I went to the Westbury for a pint.Read More
It was a midweek night and I was waiting at a Green Lanes bus stop for a 341 or 141 to take me up to the Salisbury for a few beers. The fog around Clissold Park had been collecting all afternoon and now lay in a thick band over the little river valley that was the former course of the Hackney Brook. All of a sudden there was no traffic. No cars, buses or cyclists. Had everyone decided to watch Arsenal v Steaua Bucharest on the telly? After what seemed about half an hour but was probably 20 seconds, a white van steamed past seemingly anxious to get into more normal territory.
I'd seen some of the Steaua players earlier in the day, sauntering around Oxford Street in their smart tracksuits and pointing out their favourite Christmas window displays. "Good luck tonight," I said.
"Ah, you must be a Tottenham fan!" smiled one (he looked like the midfield general).
"No, I'm not. I said 'good luck' from the perspective of a neutral who wishes you to enjoy the atmosphere of the Greater Blackstock Road area. I hope you have a good experience and possibly go for chips afterwards. I don't care about the result."
But they'd already stopped listening. I have that effect on professional footballers. Like the time I got Bob Wilson's autograph when he came to my home town in the mid 70s and I wanted to know why he didn't play against Leeds in the 1972 Cup Final but he was looking away, off into the mid-distance at Arthur's Tuck Shop at the edge of the market place (though it was actually owned at that stage by Derek Marwood who possibly had kept the 'Arthur' sign up for a bit in the hope of getting some 'goodwill passing trade').
It was about 20 minutes later that a 341 appeared. The driver looked nervous. Clissold Park had almost disappeared. Green Lanes no longer seemed part of a city. The bus sped up the slope towards Manor House - then after the crossroads we slowed down as if the driver knew he was in familiar territory. At the Salisbury the London Pride was off and the gents toilets weren't open. The silent TV on the wall played a tape loop of Vladimir Putin sitting down at a table before at last the football results came in. In the end I hoped that the Steaua players had gone back to their hotel for Bells whisky miniatures, rather than searching for chips in the Highbury Vale fog.
Winter is closing in. The tits in our back garden have almost run out of nuts and the mice are so starving they've taken to eating from the box of mouse poison that's been in the cupboard under the sink for the last year. It always gets cold in the days just after Christmas. Which is why I haven't left the house all day.
My friend Mark phoned and asked if I was doing anything tonight.
No, I said.
Fancy going to see Arsenal v Portsmouth.
No, I said.
Er, OK then. Bye.
Instead I cracked open some beers and watched telly with my wife. There was one chocolate left from the really fancy box and I said she could have it.
Back home to the sticks to watch it in a crowded smoky East Midlands pub. I'm stood next to a scouser and we get into one of those Glanevillesque conversations about history, technique and tactics. He seems like a reasonable fellow and I buy him a pint. As the pints flow, he starts to take the existence of David Seaman and the Neville brothers as a personal affront.
In the second half some younger lads come in and slightly obscure his view of the big screen. Words are spoken. It looks like it's going to kick off. I try to calm him down, explaining that it's only a friendly and not worht getting too upset about. He gives me a look of withering contempt and spits "It's football. It's ALL important." Then goes to stand at the bar with his mates.
1-1. England were ploddy and Brazil having a laugh.