Football in London: Who took the jam outta your doughnut?

At the football I thought about Vinnie Jones.

A midfielder, his first club was semi-professional Wealdstone, in North London. Moving to Wimbledon, they won the 1988 FA Cup.

His Guy Ritchie film phase followed, including Snatch, in which he played Bullet-Tooth Tony. Becoming president of the Hertfordshire Agricultural Society in 2005, Vinnie showed what a community-minded fellow he is. Just like Bullet-Tooth.

Glancing about the ground I don’t see anyone likely to be in cinematic demand as an underworld thug. At least, not on the pitch.

I’m at Wealdstone on the first Sunday of the year, for their Conference South clash. Floodlight mingles with the fog. I’m on the terrace with Barry.

Hemel Hempstead is known as the Tudors. Their city’s famous for an infrastructural oddity, the Magic Roundabout, and Roger Moore, universally acclaimed as the fifth best James Bond.

I last saw Barry in 2008, and he’s now married with a son. He befriended me when we moved to St Albans, and after work on my first Friday he took me to the Bunch of Cherries. He sees you as you’d like to be seen. Spending time with him makes me buoyant. It’s his gift.

We slip into our comfortable way of yakking, and turn to sport. “I don’t love football,” Barry reveals at kickoff, “But I love Wealdstone. I don’t care about the Premier League.”

*

For the last game of 2004/5 we travelled to Salisbury in Wiltshire. Pausing for lunch at The George Inn in Middle Wallop, we failed entirely to acknowledge that a BBC adaptation of Miss Marple was filmed locally.

Nearby are the villages of Over Wallop and Nether Wallop. I’m reminded of Lower Slaughter and Upper Slaughter in the Cotswolds. The rural counties promise abundant violence.

From the football I see Salisbury Cathedral’s 404-foot spire, which has attracted travellers since its completion in 1320. But our pilgrimage is one of simmering anxiety. The locals are teased

I can’t read and I can’t write

But that don’t really matt-er

‘Cause I’m from Salis-bury

And I can drive my trac-tor.

Wealdstone was walloped 3-1, although the perilously late goal meant they evaded relegation. As a life event it ranks highly for Barry, and the next day he texted (repeatedly) as if in thankful, blunt prayer

one effing goal

*

During the last World Cup qualifiers, Ireland played Kazakhstan in Astana, and won 2-1. Over 12,000 attended. Forty-seven away tickets were sold, and as a zealous Irishman, Barry’s brother Shawn was among them.

Today, Wealdstone FC looks to be in Kazakhstan. Like Warnie tutoring three buxom nurses, Hemel Hempstead threatens bedlam. 1-0. The keeper alone stops it becoming catastrophic. “He’s good,” I offer. My feet are torpidly cold, and could undergo major surgery, without anaesthetic.

Barry says. “He used to be the Under 21 keeper for Wales.”

“Impressive,” I observe.

“ Yeah,” Barry qualifies, “but the second choice was a sheep.”

*

There are two types of football fans. Those who sit, and those like me, who stand. It’s my country upbringing. Boofy clumps of men standing on the wing, bantering like goats, and bellowing at the opposition, their supporters, and the umpire. This, vicar, is how the congregation behaves.

At work I flop into a chair constantly, but will stand at the football all day. Conversation is easier. Hanging stuff on your Port Power mate about his dental status is harder if you’re squeezed into a row next to Nanna and her tartan thermos.

As ball sponsors we enjoy boardroom hospitality. There’s coffee and sausage rolls at halftime. Roast beef, winter vegetables and Yorkshire pudding after the match. It’s better than a Famous Five picnic. Someone within the club prepared it, and not an external caterer. I can tell.

This connects to cricket in the Barossa. Surrounded by vines sagging with fruit bound for Dutschke Wines up on Gods Hill Road, the Lyndoch Cricket Club always provided an afternoon tea of egg sandwiches and refreshments. It invested those days with graciousness. As a young uni student from Kapunda I probably needed help in this.

*

On the frozen terrace there’s a haiku-like economy in the way Barry and his friends talk. Together, they’ve had countless Wealdstone moments. They’ve no need for elaboration, but I hear warmth in their words. Football’s only part of their pact.

“Take the Metropolitan Line,” suggests pub DJ Chris when I say my digs are near (not in) the Tower of London. I love the passion Londoners have for the Tube. Apart from the Womma station, Adelaideans care little for their transport. “Yeah, but make sure it’s an Aldgate train,” clarifies Barry.

The Underground is London’s cardiovascular system, and its lexicon is evocative. Hammersmith & City. Bakerloo. Jubilee. “Don’t get caught in Tottenham Court Station,” is the final tip. “It’s shut ‘til next Christmas.”

Unlike Henry VIII, the Tudors don’t execute cleanly in front of goal. Wealdstone dominates possession, but is timid in attack. Coming from behind twice, 2-2 ensures they’re undefeated in their last ten outings. However, they’re precariously close to the drop zone.

With the whistle Wealdstone exits the pitch to hearty applause. I’m not sure if it’s ironic, daggy or great, but Pilot’s “January” then bursts into the fog

January
sick and tired you’ve been hanging on me
you make me sad with your eyes
you’re telling me lies
don’t go
don’t go
January
don’t be cold

As my train speeds south I see Wembley and its colossal arch. In the dark western sky it’s a cathedral. It’d be tremendous to take Alex and Max there, but I’ve had myself an afternoon at a tiny match, which matters only to a few hundred devoted folk.

Besides, I doubt Wembley offers home-cooked roast beef and Yorkshire pudding.

