There was a point in my life when I was known as the man with the pink paper. If you’ve got images of me flouncing around shouting into a mobile phone the size of a small shoebox, dressed in a pinstripe suit, red braces, carrying a briefcase and a copy of the Financial Times, then sorry to disappoint. In a far off land that doesn’t exist anymore, way before the tinternet ran the world and mobile phones had become socially compulsory, things were different. I’m not saying they were better, but they were definitely different. Humanity was resourceful, we weren’t reliant on Google and Amazon like we are now. Groups of friends didn’t sit there playing on their phones, they conversed with each other. Everything is instantaneous and accessible these days. Looking back with rose tinted glasses on, I miss it. You grow more and more nostalgic the older you get. The older you get, the faster life appears. We hanker after our youth and the things in it, things that became obsolete and ceased to exist as technology demanded. Way before the beast that is Sky Sports was spawned, way before greed had turned the attention of the mega rich towards the game of football and decided that there needed to be some kind of elite league, football and Television was puddling along. When I was a kid growing up in Bridgnorth, almost everything shut at 5 o’clock on a Saturday afternoon and reopened at 9 o’clock on Monday morning. It was when I learnt of ‘The Pink’. It was the most important newspaper of the week. In Bridgnorth, that meant the Sporting Star. It was the noisey little brother (Not unlike myself, when I come to think of it) of the Shropshire and more relevant, Express and Star. it was printed in Wolverhampton and a glut of copies were transported over to Bridgnorth. A newsstand was set up just outside of a shut newspaper shop in the High street. You had to be quick because as soon as the straps had been cut on the first bundle, the bloke running the newsstand was converged on. There was no unlocking of doors, no set time, it was down to how fast they could drive the delivery van. So why was it so important then? Coverage of football wasn’t the saturation it is now. It was meagre to say the least. It consisted of sharing the back three, four if you were lucky, pages of the daily tabloids. Sunday was more as it had results and reports. Match of Day, if you were lucky enough to be allowed to stay up that late on a Saturday night to watch it. (I wasn’t) and Star Soccer on a Sunday afternoon. (I was packed off to a religious ‘Sunday school’ and so always missed it. Even now, long after her death, I STILL hold that against my Mom. Yeah, I know I really should let it go, but………) You had 10 minutes of Bob Wilson on Football Focus on Grandstand and Shoot magazine hit the shelves every Thursday. That was it, nothing else. No really, THAT was it. You did have coverage of midweek European games involving English clubs or odd international games involving the home nations on Sportsnight, but that was on a Wednesday night, school in the morning. Sitting here, writing this and thinking back, it was actually horrific.
Jump forward half a dozen years and we’d moved as a family. We now lived in Wellington, an area of Telford. Telford had been designated a ‘new town’, and was developed specifically for over spill from Brum. People tend to have problems with cutting ties with where they feel they’re from. For most, it’s where they were born. The population of Telford was no different. Many of the Brummies that had relocated, still wanted to keep up-to-date with ‘home’. It meant through demand (And not by gunpoint), papershops were forced to sell the Sunday Mercury, Evening Mail (As it was called then) and the Sports Argus. Wellington has a train station. That in itself, had opened a brand new, bigger world for me. Val had got married and moved up to Scotland. If you’re thinking that’s a bit drastic, it was because of hubby John’s RAF posting and not because she was trying to escape as far as she could away from the rest of us. Access to the rail system meant that, not only was getting to Brum to watch Blues, easier and quicker, but meant we could pursue Val up to where she was hiding up in Scotland. RAF Rosyth was an important intelligence base during the so called ‘cold war’, and was deemed relevant enough require guarding by the RAF police. Hence hubby John’s position there. (Even after all this time, I’m not entirely sure I’m able to reveal that) What I can reveal, is the posting led to me getting interested in Hearts. Rosyth isn’t a million miles from Edinburgh. It was a fantastic place to visit even then. So why Hearts and not the Hobos? On the way to Rosyth, we had to change at Edinburgh Waverly. On the way into Edinburgh, I’d spotted Murrayfield rugby Union ground, but I’d truly been intrigued by the angled floodlights of what looked like a football ground. One of the first questions out of my mouth after we’d greeted Val with heartfelt hugs, was whose was the ground? “Heart of Midlothian” was the reply. Even the name was intriguing. What sealed it was wandering along in Princes street gardens and seeing a bench dedicated in memory of the players who had volunteered to fight in the First World War and had fallen. After Val had told me the story behind it, that was it, there wasn’t ever going to be a different Scottish club for me. A Jambo I became. Albeit an English one that was still very much Blues and also one that hadn’t the wherewithal to follow them in the flesh. By this time, the Football League had struck a deal with both the BBC and ITV to show one live game each on alternative weekends. The Beeb got Friday evening, and ITV