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Tuesday, 23 October 2007


Monday 7th May, 1984: Wimbledon 1, Gillingham 3

Telling stories is telling lies. I submit the piece about the Red Action march that took place before the Bolton game to The Gooner. Much to my surprise and delight, they seem to like it and might even put it up on the Online version. In his emailed reply, Kevin Whitcher, the man who is so recklessly about to place the good reputation of his excellent publication on the line, points out a minor flaw in the article, one that he says he'll correct with an editorial aside. I've only misheard the chant that's given my article its title. My fellow gooners were not singing 'roll away', but 'we're on the way'. "It's from Paint your Wagons", Kevin adds, almost apologetically. You know: "I talk to the trees, but they don't listen to me..." He must feel as if he's just been communicating with a tree himself.

This is the most glaring of the several errors I have made and far outsrips the other gaffes and goofs that have been committed to paper or sent spinning through the ether. I've attributed to Chelsea an FA Cup they didn't win and to Andorra a draw they did not earn. As if that weren't enough, I somehow manage to confuse a player we didn't even buy (Willy Sagnol) with one we did (Bacary Sagna). Oh, that last one's been amended in the text; now there's only the recording of my voice saying Sagnol when I'm talking about Sagna echoing tinnily in a couple of pairs of ears around the globe to bear witness to that inadvertent lie. Like some chiselling soviet apparatchik, I've personally overseen the erasure of that particular affront to the Ministry of Truth. The face of the "unperson" Sagnol has been chipped from the manhole cover of history; there is no longer any conflict with the official version of events.

They used to do that - chip people's names and faces and so on off the manhole covers or lamposts or whatever it was that they had previously adorned - in the former soviet bloc. A friend of mine saw them doing it in Albania. If you went to that country in the 1960s, they'd trim your hair at the border if it fell below the line of your collar. Even your hair could not be trusted if you came there from the west. All true, all part of a history that is itself no more; only the witnesses to it as it happened remain, the ones who watched as the faces and the names were one by one removed. That's one game the soviets did lose; and history, as we know, belongs only to the victors.

You can trace it all back to Heroditus, I suppose. To some he was the "father of history", to others "the father of lies"; you may even wonder if there is really any distinction to be made at all. But there needs to be, doesn't there? Otherwise, it all goes a bit 1984.

1984. I need to test a memory of that year as I experienced it, not as Orwell imagined it in his book. I've not long left Wimbledon School of Art having failed to complete the foundation course I'd enrolled for in autumn 1983. I'm now working at Space Studios, a rehearsal and recording space (although that makes it sound considerably grander than it really was) under the railway arches at the tip of Twickenham Green. If my memory can be trusted, I'm sat there one weekday evening with Eddie Taylor, a friend from art school who has stayed on to finish the course I dropped out of to work here. We're listening to a game on the radio. Wimbledon are playing for a place in the first division. They've made their way up through the leagues from the Conference in successive season, so this, for them, is quite a big game.

Eddie is actually a gooner - and not a lapsed one as I still am back then. He goes to Plough Lane when he's not at Highbury watching the Arsenal with his surreal and madcap Dad. He may even be sat there unbeknownst to me, somewhere in the Emirates tonight for the Slavia Prague game; sat somewhere among the sixty thousand or so, older, wiser but wearing that same red and white scarf.

So, that's the memory; the two of us sitting in a sack cloth walled bunker, a spaghetti soup of microphone and guitar leads at our feet, listening to the radio as the Dons strain to reach the top flight accompanied by the muted throb and plod of an aspiring bass guitar. But did it really happen? Can I trust that prole memory of mine?

Well, almost. I look to see what the official record says. Wimbledon are indeed promoted; only not to the first division but from old Divisions 3 to 2, having come up from Division 4 the season before that. On Saturday May 5th, a crowd of 22,580 turns up at Brammal Lane to see Wimbledon beat promotion rivals Sheffield United 2-0. A win at home to Gillingham two days later is all they need to clinch the second spot and win promotion to Division 2. That's the game I listen to with Eddie as the timeless tom-toms roll. Wimbledon lose 3-1 but they go up anyway as the Blades lose at Bolton that same evening; once again, 2-0. Nigel Winterburn, who'll go on to be serve with distinction at Arsenal and score a glory goal at Chelsea on the way to the double in 1998, is in this Wimbledon side. The team score 97 goals in the campaign that sees them to the second flight and the club receives a cheque from Capital Radio for £25,000, their reward for being the highest scoring of all the London sides. So perhaps not all hope is lost on the memory front.

* * *

I'm chatting with another Eddie; the chap who drives the minibus that takes me to my work (you have to credit Tesco; there's absolutely *no* expense spared when it comes to getting their criminally underpaid staff to the picking fields first thing in the morning...) Poor old Eddie's a Tottenham Hotspurs fan - has been since just after the second World War. He fell in love with them when he saw them play Brentford at Griffin Park and has been lumbered with them ever since. We share a wince at last night's calamity; a 3-1 defeat up at Newcastle that leaves them in the bottom three. Eddie knew they'd lose. He's what my Dad would have called "Old School", is Eddie. That's not "Old Skool" in the modern, R & B sense, but in the sense of being - well, there is other way to put it really - old school. There must be a lot of games swimming around in that head of his. I wonder if he can still trust his memory?

L.U.V. on y'all,


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