it happened at the paxton end
Anthony Lambe had penned a book about his Tottenham experiences.
Here are chapters one and two ...
It had been a long time since I was last in Edmonton. Sometimes, of course, it’s better not to return to your roots at all. The child may be father to the man, but child and father are never the same thing. The past, however, is something you can never really shake off. It’s your heritage, after all. Your earliest memories are always the most tenacious. I can remember the names of my old schoolteachers going back to infants school. I can remember the names of schoolmates too. Ask me to recall so-and-so whom I met a year ago and with whom I spent many a cheerful hour, but have not seen for a good six months…ah, there we have a problem.
I spent all my early life in Edmonton. My parents came from Tottenham though – and the two boroughs marked out the geography of my childhood. You could even say I get nostalgic about them. Nostalgia? Yes…that most futile and destructive of diseases. It’s a disease for life, too. Strange really, because Edmonton is that most unnostalgic of places – a nondescript borough that you pass through on the North Circular Road, or skirt when making some unaccountable journey to Cambridge. Otherwise, nobody ever goes there.
Many years ago I had this notion that, when I made my name as a writer, I would return to Edmonton, book in at a hotel (Do they have hotels in Edmonton?), stay there in smug seclusion for a week, a month, or whatever, and write the definitive nostalgic novel.
Well, I’m back, but only for a day. And if I call myself a ‘writer’, it’s with a certain irony, my failures having been Legion. My scripts go smulching into the slush pile along with thousands of others. What is worse is that I can’t say I’ve succeeded in much else besides. Which may explain why, in a perverse way, I came to Edmonton that day, rewinding history – so to speak – in the futile hope that I could start it all up again, if only in a smudged newsreel.
Like it says in the Bible – vanity, vanity… Our fate is not in the stars – and never was. It’s in our selves. And as for the mistakes we made in the long-ago past, if we were to live those moments again, we would make exactly the same errors. Because we are who we are, I suppose.
I haven’t kept in touch with old friends either. There are Frank and Dave. From Latymer Grammar School. Dave sends me the Old-Timers Mag. It makes depressing reading really. Full of obituaries. Oh, yes – and success stories. Which are even worse than the death notices. It gives me no satisfaction at all to read about those contemporaries who have been triumphant in business, politics and humanitarian campaigns. I imagine them out there, in London’s affluent fringe, sipping Pims and playing croquet behind Chanel-scented hedgerows. Where is it now ? Woodford ? Barnet ? Ongar ? Those hidey-holes on the edge of the Underground Universe anyway.
As for the heroics of house-husbands like myself, in the Old-Timers Mag, there is utter silence.
Even criminals – as long as they’re white-collar – get a better press.
Anyway, there I was – back in North London. I’d chosen a great time for the Return of the Native too. I’d flown into Gatwick a week or so before, had a spell in Shropshire, and was now staying with sister-in-law in Folkestone. It was during this period that I intended to go to London. As chance would have it, a couple of days after the Tottenham riot.
Well, how can I describe it? Not so much the wreckage and the ruins – the police had cordoned off the devastated area, after all – rather, the quieter areas where I could still wander freely, and where you would never know there had been any form of social disturbance. Many people return to their roots and, with tears of nostalgia in their eyes, feel as though they’ve never been away. I felt the opposite – it was as though I had never been there in the first place. It was not merely the disappearance of so many landmarks – the Angel, the Regal cinema, the transformation of the Green with its unholy trinity of tower blocks, the conversion of Fore Street library into a mosque – but the demographic change from something indisputably English into something without a tangible identity. I was a stranger without a past to call my own.
I felt that dislocation most, I think, when I passed the Spurs ground. There had been some damage in the rioting – but nothing like what had happened to Carpet-rite. However, the ground had been totally transformed. It no longer seemed possible to walk those streets abutting the stadium which gave the club its working class air. Paxton Road, particularly, seemed inaccessible.
