Blogz In The Hood

Cast your minds back to 1984 (the year, not the novel by George Orwell).

Indira Ghandi – who remains the only female Prime Minister of India (to date) – was assassinated, the Grand Hotel in Brighton was bombed, and George Michael released ‘Careless Whisper’.

But it wasn’t all tragic news. In the same year, the Macintosh computer was released, the first solo transatlantic flight took place, and some of the biggest artists in the World gathered together to record ‘Do They Know It’s Christmas?’, raising £8m to help relieve famine in Ethiopia.

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Oh, and a pale, skinny, dark-haired little boy from Cheshire started primary school.

Of course, I’m assuming most of you reading this will recall 1984 (the year, not the novel by George Orwell), because, even though many of my followers were not yet sperm floating around inside their father’s man-plums at the time, it tends to be the more ‘mature’ among you who go to the trouble of reading this weekly blog.

I suspect this is because those of us with a few years under our belts have nothing better to do of a Friday, while the younger generation seem more than content with the shorter quips I post on my Facebook page (particularly those with pictures), and prefer to spend their spare time hanging around in car parks wearing hoodies, sexting each other, or playing ‘Candy Crush’ on their phones.

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Ok, perhaps that’s a sweeping generalisation (it definitely is, I haven’t the first clue what the ‘yoof’ get up to these days), and I am happy to be proven wrong, but I still fear that my early mention of 1984 (the year, not the novel by George Orwell) will have immediately lost some of my younger fans, so let’s fast-forward to something a little more recent, shall we?

1989 (the year, not the album by Taylor Swift).

By 1989, that pale, skinny, dark-haired lad was also bespectacled (as if he didn’t have enough on his nerdy little plate), and in September started his penultimate year at that same Primary School, before heading into the much wider world of secondary education in 1991. Little did the world know at the time, but that young man would one day become the sixth most popular blogger in the whole of Sandbach.

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(NB: for anyone who hasn’t realised it yet, that young boy was me – although, if that did come as a surprise, perhaps you might prefer something a little less challenging than reading this week’s blog, as there are some big words coming up, and I fear you may struggle).

Anyway, due to the diminutive (see?) size of my primary school, the years were merged into joint classes, so the ‘Year 4/5’ room actually contained around a dozen children who were one academic year younger than the rest of us (but who were judged to be bright enough to keep up), along with another lad who joined the school having moved into the area from down south. And that lad, together with one of the younger pupils, became two of my very best – and now oldest – friends.

Indeed, it was only a month or so ago that we realised September 2019 marked three decades of us being mates, so we decided to honour the occasion by meeting up in the village where we went to school (and, rather conveniently for me, where I now commute to work), so we could reminisce and – more importantly – get pissed.

Obviously it would have been preferable to have met up on the exact anniversary of our friendship, but aside from the fact none of us could work out precisely when that was, and it made more sense to go drinking on a Friday anyway, the main hurdle was that one of our trio (known as ‘Golden Boy’, ever since I labelled him with that nickname back in the ’90s), is harder to organise than Brexit.

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Anyway, after weeks of diary checking on his part, ‘Golden Boy’ finally confirmed that he was also available to meet up last Friday, and the date was set. Our other friend, who we shall simply refer to as ‘Tim’ (for that’s his name) was already on annual leave that day, so I booked the afternoon off in order that we could start drinking earlier.

And, because at least two of us were now available to meet mid-afternoon, I decided to contact our old school, on the off chance they may allow us in for a little nosy around after all this time. Sure enough, I got an e-mail back the same day from someone in the office called Sarah, who confirmed that a tour would be possible, so long as we arrived by no later than 4.30pm (because all primary school staff are ruined by that time on a Friday, and desperately need to return home, to get drunk and cry themselves to sleep in a darkened room*).

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*I imagine.

I therefore arranged to meet Tim outside our old gates at 4pm, and shortly beforehand set off to re-trace my childhood walk to school, which I had done most days through the mid-to-late 1980’s.

On my way there, I decided it would be courteous to phone the school to remind them that we would be dropping by, and when a female voice answered I assumed it was the Sarah I had swapped e-mails with the week before. Only, it turned out to be someone else, so I began explaining why I was calling:

‘Ah, ok, sorry. Basically, my friend and I are meeting up this afternoon, as we’ve realised it’s thirty years since we first became friends, and we were hoping to have a look around our old primary school to see how much it has changed.’

‘Oh, yes, Sarah did mention it. That’s no problem, just come to reception when you arrive. Sarah is still here, but she’s had to go to the main gate as we’ve had… erm…. a bit of an incident.’

It was at this point, as my thoughts clicked into place, I had a sneaking suspicion I knew what that incident might be, as I had arranged to meet my now forty-year-old mate outside the gates to a primary school, and I suddenly realised that this could look potentially, well, dodgy as fuck.

