With Torquay being a fair distance away from Brum, Pughey had been coerced into driving down there by Walshy, who said I could stop at his to make it easier. It all made perfect sense. I was still working at the brick factory at the time, no I’m not going to make some kind of lame joke about building a career. Now I’m not saying that the company had a poor view of its workforce, but there were too few benefits other than a wage for working there. It was a permanent day shift, and we were afforded the allowance of finishing on hour early on a Friday. It was a job where you either got home covered in dust, if the weather was dry, or covered in mud if…, well you work it out. Either way, you needed a bath or you woke up to a ring of red dirt on your pillow. I raced home, got in the bath that my Mom had run for me, It’s only once you’ve grown up and produced kids yourself, that you truly appreciate what your parents do for you. I may have physically grown up, but I still had couple of decades left before the thing between my ears caught up. I got the train to Brum, meeting up with Walshy who worked in Brum, in a, now long gone, hip and trendy bar that was at the top of Smallbrook Queensway, opposite to where TK Maxx is now. After a couple of pints, we caught the bus from the dark and dingy bus station that used to be underneath New Street station to Bromsgrove. It was a quick hello to his Mom, before we met up with Pughey and did the Bromsgrove Friday night pub circuit. On the Saturday morning, and very much worse for wear, Pughey came and picked us up, we were off down to the English Riviera, the vast majority driven in the outside lane of the motorway at a pace that was also outside the law too. Getting there earlier than we thought we would, found a carpark on the harbour side and went for a mooch. Torquay was quite quaint, but we weren’t there for quaint, we were just killing time till the pubs opened. Wetherspoons was still in nappies, and as yet, hadn’t embarked on its plan to have at least one premises in every town in the country. We headed back to the harbour and were grateful to find one opening. We piled in, grabbing the first drink of the day, found a booth. The pub started filling up, it was all Blues, in fact the only ones that weren’t Blues in the pub, were the bar staff. The chemical reaction from the previous night’s drinking was still making its presence felt, I felt bloated, yet there was no way it was going to spoil my fun. I still wanted that alcohol kick, so it was on to the top shelf, wanting something sweet and easy to drink, I settled on Baileys Irish Cream. The pub carried on filling up, and the songs began. It became boisterous, and with no sign of any resistance of substance, got worse. The accidental breakages weren’t accidental. With time kicking on, we left to get to the ground. We parked in a pub carpark near to the ground, too late to go in it. The pub, not the ground. Word must’ve got around certain club chairmen, that there was money to be made off the bigger clubs, or more to the point, their travelling support. Whether the problems we’d caused at Blackpool were still fresh in the memory and they were worried about the place being trashed, or it was just a case of ‘cashing in’, I don’t know, but we were given the so called ‘popular side’, the terrace that the home fans usually congregated on. Much to the consternation of the Torquay supporters, with a reported 1,500 of them boycotting the game.
“Yep, that really is a ticket”
Walshy and Pughey spotted a mate of theirs from their childhood, standing with another lad. It was the first time I’d met Andrew Bird, but I was going to grow to know him as Birdy. The other lad lived in Cheltenham. Named Guy, he worked at GCHQ. Blues were still riding high in second place in the league, Torquay were hovering just above the relegation places. It should’ve been a walk in the park. It was, as they were strolling along, admiring the trees and flowers, breathing the fresh air, feeling the surprisingly warm autumn sunshine on their collective skin, they were roughly barged out of the way by a group of blokes determined to get the job done. Amazingly, it took the home side 39 minutes to score the first, took just one minute more to score their second. The halftime team talk didn’t bring the required response. I’m not even sure that Torquay hadn’t been eavesdropping as they easily increased their lead. 3:0. It was too much for Walshy and Birdy and they bailed to go to the pub we’d parked at. These days, I would’ve bailed along with them. I spotted Hamed, I was more surprised to see him than I was the scoreline. In those days, he didn’t go any further away from Brum than West Bromwich, and even when he did, he took a packed lunch. Although if I’m being honest, I was quite glad of the corned beef sandwich I managed to snare from him at the Hawthorns game. As a birthday surprise, his sister had booked a coach seat for him, and his Mom had bought his match ticket. If only the Blues had been in on the birthday plans they might actually have bothered to turn up. I spent most of the second half with my back to the game, talking to Hamed and reading the programme.
