Wednesday, March 31, 2010

A life in Liverpool matches: number 1: Liverpool 7 Tottenham Hotspur 0, September 1978

My first game. And what a game. In the canon of great Reds matches, it’s up there with Rome, with Paris, with 5-0 against Forest and slotting four past FC Lowry Centre and their go-the-game-on-a-penny-farthing fans last year. It’s the B-side of Abbey Road, the last episode of the second series of The Sopranos, the date that ends up with you being invited back for coffee. It’s Liverpool FC at their height, the team from your town, an institution every bit as famous as The Beatles, annihilating everything in its path. This is that team at its absolute zenith.

And I, aged just six years old, am there to see it.

Whether it’s the first gig you go to (Adam & The Ants at Deeside, 1981, in my case), the first single you buy (Adam again – Stand & Deliver), we men – and for the most part, it men we’re talking about here – construct personal histories that paint us in the best possible light. The opening of your LFC account is important. You can’t lie about it, so it needs to be special. Your first game was at home to Bradford City in the first found of the Milk Cup? No one’s interested. But the 7-0? Ah, now you’re talking…

So I’ll be truthful here. I’ve dined out on this game for years. Drunk rounds bought for me by younger fans in awe of One Who Was There, replayed YouTube clips of goal and basked in the humiliation of Ardiles and Villa in their first match on English soil. Who could forget those moments?

Well, me, for one.

The events I can recall from that day aren’t the things you’d expect. It’s only now, thanks to the internet, that I can see the beauty of McDermott’s header or the lightning pace of Steve Heighway making the left wing a personal fiefdom.

Instead, I remember other things, snapshots, glances: the silhouettes of people against the windows at the back of the Kop and the swaying, hazy mass below with its scarves, its banners held aloft; The startlingly young-looking Steve Perryman squinting out from the pages of the programme – how old was he? Twenty-six? He looked about eight; The walk from Kirkdale station, up the alleys to the hulking mass at the top of the hill; The entrance to the Paddock somewhere under the Main Stand – 45 pence for me, 90 for my dad; Getting lifted by older fellas to the front so I could see the match, everyone looking out for this kid at his first game. And finally, the cameraman wedged inbetween us all, headphones clamped to his ear, light blue, short-sleeved stretched shirt over his big, blokey frame.

“Can I have a look through your camera, please?”

I was always cheeky.

“”Course you can, son.”

I lifted myself up and squinted into the viewfinder.

“It’s in black and white”
“It is, yeah.”

I was flabbergasted. All that equipment and they couldn’t even afford a colour telly! I wouldn’t be this disappointed again until I found “Father Christmas” putting my Liverpool kit over the end of the bed wearing a blue dressing gown and ’70s comb-over. I asked him why. He told me. I instantly forgot what he said, but I can still see those little black and white figures running about on that screen, another memory of that unforgettable forgettable day.

None of this should surprise us. As we get older, it’s the little things that linger, no matter how big the event. Going to football matches isn’t just about seeing the great players score great goals – those moments largely fade away – it’s about the ordinary stuff: finding a spec on a floodlight at Coventry, getting bombarded with abuse by a pensioner at Old Trafford, falling asleep standing up in the Kop because you’ve been awake all night. It’s about things you don’t want to forget because they remind you of who you are.

And that six-year-old boy, with the good fortune to be growing up just a few miles from the most famous football team in Europe was put on a journey that day, one I’m still on – though the ride’s been a little bumpy of late. And yet this journey is one I have to see through to the end, wherever – or whatever – that end is. And the memories I’m making are in widescreen, three-dimensional Technicolour.

Nothing like that TV camera at all then.

Written for Well Red magazine, out now

Saturday, March 27, 2010

6am: London belongs to me…

My eyes sting. Behind each one, there’s this slight ache, the ache I always get when I’ve not had enough sleep. I’ve been awake since 4.30, but now, an hour a half later, the capital is lit up with the early morning sun, the glass of the east-facing buildings golden with reflected light. I’m not ready to go back to bed quite just yet.

Up here, above King’s Cross, the city stretches out before me. Though the roads are hidden behind houses and office blocks, I can hear the early morning traffic: buses carrying people to work (or back home), motorbikes noisily accelerating from unseen junctions and cars speeding along Pentonville Road, their drivers making quick progress through the empty streets for once. You can tell it’s not a weekday.

Saturday is always a day of possibilities. Already, at this early hour, there’ll be kids waking up with the thought of trips to the baths or 10am football matches, dads packing stuff (tents, balls, blankets) into the back of cars for trips to who-knows-where and mums feigning sleep, praying they’ll be allowed the luxury of at least another hour in bed.

Back here, my eyes are still stinging and I’m not sure I can ignore the veil of sleep that’s slowly being drawn over my head. I’ll take one more look at St Pancras and the BT Tower, and head back to bed, where my wife is happily asleep, unaware that I’m lying on the couch writing this. I’ll draw the quilt back and sink into the mattress’ embrace, careful not to wake the lady – an unforgivable offence in her book. Shh.

One more glance outside then. No doubt about it, today’s coming, but for now, it can wait.

Friday, March 19, 2010

Berlin – the city they forgot to finish

Most big cities have a trendy quarter, or more accurately a place where privileged arty types can take over and price the locals out. In Paris it’s Belleville, in London, Hoxton’s been a magnet for posers since the early 1990s and even Palma, Mallorca, has (the admittedly fantastic) Santa Catalina and its collection of arty cafes (ie ones with blackboards on the wall). But after visiting Berlin last week I can categorically say that the German capital knocks all pretenders to the cool throne into a cocked hat. Simply put, every part of Berlin is trendy – even Wedding, which looks like the Shankill Road’s rougher cousin.

