If I had a wish, I wish that I were a lad; walking to Molineux holding hands with my Dad. It’s another cold Saturday at twenty to three, but the cold doesn’t matter when it’s my dad with me.
“Pork scratchings; Pound a bag!” booms the butcher.
Dad cranes his neck to listen to the team news over the tannoy, from a vantage point behind the burger van.
‘Number one, Mark Kendall; number two, Gary Bellamy; number three, Andy Thompson; number four, Floyd Streete; number five, Ally Robertson; number six, Phil Robinson; number seven, Nigel Vaughan; number eight, Phil Chard; number nine, Steve Bull; number 10, Andy Mutch; number 11, Robbie Dennison.’
“Strong side that, Benny boy. I fancy us today,” Dad muses, between an extended puff of his Panama cigar.
We shuffle towards the John Ireland Stand entrance at the front of a queue that stretches to the sky. Pipe smoke pervades and the turnstile ticks like a metronome, or was it the hands of time? Dad squeezes through to the other side and I can only see his back through the barrier; the back that bore my weight when he’d carry me along Waterloo Road as a boy.
The turnstiles tick louder until they wake me from my sleep. Tick, tick, tick. The metronomic ticking is too deafening to ignore and at 7am, I realise it’s my bedside alarm and a flashback to 1988 cracks beneath my eyelids.
Time to get up. Time to realise that I can’t go back to the happiest days as a football fan, no matter how hard I wish I could. The world turns faster than Adama Traore these days, no matter how much we wish it could slow to a Dennison saunter.
When details of a Super League were announced on Sunday night, it only confirmed what my alarm clock shouted at me a few hours later. The game has gone. But it had vanished long before six shameless clubs snatched the final remnants away.
Town final, Staw Distribution shadow-stripes and a vice-like grip of dad’s hand – all sponsored by Ruby Red Records – was my idea of heaven. Nightmare on Elm Street? Bully’s Revenge!
No matter how many times I shut my eyes, I can’t get those days back.
The Super League wouldn’t want them anyway. They’re long gone and while they’ll always be priceless to me, they’re not even worth a Goalden Goal ticket to them.
I can still feel the buzz of a last-gasp Paskin winner at home to Plymouth; I can still hear the laughs of the brethren as Dad rips out a fart at the Victoria Ground, Stoke, while shaking off the drops on a concrete wall.
At Vale Park a few miles away, Gary Bellamy nods in the winner and I’m thrown to the front of a delirious away end like a crumpled Balti pie tin. Glorious golden memories swirled in Manders Paint and Ink.
Nowadays, the only screams I hear are from conniving players who’ve been hit with all the force of Nigel Vaughan, never mind Keith Downing. The latter would be outlawed anyway, unable to compete by the letter of the law, which is replayed a thousand times until they find an angle they were craving to begin with.
When goals are disallowed for offside when the ball is passed backwards (Leicester City last season) then you know we’re banned from competing anyway. Mike Dean hammered home the point at Turf Moor when Europe was in our grasp later that season.
VAR has subordinated clubs like ours at the expense of The Cartel ever since they demanded it be introduced in the first place (to stop players like Willy Boly from scoring illegal equalisers with their arms against teams like Manchester City).
The Premier League has always danced to their tune and now they don’t like what they’re hearing, quelle surprise. Let The Cartel get on with it, I say. I hope they drown in their own greed.
I miss Blundell Park way more than I’d miss the Etihad anyway, and I haven’t been able to go there in decades. The Pontoon Stand banged at my eardrums way louder than Old Trafford ever did.
Inject Bovril into my veins, funnel visions of the Two Step Dance Academy through my eyeballs and take me back to the good old days.
They’re not so far away, you know? If these self-serving, soulless bastards take away the very facets of the game I hate the most, then they’re welcome to them. Maybe we can reclaim the best bits, instead? The bits I only dream about.
Keep what you’ve got, by giving it all away.
Reclaim, reset and reintroduce terracing for a start. Clamp down on cheats, fuck VAR off and let’s referee games properly, free from the constraints of Stockley Park.
Let the six go, leave them to it and let us fall back in love with the Beautiful Game like we did when we were kids.
It had nothing to do with that lot anyway.