As I watched my third football match in three days, (yep my son is home from university, and so I have lost control of the remote for the next three weeks!) I reflected on how joyless the game seemed to be now. None of the players look as though they enjoy playing anymore, the recent Rooney outburst being an example. When he started playing, it was there, he used to run all over the pitch, with the ball, try random things which were spectacular when they came off. Now he just looks as though he hates the world.
Locally, there used to be 8 Leagues on Saturday afternoon, and 6 on Sunday. Nearly everyone I knew in the 80's played a game for fun. Now there's less than 3 on both days. Junior football thrives, as dads dream of their boys being the next Rooney, Gerrard etc. but if they don't reach those heady levels, they stop playing. Sport is about fun lads, find your boots and have a laugh with your mates. I watched my nephew play a game, when he was about 8. Grown men swearing at a 16 year old ref., telling their son or his team mates to 'get rid', that's not how I remember the 'jumpers for goalposts' days, when you played in the playground, on the rec after school, and if there wasn't a ball, the roundest stone was used. (And no, there wasn't rickets and mass poverty). Let the lads set their own games up, don't over-coach them and you may find the skills of the great working class heroes will return (Best, Gascoigne, Charlton, Cunningham (the late Laurie).
Even in the days of hooliganism in the 80's there seemed to be more fun in the game. There used to be a gang of us who used to follow Burton Albion in the Northern Premier League under the great Neil Warnock. The occasion started when we met in our local, The Plough.
The Plough is still run by the same landlord now - he seemed ancient then, and miserable. At closing time his call of 'Sup up and Sod off', used to mean we'd draw out the last dregs of our drinks just to annoy him. It was once part of the Marston's brewery, along with the warehouse across the road before John Marston moved to Shobnall in the late 19th century. It has lots of little cubby holes ideal for affairs, or for friends to take over areas to socilaise or plan the next outing. Thursdays were always a good night, from the tradition of the breweries employees getting paid on a Thursday and wanting to give it back to the brewers who had just paid them as soon as possible. Thursdays remain a good night in town, even in the days of BACS, now being known as 'Dirty Thursday'.
Anyway, in the mid-80's, Burton Albion had a bit of a cup run, and mostly away from home. The first round proper of the FA Cup found us away at Staines in Middlesex. We met in the Plough for early doors at 7.30am. The Landlady was an alcoholic, who came down to serve us in her dressing gown. She emerged from the kitchen at the back, got a glass, put it under the gin optic twice and muttered, 'People when I go to bed, people when I get up'. Sadly the marriage didn't last.
On the football train there we thought of a great song. It involved singing Staines - shit, which developed into Shitstains - oh the wit and irony. After several pints of Pedigree, it was funny to us. We won, 1-0 I think and then caught the train back to play a game of 1 Card Brag. This game involved putting your card on your forehead, so you couldn't see your card but could see everyone else's and then betting on what you thought you had. I did really well out of this, as I sat opposite a window, and could see my card in the reflection. Sorry everyone I probably owe you 35p.
The next game was away at Aldershot. again it was early doors in the Plough. We'd had a late one at the opening of the Leopard in town, and so probably never sobered up. The Football Special train was one of those post war trains with a corrdor down the side, and 12 of us crammed into 1 carriage for 6. It had rained really heavily down south and we were delayed for over an hour somewhere around, believe it or not Staines. We kept ourselves busy by ripping the Sun up into thousands of tiny pieces to give the mighty Brewers a continental welcome. We also nearly got put of the train by the guard when a light got smashed making a human pyramid.
We arrived 10 minutes into the game, with our pockets full of ripped newspaper. We queued for pies as we had got rumbletums by this time. Jonny asked the poor woman at the catering outlet what flavour soup it was. She replied 'Vegetable'. 'Aah', he said, 'its Tomato at the Albion' and walked off. When we got to the stand, Nigel Simms, a pitbonk from South Derbyshire, headed the ball into the net - Goal! Up went the newspaper in the stand onto the wet stand floor and stuck. Albion got a second and we waited excitedly for the train home and the Third Round Draw on a little tranny. The last name out was 'Burton Albion' versus Leicester City. Brilliant - against a local side in the 1st Division. A team that included a rising star in Gary Linekar and England Centre forward Alan Smith. (you didn't have to play for a London, Liverpool or Manchester team to represent your country in those days.)
Excitement was so great in the town, that the game was moved to Derby's Baseball Ground. Tickets purchased, we met in the Plough. We realised then that we didn't know how we were going to get there. At 1.30pm someone thought the local bus company Stevenson's were running buses. We went to the nearest bus stop and flagged down the next Stevenson's Rocket. An old double decker with a door at the back where the conductor stood. £1 lighter, this minor miracle of 50's engineering took us to the ground.
Leicester scored first, but almost immediately the Brewers equalised and the 17,000 crowd went mad. Woody turned to me and said, 'This is like an orgasm,' 'No' I said, 'Better, its lasted longer.' Sadly the fun ended there. The Leicester or was it Derby fans infiltrating the ground, started ripping up seats and throwing them on the pitch, Paul Evans, the Albion goalie fell to the ground injured. He played on, with concussion, but conceded another 7 goals.
The next day and Monday, the national press went mad, and it was probably the start of Neil Warnock's rise to fame as he fought for the game to be replayed. The FA agreed and the game was replayed behind closed doors. Albion lost 1-0, but I still believe we could have pulled off at least a replay and another adventure had those 'fans' not injured our goalie.
The Liquidator (Harry J All Stars) was the tune that the mighty Baggies used? to run out to. Chelsea merely copied. I won't mention those at the Custard Bowl who also claim to be the first to use it.