Friday, June 23, 2006

Mirth and Woe: In search of John McAlle

In search of John McAlle

Further tales from the Football 78 album

Anthony Morris needed John McAlle. Anthony Morris was the king of the playground craze, and was, by a country mile, the first to come anywhere near finishing his Football 78 sticker collection. After several months of buying stickers and swapping in the playground, all he needed to complete his album was sticker 369, the Wolves defender John McAlle. I had eight. Eight pictures of that lazy-eyed Scouser that nobody else wanted. Not even, it turned out, Anthony Morris.

Oh no, Anthony Morris didn't want to finish his collection on a swap. Neither was he prepared to send stamps to the value of 2p to Panini for his man. We was going to do it the correct, "pure" way. That is, he was going to waste his money buying dozens of packets of Football 78 stickers until he finally turned up John McAlle. Back in Italy, Mr and Mrs Panini were having a money fight in the corner of a cash-laden warehouse.

For several weeks, we witnessed an increasingly engaged moneybags Morris buying packet after packet of stickers, which contained anything but McAlle. God knows where he got his money from, but he alwys seemed to be loaded down with any passing fad that hit the school. When it was Top Trumps, he had every packet they sold. When it was Bazooka Joe cards, he blew the biggest bubbles we'd ever seen. In the five minutes we were allowed clackers, Morris had the reddest knuckles on the playground.

Morris's quest for John McAlle became all-consuming, and there was nothing anybody could do except pray for that glorious day when he would rip open a packet and see, amongst the other swaps, that one man in an old-gold shirt looking back at him.

And so it happened, in Darth Vader's newsagents on his way to school one morning.

"Twenty packets of Football 78, please. And a Mars Bar."

"Wheeeeze", said Darth, self-rolled cigarette hanging out the corner of his mouth, "Pound ....gasp... twelve."

Anthony stuffed the Mars in his mouth in one go, and set about the small pile of Football 78 packets with a frenzy.

Then, he stopped, and his eyes opened to the size of dinner plates, his mouth too full of chocolate, Mars Bar goo and drool to speak.

"MMmm!" he said, "'On M'All! 'On M'All!"

And he was right, it was indeed 'On M'All. He also had John McAlle which was, indeed, a bit of a bonus, and we could all return to normal. Even Darth Vader seemed pleased, even if his profits for the week would now be slashed in half now that Anthony was no longer buying all the stickers he could get from Zombie Dave's Cash and Carry.

In his McAlle-inspired joy, Anthony rushed from the job to tell everybody that we had completed his task, and was the first in the school to fill his album. He dashed into the street and.... THUMP.

Straight under the 328 bus to Maidenhead and High Wycombe. That's gonna hurt in the morning. If the Green Cross Man hadn't run off the previous year to become Darth Vader this might never have happened, but that's what you get if you don't stop, look, listen.

It was unfortunate, then, that Anthony's demise was witnessed by dozens of schoolkids stopping of at Darth's on the way to school in order to spend their lunch money on anything that wasn't mushy peas.

There was a terrifying high-pitched scream.

"AAAAAAAAAargh!" went Helen, "It's his brains!"

And there, in the street, was a terrible lump of bloody mess, hanging out of poor, poor Anthony's mouth.

"AAAAAAargh!" went Helen again, fainting away stone dead and cracking her head open on the pavement.

"AAAAAAargh!" went Helen's friend Joanne, seeing both her best friend bleeding all over the place, and Anthony's brains spreading out slowly on he road. So she did what any traumatised twelve-year-old would do in the circumstances.

"YAAAAAAAAAAARCH!" she went, bowking rich brown vomit all over her shoes, and the poor, unconscious Helen.

"YAAAAAAAAAAARCH!" she said again, just for dramatic effect.

Several others responded by bowking, running away, or for one dreadful, loose-bowelled nightmare, backing up against the door to Nat West Bank (now, ironically enough, a trendy wine bar), leaving a tell-tale streak on the glossy paint-work.

"It's not his brains," said a clearly shaken bus driver, jumping from the cab to administer what first aid he could, "it's a sodding Mars Bar! I'm going to run late again..."

And it was. As Anthony had fought his losing battle with the bus, he had bitten his tongue, producing the chocolate, blood and caramel mess that had freaked out so many people. Mars. Not brains. He had little enough to spare as it was.

As the firemen and the ambulance service dragged the prone Anthony from under the bus, cutting him free of clothing that had got caught in the gubbins, it appeared, tragically that he had not been wearing clean underwear that morning. Woe, for he was wearing none at all, the manky little devil.

He didn't die, by the way. He only broke his hip and returned later in the year for his assault on Football 79.

I'll never set foot in a branch of Nat West, ever again.

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