“…Tell Gwenyth I Love Her…”

It’s been a funny week.  A sad week. A defining week…

The end of an era… and maybe the start of something new. More of the new another time hopefully but not on this occasion. This week I gave up something I’ve been doing for about 28 years….. no, not that…That can never be given up, it’s essential.

This week I resigned from the committee of an Amateur football club. The reasons are mostly irrelevant on here so I won’t bore you as I’ve bored the long suffering Jen. All I’ll say is it’s a generational issue and I’m too long in the tooth to be told that rules don’t matter. I’m a purist.. old school.. do the right thing or get the fuck out. I’m sad about it but I have principles, maybe too many principles.  Anyway, during my sulking this week I started to think about the good times playing football before all the strokers appeared.  Glory days indeed… proper matches with proper battles and proper personalities, less piss takers and dimwits.

1985 – 1995: Self inflicted football violence…

I played my first game for the club in 1985. I was 16 and a bit scared to be honest…Inevitably I scored and was a hero.  It from a cross delivered from the boot of a man whose daughter would later marry one of my best mates. I remember every moment of that goal to this day, the cross, the scrape off my laces, the flop into the bottom corner and the utter joy…I was hooked at that moment.

Over the next few years I became a captain of a team. I managed to assemble a team of like minded animals who were committed to the cause. Very few oppositions could deal with the onslaught of verbal and physical aggression and we were quite successful as a result. It was the glory time, lifelong friendships were cemented and I can’t recall laughing so much on a football pitch since.

It was the time of the ‘Kharzi assassin’ when retribution for a flailing elbow was sought in the showers. I recall the scene… reminiscent of a Oliver Read wrestling Alan Bates by the fire in ‘Women in Love’. Not really something you wish to witness when you are washing your hair under a dribbling, cold shower in Gunnersbury Park…. how do you stop it? everyone is shiny and wet… what do you grab?.. who are you grabbing?… what are you grabbing?

It was a time of impact injury. No one strained a muscle so the only way you really got hurt was by hitting something similarly human shaped.

My partner in crime up front was a tough North London nut with a pretty boy face. He was, and remains, obsessed with his own beauty and regularly used ‘strawberry pip’ shower gel to exfoliate after matches. One cold January afternoon he decided to jump for a header a fraction too late which resulted in the forehead of the opposition player connected with the bridge of his nose. He hit the deck holding his face but when he removed his hands the lack of blood was noticeable…. I saw this as worrying and a bit like a razor cut that doesn’t initially bleed. We were an advanced team and owned a bucket of water and a sponge.  We took the sponge and placed it hard on the nose of our mate. No one knew why but we thought it would be a good idea. upon removing the sponge, a edge of it snagged the U-shaped red line on the bridge of his nose made by the impact and pulled the skin like when you peel a banana. This flap of skin was now incapable of going back in place no matter how many times we pushed the sponge back on it. “is it bad?” says pretty boy…”Hmm”.. says I, noticing the exposed cartilage of his nose, “I won’t lie to you Franco…. it’s fuckin’ rotten. “. We send Francis to Hospital, finish the match and adjourn to the pub.

Some hours later he arrives at the pub battered and stitched up across the bridge of the nose… it looks angry and I notice that he is slightly cross eyed. We quickly establish through the swearing that he is staring at two pieces of surgical cord that the nurse has failed to trim. In essence he has two small antenna on the top of his nose that he can’t ignore. His best mate, lets call him ‘Gary’, volunteers himself to trim the offending antenna there and then in the pub in order to avoid a second trip to the Hospital, so he borrows some blunt scissors from the barmaid. After much panic and twitching Gary manages to do the job and so we can happily continue our celebratory night out.

A couple of years later I decided to get involved in some of my own head trauma. It’s a cup game at home against a bank and for some reason I decide to attack a ball from a corner on the off chance that it will hit me in the face and fly in the net. I had this all planned in my head but forgot that my sight without glasses is like being underwater.

The corner comes in and I jump to head the ball.  The defender, who it turns out is equally as myopic as me does likewise and we are simaltneously airborne as the ball passes between us. Unfortunately there is no stopping us and we head each others faces at full tilt.

I land on my feet and wobble but, like a weeble, don’t fall down. I look at the floor and see what I feel is the contents of my head pour out at my feet. It’s clearly bad and needs more than a sponge and a plaster. I look up and see a lot of distressed faces. It’s suggested that I go to the hospital and so I set off on foot. This isn’t as fantastical as it seems as it was about 100 yards away.

I walk into casualty and there is only three people present. It’s amazing how packed A&E can become in 20 years but on this particular Saturday back then it was empty. I’m greeted by a nurse who ushers me into a side room and has me lie on bed. I’m Lying there for what seems like an age and as the bleeding has stopped so I sit up and notice that in the corner a Doctor is preparing a needle. He walks over and informs me that I’m going to need 8 stitches just above my eyebrow. I’ll also need some x-rays on Monday (turned out I’d broken my nose and fractured my eye socket and cheek in the impact). The Doctor tells me to relax and starts to insert the needle. It was at that point that the nurse arrived with the anaesthetic which was yet to be administered.  The needle is in my eyebrow from the bottom up and I can see it at close quarters while the Doctor and the nurse have a frantic, whispered conversational argument. The doctor turns to me, apologises, whips out the needle, leaves the room and lets the nurse inject my face before she stitches me up…. she was a good seamstress.

The first 10 years of my football ‘career’ were brilliant… violent, hilarious and successful. Trophies were won, teams were battered, people were battered. It moulded and bonded me to the place and I felt it was important to get involved with the hierarchy and maybe even take control of it. And so that is what Bunny and I planned to do…

As I’m coming to the end of my self imposed blog limit and I want to leave on some drama I’ll continue this cobblers in a later blog just to see if you are really following me or just placating my ego..

…1642 hours….. The Freak Box….

I leave work and head in the rain to the station. This is a deep central London station with lifts that are insufficient so everyday I use the stairs instead.  If you time it right you can really pick up some pace on these stairs as the wind downwards.

I have that headphones on and am listening to something suitable heavy but the stairs are packed with meandering tourists who tentatively walk down. Annoying but lets keep it realistic.. it’s not a big deal.

As we get near the bottom I sense a problem. The tourists speed up slightly… I turn the final bend and see the issue.

Standing at the bottom of the stairs is a young Muslim man. He has a long beard, traditional Afghan male garb, the classic Osama Bin Laden hat and a large rucksack on his back…He is also talking while seemingly pointing to the heavens with an outstretched finger…I can’t hear him due to the UFO Live album I’m soaking up on the ‘phones..

This is it….

‘This is the end…my only friend…The End..’

UFO are replaced by the words of a fat, drunk, dead bloke … What do I do?.. I’m eight steps up on him and so if I leap, the force of me (sponsored by Guinness) will really do him some damage…

This is the VC moment…I nearly shout ‘Tell Gwenyth I Love her’ as it could be my final words and I want that as a subheading on the front of The Times when it reports “Bomber dispatched by the greatest hero in the history of humanity”.  I picture Paltrow weeping at my grave while dropping a single black rose into the hole and whispering “You beautiful, sweet, funny man…Why?’…

I hestitate… I change tact. I slowly walk up to him…I’ve dealt with people… I can do this… I notice he’s stopped talking… I take a breath and remove my headphones and stare into the face of my destiny…he starts to speak…

“…’ere mate… how many fucking steps are there going up?…I can’t get any of those tourists to tell me….”

Looks can be deceiving….


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