play the big shot with us?”
“I think he’s got a lot going on at work, and Trace keeps him well under the thumb, so maybe he just needs to reassert himself a bit and he has to do it at our expense.”
“Could be but, I’m getting a bit pissed off with him, I know he puts a lot of time into arranging things for the team, I just wish he didn’t need to tell us how superior he is all the time.”
“I’ll try to have a quiet word with him, he’s been alright with me. Talking of asserting himself it looks like he’s keen on Rich’s cousin, the one with the black hair.”
“I think she’s sussed him already, I hope she puts him in his place.”
Looking back across the bar, Trev has indeed made a beeline for Janine, although she is doing her best to keep Rich between them, with only limited success. Looks like she could be in for a testing few days. I think that it’s best to leave Rob and Andy to their chat, so I wander back to the main group of lads. Rich shouts out to me as I’m making my way over.
“Hey Jonsey, the game’s on for tomorrow night against the Hurling boys. Suzanne is best mates with one of their team and he’s been telling her that they’re going to thrash us.”
Looking at the group of drunk, tired lads around me, I think that he may well be right. We haven’t really moved on much from our first few games over a year ago, after that initial training session Trev organised a game against a team that a friend of his played for when they had a free weekend. He assured us that it would be fine, this other lot were involved in the bottom rung of Sunday league football and from what he had heard were pretty hopeless.
Our initial problem was actually getting eleven people onto the pitch for the game. On the Thursday before the match we only had seven players. Mike was away on holiday, Andy was trying to save his relationship with Michelle, a couple of other lads who had said that they were interested had quickly backtracked when the prospect of actually playing rather than just talking about it came along. To top it all we had no goalie.
We were asking anyone with two legs under the age of fifty that we even vaguely knew, if they would play. Whilst this was going on we were also trying to borrow a full kit from someone so that we could at least look like a team. On the Friday evening we gathered as normal in The Flyer, when I arrived in the bar Trev was chatting to Phil, the landlord when I joined them it sounded like Phil had been talked into playing although he obviously still had doubts.
“Just don’t expect too much from me, it’s twenty years since I’ve played and I can’t remember the last time I moved at anything more than a stroll.”
“Don’t worry Phil, you can play at the back, you won’t need to move beyond the half way line. From what I’ve heard their forwards are rubbish, it’ll be a nice little run out for you,” replied Trev.
“OK then, I think I’ve still got my old boots somewhere, God knows what state they are though.”
“Great that’s sorted then,” says Trev. “Welcome aboard.”
Trev and I wander over to our usual corner of the bar to join Rob, Deano and Ad’s.
“How’s it going lads?” asks Rob.
“Well, I’ve finally talked Phil into it,” Replies Trev. “He’s going to play at the back, oh and I’ve got a kit sorted as well. Someone that dad knows is going to drop it round to me tomorrow morning.”
“Good man, I think that you should be the manager, you obviously have the organisational skills that we are looking for,” says Rob. “Everyone else agree?”
We all say yes; Trev raises his glass and says with a grin.
“Well it’s a great honour boys, now where do we find a keeper? ‘Cause I ain’t playing in goal that’s for sure.”
“Oh, I might have some news there,” say’s Ad’s. “Turns out Lisa’s new boyfriend used to play in goal when he was in school, she’s going to ask him tonight. They should pop in here later, so you can talk him into it boss.”
“That’s if your sister can keep him that long, she’s got slippery fingers that one, can’t seem to hold onto anyone for more than five minutes.”
“Talk of the devil,” says Rob.
We turn to look at the door and in walks a very odd couple. Lisa is, as ever, dressed for a Hollywood red carpet premier, all high heels and exposed flesh, everything she is actually wearing, glitters and shines with garish colour, all topped off with her newly coloured mass of platinum blonde curls, which bubble excitedly as she walks towards the bar. Towering over her is someone straight from rock school central casting. Long, ruler straight hair drops down his back to the base of his perfectly distressed leather jacket, which swings open to reveal a black Motorhead T-shirt, which obviously contains a suitably muscular torso. Of course, he is wearing jeans, complete with some intriguing rips around the front of his thighs and the chunkiest pair of black leather bikers boots that I have ever seen.
We all turn back to look at Ad’s.
“Is that him? Asks Trev.
“Yeah he’s called Nigel apparently,” says Ad’s laughing. “Never spoken to him myself, she’s only been seeing him for about a week.”
“Well he’s tall.” I say. “That’ll come in handy.”
“Yeah but how long will it take him to dry his hair following the after match shower? Says Trev.
“Tell him that we can’t afford to pay his shampoo bills, we’ll be bankrupt before we’ve even started.” I say.
Lisa waves at us, goes up on her tiptoes to have a word in her chaps’ ear and heads over to join us.
“Hi sis, didn’t bother getting dressed up tonight then.”
“Now then Adrian, don’t be nasty to me or I won’t let Nige help you out.”
“OK, you’re right we need him, more than I need to make cheap jokes at your expense.”
“He’s a big lad,” says Rob. “Haven’t seen him around before.”
“No, he lives in Clifton.”
“Blimey, how did you manage that? I thought the council had an exclusion zone around Clifton to keep gold diggers out,” said Rob with a grin.
“Who’s a gold digger? I earn more than him you know. I’m not just a pretty face.”
“So, what does he do then?”
“Well Rob, for your information he’s an actor.”
“Been in anything we would have heard of?”
“Not yet, but he’s got some things lined up.”
“TV, films, adverts?”
“Well I’m not sure but he tells me that he’s just waiting for the right offer to come along”
Nigel is now making his way over to us, Lisa does the introductions as he grabs a stool and sits down alongside her.
“So, Nige, I hear you’re up for a game on Sunday?” Says Trev.
“Yes, Shelley tells me you guys haven’t played together before, so I guess you’ve got no idea of the standard?”
“Well a few of us used to be pretty good, no idea about the opposition though,” Rob chips in. “It’s a chance to cement your place in history, to be one of the original members of the glorious team that changed the face of local football in Bristol!”
“Well Rob may be over selling it somewhat,” says Trev. “It’s just a chance to have a kick about, we will have to wait and see what happens after that. When did you last play?”
“A couple of years ago, when I was up in London. Some of my mates had a Sunday team; I played five or six games, before heading back to Bristol. I’m looking forward to a bit of a run out.”
During the course of the evening we found out that with the help of a few more friends and relations we have actually got the eleven names that we need to raise a team and we start to get quite excited about the game. I have to admit that I had a big concern about my fitness levels, the couple of training sessions in the park had helped but I was still spending more time with my hands on my hips, trying to get my breath back, than punching the air after scoring a cracking goal.
Sunday morning came dry and sunny, proper first game of the season weather and at 9:30 we were standing outside the pub, kit bags in hand and looking forward to the game. The only problem was that Rob had not showed up.
“Phil, can we use the phone in the pub to give him a call?” Trev asked.
“Sure, come with me,” he replied.
No sooner had they gone through the main door, then Rob’s car came screaming around the corner, all the windows were down and the staccato rhythms of Blue Monday by New Order was hammering out into the previously quiet Sunday morning street.
He pulled onto the pub forecourt, almost running over Nige’s foot as he did so.
“Good job you’re in goal Nige,” Rob shouted above the music. “Your footwork was a bit slow there mate.”
“Don’t worry about me mate, I’ll be fine,” Nige replied.
I went into the pub and shouted out that Rob had arrived; I can see Trev with the phone in his hand whilst Phil knocks back what looks like the remains of a glass of whiskey.
“Just to settle the nerves,” he says to me. “Want one?”
“No thanks, not really my style,” I say as I head out to join the others. We all pile into cars and take the short journey to Vassells Park and into the changing rooms. Trev opens the kit bag and an appalling smell engulfs us all.
“What the hell is that stench?” Ad’s says.
Trev puts his hand into the bag and brings out what should be a blue and white shirt, but it’s covered in dried mud and even some green mould.
