Thursday, May 27, 2010

A Life in Liverpool Matches, December 26, 1981
Liverpool 1 Manchester City 3

The tickets are light blue in colour. They sit on top of the gas fire, wedged to the wall by the heavy slate ashtray – an ashtray deemed too posh to be used for my mum’s discarded Silk Cuts. It is, as my Nan would say, “for best”.

Football, at least in our house, is following a similar pattern.

Forget paying on the gate, the 1980s, that decade of aspiration, sees me and the old man going to the game with ‘proper’ tickets. No longer willing to put up even with the gentle conditions of the Paddock terrace, Dad ensures our match days at Anfield are now spent in the cramped confines of the Kemlyn Road stand.

And being in the stands (where you sit, confusingly) means getting organized and buying your tickets in the week leading up to the game. My dad, a gentle Yorkshireman, who moved to Liverpool to teach geography in the late ’60s, is a world leader at being organized. The tickets have been in the house for two weeks already.

Of course, it being Boxing Day, my parents’ friends, most of them with names like Val, Keith, Gail and Dave, pop around for Boxing Day sherry, to talk about The State of The Country and That Bitch Thatcher (mum is quieter than ‘Red Gail’ on this subject). I’d find their adult chat boring enough (I’m only ten), but ever since the tickets were unveiled yesterday, my only thought has been Liverpool’s match with the less glamourous of the Manchesters. Sod the rest of Christmas.

By 12:30, I can tell the arl feller is shaping up to make his move. He’s fiddling with his cheesecloth shirt, checking his watch and making it clear, by the finality with which he closes the drinks cupboard, that the sherry (which only comes out at Christmas) will not be further depleted. I take the plunge and pick up the tickets, feel them in my fingers, flip them over and examine the little diagram of the ground on the back. Kemlyn. Road. Stand.

As I put these passports-to-joy back behind the ashtray, I see the stamp of fixture again: Liverpool versus Manchester City, kick-off 12.00pm.

Kick-off 12.00pm.

The game has already been on 30 minutes.

No, this can’t be right. Tell me, Dad, that this isn’t happening, that I’ve read it wrong, that the game between Liverpool and City is starting at 3pm. I hand him the tickets.

“It says the game’s already begun,” I blurt out. I’d cry if I was a couple of years younger.

He looks at the ticket. The conversation stops.

He studies the front of one, then shakes his head and sucks in some air in the manner of a plumber about to deliver an exorbitant quote.

“Sorry, son.”

We can still get to the game, of course – on a good day it’s only a 15-minute drive to Anfield, we’d be there for the last half hour if we get a move on. But even when I’m thinking this, I know that we’re not going anywhere. I kid myself that Bob Paisley will get a call from my Dad, telling him to stop the game, until we’ve made our way to the ground. But, alas, no – and soon the conversation has moved on, and the drinks cabinet has been opened once more. This is really (not) happening.

I’ll get this feeling several times over the following years. When Sharpe put us to the sword with his wonder goal in 1984, I was listening to it in the living room, the voice of Radio Merseyside’s Graham Beecroft’s (s)creaming in delight as Everton threw off the shackles of decades-long mediocrity. I’d still loved to have been at that one, just to see the idiot in the glasses run on to the pitch to hug his hero.

Then there was the ‘Battle of Goodison’, the FA Cup semi of 1985 against Man United, a game remembered as much for the war on the terraces as for the heart-stopping action on the pitch. A match you just had to be at.

I listened to it in a country lane halfway between Bickerstaffe and Kirkby.

Once you actually start attending matches, you realise that there’s nothing like being there. You kid yourself that the game cannot exist without you. It’s only as you get older, as you start to focus on other things – and maybe realise that most players look on their profession as just a job – that these moments get rarer, until for some people, missing the game doesn’t feel like missing out at all.

The loss against City was a hiccup in what was a near-faultless Championship-winning season for Liverpool. In the end, I accepted what had happened and took my disappointment like a man: by putting on my Liverpool tracksuit (Umbro, flared bottoms) and going out for a ride on my Grifter. As the Reds let in a third, Bob Paisley was no doubt thinking that he should have given my Dad a call. Big mistake, Bob, big mistake.

Originally in Well Red magazine, issue two out now

Thursday, May 20, 2010

Lamb’s Conduit Street: the perfect London thoroughfare

With the Premier League over and a lack of live football on the television, I was forced to actually do something with my Sunday, rather than sit back, eat ham and drive myself mad listening to Richard Keys and Andy Gray talk about zonal marking on The Last Word.

That something was a brilliant, lazy walk around Bloomsbury and Holborn, the former known for being the home of London’s university, the latter a quiet central neighbourhood that still retains a flavour of its past as a working class residential area.