 

 

About Mickey Randall

Favourite film: The Shawshank Redemption Favourite song: Khe Sahn Favourite holiday destination: Gold Coast Favourite food: steak Favourite beer: VB Best player seen: Dogga Worst player seen: Frogga Last score on beep test: 3.14159 Favourite minor character in Joyce’s Ulysses: Punch Costello

Comments

  1. Early leader for line of the year:

    “Unlike Henry VIII, the Tudors don’t execute cleanly in front of goal.”

    And others in the running from this cracker.

    I am also a stander. An arvo on the terrace at Geelong, or ducking and weaving on the flank at the MCG is perfect.

    Thanks Mickey.

  2. Mickey – your mind should be pickled (oh it already is) and preserved for posterity in the National Museum (along with Swish’s Footy Budget collection).
    Fandom, lower league football, Barossa Shiraz, self deprecation, English architectural and religious history, London transport guide – all in the one piece.
    Thanks God your parents didn’t put you on the ADHD medication.

  3. Great work Mickey! Yep, standing is the way – as you observe the banter and advice to all around seems to flow more freely

  4. Ben Footner says

    Quality stuff Mickey!

    Love Barry’s line “Yea – but the second choice was a sheep”. Haha. I second JTH’s call to place the Henry VIII line at the top of the 2015 leaderboard as well.

    Your recent travel pieces have been some of your finest work. They are certainly providing me with a little ray of sunshine on some rather dull days in the office.

  5. Mark 'Swish' Schwerdt says

    I’m not worthy Mickey.

    How does the ball sponsor stuff work?

    Do they silkscreen your noggins on it?

    How many match balls do they go through in the Conference South?

    Womma is a Kaurna word for “at least it’s not as far away as Broadmeadows”

    And can you get Barry to change to the proper spelling (Barrie)?

  6. Thanks everyone for your thoughts. Being back in Europe after nearly nine years was strange, wonderful, and exhilarating. I understand that you can’t return to a time but only a place. However, going to a treasured place and seeing some old friends is a pretty decent arrangement. As is showing stuff to the boys, which makes it new again. Cheers.

  7. Dips O'Donnell says

    That’s a beauty Mickey. Enjoyed the read.

  8. Phillip Dimitriadis says

    Great stuff Mickey. Really enjoying this series. A gig at Lonely Planet might be in the offing as sports feature writer!
    Vinnie Jones and the Crazy Gang of Wimbledon had some great years in the 80s. Huge upset knocking off Liverpool in the 88 FA Cup Final.

    Spontaneous physical animation and wit seems to flow more freely in standing room, especially while watching footy or soccer. Does more blood to the brain and the extremities have anything to do with it?

  9. Thanks very much Dips and Phillip.

    Wimbledon has endured the wild ride that many do in English football. Some of the guys I worked with had studied in Southampton and so we saw them play too. As you know they were relegated in 2005 and tumbled quite a way down. Now they’re as exciting as anyone and are challenging for a Champions League place.

    I sometimes think it’s a shame that relegation doesn’t feature in our codes more prominently. It provides another area of interest and keeps bottom teams and supporters keen.

    But promotion can be fraught too. Years ago the Unley Jets A grade went top in their Adelaide amateurs division, and were promoted. However, lots of guys retired and left and they came straight back down having gone close to winless the following season. Hard to argue it wasn’t a wasted year.

  10. Luke Reynolds says

    Brilliant Mickey. Can’t imagine what the charge for home cooked roast beef and Yorkshire pudding would be at the MCG or Etihad. Fifth best James Bond seems a fraction too high for R.Moore….

  11. Thanks Luke. I imagine a family of four might have to share a Yorkshire pudding.

    We caught most of Thunderball in London one evening. Terrific, ridiculous fun. Connery surely the best 007.

  12. kebabmachine says

    Hi Mickey,

    Great read, thanks for sharing.

    The Barry in question wasn’t a Barry O’ Sullivan by any chance? If so he used to be my RE/Politics teacher at school. Too many coincidences for it not to be – St Albans (where school was), the name Barry, Irish, supported Wealdstone. Has to be him!!

  13. kebabmachine says

    By the way I was a Boreham Wood season ticket holder for the 3 years before I moved here so in some ways we are rivals!!

  14. Mickey Randall says

    Kebabmachine- thanks for that. Well spotted. Nice detective work. I also worked at Nicky B from 2003 to 2005. Barry’s still there and not going far.

    He is Wealdstone.

    Cheers.

  15. kebabmachine says

    I knew it!

    Pass on my best regards from Richard (Hoy-) Browne, Barry was always a favourite teacher of ours and pleased to hear he has had a son and got married. One of my fondest memories of my A-Levels is celebrating our Politics results with him – he was on a coach ready to go on a field trip and my friend Andrew and I were congratulating each other – he promptly got off the bus, looked at our certificates, and proceeded to roar as we jumped up and down hugging each other – all in front of a bewildered school bus (and outside the school office!)

    We got him a case of Guinness for that – a more innocent time in pupil/teacher relations.

  16. Thanks again kebabmachine (Richard).

    I’ve let Barry know! The school bus scene and the Guinness all seem very true to me!

    Good luck.

  17. Malcolm Ashwood says

    Mickey love the famous five picnic line ( will 4wd on to Wayne Dutschke mate )
    Love how you took us along for the ride to the terraces

  18. Thanks Malcolm. When we get back in July I’ll be getting out to Dutschke’s to collect some wine to protect us against the Adelaide winter!

    Glad you liked the piece!

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