Eat My Goal

This is the stuff I was writing for the Bath City matchday programme when I ran out of things to say about Bath City. The lovely folks down at Twerton Park found it hard to accept that I had watched football anywhere else but these were the people who thought that if you went anywhere further west than Keynsham you would fall off the edge of the world or find yourself in Wales, whichever might be the most terrifying.

 


 

8th December 1976 - Singapore 2 East Germany 4

I’m supposed to be writing about memorable matchday moments but I’ve got to admit that my memory’s wearing as thin as a half time cuppa from Folkestone Invicta’s tea hut as far as this particular game is concerned. Still, it’s not every day that you get to watch a match in tropical conditions so I‘m going to tell you about it anyway. I live in constant hope of the driver of the Bath City Supporters’ Coach taking a wrong turning off the M42 and making my dream of a return to equatorial football come true, but the most exotic place we’re likely to end up in is Atherstone so I’ll cling on desperately to my fond recollections of that sultry Singapore night. 

The word ‘Singapore’ means Lion City so although I couldn’t understand what the locals had been talking about during the day before the match I’m sure some of it must have meant, “Are you off to watch the City tonight?” 

I wish I’d paid more attention to them now because it would have been so handy to be able to shout, “Come on City!” in Chinese. If just a few of us had been able to do that then the Magic Wok Chinese takeaway on Twerton High Street might still be open today. I suppose not all of them were City fans though, as I’m sure there must have been other local teams with traditional football club names like Lion United, Lion Wanderers or even Lion and Hove Albion. 

As with most of the football matches I attended before I started taking my kids along, the two or three hours immediately prior to the kick off were spent in the pub. However, on this particular occasion things were slightly different to the couple of pints of Tetley’s and a game of arrows I had become accustomed to in my home town ofLeeds. The reason for this was that the reason for my being there in the first place was that I was a proud member of the Scottish branch of the British Merchant Navy and whose ship was in dry dock there having its hull scraped. I suspect that this may come as a bit of a surprise to you but some of my Caledonian colleagues had included “getting mental” in the list of hobbies and interests on their job application forms and we all know that the basic raw materials required to pursue such a pastime amount to little else than a bar and more money than sense which, on this occasion, didn’t amount to a great deal of money. 

Always keen to fit in, and being a bit new to the ‘Jolly Jacks Ashore‘ game, I joined a gang of about twenty of them on what might loosely be described as a bonding exercise. We enjoyed a light meal (i.e. a light ale) before disembarking from our magnificent vessel and soon made ourselves at home in one of the hostelries that clustered around the main gate of the Sembawang Shipyard like barnacles on a bulk carrier’s bottom. As this, our temporary home for a couple of weeks, had been a Royal Naval dockyard during the days of the Empire, all of the bars were named after icons of British Imperialism such as the Nelson Bar, the Trafalgar Bar, the Victoria Bar, Charlie’s and Randall’s. 

Well they say the pubs inYorkshire are friendly but they’d struggle to match the hospitality shown in the premises into which we had ventured. No sooner were we through the door than we were escorted to comfortable seats, brought drinks and sat upon by extremely friendly young ladies who, although of Chinese extraction, had names as British as the bars had. Mary, Rita, Nora and Flo struggled a little with the English language but I strongly suspected that their fathers had been fluent in it. 

It took me nearly half an hour to explain to the stunningly gorgeous Nora why my companions were singing and with such raucity. Longitudinally one third of the way around the world from Hampden Park, en route to see Singapore play East Germany, they still found the need for a couple of rousing choruses of that old Scottish folk favourite, If you hate the fucking English clap your hands. Kenneth McKellar’s recording of it was always my favourite and I was amazed that he only managed a top ten place with it in the 1956 Eurovision Song Contest. They had to sing it as it was a pre-match tradition but I was probably the only Englishman that some of them had ever met and they seemed to like me – I deduced this on the grounds that I had known them for over a month and I was still alive. 

The only bits of English that Nora knew were beer, dollars and some other words that I wouldn’t dare print in a football programme and which I will probably never utter again myself except in the unlikely event of my returning to the quiet seclusion of the confessional. Consequently I struggled to explain to her the seamen’s mission for the evening and had to make full use of the props available to demonstrate the beautiful game of football – beer cans for goalposts, a beer can for a ball and beer cans for defenders. This was quite a challenge because I had to empty the cans myself before I used them. 

I just crumbled when her eyes lit up and she heralded her understanding of my charade shouting, “Ah soccer – Beelee Blemnah!” It was barely credible that this oriental beauty knew of Billy Bremner, the world’s greatest ever player (in the eyes of Nora and I at least), and frustrating that her limited English vocabulary prevented her from explaining how she knew him. My guess was either that her uncle ran the Velly Bluddy Tasty Chinese takeaway on Dewsbury Road, in the shadow of Leeds United’s ground, or Billy’s uncle ran a Scottish takeaway in Singapore selling such delicacies as fish suppers, deep fried steak and kidney pies and battered black puddings. 

On hearing the golden lady’s golden words repeated a couple of times, the ears of the tartan hordes around me pricked up and they tried to get Mary, Rita, Flo et al to say the names of their own favourite players. But a reluctant ‘Danny McGrain’ or a ‘Bobby Lennox’ forced from the larynx in exchange for a glass of Tiger beer didn’t compare to the sparkle of an unprompted ‘Beelee Blemnah.’ 

As the evening wore on the joviality of the occasion fuelled me to fuel myself with so much beer that my supply of spent beer cans was sufficient to put together a set of full size goalposts. Impressive you might think, but not as impressive as the fact that Yeovil Town’s Huish Park stadium was built entirely from the empties from a Burns’ Night party in the crew’s mess on a Glasgow tramp steamer.  It appeared that the bar might even be running out of beer so we collectively decided it was time to make a move for the stadium where there would be more beer and possibly even a football match to watch. 

