I write this from a sunbed beside a pool in Corfu. Its my last day here, and the fully clothed new arrivals are hovering, eyeing the bed, knowing it will soon be empty. They will get their chance soon enough.
I’ve just finished my book, the excellent Reservoir 13 by the incomparable Jon McGregor. I put it down, half-numb with that sense of loss that comes with completing a book you’ve been enthralled by. Where now? What now?
As I read, I listened to I Was A Cat From A Book by James Yorkston. It’s not his quietest album, but I find the rise and fall fits quite well along a good book. However, James Yorkston always makes me think of St Patrick, his moody 2002, and almost certainly my favourite of his songs.
I put that on now, gazing beyond a tree into the cloudless sky. Whenever I hear St Patrick, I think of my friend Jonny, and a specific part of our friendship. This is that story, not that of my basking on a sunbed.
This is a love story, like all friendships are, because I love Jonny; we’ve taken many turns together, and many turns apart, but when we hear St Patrick we’ll always be together.
I don’t know when I first met Jonny. It was likely at a brass band event, or perhaps more likely at a gathering of one of my friends; we’d have been mid-teens. There’s a photograph, a glorious snapshot of the early 90s of the two of us sat a few seats apart at Leeds Road. We didn’t know each other then, this spiky youngster and scruffy lad (make your own minds up) but as a portent, it’s a wonderful thing.
The faces, the shirts and the stadia change, but Jonny and I can always and will always, sit together for Huddersfield Town, watching the same way. All the while hoping for better, hoping for more, but knowing that there is more to it. If we lose, we lose, it will never be Peterborough.
God knows, that day was awful. The route, not the literal one (though my train up was crappy), to Old Trafford that afternoon. We sat, hopeful, expectant, next to one another up in the Gods at the Theatre of Dreams.
The mortals on the field did not please us that day. When Peterborough scored, we hoped. When they scored again, we reassured one another that we still hoped (I didn’t, and I’m sure Jonny didn’t, but you have to hope, don’t you?). When they scored a third, we both got a little bit emotional. It was a long day, a hard day, and a hard way to lose. But we were there, me and Jonny, and we were watching Huddersfield and that’s what we did.
I saw Wharton outside the ground, and I was happy to see him. I am now, to be reunited with old friends, to catch up, for them to tell me the good in their lives. They’re good people, and I’m always happy to know they’re happy – I know you don’t tell strangers your problems outside playoff finals you’ve just lost, but that’s kind of the point, that silent agreement of brevity; share your joys.
Wharton was happy to see me, too, though sad we’d lost. This isn’t his story, so it’s hello and goodbye to Wharton, hello and goodbye like that day. Is that your dad, mate? I hope he’s well. No, my mum’s away, luckily. She’s good, too. I tell her to look out for you at home matches, but I’m not sure she’d know you, I’m not sure she’s pick me out, either. We’re just faces in crowds now, lad. Keep well, though, and I’ll wander over next time I’m up.
I haven’t been up since, but I will. I like Wharton. He’s a nice guy, and I wish him well, but as I say, this isn’t his story.
We share stories, Jonny and I, share history that nobody else does. There’s simple stuff we just did together. The UEFA Cup Final in Glasgow. I got the tickets, he drove and we went from Huddersfield and back in a night. It was a good night. They were always good nights.
We had our own stories, too, running alongside. He had girlfriends, Jonny, while I was resolutely single. Some of them came to football. They were all nice, all friendly, maybe they thought meeting me was some kind of test, more likely they were just nice. None of them lasted for whatever reason, I don’t know, I just knew that they were there sometimes and not others.
We’re Northern, you know, some things are your business but not others. It’s never spoken, but it’s known.
He had other circles of friends, too. He’s a lot more sociable than I am, Jonny. He’s in Australia now, making friends as he goes. I chat to old men at cricket, instead. I love it, but I don’t make friends easy.
So we had our own stories, but this is about the shared ones. Most of them happened in about 2006, some a bit before, some a bit after. They took place in the West Riding of Yorkshire mainly, the Heavy Woollen District. And they’re all true, or at least as I remember them.
I’ll shuffle on the sunbed before I go on, sorry if the handwriting changes.
There was the day I got mugged on my way back from work. I lost my phone and my wallet, but was only a minute or so out the door, so I went back in and lost practically nothing. I worked in a school, Jonny’s old school, actually, and it wasn’t long before kicking out time. It was better me than the kids, I said. I still say.
I had to report it to the police, the mugging. You do now, get a crime number before insurance companies pay out, bloody thieves stealing from the rest of us. They took a statement, and I got a feeling they might know who it was. I say ‘got a feeling’ but they told me.
