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Way Back Then - Part 3
By: Chris Smith
Date: 28/11/2010 (Last updated: 05/12/2010)
REMEMBER the days when we qualified for the Third Round of the FA Cup without having to play? This season, Scunthorpe were enjoying a rare few wins and had managed to draw us. It was with a sense of unreality that I went to watch them form the fifth time that season. Steve, who had lived next door, drove us to The Old Show Ground.
There wasn't a pint to be had as the locals shut up shop until the evening. I think Town had most of the crowd although it didn't take many of ours to clear the Doncaster Road end. Oddly enough, when the Scummy fans had got to the safety of the pitch and behind a line of Humberside’s finest (which didn't say much), they started making gestures to the Town fans to come and join them. Yeah, right.
The fourth round of the FA Cup paired us with Ipswich which I was well chuffed with bearing in mind I was only twenty minutes down the road. Unfortunately, this gave me the chance to have a right skinful before the game and I'll have to draw a line under the consequences whilst I am with my current employers. Suffice it to say that Colchester was glad to see the back of me and another student, from Lincoln (!) who evidently shared my behavioural problems, when inebriated to this extent. So was Ipswich, not that I can remember everything but I have since been filled in with the details. What I do remember of the game was that ex-Ipswich favourite was fouled very early on and stretchered off and we were well beaten 2-0. We had tremendous numbers down there and there was only one arrest. When I read this in the paper on Monday, I wasn't sure if the one was me as I went into blackout during the game and on the way home. I tried to write off the pictured atrocities as bad dreams as I didn't have clear memories, and would say to anyone who tried to broach the subject of behaviour with an "I don't want to know". This became a regular occurrence over the next 17 years or so. Even now, there are some barely suppressed memories which I haven't been able to retrieve, probably because I wouldn't be able to cope with them.
As far as the course was going, I was coping really well and absolutely on top of the work. My money was holding out well so I shouldn't have had any real worries. Unfortunately, daft as it seems after the previous year, I had too much money to spend and it was going on strong cider. I can't even begin to count the pubs I was barred from in Colchester, and due to a few unsavoury events, wasn't always able to get into the Students Union. It didn't help that I had a number 1 crop which was rare in the era of the New Romantics, who I incidentally despised, and wore steel toe capped DM boots which came half way up to my knees. I had also finally grown to my current Adonis stature (I wish), but joking apart was a solid 13 or so stone and not the weedy proposition I had been a few years before. The thing about alcohol was that it induces paranoia and thus imagined slights and gives permission to react in unacceptable ways. I'll leave it at but was glad I left Uni in June because had I stayed any longer I would have been expelled, no doubt about it. After one incident involving damage to Uni property, the honcho in charge of discipline thought I was a first year student suffering from PET as he called it, pre exam tension, and was surprised I was a final year student. Had he known, he told me that would have been me finished with a few months to go. He didn't think a third year student could be so stupid. I would rather have been expelled than have my ego insulted.
When I first got into recovery, I heard that alcoholics have a big ego to make up for their low self esteem, described as feeling like a bucket of s*** that the Universe revolves around. When I first heard this, I was transported straight back to 1983.
Back to the grindstone, and after four days of not touching a drop, a friend suggested we have a weekend away. As bad luck would have it, his girlfriend was at Salford University, Town were at Blackburn and Woj’s team, Swindon, were at Crewe. We had an invite to stay up so I put myself on my best behaviour to be a good ambassador for the University. All was well until we went for a coffee in their Union Bar on the Friday lunchtime and I found they did scrumpy. To be fair, the only atrocity was the state we were in. I can't really recall much except that we lost 2-1 in front of a rapidly dwindling band of fans on a murky day. Apparently, I found out later, Salford’s Union hadn't seen anything like our consumption that lunchtime.
I was back in Colchester when Grimsby won against Chelsea and Leicester in mid February, recording their last wins of the season. Thankfully, I had found some romantic interest, in as far as a football obsessed drunk (who could often be seen drooling from the side of their mouth on wet Wednesday afternoons in Colchester back street pubs, singing abusive chants) could have such an interest. This actually spared me from some of Town’s continuing poor form with only Kevin Drinkell managing to get on the scoresheet most of the time.
Not that I remember, but it is hard to think I missed the home draw at home to Wednesday in March. This was followed by the away defeat at Cambridge where Town fans didn't agree to differ about what they thought about the performance and proceeded to batter the c*** out of each other. Looking back I am only surprised I didn't join in as I was one of the very critical element. I think it was my 18th away game of what had passed for a campaign, which was some going for someone living in Colchester most of the time. I had missed only one thrashing from many to date and had enough. The next two away games were Fulham and Newcastle away and both ended as four nil defeats. I went to the games at Easter which were a 2-1 defeat at home to Rotherham and in a complete reversal of fortunes, a 3-0 defeat at home to Middlesbrough who we had stuffed 4-1 away the previous autumn. During warm up, one of the Boro strikers, somewhat ironically given the final score, aimed wildly wide with the ball hitting the stanchion and hitting me in the face on the rebound. The only good thing was I couldn't see anything for the first half.
I have a funny feeling that I might have rescinded my self imposed ban, as I have a vague recollection of passing through Telford station this season. The only reason I would have to do so would be to go to Shrewsbury and I can recall all my other visits. This game was after Easter. Search me. I might have had the time as I was young careworn and single again.
That was my lot. The only scores I recall with any clarity are the 1-1 draw at Burnley on the penultimate game of the season when I visited my brother at Southampton University where he seemed infinitely more adjusted in his first year than I was in my last. Apparently, it was our first goal in six games. It was a good weekend, away from familiar surroundings that had bred contempt. We needed a point to stay up from the last game of the season which we duly got against QPR who at that point, had never won in Cleethorpes.
That was it then, my first season of pain set against a backdrop of personal struggle with boozing. It was actually glorious weather after the finals and strangely, I stayed behind as long as I could to make the most of the last leisure I might have for bit. Most of my friends continued to have plenty of that as it was a terrible time to graduate. Thatcher’s bloody Britain as Rik would say in the Young Ones. He wasn't wrong. I said it was strange staying on, and it was as when I finally left it was with mixed feelings. Sad to say goodbye to some people but in all honesty glad to see the back of the ******* place.
I've read some stuff in fanzines by folk studying away from home and I always hope they are enjoying it more than I did. I had spent most of the last year becoming increasingly alarmed at what was happening to me regarding alcohol, and not for the first time, would drink to forget the trouble it was getting me into.
I returned to Grimsby in July 1983 and it seemed the nightmare was over. Just as I had to leave the football behind in later years because it was a flashpoint for drinking and unpleasantness, my attitude changed as soon as I returned home. When I wrote a life story in rehab as part of what is called Step One of the Twelve Step Programme, I had no problem in identifying that this is where it all went wrong. I don't have regrets but going back to this place has been really painful. I hope it hasn't been too dire for you; the football certainly was for me. I didn't learn all the lessons I needed and the disease would strike harder some years later. What I didn't know was that things were going to get better on a number of fronts.
Continued in Part 4
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