You know how, as you get older, you accumulate memories of seconds, hours, days, weeks, months or even decades when you would probably have preferred not to have been there, on mature reflection? They seemed like fun at the time but they might not have been such a good idea when you think back on it?
At 9.05 am on Friday 3rd June 1977, I was toying with a particularly tedious Note on Title and looking forward to 5pm and the weekend when a Partner stuck his head round the door and said:-
‘Could you use six tickets for Wembley tomorrow?’
To explain, our firm represented possibly the best football team in the world and said Partner was a Director. He knew that I was the one true fan, home and away. in the firm. The tickets had ben returned that morning and he gave me first crack at them.
To further explain, a trip to the Great Wen to watch England v Scotland in the Home International Championship was a rite of passage for any self-respecting, football-crazy Jock. Tickets were like gold dust and people saved up for two years to fund the Caledonian equivalent of going on the Haj. Going on the raj* might be a good description.
He agreed that I could take the day off and I started phoning. Two hours later, I was barrelling down the A1 with four fellow Hearts supporters who kept demanding to see the tickets just to check that it was not all a dream. All students and and a lot younger than me because no-one of my own age had been able to swing the day off work at such short notice. I am still haunted by the memory of grown men sobbing down the telephone as they turned down my offer.
Barrelled on and got to Lunnon early evening. Mrs M, who had been in that post for three years by then, had phoned ahead and had arranged accommodation for me with one of our Uni of Embra friends. The boys had absolutely no idea where they were going to sleep and Ginny, quite rightly, did not seem keen on having the whole clamjamfry+ descending on her bedsit. I drove them to Covent Garden and showed them the pub where we were to meet on the morn for the game. Went off to Barnes and spent a pleasant evening with Ginny.
You’ll have spotted the Covent Garden reference, so it was very early the next morning that I got to the pub. All four boys eventually dribbled in, looking a wee thing worse for wear. After they had exhausted the last drinking opportunity that they could find, two of them had spent the night going around the Circle Line until it closed . Then, they got into Green Park and found a large tent. They crawled into it only to be woken next morning by the Polis – it was the assembly point for the Metropolitan Police presence at the game. They got let off with a warning, bacon rolls and mugs of coffee.
The other two have no clear memory to this day of where they spent that night. They claim!
Anyhow, moving on, I felt that I was in loco parentis to the boys and spent the next few hours drinking hardly anything alcoholic and watching my fellow Jocks getting tanked up for the game. The pub and the surrounding streets were swarming with us. At one point I went for a walk just to relieve the tedium of sobriety. An abiding and slightly embarrassing memory is of a coachload of French schoolgirls inching its way along Jermyn Street as a throng of amiably-blootered Tartan Army footsoldiers serenaded it with ‘Voulez vous coucher avec moi (ce soir)?’
I also strolled past the entrance to The Albany, where the Blasted Ted Heath lived at the time. I remember wondering if I could round up a gaggle of inebriated Jocks and persuade them to have a mass vomit/piss-in on his doorstep. Ah, the sweet speculations of youth!
Back to the pub and chatting to a Weegie who was slumped at the bar and who told me his tale. Worked in a toolshop with five others. They all paid into a weekly club to fund the biennial trip to Wembley. The deal was that they held a lottery to decide who stayed behind to man the fort when the rest of them took the week off. The ‘winner’ got his money back and his mates would bring him back a souvenir programme. He had ‘won’ the lottery that year.
On the Wednesday he had cracked and had told his boss to stuff the job. Arriving in London on the Thursday, he had met up with his workmates but had got detached in Soho and had spent the night on a park bench because he did not know the name and address of the hotel where the touring party was staying.
Reunited and redetached on the Friday. His room mate had gone back early and had taken the key to the hotel with him. By the time he got there, it was in darkness and he could not rouse anybody. He spent his second night on a park bench.
‘So, here I am, pal! Jobless, sair back, cannae find my mates and I hav’nae even got a bloody ticket. Wouldn’t miss a’ this for the world. Pure magic.’
I learnt how the Good Samaritan must have felt by selling him the Sixth Ticket.
On to the North Circular Road, abandoned the car at Sudbury and marched down Wembley Way with the tartan horde. Nary a Southron in sight. Then, we only went and gubbed them 2-1!
We all knew that they were going to dig up and relay the pitch after the game anyway so a few of the lads went on to help the authorities by doing the digging-up bit. I will admit that they got a bit carried away and helped themselves to the goalposts as well but all that I saw that day was good-natured exuberance and celebration of one of the rare occasions when we won at Wembley.
Back to Sudbury and standing in the car park of ‘The Rising Sun’ waiting for it to open. About 30 Sweaties and the landlord was proving reluctant to let us in when a battered white van screeched round the corner on two wheels. Out tumbled eight locals and regulars who had not been at the game but who had won a substantial amount of money by betting on ‘the f***ing Jocks’ to win. They persuaded the landlord to let us all in on our promise of good behaviour.
Now, we had chosen the pub at random and because of its proximity to the afore-mentioned abandoned car. The intention was to have a couple of pints and then do a Bonnie Prince Charlie and start the long retreat northwards. What we did not know was the pub was home to this boy.
We were there until closing time and I grew soberer and soberer in a deepening sea of drunks. Unforgettable evening ending in a massed, scarf-waving rendition of ‘Only Make Believe’.
Northwards it eventually was. About 7 am on the Sunday and listening to the radio, we discovered that we had not been part of a good-humoured visit to our English kith and kin to celebrate one of the great sporting events and links that tied us together as Britons. We were, in fact, a bunch of drink-crazed hooligans who had terrorised London and had brought shame to the good name of Scotia.
Well, the phrase about being hung for a sheep rather than a lamb came to mind and we pulled over to the hard shoulder just north of Birmingham to dig up a large piece of the verge. We trimmed it with a pair of nail scissors. One of the boys was all for putting some toothpaste on it so that we could claim it was one of the penalty spots but the rest of us agreed that was taking things a bit far.
In those far-off days, Scotland still thirsted under the ‘bona fide traveller’ rule on the Sabbath. Basically, all the pubs were closed and hotels could only serve you alcohol if you could prove that you were on a journey and required sustenance and refreshment. Which we were and did.
We got to Chic Murray’s hotel in Bruntsfield, Embra about 1 pm. Having left the car with Mrs M, I was finally able to get a decent amount of drink. The great man himself was at the bar and was very impressed by our bits of turf.
My moral compass started to kick in and I was feeling a bit guilty about claiming to have gone on the pitch. I gave my bit of Midland roadside grass to a regular. It worries me that he might be lovingly tending that piece of ersatz Wembley turf to this day.
* a Scots slang word which means going a wee bit pure mental.
+ gang, group, gaggle, mess.