Enough with the Soccer Already

They say that every time an accountant is born, an angel dies. Or something like that. Well I’d like to add to and improve that well-worn phrase. How about “Every time the Football Season starts before the end of the cricket season or most people have taken their summer holidays, a puppy loses its ears”? Ok, it may be not quite as sweet or catchy as the original, but you get my meaning.

The People's Game returns

Ahhhh….The People’s Game returns

Yes, unbelievably (although someone writes this every year) the cries of “onmeeadsun” and “backdoorbackdoor” could be heard throughout the land this weekend, and not just from the open windows at Catholic Church Boys homes. The minor English divisions took to the field/pitch, whatever they call it on Planet Sky TV this season, and play was resumed as usual. Charlton Athletic lost, as usual, and youngsters in English streets had a kickabout inbetween cars and fell over for no apparent reason, imitating their heroes.  Lads in Scotland, who were fortunate enough not to be in the charge of the local priest, played fitba in the park in the style of their own local heroes: ran around in front of three bored (yet aggressive) bigoted onlookers, had no proper goalies and all went into administration afterwards.

And yet up in the Third World, the Manchester Third Test is still grinding to a halt, as is cricket’s wont. There are still two huge matches to come in this current cricket season. There are still 11 days of Aussie whingeing, England cheating and Deaf Dumb & Blind umpiring (Jimmy: Sure Bowls a Mean Short Ball) but you’d get good odds on Roman Abramovich sacking this week’s manager down at Chelski before Alastair Cook has taken his pads off for the winter.

Reculver - Twinned with Syria's Homs

Reculver – Twinned with Syria’s Homs

The Incumbent and I have yet to take ourself away on our our annual family summer trip to Reculver, and yet the pies and bovril are being re-heated at football grounds all over the country and I’ve yet to oil myself up and squeeze my slight frame into the newly-purchased 38″ Union Jack speedos (Matalan, 3 pairs for a fiver!).

I know it’s a plea that will fall on deaf eyes, a request which, like my application to be the new Dr Who, will remain ignored until Gallifrey freezes over, but is there any way that fitba, football, or even soccer can remain a winter pastime, so the rest of us can enjoy uninterrupted coverage of the Test Match series, the Croquet Season and our buckets & spades, at least until late September ?

No, I thought there wasn’t.

This Sporting Life

Spring has sprung,
Da grass has riz,
I wonder where da boidies is?
Da little boids is on da wing,
Ain’t that absoid,
Da little wings is on da boid.

There’s something different about this morning. It maybe that, for the first time this year, I’m able to sit in my garden with a cup of tea without the fear of losing several digits to frostbite. It may be that the new European Champions at Rugby Union are Ireland. (4th place. FOURTH!! How d’ya like THEM leeks?). It may even be that the blue tits in my garden (no, nothing to do with the cold weather) seems to at last be taking an interest in one of the several bird boxes I nailed up over the winter months.

But no, there’s a spring in my step this morning because yesterday IT arrived, just as he promised it would. It came in the post yesterday morning (well, lunchtime—my postie likes his lie-ins nowadays) and was accompanied by a piece of paper on which he’d written “Drool Away”. “He” is my long-time pal Andrew, and “it” is my ticket for the first day of the Lords Test Match against the Australians this July. YES.

I can hear monocles flying out all over Tunbridge Wells, teacups smashing in the Garrick, and a million expletives uttered under a million breaths as a large proportion of the population come to terms with the fact that the tickets are out only a lucky few will get them.

I’ve been going to the Thursday of the Lords test with Andrew for nigh on 20 years now. Through thin and thin we’ve supported England as country after country have turned up at HQ with the press predicting they’ll be over-awed by playing at the Holy of Holys, only to teach the home side a lesson in, well, pretty much everything. I think we speak about six words to each other when we’re there, and we certainly never talk during overs. It’s heaven.

Hook THAT one, yer bastard!

Hook THAT one, yer bastard!

Supporting English cricket is not for the faint-hearted or the easily-disappointed (being a Charlton Athletic fan, you’d think I’d suffered enough unpleasantness), but addict and Addick as I am, I just can’t help myself. Imagine the thrill of seeing 2 out of the first 3 Aussie batsmen get clattered on the head when they were last here. It was hilarious beyond words. We stuck it to ’em alright. So they decided to return the compliment and rout us when it was their turn to bowl.


It happens with an almost predictable regularity but nothing can dampen the goose-bumped optimism for my team’s chances as I pass though the gates and enter the Great Place, awaiting those flanneled fools in their Green Baggies to skip down the pavilion steps. Anyone who’s been on the Nou Camp, the Augusta National, the Oval Office or the Taj Mahal must surely recognize that feeling. (In the Taj Mahal I always order the Doipaza and the Taka Dal, very tasty, and remember, they stop serving at 11.30 sharp). Twickenham is always a bit of a disappointment—it has to be the coldest , soul-less ground on earth, and oddly The Millennium Stadium, Cardiff knocks it into a cocked hat (have I mentioned that the Welsh came in 4th?).

