A day and a life following the Albion – with a little help from a friend

Albion cover

IT was 50 years ago today Sergeant Pepper taught the band to play… and exactly 50 years since my very first Albion game.

Lucy was in the Sky with Diamonds, but at the end of the so-called Summer of Love I was about to begin a love affair that would give me greater highs than any acid trip.

I was a wide-eyed 11-year-old kid when a neighbour in my home village of Mile Oak offered to take me to my first proper football match, at a place I had only ever seen from the top deck of a bus on the Old Shoreham Road.

David Knott was 32, and as an Albion nut he seemed cursed to have a daughter who hated football. So I became his Saturday surrogate son, at least for the purposes of having someone to take to matches at the Goldstone Ground.

My first Albion game was on a bright and sunny Saturday, 2 September 1967; and it was a trip into dreamland as I witnessed a 1-0 home win against Bury in front of a bustling 13,413 crowd.

I stood with David near the front right of the North Stand and watched in awe as these 22 men battled it out on the sun-kissed grass.

I soaked it all in, including the fact that Bury were captained by Scottish international Bobby Collins, who was hard in the tackle and ran the show from midfield, until we scored.

Our scorer was a tousle-haired inside forward named Kit Napier. He became my immediate hero, and along with Brylcreem-blonde crowd favourite Charlie Livesey, they remain personal Albion legends.

Others in our team that day were the solid Norman Gall, John Napier (no relation to Kit), George Dalton, the emerging midfield dynamo John Templeman and two wingers Wally Gould and Brian “Tiger” Tawse, who would match Knockaert and Skalak for trickery, but maybe not pace!

So I was hooked for life and began a routine of a bus ride on the number 26 from Mile Oak to the ground for a home match every fortnight, and a Football Combination (reserve game) on alternate Saturdays – the matches when you got to talk with the keeper during the game!

Then there came the waiting-in-line at the North-West corner gates for players’ autographs after training, during the school holidays, scrapbooks of match cuttings from the Argus and the obligatory club scarf and a matching Subbuteo team.

It was an all-consuming schoolboy passion.

And a passion, which over these 50 years has endured living in Scotland, Yorkshire and the North East, the hellish fight for the survival of our club in the mid-1990s, the Gillingham and Withdean years and at last the glory of the Amex and our promotion to the promised land of the Premier League.

In 1967, England were World Champions, Harold Wilson was Prime Minister, the newest must-have car was the Ford Escort, mods still fought rockers on Brighton beach, man had yet to land on the moon and colour TV was still just a dream.

Yep, times have changed…

My return bus journey to the Goldstone in 1967 was 8d (about 3p), admission to the North Stand was 2s 9d (13p) – a lot less for the reserve games – the match programme was 1s (5p), a cup of Bovril 2d (1p) and a bag of crisps the same!

So to travel and watch my heroes every Saturday, and enjoy a half-time snack cost a stately 22p!

To put things in perspective: in 1967 a man’s average annual wage was £900, the average mortgage was £80 a year and a loaf of bread was just 5p… a season ticket to watch the English champions Manchester United was £8.50.

To allow for inflation, £1 in 1967 is worth £16.80 today, so I’ll let you do the maths and comparisons.

Now, aged 60 and sitting in front of a state-of-the-art PC with Sergeant Pepper’s playing on iPlayer, the years come tumbling back and memories of that sunny Saturday in 1967 will never leave me.

Words for Friends #5

This is part of a new series of blogs entitled Words for Friends, in which I will try to acknowledge some people in my life for whom words of thanks are not nearly enough.

These living epitaphs to my true and lovely friends are published in a random order as fancy takes me.

#5 Louise

Louise is a fairly new friend who I met through social media, but someone I already regard as a close and kindred spirit.

Emotionally we are similar souls, and we also tick all the boxes that makes someone a close friend.

She comes from my home area of Sussex, supports my beloved Brighton and Hove Albion, lives for music and books, is a former English teacher and now an editor, an ardent socialist and activist for Jeremy Corbyn, and a campaigner for Palestine.

And like me, for a lifetime she has battled deep anxiety and depression and the curve balls that life throws our way. She expresses those struggles with refreshing honesty.

But of all the qualities of friendship I admire the most, is her care for fellow human beings.

More than once she has been the first to ask how I am feeling, and more than once volunteered practical support. Thank you.

I am so glad we met Louise, I can see this friendship lasting a long time.

Poem: Goldstone memories

Kit Napier in the wind swings the ball in
Cha Cha Cha Cha Livesey we chanted
Big Alex rises in the fog of the night
A goalbound header he glances
Tiger Tawse races down the left wing
Behind him you can hear the North Stand sing:
“It’s Brighton Hove Albion
Brighton Hove Albion FC
We’re by far the greatest team
The world has ever seen”

Sully intercepts a long floated pass
Ball played wide as Mellor advances
Beamish races towards the goal
And tucks away the sweetest of chances
Tony Towner surges down the right wing
Behind him you can hear the North Stand sing:
“It’s Brighton Hove Albion
Brighton Hove Albion FC
We’re by far the greatest team
The world has ever seen”

Lawro takes the ball from the edge of the box
Horton signals a move they have planned
Passes to Ryan who chips it to Ward
And he scores in a Goldstone wonderland
Teddy Maybank sprints down the right wing
Behind him you can hear the North Stand sing:
“It’s Brighton Hove Albion
Brighton Hove Albion FC
We’re by far the greatest team
The world has ever seen”

A Jimmy Case thunderbolt bulges their net
Steve Foster ploughs through the sand
The ball swerves forward and Smith must score
But it’s Robinson’s shot they can not withstand
Gary Stevens runs down the left wing
Behind him you can hear the North Stand sing:
“It’s Brighton Hove Albion
Brighton Hove Albion FC
We’re by far the greatest team
The world has ever seen”