“Didn’t you check it boss? Asks Rob.
“No, it was only dropped round last night, when I was out. He told me that it hadn’t been used since last season; He didn’t say it hadn’t been washed though. Sorry guys, this is going to be pretty grim.”
I grab a shirt but decide to stick with my own socks and shorts, as I slip it over my head the smell is disgusting. “I don’t think they will want to get too close to us,” I say as I dash out of the changing room as quickly as I can in an effort to get some fresh air.
Our opponents Downend Albion are looking pretty impressive, not only do they have a nice clean kit; they also have four or five balls, which they are warming up with, and a goalkeeper who has a cap – very professional. By way of contrast, we have one ball and a ‘keeper who doesn’t even have a pair of gloves. Trev smashes the ball over to me from about twenty yards; it bounces awkwardly on the lumpy pitch and catches me in the balls with a deadening thump. All the wind leaves my body and my eyes glaze over as I desperately try to give the impression that it didn’t hurt. I summon all my strength to knock the ball back to him, and the ball trickles about ten yards in a trajectory which would have seen it going about twenty yards to his right, had I connected with it properly. The signs are not good.
Looking behind the goal I notice Phil, kneeling over as he throws up in a series of noisy convulsions. Deano has forgotten his boots, so is gingerly running across the grass in a pair of trainers, with the morning dew turning the grass into something of an ice rink for him, it looks like he is going to spend of lot time on his backside. Sure enough moments later he tries to change the direction of his run and down he goes with arms and legs flailing.
“C’mon lads, let’s enjoy this,” shouts Rob. “Keep the ball down, let’s try to pass it around a bit. Stay calm and let people know what’s going on around them.”
We kick off; I don’t touch the ball for what seems like an eternity. I’m running around, but my legs appear to go at half the speed of all the Downend players. Time and again I move towards the ball, only to see it knocked away from me just before I get there.
“Jonsey, get with it man,” Shouts Trev. “Don’t back off them.”
I try to shout back that I’m trying to “get with it” but nothing comes out of my pointlessly open mouth. I’m so far off the pace that a stray pass, suddenly drops at my feet, no one is within forty yards of me.
“Stay calm,” I think to myself as I move towards the ball.
A thousand voices shout at once:
“Time”, “Jonsey, knock it down the channel”, “Use Rob”, “Bring it out”.
It all merges into one huge blur of noise as I dash towards the ball. Somehow, I manage to catch my foot in the grass and the next thing I know I’m falling face down onto the ball, which catches me in the nose with enough pressure to bring tears to my eyes for the second time that morning. I can hear the laughter from the Downend players as one of their forwards makes rapid ground towards me. I try to get up but slip again and he whisks the ball away from me and heads towards our goal. Seconds later the ball is in the net, we are 1-0 down and it’s all my fault.
“Sorry lads,” I mumble. “How long to half time ref, I ask the Downend sub who has taken charge of the whistle.
“How long? Seriously?”
“About forty minutes mate. We’ve only just started!”
Somehow I make it through the next forty minutes and the frequently mentioned second wind does arrive. Fortunately it provides much more impetus than the first one, which had left me decidedly becalmed. We are, by this stage, 3-0 down.
Of course we have no water, oranges or any of the traditional half time pick me up’s, though a few of the lads are enjoying a quick fag. No-one can think of anything sensible to say, so we lie on the ground in a state of shattered silence, before we know it, the Downend lads are trotting back onto the pitch and off we go again.
The second half continues in the same vein, us chasing the Downend players around and only briefly coming into contact with the ball. Phil our aging landlord is starting to look extremely agitated, and when a Downend player knocks the ball through his legs and runs around him, it’s obviously the final straw. He takes an enormous hack at the young lad, luckily missing him by a mile. He’s not finished yet though, somehow a burst of energy sees him draw level with his nemesis but instead of trying to tackle him, Phil simply jumps on his back, dragging him to the ground followed by wave after wave of fortunately poorly aimed punches.
“Nobody takes the piss out of me, you little…”
“Phil, stop it, STOP!”
Shouts Rob, who is the closest player to the action. By now the Downend player has squirmed away from Phil’s grasp and running around in circles trying to get away from him. One his colleagues though has another idea on how to end the spectacle, rushing over to kick Phil’s legs from under him then gripping him round the throat he shouts in Phil’s face.
“Stop it old man, take your sorry ass off the pitch and don’t come back, or you will have me to deal with and I won’t be so reasonable next time.”
Rob, Trev and Nige coax Phil back to his feet and persuade him that maybe it would be best if he went off.
“Yeah, think I’ve pulled a muscle anyway,” says Phil as he shuffles off, the limp strangely swapping legs as he goes.
The rest of the game is played out in a restrained manner with everyone trying to avoid any more explosive confrontations, not that I have anything left within me to explode. I’ve never felt so drained of energy, nothing really aches it’s just as though my body feels as though it doesn’t belong to me, it won’t follow the most basic of instructions from my brain and I’m desperate for the match to end. In the last few minutes of the game Rob, who is the only member of our team who can still run at this point scores a great solo goal to make the score 7-1, we shout our well done’s to him as we are all too knackered to actually run up to him and give him a well deserved slap on the back. Then the whistle blows for full time and I sink to the ground, feeling that I may very well stay there for the rest of my life.
In the changing rooms, hardly a word was spoken. How had we let ourselves become so deluded, that we actually thought that we would not only give that lot a game but that we would beat them?
“Whose idea was that? I’ve never felt so awful, every part of aches,” moaned a weary sounding Trev.
Nobody had the energy to answer him; I just sat there staring at the cold concrete floor, trying to work out how I would find the energy to take off my boots. Even my fingers were tired, as I discovered when I tried to pull the laces open. I can’t grip the end of the lace firmly enough to pull it, what has happened? You don’t even use your fingers when playing football, if they are in this state what are my legs going to be like for the rest of the week?
So, I just sit there, some of the other lads had started chatting but I am unable to fully register anything that is being said. As well as my body being exhausted, my brain appeared to be a spent force as well. I lift my foot again, and with all the concentration and strength that I can muster I tug at the bootlace on my right foot and just about manage to drag it free, allowing me to slowly loosen the boot. It feels as though my foot has expanded, so even though the laces have been undone, it’s still a huge effort to remove my bruised and tender foot from the boot. Eventually I manage to ease it off my heel and the boot falls to the floor with a loud snap as the metal studs encounter the concrete surface. I go through the same protracted procedure with my left boot and feel as though I have made a huge achievement. Socks, shin pads and shorts come off without too much effort; I then peel off the stinking shirt, which clings, tightly to my body. I try to throw it into the bag with the rest of the kit but as with everything I’ve attempted today, I’m hopelessly off target. With a slight shudder, I manage to stand and remove my underwear, before taking the painful walk to the shower. It’s only now that I realise how many blisters I have on my feet, forcing me into involuntary skips and jumps to avoid putting pressure on the damaged areas. I feel as though I’m walking over a bed of hot coals, although all the heat is coming from my own body rather than the cold and suddenly jagged floor. The showers are, of course, freezing cold. Each jet of water attacks my body like a thousand tiny ice shards. Again I’m forced to move more quickly than my body would wish to do as I move away from the stream of water, stubbing my toe against the wall in the process. After the briefest possible time back under the shower I head back to the bench, slowly drying myself as I go.
The atmosphere in the room has perked up; plans are being made to head back to The Flyer for a Post Mortem on the mornings events. The walk to the car is a tentative and painful one, I appear to have developed a slow-motion version of the Charlie Chaplin comedy walk as I tentatively wobble from one foot to the next. In the car, the cassette player blasts into action with the remainder of “Into the Valley” by The Skids, booming out. On the way to game, the confidently shouted chorus had hit the perfect tone of exuberant excitement as we drove into uncharted territory, now however it’s far too strident and bold. My left hand automatically flicks out to the volume switch so that Richard Jobson and chums are whispering, rather than roaring from the speakers.