the following weekend, but on a Sunday afternoon. Before this deal, except for the World Cup every 4 years, the only live games televised a season, were the FA Cup final and England v Scotland. Both of which were in May at the end of the season. If we were lucky and an English club had made either the European Cup final or Cup Winners Cup final, we were afforded that delight too. On the weekly publication front, Shoot had now got a rival in Match magazine. The difference was that Match hit the shelves on a Wednesday and the layout was more appealing. (Well it was to me anyway.) The big news though, was teletext. All new colour televisions that had a remote control, had teletext. Both the main television stations must’ve had a football fan controlling what the service provided, as they both had pages that would give out regular updates on the latest football scores as the game was being played. It was ground breaking. You no longer had to sit frantically trying to tune your transistor radio into radio 2 (Digital and radio 5 was a mere fantasy) the reception flickered in and out whilst omitting a high pitched whine on an evening. You no longer had to wait for the commentator to give out the all important scores whilst commentating on a game you weren’t really bothered about. Now, you could wait till the advertisements came on before reaching for the remote to find out the latest score. (Or in my case, wait for Mom to leave the room for whatever reason.) Blues had made a right mess of the 1985/86 season. By the time the last game arrived, they’d been relegated. Hearts on the other hand, had been brilliant. Back in 85/86, the shift in power in Scotland, meant that Aberdeen who had Alex Ferguson and Jim McLean’s Dundee United, were the leading clubs. Celtic were regularly getting beaten to the trophies and Rangers were in a right slump. Hearts started an unbeaten run at the end of September that carried on and carried on, 31 games after getting beaten by none other than Clydebank, they sat proudly at the pinnacle. Going into the last game at Dens Park with a Scottish Cup final against Aberdeen to look forward to a week later, the boys in maroon only needed a point. They could even afford to lose by the odd goal as long as Celtic didn’t win by 4 clear goals against St Mirren in Paisley. Val was down visiting. Ironically, Blues were at home on the last game to her team Arsenal. I wasn’t particularly bothered what happened at St Andrews, but it was still a game. Me, Les and Val went and watched Arsenal win 1:0 in a drab affair. My mind was elsewhere. Today, I would be transfixed to my phone, following the Hearts game on the BBC website. Back then, I hadn’t a clue how we were getting on. We caught the train home. Back then, like now, the railway line was electrified between Brum and Wolverhampton, but not the Wolverhampton to Shrewsbury line. It was policy at the time, to swap the electric locomotive for a diesel one so the Intercity train could carry on its journey past Wolverhampton. It meant a 10 minute wait at Wolverhampton station. It coincided with the arrival of a news seller, selling copies of the Sporting Star. Now usually, Les would jump off, buy the pink paper and jump back on, so we could pour over the results. That day, it was me waiting for the train to grind to a halt. I gleefully handed over the money for a copy. What I discovered rocked me to my very core. (And unsurprisingly, there’s still Jambos who haven’t got over it.) The world seemed to stop. Dundee 2 Hearts 0. What was worse, St Mirren 0 Celtic 5. I stared at the two results willing them to be wrong. Kept looking at the times of the Dundee goals. Kidd 83, 89. We’d been 7 minutes away from the point that was needed………..7. How could that be? 31 games in a row unbeaten and the very, very last league game, we’d now lost? How? How could that possibly be? What were St Mirren playing at? How could they let in 5 goals at home? Had they come to some agreement with Celtic? I was briefly brought back to my senses, I had to get back on the train. I don’t know what caused me to turn left instead of right when I got back on the train, but I just walked, in a daze, left foot, right foot, the body followed. A body that felt like the stuffing had been fully, violently sucked out of it. I had walked two whole carriages before I remembered I was actually with my brother and sister and I should really look for them. Something must’ve stirred in my subconscious, as the third carriage happened to be the one they were in. I slumped into my seat, dropping the paper onto the table between us. My ashen face had said it all. I couldn’t believe it, couldn’t comprehend it, couldn’t process it, couldn’t…….. 2:0, how? What went wrong? 31 games……..Dundee. It wasn’t even Dundee United. Val kept giving me that ‘I know how you feel, things’ll get better’ look she used to give me when I used to get punished by our Mom for being naughty, when I was a kid. Later that night, BBC news showed pictures of Hearts fans after the game at Dens Park. Some were sobbing, some staring into space, all inconsolable trying to cope with what had just happened. We had 7 days to prepare as best we could for the cup final. It would prove to be too much, too soon, Aberdeen 3 Hearts 0. 31 consecutive games unbeaten, and we lost the two that mattered. We’ve won the Scottish Cup 3 times since, made the Scottish League Cup final, been in Europe through our league position, but that season is still seen as the one that got away. Alex Ferguson would migrate down to Manchester in the Autumn of 86, Rangers had appointed Graeme Souness in the Summer. The rest, as they say (Whoever ‘They’ are) is history.
