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Tuesday, 28 August 2007

May 1971...

Time present and time past
Are both perhaps present in time future,
And time future contained in time past.

T.S. Eliot, Four Quartets. (1935-1942)

Highbury bore me. Oh, alright; Hampton bore me, if you must know. The Bearsted Memorial Hospital, 17th April, 1965. But we'll come back to that, I'm sure.

Like father, like son; a 1 month old Bob and his father in May 1965.

Highbury may not have borne me, but there is a North London connection. My Mother's family moved over from Belfast to a house at 497 Archway Road (I think) some time in 1953. Mum would have been about eighteen. Mum's father, Robert George Knight - known as George - was a painter and decorator. He invented a tool that helped you paint up to the skirting board called, appropriately enough, The George. It was patented, I believe. I never met either of my Grandfathers. Dad's father - like him, a Joseph - had died before they were married and George left his wife (my grandmother) Sarah - everyone called her Sadie - for another woman shortly before the same big day. My Mother banned him from the ceremony I believe, so distraught was she at his infidelity and subsequent departure. He's notably absent at Sadie's side here on August 29th, 1959 as the wedding party spills out onto the Archway Road from the Methodist Church on the corner of Jackson Lane.

Liz, Joe and well-wishers all eagerly awaiting the news of the Arsenal's 3-3 draw with Wolves at Molineaux...

My grandmother was a frequent presence in our home as my sister and I were growing up, so we never really heard that much about grandfather George and I suppose I just assumed him to have been long dead - which, if my Mother's attitude to him was anything to go by, he pretty much had been from the day he packed his bag.

Sometime in the early seventies, my grandmother (that's her to the left of her daughter, the bride in the photo above) moved out of 497 and took a small flat above a sportswear shop on Green Lanes, just by Haringey Station. From the window in the small kitchen at the rear of the flat you could just about make out Haringey Stadium where there used to be dog racing and, some time in 1973, the tail of comet Kohoutek just visible flying into the away shirt yellow of the sunset. In January 1975, I went with my Dad from that same flat to Highbury to watch my first game; a pitiful 1-1 draw with lowly York City in the third round of the FA Cup. It was a short tube ride from Manor House to the Arsenal. It felt like what I suppose it was; a second home.

Dad had been a fan of the club since childhood. He'd grown up in the afterglow of the great Gunners sides of the 1930s, possibly even going to see them play Brentford at Griffin Park in the Inter-war league or cups. The first game of football I remember seeing was the televised 1971 FA Cup final between Arsenal and Liverpool. It was another George, Charlie, whose spectacular winning goal and famous cruciform collapsing celebration of it that captured my heart and imagination that day.

My sister has left me some family photographs for safe keeping and I spend much of the Bank Holiday Monday going through them. Here's Samuel Crawford, born according to his death certiicate, "about May 1880", with his son-in-law George, in a photograph probably taken somewhere around Brookeborough in the very north of Ulster where the Crawford's family home was.

Whilst I'm looking among the documents in the loft for my Mum and Dad's marriage cerificate, I come across those recording the deaths of mum's side of the family. There's Samuel's and my great grandmother's. Sadie died in 1982 - only a year, I notice, after her long-lived mother (and my mother's namesake). Elizabeth Ann Crawford, nee Bullock; was born in 1885. She was born a year before Arsenal was formed. And then I come across George's death certificate and I realise that I've never bothered to check when he actually died. I feel my chest tighten a little when I see the date; 22nd May, 1971. So I could have met him, but never did.

It felt very strange, coming down from the attic with that thought - like losing something you never even knew you'd had. And the strange symmetry of football, of winning and losing - finding a new George only to lose another two Saturdays later. And that game, which had until then been a fixed, unyielding point of reference; a pole star by which I could navigate my youth suddenly veered off, Kohoutek-like; no longer a reliable crutch for the time-ravaged memory; now that whole month has splintered into a kaleidoscope of uncertainty. How much had my Mother known of her father's illness? Had his death come out of the blue? Why hadn't I picked up on her grief - if, indeed, she'd shown any. And if not, why not? How had the woman who through all of her life had proved so extraordinarily forgiving and charitable towards others been unable to extend those virtues to her own father? Had he gone peacefully, like my father, in his sleep?

Footfalls echo in the memory
Down the passage which we did not take
Towards the door we never opened
Into the rose-garden. My words echo
Thus, in your mind.

In the garden, late May, serene and tranquil, untroubled by the sadness of the world, I hurl myself down in a cross on the grass; a double winner, a George glittering in the youthful sun. For weeks this goes on, months; all the pleasure of the world encapsulated in one goal, one timeless prostrate celebration.

Out there, in another world, another May, another George lies dying, lies dead.

L.U.V. on y'all,


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