it happened at the paxton end

Anthony Lambe had penned a book about his Tottenham experiences.

Here are chapters one and two ...


Chapter 1.


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.



Chapter 2.


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.

“Yes ?” 

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.




Chapter 3.


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.

“Got enough for my bus fare,” she said, making the age-old empty-pocket gesture.

I was a bit nervous being with three girls as well. To tell the truth, I wasn’t much of a socializer at all. I could have talked about football and the Spurs for hours on end and maybe ventured off on a deviation through English Literature, but other than that – well…frankly…I was just not a small-talk kind of guy.

Nor big-talk either.

I supposed I was pretty old-fashioned too, but then what else can you expect? I was a product of my times, of my upbringing, of a whole cultural context that included Hollywood and Tin Pan Alley pop-songs. Girls had the easy task – they just had to sit around and look pretty. For boys it was much harder – we had to convince everybody, including our own shadows, that we were the most macho thing around. We had to act suave and make smart conversation. Play the guitar if possible. Girls had to giggle at appropriate moments; act blonde; act dumb. Sing occasionally.

I noted, with what might have been consternation, that not one of the girls was blonde. Did that mean latent intelligence ? An IQ creeping over 95 ? Something dangerously subversive when it came to sense of humour ?

And they also had an awful lot to say for themselves.

It turned out Susie and Becky went to Enfield County School – and they had the uniforms and woolly accessories to prove it. Everything under gabardine macs.

“They don’t want to be shot as spies,” said Julie. “They know what happens. They’ve seen the films.”

“Colditz Story ?” I said.

“Exactly,” said Julie.

Julie went to Latymer. She was Fifth Form, two years below me – which probably accounts for the fact I didn’t recognize her. Once you get to the Sixth Form, lesser mortals just don’t exist. Unless you’re a prefect, of course – in which case, you torture them remorselessly.

“We went to the same primary school,” said Becky.

“Then the eleven plus split us up,” said Julie.  “A terrible day for us all !”

“But we still stick together.”

“Go shopping together, go Spurs together, go everywhere together.”

“Live in the same area, you see.”

“Other side of Aldesmede. Firs Lane. Know it ?”

“Know it,” I said.

“Well that area,” said Julie.

“So where do you live ?” said Susie.

I pointed vaguely towards Edmonton.

“Snells Park,” I said.

“A park ?” said Julie. “You live in a park ? Like a tramp ?”

“No,” I said. “And it’s not a proper park. It’s just what they call it. There are three blocks of flats. Main road one side. Factory the other. Grass in between.”

“Sounds fun !” said Julie.

“Sounds urban,” said Susie.

“It’s just the other side of the Tottenham border. Close to the Spurs ground. If I fall out of bed, I land in the stadium.”

“Gosh!” said Julie. “We envy you ! We really do ! We live terribly suburban lives surrounded by terribly suburban hedgerows. It’s a real trek to get here. To Tottenham, you know. To see life on the dark side.”

“Can we come and see your place ?” said Becky. “I mean…is it – like – a real block of flats ?”

“Yeah,” I said, shrugging. “It’s kind of up in the air.”

“And if we turned up unannounced – like -” – this was Julie – “and knocked on your door and asked your mum if we could come in and play, do you think she’d let us ?”

“Depends what kind of games,” I said.

Becky shrieked at that one.

“I bet you play Subbuteo,” said Susie. “Like Becky’s little brother.”

“I prefer Newfooty,” I said. “The players spin on their heels better.”

“We can have a championship !” said Julie.

“I’ve only got two teams,” I said. “Plymouth Argyle and Liverpool. You wouldn’t like them.”

“You haven’t got Spurs then?”

“Never got round to it.”

“We never miss a home game,” said Julie. “The Spurs, that is.”

“And we go away,” said Becky, “When we can.”

“When our parents let us,” said Julie.

“When they think we’re off to Girl Guides,” said Susie.

“We would have quit the Guides years ago, but it seemed such a good cover story for going off to watch the footy.”

“We go with the Supporters Club. What about you ?”

I had to admit I didn’t. Go to many away games, that is. West Ham was my limit.

“I play for the school team,” I said. After all, an explanation was necessary. “Soccer,” I added.

After all, I didn’t want them thinking I was into chess.

“Wow !” This was in unison. They were eating out of my hand already. “Are you any good ?”

“Second XI.”

The disappointment was palpable.

The silence unbearable.

“You’re not a Jimmy Greaves then ?”




Chapter 4.


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.

“Newfooty,” I said.

“Whatever,” she said.

“I’ve lost my touch,” I said. “I haven’t played for two years. I just keep it on top of the wardrobe for sentimental reasons.  Along with my Dan Dare outfit.”

“Your what ?”

“Only joking,” I said. “That got thrown out when I was twelve.”

“Pity,” said Julie. Gruffly. “I just loved Dan Dare. My parents were always trying to get me interested in girly things. You know … Nancy Drew … Heidi … Little Women … that sort of thing. I said no – I want to be a Pilot of the Future. Like Dan Dare.” She sighed. “They never took me seriously.” Sigh again. “So can I come round ?  Before the match ?  Dust off your Newfooty !  You can dress up as Dan Dare, if you like.  I’ll come as the Mekon.  Paint myself green.  Float in through your window on a flat-iron. Death to all Earthlings ! …”  She sighed again. “Or do you think the neighbours will complain ?”

“You forget – I play football in the morning. I’ll be in the bath.”

“Newfooty in the bath,” said Julie. “That’s all right by me. I’ll bring my bathing costume.”

“And Dan Dare – you know…Frogman of the Future - got thrown out years ago, so I’ll be kind of naked.”

“Don’t worry ! I’ll wear a blindfold. Football’s far more fun like that! I give a kick, you scream and I shout GOAL !”

Well, Julie never carried out her threat, though during my Saturday bath, I was always trembling lest the bell should ring and the Mekon came drifting up the stairs, wearing an evil grin.