Curse those 10.00 p.m. kick offs. It may have meant that some of the heat had gone out of the day, making it uncomfortable rather than downright debilitating but it also meant that the period of time to kill before the game got underway provided sufficient opportunity for the debilitating effects of alcohol to kick in. Additionally, it meant that as we had spent the majority of the early part of the night with the bar girls, they were quite disappointed that we wouldn’t be spending the majority of the late part of the night with them too – after all, it was their livelihood! So a torrent of screamed accusations of our being of questionable sexuality followed us as we meandered out onto the street. Tommy the Cook told us not to worry about it. He said he got that sort of treatment every Saturday from his wifey back in Govan and confided in the twenty drunken merchant seafarers (we hated the word ‘sailor’ – it always had overtones of questionable sexuality) that carnal shenanigans in the middle of the night were all well and good but they could never match up to the satisfaction he got from a Jimmy Johnstone goal.

From the thick of the abuse though, one voice did stand out above the rest. It said, “See you soon, Beelee Blemnah!”

You may observe from what follows that I really should have made notes while the game was underway and not simply relied upon my memory to come up with the goods more than quarter of a century later. It’s all your fault really though, because none of you had the common courtesy to tell me that Bath City existed in those days and that at sometime in the future I might be pouring my heart out onto the pages of this award winning programme.

Well the little Chinese man in the shipyard who kept us abreast of social events in the Singapore area (most of which could be described as illegal at best) made our ears prick up with a single utterance of, “Soccah Germany World Champion Ten Dollah!” We weren’t sure if the ten dollar bit meant that that was how much it would cost us at the turnstile of this great encounter or that it was how much he wanted us to pay him to tell us the full details. It turned out to be both but he did go and buy the tickets for us, draw a map of how to get to the stadium, recommend his cousin’s taxi firm to take us there and his sister’s house for a little post-match entertainment. I suspect the Bath City Supporters’ Club agenda for away games is based on this excellent service as we are told well in advance where forthcoming fixtures will take place, we can book our place on the coach by calling into the Club Shop or giving Martin ‘Coach’ Powell a quick ring, the appropriate page from Rob Shepherd’s Real Ale Guide is always on hand to help slake a weary traveller’s thirst, and on arrival back at Twerton we have the opportunity to give the boy, Bas, a lift home.

Unfortunately our guide was a bit misguided about the visitors who turned out to be East rather than West Germany but who were, nevertheless, a strong side at that time. I can’t understand why, since the drawing back of the Iron Curtain, the unification of a very strong side and a strong side has produced what seems to be just a strong side – don’t suppose anyone outside of Deutschland is complaining though! Had it been the Teutonic Titans from the West who had turned up that night I would no doubt have recognised some of the players but none of the East Germans were exactly household names, I’d had a few and it was twenty-seven years ago so I’m afraid I can’t give you a run down of the teams.

We arrived at the magnificent stadium about half an hour before the kick off, spent twenty-nine minutes arguing with the taxi drivers over the fare which had turned out to be more than double the fee agreed prior to embarkation (this was apparently due to the fact that the route had been changed to take in a glimpse of a lucky pig which had a dark patch of skin in the shape of the Laughing Buddha on its back end), and then stumbled up the steps to the entrance as we hurriedly donned our woolly ‘Singapore Inter City Crew’ scarves and bobble hats to keep out the chill (temperatures often dropped below thirty-five degrees after sunset). On the way into the ground I did think about buying one of the home side’s replica shirts but Singaporeans were very small people so it was unlikely that I’d manage to get even one of their XXL sizes over my head and official merchandise such as this didn’t really come into being for about another eight years anyway – so I didn’t bother.

I’m not sure how big the ground was. I wish I’d bought an Evening Chronicle the next day to see the match report and the gate figure. I do know that the crowd was massive and comprised of an ocean of Chinese faces all topped with black hair, except for the odd baldy bloke. It was the first time I had ever been in an all-seater stadium and thought that it was such a shame as, due to the average size of the population, for the first time ever in my life me and my short arse would have been able to see over the heads of the people standing in front. Pity we never swapped names and addresses – I could have invited them all back to Twerton Park and taken full advantage of the comparative loftiness of my physique.

Soon after the kick off the home side were ahead and their supporters were singing something that resembled a Buddhist mantra more than a terrace chant. The vocal support began with a shaven headed chap dressed in a saffron robe pinging two small bells together rather than the customary bloke with a big gob chiming up with “Black Army” for all to follow in an accapella style. The Germans equalised within a few minutes and over a hundred thousand Chinese accents exclaimed, “Oh flip!” No noise from the away end though as there were more Scotland supporters there on the night than there were East Germans.

Moments later the Singapore faithful had even more to complain about as their star striker rounded the ‘keeper and chipped the ball over an open goal from about ten yards out. How did they react? They giggled!

Half time came along. Tasty morsel salesmen (it was the morsels that were tasty, not the salesmen) wandered amongst the crowd and we nibbled on South East Asia’s answer to a dodgy burger – crispy duck and roast vegetables on a skewer with egg noodles – yum! One of my Scottish chums (I think he was called Shuggie – they were all called Shuggie, or Jimmy, or Tommy), desperate for a cigarette, asked for twenty No 6 and ended up with half a stone of egg fried rice. Shuggie also asked a girl selling cups of chilled tea if he could buy, not only the entire contents of the tray in which she carried the refreshing brew, but also the tray itself (the sort of thing you get Lyon’s Maid ice cream tubs from at the Odeon) as he was “a wee bit thirsty this warm night” and he could use the tray at Ibrox to save the lining of his donkey jacket from being worn into holes by his essential supplies of cans of Tennant’s lager.

