Wednesday 16th April, 1975: England 5 (MacDonald 5), Cyprus 0
Me with Helen, c. 1975. I'm wearing the England kit I got for my 10th Birthday. Apologies for picture quality; the original is very feint and was completely bleached out by the flash when I tried to get a close up.
England always lets you down in the end. And just to make things worse, it sometimes gives you hope. A 5-0 thrashing of Cyprus at Wembley and I'm allowed my birthday present early so I watch it in my replica kit. Malcolm MacDonald scores all the goals in an otherwise routine rout. It won't last; we fail to qualify for Argentina 1978. Within a year, the kit's outgrown.
"The Trafalgar Steamroller", c.1975: (Back row) Edwards, Embling, Webber, Allen, McCarthur, Unknown Teacher, Schikovsky? (Front row) Swipe, Mills, Unknown (Garry Someone?), Riboult (capt.) Whitehead, Jenkinson, Sleighmaker.
The school team has a good run that year though. We either reach a semi final or are in contention for the league. But in the season's crucial game at Fortescue against local rivals Stanley Road, we taste defeat. A midfield masterclass from William Rees, who'd turn up again at Orleans school, ends our season there and then. Rees's heroics apart, my only other recollection of the game is our coach, Mr. Saunders (Edward VIII) stood at the touchline barking encouragement, propping up a piece of card on which he'd daubed the legend, "The Trafalgar Steamroller Rolls On!!", a reference no doubt to our Arsenal-like ability to grind out boring 1-0 wins without playing particularly well. He always seemed to be smoking a pipe even, - altough this is possibly a trick of the memory - in class where in between puffs he'd fill up what felt like several hours with enthusiastic accounts of the repulsion of the Spanish Armada. I imagine that he liked a drink as well as pulling on that pipe and if my memory serves, he died while I was still at Trafalgar, not that long after the game with Stanley Road; eaten up by the brown residue of tar that caked his teeth. This is him, some years before, on a school outing to Belgium (picture by Martin Wells)
Gary Mills (next to me in the team photo) is also a smoker. I see him taking crafty puffs from the cup of his palm on his way home from school to Feltham. His parents are separated and he's a crazy mixed up ball of confusion. In one fit of rage, he attacks the Nun who takes our class, on placement from the local Catholic college, St. Mary's. He's one of those who'll either turn out as a star or a crook; has that wayward intelligence you need, the sort that's only really tolerated in the worlds of crime, entertainment and elite sport. Or he might be a dustman for all I know. He goes out for an Italian meal with Patricia Larrigan on her birthday. I've been in love with her since we were five, kissing her on the crown of her head in infants school, causing her to flee the room in floods of tears; an early lesson in the terrifying and volatile power of love. Sean Whitehead has a similar surly wiriness to Gary Mills. His father owned a building firm, I believe, and they had a nice big house not far from us. But Sean speaks what my mother called 'Twickenham Cockney'. I think she meant by it something along the lines of posh boys talking common. Mark Jenkinson wrote a play, I know that much. It's called The Art of Random Whistling and was first performed at the Young Vic in 1996. William Rees lives in North Wales from whence he sells secondhand books on the net. "I still love playing and watching football (I’m rather more accomplished at the latter)", he says on his Friends Reunited blurb. I'm very glad to hear it, Bill.
Mr. Embling is the headmaster. He's kindly and patrician. Mr Edwards is his second in command and is one of the two exceptional teachers into whose orbit I'm fortunate to fall. He's dapper, stern on the surface but deep down just as kind. I love watching him eat his lunch behind his desk, the same precisely performed ritual every day; an apple sliced then segmented, the knife steered by a firm and steady thumb, popped straight in the mouth as sliced, apple alternating with a wedge of crumbly cheddar. It's down to him that I win one of the three prizes the school awards to its soon-to-be-alumni. With the book tokens I buy this
and they stick a commemorative plate inside the cover:
I don't remember many games between now and the World Cup, although I'm sure I watch a lot. West Ham win the Cup Final, Leeds lose the European Cup. The following year, I win my prize. Concorde takes its inaugural flight, Southampton beat Manchester United in the FA cup, the Czechs beat the Germans in a penalty shoot-out to become champions of Europe. So, you see, there was hope. Lots of hope, back then, before England let us down.
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