But she and Becky and Susie were always there at the Paxton Road End. Cheeks choc-a-bloc with peanuts.

At least they didn’t throw them at me anymore.

I wasn’t worried I was falling in love. Nothing like that. To tell the truth, I could never get over her specs. I was worried more about her falling in love with me. Well, I was vain like that. I didn’t see my glasses presenting any insurmountable obstacles anyway. In fact, my mother said they always made me look more distinguished.

Like grey hair, I suppose.

But … well … as for Julie …

I remember shortly after the Burnley match, during break, she found me in the school hall. Only the brave went out into the courtyard in that weather. And nobody at all ventured onto the field. Out of Bounds, anyway – no St. Bernards available in case of emergency. So the hall was crowded.

“Let’s go out on the field,” she said. She was tugging my sleeve and looking up into my face with imploring hang-dog eyes. “I want you to help me with Twelfth Night. I don’t understand a word. If music be the et cetera, et cetera. You got grade one, didn’t you ? You know…for lit ?”

“Two. Grade two.”

“Doesn’t matter. It still makes you a genius in my eyes.”

“Can’t we discuss it here ?”

“Here ?  In the hall ?” She looked around her in sneering disbelief. I’d obviously gone down several notches in her estimation.

“Yes,” I said.

“I prefer the field,” she said.

“Why ?” I said.

“It’s more romantic,” she said.

“Romantic ?” I said. “It’s bloody freezing.”

“Killjoy,” she said. “Summer won’t be here till forever. I need my romance now.”

“But Twelfth Night … ?”

“Oh bugger Twelfth Night. Let’s go play snowballs.”




Chapter 5.


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.

“I can show you my den,” she said. “It’s at the bottom of the garden. An old tool shed what dad converted into a lock-up for when I was naughty.”

“And were you often naughty ?”

“I’ll show you the manacles, if you like.”

She gave me a saucy grin – and the saucier she got, the more her spectacles shone.

“So what about tonight ?”

I shrugged. I didn’t have that much homework. In fact, as I did my homework at school – in between lessons and sometimes during them - I didn’t have anything at all.

“I have got an essay to write …” I was temporizing – but temporizing could be fun.

“Bugger essays ! Tell teacher the dog ate it. Who’s your teacher ?”

“Tilly Johnson.”

“Ah, lit-lit-lit !”

She began flapping around like a drunken parrot.

“I don’t have a dog either.”

“But she doesn’t know that, now does she ?”

I had to admit her logic there.

“There’s Coronation Street …”

“Oh bugger Coronation Street ! I’ve got a radio in my den. We can listen to the Archers instead. It’s far more fun.”

Inevitably she gave a brief rendition of Barwick Green.  I only hoped it wasn’t going to be followed by an impersonation of Walter Gabriel.

“Ah !” she said. “Me old pal, me old beauty … you gwine help me with Twelfth Night then or not ?”

“Oh God,” I said. “What time then ?”

“Seven ? I’ll make us some sandwiches. Then we can listen to the Archers.”

“Will your parents be there ?”

“In my den ?”

“No, in your house, Stupid.”

“No chance,” she said. “Tuesday night is Bridge Night. In Enfield Town. Yippee !!!”

“So how do you know you’ll be safe with me ?” I said.

“I have a gun,” she said.

“That’s all right then.”

“Fully loaded.”

“Even better.”

“With stagnant water.”

“I’ll make sure I behave myself then.”

She smiled triumphantly into my eyes.

“I love it when you call me Stupid,” she said.




Chapter 6.

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.

Still, she was pleased to see me. I could see that. She must have been worried sick Coronation Street would get the better of me. She put on make-up. Pretty light, nothing extravagant. But it was nice. Kind of tempting too. She was wearing jeans, neatly pressed, and a white blouse with a red chiffon scarf as an act of unFirsLane-like daring. As for her hair, it glistened in the evening sun and hung down in lazy strands over her shoulders.

Oh, yes … and she still had on her specs. They were war-zone specs that went everywhere with her. Mine were in my jacket pocket. I had some difficulty reading one or two road signs on the way, but, apart from that, nothing out of the ordinary.

However, as for Julie, I was beginning to think she showered in them, swam in them, slept in them and took wrestling classes in them.

One day, I knew, I was going to sneak off with her specs and really freak her out.

Anyway, she rose as I approached and beckoned me to follow her down the driveway. She was skipping pretty energetically and I had the feeling that, despite her in-your-face and get-out-of-my-way bravura, she was terrified of the twitching curtains of suburbia.

Maybe the neighbours would think it was bob-a-job week and I was there just looking to cut a few hedgerows.  Or, as we were now in the back garden, trim a few roses.

But there again, once in the garden shed – her den, as she called it – who cared ?

“Tra-la-la-la !” she trilled, gesturing grandly around her.

We were safe from snooping eyes here, she seemed to be saying. And as for her parents, they were safely on another planet, counting up their bridge points.

“My den! ” she said. Triumphantly.

“Great !”

We had a bicycle shed back at Isis House. There was room for my bike, but you couldn’t exactly party in it.

“My radio !” She gestured at a radio. “We missed the Archers.” Another chorus of Barwick Green.

“Too bad,” I said.

Fortunately no earthy aphorisms from Walter Gabriel though. They would have been totally out of place with the red scarf and smoochy look.

“Unfortunately my record player, along with my Shadows collection, is up in my bedroom. And you’re not allowed there. On pain, if not of death, then at least of my dad getting very, very angry.”

“I thought you’re dad was at Bridge.”

“He is – but he has a nose for such things. When it comes to bedrooms. That’s why he’s such a good lawyer.”

“A lawyer ?”


“Oh dear.”

“Anyway, if you want to listen to my Shadows records, I can always go back into the house, put them on, open the windows and you can listen from here.”

“Some other time perhaps ?”

“And this is my acoustic guitar. I got very angry with my dad when he bought me this, because he knew very well I wanted an electric. I told him – very coldly, very firmly – the Shadows don’t do acoustic. So for Christmas he got me an electric.”