I suppose attachment to a football club so often defines an individual, marks out his roots, his friendships. Indeed, I still feel a warmth towards someone who claims loyalty towards Spurs, which I wouldn’t feel towards anyone else. It’s stronger than nationalism. Much, much stronger. The enmities too. Much stronger. To put it bluntly, Arsenal are the Germans of North London. As for Spurs…well, it’s not for nothing we wear white. Even if we don’t sprout wings or play harps.
But even that’s all changed - that grass-roots attachment to the past. What I’m left with is a residue. I supported Tottenham, because Tottenham was there, because my family came from Tottenham, because my father took me to their matches when I was small. I identified with the players – after all, they didn’t seem that different from other working people. There was heritage, there was history, there was loyalty. You were loyal to the players, the players were loyal to you. Your father didn’t drive around in a fast Ferrari, and nor did they. Clubbing and wagging, if they had any meaning at all, meant entirely different things then.
Now, of course, things have changed. We no longer live on the same road. Not even on the same side of town.
Stupid of me to think otherwise.
In those days – the early sixties and before – soccer wasn’t quite the Machine it has become. Now, of course, it’s a money-maker, a fame-grabber, a commercial carousel. With disbelief, I recall that, fifty years ago, Tottenham won the Championship for the second and last time - a year later, Ipswich Town emerged like Boadicea from the fens to win the title at the first attempt. In those days, too, Wolverhampton Wanderers and Burnley were powers in the land. Now what have we got? - an oligarchy governed by money, fame and success – the trinity of devils feeding off everything else.
Burnley, at that time, were possibly Spurs’ fiercest rivals. They’d won the Championship in 1960 – against all the odds. Spurs then met them three years running in the FA Cup – when the Cup was something special. There was the semi-final of 1961, the final of 1962 – both of which Spurs won – and the third round tie of 1963.
I963 was a hard winter, punctuated by power cuts when the grid couldn’t keep up with demand. Indeed, as far as winters go, this one was pretty wicked. It was like the Arctic had marched all over the U.K. Snow fell and hung around, gloating, in great drifts. The school field and the adjacent recreation ground were a deathly white. On top of that, for some reason or other, the school heating was kaput. My class was in the South Block, where you would have thought we might have some protection from the icy blasts winging down from the north. Not so. We got it right in the goolies. There was none of this namby-pamby health and safety nonsense either. If the mercury sank to the earth’s core in a pathetic search for heat, you just had to suffer. I remember cycling to school with a hot-water bottle wrapped in a towel. I would clutch it close to me during lessons in a defiant bid to outfox frostbite.
The weather devastated the football programme too. Match after match was cancelled in our schools programme, and the Football League was little better off. The beginning of January saw the Third Round of the FA Cup. Spurs had been drawn at home to Burnley. Big match, this one. Many games were postponed – including the one at White Hart Lane. It was re-programmed (I think) for the following Wednesday. They cleared the ground of snow, and the terraces as well, though the pitch itself remained as hard as Bakelite. The kick-off was forwarded to early afternoon – to avoid the use of floodlights, which might have strained the already creaking national grid and provoked a metropolitan-wide black-out.
Wednesday, of course, was a school day. I looked at my time-table and thought boring, boring, boring! I examined the possibilities of escaping from Colditz and making my way to Snow-white Hart Lane. The obvious exit was through the main gates, but main gates would be studded with prefects, who would grab the ears of stragglers creeping unwillingly to school. I didn’t want to be put through the third-degree as to why I was slinking out of school when everybody else was slinking in.
“You’re off to get a hot toddy for the Head of Physics then ?”
“Yes,” I’d say. “Asked me particular-like, he did. Works wonders for his chilblains, a hot toddy does.”
“And why can’t he use his own private distillery then? In the Physics lab ?”
“Ah well … yes … well, you got me there …”
Anyway, I was off on the trout. But nothing as simple as strolling through the school gates at the end of lunch-time would satisfy. I’d seen too many jailbreak movies for that.
