Saturday, 20 December 2014


The only thing my father liked about football was the crowd. He shared their pessimism. He enjoyed the sense of impending doom. He did his best to add to it.

The last time I went to a game with my father was in 1987, Middlesbrough versus Blackburn. It was Boxing Day. Both teams were battling for promotion from the old second division and Rovers had just signed Steve Archibald on loan from Barcelona. There were long queues at the turnstiles. The air was filled with expectation and a noxious festive fog of slim panatela smoke, after-shave fumes and the smell of new leather gloves.  Several of those around us were wearing knitwear so garish their only possible explanation was that a child had swallowed the contents of a kaleidoscope and then thrown up down the front of them. A man nearby was biting the tops off liqueur chocolates, swigging down the contents and nonchalantly tossing the chocolate bottles over his shoulder. Somewhere amidst this colourful and odiferous throng my father recognized a welder he worked with at Cleveland Bridge, Port Clarence. He was a big bloke with the drooping moustache of a gunfighter in a spaghetti western and a Raffles king-size clamped in one corner of his mouth. My Dad said, ‘I’ll ask him what’s happening. Find out where we’ll get in.’

My Dad tapped the bloke on the shoulder. He turned round, eyes narrowed, smoke streaming from his nostrils. ‘I didn’t think it would be as busy as this,’ my Dad said cheerfully.

The welder studied him a moment, ‘Well,’ he said, eventually ‘It’s bound to be isn’t it? If even buggers like you are turning up.’

With that he turned and walked away. Far from being upset by this exchange my Dad was greatly amused, ‘See the respect I command?’ he said.

We finally got into the Chicken Run in time to see Steve Archibald warming-up. And I’ve never seen anyone who looked more in need of warming up than Archibald. He was one of the most Scottish-looking men in history. Despite having spent several years in Spain his skin was still so pale it was practically luminous. He carried himself perpetually hunched as if walking into a gale force wind, always had his shirt sleeves pulled down over his hands and his head twitched about as if he was searching the pitch for a paraffin heater. I had a few mates who supported Spurs and they reckoned he was one of the sharpest strikers they’d ever seen. I’m not sure if that’s true, but he was certainly the coldest looking.

Archibald had scored 24 goals for Barca in 55 appearances. His reputation was such that every time the ball went near him you could feel the tension in the crowd rising; the anticipation of genius. In the end though nothing came of it. The game ended 1-1.

As we filed out a man to our left said, ‘There was this fucking bloke stood behind me, right? Fucking bloke. Every two fucking minutes he goes, ‘This could be dangerous’. Every two fucking minutes. Whole fucking game.’

And my Dad looked at me and winked.



Happy Christmas






  1. Merry Christmas to Harry Pearson - one of my favourite writers :)

  2. Harry, that must be Warrenby at the top, a proper Teesside Christmassy scene.

    Merry Christmas, John

  3. Harry, there's Christmas card for you and the Boro supporters on the Two Terriers! Have a great Christmas and a happy and healthy New Year.

    1. Cheers John. Hope you had a good one. Best wishes for the New Year.