“So where is it ?”

“In my bedroom. In the house. Got no electricity supply here. Radio uses batteries. No cooking facilities either – that’s why we’re stuck with sandwiches. Cheese or salmon ?”

She bent down, picked up a plate of sandwiches and swirled it in front of my nose.

“Jam,” I said.

“Don’t be awkward,” she said. “Anyway, if you want to hear me play the electric guitar, you’ll have to sit in the garden and I’ll serenade you from the window.”

“It’s all right,” I said.

“I can play you 'Apache' ?”

She gave me a quick riff on the air guitar. With a la-la-la backdrop just to make sure I got the message.

“'Wonderful Land' ?” she said.

Another quick riff. Another la-la-la.

“So who’s your favourite singer ? Musician ?”

“Lonnie Donegan.”

She didn’t know what to make of that. I didn’t bother trying to tell her that 'In the Evening' was a truly great blues ballad. And as for 'Five Hundred Miles' … Peter Paul & Mary … eat your heart out !

“Duane Eddy ?”

“Yeah,” I said, “I like Diane Eddy. She plays the Christian Science Harp, doesn’t she ?”

I was being deliberately provocative.

But she didn’t catch on.

“I can play you 'Rebel-Rouser', if you like ?”

“From the bedroom window ?” I asked.

“Where else ?”

Anyway, she did play something on the acoustic. She wasn’t bad either. In fact, she was almost quite good. We sat together on this string of cushions that stretched along one side of the wall – with a guardian teddy bear between us just to make sure we got up to no mischief. She played some melodies on her guitar, and insisted I read some poetry from her lit text book.

“We’re doing these poems,” she said. “In this book. But not all of them. They’ve deliberately excluded all the interesting ones and forced us to learn the really boring ones.”

She turned to a poem about some bird on a rooftop in winter being overturned and inurned by a mini-avalanche. It was by Robert Bridges, I think.

“I like this one though. It’s about a sparrow what gets roly-poly-snowballed off the roof. In Victorian London. It’s so twee ! My teddy bear loves it ! Don’t you teddy ? We have to read it, learn it and offer up solemn little critiques about the majesty of the language.”

I leafed through a few pages. Victorian snow-poetry didn’t really appeal to me.  Then I came to a poem that caught my eye. I just loved the wide open margins. The poem itself was just a column, going on for about three pages, with three or four words in each line going down the page.

It was 'The Goat Paths'. By James Stephens.

“Do you like this one ?” I said.

She peered at the page.

“But it’s all blank space !” she said. “How can anyone read that ?” Looked at the page again. “Half a mo ! It’s a shopping list ! The winding paths. That’s a great first line.” I think she was being ironic. “I must try something like that in my next History essay. Napoleon Buonaparte was. A++. No problem.” She sighed. Looked at me. Looked at the book. Handed it back to me. “Read it !” she said. “The blank space poem !”

So I did.

I read and she played the guitar. 'Gypsy Rover', I think it was. Normally, she would have sung the lyrics. At least I imagine she would. But now she just wanted to play and listen to me read the poem. So I suppose I should be grateful for small mercies. Anyway, she stopped just before I reached the last lines, but nodded at me to continue. I think she was enjoying the blank spaces.

I will search until
I find something
I can never find
Lying on the ground
At the bottom
Of my mind.

Anyway, that’s what we did all evening. She played the guitar and I recited poetry.  Then we had the sandwiches. She offered to do me some with jam.

“There’s blackberry,” she said. “Strawberry apple marmaladeplumraspberryapricot … peach”

But I told her not to bother. I didn’t want her getting lost in the larder. Cheese and salmon would be fine.

At nine she said I had to go. She said her parents would be back soon.  But I knew she was lying.  They still had time for a rubber or two.

Though goodness knows what we had time for.




Chapter 7.


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.

I was so embarrassed.

Especially when they started comparing the players’ legs. And their knees. And the tightness of their shorts (“That one looks not half like that Peter Swan.  Dunnee ?”)

And I was especially mortified when, in the local derby against Edmonton County, before a crowd of 34, I scored an own goal.

The girls didn’t know whether to laugh or cheer.  In the end, they did both.

After that, I banned them, on pain of death, from watching my matches anymore.  They just laughed.

“So what you going to do about it ?” said Julie. She stood arms akimbo, wrapped up in scarves and bobble hat, laughing at me.  "Own goal ? What a joke !"

Maybe they could watch it again on 'Sportsnight With Coleman'.

Eventually we reached a compromise.  They would only come to home matches and for away fixtures they would stay at home knitting. Further, they would only watch from the Recreation Ground and promised, on the grave of their great-grandmothers, not to come over at half-time to tell the lads what Danny Blanchflower would do.  They also made a solemn undertaking not to laugh out loud. Sniggers were permitted, guffaws totally taboo.

“Guffaws ain’t feminine-like,” said Becky. “And we’re nice girls.”

“Most of the time,” said Susie.

I also had to agree to stage a Newfooty Championship.

“But my players have all retired !” I protested. “I named them after greats like Ron Burgess and Eddie Baily. That shows you how old they are !  They’ve all got wobbly knees and wooden legs.”

“Liar!” said Julie.

“Burgess and Baily … ” – Gosh ! That Susie made them sound like some ITV comedy duo – “…played for Spurs. While I was still at nursery school. You’ve only got Plymouth Argyle and – who was it ?  Middlesbrough ?”


“So you see … Burgess and Baily … we don’t believe you.”

“I bet you can’t name one player who turned out for Plymouth,” said Julie. “Not one.”


“So ?  Who ?”

I sighed. “Francis Drake ?”

“Liar !” said the Terrible Trio.

“Besides, I haven’t played in … three years?”

“Liar !” They were really swinging now.

“Well, half a year then. I went through this period of grim nostalgia.”

“So who won ?” This was Becky. “This match of grim nostalgia ?”

“Plymouth,” I said. “4-2.”