I turned round to watch the ‘Mark’ version of the Cooper family, get sent off, saying farewell to Hamed, I joined back up with Guy and Pughey as the referee blew time on our 3:0 defeat. It had been in the words of the Terry version of the Cooper family, ‘abysmal’
I was only expecting Walshy, Birdy and maybe a couple of others in the pub when we got in there, but instead, the pub was full with Blues fans that had bailed early too. As we drank, we made the spur of the moment decision to head back to Cheltenham for a few beers. Just as we went to leave, Walshy went to the toilet. There was a notice board in the pub, complete with the Torquay fixture list, as we looked to see when Blues were to play them in the league, Walshy brushed passed in front on his way out, grabbing the fixture list straight off the notice board, teared it up, and throwing it in the air as we hastily made our exit behind him. It was off to Cheltenham. We hit a service station somewhere on the way, Pughey phoning home again must’ve triggered my conscience, and I phoned Mom to let her know I wouldn’t be home. I was in a state of mind where I was totally unaware that she could be beside herself with parental worry about me, I had that self perceived indestructibility that goes hand in hand with the selfishness of youth. She told me that we’d done well on the pools (It was pre lottery days) I bowed to her greater knowledge that we wouldn’t win anything as there’d been loads of drawn games, and forgot about it. Feeling hungry, I made do with a steak and kidney pie, and a scotch egg. We carried on our way in the fast lane to Cheltenham. On our way, Walshy, feeling unwell from all the CO2 they put in lager, vomited out of the window as we were going along. I didn’t see the result, but with him being vegetarian, I should imagine there was an even greater chance of there being carrots in it than usual. I’m sure other drivers on that motorway that evening would be able to tell you for definite though. I had been trying, with the aid of body heat, to ‘cook’ the pie I’d bought. Unsurprisingly, it hadn’t been successful. It wasn’t frozen, but it was too cold for my liking, so I wound down the passenger side window, and threw it out as we continued on our way in the outside lane. We parked up outside Guys place and hit the delights of the Cheltenham Saturday night pub circuit. Guy bumped into a mate of his who was a Leeds fan in the first pub we went in. We were making quite a stir, standing out like sore thumbs and attracting attention. It was female attention and it was attractive female attention. Very attractive female attention in fact. Each time the door opened, even more gorgeous girls came in. It wasn’t just a sweet shop of eye candy, it was a factory. They’d been used to clean cut privilege, got bored of it. Us lot were neither. The Leeds fan was tired of the upmarket Cheltenham scene too. Mischievously, he dared us to start singing, so we did. Every time we were told to keep the noise down by staff, he egged us on to carry on. He was having as much fun as we were. We moved on to a smaller pub, which wasn’t half as much fun. Guy suggested getting something to eat and hitting a pub close to his. While they were in the chippy, three girls came up to me, asking me if I wanted to go to a party. I mentioned my mates, but they went cold on that idea and moved off. On the way to the last pub, Walshy attempted to count his change, twice as he attempted it, Birdy tapped the hand he held the change in, up in the air, sending coins everywhere. We managed to help him salvage most of it from pavement, gutter and road whilst in fits of laughter, he didn’t try a third time. Me Pughey and Guy didn’t notice the other two drop back, but we heard the unmistakable sound of a supermarket trolley being pushed at pace, with someone in it. With perfect timing, as Birdy released the trolley, we parted to allow Walshy past, his expression went instantaneously from one of manic determination to one of shock to one of sheer panic, the trolley veered into the road, before a combination of slowing momentum, the camber of the road and gravity, caused the trolley to head back towards the gutter. There was nothing Walshy could do to stop the inevitable, trolley hit kerb, Walshy hit pavement. We couldn’t help him, we were too paralyzed with laughter. We made it to the pub. It was my turn to feel the effects of the noxious gas they carbonate alcohol with, and I went back on the Bailey’s. There were a couple of women sitting at the bar. One was all over a bloke we assumed was her boyfriend, where her mate appeared to be drinking on her own. Birdy decided to chat her up, I was to learn that he loved a challenge. Pughey and Guy went to play pool Walshy wanted to see how far Birdy got on his mission, I spent my time watching both the pool and Birdy, though what was really captivating me, was the girlfriend’s behaviour. She’d got a black coat dress on, with stockings and suspenders on underneath, when I said that the girlfriend was all over the bloke, that’s how I know she was wearing stockings and suspenders. While Walshy was transfixed to Birdy’s progress, mine was only ever a cursory glance, yet the woman always commented on it. The one with the stockings went off to the toilet, turned out that it wasn’t the blokes girlfriend after all, she’d just come on to him. The one with the stockings now had her eyes on the pool players, Walshy still had his eyes fixed on Birdy’s progress with his prey, I was still getting it in the neck for ‘staring’ though I wasn’t. Last orders were called, Birdy managed to secure a peck on the cheek, Walshy went over thanking her for blowing out Birdy for a change, and kissed her on the cheek, it seemed only courtesy to do the same, where she pulled me to within earshot, and told me that she’d only been teasing, and that she ‘liked’ me. I hadn’t a clue what to do, wasn’t ‘worldly’ enough to recognise a green light. I followed the rest out of the pub and back to Guys. Where Birdy exclaimed that the women had told him that her husband was in prison for armed robbery. I was that naive at the time that I believed it, I was shocked, felt like I’d somehow had a lucky escape. I bagged a two seater sofa, Pughey procured the armchair, Birdy and Walshy made do with Guys duvet and the floor. It wasn’t the biggest of flats to say the least. In the morning, we thanked Guy the Spy, and traveled back up to Bromsgrove, leaving Walshy to wash his previous evenings indiscretion off Pughey’s car, I headed back to Brum on the bus, and then the train to Wellington.
FOOTNOTE:- I told my workmates when I got to work on the Monday about the pools, echoing what my Mom had said about not winning anything, an old bloke who I worked with, told me that we would, the Shropshire Star always released details of the pools dividends, he worked it out to the nearest tenner for me, just out of sheer curiosity. On the Thursday, Mom got a check for just over £3,600, my share was just over £1,800. A nice sum of money now, but this was 1991, my weekly take home pay was only £118. I felt like a millionaire. Had me and Mom picked the right amount of draws either the week before or the week after, we’d have won well over a million. That’s the law according to Sod for you.