Friday, September 28, 2007

Mirth and Woe: The Bridge

Mirth and Woe: The Bridge

Shit ground, shit teamI thought the time is right to tell this story, coinciding, as it does, with my Dad's birthday, and, of course, a certain London football club showing their lack of class. So there.

In my humblest of opinions, cheering at a football match when the wrong team scores is just about the worst thing you can do. Even worse that drunkenly nipping off a length on the lounge carpet at the vicarage. The vicar, for one, will forgive you.

Cheering the wrong team at a football match is a dreadful social faux pas that could lead to embarrassment, dirty looks, ostracism and perhaps even bovver-booted death.

I went to my first ever football match in 1974. My father and one of his colleagues - one Dr Veitch - decided that, at the age of eight, I was old enough to experience the surge of the crowd on the football terraces, and perhaps come back again and again, ensnared by The Beautiful Game.

I was, after all, a genuine football supporter having got a purple cotton tracksuit for my birthday which weighed a ton when it got wet. However, not having actually chosen a football team to support, I was putty in the hands of any likely adult who might want a go at shaping my entire future. Dr Veitch saw his chance and pounced.

They found a likely fixture - Stoke City at home - and I was taken along to see the cut and thrust of Division One football at close quarters.

In fact, thanks to the miracles of the internet, I can put and exact date on it: 27th April 1974.

A grey, drizzly spring day, where I was allowed to sit at the very front of the train all the way to London. All the grown-ups smoked, and I got envious looks from another father-and-son combination making a similar footballing journey, but getting on at Maidenhead, they were far too late for the box seat.

The match was awful. I was bored stupid within twenty minutes, and with the home crowd on the back of their poor side from early on, my old dad and Dr Veitch were beginning to regret bringing me in the first place.

Midway through the second half and with my half-time Wagon Wheel polished off and the home supporters getting a bit ugly, the inevitable happens - Stoke, who were a bit useful back in those days, score with a thirty yard screamer into the top corner.

"YESSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSS!" I screamed at the top of my lungs, throwing my arms into the air and getting more than a little over-excited.

"Someone shut that little bastard up," said a nearby voice as the olds did their best to quieten me down in the face of a hostile crowd that were getting progressively angrier by the second.

"Your gonna get your fuc..." started a nearby ape, pointing to the three of us, before I was dragged off the terrace by the old fella*, and watched the rest of the game in from a dark, sparsely populated corner of the now rapidly emptying terrace. The battle lost on the pitch, the local oiks were off to prepare their ambush for any luckless Stoke fans they might find.

I lived to tell the tale. A tale where I was taken by two highly qualified pathologists to stand in the Shed End at Stamford Bridge at the height of Chelsea's infamy, cheering for the wrong team.

Of course, being eight years old, I didn't realise how close I'd brought two grown men to having the seven bells kicked out of them. I am certain there was some sicking in a hedge on the way back to Paddington Station that I didn't know about.

Cured entirely of Chelsea, I never went back.

* This is, I realise, the best double entendre I have ever written. And I'm not going to change it

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