“And who were you ?” said Julie. “Plymouth or Liverpool ?”

“Plymouth, of course,” I said. “And Liverpool.”

“You played yourself ?” said Becky.

It was almost as if I’d admitted self-abuse.  I shrugged anyway.

“God !” sighed Julie. “You must lead a sad life.”

“I bet you go to Church as well,” said Susie.

Anyway, after that we fixed up the Championship.




Chapter 8.


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.

“Remember the Salvation Army Band,” I said.

“Let’s have Community Singing !” said Julie.

“Abide With Me !” added Susie. “Followed by Please Please Me.”

But fortunately they were only joking.

Anyway, we had brass bands throughout the competition. We turned the volume up, just to dampen down the orgasmic screams that followed every goal. Periodically, when the celebrations got a little too intense, my mother would be knocking at the door with coffee, lemonade, biscuits and sandwiches, just to make sure everyone was behaving themselves.

Or not.

Julie had drawn up a programme. Literally. She’d made souvenir copies, photocopied at great expense on her father’s lawyerly photocopying machine. The programme included thumbnail sketches of the four managers, plus biographical details. Julie had made herself to look like Brigitte Bardot – though she couldn’t bear to separate herself from her glasses, even in fiction. I looked like the Mad Hatter, Susie and Becky like all-in wrestlers.

“So when you taking up art classes, Jewels ?” said Becky.

“Not,” said Julie. “Going to be a reporter. YEAH ! On The News of the World. YEAH ! YEAH !”

The fixtures were all set out too. With spaces for the results. And the goal-scorers. The teams consisted of teachers and classmates from Latymer School. Even for the Enfield County girls.

“I don’t know anybody in my team,” groused Becky.

“Me neither. Who’s this Smith character then ? Bobby Smith ?”

“No,” said Julie. “It’s Mrs Smith. She teaches me Maths.”

Becky and Susie rolled eyes at the ceiling, at me and at the world.

Fortunately, at that moment, another tray of sandwiches appeared at the top of the stairs.

“My players will all be sick if they eat this stuff before the kick-off,” said Julie, tucking into a cucumber sandwich.

The Branston’s wasn’t safe with her either.

Anyway, we lined up our teams. Not on the floor; we didn’t want anyone to get trodden on. We lined them up on my desk. There were four teams: Plymouth Argyle, Liverpool and –

“You’ve got Subbuteo teams !”

“We couldn’t get anything else !” snapped Julie. “We tried. The Newfooty League’s gone bust. Like Accrington Stanley. They play in the Never-Never League now. We had to twist Becky’s brother’s thumbs to get even these. Most brothers would have just accepted a bribe, but not Becky’s.”

“Made of sterner stuff, you see,” said Becky.

“Anyway…” Julie pointed proudly at her line-up. “I’m Liverpool. Becky is Spurs. She insisted on that.”

“It was my brother’s thumbs, you see.”

“Susie is Plymouth Argyle.”

“But I want to be Plymouth Argyle !” I protested.

“- and you’re Leyton Orient.”

“Leyton Orient ?!” I exploded. “You have to be joking.”

“No, we’re not !” they chirped in unison.

“But I don’t like Subbuteo players !” I said. “You can use them – fine! But I’m sticking to Newfooty. They spin on their heels. 180° turns. 360° if you’re not careful.”

“Sorry,” said Julie. “F.A. decision. Sir Stanley Rous agrees. And he’s boss of FIFA. So does the Pope. He manages Vatican City. Even things up a bit, they said. After all, you’re a team of boys, we’re teams of girls – with squeaky voices and idiot grins. We don’t stand a chance.”

“I protest.”

“Tough. It’s a three-to-one decision. You lose.”

There was also a knock-out competition. The F.A. Cup. Or Fanny Adams Cup, as Becky explained.

The whole thing of course, was a disaster. It had to be. I just couldn’t master the Subbuteo players and, with Becky sprinkling water on the pitch from time to time (“Rain,” she said.), I couldn’t master the conditions either. On top of that, the refereeing was lamentable.

Anyway, I finished a humiliating third in the Championship, a point ahead of Julie, who was positively the worst table-soccer player I’d ever come across. Far worse than David Bullman, who always insisted on being Leyton Orient, no matter what colour team he was handed.

Some years before, me and some mates had this table-soccer league. Of European dimensions. There was Benfica, Real Madrid, Hamburg Sportverein. All the greats. Plus Leyton Orient. Well, almost…

“You can’t be Leyton Orient !” we said.

“Can !” said Bullman.

“Can’t !” we said.

“Then I’ll be Real Madrid.”

“Can’t !” we said.

“Why not?”

“Cos Real Madrid are class, and you are…”

In the end, he was assigned Jeunesse d’Esch.

“Who are they ?” he said.

“Champions of Luxembourg,” we said.

“I don’t want to be Jeunesse Whatever. I want to be Leyton Orient.”

“You’ll be Jeunesse d’Esch and like it !” we said.

Anyway, after a quick pummelling, David saw our point of view.

He lost every match in the region of 9-0, which only went to show what a wise decision it was to appoint him manager of Luxembourg’s Finest. Even David agreed. Evidently Leyton Orient were spared cataclysmic defeats, so that both he and the club could still hold their heads up high.

You see, football was so much easier without girls complicating things.

Well, I really touched the pits that afternoon when Julie held out for a 0-0 draw against Leyton Orient – mainly by blatant time-wasting tactics (ball rolling mysteriously under the bed was her favourite ploy) and by packing her goalmouth Catenacchio-style.

Susie did the Double. She beat me in the Cup Final. Julie was referee. She awarded Plymouth a penalty in the last minute of extra time, after I was accused of fouling Susie’s centre-forward.

This was Les Sproson, who taught boys P.E. at Latymer.

“It was three inches outside the penalty box !” I cried.

“He’s in the box now,” said Julie. Playing the lawyer.

“That’s cos he rolled there !” I said.

