Studying at the London School of Economics in the mid-1960’s was a fantastic experience for a simple lad from a Lancashire mill town.
This was Swinging London, and for me it really swung. I realised that southern ale was not, as I had been taught, ”witches’ piss” - Young’s was a grand brewery!
Carnaby Street, blues groups by the score, folk clubs every night of the week, Bert Jansch on tap, all-night poker schools and an unlimited supply of Southern Crumpet. Since I had a Beatles haircut and a northern accent, they all thought I had grown up with the Fab Four - and who was I to spoil their fun?
There was, admittedly, that regrettable Jagger business. That poor bloke, after two years of hard studying at the L.S.E., apparently got wind of the fact that I was on my way there, realised that there wasn’t room for both of us, pouted, and did the decent thing. Last I heard of him, he was singing with some half-arsed band out Kingston way - not Kingston, Jamaica, but Kingston upon Thames.
There was a lass from the Wirral at the L.S.E. The Wirral is just a ferry cross the Mersey from Liverpool. Wirral people like to believe they talk posh, but they talk Scouse - well, a sort of veggie Scouse. She was what today’s Swedes might term a ”puma”: heads turned in the library when she went to look for a book; she must have caused any number of stiff necks.
Miss Wirral had a boyfriend back home, and I had a girlfriend back home. We really enjoyed having a coffee, ”studying” together, agreeing that Herman’s Hermits were crap, humming ”Wild Thing” and taking turns to sigh about our long-distance relationships.
After a while, we stopped sighing about our long-distance relationships and went for a short-distance relationship: we were, after all, at a school of economics, and saving on travel made sense.
She stayed with her aunt in Ealing, which in my mind’s eye was the stop before Plymouth. I went out there once, to watch The Who with her, and noted that the ads for rooms to rent stated ”No Irish”. Well, you can’t expect Ealing landladies to speak the Erse, now can you?
I stayed in Brixton, which appeared to be a suburb of Kingston - not Kingston upon Thames, but Kingston, Jamaica. Coming home half-cut in the early hours of Sunday morning and hearing the ska pouring out of all-night parties was one of the joys of living there.
I was sharing a room in a Brixton student flat, which meant that my meetings with Miss Wirral involved me bribing my room-mate, Paul, to go out and get drunk every time we needed a bit of peace and quiet. We just couldn’t properly appreciate Buddy Guy singing ”First Time I Met the Blues” on my reel-to-reel Grundig with Paul in the room.
After a few months of that, I got a room near Euston station - I couldn’t stand the thought of my love of music turning that poor lad into an alcoholic.
Come the Christmas break, it was time to nip over to the Wirral and meet her parents. I sung ”I Hear You Knockin’” to my knees and sunk into their smug suburban sofa, ready for the trial to begin. But it wasn’t all bad - the next day, they went to work and we didn’t, which of course gave us loads of time to visit the library in Liverpool and the jam butty mines of Knotty Ash.
Then came THE BIG ONE: Liverpool v. Manchester United at Anfield. Liverpool was her team, Manchester United mine. We rolled up to the ground at the last minute and headed for the cheapest entrance in sight. It turned out to be the Kop, and it was packed.
Since I was shouting things like ”Keep on runnin’!” every time a Red Devil looked like breaking clear, the Liverpool fans quickly sussed out the fact
that I supported United.
After about 40 minutes of heart-warming homely abuse I noticed that people who had passed out were being passed over the crowd and onto the pitch, just behind the goal. I whispered to Miss Wirral, ”We gotta get outa this place. Pretend to faint!”
She suddenly said, ”Oooh!” and collapsed into my arms. She was passed over the heads of the crowd, and I swam after her. When we arrived on the pitch, she was given a whiff of smelling salts to ”bring her round”. The man from the St. John’s Ambulance Brigade then asked me if I was OK, and I told him I was fine. He said that I might need a drop of brandy ”to be on the safe side”, and I understood him to be a very wise man, so I took a swig.
As we were led away to the halfway line, she mumbled that she’d never forgive me the fact that she got those awful smelling salts for her brilliant acting - and I got a shot of brandy.
We arrived just in time to see the players come out of the tunnel for the second half - you could almost touch them! We spent the second half in seats, and later heard that Miss Wirral and I had appeared on the telly as we walked along the touchline.
She later got back with her Wirral boyfriend, and I continued my valiant quest for the Meaning of Sport.