Quite definitely not a “Let’s All Laugh At Funny Regional Accents” Special. At all.
One of the best parts of travelling to away matches with the Arsenal was the many and interesting people you’d meet. Like the police in Norwich that made thousands of Arsenal fans stand on a freezing afternoon with bare feet “in case somebody’s carrying a knife in their shoes”, fellow Londoners waiting to beat you up at Watford Gap services because they supported West Ham, or Millwall or even, bless them, QPR. Or just the thousands of Scouse kids who’d appear out of the woodwork in Liverpool wanting money to “look after your car, Mister”.
Never mind the fact that you’d just paid three quid to park in the official away supporters’ car park in Stanley Park, you had to pay these kids to mind your car because, well, if you didn’t, all kinds of unfortunate accident may befall your transport home while your team was dishing out the annual ritual thrashing to Everton, or watching in open-mouthed disbelief as another referee handed out a dodgy penalty to the home team in front of the Liverpool Kop.
The management would like to point out that not all citizens of the fair city of Liverpool look like this. At least half of them wear Everton shirts, and some demented souls have no interest in football whatsoever.
You were paying out for insurance. The kind of insurance sold to nervous looking shopkeepers by burly men in sharp suits saying things like “Blimey guv, a lot of inflammable stuff in here, could go up at any minute if you’re not protected by Kray Brothers Insurance Services. Know what I mean?” You paid, you watched the match, your car remained in one piece, because I don’t know about you, but I like mine to have matching hub caps, working windscreen wipers and all the petrol left in the tank. But who am I to reinforce this un-PC regional stereotyping? Not all Scousers are thieving, shellsuit-wearing scallies. Just all the ones we met, that’s all. When I ran into George Harrison , at no stage did I see a shell-suit or a car jacked up on four bricks. Proof positive.
To be completely fair about the kids we met in Liverpool, they possessed a great sense of humour and a sense of opportunism that was second to none. In London, the rather hackneyed term is “duckin’ and divin’”. They had the brains to go with the operation. If only kids elsewhere displayed that kind of enterprising spirit.
Take your typical Birmingham street urchin. They may look the same as your working class ne’er-do-well from the banks of the River Mersey, but they lack that certain streetwise nous that the young Scouser is famous for. While the Brummie is still trying to get his brain in gear, the Scally has already lifted your fags and is passing them round his mates before selling the half-empty packet back to you at a substantial mark-up. That’s the free market economy in action, folks, and it can only be applauded in this cut-throat world of rampant capitalism.
It was on a trip to England’s second city for a match at Villa Park that I noticed this crucial cultural difference. It had already been an eventful trip up the M1 to Birmingham, involving the usual “Oh my God, we’re all going to die” stop at Watford Gap followed by vital bits falling off my car, that saw us pulling up at the kerb of a side-street near the ground.
Two shell-suited idiots sidled up to us, hoping for some easy money. Or, seeing as we were in deepest Brum, “munnoi”.
“Hey mister, look after your car?”
“Yeah, OK, but I haven’t got any change right now.”
“That’s all roight, you can pay uz after the game.”
We went and watched the match, which incidentally was won by a rampant Arsenal team, returning at five o’clock to find the two shellsuited idiots dutifully watching over our cars, a task our Scouse minders would have been doing from the comfort of their home several miles away.
“Awight there, mister. We looked after your car, where’s me munnoi?”
My reply was forthright and to the point.
We drove back to London, leaving two youths trying to make sense of what had happened. Fifteen years later, one of that pair is now the Governor of the Bank of England, the other is a car park attendant at Villa Park.
So, what did we learn today? Number one: I’m tighter than a gnat’s chuff when it comes to matters of cash. Two: always get the money up front. Three: Capitalism’s a bitch.
Here endeth the lesson.