“Are you accusing him of diving?”

“I’m accusing you of needing new specs !”

“Oooooh !” said Susie.

“That was a low one !” said Becky.

“Don’t argue with the referee !” scolded Julie.

“Oh fuck the referee !” I said.

Huge intake of breath all round.

“I hope your mother didn’t hear that !” said Susie.

“I can hear her coming up the stairs now !” said Julie, hand cupped to her ear. “Or maybe you think I need a new hearing aid too.”

“I’ll go and tell her, shall I!” said Becky, darting out through the door. “She may not have heard. Hold the penalty till I get back !”

Whatever…the upshot was I was exonerated from using foul language and my goalkeeper was blamed. He and his operating wire were both expelled from the pitch. I was allowed to put my centre-half on the goal line, but as he couldn’t move, he was no bloody use at all.

Anyway, Leyton Orient went down bravely. In the Fanny Adams Cup Final. 1963. 2-1.

After they’d gone. Mum took me aside.

“You really must watch your language,” she said. Very gravely.

“But it was never a penalty,” I said. “Honest !”




Chapter 9.


One thing was sure, though – Julie was not that keen on my crossing her parents’ path. I couldn’t think why.

“What happens if we want to get married ?” I said. “Will you shovel me off to the shed then on Tuesday nights ?”

“Married ?” she said. “Married ? Are you proposing we elope to Gretna Green ?”

“I’m not proposing anything.”

“I’d have to do my O levels first. Otherwise, I’ll be a charlady for the rest of my life.”

“I’m not proposing anything.”

“There’s a ladder in the garage. You can climb up that. It’ll be dark, of course, so I’ll lean out of my bedroom window playing Apache. I’d hate you to make a mistake and run off with my mother.”

“Julie,” I said, “don’t get the wrong idea. I’m not proposing anything.”

“We could elope straight after my results come out. Pedal up the A1 on a bicycle made for two.” Pause. “What did you say ?”

“Nothing,” I said.

You see, Julie was a corsair. Sailing on the seas of life. And life, for her, was something of an adventure, a mystery which her friends just had to fit themselves around as best they could. It wasn’t that difficult either – not for me, not for Becky, not for Susie. It was fun enough, after all.

That’s why she didn’t want me crossing her parents’ path, like some goodluck, badluck black-cat charm. It might mean too much reality.

And that’s why Tuesday night was Bridge Night was Down-in-the-Den Night. Sometimes, all four of us were squeezed in there, mainly Tuesdays, sometimes other nights, listening to The Navy Lark or Beyond Our Ken or simply having a brainstorm, toss-it-all-together homework session.

We even had jam sessions in the den. Julie, it now seemed, felt she was good enough on the electric guitar to form her own rock-n-roll band.

“Girls don’t form rock-n-roll bands,” I said. “They wear smart evening gowns and drift around the stage with moonstruck faces singing like Lita Roza and Doris Day.” I thought about it. “You could be the Beverley Sisters though. 1-2-3 … right number.”

“Well, this is one Julie that does !” said Julie. “Form a rock-n-roll band. I don’t have an evening gown anyway. Not that I would ever be seen dead in one.”

“Well ? Tell me about this band …”

“Well, I play guitar. Electric guitar. Susie sings. Becky strums. And you do backing vocals.”

“No chance, “ I said.

“What about road manager then ?”

“I’ll have to hear you first.”

So that’s when we had our first jam session. It was our last as well. Julie wasn’t too bad on electric, but as for the others…Let me just say they sat up at her bedroom window (it was another Bridge Night), while I sat on the lawn, half-heartedly reading 'King Lear' in the light of the setting sun. They did a Beatles number – 'I Wanna Hold Your Groin' or something like that. Tell the truth, I can’t quite remember. The birds all fled anyway.

Then the European Cup Winners Cup Final came round. The Burnley debacle had been forgotten along with the winter snows. Spurs had not really lived up either to hope or expectation in the League and never would again. The Cup Winners Cup, however, was different. They’d gone up to Darkest Scotland and beaten Rangers – I was out on a school carol-singing expedition for that match. Sixth Form only – so no Julie. Then they’d disposed of Slovan Bratislava and OFK Belgrade.

The final was in Rotterdam against Atletico Madrid.

It was the fifteenth of May – which wasn’t a Bridge Night.  But Julie was going to risk it. She liked sailing close to the wind and getting close to the bone, as well as tightrope-walking over an abyss. Preferably all at the same time.

Her parents were indoors, watching something incredibly boring on television. Either that or they were reliving great Bridge Encounters of the Past. Again … I can’t quite remember. Maybe she’d put sedatives in their cocoa. Whatever … Julie was sitting on the front wall, pretending to take in the air, casting nervous glances back at the living room. As I arrived, collar up, looking nothing like a bob-a-job boy, she whisked me down the side path, into the back garden, then swept me in a quick crouch-n-scurry along the fence and into the den.

“It is dark, you know. No one will see us.”

“Don’t matter,” she said. “I like the adrenalin rush. It’ll get me ready for Gretna Green.”

She flung herself down on the cushions and insisted I fling myself down in like manner too.

“Made it !” she said, gazing contentedly up at the ceiling. “And no one the wiser.”

I lay beside her. She was wearing a white frock, bobby socks and perfume. I gazed up at the ceiling too.  A fly was buzzing round the light bulb.

“My parents think I’m studying tonight. They think I’m a real dedicated student.” She paused. Sighed. “You know Dave Mackay’s not playing ?”

My turn to sigh.

“Tony Marchi’s lining up instead,” she said.

We sighed in unison.

The match was being broadcast live on radio - quite late, there being an hour’s difference in time zones. There was no brass band music to get us in the mood either.

I can’t speak for Julie, of course, but, prior to a big match, I always got the collywobbles. Radio commentaries made it worse. You couldn’t see the action; you couldn’t anticipate things. You were totally at the mercy of the commentator. And BBC commentators in those days certainly knew how to use radio to squeeze the last drop of sweat out of your brow – the physio would be on the pitch, sponging someone’s knee and you would be on the edge of your seat, biting your nails and tugging your hair, wondering where it was all going to end.