Phil is sitting behind the bar as we go in.
“Sorry about that lads, I just got frustrated, I guess that I’d be kidding myself into thinking that I could just pick up from the last time I played.”
“There are a few of us like that,” Trev replied. “I just didn’t think that it could be that bad.”
Rob appears alongside us.
“Come on lads, we weren’t that bad. I know we didn’t have many chances but we kept going. It’s all about fitness and awareness, that comes from playing games. The more we play the better we will be. This is just the start.”
“Really,” I say. “I’m not sure I can do that again.”
“Why not?” Rob replies. “After your little accident with the first goal, I thought you were one of our best players,” he continues.
“Yeah Jonsey, if you are going to take a dive make sure that someone is within kicking distance of you, that was just embarrassing,” says Nige.
“All right, I know I was a shambles, don’t think I completed a single pass.”
“Shut up, you got some great tackles in during the second half. That was just a game to get us in the swing of things, after a few more of those you’ll be fine,” says Rob.
During the next hour or so I notice than Rob is having a similar conversation with everyone. Playing up all the good parts in peoples’ games, whilst dismissing any perceived weaknesses. He even has a good word for Phil, persuading him that anyone would have snapped in similar circumstances, I have to say that I wasn’t so sure about this line of argument. I reckon that Phil would be better pulling pints than pushing wingers.
His persuasive words must have worked on everyone, three weeks later we were at it again. The game was arranged at fairly short notice against a team of Ad’s workmates, luckily the three week gap had just about given my broken mind and body time to recover from the trauma of the first game, and I was actually looking forward to putting a few things right. A few of us had been meeting for a fairly gentle, run and stretching session a couple of times a week, I was starting to feel a little fitter, which I figured would give me a chance of playing at a level which I was happier with. Thankfully for all of us, Phil was going to be away at a family wedding, so any clever forwards that were due to play against us, didn’t have to worry about an eighteen-stone man jumping all over them.
Without Rob’s individual pep talks, I feel pretty sure that I, and many of the other lads, would never have pulled on a pair of football boots again. He’d managed to convince us that the only thing stopping us from being good players in a good team, was familiarity with playing. He was sure that we had the ability, temperament and attitude to play, we just need to give ourselves the chance to get used to playing and the rest would fall into place.
Rob has the wonderful gift of making people feel good about themselves, he has even been known to coax a sensible sentence or two out of Deano, something that is way beyond most of us. Without his coaxing, many of us would have given up on the idea of playing football again after that first match, because of him we find ourselves far from home and ready to play.
Closing time has eventually arrived and the lads are slowly making their way to the van, not that the evening has finished yet. Plans are being hatched for a card school back at the Green Lodge. Trev is trying to persuade the girls that they should come back with us but Janine is having none of it.
“Why would I want to watch a load of drunken lad’s playing cards? Anyway, I’ve got work in the morning and it’s way past my bedtime already.”
“Oh come on, I don’t believe you go to bed this early, anyway this is a special occasion. You have foreign guests to entertain, I’m sure that your boss won’t mind you being a little off the pace in the morning,” Trev replies.
“I’m afraid she would, those cows won’t milk themselves you know.”
“You’re a milk maid! How perfect.”
“Glad you think so.”
“Everyone in? I shout”
“Yes, hit the road,” shouts Ad’s
“Anything behind me? I need to reverse out of here,” I ask.
“It’s fine, go on,” Tobe’s replies.
I head back at a slow pace, suddenly the interior of the van is brightly illuminated and a horn is being loudly sounded. I slam the brakes on.
“I thought you said it was clear,” I shout
“That’s what happens if you ask a drunk man,” says Tobe’s. “Shouldn’t take my word for things when I’ve been drinking all day. It’s not my fault, you should have known that.”
“How can I….” I start to reply, then stop. I’ve had too many attempts at trying to have a debate with some of this lot when they are pissed. I’ve finally seen that there is no logic in the world of the drunk. You can have every point in your favour, have dismantled all their twisted logic and then they will come up with a ridiculous detail and claim that it proves that they are right. Best just to leave them to it and walk away, however that’s not an option tonight, as I have to get them all back to the Hotel.
Janine and Suzanne are sitting in the front of the van with me, we exchange weary glances and I realize that they have had to put up with much more drunken bullshit from men over the years than I ever shall. Pretty soon they’ve guided me back to their Mum’s place, they say a quick goodbye to everyone, and they are gone. Trev and Rich take their place in the front.
“Don’t get too fresh with Janine Trev, she’s family you know. I don’t want you making things awkward for me here,” Rich warns Trev.
“Calm down mate, she’s making all the running, I can’t help it if she fancies me, can I?” He replies.
“Ya reckon? That’s not what I see going on. Just keep it calm mate and everyone will be fine,” says Rich.
The rest of the van is quiet, so I turn the music up to fill the void. It’s The Smiths and pretty soon everyone, other than Trev, is crooning along and doing their best Morrissey style arm waving to “Heaven Knows I’m Miserable now”.
Back at the Green Lodge most of the lads head towards the bar, I’m the last to go into the hotel and Shane greets me at the door.
“Good evening young man, hope you found your way around without too many problems.”
“Yes thanks, It’s been a long day though, think I might just sneak up to bed.”
“Very wise sir, that should mean that you will be in fine fettle tomorrow.”
“Not sure that you can say that about all our lads though,” I reply. “You may have a long night ahead of you.”
“That’s why I’m here. Hope you sleep well.”
I go up to my room and in no time at all I’m as dead to the world as Elvis. The next thing I’m aware of is the sound of the rain and a vague sense that it must be morning. The other bed in the room is untouched so it looks as though Rob didn’t make it upstairs. I find my watch, it’s just after 9 and I realize that I’m starving. I didn’t bother unpacking last night and decide that there is at least another day of use in the clothes that I had on yesterday, so I throw those on and head downstairs. The place is very quiet but just as I get to the bottom of the stairs I start to hear the sound of a radio from the direction of the bar. I open the door and go in.
“Good morning,” says Shane.
“Hi Shane, was it a late night for you?”
“I’ve had later, mind you a few of them didn’t make it upstairs,” he indicates with his eyes to the corner of the bar behind me where Rob and Deano are slumped.
“Typical of those two,” I say.
“They were no trouble, so I expect you would like some breakfast. Full Irish ok for you or are one of those rare travellers who prefers a Continental?”
“No, I’m starving. I’ll have a full breakfast please.”
“Lovely, I’ll just go and let Claire know.”
He glides out of the room and I ponder over the prospect of waking Rob and Deano but think better of it and decide to leave them to their uncomfortable looking sleep.
In the grey light of the morning it’s clear that The Green Lodge has seen better days; most of the furniture is showing its age and the main window looking out towards the car park in front of the Hotel has a large crack running from top to bottom. The pattern of the raindrops falling down the window is violently skewed as it hits the fault line. Looking around the room I notice a bookshelf and wander over to take a look. It’s full of travel books and guides to the delights of the local area, picture after picture of hills and fields. Why do people want to go and look at countryside? I swear that I’ll never understand the attraction of a muddy field and some old tree’s. If I do change my mind though, this is obviously the place to come. The smell of frying bacon starts to drift past me, time to have a look in the dining room.
I push open the door and find a fairly dispiriting looking room, lots of basic looking square metal legged tables with place settings for four people and a centre piece of plastic flowers. None of the chairs appear to match, some of them are comically low, out of curiosity I stiffly edge down onto one of these chairs and the find the table is roughly at chin height for me, of course at that very moment the door from the kitchen swings open and a middle aged woman comes quickly into the room.
“Good morning to you, coffee or tea?” She asks as a large grin spreads across her face.
“Oh, um, coffee please,” I say trying to rise from the chair with some degree of grace.