So now the long build-up to that great day begins: There’s the Lions Squad to be announced (PLEASE DON’T TAKE THAT POWDERED PONCE HENSON), Charlton’s Oozalum season will come to it’s inevitable conclusion, and the drone of millionaires parading round an F1 track will soon be interrupting my Sunday lunchtime pint. But I have my ticket for Lords and that means cricket’s back in town, and the world seems a better place for it.

Now where did I put my lucky jockstrap?

A terrifying site for any Ozzie batsman

A terrifying site for any Ozzie batsman

Saturday Titfers

Unknown Football ground photographed somewhere or other, circa dunno. Probably not the Valley.

Unknown Football ground photographed somewhere or other, circa dunno. Probably not the Valley.

In a quiet side street of the charming hamlet of Charlton, (as in ‘Charlton Athletic Nil’), South East London once stood a little pub called The Valley, named after the local football team’s home ground. A pretty unremarkable little boozer, which my brother and I used to go in for “just the one” at lunchtime on match days (we were supporters, you understand, not players. The players were in the boozer across the road).  It was suitably scruffy, unknown to traveling opposition supporters, and mercifully free of the formica and stainless steel decor favoured by the Slug and Pianos, the All Bar Funs and the Trout n Tillbox pub chains so popular with the roof of today.

But the feature of this pub which will stay with me forever was an old photograph on the wall. Or to be precise, a photo so large it stretched across two walls, floor-to-ceiling, in the main bar. It showed life as it was 60 years ago, a life sadly no longer with us. The photo at the top of this page , similar to the one in the pub,  will give you an idea of what I mean.

Pictured was the old, massive, main terrace at Charlton’s ground, presumably photographed just post-war. Several things struck you when you looked at the picture: That they used to sell-out home games; Some of the supporters were smiling; No-one was kicking seven shades out of anyone else; and everyone in the photo was male. But there was something else: of the nigh-on 20,000 people in the photo everyone, and I mean EVERYONE was wearing a hat. Be it a trilby, a flat cap, or whatever, EVERYONE wore a hat. Question: when the time came to throw your hat in the air in celebration of Charlton scoring a goal (quiet at the back!) how did you get your own hat back? It must have been carnage.

Charlton beating Liverpool 3-0 (yes, honestly). Not a dry hat in the house.

Charlton beating Liverpool 3-0 (yes, honestly) December 1959. The home goalie, Willie Duff, dives to clear some smudges from the photograph. Not a dry hat in the house.

I have a particularly big swede and I suspect I would have often walked home with someone else’s cap, 3 sizes too small perched, at a jaunty angle, on the top of my head, while some other poor little sod wore my one, having to walk four yards before the hat moved.

In 1953 Charlton beat Middlesbrough 8-1 which presumably meant that some of those present changed hats 8 times during the match. I wonder if after twenty minutes you ended up with a real corker of a titfer you just buggered off home and sod the result? Were you refused entry to the ground if you were hatless? What if your chapeau was a birthday present but the bloke standing 7 yards away caught it during the melee after a late equalizer? My mum would have gone Garrity if I returned home without it.

Sad I know, but it’s something that’s always bothered me.
The pub’s not there now. Demolished for yuppie flats, A Costa Coffee bar or somesuch. Gone the same way as epidemic hat-wearing, a thousand proper boozers around the country, and home goals at The Valley.


Go Away From My Window…

…Leave at your own chosen speed… as Bob Dylan once wrote. Pretty much how I feel about the upcoming residency of Michael Jackson for a proposed “50 night” stint at the O2 Arena. Those of us who reside in SE London have had enough unpleasantness with seeing the shocking spectacle of Charlton Athletic commit sporting hari kari on the football field every weekend, whithout everyone’s favourite babysitter pitching his tent in, well, a tent!. Yes. The Millenium Bivouac, as was, has witnessed enough disasters over the years since it’s inception but one feels you ain’t seen nothin’ yet when the Jackson entourage (and, what’s worse, his sad fans) roll up into town. 50 nights! FIFTY!! I’m starting a book on how many he’ll actually do before reports of that “throat infection” start to appear and he’s replaced by Gareth Gates. Now remember: rules of the sweepstake mean that ALL of him has to complete the concert. Any limbs or organs that drop off mid-Billie Jean make that performance null and void. Should save a fortune on makeup for Thriller, anyway.
If any of Mr Jackson’s party happen to read this, you could do worse than to book rooms at The Angerstein Hotel, a pub in Greenwich. It’s but a short limp to the O2, most of the locals need oxygen masks to keep going and the bar staff therin are gender-neutral. Rooms start at 27.50 (with sink) and a view of the Blackwall Tunnel Flyover. Advise keeping the window closed as the whiff from the molasses factory up the road get’s a bit rich. But then you don’t need a weather man to know which way the wind blows.