Holborn’s greatest triumph is the exquisite Lamb’s Conduit Street, a north-to-south, mostly pedestrianised road, that boasts an unrivalled selection of independent shops. And, when I say “independent”, I don't just mean organic yoghurt shops set up by well-heeled Islingtonites as something to do with all the money they earned before the crash. I mean proper stores that actually sell stuff you want to buy.

Lamb’s Conduit Street boasts, amongst other things, a great bike shop, an old fashioned tailor and outlets for Oliver Spencer, One True Saxon and Folk, the Scottish/moddish gents’ outfitter. It’s also home to A France, the undertakers that brought the body of Nelson back from Trafalgar. And don’t forget The Lamb, an absolute cracker of a boozer, perfect for post-work pint and packet of cheese ’n’ onion McCoy’s. The very thought of it is making me feel all thirsty…

Nearest tubes are Holborn and Russell Square.

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Like Banksy? Try Vhis

These brilliant bits of street art from all over Europe come courtesy of Alexandre Farto aka Vhis. Represented by Steve Lazirides – the gallery owner who hooked up with Banksy years ago when Shoreditch was basically the Bricklayers’ Arms and the Blue Note – you can buy his printed work at the ever-ace Pictures on Walls. One to invest in.

Tip: Space Invading

Wednesday, May 05, 2010

It’s the match of the season! Sort of

Tonight, Manchester City take on Tottenham Hotspur in what’s been dubbed (by TV marketing men) The Battle For Fourth Place.

There’s a lot at stake. A lot. I know this, because the Daily Mirror and Sky and The Times tell me so. In fact there’s so much to play for that it threatens to engulf us all in a tsunami of football importance.

Except that there isn’t. Is there?

In the end, this is a match between two teams who weren’t good enough to maintain any sort of Premier League challenge. What exactly is there to celebrate? Entry to the qualification rounds of the Champions League? Big deal, City have more cash than any other club in the world, and with Harry and Daniel Levy in charge of the current account at White Hart Lane, Spurs are looking very healthy too. In fairness, Redknapp was gutted about missing out on the FA Cup – perhaps more than the bosses at the Premier League were altogether comfortable with.

What the hype surrounding this match demonstrates is that football celebrates failure. Or, more truthfully, it celebrates its continuing existence. The rewarding of baubles for “deferred success” keeps the fans of those clubs not good enough to do something as old fashioned as actually winning the league interested to the end.

It’s this thinking that has seen teams who’ll never claim the title resting players in competitions like the FA and UEFA Cups, because there’s a danger that actually winning something may spell the end of their precious tenure in Premier League. Bolton had a real chance to progress in the 2008 UEFA Cup, but were knocked out in the last 16 by Sporting Lisbon, because inspirational manager Gary Megson decided that Premier League survival was more important than capturing one of the world’s most prestigious trophies, and fielded a weakened side. They had to be ready for the next match, against Wigan, you see – a game they, er, lost 1-0.

It’s this lack of ambition that makes soccer so uninspiring. Football clubs are there to win things, not just to exist, hanging about, hoping they don’t get relegated. Do Bolton fans really care that they stayed up in 2008? It’s not as if getting promoted is a difficult task, as West Brom remind us every couple of years. But imagine if they’d won the UEFA Cup? Hell, The Reebok might have had an atmosphere for once.

So, tonight, when City kick-off against Spurs, excuse me if I’m not slavering with excitement. This is a match for the nearly-men of English football.

And remember this, if the Premier League programme is getting a bit hectic next season, whoever does qualify will only moan about playing too many games. They’ll no doubt field a weakened side – after all, it worked for Megson, didn’t it, Gary? Oh… hang on.

Monday, May 03, 2010

Leg of lamb… recreating a ’70s roast

1 dead sheep
1 SLR camera
1 retro filter program

Et voila! All you need now is a prawn cocktail starter, black forest gateaux, Songs of Praise on the telly and the advancing dread of school tomorrow.

Sunday, May 02, 2010

John Squire’s covers for Penguin Decades

The Stone Roses’ guitarist always seemed more comfortable with his role as a designer than a rock’n’roll axeman. And with a Roses’ reunion about as likely as Ian Brown getting a British Airways frequent flyer card, Squire is busying himself on other projects, including the work he’s been doing for Penguin’s Decades series.

The company has asked four artists to design covers for landmark novels of the ’50s, ’60s, ’70s and ’80s, with Peter Blake, Allen Jones and Zandra Rhodes joining Squire on design duties. All five have produced highly collectible pieces, but for me, it’s the work of the mop-topped Mancunian that shines brightest.

Still doesn’t excuse The Seahorses though.

Find out more about project here.

Tip: Creative Review