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I restrained myself from asking ‘would the incident happen to be about 5’5” tall, with dark hair and stubble?’ and merely confirmed that I would be arriving in around five minutes. Sure enough, when I got to the gate, there was my friend Tim, who nervously grinned and said ‘You’ll never guess what’s just happened to me!’

‘Oh, I think I can guess. Have you just been accused of hanging around outside a primary school, by any chance?!’

‘How did you know?!’

‘Because you’re hanging around outside a fucking primary school, mate.’

I went on to tell him about my conversation with the office, and Tim explained that he had indeed been challenged by a few members of staff, including Sarah, who were understandably concerned about reports – one of which from a young girl – about a strange man hanging around outside the gates.

Thankfully, Tim had quickly told them why he was there, Sarah had remembered our earlier e-mail exchange, and had cancelled the local police from arriving to escort Tim to a cell for the night (joke, I don’t think the police had actually been called by that point).

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We then went to reception, where it would be fair to say Sarah wasn’t seeing the funny side of the altercation, and it was left to her colleague to show us around instead.

Despite the intervening three decades, the school looked remarkably similar, if a little smaller than we had remembered, but that’s perhaps because at least one of us has grown a lot taller since then (NB: it’s not Tim), and I was especially pleased to note that our old brown and gold uniform had finally been replaced by a much more appealing burgundy instead, so at least future generations no longer have to suffer the wardrobe embarrassment myself and my peers went through all those years ago.

In fact, my mum had managed to find some of my old school photos, so I showed these to the lady from the office, although she was understandably apathetic (I’m not sure why I expected her to be impressed, to be honest), and she merely smiled politely.

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Note: If you can spot me, that’s a shadow behind my head, not a mullet.

She did, however, explain that one of the dinner ladies still worked at the school three decades on, and actually remembered us (which should have been heart-warming to hear, but only made me realise that the office had clearly asked around to verify Tim and I were genuine, and not a pair of deviant sexual predators, before agreeing to our visit).

Anyway, after a brief tour – which, in fairness, was only brief because the school is so small – we thanked our host for her hospitality, and set off to get as drunk as is humanly possible for two middle-aged men.

Having learned that Golden Boy was running ‘a little late’ (which shocked no one), Tim and I devised a wager on our friend’s actual arrival time – bearing in mind the original plan had been for us all to meet outside the school at 4pm – with the forfeit being a shot of something unpleasant for the loser.

Needless to say, I won the bet – albeit only by a few minutes – when Golden Boy eventually arrived shortly after 6.30pm, but Tim’s forfeit of downing a Jagerbomb (on top of the several pints we had already consumed), somehow ended up involving me having two Jagerbombs – as I happen to enjoy them very much.

From that point on, it was a slippery slope, and I ended up crawling back to my Mum’s house shortly after 1.30am (if you are under thirty and reading this, that’s fucking late for us middle-aged folk, ok?) and felt incredibly rough the next day.

Still, a good night was had by all, and it’ll be our forty-year reunion before we know it.

Thanks for reading x

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The Blog and White Army

I’m going to pre-empt this week’s entry with a warning that it is admittedly about football – specifically my team, Stockport County – but I suspect (hope) those of you who don’t follow or like football will still enjoy it.

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My main reasons for that assumption are as follows:

  1. The fact it is about my beloved ‘Hatters’ (Stockport County’s nickname) is all rather incidental, as it is mostly about the loving bond I share with my eldest son, Ollie (and any blog entries about my boys always prove to be more popular);
  2. I posted a ‘short version’ of last weekend’s events on my Facebook page, and at the time of writing it has attracted just under one hundred ‘reactions’, with more than a third of those being ‘love’ emojis. It is rare for anything I post on Facebook to attract so much ‘love’ (but, in fairness, that’s usually because it is either rude, sweary, or because my followers are too busy laughing at my latest embarrassment);

Besides, Isaac has had an uncharacteristically quiet week (by his standards), and not much else has happened in my life, so unless you want to read a blog entry about a group of friends baking a cake (which was, admittedly, huge and brightly coloured – see below), or me taking Isaac swimming last Sunday, then it’s tough shit, I’m afraid.

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Anyway, I shall keep the football element of this week’s entry to a minimum, by providing the following whistle-stop tour of the last decade or so supporting Stockport County:

  • May 2008 – promoted to League One (the third level of English football), at Wembley. This remains, after our wedding day, and the birth of our two sons, the fourth happiest day of my life (so far);
  • Soon after, the club’s financial difficulties were revealed (at the time we were owned by, and being run by, utter dickheads);
  • Despite our total debts amounting to roughly what a premier league footballer might spend on a pair of pants, County were placed into Administration in April 2009, and very nearly ceased to exist all together;
  • We were promptly relegated back down to League Two; and then, in April 2011, our 106-year stint in the football league came to an abrupt end, as we were relegated into the ‘non-league’ for the first time in our history;
  • Just when County fans didn’t think our fortunes could possibly get any worse, after more atrocious ownership decisions and piss-poor management, in April 2013 we were relegated yet again, this time to the sixth tier of English football. We remained there, playing regional football, until last Saturday.