There were goals scored all over the place in the second half. I don’t recall what order they came in but Singapore sadly lost four-two. Like every other unusual (and strictly neutral) away ground I’ve ever been to, I fell in love with the place and sobbed out loud when it became apparent that, as a Yorkshireman, applying for a season ticket would be a waste of time – the bus service between Leeds Central Bus Station and the Lion City was shocking but on the other hand, so was the bus service between Leeds Central Bus Station and Elland Road.

 


 

10th October 1977 - Bristol City 3 Leeds United 2

I’m still feeling down in the dumplings as I sit here, poised to write with my lucky Paul Madeley pen that I got for my fifteenth birthday, recalling a damp Saturday in October 1977 and one of the unhappiest days in my long Leeds United watching career.

At that time the almost mighty Bristol City from Ashton Gate were playing in the old First Division against the big guns of English football (including my beloved Glory Glory Leeds United) and I was living just a few miles up the road near the big guns of Welsh football (hah!), in Cardiff. So when along came a league match just a couple of stops away from my gaff on the Taff on one of British Rail’s smart new Inter City 125 trains (and probably the very same train that I’ll be getting to work this Monday morning, different only in that they’ve got a new stock of pork pies in since then and given the lavvy a once over once but only once with a Jay Cloth - or have they?) I just couldn’t resist.

Proudly, I donned my smart new Leeds United away colours scarf and woolly hat which were mostly yellow with narrow blue and white stripes and exactly the same as Cardiff City home colours scarves and woolly hats which was so handy for South Welsh glory hunters, weary of the hard times at Ninian Park, who could simply wander off and watch Leeds without even having to put their hands in their pockets to buy new kit. I don’t think official merchandise had been invented at that time so no one noticed these deeds of gross cheapskateness except me, the only Yorkshire bloke on a train full of Welsh Leeds fans trying to disguise their nationality with phrases like ‘Ayup Boyo’, names like Jones the Ferret and tasty home cooked snacks of black pudding and leeks packed up by ’Ar Bronwyn’ back in t’valley.

I spoke to a few of them as the train hurtled eastwards, through the dark tunnel under the Severn and into a land that they considered to be even darker than the tunnel, or even Hades for that matter. Some of them had never been to England before and were pleased to meet me and see that English people did not all have cloven hooves, horns and pointy tails or briefcases full of documents containing plans to close down steel mills and collieries. I didn’t dare tell them that, although very much English by birth, I had never been to Bristol before myself and consequently shared their fears. In fact, even today, as I get on the Templemeads bound train from Chippenham each morning to go to work I break out into a cold, feverish sweat but I think that’s possibly because I’m just a bit of a work shy git.

Together we shared a few tales of Leeds games we had been to in the past, a few cans of Brains (that’s beer by the way - not processed meat products), a few processed meat products (black puddings and meat and leek pies mostly), a few jokes about what a load of scum the English were - well when you’re alone on a train with several hundred of the sons of the Land of my Fathers you do feel that there is some benefit to be gained from agreeing with every word they say and after all, they were Leeds fans and if I was going to get beaten up by anybody I didn’t want it to be at the hands of my fellow supporters. I drew the line at joining them in their singing though. In fact, even if I hadn’t drawn it I’m sure my new found friends would have told me to do so once I started to oscillate my vocal cords as I’m sure anyone who knows me would agree that I’m no Harry Secombe - something else to be thankful for!

A tutor at college had told me that the tidal range in the River Severn was one of the greatest in the world, which added to my fears on that fearful day. What if the moon was shining over Bristol’s fashionable Bedminster Down district and location of the Ashton Gate stadium? Poetic as it may sound, it could have drawn an unusually high tide and, although I’m sure that Victorian civil engineers who built the subterranean passageway between the Anglo Saxon and Celtic worlds were nothing less than competent, thoughts of structural failure under the added mass swept in from the Bristol Channel at a moment of great Lunar illumination went rushing through my mind like Peter Lorimer through an opposition defence or a British Rail pork pie through a digestive system. Despite an in depth explanation from the ticket inspector, I still don’t understand how the tides can be linked to the phases of the moon, nor do I understand why men have nipples!

By the time the Caerdydd Express pulled in at Templemeads the South Glamorgan Whites and I were comrades in arms and ever so slightly inebriated. I told them they could come up to Elland Road any time they wanted and they reciprocated the gesture promising that there would always be a space in the stand at Ninian Park for me. They said this with confidence, knowing full well that there would always be a space for anybody in the stand at Ninian Park no matter what happened or who was playing there.

Then we bumped into the real Leeds United supporters as they spewed out from the beer stained carriages of a train arriving from northern climes and down through the tunnel beneath Brunel’s platforms towards the concourse, setting fire to old ladies’ small dogs as they went, biting the heads off Bristol Rovers fans who were en route to watch their team playing away (well that’s what they said they were doing, but to me their departure smacked of a mass exodus of refugees, fearing for their lives in the hands of the invading hordes) and howling at what they thought was the moon but in actual fact was only the smart new lights that Network Rail installed in their campaign to make railway station tunnels look sexy.

The theme of the songs that filled the air with aggression switched from not liking Swansea City very much to wishing all sorts of unpleasantness (plagues of frogs and boils and Tommy Docherty etc.) on Manchester United and the accents of those around me became decipherable as a man with a forehead bearing a tattooed image of Billy Bremner holding the Inter Cities Fairs Cup aloft in Budapest shouted across to his mate, who he was becoming separated from in the crush, “Sithee in t’Miggy baht narnish forra swaller!” I’m sure you’ve been reading these programme articles of mine for long enough now to understand the Leeds dialect in all its majestic complexity but, just in case you’re one of the new glory hunters, jumping on the bandwagon of success that Bath City manager Garry Owers has brought to Twerton in recent weeks, I’m happy to act as translator once again and tell you that the phrase was one of a social interaction inviting a compatriot to an evening of liquid refreshment in the Middleton Arms, one of the Leeds’ finer hostelries located in the heart of the Middleton housing estate, at approximately 9.00 p.m.