So I chose the North Block. If anyone stopped me, I’d say I was doing a Dick Whittington to Enfield Town. Thus, in no way, would I implicate THFC in my misadventures, or cause any unwelcome embarrassment to the Club.
So, swimming against a tide of first-formers, all dressed up like Arctic teddy-bears, with red noses and icicles on their ears, I made my way as inconspicuously as possible to the school wall, which was low enough even for me to clamber over (I have no head for heights). Then I started off over the Rec. At which point I realized there was something seriously amiss with my planning. The snow was knee-deep, and far from skimming over the surface like an Arctic tern, I found myself floundering around like a pig in crispy white shit. All this, of course, was in full view of the North Block where diligent Firsties were settling down to an afternoon of high drama in front of the blackboard.
Anyway, I made it to the park exit. After all, that was no Berlin Wall I’d just scaled, and this was no Brandenburg Gate.
No Kalashnikov peppering the snow
around me either.
For a Third Round cup-tie between two of the top teams in the country, the crowd was pretty thin. Thirty thousand ? No, probably fewer. I didn’t count anyway.
I didn’t even have to queue up early to ensure I got my usual spot. This was at the Paxton Road End - to the right of the goal, near the corner flag, looking down over the lower terraces. My dad always used to take me there. It was a great spot, because there was a passageway between two belts of terracing. The higher belt began just below the roof-edge of the Paxton Stand and was marked by a low wall with a security bar behind. Therefore I had an unimpeded view and didn’t get any pressure from the back. That day, however, the crowd was thin, so I took up a place behind the bar instead.
One of the characters at Spurs’ home matches in those days was the peanut vendor. He was a thickset guy with no neck. No Handsome Harry, he didn’t seem quick off the mark in the IQ stakes either. Whatever, he wore a white coat and carried a tray stacked with Percy Dalton’s roasted peanuts. At moments of high excitement on the pitch he’d pause, stretch out his non-existent neck, and peer over the shoulders of the fans. Usually he just trudged through the crowd, like a solitary water-buffalo, reciting in a raucous voice: “Peanuts ! Fresh roasted peanuts !”
Anyway, that was the peanut guy. He was there every match - like the Salvation Army during the Double days. The Sally-Annies huddled together in the corner at the Paxton End and played a repertoire of brass-band hits from the nineteenth century, before segueing seamlessly into McNamara’s Band the moment Danny Blanchflower led his men onto the field.
Anyway, this particular match was a disaster. Tottenham never mastered the conditions, Burnley did. Maybe the Spurs players wished, like myself, to be back at school nursing a hot-water bottle. Anyway, Maurice Norman was skidding around like a ploughman on ice, Ron Henry swore at the club mascot (Mr. Punch), and Bobby Smith was doing his best to get sent off for an early bath. Meanwhile, Andy Lochhead – a dour and burly Scot who played centre-forward for Burnley and scored more goals off his bald patch than he did with the rest of his anatomy – was gliding around like a thuggerina on ballet-skates.
Burnley won 3-0.
Yes, a very dismal affair.
What made it worse – or so it seemed at the time – were the peanuts. Percy Dalton’s, at a guess. They came raining down on my head some time during the second half. At first I thought it was just some joker showing his disgust at Tottenham’s inept display. But they were too well targeted for that. OK, so one or two did go astray and hit fans to the right of me and to the left of me, like shrapnel from an artillery barrage, but most landed on my head and on my shoulders. I brushed off the debris and tried not to pay any attention.
Then the giggles homed in.
I turned round.
Girl-faces ducking behind cloth-cap-n-muffler fans. Then re-emerging. Diving back down again. Giggling.
I turned back to the match and tried sinking deeper into my coat.
God ! But Spurs were awful.
Of course, this was in the days when even top teams could be caught with their pants down. Not to be recommended either – least of all, in sub-zero temperatures.
A mock-bullock voice, with feminine overtones and – presumably - feminine underwear, shrieked out: “Peanuts! Fresh roasted peanuts!”
Another flurry of nut casings, mostly off target because, by now, my assailants were giggling themselves to death.
