In sixth form at school, I was considered far too limited to study three subjects at A-level. So English and History it was. However, the lack of any third subject left plenty of free time, and my friend Si (in a similar situation) and I exploited it to the nth degree.
He had a little Honda SS50 moped, I had my mother’s knackered Austin 1100. Somehow we got to the Prince of Wales in Chigwell (run by the magnificent Bob) for a couple of pints whenever we could – like on any day we could scrape up some cash. It was1974.
Our school badge was a Bishop’s mitre, conspicuously featured on both blazer and tie.
As you walked into Bob’s pub it would be “okay boys but don’t take the juice.” Life was different then, and once our jackets and ties were removed we could play pool, darts or do whatever we wanted. Once the schoolboy accessories were removed, we were just like everyone else in the place. A wonderful feeling that youngsters today simply cannot, and will not experience.
An old guy called Dennis who worked on the railways used to shove 10p in the jukebox, put on “Jungle Rock”, dance crazily in his oversized boots and cajole everybody into thumping their pool cues down on the bar floor to create a stomping beat while making non-human noises (we all loved it). That place, that time.
One day, I plucked up the courage to go into the Prince on my own. Bob was behind the bar and said: “I’ve got two questions for you, mate.Who do you support; and do you want a job?”
I said “Norwich” and “yes”.
He asked: “Who’s your favourite London club?”
“Spurs”, I said – truthfully.
I took the job, and then virtually had the Norwich-supporting part of my soul ripped out of me by some of the customers: constantly, incessantly and regularly. It was a Tottenham pub.
However, when you’re a slightly underage barman, there are certain compensations. And not least from the opposite sex, who probably wouldn’t have looked at me twice if I were propping up the other side of the bar. I always enjoyed many, many free drinks too, courtesy of Bob and some exceptionally naive customers. With Bob’s permission, of course.
And then Bobby got promoted!
To the BFS in Buckhurst Hill where the Spurs Ultras of the day met up most early evenings after work. Nutty, Grizzly, Vulture and “Rod Stewart” aka Colin “E”. These were serious people, believe me. The lyrics in the old song about “carving knives and spanners” were written for them.
Bobby the publican had been chosen to manage England’s second-ever Mr Toby’s Carving Room at the same time as his new-found pub remained the fulcrum for the Tottenham football boys who didn’t want to leave it for pastures new. Not an easy act to balance.
Those family groups enjoying their “early doors” roast turkey or whatever was available on the carvery……while all the Spurs hoolies were in the main bar, with me “in charge” – at least until the rest of the staff came in around eight.
Often just me, two tills and Bobby’s dog, “Chivers”. A huge Alsatian; he was indeed an asset. I didn’t overly trust him although I’m quite good with dogs, but he was the best guard you could ever have. Two forepaws on the counter tended to diffuse any situation.
If I didn’t open up the pub, a guy called Wingnut (he had the lugs) did. He was an Orient fan and a good geezer. He came to Carrow Road once while he was on holiday at Potters and raved about the place. I think we beat Villa 1-0 that day in the very late Eighties, but I’m not sure.
I have been to White Hart Lane on many occasions with all of the people I have described and not a single one of them ever put me in any harm. Most of them tried to lend me a dark blue and white scarf at some time or other as I “might need it” or bought me a drink. Or whatever.
I never was truly a part of their crowd; I guess I just became adopted.
With that kind of peer pressure, you have to go with the flow.
I’ve been in the Chanticleer and the Arras Club – a bit like our own facilities but different, I guess. I’ve also played football with members of Club Paxton, a Spurs-related amateur side.
I’ve been in the Coolbury Club, where many of the Spurs squad would “unwind” after a game. You had to get past Vince the owner and his pair of smaller Alsatians to gain entry, but he was really okay if you were polite to him.
Good people, and good times too, although some were a bit scary.
But ever since 1988 when I got back here for good I have never given a monkey’s chuff about a Tottenham Hotspur result.
And that was nearly 30 years ago.
So Steve (Cook is right) – anybody might be your second team, whoever they are, but they will never replace Norwich City. For any of us.
But surely if we live elsewhere in Europe we’re entitled to follow somebody else as well… next time.
I would like to dedicate this article to my good friend Tony Dwyer. I know you’ll read it if you can somehow Tone, wherever you are. God bless.