“I think that one’s a little on the small side for you, but I expect you worked that out for yourself there.”
“Yes, it is a little low down, I’ll, um, move, sorry.”
“Any of the others coming down?”
“Not that I know of, it sounded pretty quiet when I got up.”
“I expect they’ll be down soon; in my experience few things move young men like the smell of a cooked breakfast. I’d guess that you’ll be having some company soon.”
With that, she turns quickly on her heels and moves back to the kitchen.
The room is sparsely decorated, the only visual point of interest is a wide picture of what I think is the Forth Bridge, which is actually cut in two and displayed in a couple of adjoining frames of differing sizes. I get up from my seat to take a close look, on closer inspection it looks as though it’s not even a proper poster, it probably was taken from a broadsheet newspaper or a magazine and in places it has faded so much as to be hardly visible. I wonder what prompted someone to pluck this picture and decide that it had to be mounted so quickly that they couldn’t possibly wait until they had a frame that was the right size for the picture. No, it had to go up straight away, if that means cutting it into oddly sized segments, so be it.
Now settled in a chair that matches my build a little better, I have a clear view out to the fields behind the hotel and a very drab view it is. The fields are messy, muddy and are occasionally dotted with buildings and what I assume must be farm equipment all of which are in a dilapidated state. I can never understand why older people go on about the wonders of the countryside, in my experience it’s the dullest, dirtiest most miserable place to spend anytime. If you do venture into it, the chances are that you will come home with some sort of animal crap on you after traipsing around for hours with nothing to see and no-one to talk to. It’s a place where stagnation and decay rule, I’ll take the allegedly dirty, smelly, dangerous town over the country every time.
Suddenly the door of the dining room swings open and in walks an elderly man, vigorously shaking the rain off a small bright pink umbrella. When the umbrella drops down I can see that he is wearing a rather natty ensemble of a Manchester United bobble hat, a paisley scarf, a heavy looking brown checked dressing gown, red tracksuit trousers and a pair of working man’s boots which appeared to be covered with the sort of detritus which I had just been thinking about.
“Sorry?” I say, unable to keep pace with his rapid-fire delivery.
“Myslipperstheyshouldbebythedoor CLAIRE, CLAIREWHEREAREMYSLIPPERS?” He shouts toward the kitchen.
Clair comes into the room with a mug of coffee in her hand.
“Finbarr McCafferty, don’t you be shouting at me like that! Look at the state of you, I thought we agreed that you were going to get dressed properly before coming in for breakfast today. I don’t want you intimidating my guests,” she turns to me. “I’m so sorry
Mr. McCafferty lives next door and we have an arrangement regarding breakfast with him, I hope you don’t mind?”
“No, no, that’s fine,” I say, taking the mug from her outstretched hand.
“Sit down and take those filthy boots off, I put your slippers in the kitchen, give me a moment.”
Mr. McCafferty, looks around the virtually empty dining room before fixing me with a steely glare “Hmph,” he sighs before casting his eyes around the place again. Once again, his visual journey around the room ends with him looking in my direction and sighing heavily.
“Oh,” I say. “Is this where you normally sit? Sorry, I’ll move.”
I start to get up from the chair, but he quickly strides towards me.
He pulls out the chair and sits down with a heavy thud.
The boot on his right foot has been lifted a couple of inches from the floor and is proffered in my direction. At some stage, I’m sure that it must have emerged, bright and shiny from a firm box, maybe with some paper carefully wrapped around it to stop it from being blemished by its brother or maybe sister boot. A comforting leathery smell would have gently enveloped the nostrils of the new guardian of the footwear and the beautiful relationship between man and his boot was about to begin. Few relationships are closer than that of a man and the item that he chooses to place upon the sole of his feet.
Although women profess to love their shoes, the fickle way that they switch from pair to pair shows that the relationship is transitory, some would even say capricious. Of course they love to show off their new acquisition to friends and for a while everything is wonderful. Then one day a purchase is made, the new member of the entourage is higher, flatter, brighter, softer, firmer or whatever but it is different and suddenly more exciting than the previous model. Soon the original is featuring rather less often in footwear rota, then it’s moved from the bedroom floor to the wardrobe and it’s seldom seen again. Cast to the back of the wardrobe it emerges only on those occasional tidy up days when the flame of affection is briefly rekindled without ever really catching alight with the same level of intensity of those first few exciting weeks.
A man however will stick with his shoe until the poor thing has given everything for its master, it’s a relationship where the two parties stick together through thick and thin, literally in this case. People often say that the relationship between a man and his dog is so close that the two parties end up mirroring each other’s characteristics, though I must admit that I’m not aware of many men who have taken to cocking their leg whilst relieving themselves. The well-fitting, well-worn man’s shoe will over time reveal to the world, the true nature of the foot snugly hidden within it. The lines and contours gradually emerge to cover the previously smooth surface of the shoe, creasing it in a way that mere hands could never manage to do. Eventually when the shoe has given everything for you, it is put out of its misery and thrown away, often in several parts as the sole and uppers become ever more distant friends, the increasing intrusion of water into the area reserved for socks only whenever puddles litter the pavements, mean it has to go.
His boot is caked with all manner of unpleasantness and is being waved with ever more urgency in my direction.
“COMEON, offwithitnow, offwithit,” he demands.
Cautiously I lean forward, I notice that the laces are undone and are hanging limply down from the eyelets, at least I don’t need to worry about struggling with a difficult knot. I ease my fingers into the uppers and try to make the opening as wide as possible, in the hope that the boot will slip off without too much actual pulling on my part. Sadly, there is little room for manoeuvre, I know that at some point I shall have to take hold of that filthy heel and pull. I look back to the table in the hope that there might be a napkin that I can use to provide some sort of protective layer but sadly for me it looks as though finger wiping is not a priority in these parts.
Mr. McCafferty appears to have picked up on my discomfort and train of thought.
“AH, holdonnowholdon, usethis,” he rattles off as he reaches into the pocket of his dressing gown to pull out a large and obviously very well used handkerchief along with various sweet wrappers and a couple of those stubby pens that you can only find in bookmakers.
“Thereyougoyoungfella,” he says.
“Thanks”, I mumble, appreciating his offer of help but distressed that I now have to take hold of another disgusting item to help Mr. McCafferty prepare for his breakfast.
The handkerchief is not only, obviously damp but also distressingly lumpy and green in certain parts. It’s clear that Mr. McCafferty has used this item for most of his adult life without seeing the need to expose it to any sort of hot water and soap combination and now, generous soul that he is, he’s offering it to me.
I desperately scan the fetid piece of cloth for some dry areas, which I may be able to hold without too much fear of contamination. I find that two diagonally opposing corners are dry and rough to the touch, so gingerly taking those between my thumbs and forefingers I then try to wrap it around the heel of Mr. McCafferty’s right boot in order to pull at the hard plastic base of his footwear.
Mr. McCafferty makes no effort to pull his foot in the opposite direction of my efforts, in fact if anything he appears to be just letting his leg drift around in whichever direction I am pulling it.
“Try to pull your foot out,” I say as he starts to slide off his chair and towards me. I pull again and the handkerchief slips against the surface of the boot, falls from my feeble grasp, leaving my now naked fingers holding the slimy boot in my hands.
“Oh Christ!” I yell.
What the hell, my hands are covered with sixty years of snot and phlegm along with a sizeable amount of mud and God knows what else, I may as well just bend down, grab it fully and finish it off. So, I do this.
The force of my thrust takes Mr. McCafferty by surprise, so as well as the boot departing rapidly from its job of enclosing his foot and flying through my slippery grip, he himself zooms forward, his foot going upward at great speed before it is stopped by the weight of my chin. Causing me to bite my lip as my glasses fly across the room. He lands with a thud on the floor, pulling the table and a shower of crockery and cutlery onto him and me as he goes.
There is a second of two of stunned silence before the doors to the bar and kitchen are thrown open.
