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They stare at me, sombre-faced and disapproving
from their sepia prints in stained oak frames. Arms folded,
and sporting moustaches now seen only on pantomime villains,
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you just know their centre-partings
were bryl-cremed into place, while those boots,
tied around in three thick coils, must have been akin
to wading across No Man’s Land on a wet February afternoon.
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They stare at me, sombre-faced and disapproving,
but their voices speak of dignity and pride,
captured as they are with the Staffordshire Cup
or the Birmingham Senior Cup, resplendent in coloured ribbons,
gleaming at their feet; the date whitewashed
onto a brown leather ball held in the Captain’s hands.
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Their voices tell of the terraced houses they returned to,
after the fizz and bang of the shutter and the flash,
of the foundry, the mill and the colliery
come Monday morning; lunch wrapped neatly in a tea towel.
They tell of the hard days graft that had to be put in
before the day could be washed away in a tin bath
in front of a coal fire, before training could start
when limbs already ached.
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For a year I taught an old man some Shakespeare and poetry:
he’d been a sailor most of his life, and wanted to learn about
those things he never had at school. He’d put his glasses on to write
and rest the pen over the swallow tattoo between forefinger and thumb.
And, one time, he told me about how Ronnie Allen used to live
on his street and would stop his car
on the way to the match to give him a lift. A boy of ten
with England’s centre forward. That was when
they still lived on our street.