All long suffering football fans have their own particular favourite season. This little beauty was mine. If nothing else, I had less inhibitions and more hair.
24/8/91 Fulham v Blues, A Change in Capital.
Back in those days, although there were phones, they tended to be the fixed type, or un-fixed, depending on how bad the neighbourhood was. The all singing and dancing hand held, internet linked, pocket dwelling tiny gadget that seems compulsory to possess now, was akin to something you only saw on re-runs of Star Trek. The only people who had mobile phones used to carry them around in a briefcase large enough to hold one, not so much a brick as a breeze block. The other 99.9% of us had to devise ingenious ways of finding out vital pieces of information, keeping in touch, and organising our social lives. Me, Walshy and Pughey had swapped home phone numbers. I used an old envelope to write people’s numbers on I needed to keep in touch with. It was either that or a beer mat, and most of them tended to be soggy. A wet patch on the back pocket of your jeans, wasn’t a good look. By that time, I’d discovered that British Rail published all their timetables in one bible sized book, and I could get one in WH Smith’s on New Street station, these amazing publications came with a fold out rail map of the country. The print run was always on the small side, and they sold out ridiculously quickly, I can only assume that the train spotting mafia had cornered the market. Over time, we devised a network, that meant on a Thursday evening, me phoning certain lads going to wherever we were playing away on the Saturday, advising them on which train to meet up on. A Friday evening was futile, everyone went out to the pub. Fulham was the first away game in the League, I didn’t go to Exeter as it was a night game and it was only a League Cup game. Plus, I couldn’t get back, I would’ve been stranded. I got the train, changing at Wolverhampton, I commandeered a table so that Pughey and Walshy could join me at New Street. As soon as we left Brum, Pughey went and got ‘the first round in’, that was something new to me, not drinking on the train, but drinking early. We got to Euston, queued up, bought an off peak all zone travelcard, (Oyster cards were just a twinkle in the eye of a briefcase owner)
and got the tube down to Putney Bridge. Going in search of a pub, we walked over the bridge, hanging a first left, went in the first pub we came to. In those days, it was effect more than taste that I was interested in. I’m forever lamenting the passage of time and the loss of so many things I used to enjoy (Having a proper head of hair being only one of them), but the choice in real ale we have now, is the best it’s ever been. Today’s me wouldn’t have got on with the me of then, chances are, we wouldn’t have even met, but besides it being impossible due to something called the space time continuam, I’m sure of an eschewing, compulsory argument and no doubt, resultant fight with myself. The me of then, Walshy and Pughey made use of the last of the summer and drank in the garden. The garden filled up with Blues, though I didn’t see the 2020 version of me coming out of a blue box and I’m sure the noise when it appears out of thin air, would have made even me turn my head. Just a question, how is it that the Tardis never lands on anyone? The ale trailing me of 2020 wouldn’t have been there for long before heading off to another pub anyway, whereas the 1991 version was happy to drink any old rubbish. We followed the throng on their stroll through the park towards the ground, and went in the away end.
Pughey and Walshy always went down the front, I always liked to get a better panoramic view from up the back. We never used to stand together on the Kop, but away games, I used to join them at the front.
‘Listen to ‘live match action’ and run up the phone bill’
Billy Coldwell had been caretaker manager on the pre-season tour of Ireland, Terry Cooper had been smuggled out of Exeter and appointed the new Blues Boss on the eve of the season. The style of play that was to become evident as the season progressed, had been left on the drawing board in the dressing room, it wasn’t that great a game. With the opinionated Vince Overson defecting to the clay chuckers, reuniting with the Scottish dwarf, a ‘Judus’ sized hole had been left in the middle of the Blues defence, the vastly experienced, and Reading club legend Martin Hicks came in to plug the gap. The pollyfilla took a while to set, but when it eventually did, was fairly rock solid. We managed to go into halftime 1:0 up, it was a scrappy goal, scored by the emerging unassuming talent of Ian Rogerson. We didn’t care how scrappy it was. Anyway, we were quite used to the ‘route one’ stuff that Macari was now peddling at Stoke. The second half was as bad as the first, though there was no equaliser to disappoint us, there was no second goal to allow us to break out the metaphorical celebratory cigars either. The final whistle brought relief and ecstasy in equal measure, both giving way to contentment and a silly grin.
Even after an away game, I was in the habit of being boring and going home, Walshy and Pughey were up for finding a pub, which is exactly what we did. We found one near to the Thames. Our accents had been overheard, (I’d ditched the practice of wearing a replica shirt) by a couple of lads who wanted to join us. Initial cautions over their intentions, soon vanished, they just fancied a chat about football, and not anything more sinister, though to this day, I have no idea why they were drinking with us in west London, when they’d watched their team Stockport at Orient in east London. Mad Hatters beer party in all senses. We’d been in a round since Pughey had bought the first cans on the train down, it was back round to mine again, my first in the pub. The barman poured the pints I’d asked for and asked for the money. My jaw hit the floor, and I felt the colour drain from me, to be replaced by a wave of nausea. I hadn’t got enough. As he’d poured them, I’d checked my change in readiness, believing that I safely had enough. How wrong I was, I hadn’t banked on ‘yuppie prices’, gentrification had already taken place in that part of London. With a mixture of disbelief and forlorn hope, I asked the bemused barman if he’d got the bill right. Seeing the expression on my face, he humoured my request to check again. I quickly scanned behind him for a menu offering free humble pie. If there had of been humble pie on offer, chances are, is that would’ve been extremely expensive too. I metaphorically took my cap off, and holding it in my hands in front of me, went back to Walshy and Pughey, embarrassingly admitting to my newly acquired predicament. To my relief, Walshy shared my disbelief, and he too, wanted to question the bill, with an even bigger relief, Walshy came to my aid and bailed me out. The fact that Walshy should’ve already known how much a round was as he’d already paid for one in there, didn’t occur to me. Pint drunk, I was still in shock when we left the pub, still in shock when we got to Euston, and in all honesty, was still in shock for several days after. I wouldn’t be making the same mistake of not taking enough money down to London again.