They knew who it was, but were never able to prove it. They wanted DNA, so they offered me a lift home so I could change clothes and they could take them away to sample. I had no train pass or money so it made sense.
I was meeting Jonny that day, we were off across to Liverpool to see Marine. I wasn’t going to be late yet, but I’d no way of telling him not to pick me up. I wasn’t hurt anyway, I might as well go if he’d pay, my mum wouldn’t be home to borrow off by the time we’d need to leave. So they gave me a lift home, back to Huddersfield out of Dewsbury.
We’d just got out of town to where that beautiful old car park you pass on the train is when a car came ploughing into the side of the police car across the dual carriageway. You can’t open the back door of a police car, you know. Maybe you know, I didn’t know. I should’ve thought, but I didn’t know.
This was a problem. The police car was buggered, its wheel arch was stoved in. There was no spare, but another car pulled up on the other side of the road. The two police from my car were busying themselves getting information from the woman who’d come in the side and I ended up carrying spare wheels and tyres across the dual carriageway so the new police could fit them to the original car.
Now I had a problem, I was going to be late. I know what you’re thinking, this is my story, and it is, but this is only part of it, so wait on and see what happens.
So I’m going to be late and I need to ring Jonny and tell him. I’ve not got a phone though, because I was mugged, so I don’t know his number. I know he’ll likely be waiting outside my house now, ringing a mobile that won’t respond.
I have an idea. My mate Ross only lives a couple of doors down. His mum’ll be in, or his brother, or someone. I can get them to look outside, and if they see a car, tell Jonny I’m on my way.
I’m sure his mum must have skipped a beat hearing it wax PC Whoever of West Yorkshire Police on the phone, but the plan worked perfectly. He waited, he paid me in (I paid him back) and we got to Marine.
Even that’s not the end of the story. I’m 6’5″, which is pretty tall. I’m not Jonny’s tallest mate, though. Stu is 6’10” and from another circle of friends, but he’s a bit older, and happy enough to be one in a group, so we’d met him a few times, the big fella. He’s a Scot. I think they went to McDiarmid Park together once. I’m jealous of that. Still.
When we got to Marine it turned out Stu had been doing some work just over the road, or just in the ground or somewhere, you’ll forgive me for not remembering exact, I’d been mugged that day.
Was one of those once in a lifetime coincidences where you go somewhere a way away from your base and find someone you know dead well. I say once in lifetime, I once bumped into my mate Chris in a coffee shop in Bucharest, but this isn’t his story either, so hello and goodbye Chris, too.
In some ways that isn’t the end of that story, either, there’s a couple of loose threads. The police couldn’t use my clothes for DNA because I’d got oil and stuff on them from the wheel-carrying and I never got my clothes back.
I felt bad about that, but my Grandad once told me about a time he had his bike pinched in York, and they let him into their ‘found items’ bit, but his bike wasn’t there, so he just claimed the one he liked the look of best. These things even out in time. I bet someone else’s grandad has got my trousers.
We did that kind of thing a lot, Jonny and I, it was easy company and we had as much in common as not. The grounds we went to and the football we saw. Tuesday lunchtimes we’d start getting itchy, and a couple of emails would buzz through, whether it was feasible to get to a certain game or ground that night.
There was the cold February day that Jim Smith was going to be announced as manager of Oxford Utd and they were at Bury that evening. I think I had to do a bit of persuading that afternoon, but we ended up paying upwards of £20 each to get into Gigg Lane. I’ve got a feeling we got in a wee bit late, but I don’t think it mattered – the game was utter dreck and Jim Smith wasn’t even managing.
It was so cold that night that when we got a cup of tea at half time, before the start of the second half the tea bags had frozen solid against the backs of the seats in front of them. It ended 1-1; Kasper Schmeichel played, but it remains the worst game of football I’ve ever seen. I have not been back to Gigg Lane.
We did watch Huddersfield, too, Kilner Bank, seats E68 and E69 (we’ve argued about this since – Jonny remembers E58 and E59, he might well be right but he lives in Australia now, and I don’t get up for home games any more, I haven’t seen Wharton since when, remember), but Town is a duty – and they were some uninspiring times – the days of Luke Beckett and Chris Brandon. Don’t get me wrong, they did a job, but it wasn’t thrilling to watch.
So it was lower leagues or non league that did it for us. We’d got to Warrington, or to Bacup, or to York. Get to the ground about seven, have a jar (just the one, Jonny was driving) and then watch the game.
I learned to love football those years, to cherish the fact that teams were always bloody trying, they wanted to win and if they weren’t good enough, so be it, at least they said they tried.
