Wednesday, 1 October 2014


Remember The Full Members/Simod/Zenith Data Systems Cup? Of course you do - it was a sort of UKIP Europa League. The following appeared in When Saturday Comes in June 1990. I had originally sent it to The Times. The sports editor there had previously offered encouragement. He sent it back saying it was 'amusing but inconsequential'. As it turned out, this was to prove an accurate summary of my career.

My father and I were talking a few days after Middlesbrough's victory over Aston Villa had earned them a place in their first ever Wembley Final. My father said that a well known Teesside garage owner had once promised his staff that if Boro ever reached Wembley he'd buy them all tickets and put them up in the Savoy for the weekend.

'Really?' I said.

'Yes,' my Dad said, 'By, I bet he's bloody glad he's dead.'

Tickets would be tricky, my Dad said. 'I used to know that bloke in the drawing office but he's gone to Saudi...'

A few hours after I'd talked to my father the phone rang. 'I've got a mate can get tickets,' the voice said, 'D'you want one?'

Experience should have made me wary. Whenever there is an important cup-tie there is always a mate. The mate's uncle was at school with the chairman, his sister is married to the physio, his grandfather did national service with the kit man and 'you forge lasting bonds in the jungles of Burma.'

The mate is like the local cut-price carpet warehouse: he's cheap and cheerful, but he doesn't deliver. As the days pass in a whirlwind of increasingly desperate telephone calls. the mate's tenuous connections with the world of professional football are snipped off one by one. His grandfather dies, his uncle has a stroke, his sister runs off with the Betterware salesman.

Two days later you are at a party, 'I wish you'd said sooner. Gary down the printshop can get tickets for anything. He's amazing, Gal. He could have got you into the Last Supper, you'd wanted. I'm seeing him tomorrow night as it happens. I'll give you a bell, Monday.'

Monday dawns cold and bleak. 'You know that Gary I was telling you about? You're never going to believe what's happened....'

Don't tell me. Let me guess. Driven mad by the petty vagaries of life, menaced by midgets, his ambition to attend clown school thwarted by uncaring parents, he hurled himself from the high rooftops, arms outstretched, ready to embrace the only true peace we shall ever know....

There is silence, then a voice says, 'He's got mumps.'

Thus it was I found myself, just sixteen days before my club's first ever Wembley final, without a ticket. It was at this point that my girlfriend made her suggestion. 'Why don't you phone up the stadium,' she said, 'and buy a ticket from the box office?'

I looked at her and shook my head. She was not a football fan. She had grown up in the west country, a rural enclave where the most popular sport was throwing cheese truckles at wooden pigs. The poor innocent, she knew nothing of British football's history and rituals, its favouritism and corruption, its nepotism and I-know-a-blokiness. She did not know that in football you do not simply buy tickets to important games. If you could simply buy tickets where would be the drama, the glory, the opportunity to scowl bitterly and curse 'the system' with the words: 'They've all gone to the bloody part-timers. Where were they at Grimsby away, eh?'.

Then suddenly it hit me. I leapt to my feet, slapped my fist into my palm and cried, 'It's a wild, madcap scheme, Ginger,' I cried, 'But it just might be crazy enough to work.'

It didn't.

(Boro lost 1-0 to Chelsea. Tony Dorigo scored the goal from a half-arsed free-kick. We don't want to go through that again, so here's a photo of some bloke from Middlesbrough holding up the Cup instead)

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