Spending a Penny for the Albion

THERE is nothing quite like having an intimate moment with your heroes.

And it was so unexpected.

I have been an obsessive fan of Brighton and Hove Albion since I was a small child and watched many victories and defeats over those years.

My baptism as an 11-year-old was standing in the North Stand at the Goldstone Ground on a sunny Saturday in September 1967 to see this team in blue and white beat Bury 1-0, with a goal from my soon-to-be hero, Kit Napier.

The chanting, bustle and atmosphere immersed me. I was hooked and soon queuing after training sessions to obtain the autographs of these footballing gladiators: Charlie Livesey, Norman Gall, Wally Gould, Nobby Lawton and of course Christopher Napier.

I can still smell the Bovril and cigarette soaked air of my first evening game one year later and taste the pride and disappointment of the 1983 FA Cup Final.

So I cheered on my heroes from the legendary Peter Ward to icons such as Brian Horton, Steve Foster, Bobby Zamora and Jimmy Case.

Yes, Brighton and Hove Albion are, and have always been, an integral part of my life.

But nothing prepared me for that moment on the M1 motorway, on Friday 28th March 2008.

My Aunt Val had died suddenly, and as next-of-kin I had driven to her home in North London to sort out her affairs. Her death was unexpected and I guess my mind was focussed on getting everything right.

After dealing formalities with her solicitor and the funeral celebrant I hopped into my car to make the long journey back to my home in North Wales.

I stopped at the M1 Toddington Services, just north of Luton, for petrol, a coffee and a toilet break.

I was vaguely aware of a smart coach pulling in next to me in the car park.

The loo called first, so I made my way to the gents. I stood by the urinal trough and was just about to relieve myself when more than a dozen guys in dark blue tracksuits walked in.

They assembled in various positions to answer the call of nature. As I started to pee I looked up at the guy next to me. He had a Brighton and Hove Albion badge on his tracksuit top. I silently gasped and looked along at the rest of the guys… it was the entire Brighton first team squad.

That was the OMG moment and I got instant water retention.

I was peeing with my heroes… or in my case not! I had to stop looking or they might get the wrong impression!

As I exited the service station toilets I turned to the player next to me – our full back Andrew Whing – and politely asked: “What are you guys doing in Luton?”

“We are on our way to Leeds, we play them tomorrow,” was the reply.

“Do we?” I answered stupidly, still desperate for a wee.

Poison: Chapter 12

The Adventures of Nathan Sunnybank and Joe Greenfield

Book 1: Poison

Chapter Twelve

THE sun rose orange over the trees by the parked camper van. Inside, Amy and the two boys slept soundly, exhausted by the events of the previous 24 hours.

Blue sniffed at the double side door and scratched at his ruff with a hind leg. All was still. It was just past 5am and for the humans there was more sleeping to do. But the wolf was wide awake and hungry. He sniffed again, this time in the direction of the partly opened rear window.

Suddenly and with effortless ease, he jumped up onto the rear cabinet and eased his head and front legs through the window. In another movement he was free, leapt onto the tarmac and sloped into the bushes alongside the van. Nathan blinked at the slight noise, but his tired eyes refused to focus and he drifted off to sleep.

Outside, Blue was sidling along the fence of the neighbouring field, eyeing curiously some sheep grazing on the dew covered grass 200 metres away. The wolf had started to stalk the young ewe at the edge of the flock when a buck rabbit suddenly darted out of the undergrowth next to him. With a pounce, he was upon the hapless creature and his jaws locked around its neck. He dragged the dead rabbit into the bushes and began to enjoy his breakfast.

Some 70 miles away, a red Porsche Boxster was parked at a service station on the southbound M40. Inside its occupants were also sleeping, cramped on the black leather seats of the smart sports car. Exhaustion had taken its toll. Empty crisp packets and a half eaten chicken sandwich were strewn on the floor of the passenger side by Clara’s feet.

It was now just past 6am and the service area was waking up to early risers filling their cars with fuel. The driver of an articulated truck walked sleepily to the washrooms in the main foyer.

Tony blinked his eyes, dazzled by the morning sun shining through the driver’s side window. He glimpsed the figure of a man walking across the car park. He quietly cursed at the fact they had not managed to secure a motel room for the night… or was it the morning? he asked himself. He looked across at Clara who was still sleeping soundly and silently opened the car door. He stepped out into the warm morning air, closed the door and followed the steps of the trucker he had seen a minute earlier.

Five minutes later, refreshed by a quick wash, Tony ambled to the coffee bar next to the main foyer. He ordered two flat whites and carried the steaming cardboard mugs back towards the car.

He stepped out onto the forecourt and gasped loudly as a black BMW flashed by towards the filling station.

“You stupid blighter!” Tony shouted at the driver.

But inside the black car, Klaus was oblivious to the anger of the man he had almost hit and knew he needed fuel and a black coffee to keep himself awake. The two hours’ sleep he had managed to grab back in Shrewsbury had taken the edge off his tiredness, but disposing of Klaus’s body had added its own burden of weariness.