“Jonsey! What are you doing?” Shouts a suddenly wide-awake Rob.
“Mr. McCafferty that’s it!” Shouts Claire. “I asked you not to cause me a problem with these boys and here you fighting with them in my breakfast room. Who do you think you are?”
“He wasn’t fighting,” I offer. We were just trying to get his boot off and ….well, um things went a bit wrong.”
“I’ll say they did,” she replies. Come away from there now, let me clear that mess up.”
No, no I’ll do it,” says Rob. “Please, leave it to me.”
Mr. McCafferty has now picked himself up from the floor and much to my amazement has without any apparent commotion removed his other boot.
“Didyoufindthoseslippers?” he asks.
“You’d better go and clean up a bit before I bring your breakfast through,” says Claire. “There’s soap in the gents toilet next to the bar.”
“Yeah, looks like I’ve been working the fields,” I say, “see you in a minute.”
I walk quickly past Rob who is smiling broadly and head into the bar where Deano is just starting to wake up. Rather than trying to explain what has just happened, I briefly wave at him and keep walking. As it takes Deano around a minute to compose any sort of sentence, I know that he’s not going to call me back to explain why the hand that I just waved at him looks as though it been used for picking potatoes.
The toilet is a grim and despondent place. Freezing cold, stinking of last night’s deposits, plaster bubbling from the exterior wall as huge swathes of dampness do their best to dismantle this desolate room. Then again, I’ve seen worse. If you spent any time out and about listening to music in Bristol, you soon worked out that sanitation costs came pretty far down the priority list on most club owners’ lists of must haves. Near the top of the list was obviously cynical, sneering, condescending door staff. The greatest joy that these bloated individuals had in life, came from keeping you out of their sparsely attended clubs.
Any reason would do – wrong shoes, wrong trousers, wrong haircut, wrong shirt, wrong age, wrong number of people in your group. It wasn’t just the punters that were treated badly though, the hired hands appeared to hate the bands that played as well. In one venue if a headline band stopped playing for more than around thirty seconds, the houselights would flash on and the confused crowd would be ushered towards the doors with virtually full glasses of beer being dexterously plucked from their grasp before anyone knew what was happening. Bands would stare on in confusion as the crowds were ushered away from them, local bands tend to know the score and would zip quickly between songs in order to avoid a premature end to their set.
In places like this, toilets facilities were grudgingly provided. Doors appeared to be an optional extra, toilet paper never seen. Hot water had apparently not been invented yet and if you wanted to dry your hands after exposing them to the dribble of cold water that would splutter from the one working tap, well, you had better use your clothing to dry your hands as any form of towel was a luxury which was yet to arrive in this glamorous location.
With several years serious gig going years under my belt, I felt right at home in the decidedly spartan conditions within the toilets where I now found myself. There was, as promised some soap balanced on the lip of a dull blue sink. Dry, cracked , dotted with strange small black lumps it may be, but it was at least something to help me work on the unseemly mess that my hands had become. I have to admit that I’ve never been one of those lads who “loves getting his hands dirty”. I pride myself on avoiding any sort of manual work, in fact the closest that my hands would normally get to their current unpleasant state was when I could be found cleaning my football boots. From a young age, Dad had drilled the importance of starting a game with my boots in pristine condition into me. The post-match boot cleaning ritual was firmly established, arrive home, tell Mum the score, grab the largest newspaper that I could find and spread it over a large area of the floor in our back room. Remove my boots from the plastic carrier bag and place on the paper. The worst of the excesses of mud would have already been removed by smacking the soles of the boots together as violently as possible outside the changing rooms after the match, the air full with equal measures of flying mud and the wonderful cracking sound of football studs crashing into each other at high speed. I think we had as many mud in the eye injuries as we had more conventional football ones.
As soon as the boots were laid to rest upon last weeks Sunday Times the tricky business of removing the laces would begin. This was fiddly, dirty work and almost every week I would curse myself for having chewed off my nails, making the extraction of the snuggly fitting lace from the eyelets a tricky process, especially if the laces had become swollen by water and mud over the preceding couple of hours. Eventually though, they would emerge, pulled the length of the boot hole by hole, with an ever more satisfying swish.
By this time Mum or more usually Dad would have placed a washing-up bowl, half filled with warm water alongside me. The laces would be deposited swiftly into the bowl and then left to soak for a minute or two before being rubbed, flicked and stroked until every last vestige of that morning’s mini Wembley was removed from them. They would then be laid out as flat as possible on the paper to dry.
Time now to use the other tools of my temporary trade, Stud spanner, knife and a J-Cloth. Firstly, all the screw-in studs would need to be removed. Of course I should just pause here a moment to mention the enormous pride I and I guess every other football mad young boy feels when he moves from boots with moulded rubber studs which form the base of his boot, to boots with removable nylon or metal studs (I was never really sure what sort of metal they were, but Rich Baker assured me this his were made of Silver!) just like the professionals wear. It’s like wearing your first pair of long trousers to school after all those cold winter years in short trousers, like the first time you “see” a difference after running your Dad’s razor blade over your previously slightly fuzzy chin, the first sip of that magical glistening fizzy brown liquid called Beer. Suddenly you are changed forever, sophisticated, mature and worldly wise, you mock the youngsters left trailing in your wake.
Of course, you soon realise that your new status is not quite the wonder that you dreamt it would be. The new studs are prone to removing themselves, half way through a game, unless they are screwed in with a super human force. Causing you to lose your footing at that crucial moment of the match. That first realisation that once your long trousers are wet because you have decided to splash through the puddles on the way to school, they will stay wet ALL day and not only that, as the day goes on the dampness edges ever further up your leg, as fibre comes into contact with fibre, edging higher and higher, creating a cold damp blanket around your skinny shivering legs. The joy of the first shave, soon turns to misery as you become adept at slicing the top off pimples, causing puss and blood to ooze for hours behind the quickly dabbed tissue which you now treasure more than anything. And then there is Beer, well after all the years of anticipation, the marvelling at it’s wonderful colour, hearing the vast array of compliments bestowed upon the huge range of pints you have seen paraded before you by every male over the age of about sixteen, when you actually get around to trying some it tastes awful, not just odd or strange but absolutely and terrifyingly awful.
Anyway, back to the boots, Studs would be unscrewed and placed in the bowl of water, to soak away any remaining mud. Using the knife and a now damp J-Cloth the sole of the boot would be cleared of any remnants from the pitch, before working on the leather uppers of the boot. Once all traces of that morning’s activity had been removed it was time to apply black polish to the uppers. All the while, taking very special care to avoid getting any polish on the few white stripes along the side of the boot, which would be the makers hallmark. Finally, after allowing the boots to stand and absorb the polish for a while, a protective coat of Dubbin would be added to the surface. In the gap between the application of the polish and that of the Dubbin, Dad and I discuss that mornings game.
Dad would always come to watch the games; in fact, he became an integral part of the school team set up when he offered to help ferry the boys around in the back of his large blue Volvo. Not many of the other parents appeared to be too bothered about watching a group of clueless eleven year olds running around with huge amounts of energy but very little direction. One exception was the fearsome Mrs. Cook, whose son Lee was a pretty hopeless winger, no matter what the weather was she would always appear on the side lines just as the game was about to start. With the statuesque physique of a Soviet body builder, she would rush up and down the line muttering threats to anyone who came close to her beloved son. As soon as the game ended, she was off, much to the relief of any of the opposition who may have given Lee a hard time.
I say that Dad always came to watch me play but after one tense and unusually noisy week at home he didn’t appear on Thursday evening for tea as he normally did. Mum was very, very quiet and even I could tell that something was wrong.
“Why are we starting without Dad?”
“Ask him when you see him,” Mum softly replied.
“When will that be?”
“I’m not….just eat this now, come on. Then you can watch Top of the Pops.”
“Will Dad be home then?”
“Maybe, I don’t know, just eat up will you.”