But now Julie was there. And it was like watching a horror film – all gut-wrenching anguish – with nothing to cling onto but her equally anguished breasts.

Then Jimmy Greaves scored the first goal !

1-0, 1-0 !

Glory, glory, Hallelujah !

The commentator went into rhapsodies. Like it was the Second Coming ... or in my case the First.

For we fell into each other’s arms and hugged and kissed (not passionately, mind – there were only sixteen minutes on the watch) and shrieked a bit. Julie got up, went out the den and did a jig round the garden. I heard her mother calling to her from the kitchen window. I lay low and laughed.

“Eureka !” shouted Julie. “Don’t worry, mum ! I’ve just made a mathematical break-through ! Eureka !”

“Well, don’t disturb the neighbours, dear.”

She closed the window.

Julie ran back in, dived on the cushions, lay there on her tummy, elbows on the floor, chin in her hands.

“Still 1-0 ?”

“They’ve only just kicked off.”

Shiver of delight. She rolled on her back and kicked her legs in the air.

She was wearing pink panties, but I don’t think I was supposed to notice that.

“We gotta be quieter,” she said.

“Mustn’t disturb the neighbours,” I said.

“You said it !” she said.

So for the next twenty minutes we were as quiet as church mice, just lying together in the warm glow, if not of victory, then at least of winningness.

35th minute. 2-0.

John White this time.  The Ghost had ghosted !

“Two-nil ! Two-nil !” I chanted.

“Glory, Glory Hallelujah !” she sang.

“Ssshh !”

We said this more or less together. Then fell, laughing, into each other’s arms.


More passionately this time.

In fact, I was beginning to feel urges that I’d never experienced at a football match before. To be honest, I wasn’t exactly a stranger to these sensations. Sometimes I’d drift a little bit too close to Julie - and to Becky and Susie as well – and feel an exhilarating tingle which had its epicentre somewhere in my groin.  And at night, too, I’d be beset by visions of Julie engaged in some lascivious dance, at the end of which she’d whip off her spectacles and ...

But, at that moment, her glasses and mine became dangerously dislodged. We were hugging each other like crazy and I was quite sure the Spurs players were doing much the same thing on the pitch at Rotterdam. By the sounds of it, the two commentators were also tearing their trousers off.

Whatever, we lay in each other’s arms and sobbed with joy.

“We really must be quieter,” gasped Julie.

“More discreet,” I panted.

“Whatever that means,” said Julie.

“It means -”

“Don’t tell me what it means. I don’t want to know.” She sighed. “I only hope they don’t score any more goals. I don’t know how I’d cope with another goal. I’ve gone dangerously volcanic as it is.”

“Two-nil. Final score. Fine by me,” I lied.

“Me too.” She was lying as well. “Goodness knows what might happen if we score ten !”

“Heaven forbid !” I said.

I shuddered too.

But these urges had become vaguely unmanageable. A bit of a nightmare in fact. I wondered if Julie had noticed anything. When we were hugging like that. I thought probably not. She was already in ecstatics over the goal. She wouldn’t have noticed my contribution.  Whatever, I’d have to talk about this with Bert. Bert lived two doors away from me. He was third year Sixth at school. We both played in the Second XI. In fact, it was probably him the girls were referring to when they made all those invidious comparisons to Peter Swan. Bert was a pretty wise fellow. With long legs and a hot crotch. I’d ask him.

But for the moment I was on my own.

Fortunately half time came round and we were able to re-adjust ourselves. Julie got up and brushed down her frock. Brushed down her hair. Re-adjusted her glasses. Then threw them off. They landed in the litter bin.

“Mustn’t forget they’re there,” she said. “Won’t be able to find my way to the biscuit tin otherwise. Which reminds me - biscuits ?”

She pulled a tin of biscuits and a thermos flask from one of the shelves.

“Wonder what the lads are having,” she said.

“Dave Mackay will be drinking whiskey.”

“Dave Mackay’s not playing.”

“That’s why he’s drinking whiskey,” I said.

“I’m going to the loo,” she said. “All this excitement makes me want to pee.”

“Don’t forget your glasses.”

“It’s a big house. There’s a light in the kitchen. I’ll feel my way there if necessary.”

“What about me ?”

“You can take your glasses off too,” she said. “If you like.”

“No, I mean about a – you know…”

“Tinkle, tinkle, little star ?”

“Sort of.”

“Go round the back. Aim for my dad’s prize marrow. I’d love to see his face when it’s turned yellow.”

The second half started and suddenly Spurs found their backs to the wall. There was an unnerving sense of doom in the commentator’s voice. What had the Spurs players been drinking at half time ?

Within two minutes Atletico Madrid were awarded a penalty.

Julie and I sat there, our backs to the bookshelves, clutching cushions to our faces. You could only see our eyes. And they were filled with horror.

We clung to each other for comfort. What else could we do ? The warm glow of half-time, and the warm glow of coffee, had worn off. McVitie’s Chocolate Digestive had turned to ash in our mouths.

“Do you believe in prayer ?” whispered Julie.

Penalty taken.

Penalty scored.


“No,” I said.

The next twenty minutes were purgatory. We were back in wintertime. Shivering. Clinging together for warmth. That early glow had vanished into nothing. We were the hapless playthings of a sadistic commentator who just refused to do anything to improve the situation.

If God was up there, He must have been enjoying this.

But Spurs gradually got back into the game. They held out against the Atletico pressure. Began mounting counter-attacks. Gaining more and more ground in midfield.

Then, in the sixty-seventh minute, Terry Dyson got the ball on the left-wing, midway in the Atletico half. He advanced a bit, then swung over a hopeful cross. As it was, the ball swung in the wind, the goalie was badly placed, and the ball dipped over his head and into the corner of the net.