Unfortunately I became detached from my mates too and I missed them enormously, even though I had only known them for just over an hour, as I was on my own in a strange city. Luckily there were two thousand policemen there to look after me! There always seemed to be a lot of officers of the law around at Leeds away games in those days - I reckon they only went for the trouble.

So with my dead flashy mid 1970s platform boots adorning my poor crippled feet, wearing jeans flared from the waist down and my rather stylish unstyled long hair, standing outside Templemeads railway station, surrounded by thousands of rabid but brotherly Leeds fans who were in turn surrounded by thousands of the fine constables of the Avon and Somerset Police (a force which still exists today even though the county of Avon doesn’t – they must get really bored on the days they’re not policing Somerset) who in turn were surrounded by the entire population of Bristol who, though usually mild mannered, well meaning and generous souls, had chosen that day of all days to turn into axe wielding maniacs from hell. The only thing that I had to be thankful for was that the torrential rain pouring from the western skies was adding moisture to the stale butty I had bought on the train, rendering it almost edible but for the water repellent properties of the crusty cheese that lurked menacingly within. Nevertheless, the nervous anticipation of my first ever ride on a Bristol bus and the knowledge that I was to be entertained for the afternoon by footballers of the finest pedigree, and their chums, kept me alive.

Dozens of buses appeared at the stop, waiting to take me away. I was impressed by this, as whenever I had relied on a city’s public transport system before I had been let down badly, and I vowed to go and work in Bristol one day on the strength of the wonderful service that Bristolian drivers and clippies provided. Years later I discovered that things are slightly different in transportational terms when the desperation to remove several thousand marauding northerners away from the vicinity of a busy shopping district on a Saturday afternoon is taken away. Consequently, I often wish I had the massed ranks of the Gelderd End with me when I’m waiting for a 904 to Brisilington Park and Ride on an icy February evening following a miserable day at my place of work/penal servitude.

I was even happier when I finally boarded a bus. It was warm and dry and there was a layer of metal between me and the Bristol City supporters outside who I was, to say the least, a bit wary of. Now don’t get me wrong because I usually like to have a good long chat with a person before I form an opinion on their character but, judging from their body language, these people seemed to be less than hospitable towards me and my kindred. The driver put me at ease too with his helpfulness as being a stranger to the city I had no idea where to get off, but he told me in no uncertain terms.

Do you remember that remarkable BBC television series, Great Railway Journeys of the World? It was broadcast on Sunday afternoons in the eighties to keep us amused at a time when all the pubs were closed and Andy Gray was still too busy shoving goalkeepers over goal lines with his shoulder to find the time to be a galling git in a gantry. The weekly journey through some of the most backward and primitive, but yet breathtakingly beautiful regions of our planet, often starting in Keynsham, comprised of authors, actors, comedians and such like commenting upon life as it evolved both on and adjacent to their selected train as it chugged across vast continents, laden with goats and chickens, peddlers and poets, missionaries and revolutionaries, and Manchester United fans on their way to the match.

I’ve come to the conclusion that there are too many television programmes these days that are based upon life in the affluent west, by which I mean Europe and America rather than just the area that’s covered by our Points West local telly news round up each tea time, and that scant regard is given to the fascinating simplicity of civilisation in less developed areas. For this reason I’ve decided that when I’ve become an eccentric millionaire (I’m saving up hard – got over a hundred pounds in my Post Office Savings Account) I’m going to make a similar documentary series about the great bus journeys of Bristol.

I’ve already got Felicity Kendall lined up to cover the number 51 route through Totterdown and Knowle to the forgotten community that continues to inhabit the Rookery Farm terminus despite years of famine and pestilence, and a bloody civil war waged with neighbouring Whitchurch. Her journey will be made all the more interesting with stop-overs at the Broad Walk Shopping Centre on Wells Road and Frankie & Benny’s at the Hengrove Leisure Park provided, of course, that she can obtain all the necessary vaccinations.

Terry Waite is wildly enthusiastic about escaping the rat race on a number 43A to Warmley and beyond to the exotically named Banjo Island social housing area, where people still drive around in Ford Cortinas believing that Bristol Rovers are a thriving Football League Club.

Later on in the series Thora Hird will take a 36A up through the rough terrain that borders the turbulent waters of the Feeder Canal and on towards the desolate swamplands of St Philip’s Marsh inhabited only by major retail outlets. My special thanks go to this fine old lady of stage and screen as she must be exhausted after her recent legal battle to stop her name being used by a firm engaged in the large scale defrosting of cattle.

Other famous names waiting for a bus include Tara Palmer-Tompkinson, Mick Hucknall and Blakey off On the Buses – he should know what he’s on about. I’m thinking of calling the series I’m a Celebrity – Get me to Mangotsfield! What do you reckon?

To get the ball rolling I’m going to present the first programme myself, retracing the route of the football supporters’ special from Templemeads railway station on a wet and windy autumn day in 1977. A spectacular expedition up Bath Road (so named in honour of one of England’s most famous non league association football clubs), down York Road (so named in honour of two of Bath City’s most famous sons, Brian and Michael York) and along the southern shore of the broad, majestic Avon to Ashton Gate and the home of Bristol City (so named as a well used example of Cockney rhyming slang – huh, Cockneys who needs them? They’re a bunch of Roland Rats!)

