I hadn't been drinking in Turnpike Lane for over 20 years and the odd time I went there at the end of the 80s I'd have had so much beer that any attempt at memory retrieval would have been pointless. But an old friend of mine is about to leave town and although we normally meet in The Sailsbury, now and then we like to sup beer in far flung places. Like Turnpike Lane.
We'd arranged to meet up somewhere to catch the 2nd half of the Europa Cup final between Fulham and Atletico Madrid. Things didn't look good when I arrived to find various outsized flags of St George on the outside of the building. Usually this a clear sign of a dodgy boozer. But the Westbury had a strangely mild atmosphere, more like the kind of place you'd find in a provincial market town. A mild disappointment was the lack of cask ales but the Guinness turned out to be rather good. Another let down was the last minute goal scored in extra time by Madrid. Now the Westbury was officially an unlucky pub.
By now my full-naval-issue Stoke Newington Dad beard was starting to annoy me – more of the Guinness was ending up caught in the bristles around my mouth and I vowed to shave soon. My mate then told me about the lovely suburban house he and his family would soon be moving to and I silently mourned the upcoming loss of yet another drinking partner. We supped up sadly and jumped on a southbound 141.
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.
Winter is closing in. The tits in our back garden have almost run out of nuts and the mice are so starving they’ve taken to eating from the box of mouse poison that’s been in the cupboard under the sink for the last year. It always gets cold in the days just after Christmas. Which is why I haven’t left the house all day.
My friend Mark phoned and asked if I was doing anything tonight.
No, I said.
Fancy going to see Arsenal v Portsmouth.
No, I said.
Er, OK then. Bye.
Instead I cracked open some beers and watched telly with my wife. There was one chocolate left from the really fancy box and I said she could have it.
Back home to the sticks to watch it in a crowded smoky East Midlands pub. I’m stood next to a scouser and we get into one of those Glanevillesque conversations about history, technique and tactics. He seems like a reasonable fellow and I buy him a pint. As the pints flow, he starts to take the existence of David Seaman and the Neville brothers as a personal affront.
In the second half some younger lads come in and slightly obscure his view of the big screen. Words are spoken. It looks like it’s going to kick off. I try to calm him down, explaining that it’s only a friendly and not worht getting too upset about. He gives me a look of withering contempt and spits “It’s football. It’s ALL important.” Then goes to stand at the bar with his mates.
1-1. England were ploddy and Brazil having a laugh.