Shrieks of delirium from Julie. In the distance I was pretty sure I could hear several kitchen windows opening. All along Firs Lane.

“Three-one ! Three-one !” she screamed.

“Julie!” It was her mother. Fortunately no closer than the kitchen window. We didn’t want her trolling round the den with her rolling pin.

“Eureka!” shouted Julie. “I really am going to get a grade one, mum !” She paused “Grade one !  Grade one !  Grade one !”

“Just don’t get too excited, dear !  Try and study more quietly !”

Window closing.

Sighs of relief all round. And not just from the neighbours. Then Julie throwing herself upon me, rubbing her body against mine, her frock up around her neck. She was nibbling my ear too. Whispering: “Grade one !  Three-one !  Grade one ! Three-one !”

I found myself grappling with her too. For my own survival, if nothing else. Those pink panties had been bothering me for some time now and I wrenched them down and they finished up with our glasses in the waste-paper bin.

To be honest, I don’t remember much about the fourth and fifth goals. Jimmy Greaves got the first and Terry Dyson capped a great display by grabbing the last one five minutes from time.

Class !

And so was Julie.

Class !

Goodness knows what the neighbours thought of it.




Chapter 10.


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.

It was also the first time I’d been on my own – away from the family home. I took a record player with me. And a hot-water bottle.

Well, it would be a lie to say the experience didn’t change me.

It changed my relationship with Julie anyway. In retrospect, I shouldn’t have expected otherwise.

I suppose our relationship was doomed on that evening on the fifteenth of May, 1963. If God – or whoever is responsible for deciding the fate of football matches – had teleported us, Star-Trek fashion, into Paradise at the final whistle, He couldn’t have done better. Even now, I think of us, floating together through the ionosphere in a kind of hormonal porridge, forever fused in ecstasy.

But Life is never like that. There’s always the morning after the night before. And if you got to wait till the next cup final comes round to touch the peaks of orgasm again, then maybe much of your life is going to be plain disappointment.

Spurs didn’t reach another final till 1967. I can’t imagine Julie and me, on Saturday afternoons in the intervening years, in her den, holding hands and sighing, even if it was Brian Moore in the commentary box. John Motson, after all, was still some way in the future.

Yeah, well … that evening was really something. With the voice of the Blessed Moore ringing in our ears. It was hard not to think that the Great Commentator Himself was up there in the clouds, sweeping into ecstasies over our performance down below - ‘a stunning spectacular’, ‘perfect mastery of the game’, ‘a match made in Heaven … a joy for connoisseurs … a once-in-a-lifetime mix of passion, artistry and religious high drama …’ Brian Moore could – and should – have gone on like that forever.  As it was, a newsreel of the match was hot-footing and high-kicking through my brain as we made love and I wasn’t the least put out when Julie screamed: “Jimmy ! Jimmy ! Jimmy ! Jimm-EEEEEEeeeeeee … ” in what remained of my ear.

Nor when she segued into “Terry-Terry-Terreeeeeee” and finally flaked out with an exhausted chorus of “Oh, Danny Boy !”

After all, both on the pitch in Rotterdam, Holland and in Julie’s den, Southgate, it was a case of unsurpassed teamwork. The Perfect Ten, in other words.

That’s why I pity Manchester United fans. And Arsenal fans. OK, so they have their success – year after year after year … Boring, boring, boring !  Triumph becomes commonplace.  In the end, you got nothing special to remember.

Not like Wimbledon fans, for example, who once every century get to experience something really out of this world.

Fact is, being a Spurs fan reminds me of that old joke – of the sex-o-therapy class, where the instructor invites his students (all male) to disclose how often they have sex with their wives. One says every night, another says three times a week, a third mumbles something about Saturday nights and only when he can find his wife an aspirin.  Finally, the instructor spots one guy in the corner with a complacent smile on his face.
He asks him: ‘How often do you have sex with your wife ?’ 
‘Once a year,’ he replies. The class is dumbfounded.
"Once a year ? And you’re smiling ?!"
“Well,” he replies, very, very smugly, ‘you see…tonight’s the night ! Yubba-dubba-doooooo !”

Anyway, that’s what it’s like - being a Spurs fan.  Except our night used to come round every ten years.  That’s why, at the start of a fresh decade, Spurs fans would swagger around with that tonight’s-the-night smile on their faces.  Ah, well, that’s another tradition that’s gone by the board – the ten-year rule.

So, obviously, with Julie things could never be the same again.  Not ever. I got involved in a new life.  New town – Stoke-on-Trent.  With cloth caps and terraced houses, pottery kilns and a sense of industrial Englishness dating back to Arnold Bennett.  New landscape – Staffs and Shropshire.  New people.  New girls.  New ideas.  A new independence.

I guess Julie changed too.  Once, during the post-match commentary that wonderful Rotterdam night, she sighed and mentioned Gretna Green.  She reminded me of the ladder in the garage and how she would be at the window playing Wonderful Land.  I said her dad would be chasing us up the A1 in his Vauxhall, with her mum in the back playing FBI on the guitar she’d left behind.  I was trying to be funny.

“Can you drive ?” she said.

“No,” I said.

“That means we’ll have to go by train then.” She sighed. “Pity. I was looking forward to a mad chase up the A1.” She thought about it. “So when you getting your licence ?”

I assume she was talking the driving kind.

Anyway, she never mentioned Gretna Green again.  I suppose, in a way, we’d been to Gretna Green already. After all, hadn’t we’d winged there on the airwaves all the way from Rotterdam ?

There was one little postscript though.

You see, a couple of years later I bumped into Susie.  In Keele Hall of all places.  She was also studying at the University.  She’d started the previous autumn and we’d spent something like six months on the same campus without our paths crossing.  Well, I’d been in one hall, she’d been in another.  It happens like that.

“Hey !” I said.

We were in the musty interior with its air of sedate gloom, its timber-work, its panelling, its odour of archaic solemnity.  There was a marble bust of some illustrious dead white male.  I called him Socrates on account of his beard and imposing nostrils.  It was in front of this Philosopher of Stone that Susie and I collided.

