Searching for chips in the Highbury Vale Fog (Arsenal v Steaua Bucharest)

It was a midweek night and I was waiting at a Green Lanes bus stop for a 341 or 141 to take me up to the Salisbury for a few beers. The fog around Clissold Park had been collecting all afternoon and now lay in a  thick band over the little river valley that was the former course of the Hackney Brook. All of a sudden there was no traffic. No cars, buses or cyclists. Had everyone decided to watch Arsenal v Steaua Bucharest on the telly? After what seemed about half an hour but was probably 20 seconds, a white van steamed past seemingly anxious to get into more normal territory.

I’d seen some of the Steaua players earlier in the day, sauntering around Oxford Street in their smart tracksuits and pointing out their favourite Christmas window displays. "Good luck tonight," I said.

     "Ah, you must be a Tottenham fan!" smiled one (he looked like the midfield general).

     "No, I’m not. I said ‘good luck’ from the perspective of a neutral who wishes you to enjoy the atmosphere of the Greater Blackstock Road area. I hope you have a good experience and possibly go for chips afterwards. I don’t care about the result."

But they’d already stopped listening. I have that effect on professional footballers. Like the time I got Bob Wilson’s autograph when he came to my home town in the mid 70s and I wanted to know why he didn’t play against Leeds in the 1972 Cup Final but he was looking away, off into the mid-distance at Arthur’s Tuck Shop at the edge of the market place (though it was actually owned at that stage by Derek Marwood who possibly had kept the ‘Arthur’ sign up for a bit in the hope of getting some ‘goodwill passing trade’).

It was about 20 minutes later that a 341 appeared. The driver looked nervous. Clissold Park had almost disappeared. Green Lanes no longer seemed part of a city. The bus sped up the slope towards Manor House – then after the crossroads we slowed down as if the driver knew he was in familiar territory. At the Salisbury the London Pride was off and the gents toilets weren’t open. The silent TV on the wall played a tape loop of Vladimir Putin sitting down at a table before at last the football results came in. In the end I hoped that the Steaua players had gone back to their hotel for Bells whisky miniatures, rather than searching for chips in the Highbury Vale fog.

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