One or two victims of collateral damage turned round and groused. Giggles morphed into snuffles, snuffles into laughter.
But at least the rain of peanuts stopped.
If not the chittering laughter at my shoulder.
The final whistle couldn’t come fast enough. The crowd was already thinning out and I was getting ready to thin out with them.
Then someone tapped me on the back. I turned. Two girls were grinning mischievously at me. Spurs were losing, and now I was being smirked at ! The back-tapper had an elfin face with freckles. She was wearing a woolly black hat and a school scarf. Not my school, thank goodness.
Now not many women went to football matches in those days. Players weren’t sexy enough or rich enough to attract the feminine classes. As for Nat Lofthouse, he certainly never showered in Brut or went in for fancy hair-do’s. He was very much a man’s man. So not many women took time off from polishing their nails on a Saturday to stand shoulder to shoulder with their men folk at a football match. However, I do remember this toothless old crone during the late fifties who used to perch on the Paxton wall near my father and me. Dad wasn’t too pleased, but she taught me all the foul language I would ever need in life. She cackled when Spurs scored and cursed when they didn’t. However, it took Jayne Mansfield, all long legs and blonde hair, to show that soccer could cope with its feminine side. The year before the Double, at the Spurs-Wolves match, the Hollywood actress enthroned herself in the Directors Box. There was a capacity crowd that day, and I remember a bloc of Wolves fans coming into the Paxton End, brandishing placards adorned with wolf-heads. The Spurs fans responded by singing ‘Who’s afraid of the big bad wolf, the big wolf, the big bad wolf &c’. In those days, of course, Home and Away fans mixed quite amicably and there was never any problem. Anyway, Spurs won 5-1, Bobby Smith scoring four goals, including a back-to-the-goal scissors shot – Paxton Road End, of course, where everything happened in the second half.
Anyway, Spurs were brilliant that day and a lot of pundits put it down to Jayne Mansfield.
However, in 1963, girls were still a rarity – especially those so disorientated they couldn’t do better than clamour round me.
“Your name Tony?” she said.
I went cross-eyed. Just for a moment, you understand.
Of course, I should have adopted my gruffest gangster voice and said: “Who’s asking ?”
But I didn’t. I was much too nervous.
Well, she turned and waved at a third girl lurking somewhere in the crowd. The way the crowd was thinning out though, she’d soon have nowhere to lurk.
Freckles turned to face me. “We run out of peanuts,” she said.
“So I gathered,” I said.
“That’s why we’re calling a truce,” said the other girl.
“I didn’t know we were at war,” I said.
This other girl was paler, with black hair, in a fringe, and black wobbly eyes. A side-show of the same black hair flocked against her cheeks. She was wearing a red beret with a white bobble perched on top like a snowball.
“Julie !” This was Freckles. She was calling out to the hide-n-seek girl. “You can come out now ! He won’t bite !”
To prove the point, Freckles flicked a piece of peanut-shrapnel off my coat.
The third girl nudged round the remaining spectators.
“That’s Julie,” said Freckles. “She fancies you !”
“No, I don’t !” squeaked Julie. “Don’t tell such stories !”
Please blow that bloody whistle, Ref !
“Can you buy us some more peanuts ?” said Red Beret.
“This is Becky,” said Freckles. “I’m Susie.”
“We’re completely out of dosh,” said Becky. “And peanuts.”
She was wearing the same school scarf as Susie. I didn’t recognize it anyway. For all I knew it could have been from Burnley Convent School for Cheeky Misses.
Which meant I would never see my money again. If I was stupid enough to shell out.
Then the whistle blew. No ripple of applause, no cries of ‘Better luck next time, chaps !’ The crowd just melted away – although melted is not quite the right word. All they could think about now was a mug of hot chocolate and a three-bar fire – power cuts permitting, of course.
Julie Girl came forward. Shyly. Hands clasped at the front, like she’d just been caught with her fingers in the cookie jar. She was quite petite really, with auburn hair down to her shoulders and a pair of dark-rimmed specs. She had on a navy-blue beret – worryingly familiar – and, worst of all, a school scarf.
