Tuesday, March 13, 2007

In good time - MouthoftheMersey

I’d always get to the match early.

Ninety minutes before an FA Cup replay, I’d be walking towards the floodlights as the programme sellers were setting up, the onions sizzling on the griddles of the burger vans and the police-horse dung still steaming on the street. Once through the turnstiles, I’d race up the steps and there it was, that great swathe of technicolour green with its sharp white lines, all there in front of me, just me. I’d stare and stare amazed that such a place was possible, then settle for the wait, slightly bored, but very happy. Slowly the ground would fill with small groups of men (it was almost always men in those days) who would stand peering myopically at their programmes. Occasionally, a man would break from a small group to shake hands with a man whom he has greeted in this way at every home game for 25 years, but never met in any other setting.

Two whole hours before a Test Match, my father, my brothers and I were in situ on the hard benches of Old Trafford unpacking the first of many, many spam sandwiches and unscrewing the flasks. Before us was the enormous field, like a gigantic distorted snooker table. Grass was being mown and assailed our city noses with the folk-memory of harvest aromas. People would arrive and speak in hushed voices, so quiet was the Ground. Later, less timid arrivals would lever the ring off the first of many lagers to be consumed over the day, and behind us, the first of the relays to the bar would return carrying four pints of bitter on a cardboard tray being ribbed by his mates for spilling a drop or two on a journey that would have been rejected by Gennaro and Guido for the Fil Rouge as too tricky. Half an hour before the start, the players would shamble out of the Pavilion for a few desultory catches and then disappear again, before coming out marginally more enthusiastically for the start of play. In those seasons long ago, swamped with seven days a week cricket, nobody seemed to bother with stretches and warm-ups, nor did anyone ever seem to be injured.

Half an hour before the start of a speedway meeting, wiry men in garish leathers would limp towards the pits. A thrum of excitement would rustle through the handful of people in the “crowd”. Bang, an open exhaust engine is fired; and Bang, there’s another. Wrists twist, engines scream, and then would waft the glorious tang of the methanol fuel to your nostrils. Suddenly, you’re a kid again, rushing out to the ice-cream van for a 99 as the smell catapults you back through 30 years.

In the hospitality suites, they spend the run up to an event picking away at their prawn cocktails and supping warm white wine. In the crowd though, nothing and everything is happening.

22 comments:

50KaWeekSub said...

In Latin America I went to an Ecuador V Peru game an hour early and was surprised that the stadium was almost full (Latin Americans being famed for their tardiness). The atmopsphere was electric with giant flags and an abundance of families and cheap, readily available cold beer. Needless to say the game was a damp squib.

I actually prefer the "rush" of getting to a game just seconds before KO but when I used to go with my dad as a nipper we often arrived in good time to see the pre-match warm-up's.

bluedaddy said...

Memories flood back MOTM. When I were a lad I mainly visited shitty grounds like Field Mill and Gigg Lane with my brother. Apart from the magical green swathe (especially if the floodlights were on), my abiding memory is red Doc Marten boots, Birmingham Bags (trousers for all you youngsters - think Bay City Rollers without the tartan trim), and grubby silk scarves on wrists.
That and several hundred lads kicking seven bells out of each other in a ritualised and strangely mundane fashion. It was just what you did then (not me though - I've always been a wuss, thank dog).

Ebren said...

I try always try to get to grounds early - in a paranoid fear of not getting in in time and missing the game.

I also had a bad experience once.

Realising I was late I decided to drive to Kingsmeadow one day. I started sweeping left and right through side-roads I had never seen before around the ground, frantically looking for a parking space.

Eventually I found one, ran to the ground, and watched the game.

Six weeks later the police called to say they had found my car - something I had failed to do in an hour and a half after the game ended. I had assumed it was stolen, in fact it was still neatly parked where I left it.

My friends and family still take the piss ten years later.

greengrass said...

Oh, Mouth -
I can taste your writing!
Superb nostalgia - I was there with you when reading it...

BD -
Gigg Lane? How could you ever finish up a Chelsea fan with a respectable upbringing like wot you had?

Ebren -
thanks for sharing it!

gg

andrewm said...

Excellent article Mouth. Somehow I much prefer reading about going to a sporting event than actually going to one. I'm sure I'm missing out.

postern said...

Anyone here like to write on 'the joy of leaving the ground early'?

pipita said...