The passengers on this short and surprisingly uneventful journey were all Leeds United supporters. Some of them may not have been Leeds United supporters but if you were on a bus with a hundred Leeds United supporters I reckon you’d probably say you were one yourself, even if you weren’t, just for safety’s sake. There is the remote possibility, I suppose, that I was the only Leeds United supporter on the bus and everyone else was just pretending because they were terrified of me. To tell the truth, I was a bit suspicious of the elderly lady with the shopping trolley, perhaps being a bit naïve to take her on her word that it was filled with offensive weapons to hand out amongst friends on the terraces. Another fellow passenger, Richard Attenborough, had more of the air of someone who had fallen asleep on the way to the station to record an episode of Great Railway Journeys of the World than someone whose mind was completely obsessed with clinching a UEFA Cup spot. Fair play to him though as he did join in with the upper deck passengers as they all rushed over to one side in the hope that they would make the bus topple over when negotiating sharp corners.

I can’t really comment upon the landscape and culture that existed beyond the confines of the bright red P-4512 Dennis Loline III / Alexander (with open rear platform) that carried us in such opulence and comfort as my vision was restricted in a number of ways. Primarily, due to overcrowding, my face was pressed firmly into the armpit of a fat lass from the fashionable Gipton area of Leeds as she hung on for dear life to the things that you hang onto when you have to stand up on a bus - those things being part of the bus and, thankfully, not part of me! It could have been much worse as there were worse parts of her than her armpit that my face could have been pressed into and there were worse armpits than hers nearby. Odd moments of respite, as she lowered her arm to take refreshment from the bottle of Blue Nun which she kept in her handbag, enabled me to see further but not much further due to further impairment as a result of the condensation on the windows and the blurring caused by the vehicle’s rapid vertical movements generated by the jumping up and down of the exuberant travellers as they sang rude songs about Sammy McIlroy and Lou Macari (totally out of context, I would add, as these players had never worn a Bristol City shirt). Furthermore, the fumes from a hundred bottles of Blue Nun made my eyes water, as did the humiliating experience of being pinned to the floor by the fat lass from the fashionable Gipton area of Leeds as everyone lurched forward when the driver, remembering that his driving test was only a few weeks away, decided to practise his emergency stopping procedure on arrival at our destination.

The period of relative safety, for want of a better phrase, was over as I stepped off the bus and into the intimidating milieu of a 1970s First Division football fixture, supporting a team that was liked by few people outside of the fashionable Gipton area of Leeds.

Unfortunately, my knowledge of the Bristolian vernacular at that time was roughly equivalent to what I had expected the home side’s score to be (i.e. nil). Knowing what I know now, if I could have my life all over again I wouldn’t waste time wishing I could have my life all over again and I would say, “Cheers Droyve!” to the man in charge of the bright red P-4512 Dennis Loline III / Alexander (with open rear platform) in an attempt to reduce the level of animosity in the air. Also, I wouldn’t buy a multi-journey ticket because Bristol City were relegated at the end of that season and I never got to use it again.

Isn’t it just grand when your team beats a side it isn’t expected to beat, the opponents bring a huge following of over confident fans who are forced to stand in your less than adequate, open to all the elements, away end in the pouring rain and one of their former favourites, who now plays for your team, scores the winner with only minutes to go. If you don’t know what it’s like then that’s probably only because the sun always seems to shine on Bath City’s Twerton Park and we haven’t really got any less than adequate areas of terracing to speak of.

I can tell you though that it’s not so grand when you’re on the receiving end of such circumstances as I still bear the emotional scars of my 1977 expedition to Bristol City which was just that. Other ailments that blighted me during my ninety minutes of hell cleared up within a few years of the final whistle; the trench foot which was partly my fault as, being a student at the time I was reluctant to part with spare cash to have cobblers fix the hole in my starboard Dr Marten, the ruptured bladder was in consequence of a severe lavatorial deficiency at Ashton Gate and my body suffered emaciation beyond the call of a football supporter’s duty at the lack of a hot meat pie outlet. Some of my compatriots resorted to eating small Bristolian children to fill a corner before dinner but the meat and two veg connoisseurs amongst us were reluctant to join in the devouring of these tasty comestibles as there were no vegetables in sight, apart from the kids’ parents that is.

More recent visits to Ashton Gate have seen me trying to work out where I had been standing as a damp degenerate on a distant dismal day. My theory is that the Atyeo Stand, which appears to have become the contemporary vantage point for the more vociferous Bristol City fans, in past times didn’t have a roof and consequently was the obvious place to put people who were not welcome in the hope that they would catch a dose of the ‘flu – inadvertently combining football hooliganism with bacterial warfare! Time spent pondering over the precise geographic location of my leaky boots on my first visit has caused me to miss many a goal (almost as many as the Bristol City players have missed themselves) during subsequent visits, to the extent that these days I take an Ordnance Survey map and a pair of those shoes with a compass in the heel when attending matches at away grounds. That’s the sign of a real anorak – knowing the grid reference of the spot he’s occupied on the terraces at every game he’s been to in the last twenty five years. Look out for the next issue of our award winning programme in which I will be listing my top one hundred grid references together with analysis of rainfall figures over the course of the ninety minutes of the game attended and the alumina content of the concrete used in the construction of the terrace on which I stood.

Which reminds me, did you know that a public right of way runs diagonally across the pitch at Calne Town’s Bremhill View ground? The Calne Town steward told me that over a half time cuppa in a game a few seasons ago against our reserves. He was quite pleased about it because he reckoned that if it wasn’t for the risk of troupes of boy scouts trekking across the turf to interrupt crucial Screwfix Direct Western League Division One encounters with rapturous choruses of Happy Wanderer, the Lilywhites probably wouldn’t bother with a steward at all and he’d have to pay to get in. Because of this, on the rare occasions that you get a song from the Calne Kop it tends to be ‘Ging gang gooley gooley gooley gooley wotcha, ging gang goo, ging gang goo’ which makes about as much sense as does restricting ticket sales at non-league football grounds within a ten mile radius of the town.

