On the Friday night, I went to a Mods’ reunion,
Where Zoot Money sang “Barefootin”,
The ideal preparation for the next day’s journey
To commemorate the life of a man
Whose childhood would have been similarly unshod.
Part of my railway journey followed the railway lines
He would have taken after taking all that racial abuse,
The abuse he suffered at Ashton Gate before the Great War,
All those long years ago.
The sights you scan from a carriage window are different now of course,
Still some splashes of red brick, but also scrap metal yards
Full of cars, and next, out of town shopping malls,
And out of town sewage farms and water works,
The sorts of sights you expect to see
On a blank grey sky first round of the Cup
Typically November Saturday.
I reached Northampton at midday
And asked the way to the football ground,
“Which one mate? Rugby or football?”
(It’s not a reply I’ve ever heard before, I was shocked)
And “Welcome to the home of the Saints”
Is what the billboard said right outside the station,
In what seemed to be a home and homage to rugby,
But when I got to Sixfields, I knew differently.
Second hand programme sellers stood right outside the ground,
Their trestle tables making a neat rectangle,
While about 50 people gathered nearby,
At the Walter Tull Memorial,
Where the local MP, Chairman of the Board and supporters
Placed wreaths, and where poems were read,
Where a two minute silence was observed
And where “The Last Post” was played.
Just over the way stood oddly topped posts,
Ventilation posts letting fresh clean air circulate,
For the stadium surround has been built on an old rubbish tip,
And the area is full of subterranean gas,
An eerie reminder of the trenches and no mans’ land,
In an area opposite a Great War memorial.
Anyway, after a couple of pints,
We watched the players run out,
And a minute’s silence was observed for faithful Evelyn Smith,
Who tragically died just after the match at the Orient.
The large away contingent from Plymouth behaving impeccably,
And with shouts of “Come on Town”,
And “Argyle, Argyle”,
I sat and watched and saw again just what football means to communities,
(It was my first match for over a year)
I’d forgotten just how much it bonds and binds people together,
And when the game is played in the right spirit,
And each side compliments and complements the other,
Then each set of supporters makes the whole of the experience
Greater than the sum of its parts,
And it’s more than just a football match,
It’s thousands of people empathising one with another.
But you can’t trust the trains these days
And so I had to leave at half-time,
The taxi was late and I shivered in the unaccustomed easterly wind,
“Nothing on Skeggie” said the taxi driver,
“ I were in bloody Skegness last week,
Talk about bloody breezy,
Talk about bloody bracin’.”
That was the last conversation I had for a while,
Despite the delayed journey back,
(“We are sorry to announce that the train to Aberyswyth is cancelled”)
And it wasn’t until I got home that I found out the score,
“A five goal thriller” said my mate, “And you missed it”;
And so I did, but I didn’t miss the next day,
The next day’s Remembrance Day Service on the radio,
And I dutifully remembered my dad
And how he would dutifully and tearfully remember his comrades,
Each Remembrance Day,
And how singularly appropriate that the cup match on the telly
Should feature Accrington Stanley at home to Huddersfield Town,
For is there anywhere more emblematical of the carnage
And patriotism that made the Great War what it was?
Of the 720 volunteers who made up the “Accrington Pals”,
And who were in action on the first day at the Somme,
584 were killed or were wounded or went missing,
Nearly a whole generation of the men of that town
Were wiped out in a matter of minutes;
As Percy Holmes, brother of a “Pal” said,
“I don’t think there was a street in Accrington
And district that didn’t have their blinds drawn
And the bell at Christ Church tolled all day.”
And the bell at Christ Church tolled all day.
I don’t know if this historical coincidence was mentioned on the television. It’s an interesting choice of game – I’d like to think unconscious historical/cultural factors were at work. Coincidence continued after the game when Northampton were first out of the hat for the next round’s draw.