He stopped the BMW next to a fuel pump and glanced around for any sign of police cars. There was none, just a few trucks and a red Porsche parked 200 metres away.

He noticed a solitary man, who appeared to be carrying a couple of cartons, glance his way and wondered why he was looking at him.

Tony again glared at the driver of the black BMW and muttered another expletive in his direction.

As he opened the driver’s door of his Porsche, Clara woke with a huge yawn and smiled as she saw Tony’s face. She breathed in the morning air and said: “Ah, coffee, how lovely of you.”

Tony sat next to her, and still fuming, he answered: “Thought we both needed something strong to keep us going.” He handed Clara one of the coffees and kissed her right cheek.

“See that blinkin’ black BMW over there by the pumps? Well, its driver almost ran me over and I think he didn’t even realise it,” Tony added grumpily.

Clara shot a look in the direction of the filling station. With her left hand, she wiped some sleep from her eyes and looked again.

“Flipping hell,” she said suddenly, “I recognise that man and that car!”

Back at the service area on the M54, Blue had digested his first breakfast and was now sniffing at left overs in the bins by the burger bar. The wolf licked its lips at a half-eaten double cheeseburger and sat on the grass to devour it in one bite.

Around him cars, vans and trucks were busying about and the car park was starting to fill up.

Commuters, lorry drivers and holidaymakers were grabbing a quick breakfast or filling their vehicles with fuel.

A few yards away a young girl suddenly shouted: “Look, mummy, look at that big doggy!”

A fair-haired woman peered in the direction of the ‘big doggy’.

“Wow, that’s the biggest German Shepherd I’ve ever seen,” she said aloud. “Hold my hand, darling, and don’t try to stroke it, it may bite. Now let’s get some breakfast, darling, it is still a long drive to our holiday cottage.”

The girl grabbed hold of her mother’s hand.

“Nasty doggy,” she shouted at Blue.

The wolf sniffed the air and slinked back to the cover of the hedges.

Inside the burger bar, an older man was watching though the window as he finished his cup of tea and egg muffin. His grey eyes looked towards the young girl and then at the large animal disappearing into the bushes.

“Well, I’ll be damned,” he muttered to himself, “That’s a blinkin’ wolf if ever I saw one!”

He took a last sip of tea and walked into the passage by the burger bar, towards the blue telephone booth.

Inside the booth he lifted the handset and quickly dialled 999. When prompted he asked to be put through to the police.

Back at Greenfield Mansion, Nicolas was waking from a deep sleep and familiarising himself with the unfamiliar room. Sunlight was peeping through the gap in the dark green velvet curtains.

Nicolas yawned and stretched his arms wide as he glanced at the clock on the bedside table.

“Blimey, It’s past seven-thirty,” he gasped.

At that moment, there was a knock on his bedroom door.

“Yes, come in, I am decent,” Nicolas replied.

The ruddy face of Bob the butler peered round the door.

“Good morning, Sir,” he said brightly.

“Let me draw back the curtains for you. Her ladyship wanted me to ask you whether kippers, porridge and some poached eggs would suit you for breakfast, sir?”

“Wow, that would be lovely, thank you, Bob,” Nicolas answered.

“Oh don’t thank me, Sir, thank Mrs Wills, she is quite the finest cook this side of the border,” Bob breezed, as he drew back the curtains.

“I have also packed the Rolls as I think her ladyship wants to leave before nine,” he added.

Indeed, Felicity was already dressed and in the kitchen, demanding to know why Joy wasn’t already about her chores.

“Oh Mrs Wills, do we have fresh kippers, they are quite scrummy?” she asked the cook.

“Yes, madam, they were fresh in yesterday afternoon and I have kept them chilled in the fridge,” the cook replied.

“Good, and do you mind putting together a hamper of sandwiches and coffee, as I think we may have a bit of driving to do today,” added Felicity.

In the corner of the kitchen, a small TV was switched to the 24 hour news channel.

Felicity took in the round-up of the morning’s news and determined to telephone the local police station again as soon as it was open for business.

“And Clara still hasn’t replied to my text,” she snapped quietly.

Suddenly, she froze as the news reel at the bottom of the TV screen reported: “Motorway service station evacuated after wolf attacks child.”

Back at the M54 service station, the truth was far from that.

But over 40 frightened faces looked out nervously from the sanctuary of the burger bar and the filling station shop.

Six police cars circled the parking area and four uniformed officers armed with high powered rifles combed the bushes near where the old man and a waitress had both claimed they had seen the wolf.

Just over 150 metres away across the car park, Blue was crouched at the side door of the VW Camper van scratching quietly at the brown paintwork. The wolf knew that humans with guns were big trouble and his animal sense told him that they were looking for him.

His green eyes darted between the men with the guns, instantly computing where each one was walking next.

He stared at one marksman approaching the van, and snarled.