Frankly, I found it depressing that I could be old enough to lose the ability to create new mythologies. This realisation came as I reminisced about old times with a pal of mine from my Lewes Football Club phase, a span of four years where I would watch every game, home and away like the obsessive anorak I was.
Radders was down for the weekend having moved to Wales a few years back. As we sat in a Lewes pub, preparing ourselves for another salvo of Rooks football, my first this year, we sat there remembering old times when we were both fully paid up members of the Behind The Goal Boys. Like the story about the first occasion we met at Dulwich Hamlet, and within twenty minutes they were asking if I wanted to go to a strip club. I expressed my concern that I was sixteen and didn’t have ID but they persisted, only letting the matter rest when I told them I wouldn’t be watching naked women for the first time with a bunch of strangers I just met at Dulwich bloody Hamlet.
Then there’s the time I drank three pints of Black Rat before a game. Black Rat was a speciality 8% cider, a cloudy, nonsensical drink that should come with a night cap and catheter. As I stood up to leave for the ground, my legs gave away and I collapsed to the floor, only staying vertical long enough to rush to the nearest toilet and splatter my innards over the porcelain loo.
We laughed at the time we both got legless in Ipswich. We attended the local beer festival and then traipsed along to Portman Road to watch my adopted second team lose 4-0 to Newcastle United. Rather sozzled, we spent the night in a local hostelry called The Dove and tried to chat up the beautiful barmaid who we were later informed (by Radders’ father no less) was a raging lesbian.
As these stories continued, each one entering the conversation naturally in a memory bank timeline, I wondered whether we’d be remembering this day when we meet up in a few years. The answer of course, was no. We were just running through a Greatest Hits compilation, failing to make any new entries in the scrapbook of hilarity. We were not going to have any more stories like the time we went on a pub crawl in London and ended up flinging KFC chicken bones at passers-by in London Victoria station. There would be no more travelling to Surrey for a match, losing 6-0, but still chanting the manager’s name because we had won pro-motion. All we were doing was having a few pints, getting moderately arseholed and then saying our goodbyes.
There’s nothing wrong with this. It can’t be helped. Given the distance separating us and the passing of time, we are not in a position to make new memories. They were a fantastic couple of years but I’m 22 years old. I shouldn’t be a spent force when it comes to having classic experiences.
Thankfully, the following week, our annual jaunt to Sheffield livened things up. Always a calendar highlight, the Steel City provides an opportunity to see just how many more alcoholics live up north. On Sunday morning, at the precise time of 9.05am, we passed the pub opposite our hotel and there were already six punters supping their first pint. On the Sabbath! Five minutes up the road, outside Wetherspoon’s, a woman in tracksuit bottoms asked in a broad (and disturbingly deep) Yorkshire accent: “Are you coming in for a pint lads?”
Usually the journey is the hardest part and this year was no different. However, we were entertained by young Jamie, who was making steady progress through a bottle of Southern Comfort. A 70cl bottle. The sort of bottle that should be shared by four people. Jamie’s a great kid, the youngest of the group and therefore the most naïve. We’re good mates, a bond which was enhanced in Magaluf, where we shared a room. A lifetime’s friendship is cemented when you’ve heard someone’s cum noise.
He was sending me regular picture updates of the bottle which was depleting at a rather worrying rate. I was travelling with Lee, leader of the pack, a seasoned veteran of the snooker scene, who has shoved more pills and powder down his neck and up his nose than he can remember, not forgetting a gambling addiction which cost him somewhere in the region of £100k. In the backseat was Darren and Tommo the Space Cadet, so named because he was recently prescribed anti-depressants which completely zonk him out, leaving our intrepid explorer with Obsessive Compulsive Disorder and a disengaged brain. If those pills are the answer, I fear the medical professional who proscribed them was asking the wrong question.
As the evening warmed up, Jamie was becoming a nause. He wasn’t doing anything particularly wrong but he was speaking 20% louder than anyone else and over dinner, he was accidentally spitting at people and completely unaware of it. Yet the drinks continued in Cavendish for a hotly-contested game of Killer pool and then Players, the famous bar with £2.95 treble vodkas, an offer which twelve months previously helped me on my way to a keypad-guarded hotel, six miles away from our Travelodge, splayed against a lift and missing one sock.
Jamie was continuing to be a jerk and Lee, who takes no shit in these situations, held out a fist which connected plum with Jamie’s nose. Some argy-bargy ensued, Darren being the peacemaker, and Jamie was manhandled out of Players by the bouncers. He then started a fight with a wall, a bout which he lost miserably, the swollen knuckles, blood and pain showing the scars of defeat the following morning.
Meanwhile I was on a good mixture. I felt merry enough that I could dance in Plug nightclub without feeling like a self-conscious twat and they played a couple of indie songs which caused me to pogo about relentlessly, with a grin across my face so wide my face nearly split. I was buzzing my tits off to be honest and my aching limbs the following morning were a price worth paying.
In keeping with the theme set earlier in Players, Tony and Harry decided to have a tiff in Plug too. Tony’s a beanpole, a solid, hard-working considered man, who hates being out of his comfort zone. He usually follows the older boys back to the hotel in time for Match of the Day. But as I was pogoing to The Fratellis, Tony was still there, dancing away, while Harry (a friend for a decade now, but dim as an energy-saving light bulb) kept annoying him. Little punches, little knocks, all on purpose and all accompanied by a giggling Harry. Anyway, Tony decided enough was enough and took him on at his own game. Seconds later, Harry was on the floor, massaging his head, and so was Tony, having been crunched in the shin by another reveller. He was carried out by the bouncers, all 6ft 4” of him. I had exited Plug a few minutes before and was waiting outside. I’ve never seen anything like it. It looked like a still from a WWE match.
The snooker was nothing short of sublime as well. We saw Ronnie O’Sullivan come back with some of his best snooker under pressure and saw another tight encounter between Barry Hawkins and Ricky Walden. For the O’Sullivan game, Damien Hirst was sitting behind me, a friend of Ronnie’s and a very different type of artist. I’m not sure what World Snooker would think if Ronnie started pickling Michaela Tabb for an exhibition.
The final night got off to an auspicious start in the curry house we frequent every year. The onion bhajis were cold and given a recent survey which discovered a quarter of take-away food contains little or none of the advertised meat, I was giving my chicken jalfrezi a questioning look. In the end, I wasn’t surprised that I needed a few comfort breaks but we were in The Walkabout and it was Happy Hour. The toilets were like something out of Apocalypse Now.
The floors were covered in piss, the handwash dispenser looked like it was last serviceable in 1978 and you could hear retching noises from the cubicles, while concerned friends hovered outside, saying “It’s alright mate, let it all out”. From inside you could hear the distant strains of an MC saying “If you buy a £5.95 jug of Sex On The Beach, you’ll get ten free shots”, heralding a tsunami of business at the bar, making returning from the bogs like rowing upstream.
Then there was another shout out from the MC. “Have we got any alcoholics in the house tonight?” A massive cheer went up, akin to what you might find at Hillsborough after Sheffield Wednesday score a goal. And there you have it. A load of softy southerners taking on the northerners and – to a greater or lesser extent – coming off second best. But let it not be said we can’t create mythologies. Jamie’s battered hand, Tony’s swollen tree stump of a limb, the stone cold bhajis and ensuing toilet stops. They will be talked about in years to come. You might as well make your Greatest Hits worth the title.