August/September 1966, a Friday night, the first rugby league match I ever attended, the first time I had been on a Lambretta, the first time I realised that it was ok for men to swear when in other mens company, the evening is still easy to recall to mind, the smell of wintergreen, tobacco smoke and beer still fresh (if you can call it fresh) in my nostrils, on that night was born a love for the game that has not dwindled.
I was staying at my cousins house for the weekend, not my famous cousin, he had gone to stay at our house with Ned, we sort of swapped houses for the weekend me and him, I was spending the weekend with Al, the other, less famous cousin, less famous unless he’s thrown you off a train recently.
Now my cousin Al had an uncle, Arthur, he wasn’t my uncle though, I think he was Al’s dad’s brother or even brother in law, which makes him even less of a relative to me, anyway, he wasn’t my uncle, I’m glad we cleared that up. So this Uncle Arthur had a Lambretta scooter and a season ticket for Leeds Rugby League FC and he’d asked Al if he wanted to go to the game too, so of course I was invited as well.
So far so good, my Auntie Irene didn’t spot a problem so far, I was nine years of age, old enough to listen to some old men swear a bit, it would be fine, Arthur would ride his Lambretta to their house and then all three of us would walk to the ground, a matter of only five minutes walk even if you dawdled.
Arthur arrived clad in long overcoat, huge leather gauntlets and one of those crash helmets that sits like a pot on your head and has leather flaps to cover your ears, throw in a pair of huge goggles and he looked like the least likely Mod on a Lambretta that you’ve ever seen.
“Hop on” he shouted above the Lambretta din to my cousin Al
“Whoa, hang on a minute” cried my Auntie Irene, “You’ve got this one to take as well”, pointing down at me.
“Hop on then” he shouted to me
Three on a scooter, I had my doubts and so did my Auntie Irene and she expressed her doubts most vocally, but Arthur insisted, he gave the tin pot helmet to Al who by now was sitting on the pillion and he gave the huge leather goggles to me then stood me up at the front holding onto the handlebars and with a jaunty wave and a cloud of blue smoke we were off over the cobblestones of Lumley Road, rattling and a-shaking on our extremely short journey to the ground, me leaning forward over the handlebars like Kate Winslet in “Titanic”.
I recall little of the game itself, I understood the rules of the game even less, I recall the smells as if they were in the room with me now, the rust that fell from the roof of the stand above our heads when the ball landed on top of it, I recall the record they played at half time “They’re coming to take me away” by Napoleon XIV, its why I can date the memory so well, I remember two roly-poly forwards, Kenny and Albert Eyre, Tweedle dum and Tweedle dee on a rugby pitch, strange yet amusing names like Wrigglesworth, Shoebottom and a small man called Seabourne who seemed to be able to dislocate his shoulder at will and have it put back in right there on the pitch in front of us as if nothing had happened.
I was hooked in an instant and the following season I would have the first of many season tickets and a few short years later I would be working at the ground for my Uncle Ralph, another uncle who was not really an uncle – but we’ll save that one for later.