But Calne Town is a long way from Bristol City, almost thirty miles in fact, and the problems that I said I experienced at the Bristol ground would never be repeated at the magnificent stadium complex that dominates the North West Wiltshire skyline. There’s a Safeway supermarket just up the road where a fine selection of football match related victuals can be purveyed, the club house has large windows so you can watch the match from the bar if it rains, and if pressure builds up towards the lower end of your urinary tract you can always go and have a quick Crosby, Stills & Nash in the hedge behind the goal. Ian Ganfield, our ‘keeper in those days, got booked for paying a call in that very herbaceous border – mind you, Calne were trying to take a penalty at the time!

By the time the game at Ashton Gate kicked off we were all so wet that we didn’t care about the rain anymore and an early goal from Leeds legend, Ray Hankin (well, he was sort of a bit popular in West Yorkshire for a few months) warmed us up even more than half an hour with Mucky Edna in the broom cupboard at the Longacre Tavern would have done. His second goal came about ten minutes later and our gloom was completely lifted as the four thousand Yorkshiremen turned their attention away from the lack of luxury at the ground and burst into song in celebration of the big Geordie’s goal scoring feat – or should I say, the goal scoring Geordie’s big feet? It was a short song of only one verse and very few syllables but it reverberated around the ground until half time. I’d tell you how it went but there aren’t many words that rhyme with Hankin and I don’t want the Bath City Literary Department to get tangled up in a legal battle emanating from contravention of the Obscene Publications Act 1964, so I’ll leave it until the day our award winning programme becomes a top shelf magazine.

Well, talk about a game of two halves! After the great Don Revie era, Leeds United sadly were in a period of decline in the late seventies and I think the bulk of that decline took place during the break that afternoon at Ashton Gate. The second half was awful. Leeds couldn’t string two passes together, Bristol City had obviously had cups of tea and pies thrown at them in the changing room by manager Alan Dicks (cups of tea and pies that cold and hungry visiting fans would have given their Billy Bremner souvenir nasal hair clippers for) and from the forty-sixth minute the game just had ‘fight back’ written all over it.

I don’t know who scored the first come back goal. I didn’t care because we were still winning. I don’t know who scored the equaliser. I didn’t care because big Ray Hankin was on a hat trick and Leeds had other prolific scorers in their side such as Eddie Gray, Peter Lorimer, Joe Jordan and Tony Currie, so further goals were bound to come. However, some Leeds players were a bit past their best, Scottish international goalkeeper David Stewart was worried about getting his shorts muddy, Bristol City desperately wanted to win and, as all football supporters know, skill is often not enough to match the sheer guts and determination of hungry and rabid underdogs.

Sure enough, another goal did come and from one of the most famous and loved names ever to pull on a Leeds United shirt. With barely a minute to go, Norman ‘Bites Yer Legs’ Hunter ran up from the heart of defence and bundled home his team’s third goal. Unfortunately Big Norm’s team was no longer Leeds as he had transferred to the West Country side about a year earlier. The home fans went berserk, throwing their turnips in the air in sheer, unadulterated euphoria, but for the visitors there was nothing but silence. A goal from any other Bristol player would have generated a torrent of abuse, turning to encouragement for their own side to snatch a point, albeit deep into injury time, but Leeds supporters are very sensitive and emotional people who just couldn’t get their heads round the paradoxical event they had just witnessed.

I wandered home in a state of utter shock having experienced one of the most painful moments in my many football watching days. The only time I can remember being in more pain at a football match was when a woman wearing stiletto heels stood on my foot, piercing shoe, sock and skin at a New Year’s Day game against Tottenham. She said she usually charged money for that sort of thing but I, only being thirteen at the time, didn’t understand what she meant.

I’ll finish with a short apology for suggesting that residents of this part of the world take turnips to football matches. In truth though, turnips do feature strongly (just behind shandy and lavender) in a northerner’s perception of a stereotypical bloke from the West Country. On the other hand, perhaps I shouldn’t apologise as it serves you right for all you’ve said about my countrymen’s flat caps and whippets. You may mock but I hope you noticed that a certain international dog show was recently won by a whippet. That’s why Leeds aren’t doing very well in the Premiership this season – they’ve been concentrating on Crufts!

 


 

19th April 1979 - MAFF 2 DHSS 8

During my days as a Civil Servant I took to the sports field, without fail, every week, come rain or shine, except when it was pouring down or too hot or no-one could really be bothered. However, because lame excuses for avoiding exercise were rife and because I didn’t really have what it took to be an Assistant Scientific Officer within the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food in Leeds, this meant that I lined up with my pig-dissecting colleagues on only three occasions in the spring of 1979.

I accepted the job on a casual basis to give me more time to make the transition between careers as a Navigating Officer Cadet in the Merchant Navy and a Retail Management Trainee with Sainsbury’s in London. I doubt if anyone has ever had so many important sounding job titles in such a short period of time, or so many job titles which were really just tarted up ways of describing an honest working bloke as a general dogsbody, as I did then. Later in the year I also fled the latter of these places of penal servitude on the grounds that I had a mortal fear of liver paté, old ladies’ tartan shopping bags on wheels and Cockney check-out girls, and within a few weeks of my hasty departure I was working as a Bar and Cellar Manager in a busy city centre pub back in Leeds. By then I considered myself a bit of a utility man – the Paul Madeley of crap jobs!