Well he didn’t appear for Top of the Pops, or even by the time I had to go to bed. I was woken by the sound of the telephone in the hallway, which was a shock as the phone was seldom used after 9 o’ clock and the green glowing figures on my bedside clock told me that it was almost five to ten. Carefully easing myself from the bed I made my way to the door and pulled it open a fraction. I couldn’t hear much of what was being said. In fact, for long periods of time Mum didn’t appear to be saying anything at all. Maybe the person of the other end of the phone had stopped talking and she had just fallen asleep, it was really late after all. Then suddenly she blurted out,
“No, no that’s not fair, don’t say that!”
Then it went quiet again, other than the occasional sound of her blowing her nose. In my anxiousness to find out what was going on, I fully opened my bedroom door and got down on all fours to crawl toward the stair landing, hoping to see as well as hear what was happening. My Mother was sitting on a tread near the bottom of the stairs, something I’d never seen her do before. The hand that wasn’t holding the phone to her ear was raking through her normally rigid hair with increasing regularity. Still, few words were coming from her. Then suddenly she put the phone down and held her head in her hands, her back and shoulders gently shaking. I didn’t know what to do, so I just crawled back to bed pulled up the covers and eventually went to sleep.
Mum woke me the next morning.
“Come on, it’s time to get up. I think I’ll walk you into school today. That’ll make a nice change.”
Dad normally dropped me off in the car, so I guessed that he still wasn’t around.
“Where’s Dad?” I asked.
“Oh he’s had to go off for a while. We’ll be ok though; it’ll be our little adventure.”
Not much else was said during breakfast or the walk to school. Oddly in the afternoon break Mr. Evans, the sports teacher, came up to me and said that he would pick me up for the game tomorrow morning, as he knew that Dad wouldn’t be able to make it. How did Mr. Evans know that Dad wouldn’t be around for the game? What was going on?
Friday night saw the same sort of routine as Thursday had, although this time we didn’t have Top of the Pops to distract us. It was an edgy awkward night with Mum looking as though she was going to burst into tears at any moment. To be honest it was a relief to go to bed at least things were the same in my room as they always were. I slept pretty well and woke early, looking forward to the game. Mum fussed around more than normal, asking me again and again,
“Have you got everything?” “Have you got your boots?”, “What time does the game start?”
I was relieved when Mr. Evans turned up. As soon as his car pulled up outside the house, I dashed out, “See you later Mum,” I shouted, and I was in the car before she had a chance to respond.
It was a foul day and the squeak of the wipers smudging the rain across the windscreen of the rusting minibus, which Mr. Evans uses to take the team to games was providing a strangely hypnotic rhythm. We collect the rest of the boys from the school and head off.
“Where’s the game being played Sir,” I ask after the incessant squeaks start to finally drive me to distraction.
“About ten minutes away.”
And sure enough about ten minutes later we swerve into a car park and park up.
“Over there boys, the red door, that’s where the changing rooms are.”
We dash across the puddle covered tarmac and into the changing rooms, jostling for the best place to sit, Mr. Evans struggles through the door with the kit bag.
“Five minutes boys”, he shouts and then heads back to the corridor.
“How come your Dad didn’t bring you?” asks Lee.
“He had to go to London,” I blurt out! Why did I say that? No one from round here ever goes to London, why would my dad have gone today?
“Really? Wow, didn’t you want to go?” asks Lee.
“He wanted me to go but I said that I had to play in this game, so he had to go without me.”
“Has your Mum gone?”
“Course not, women don’t go to London. She’s at home. Anyway it’s time for the game, come on.” I rush out to avoid having to make up any more nonsense.
The game starts. The pitch is muddy, our opponents much bigger and better than us and I’m having a shocker. Everything I do goes wrong and my teammates are getting fed up with me. My attention starts to drift and then suddenly I notice that Dad’s blue Volvo is pulling into the car park. I try to concentrate on the game, but my vision is drawn to the car, the large blue door swings open and my dad steps out. The game goes on around me, I try to re-join the action; I don’t want Dad to see me letting the team down. Suddenly I’m running at twice the speed of the other players. I win a tackle and pass to a teammate who almost scores. I can feel Dad’s eyes watching me, but I keep my head down, watching the ball, getting the ball, going around one player, two players, just the keeper to beat now and I hit the ball as hard as I can. It’s past the keeper before he can move.
“Great goal, Jonsey,” shouts someone. I turn to where I think my Dad is just in time to see the Volvo pulling out of the car park.
Gradually the rest of the lads make it downstairs for breakfast, as each of them enter the room Rob introduces them to Mr. McCafferty and brings them up to date the events of the morning.
Having completed his breakfast Mr. McCafferty stayed in the room with us, producing a tightly folded newspaper from the pocket of his Dressing Gown, he is a study in determined concentration as he works his way through the Racing pages carefully making notes in a tiny pocket notebook.
The game against the local Hurling team has apparently been arranged for 6pm, so we have to work out what to do for the rest of the day. Inevitably drinking appears to be the thing on most peoples’ minds.
“What’s the plan then boss?” Ads asks Trev.
“Well I don’t think that we should just sit here drinking all day,” Trev responds. “If we do that we might as well not bother with the game.”
“Let’s go into town and have a look around,” Rob chips in. “We’ve come a long way so we should have a proper scout about.”
“Rich, are your lovely cousins going to be around? Trev asks.
“Well they should be working but this is Ireland, so you never know. Let’s head into town and see if they are around. You ok to drive us in Jonsey, or should we get some taxi’s sorted?”
“Yeah, I’ll drive we might as well try to stick together, you just know what will happen if we split up, pretty soon we’ll only have enough players for a five-a-side game tonight.”
Ten minutes later everyone is in the van and “Shot by both sides” by Magazine is bouncing around the tin box as we head towards the town. It’s a song and band that marked the start of the change in my friendship with Trev.
Back at the end of the seventies, I initially resisted the lure of Punk and it’s first cousin New Wave. Trev, I and a few others mocked the ridiculous hair and lack of basic musical ability, which was thrust at us with ever more eagerness by our beloved music papers. We stood our ground, sure in the knowledge that our superior musical choices would brush away these ignorant upstarts. It’s strange, but I vividly remember the day, or should I say night that my defences crumbled, and a new world of music came rushing into my life.
Radio Caroline aside, Trev and I had a pretty low opinion of the musical choices, which the radio offered us. The one exception to this was the late night John Peel show, on Radio 1. The likes of Pink Floyd, Led Zeppelin, Wishbone Ash and Camel would send me to sleep on the back of some sublime eight minute guitar soloing marvel, content in the knowledge that I was part of a select group of people who really knew what was going on. Gradually though, things started to change.
One night Peel started playing short, in fact ludicrously short, songs by The Ramones. We thought that this was a minor blip at first. The tracks were almost like the Ivor Cutler pieces which Peel would play, in that you weren’t quite sure if they were in fact comedy songs and that we just didn’t get the joke. Yet as time went on these “joke” songs started to take up more and more airtime. I well remember the shockwaves that were caused when instead of playing “Blowin’ Free” by Wishbone Ash, he announced that he would play “Jocko Homo” by Devo! This was a song so devoid of craft, skill or talent that it caused Trev to break his radio by throwing his copy of the “NME Book of Rock” at the set in a rage, as he sadly told me the next day.
“What’s going on?” He pleaded. “Real music is dying, it’s got to stop. I’m going to write to Peel to complain,” he went on.
It was clear that this music was gradually taking control. Suddenly we saw names like The Clash, Damned, X-Ray Spex and others emblazoned across the back of a few of the haversacks which some of the boys in school used to carry their school books around. One day one of the lads in the year below us turned up with a safety pin stuck in his cheek, when he refused to remove it, he was sent home, but it was clear that something was happening.