Now, because our demise into non-league football had become inevitable by Easter 2011, and because I was determined Ollie’s first County match would not be against some ‘poxy non-league side’ (I didn’t realise at the time how bad things were really going to get, and how good some of the sides down there are), his first visit to Edgeley Park took place on Easter Monday (25th April) 2011 – when he was just eleven months old.

Obviously I didn’t expect Ollie to understand what was going on  at the time, but ever since I had found out I was going to be a father, I had looked forward to taking my son or daughter to Edgeley Park for the very first time; I just never expected it to be the match which effectively (if not mathematically), sealed our fate, and relegated us out of the league for the first time in more than a century. To say I had mixed emotions that day, would be a massive fucking understatement.

In truth, it took Ollie a few seasons before he actually started to enjoy coming to County with me (a rucksack filled with snacks often helped pass the time for him); but then, prior to the start of the 2016-17 campaign, I purchased season tickets for the two of us, and we have been in the same seats ever since.

As his love for football grew, I started to worry that he might be tempted to switch allegiances to one of County’s more successful neighbours down the road in Manchester, but I have thankfully never had to carry out my threat of chucking him out of the house on his arse, because he has not once shown any interest in supporting either Uni*ed or C*ty (I may swear occasionally in my blog, but there’s no fucking way I’m typing either of their names in full). Ollie has remained a proud ‘Hatter’ ever since.

It would be fair to say County’s fortunes over the period of Ollie’s support have ranged from ‘disappointing’ to ‘utterly shit’ (and a wide spectrum of brown shades in between), yet not once has his allegiance faltered. It would have been so easy for him to succumb to the temptation of supporting a more successful team, as so many of his friends at school do, but he has always proudly boasted about his love for County, often in the face of derision and laughter. In fact, one of my proudest moments as a father, is when he encountered a young Manchester Uni*ed fan on a visit to the National Football Museum when he was five, and explained to them why their life choices were so regrettable.

As a result, when County won automatic promotion to the dizzy heights of the fifth tier of English football last Saturday afternoon, I had decided to reward Ollie for his loyalty by taking him to the end of season awards dinner at Edgeley Park.

I have been to this event a few times myself over the years, and have usually ended up quite drunk (I once – rather embarrassingly – drew up a contract on a napkin, to try and ‘sign’ a County striker for our five-a-side team, explaining that I was a ‘proper lawyer’, and would hunt him down like a dog if he didn’t show up for the tournament we had entered the following day), but I had previously agreed to take Ollie once he was a little older, and this seemed the perfect season to make good on my promise.

So, with promotion to the National League secured shortly before 5pm last Saturday, Ollie and I donned some smart clothes, and caught a train from Sandbach to Stockport. To say he was excited would be an understatement.

Fortunately, the fancy two-course meal was something he was willing to try (even though I ended up devouring his dessert, as well as my own, because ‘there’s some red stuff on it’ – a berry compote), and since we had a lazy Sunday planned the following day, the prospect of him getting to bed well after midnight thankfully wasn’t too much of an issue.

Which was for the best, because County’s final match of the season had been away at Nuneaton, and because the result meant we were crowned champions, the players had to wait to be awarded the trophy in front of our 3,500 traveling fans, meaning they were delayed heading back to Stockport. So late, in fact, that Ollie and I were the sole occupants of Table 17 for at least an hour, and dinner wasn’t served until 9.45pm, by which point I honestly thought Ollie was going to pass out from hunger.

The consequence of dinner being so late, was that the awards themselves went on until nearly 11pm, and I knew we had to leave Edgeley Park soon after 11.30pm to catch our final train home, which meant Ollie had very little time to meet the players for autographs.

Thankfully, he had already met many of the squad last season when he was mascot for the day, and he had memorised a list of the signatures he still needed in his autograph book, so we focused on those players and managed to collect all but a couple.

Better still, as we were due to leave, we spotted County’s Manager, Jim Gannon, holding the champions trophy County had been presented at Nuneaton a few hours earlier, and we managed to nip in for a very quick photograph. It just so happened to be one of the best photographs I have ever taken:

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Then it really was time to go, but thankfully – apart from a few players we hadn’t been able to catch for signatures – the night was winding down anyway, and Ollie was utterly euphoric (if a little knackered). So much so, as we got on our last train home to Sandbach shortly after midnight, he turned to me and said “This is the best night of my life! It doesn’t get any better than this!”

And, as I explained on my Facebook page last weekend, those few words made it one of the best nights of my life too.

Thanks for reading, and I promise next week’s entry won’t be about football x

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