Strange. I’m in the middle of Wales climbing a steep hill on my mountain bike. Sweat keeps stinging my eyes. My heart is reminding me of all those chopped lines in stinking toilets at away games. I think it may stop in a minute and my body will be found being pecked by birds and nibbled by animals. At the top of the mountain Nuno stands surrounded by a glow, a halo of golden light and he beckons me onwards, inspiring me to pedal harder and reach enlightenment? Nah. Not yet Nuno. Let’s win first. Signals yes. A fucking phone signal so I can find out whats going on at Southampton in the Caraboon..Carabone…Carabean…the League cup. At the top of the Hill I can receive text messages and as I throw the bike down and grapple with the phone in my sweaty hand…
My mate is at St Marys and texting his madness..’WE GOT THE SECOND STRING OUT’ Glowing letters on the screen. Second string? My heads pumping. Danny Baath and Jack Price in my mind. Long dirge like football playing Burton and Fourth division blah ball. But I’m in a mood and tired, I’m being far too tetchy so I sit down in some heather. Watch the sun start to dip. Welsh hills, beautiful. BEEP..I don’t want to look. We have to be five/ten minutes into the game and the lack of lyrical beauty in these text messages is giving me grief. Mental grief. Cup games are unimportant to some but I understand the dynamics. My angry friend is working in Southampton so he’s probably wrecked. I told him to text me updates. I’m not expecting hirsute analysis.
I imagine he’s shouting at me because everything is in capitals. Exclamation marks. He’s a violent man and he texts violently. I had a mad affair with a woman from Southampton and I’m twitchy now, a little like she was and I’m thinking about her, images flicking back and forth of her stark bollock naked and my team putting their boots on. Jacko thinking about the game, how he’s going to define the night, me remembering her lips that tasted of Orange Tango.
‘FUCKING DANNY BAATH’ Don’t harsh my Wolves/Blonde mellow man. It was a two hour climb, make it worth my while. Shut my eyes and feel Nunos hand on my shoulder. The weight of it is reassuring. ‘DESLANDESMARSHALL THINK CAV STARTED’. Cav? Good feel better, blood starting to get to important places and the black specks have stopped floating around in my vision. Breathing better. Cavaleiro yeah. Much better, I like him. Southampton fills me with dread, lost loves there, it makes me ache. But in my head there’s a visual stream of hot sex and hotter football and I glean what I can from the brief messages. Cavaleiro yeah, I’m all about that.
‘TWO EASY CHANCES FOR THEM’ I don’t know what to think. I’m wondering how and why Nuno has done this. Squad rotation? Giving the forgotten men a chance? I’m afraid but why? It’s a Cup game, is it pointless? Is any cup game pointless? Doubts flying in again. Wasn’t Marshall injured? I’m trying to remember who he is among the new faces but I’m having trouble. I ask about Marshall. ‘FUCK NOS’ Well then, if he doesn’t know then what clue do I have? I’m on top of a mountain again.
‘SHOULD BE 4-0 TO US DICKO FUCKING SHIT’ Oh my days. I can see Nouha running around the box again and nothing is going his way but I know Dicko, he’s relentless, he won’t stop. Pulling defenders here and there allowing others to gain that yard of space, that precious few seconds to unleash a shot or a perfect weighted pass. Dicko works, team player and understanding. Nuno still has his hand on my shoulder and he squeezes it and he’s gone, back to Southampton back to the madness of it all. I’m breathing in the scent of the Heather in full bloom now, perfume thick…
‘FUCKING SHIT’ But I’m back in Molineux alley in 1977 and we can’t get in but there are ways in of course. The huge wall at the side of the Southbank is bowed slightly and if you were tenacious and you had a bunk up you could get your fingers into the crumbling brickwork then another stretch and you could get the 4″ by 4″ wooden post with the barb wire wrapped around it. You were thirty feet up hanging onto a rotten piece of wood, feet shoved into crumbling brick and you could smell the stale piss from the open air toilet above and you stretch that hand out and the other is losing grip….
‘HTIME HERE MATE PRICEY DOING IT MESSI AY HE VINEGAR BLOKE OK LOOKS OK ALL ROUND’
I stretch my legs out and the knees pop and my back is cramped, it’s getting cold up here and the light is going. The only illumination is the dim sky and a light way down in the valley, a farm or something but it’s too dark to make out and…
‘DANNY FUCKING BAATH’ What about him? Has he fucked up? Fucking hell Danny. Second string fuck ups, fourth division player he can fuck off back to Sheffield for all I’m bothered and another thing….’HEADER 1NIL TO US’ Fucking hell. OK then. Sorry Danno. I’m emotional, I’m throwing my toys out the pram. I’m not an adult where my team are involved, I’m petulant and adolescent. Danny Baath indeed.
My hand grabs onto the post and as I remember I looked back down at the alley far below at the people going back and forth and I can hear the singing inside and the gasps, the isolated voices exhorting, challenging, shouting incoherent abuse, the noise of the game. I want to be inside and I grip hard and ease my feet up to the next piece of shit brickwork, soles of my shoes have holes in and are smooth, my grip is bad but I’m nearly there and I get my hand over the top of the wall and a leg gently creeping over and under the wire. A hand grabs my arm. Is it a Cop? They often whack your hands with a truncheon and you drop. They don’t give a fuck but it’s a tattooed hand and that means safe. That means he’s one of us. A pisshead. He grabs me and pulls me through the wire and it rakes my back but I’m in and safe. ‘Ta mate’ and I’m scuffing through the piss of the toilets and underneath the Southbank and I’m in and there is noise and thousands of us and we are one nil up and then I’m here again with a phone in my hand.
‘FUCKING ZYRO ON’ What? Is it like that again? All these faces in new kind of places. Zyro, I liked him all those years ago when he last played for us. Was it years ago? I could hear Bats and see them in the starlight, subtle glimpses of their forms darting through the stars. ‘ZYRO IS A FUCKING LUNATIC’ but I don’t know why he is and it’s pitch black now and I can’t see the track down at all but I have my head torch and it’s cool and I know it’s cool at St Marys too because Nuno knows. I know the journey down will be good and pleasant in the glow of a hard fought one nil win in the cup…
‘DONOVAN WILSON GET IN 2 NIL LOOKING OK COMFORTABLE’ Who? For a moment I thought Wilson was a Saints player, own goal surely, then I remember. Academy kid I watched him at Compton once. Mobile player, good feet on him, but I have to text back and ask for sure. ‘ACADEMY KID’ Yeah ok. Two Nil it is. Blondes in black latex and 0-2 Cup victories.
I get back on my bike and I’m off back to where I’m camping. Nuno has his hands on mine making sure I get down safe. I’m not rushing. Brake softly like Nuno would. Shift my weight here and there just like Nuno would. Into the blackness of that Welsh valley I rode and my signal dies and everything is dark, dangerous, scary. Like climbing that wall back in 1977. There’s always a hand, always somebody there to help as we descend into the unknown, as our hands scrabble trying to find purchase in the crumbling brickwork. Of course there is going to be a day when it’s Nuno himself who will require a helping hand and I’m going to be there for him like he has been for me….so I take my fingers off the brake and pick up a little speed and turn the head torch a little brighter.