Trev and I refused to budge, mocking these new musical converts at every opportunity, however we found ourselves evermore outnumbered and mocked as hippies and dinosaurs because of our allegiance to long hair and longer songs. Trousers were the other thing that started to change rapidly. Whilst we lounged around in voluminous flares with patch pockets on the side, all around us trouser width was depleting as rapidly as our credibility.
In the midst of our hour of need, Peel twisted the knife even deeper. I still listened to the show but with a growing sense of futility. In the summer of 1978 Trev and I both left school but remained firm allies when we would meet up to discuss new musical purchases or plan gigs to see.
Then one night in December it happened! At the end of the year, Peel asked his listeners to send in a postcard listing their three favourite songs; these would then be fashioned into a top 50 chart to be broadcast over successive nights during the Christmas period. Every evening at 10p.m. the familiar but nameless bluesy theme tune to the show would start up and I would listen anxiously to hear what the people, I had considered until very recently to be my peer group, had chosen.
As Peel introduced each song from numbers 50 to 1, I finally realise how completely things had changed. For the occasional sighting of something from Pink Floyd or Lynyrd Skynyrd, I would have to put up with endless songs from Siouxsie and the Banshees, Buzzcocks and the Rezillos. Initially this causes me great distress, when Trev and I talked the next day we rush to outdo each other with our outrage.
“Did you hear it? How can “Sex & Drugs & Rock & Roll” be higher than “Shine On You Crazy Diamond”? It’s madness,” I spluttered over the phone.
“Not just that, how can there be 28 songs higher than “Shine On You Crazy Diamond?” Trev shouts back. “The only thing that can possibly be above it is “Stairway To Heaven”, Peel should have stopped it. It’s all his fault. I’m finished with him.”
“Me too” I reply.
And yet, although I couldn’t admit it to Trev, some of these songs were starting to break their way through the barriers I had so carefully constructed. Maybe Siouxsie and her Banshees were onto something with the carefully constructed slow menace of songs like “Switch” and “Overground” and The Stranglers had some nice keyboard riffs in some of their songs.
The next night was shocking. Bowie was in at 16 with “Heroes”, fair enough. Then came the trauma of “White Riot” by The Clash. A song, if you can call something, which doesn’t even make it to the 2-minute mark a song, which consists of unintelligible ranting over the scratchiest, most inane musical backing you can imagine. Somehow this was rated as the 15th best song in the world!!! Then at number 14, some degree of sanity. The beautifully constructed and unmistakable acoustic introduction to “Stairway To Heaven”. Time to sit back and luxuriate in the 8 minutes of musical splendour. Oh yes, this is real music for grown-ups, considered, mature, reasoned, rational, epic in its scope and concept. And then it was gone, what next? What could be better than that? Then some pounding Tom-Tom drums start up and The Damned rush at me with “New Rose”, at least it makes it past the 2 minute mark and then it rushes towards it’s frenetic climax. Something about the blitzkrieg ending did appeal but I pushed that thought to the back of my mind as quickly as possible.
The next night would be the top ten, Trev had told me that he wouldn’t be listening and it was all obviously rigged and there wouldn’t be anything worth hearing. For the sake of completeness, I couldn’t just leave it there, I needed to hear how things finished up.
The countdown began with “Teenage Kicks” by The Undertones, a regular feature of the Peel show and a song I had learnt to tolerate if not love. The next song, more swirling anger in the form of “Public Image” by Public Image Limited and I found my foot tapping along, as the vitriol spewed forth from Jonny Rotten or Lydon or whatever else he was called this week. Next up, Buzzzcocks with “What Do I Get?” Good pop song, I feel myself thinking for a moment before dispatching the thought from my head. The next couple of tracks come from the top echelon of all that Trev and I despise about this stupid musical form called punk, The Clash and Sex Pistols but both “White man In Hammersmith Palais” and “Pretty Vacant” sound vibrant exciting and challenging. The next one though is the killer, at number 5 a marvellous strident guitar opening leads into the sneering, arrogant vocals and now the fact that I can’t fully understand the lyrics doesn’t matter, it just sounds great. The chorus is upon us “Shot….. by both sides…. on the run…. to other side of everything. Shot…. by both sides…..they must have come…. to a secret understanding”. I’m out of the chair and jumping around the bedroom. It’s the most exhilarating song I’ve ever heard and yes, it’s got a guitar solo in but it’s only about 20 seconds long! Only 20 seconds and it’s brilliant, absolutely brilliant.
How can I tell Trev?
In the daylight we can see that there really isn’t much to Carlow, we go past a smattering of small houses and then, suddenly, we are on the implausibly wide main street, which passes for downtown Carlow. I park up and we head into a newsagent to load up with newspapers and fags.
The young girl behind the counter smiles as we troop in to the tiny shop.
“Morning” says Rob.
“Hello” she replies, “I guess you are the football lads from England.”
“Blimey lads, we are famous,” says Rob with a huge smile on his face, “say hello to the nice lady now. We wouldn’t want her to think that we left our good manners on the other side of the Irish Sea.”
Dutifully, we all do as we are told, except Deano that is, as he needs another few minutes to prepare himself to talk to some one of the opposite sex.
“You boys staying out at The Green Lodge?”
“That’s right,” replies Trev. “So, what should we do whilst we are in the area?”
“Oh, there’s not much to do around here, you’d be better off going up to Dublin. We’ve just got farms and old men around here,”
“I don’t know, the pub we were in last night was ok,” says Rob. Maybe we will see you in there sometime?”
“You never know,” she replies. “Enjoy your day.”
Rich decides to go to his auntie’s house to catch up with her and see if Suzanne and Janine will be around, I ask if it’s ok if I come with him and he says that will be fine. The rest of the lads decide to head towards a café, which is across the road from the paper shop. Rich and I say that we will come back to meet up with the other lads at around 11:30, so that gives us around forty-five minutes.
I’ve known Rich since school days and although I wouldn’t say that we were inseparable but we’ve always been mates. He’s always been one of those people that just happens to be around, without us ever having to make specific plans to meet up.
“Your family are a laugh,” I say, as we start the short walk.
“They are that,” he replies. “My aunties amazing, her husband died in a car crash about fifteen years ago, before that she lost a son when he was just a baby. I didn’t ever meet him, he died before I was born, yet you never hear her moaning. Whenever she comes over to Bristol, she’s the centre of attention. People come from all over to see her and all she wants to do is look after them. The classic auntie stuff, have a cup of tea, you sit on this chair it’ll be more comfortable for you, giving kids a pound to spend in the shops. She’s brilliant.
“And the sisters?” How close are you to them?”
“Well, like I said last night when some of the guys started drooling, I haven’t seen them for ages. I guess that we chat on the phone a couple of times a year and Janine sends the occasional letter over.”
“So, this is a nice way of catching up with them, as long as none of the lads get out of hand!”
“They can look after themselves, those two. If they can cope with some of the big farmers around here, then they’ll have no problem with our lot.”
As we turn the corner into the Auntie Jean’s road, we can see her standing outside chatting with a couple of folks of a similar age. She looks our way and gives us a jolly wave.
“Good morning boys, I was just telling my neighbours here, what a lovely group of young men you and your pals are,” she calls out.
“Morning Aunty,” says Rich. “How are you today?”
“Fine thanks, the girls have taken the day off to spend some time with you. They were just about to call The Green Lodge to see if you were about yet. If you pop in the house there, you’ll find them.”
We move into the house and Rich shouts out:
“C’mon you two, get out of bed, we can’t be waiting around all day, we’ve got things to do!”
“Well, well, that’s rich,” comes a voice from the back of the house. “I don’t remember seeing you at dawn this morning when some of us were working the cows.”
With that Janine emerges from the kitchen with a big smile on her face and punches Rich playfully on the arm.
“Hi Jonsey, have you lost the rest of the team already?”
Before I can answer, Rich replies:
“Yes, we sent them back home to Bristol, they are noisy, smelly and crude.”