It takes a while to work out the city out, but it basically follows the pattern of London: Prenzlauer Berg in the north/north east is Hoxton/Islington; Mitte is the West End/City; Unter Den Linden might as well be Piccadilly, while Kurfestendamm feels likes a scruffier version of Knightsbridge, largely thanks to the magnificent KaDeWe department store and its sumptuous food department on the sixth floor.

As you might imagine, they’re big on the Wall in Berlin. In fact, the further in time we get away from the DDR, so the more the city celebrates the fact there was a big wall dividing the Coca Cola-drinking, Levi’s-wearing cool cats in the West, and the turnip-eaters in the East. Within five years there’ll be a musical about the Stasi or a pantomime based on Erich Honicker’s favourite interrogation methods.

The city is, understandably, more reticent on those troublesome Nazi years, and has still failed to address what happened here up to 1945. There is no faff-about museum for the Third Reich like there is for East Germany, and the terror that was both inflicted on – and by – the people of this town 70 years ago has largely been put in a locked cupboard somewhere in the hope that no-one will ever find it. Even the slightly bewildering Holocaust Memorial is used by insensitive imbeciles as a place to run about with their kids in.

Despite this gripe, Berlin is a brilliant city – a proper, enormous metropolis with miles and miles of suburbs and a mighty centre. It’s not pretty, doesn’t really fit together and, like Barcelona, is in danger of becoming a bit too pleased with itself. But with a huge amount of eating places, smoke-filled boozers and an iconic transport system, it has everything I like about urban living. Imagine how good it’ll be when it’s finished.

Monday, March 15, 2010

80s Casuals: the book

When I was pestering my long suffering parents for various bits of overpriced Italian leasurewear in the mid 1980s, I never for one minute ever imagined that 25 years later I’d be drooling over those same items in a glossy coffee table book. But, as 80 Casuals demonstrates, life’s funny like that.

Written by Dave Hewitson and Jay Montessori, this lovingly put-together book (and you can tell, that for men of a certain age, they like their subject more than is necessarily healthy) is crammed full of arty photos of trainers, tracksuits and jumpers from this oft-forgotten movement. Phil Thornton, author of the peerless Casuals, believes “this thing of ours“ is the most overlooked of all the post-war cults. He is right and that’s largely due to the fact that the London fashion magazines of the time didn’t understand something that started outside the capital and whose adherents hadn’t studied at Central St Martin’s college. Despite everything that’s happened since, that situation, sadly, remains the same.

Find out more from the 80s Casuals website.

Friday, March 12, 2010

The beauty of the Leica Mini

Photographer Terry Richardson, he of the long sideburns, bad dress sense and unfathomable attractiveness to supermodels, is famous for using a Yashica T5, a seemingly ordinary ’80s camera that produces outstanding images thanks to its ace lens (apparently).

So, when I saw this exceedingly retro-looking Leica Mini in the big Oxfam on Liverpool’s Bold Street last week, I got the familiar nagging feeling. The one that goes, “If you don’t buy this, you will regret it forever.” This, like the Yashica, could be an undiscovered treasure.

Even though it may be a long-forgotten model, it is a Leica and there’s something utterly bewitching about that little red logo. It’s also nice to have a 35mm camera again, and with that Leica lens, it should produce brilliant, high clarity images. But what gets me, what had me at hello, is the way it looks.

Ultimately (and this says a lot about me) I don’t care that much about the quality of the pictures I get out of the camera. What makes me glad that I handed over fifty quid is its beauty as a piece of late 20th Century design. The curved corners, double flash, logo and the glorious none-more-’80s box make this something I want to show off, display, tell people about. It makes me feel good for being smart enough to pluck it from the cabinet of a charity shop.

All I need now are the adoring supermodels.

Thursday, March 04, 2010

Eight things that will happen in the build up to the World Cup

Wayne Rooney will break his ankle in a friendly against Oman. However, Dean Windass will be confirmed as fully fit

The BBC will run numerous scare stories about stadiums not being completed in time for the World Cup. In each one, the concerned reporter will be wearing a yellow hard hat, proving it’s the first time he’s been near a building site in his life

A fat man from the midlands will be pictured on the front of the Daily Star covered in blood after a “quiet pint” in Johannesburg gets a bit out of hand

On the day of England’s first match, the TV news will focus on a bar in Glasgow with several kilted men in Germany or Argentina tops singing Flower of Scotland

Every office will get a World Cup wallchart. Not one will complete it

At least half of the adverts on TV will feature a man in an ordinary situation suddenly celebrating in the manner of Fabrizio Ravanelli, while a jobbing actor dressed as John Motson “commentates” on him

The banner-makers of England will be inundated with requests for personalized St George cross flags from such soccer hotbeds as Bury St Edmonds and Dorchester

The Economist
will run a story about South Africa’s prostitutes cashing in on the World Cup. The Daily Star will run virtually the same piece a day later – but with a picture of Makosi from Big Brother next to it with her breasts out

Tuesday, March 02, 2010

Fred Perry archive at Oki Ni

We all love a bit of Fred. And though, when I was growing up, the brand was relegated to the second division of labels by casual interlopers like Lacoste and Sergio Tacchini, the quality of its products – and the absolutely key role it’s played in developing British youth culture – has ensured its permanent place in the fashion hall of fame.

Trendy fashion vendors Oki Ni has put together a cracking archive of Fred Perry items on its website, including the brand’s collaborations with Paul Weller, Tootal, Commes Des Garçons and Raf Simons. There’s even a copy of the Sunday Times Magazine from 1964, in which the mod movement was highlighted for the first time. Smart.