Working for the MAFF (an affectionate acronym for my own chosen government department) exposed me to a lot of things I had not previously experienced. The most significant of these was testing the fibre content of cattle food by replicating the processes it would undergo within a cow’s digestive system. Under laboratory conditions, I had to weigh out a small sample of what bore an uncanny resemblance to Alpen, squirt some solventy smelling fluid on it (mmmh, nice!), boil it for an hour in an alkali solution, do the same again in an acid solution, cook it and then weigh it again before finally tipping it down the drains. If what was left at the end of this chain of toilet events turned out to be more than three per cent fibre, the poor cow would have the wildshites (a term used frequently within the European Community’s Common Agricultural Policy document) and anything less than three per cent would lead to straining, sweating and eye bulging, and the need to take a Daily Mirror into the corner of the field to keep the bunged up bovine amused during the long periods spent trying to clear its blockage. I might as well have just eaten the stuff myself!

This sort of work may sound very glamorous to you, the reader, but I can assure you that it was quite tedious. How I yearned for a permanent position and the authority to perform autopsies on dead pigs, pregnancy tests using horses’ early morning urine and breast screening of entire dairy herds from all over Yorkshire and County Durham. But it was never to be, and after only twelve weeks I packed my bags and journeyed south to vacuum-pack bits of dead pigs in a room above the Sainsbury’s store in Kentish Town.

Boiling cattle food isn’t exactly a labour intensive task but it meant that for hours at a time I was unable to move from my place in the laboratory. A team of six Assistant Scientific Officers in all were actively engaged in this exercise of terminal monotony, comprising myself and five others, who had all dropped out of biology degree courses at Leeds University and had snatched at the offer of a biology related job because it meant they wouldn’t have to go home and tell their proud mums and dads what complete and utter failures they had become.

We kept ourselves active during the morning boiling sessions by reading books – I spent more on paperbacks than I actually earned. At lunchtime, having full regard for the clause in our contracts that detailed the Ministry’s flexi-time rules, we sneaked out of the toilet window without being seen to spend a couple of hours in the nearby Lawnswood Arms for a drop of something foaming just to keep body and soul together. I spent more on Tetley’s bitter than I did on paperbacks. On our return, the words on the pages of the novels we were reading became a beer-induced blur so to retain a state of sanity during the afternoon boil-up we would tell each other jokes, talk utter nonsense or football or both (perfect training for writing these articles), hang our skinny friend, Colin, from a shelf by his shoulder blades or perform the hits of the New Seekers on kazoos.

The aforementioned flexi-time rules were the second major new experience for me and, having often worked round the clock in my previous job, monitoring my working hours to ensure that my weekly requirement was not exceeded and the surplus lost in the clocking-on system seemed quite difficult. As our lunchtimes technically amounted to a mere thirty minutes, the time soon mounted up and we often found ourselves in the unfortunate position of having to leave work at four o’clock to avoid any such forfeiture.

Without fail, every Thursday night, come rain or shine, the combined forces of the MAFF, the Department of Health and Social Security and the Department of the Environment (i.e. ourselves and the other two bodies that shared the Government Buildings site in North Leeds with us) would meet in the Lawnswood Arms for a swift jar after work and then go out on the town where we normally stayed until a point well into Friday morning. This often presented a problem for the harder working members of staff who were forced by the provisions of the flexi-time rules to leave work at four o’clock, as the Lawnswood didn’t open until half past five.

I bet you thought the reference to football was never coming didn’t you! Well, what we decided to do to kill the ninety minutes between knocking off time and opening time was to have a game of football.

What the teams lacked in skill, fitness, kit and sobriety was compensated for by the lavish playing fields that the Government Buildings, where we worked, boasted. Lush green grass, mowed and rolled to perfection and flawed only by the dog ends discarded by our midfield during the game, white lines marked out with all the precision of a Steve Tweddle shot on goal, and nets manufactured using the finest polypropylene that taxpayers’ money could buy.

Majestically we ran out on to the pitch, a picture of athleticism (a badly painted picture but nevertheless, a picture) and began our warm up routine which comprised mostly of a series of coughing exercises to tone up the lungs, a couple of kicks of the solitary football that had been brought along just in case such a thing should be needed at a football match, and some sprinting to escape a gang of man-eating twelve year-olds from the nearby housing estate that had made our theatre of dreams their playground and glue-sniffing haunt. Proudly we all sported the same kit, sponsored by St. Michael – none of us had any kit at all so our coach (who was really a bloke too fat to play football but who came along anyway because he didn’t want to miss out and besides, he enjoyed shouting) made us play in our vests and pants.

The Ministry of Agriculture had a formidable side, confident that they could dissect an opposition defence by night as quickly as they were able to dissect a diseased pig by day. We were concerned only by the fact that our opponents from the DHSS were a lot smellier than your average stiff sty-dweller and they kept themselves fit so they could handle the abusive unemployment benefit claimants that they dealt with in the course of their daily business. Although we were in a posh part of Leeds there were some very bitter victims of the recession around who would turn up to sign on with the boot of their Jag loaded up with baseball bats to finish off any clerical assistant that had survived the wrath of their stereotypical ferocious dog which usually turned out to be a neatly coiffured Poodle rather than the German Shepherd you’d see in the less affluent quarters of the city.

In goal we had Gonzo. I never knew his real name but I did know that he had two nicknames, the other being Crapper which he acquired following an unfortunate incident involving twenty pints of bitter, a rum and black, and a less than adequate toilet brush. He was a Wolves fan and was very, very miserable, even back in the days before his team had started their slide down the league tables from first to fourth, and was able to destroy opposing strikers by reducing them to tears with stories of the squalid condition of his bedsit and his inability to find a girlfriend. 

In front of Gonzo we had a fat back four. Phil was the fattest – obese in fact, but an excellent distributor of the ball and he always bought his round in the pub so it would have been rude not to invite him.

