… by now we will have fallen into an easy but regular routine.
This is the 1960s and while I’m sure burglars existed in the 1960s they didn’t seem to exist in our far-flung suburb for if they had then they would have found plenty of employment (although what exactly they would have found worth burgling in our house is open to debate) for our bungalow only had one door key and we left it under a brick on the doorstep in the time honoured tradition of fooling burglars by doing the bleeding obvious.
Our parents both worked, our dad in an office in the very centre of Leeds (couldn’t be more central actually – city square) and our mum worked at the internationally famous Carnegie Sports College at Becketts Park – I phrase it in that way to give a little more kudos to the appointment, as if she may have been a top athletics coach or a lecturer in sports science, which in the 1960s consisted of “eat steak, do star-jumps” – but the truth is that she was part time cleaner in one of the campus halls of residence, she was one of the Bronte Ladies and every cleaning article in our house had the name “Bronte Hall” stencilled onto it, we never could understand how every form of cleaning implement known to man found its way from Carnegie College back to our house, god forbid that our mother was a little light fingered.
And so they would have left the bungalow for their work before 9am and Ned and I would be left alone to do with the day as we wished. We never socialised together, if we even spoke it was to insult the other or instigate a fight, strange then that we shared a small bedroom which had just enough room for the two single beds and a huge Narnia-style wardrobe, the fights that we had in that room are a thing of legend.
So we had our own groups of friends and ne’er the twain did meet, I still don’t know what he got up to in his school holidays for once we had left the house we never saw each other until tea-time such was the plethora of things to do in ur district, its one of the advantages of living in a still-being-built suburb right on the edge of town, walk one way and you had a new building site to play on, walk the other way and at the end of the street was the countryside, fields of wheat and barley to lay in all day long pondering the sky or barns to torment chickens in.
By 10am I would have wandered to the cricket field where someone would already be waiting with a football, within half an hour there would be sufficient numbers to form two full teams, by the afternoon we’d be twenty-a-side, and yes, as in the folk-lore, we really did play with jumpers for goalposts, in our case there were so many jumpers some days that they were full height goalposts too.
We’d play all day, the scores would often be forgotten after fifty or so goals had been scored, forgotten that is by all except Rod the Medic who of course was not a medic as a child but was to be in future, as a child he had an attention to detail that was probably obsessive and if you wanted to know the score you just had to ask, 51-28 he’d remind us and if you queried whether that should have been 51-29 then he’d stop the game and go through each and every goal that you’d scored until you agreed with him.
It was also Rod the Medic who knew every footballing law that had ever been invented thanks to his subscription to the weekly “Shoot” magazine and its strip cartoon “You are the ref” during which, each week, a more and more bizarre footballing situation would be illustrated by means of three or four diagrams culminating in the question “You are the ref – what would you do?”
Rod the Medic read the strip avidly each week and by convoluted means managed every week to introduce the situation into our day-long games, we’d see a dog trotting alongside the pitch and Rod the Medic would kick the ball at it and then instantly award himself a penalty – “It was in “You are the Ref” this week” he’d explain, and we never argued back for arguing with Rod the Medic and his obsessive retention of “You are the Ref” archives was futile.
When we played we became the famous footballers of our time, so Chris Miller for instance was always Alan Clarke of Leeds Utd fame, Chris Lyttle was always, always Eddie Gray, H always fancied himself as Billy Bremner, he will deny this of course but H was the one who organised us all, picked the teams, played in midfield, spent all day long shouting at us to get into a position rather than run around aimlessly, he coached the team and later he would become the team manager formally when he entered them into the local Sunday leagues, he organised us, he still does, ask him a question about football tactics and he’ll go off on a long convoluted explanation during which you’ll wander off and find something more interesting to ponder, like the clouds for instance, and he won’t notice you’ve gone.
Andy “Daft Lad” Graham just played in every position on the field, he never stopped running all day long, he’d be on the line to save a certain goal with a last-gasp outreached foot and then in the next instant he’d be right up the other end of the field to score with another last-gasp outreached foot, he sweated more liquid than could feasibly be drunk by a small boy right through the day and he absorbed football facts as his shirt absorbed sweat, to this day you can ask Andy who played full back when Mesopotania won the African Nations cup in 1647 and he’ll ask you “Left or right full back ?”
The brothers Pete and Mick Smith, the brothers Dave and Mick Yates (and sometimes their dad too), Vaz the son of a Ukrainian who was convinced that he was Pele, Mick Gamble who’s dad owned our local sweet shop (yes he was a very popular boy), the two Kevs, Crossland and Gibson, the footballing talent that was Pete Brannigan who died in a car accident before he’d left his teens – we gathered there in our dozens and we simply played football all day long, on a circular cricket field, being very careful to avoid “the square” in the middle and to have vanished altogether by 5pm when the cricketers came home from work.
Its therefore especially surprising that I was/am not a better footballer than I am, in truth I can probably bear children with more ease than play football, for I was the kid who was always last to be picked by either team captain, me and a fat kid who had just turned up that day and was already annoying everyone, and the main reason for this is that I got bored easily.
Ten minutes after kick-off and I’d be stood with one or other of the goalkeepers chatting, it mattered not to me whether or not it was our goalie or theirs until my team would score a goal only for it to be disallowed by Rod the Medic because I was offside, having been chatting to the opposition goalie.
Some days, on the days when one of the cricketers had chased us off the cricket pitch, we’d adjourn to the “top field” and its acre upon acre of football pitches – why on earth we didn’t always play on these dedicated football fields instead of playing on a cricket field I don’t know – and we’d be joined by Ireland Wood boys such as Plug (who grew up to become Steve Rainy Pants) and my now-famous cousin who was convinced at that age that he was George Best and convincingly continued to play that role into adulthood.
And so the school summer holidays would continue, endless days of twenty or thirty a side football, two teams playing each other in endless combinations as individuals swapped from one side to the other, each side containing the stars of Don Revie’s Leeds Utd, we’d often have at least two Eddie Gray’s and three or four Alan Clarke’s on the field at any given moment – and of course we’d also have George Best and Pele turning out for us too and on occasions when Vaz wasn’t Pele anymore he’d become Lev Yashin in goals, and bugger me if he wasn’t good in goals too.