Saturday, 28 February 2015

UNCLEAN SLATES


Many years before I wrote The Far Corner I was working in London as a grill chef. One of the washers-up was an elderly man with a dancehall gigolo moustache and the sour scent of alcoholism. He lived in a Salvation Army Hostel off the Whitechapel Road. He'd come originally from Tow Law. Raised during the Depression, he spoke bitterly of the means test men coming into the house with a piece of chalk and marking with Xs all the possessions that must be sold before any benefits would be paid, and movingly of bike rides through the high meadows of the North Pennines on warm summer nights, when the foundrymen and the miners helped farmers with harvest in return for a feed and a night in a barn. He claimed to have been an apprentice at Hartlepools United back when the formidable Bill Norman was boss.

He said, “One day at training, it's freezing cold and blowing a bloody blizzard. We were all grumbling about the cold,” he said, “And Bill got really pissed off with us. He says, “It’s not bloody cold. It’s not bloody cold at all.” And he suddenly stripped off all his clothes and rolled about in the snow stark bollock naked, yelling at us to toughen up. He must have been bloody crackers..”

The washer-up didn't get offered terms, but given what he'd seen maybe he thought it a lucky escape.

In the summer I had an interesting chat with a retired professional footballer. He’d grown up in Ashington, and started out at Port Vale when Stanley Matthews was the manager. After that the old pro had spent most of his career in North East non-League football.

Over the years he’d played for many different managers, but one in particular stuck in his mind. “I joined a Northern League club not far from here," he said, “I’ll never forget the first game. The manager’s pre-match team talk goes like this. He takes an egg and he holds it up in front of us. He says, “This here, this is the opposition”. He put the egg down on the floor of the dressing room. Then he goes outside. He come back in a few seconds later with this bloody great slab of slate. He says, “And this here, this is you”. And he lifted this bloody slate up above his head and slams it down on top of the egg. “Now,” he shouts, “I want you to go out there and splatter the fuckers”.

The retired player raised his eyebrows and shrugged his shoulders. “I didn’t stop there long”, he said.

 

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