Mark was second on the portly scale but was intimidatingly tall, loud and sarcastic so many a carefully practiced move towards goal by the DHSS side disintegrated as players fell about laughing at his verbal attack on their team mates’ haircuts, acne, fashion sense or ability to process a benefit claim.

Never a skinny one, I was in the heart of our defence and finding it difficult to run with half a gallon of lunchtime ale slopping around in my belly. I did, however, have the newest boots so I was able to win the ball on every occasion whilst my opponents concentrated on trying to modify the state of my footwear from pristine to muddy with a single stamp of a size ten.

Colin, despite his athleticism, skill and enthusiasm, let the defence down badly as he had the physique of a corner flag, rendering the average weight of our back four less than average. We always blamed his meagre build on his appalling diet as I can’t ever remember him eating anything, except at his sponsored ‘I’ll eat anything for charity’ stunts at his local. On various occasions he raised hundreds of pounds for the starving in Africa by tucking into such delicacies as the contents of a pub ashtray, his sweaty mate’s used Odour-Eaters and live slugs. We once stopped for a meal in a service station on the M1 and he left half of his cottage pie claiming it wasn’t very nice and he couldn’t put it anywhere near his mouth unless someone gave him a tenner to build a well for a village in Mozambique.

I don’t know who we had in midfield because I didn’t work for the MAFF long enough to know everybody and because our game plan was such that the midfield were hardly ever involved. In fact neither was our forward line, come to think of it!

Up front we had a bloke whose full time job was to do all the washing up for all of the laboratories within the Ministry of Agriculture. From nine to five every day he spent his entire time immersing a mountain of dirty test tubes and beakers into a sea of Government issue washing up water. He had wanted to play in goal but his hands were too wrinkly. His striking partner was Lynda from Belfast – a Distillery supporter in more ways than one! Where she couldn’t match the flair of her compatriot and hero, Georgie Best, she outshone him in her ability to put a drop of the hard stuff away. She was by far the most attractive member of our playing squad and when she scored the other team kissed her.

As the game was an unofficial fixture (i.e. we hadn’t booked a pitch in an effort to save a cash-strapped team a few quid and also because none of us could be bothered) we didn’t enjoy the benefit of changing facilities, floodlights, half-time refreshments and not having to keep an eye out for an irate groundsman coming along to chase us away. Neither did we enjoy the benefit of match officials, supporters or even skill, but we played on regardless.

I think I’ve already mentioned that the boys from the Department of Health and Social Security were much fitter than we were as they needed to be able to run away in the event of any unsuccessful benefit claimant turning nasty and scaling the barbed wire barrier that separated the two sides of the counter where they worked and also because, due to the nature of their business, they had fewer, if any, university drop-outs in their ranks. The fittest player on our side boasted that he walked over a mile to the pub and back every night and excluded red meat and dairy products from his diet of baked beans and Guinness.

We tried to compensate for our lack of skill and fitness by just getting in their way, kicking their shins or shouting, “Phwaw, look at her!” in the hope they’d take their eye off the ball and look to the touchline for some stunningly attractive member of the opposite sex, enabling us to run off with it and score (the ball, that is, not the stunningly attractive member of the opposite sex). This was the only aspect of our tactics that we had any faith in but regrettably our hopes were in vain as the distraction approach didn’t even work the first time we tried it. So by the fifty-first time we realised we were wasting our time, not just in employing the tactic but in being on the field at all.   

For a while we kept the scores level at nil-nil. This initial success was down to sheer guts and determination, as the pundits would say, but after eight minutes our stamina ran out and the floodgates opened, so by the end of the first leg we were losing six-nil.

“First leg?” I hear you say. Well yes, I suppose it was a two-legged affair as the tie was competed on two different pitches. The first leg came to an abrupt end about fifteen minutes into the second half when the half-expected, irate groundsman came running towards us threatening to do all sorts of unpleasant things with the pointy end of a corner flag. In the name of sportsmanship we climbed over a hawthorn hedge and played the final half-hour in an adjacent farmer’s field, our thorn-torn legs dripping with blood. Here the facilities were even poorer – tufty grass, thistles, cow pats and the ever-present risk of attack by livestock. Still, some clubs can get elected to the Football League in such conditions so we pressed on with laboratory white coats for goalposts and depleted numbers in our ranks, as some of the more law abiding players decided it would be better to go home for their tea than to risk a further scrape with authority.

Fortunately, the DHSS lost four more players than we did so the teams were more evenly balanced and the remainder of the game produced two goals for each side. At the end of the game, hot, sweaty, bad-tempered and covered in mud and blood, we returned to the Lawnswood Arms, the pub where the plan to play the game had been masterminded, to analyse our performance and deduct seven goals from our opponents’ tally, penalising them for fielding an ineligible player (their central defender worked for the Department of the Environment). Here too we piled into the Gents’ to use the almost empty liquid soap dispenser and the single roll of Izal medicated lavatory paper (bearing the legend “Please now wash your hands” on every sheet, confusing a few of us because we were using it to dry our hands) to spruce ourselves up for a night out on the pull in Leeds’ most exclusive bars and clubs.

All in all an enjoyable game but as a world of caution, the government of the day were worried sick that the Russians would get their hands on information relating to the fibre content of cattle food in Yorkshire (rumours of a ‘Soviet Super Cow’ being developed by the KGB were rife) so I had to sign the Official Secrets Act before taking up my post at the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food. In this connection, rather than have me charged with taking part in industrial espionage and being banged up at Her Majesty’s Pleasure, I should be grateful if you would destroy all evidence of what went on in those dark corridors by tearing this page out of your matchday programme and eating it. I’m sure it won’t taste any worse than some of the delicacies you have bought from the tea bars at other non-league football grounds over the years.