“It’s -”

“Hey !” said Susie. “It’s you !”

She jumped up and down and dropped a few sheets of paper.  She did a similar war-dance at the Paxton End whenever Spurs scored.

“I always wondered if – you know … I knew you were here … somewhere …”

“I didn’t know -” I said.

“No, I should have tried to contact you. One thing after another. Usual story.”

“Yeah,” I said. “Usual story. Well …”

“Well …” she said.

It should, of course, have been the start of a big romance. Like it is in the cinema. I eventually got round to asking how Julie was, how Becky was. She still saw Becky from time to time, she said, but Julie had dropped off the radar screen.

“Things happen like that,” she said.

“Yes,” I said. “They do.”

“Well …” she said.

“Do you remember the Newfooty Championship ?” I said.

Which was a pretty stupid thing to say. Especially at University.

Anyway, she did.  And jumped around a bit to prove it.  A few more papers went spiralling to the floor.

“Could I ever forget ?” she said. “The DOUBLE !!!”

“You were a star.”

“I was a cheat.”

“I noticed.”

“I bribed the referees.”

“You never asked me. For a bribe. When I was reffing.”

“That’s because I was afraid of what you might ask.”

“So do you still follow soccer ?”

“Not so much.  You ?”

“Not so much.  I’ve hung up my boots as a player.  Ray Wilson’s got the N°3 England shirt pretty much sewn up and nothing less is good enough for me.  I go to the Victoria Ground though.  Sometimes.  Stoke City and the Retired Mercenaries Brigade.  A club forever on the brink of moderate things.”

Anyway, Susie and I … well, we did go out together.  Went to a couple of games at the Victoria Ground.  Sentimental reasons, I suppose.  Even saw the Spurs once.  We were at the Boothen Road End (“We all live at the back of Boothen End, back of Boothen End, back of Boothen End etc.”).  Under cover.  Just as well really.  There was a cloudburst that day.  A real tropical downpour.  The pitch was transformed into Pymmes Park Lake.  You could have sailed a fleet of swans on it.  Anyway, Billy Nick and the Stoke boss were obviously old drinking companions and they agreed the match should go on.  Next thing a small army of fans was wading onto the field wielding pitchforks.  Amazingly, in twenty minutes, the lake had drained away.  The match started late and the players slipped and slid over something that resembled the mud flats at Southend.  Then Spurs got a penalty.  Jimmy Greaves stepped up.  And flunked it.  Susie and I had been cheering heartily up to this point and then had to endure the taunts of the Potters fans around us.  However, late in the second half, at the Boothen End, Spurs were awarded a second penalty.  Jimmy Greaves stepped up.  Again.  No mistake this time.  Silence from the Potters fans, taunts from me and Susie.

Spurs won the match, 1-0.

Afterwards, Susie and I went off to a coffee bar and gloated over old times.  Like I said, it should have been the start of a great new romance.

Except it wasn’t.

It couldn’t be.  Things could never be the same.  We were still trying to pretend - momentarily – that the teenage school-kids we had once been were still alive, unchanged and unchanging. All it needed was a spot of nostalgia and – wheeeee !! – we could start all over again.

But we were different people, in different spaces, pursuing different trajectories.  We never went out again together anyway. Just stayed friends.

Sort of.

Anyway, I was back in North London, like a character finding himself in the wrong novel.  Funny really – you travel the world, get married, do this, do that, but there’s one ritual you never abandon – you always – but always – tune in to James Alexander Gordon and the five o’clock football results.  And when I think of home, well … home is where the childhood is.  It’s parents, school, early friends.  Conkers in the park.  That sort of thing.  Home was a whole heritage that came down to me with imbibed memories of the War and vague references to the Great Depression and someone called Kaiser Bill before that.  In those days, I never questioned what it was to be English.  Like I never questioned being a Tottenham fan.  I suppose the divorce of my parents and all the other wreckage of life showed me that there is no guardian angel and no grand plan.  And with the rise and rise and rise of Arsenal, Liverpool and Manchester United, I knew there couldn’t be a God either.  At least not One in a white shirt.

Maybe there was some real existentialist Weltschmerz behind my restlessness.  My travelling.  Always searching for something that ducked, like Chad, back down behind the wall.  Back down over the horizon.

Anyway, I was seeking to relive the Perfect Tottenham Experience.

And not succeeding.

Now I’d come back.  Return of the Native ?  Now that’s a laugh.  You see, while I’d been away, the boroughs I’d grown up in had kind of grown out of me.  My heritage had upped sticks and marched away.  North London was a different place, teeming with different people, who were neither English nor Tottenham fans.

And to tell the truth, I no longer felt English either.  And if I was still a Spurs fan, it was because I was in love with a tradition.  Both Nation and Club, it seemed, had lost themselves, gone into liquidation or at least transformation.  There was a residue out there, I suppose – the sad, lost, hopeless cases of the EDL and the plum-voiced snooters hiding behind their illusions out at Woodford and Amersham.  But I had no part in either of them.

Fact is, I didn’t know where to park myself at all.

I walked down Edmonton Fore Street.  Past Isis House, which had been the scene of the memorable Newfooty Championship, so many years ago.  I walked along Tottenham High Road past the Spurs ground.  Further along, the road was cordoned off.  I could see some people wandering among the wreckage that stretched up towards Seven Sisters.  They looked like stray souls who’d missed out on Judgement Day and just didn’t know where to put themselves.

A bit like me really.

I looked through the railings at the entrance to the Spurs stadium.  Well, it may have belonged to Spurs – whoever they were now – but it no longer belonged to me.  It was a temple to grandeur, a testament to wealth, in the midst of poverty and social dislocation.  A present witness to a past that no longer existed.

Whatever.  It was no longer my Saturday home.






In Memoriam

David J. Bullman (1946-2012)

A Good Friend and Loyal Leyton Orient supporter



Back to homepage