That is, my school.
She even seemed vaguely familiar.
“I’m Julie,” she said.
“I know,” I said. “Freckles introduced us.”
“Susie!” said Freckles. “I’m Susie – not Freckles !”
She did not seem amused.
Julie stood there a moment, clasping her hands, and swinging her hips as if to say: ‘Well, aren’t you going to invite me to a party then ?”
The other girls giggled.
“Oh by the way, this is Becky,” said Julie. “And this...this is Susie.”
“Freckles to you !” said Susie.
“And I’m Julie.” She laughed nervously. “Again !”
They waved at me from all of two feet and grinned spectacularly.
“So…” they trilled. They were in perfect unison - like the Beverley Sisters. “Hi !”
“Hi !” I said, returning a timid wave.
“End of match !” said Julie.
“Which means…” said Susie.
“Doughnuts!” said Becky.
“Cappuccino!” said Susie.
They sighed in touching harmony, the grief of the match forgotten.
“You coming ?” said Julie.
Well, I hadn’t expected to end up in
a coffee bar near Bruce Grove. It was hardly a celebration either.
Not after the debacle at White Hart Lane. Not after I finished
footing most of the bill either. Becky hadn’t been joking when she
said she was out of dosh.
Julie seemed to pop up regularly at
school after that. I think she polished her glasses especially for
my benefit. She always had snippets of football news for me. Would
ask whether I was going to the next match - and if she and the girls
could call round my place and get in a quick game of Subbuteo before
turning out at White Hart Lane.
However, it was when she invited me
to her home in Firs Lane to listen to her collection of Shadows
records that I realized things were turning serious.
She was waiting for me outside her
house. She was sitting on the garden wall. It was spring now and the
days were getting longer. She didn’t wave at me or anything like
that. She didn’t bother getting up either. Just watched me coming
over the Aldesmede. Then took time off to look down the road as if
she were expecting someone else. After all, this was her territory.
She had the neighbours to think of. Her own image to consider. She
couldn’t exactly jump up and down with excitement. That would be
very infra dig. Especially in Firs Lane.
Spring took slow flight into summer.
The football season drew to its close. I turned up Saturday mornings
to play left-back (I was that good !) for the second XI. Sky blue
shirts, gold trim – short-sleeved all-seasons; white shorts, white
socks. We won most of our matches, so that was a relief – especially
when the Terrible Trio turned up to cheer. Only Julie had a Latymer
scarf, so Becky and Susie came along in their Spurs paraphernalia.
Which meant Julie had to deck herself out as well - Julie
Two-Scarves on the touchline cheering on the Latymer Lads.
Saturday afternoon. Spurs were away to Newcastle –
or someone else from beyond the Arctic Circle. So the Terrible Trio
had nowhere to go. My bedroom then became Wembley. Isis House,
Snells Park. N°39. I tried to break it gently to my mum, but there
was no way she was prepared for three high-powered lassies ringing
the bell, surging past her and stomping up the stairs. We tuned into
the second half commentary from one of the day’s First Division
football matches. Before that there was brass band music. Julie
wanted to play her Shadows collection; Becky and Susie had recently
discovered the Beatles. But I had my way. I said brass band music
offered a more authentic atmosphere.
One thing was sure, though – Julie
was not that keen on my crossing her parents’ path. I couldn’t think
Later that year I went to University.
Keele. It was the first time I’d ever been to the Big North – at
least on my own. There was this branch of the family in Darlington
and my dad drove us up there one year, but, apart from that, I think
Ponders End was the furthest north I’d ever been. This was also the
first time, apart from day trips, that I’d ever found myself in the
country, Keele being a little village totally outweighed and
outpunched by the university on its doorstep. The countryside, after
all, was something we passed through in a motor-car on the way to
Bournemouth, but never actually spent time in.
David J. Bullman (1946-2012)
A Good Friend and Loyal Leyton Orient
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