Don’t worry, I can sense the impatience. I haven’t actually addressed why I was known as the bloke with pink paper. Back in the Tardis, land in between marriages. (That doesn’t sound any better the longer life goes on, or how many times I say it. Not the Tardis thing. That’s fine. It’s the marriage thing. What can I say? I couldn’t believe my luck, so I had another go.) For 9 months of the year, Saturday’s consisted of me going to watch football of some kind, but almost exclusively Blues. The routine was pretty much what it is now. Train, pub, ground, pub, train. The difference was that back then, my circle of friends were the ones I’d grown up with. Our ‘local’ was a pub in Wellington named The Pheasant. It was where my mates, girlfriends and even parents went to either start their evening or just relax and while it away. To this end, I always knew where they’d be when I got back into Wellington. Yes, I know that doesn’t explain the moniker, I’m getting to that. Mobile phones and instant access to internet was just a growing spot on the horizon. Yeah, you’d got Teletext now, and football had actually become fashionable, coverage was far better, but you still had editions of the sports final on a Saturday night. I say sports final because I’d progressed to buying the local edition of wherever I had travelled to. Not all of them were pink. The one produced in Cardiff was still on white paper, the one in Sheffield was green, and I knew of one, though I was never able to buy it, in blue. Even after buying the local ones, I’d still try and get a copy of the Sports Argus. Talking to supporters of different clubs around the country who regularly travelled to watch their club, it was common knowledge that the Sports Argus was by far the best publication on the market. It was a gold mine of information. Not only did supporters around the country know this, but my mates had grown to appreciate it too. I would walk into the Pheasant on a Saturday night and one of them would see me and ask different scores, I, of course, had already poured over them and had somehow, unwittingly, memorized them. But not all, some would stump me and I would either hand over the paper, or just have a look myself. It invariably led to more questions and I would hand the paper over anyway. Girlfriend’s would enquire as to where their bloke had got it from, and the origination was always me. Hence the nickname I was given. It was actually one particular girlfriend but it quickly caught on. The upshot of this extremely long (Far too long.) story, is like a lot of people, if not all, who remember the Saturday night sports final, miss it. With dwindling sales of newspapers in general, I suppose it was inevitable, but if they were to restart publishing the Sports Argus on a Saturday night, I for one would be buying it. Even with the wealth of information we now have at our fingertips, there was always something aesthetically pleasing about buying a copy and glancing through the results for the first time that evening. It was more tactile. Cumbersome to a degree, and ultimately, less informative, but somehow better.
FOOTNOTE:- It came as a great shock and a deep sadness, that I learnt of the recent death of ‘Dingle Dave’ Roberts. Dave lived his life his own way and because of that, had many many stories. He was a man very much talked about, but always with a grin and usually a shake of the head. In fact, I knew of Dave long before I met him. Jinksy was always saying “You’d get on with Dave, you would”, after he’d relayed yet another story about him. He was becoming almost mythical when I finally did get to meet Dave. Jinksy was right, I did get on with him, we hit it off straight away. Spending time in his company was wonderful. Our thinking was aligned on all but two things, He was Wolves and Hibs. Where ever you are Dave, I hope you’re having a right good laugh, you’ve a game to go to, the pubs are open, the barmaid’s chatty and the beer’s good.