Mouth

Your description of what one feels when entering a football ground, made me remember the sensation I experimented the first time that happened to me, highbury 1970. It was shere magic. By the way, dont tell me you didnt get hold of those delicious "Wagonwheels" as desert for the sizzling raw burger with ketchup?? It was a must...
I also used to be obsessed with arriving early to the ground, but now with wife and kids, I actually enjoy arrving at the latest posible moment after having had lunch with them

guy anthome said...

Mouth," Suddenly you're a kid again"some of the best afternoon of our life were spent at football games.No one can age at a stadium, we don't get older, we get younger.
Green grass, bright sunshine, smell of the hamburgers , yes we are kids again.Father bring their kids, it's an heirloom sport. Passed on from fathers to sons, generation after generation. The football gene run in families. Thanks for reminding us of special moments; the pre-game times.

Zephirine said...

Lovely, nostalgic writing. Thanks, MotM.

greengrass said...

Mouth -
the more I savour this article, the more I feel the urge to allow the sporting memeories of my childhood and youth gush forth on the page.
I was hoping to lean back after my article, take some time off, get a life - but now you've spoiled the job.
gg

MotM said...

Many thanks for your time in reading this and the appreciative words.

50K - That's pretty much why I submitted this to Big Blogger as different parts of the world and different sports would be interesting comparators.

Bluedaddy - True! Silk scarves round the wrist is a perfect detail!

Ebren - I would do the same thing. The anxiety of being anything short of 45 minutes early would provoke strange acts! There's a full article there though.

Pipita - The wagonwheels are still sold, but probably not at the Emirates - every bit emblematic of 70s football as those scarves of BD.

Greengrass - Let's have it!

hannibalbrooks said...

I got banned from GU again today and decided to re-register under a more modest version of my former name, SirOliverReed.

If only I had read this first. Then I would have chosen the name 'Many Many Spam Sandwiches' ... excellent piece Mouth, loved it.

offside said...

Mouth,

this is your best piece of writing yet, by a mile. A very pleasant read that leaves one wanting more, well done.

Going to a game in France as a kid was completely different in terms of details but exactly the same in terms of feelings. Technicolor green? Marzipan green for me.

MotM said...

Cheers Hannibal. Glad to know you're back on GU.

pipita said...

Mouth

Cant believe the wagonwheels still exist!!Havent they yet developed a more sophisticated football cooky over there?? We have a wagonwheelish thing here, but much more sophisticated and tasty, its called "alfajor" with dulce de leche inside, sort of melted toffee. Very popular here

Ebren said...

Pipita - last I knew they were still selling wagon wheels at the Hawthorns, but not in many other grounds.

(the emirates has very expensive and poncy pies - or did the last time I was there).

pipita said...

Ebren

At West Brom?? What, their sold like some kind of relic, only at certain grounds?? "Wagonwheel stadiums", like "mind the gap stations"...Think last one I tried was at the Manor ground, Oxford Utd, when they were an old first division outfit in the late 80's.

MotM said...

Man in cowboy outfit sings,

"Wagonwheels are a treat for me.
They're the greatest biscuit you ever did see."

Which goes to show that Bill Hicks was right about advertisers.

pipita said...

Yeah, cynical ad...They have the nerve to call wagonwheels a "biscuit"?? whats this world coming to??

Mac Millings said...

Hey Mouth,

Don't know if you'll find this, but just came here from the link you posted in a comment at Big Blogger 2008. Yes, I'm from the future.

I love this piece, really very nicely done, and it's now one of my favourites of yours. Perhaps you suffered from it being somewhat of a kind with humptydumpty's entry - it seems to me that they went for 3 different styles, and in the "anecdote" section the Big Egg won out this time.

If I'm right about the judges' methods, your Robertson/Southall piece should have got in ahead of Blogger A. Or C. Can't remember. Anyway, that one was lovely work also, and a cracker of a closing quote.

mouth of the mersey said...

Mac - thanks.

This was a hon mensh in Big Blogger One too (hence the date). I read it again and liked it so thought, why not?

Humpty's and yours (and mine) I like more than the winner - but them's the breaks and he / she wrote a lovely comment, so I hope s/he'll join us here too.

mac millings said...

"he / she wrote a lovely comment, so I hope s/he'll join us here too"

yes, and yes.

Sorry, would write more, but it's late.

Tweet it, digg it