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Way Back Then - Part 11
By: Chris Smith
I THOUGHT the previous season would be the last I could review coming as it does at the beginning of what I call The Ladbrokes Years, when I ended up in a job that meant kissing goodbye to all my Saturdays off. On the face of it, this wouldn't turn out to be too much of a hardship as I missed two complete relegation seasons bar the odd game.
The problem I thought I'd face in attempting to tackle 1985/6 was that I don't seem to remember any particular enthusiasm for this time but this was due in part to the tragedies at the end of the 1984/5 season. This told me that it was worth writing about to try and capture my mood at that time which probably reflected that of my fellow suffering fans.
Aside from the usual right-wing sound-bites following the events of May, and the virtual pleas of the Government for foreign countries to lock up our citizens for whatever reason, my abiding memory was the shocking summer. Some of the records of the time seemed to be a piss-take. Don Henley's "Boys of Summer" and Katrina and the Waves' "Walking on Sunshine" certainly didn't reflect the weather on the East Coast. In fact it was warmer in early December than it had been in August.
I had become quite a cricket enthusiast ever since watching Ian Botham score 149 not out at Headingley in 1981 and against the Aussies to boot. I'd never taken interest in the game but had found myself drawn to events unfolding on the television in the Haven Inn where I could often be found stoking up before games during the football season. I was looking forward to this pastime more this summer and found that I enjoyed the knock-out cricket highlights on BBC's Sportsnight as much as I had the football games. We were also playing the Aussies again and then there was the local cricket tournament sponsored by Petits with the odd Lincolnshire Minor Counties game and a few Nottinghamshire games played at Cleethorpes CC. Shame about the bloody weather though!
Oddly enough, I hadn't got into the game because of the lack of licensing hours at matches although I had found this a most satisfying aspect and even applied to the Lincolnshire v Suffolk game played at Augusta Street. As I discovered in later years when, despite being a social leper elsewhere but found I was most favoured customer in lock-ins, there was nothing like a drinking session that had a whiff of out of the ordinariness about it.
Talking of drinking sessions which I am wont to do, Don, Anch and I decided to apply our away game hedonism to the Glastonbury Festival. Big Trev, an old school pal who had been to a game the previous season but only liked the pre-match guzzle, came along as well. We certainly meant business as we filled the car boot with camping essentials such as case after case of lager and beer, crisps and pies. Come on now, it was a balanced diet in that it was all sh*t. We also had a motto "We came we drank we conquered" I came with the most useless item, a bottle of tanning oil. This did seem a good move as it was blazing sunshine all the way down to the Somerset border and as we congratulated ourselves on our remarkable prescience in buying tickets for this event, there were a few spots of rain. Within twenty minutes, this had become a downpour that was to last the entire weekend.
However, we were ever the optimist and decided to pay a visit to nearby Shepton Mallet. This would also be an opportunity to use a toilet as the campsite ones were a bit lacking and required an ability to swim underwater to use them. The quicker ones among you will be thinking "isn't Somerset the home of cider?" to which Churchill replies "Oh yes!" I'm obsessed with that bloody advert at the moment and any assent I make is done in that accent. If you hear "Hey Churchill is the ref a useless ****?" in the Upper Carlsberg you will know I'm around. You can then think of sitting elsewhere.
The ready availability of rough cider was payback time for me and although Don was a good mate, he regarded cider as "pop" although he'd never bothered to test out this misapprehension. I was fairly well prepared as a fellow student at Essex used to take an empty suitcase down to Devon some weekends and come back with samples of the mad apples. We would tackle these in the kitchen in scenes almost identical to that of All Creatures Great and Small where James Herriot and a smallholder were getting plastered on home made wine.
I got stuck into the stuff and smugly addressed the prone figures on the floor with "You're right, it is gnats piss isn't it?" I filed away for future reference the local tendency to put a scotch or gin in the drink "to kill the maggots".
About 10 pints later, interspersed with Dry Blackthorn in case you were worried about the alcohol intake, we wobbled back to the campsite bemusing the hippies and local plod with Billy Bragg and "The miners united will never be defeated" (although they just had been). Whilst I was in better shape than all but Big Trev, I managed to go down in the mud landing sharply on my right ankle. Whilst I knew there was some damage to it, I was sufficiently anaesthetised to be able to hobble on and get to the tent for some well earned unconsciousness. Anch fell on the front pole of his and Don's tent (not in the manner requiring an excuse from an MP) and having pitched theirs on a slope, the rain started to pour down into the open flap out of which there followed some spectacular projectile vomiting which just washed back in. Trev and I saw this because we regained consciousness after an hour and tutted whilst opening a long series of cans.
This was repeated the next morning when we all waited for the first one to capitulate and whine that they wanted to go home. I can't remember who did, but it wasn't me. It was a good call however, and we got off the site before the car sank that mid afternoon. We came we drank we whimpered out. This meant we would have to have a repeat weekend around a football game to reassert our laddishness. What bands did we see? Er, none. As we passed Knebworth on the way back to Stevenage, you could see the cars parked in a field off the A1 sinking as they had in Somerset. When we arrived at our destination, the only fight in recorded history between blokes wanting a bath first ensued. We did gain some respectability by drinking ourselves stupid over the next two days.
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