“Unlike you two charmers I suppose,” Janine cuts in.
“Of course. We are the intelligent ones come to spread our wisdom around the old country.”
“Sounds like someone’s still drunk from last night,” says Suzanne and she comes down the stairs to join us.
“Hello,” I say.
“Hi,” she replies.
“So, what shall we do today then?” asks Rich.
“Well the weathers pretty good, why don’t we drive over to the coast, have a bit of lunch and a walk about. Then we can get you back in plenty of time for your big game,” says Janine. “Maybe tomorrow you should go up to Dublin.”
“Sounds ok to me,” says Rich. “How about you Jonsey, that ok with you?”
“Yeah fine,” I reply.
“Right then, we may as well get going,” says Rich. “Get your things ready girls, you sure it’s ok for the pair of you to take the time off work?”
“It’s fine, in fact we could both do with a break. It’s a long time since we’ve done anything other than work and we need to spend some time with our favourite cousin after he’s come all this way to see us,” says Janine.
A few minutes later we’re back in the centre of town and our entry into the café causes a little consternation when the guys realise that we have female company.
“Well, the travellers return,” says Trev. “And it looks as though the workers have managed to escape from the animals to join us,” he continues.
“We thought that the farm animals could look after themselves,” says Janine. “Not so sure about you lot though,” she says whilst smiling broadly.
“What’s the plan then?” Asks Trev.
“Thought we would take a look at the coast line,” replies Rich.
“Oh, you should have said, I’d have bought my trunks!” Shouts Andy.
“Well if anything was guaranteed to scare off these girls, it would be the sight of your lardy ass squeezed into a pair of swimming trunks. Thank God, you left them at home.” Says Trev.
“Oh, I don’t know,” Janine, says. “Nothing wrong with a well-built man taking a dip in his skimpies. Mind you, you’d probably be on the front page of the Gazette the next day for offending someone.”
“Wouldn’t be the first time for Andy”, says Trev
“Leave him alone.” Janine replies. “I bet you’ve offended a few in your time.” She says to Trev.
As some of the lads start to laugh, Trev’s face starts to redden a touch.
Rob shouts out. “Come on then lads, let’s get going, we want to make the most of our time here. Ladies, after you.”
As everyone starts to move towards the door, Trev just stands and looks at Rob before saying “I had it under control mate,” he says as Rob draws level with him.
“Sure you did mate, sure you did. Just wanted to get on that’s all.”
In the morning light the roads look very rough indeed and I’m swerving all over the place to avoid the regular potholes. It’s strange that after all those years in my childhood when Dad used to drive around my mates from various teams, I now find myself doing the same thing. I guess in some part, it’s a way of making yourself part of a group without having to be the “entertainment”. Just by having a car and being happy to take people around you obtain a short cut to meeting and keeping friends.
Of course, the downside of this is that some people may see you as the cheap transport option and you can be somewhat “used”. Dad had one such friend who would arrive at our house after a night drinking in the local pub and then go on and on about all the wonderful characters that had been with him and what a laugh he’d had. Then he would suddenly realise that he had missed the last bus home and that he couldn’t afford to pay for a taxi, before, inevitably, Dad would offer to drop him home.
Suddenly Dad was this guy’s best mate in the world, and he was full of talk of how the pair of them would hit the town and what a great time they would have. Dad would just smile and nod his head, knowing full well, that the invitation would never be extended and yet hoping that next time would be different. I guess the same was true within the family as well, Dad was just expected to fit in around the plans that Mum, or I had. Looking back on the time when he wasn’t around for those few days, I remember now how much friendlier to Dad, my Mum appeared to be when he reappeared.
Previously whenever Dad asked her if she fancied going out for a walk or maybe a drive in the country, the answer would always be a pretty sharp “no”. She had things which were more important or interesting to do, if that wasn’t the case, then she would be too tired. Looking back on it now, I think that maybe Dad just got tired of asking. When he did come back, we started doing things together for a while and things were pretty good. Those few days when Dad went away were never mentioned, I don’t think I even asked him why he’d been away or where he had been. I did though, go on about the goal I had scored, and he told me that he’d heard all about it from Mr. Evans and that he was sure that I would score plenty more. Which sadly, I didn’t do.
As these thoughts were filtering through my head, our journey east was leading us ever closer to a place called Brittas Bay, which Janine assured us we would love. Living where we do, the seaside has never been a big part of my life. When the nearest beach resort is the tacky muddy mess of Weston-Super-Mare, the inner city looks very appealing. This place though was very different, miles and miles of clear sand, spread out in front of us and not a sign of any sad looking Weston donkeys to be seen.
“Hey, it’s just like Heaven Up Here,” said Rob as he jumps out the van.
Although I get the Echo and the Bunnymen reference, most of the lads are confused.
“Looks a long way from heaven to me,” says Trev. “Just a whole load on nothing.”
“Yes, but it’s a beautiful nothing, don’t you think?” Says Janine.
Ad’s climbs down from the van and smashes a football into air. “Come on lads. Let’s show off our beach football skills,” he shouts.
“Shame we didn’t get a petrol station ball,” says Rob. “If you are playing on a beach you really need one of those, anyone can be Brazilian with the way those balls swerve around”
Janine, Suzanne and Rich have started walking along the dry firm sand and I decide to join them rather than the free for all, game that has started up.
“So, do you recognize this place?’ Janine says to Rich.
“No, should I?” He replies.
“Did you never see a picture of your Granda and Grandma in their wedding clothes on the beach?”
“Yeah, was that here?”
“It was indeed. Granda was born in a village just along the road there and they got married in the church here at Brittas Bay. I’ve only ever seen a couple of pictures from the wedding and one was taken somewhere on the beach here.”
“Well, how amazing. Mum will be chuffed when I tell her” Rich replies.
As the cousins discuss old family stories, I just fall in step with them, as we walk along the beach. Not being able to contribute but enjoying hearing about some interesting old characters. After a while Suzanne turns to me and says.
“This must be awful dull for you, Jonsey.”
“No, it’s fine,” I reply. “It’s nice to have a walk without all the others around.”
“Have you got much family? She asks.
“Not really,” I say. “Nothing on my dad’s side. A few relatives in Wales but we don’t see much of each other.”
“Would you like to?”
“Never really thought about it, although when I hear you lot chatting away it sounds nice. It’s good to have that instant link with people that you don’t see very often.”
“True, but it can be an awful pain sometimes as well. You spend a lot of time doing things that all the other people want you to do. Woe betide you, if you don’t fancy spending the nicest day of the year cooped up in a house with a dozen other relies.”
“Can’t say I’ve had that experience very often,” I reply.
“So, tell me about Bristol then, it’s awful big I hear. You lads would soon get bored in a little place like this.”
“I guess it’s just what you’re used to. I’ve only ever lived in Bristol, so I guess I take it for granted. I can’t really imagine living anywhere else.”
“What if you could go anywhere, where would you go.” She asked.
“Well it would have to be a city and I’m no good at languages, so they’d have to speak English there.”
“Oh yeah, with me,” she said. “I’m hopeless at anything else. So, it’s England, America or maybe Canada.”
“Maybe Scotland or Wales, could try Glasgow or Cardiff.”
“So, it would have to be a big city then?” she asked.
“I think so, most of my time is spent going to see bands and well, sad to say, I don’t expect that too many bands appear around here.”
“Ah, you’re right there. We have to make our own fun, that’s for sure.”
By now we’ve walked round, back to the rest of the lads and the talk is of finding a pub for some lunchtime refreshments. Janine knows a place just along the main street, so a few minutes later the lads are jostling for position in front of the bar.
Guinness, fish and chips, appears to be the choice of the day, so that’s what we go for. Apart from me of course, I go for my normal orange juice and lemonade selection.
“Let’s not get too carried away here boys,” says Trev. “Save your real drinking heads for after the match.”
“OK boss,” comes the reply.
I have my doubts though.