We went to see Wealdstone at Botham Crescent. We loved York. My mum’s family are from York, and it’s a charming city and we’re from Yorkshire, after all. We never went that often, to be honest, should have gone more.
Anyway, it was dark and we parked by this high brick wall, went to the turnstile and paid our way in. It was an open stand, which was odd, and empty. Turns out we’d got in the away end, with the 65 other Wealdstone who tried to persuade us to stay with them.
In one way, I wish we had. Jermaine Beckford fizzed in a proper late goal for Wealdstone that night, their end must have gone spare. But we were York and it was York and we have to be York. Its disloyal otherwise.
We went to Northwich once, just to see Phil Senior the former Town keeper play a friendly against Crewe. That game was shit, but Crewe had a striker trialling with them called Pavol Suhaj. I’ve never seen a worse striker on a football pitch.
We went to see Connah’s Quay play at Fflint Town’s ground. We went everywhere, man, we went everywhere. We were young, we were free, we were happy.
We used to go drinking the Tuesdays we weren’t at football. Enjoyed ale, we did, and Huddersfield is good for that kind of thing. A few Saturdays we spent lunchtime in the Head of Steam, but it’s busy so. There was other places. We both loved ale, so it was always a case of where had what. We were both earning, and living at home, so we could spend a little, and it was never Wetherspoon’s.
I remember there was a few beers we really liked, we used to love Kronenbourg Blanc, but white beer never really took in this country. I’ve still got two blue bottles (empty) in my kitchen. If Jonny ever moves back here, and wants one for a candle stand or a vase or anything, it’s his. We loved Anchor Steam, too. I toast him still every time I have a glass, and I’d like to think he does the same. It doesn’t mean much, but it’s nice to remember who we were then.
We liked a bit of music, too. I was probably spending the money he was spending on girls on music, buying loads of stuff. I used to go over to Manchester a bit, and a couple of times he came with. I persuaded him to see the B of the Bang at the City of Manchester Stadium while it was still there, but the trip was always about the records and he came back with loads and I came back with Lambchop’s entire back catalogue, we came back over the tops that day, it’s bloody gorgeous coming back towards Huddersfield that way, like nowhere else in the world. That’s why they cycle it.
We do have more friends who were about at the time, and I’m not ignoring you, Pete. I loved the days you got away in time to join us, and I really wish you’d got to more of those lazy Tuesday afternoons in the sun (I know things always seem sunny in the past, but we’d go to football in winter, so it more than likely was sunny). You and I have other, different stories to tell and I probably owe you a lot of apologies, starting with when I burned your face that time. I’m not ignoring you either, Greg, but we have as many or more stories to tell, and these are Jonny’s. Wharton was asking after you earlier. I said you were well. Wasn’t it strange meeting Chris in Bucharest that time?
We do have more friends, but these are not their stories.
Pete, I should mention, came with us to the City Ground in Nottingham to see R.E.M. that time, he might even have bought the tickets. I think he was at the tiny church we saw Turin Brakes at in Leeds, and he almost certainly bought those tickets. Good for organising stuff, Pete, and going to places you otherwise wouldn’t. And those gigs were good, but this isn’t Pete’s story it’s Jonny’s and he loves R.E.M. as much as I do, so it’s only fitting to mention them.
We went to cricket once, the pair of us, the plan was we’d see Yorkshire wrap up a game at Headingley then go for a few drinks nearby. So it came to pass. I don’t think I’ve seen Yorkshire actually win a game other than that, just bits from the middle and the start. He knew Headingley (the area) well, Jonny. Used to run a pub there. I think I went once, or twice.
Leeds is big, and busy, and noisy and I don’t feel comfortable there, and I get drunk too quickly and I don’t like it. So that was another story we didn’t share, though I sometimes heard stories, piecing them together with people I knew but didn’t know well (but have come to, as we’ve got older and softened) and places I’d never been to.
And I’d do things, too. I’d go to Exeter for the weekend, see Huddersfield at Yeovil on the way. We’d meet up, Jonny and I, and talk about the game, and whether Exeter was nice, but not so much about the people I’d met.
He went down to see Town at Gillingham a couple of weeks before I first travelled to Medway, I think they lost. We talked about it afterwards, the game, not the people he’d met.
I moved away, eventually, I didn’t really see it coming, and it ended those days; do I regret it? Well, he lives in Australia now Jonny, and I live in Kent, and we don’t see each other often now (once every couple of years? Its nothing to twice or thrice a week) and one time he was scared to tell me his dog had passed on and I’m probably still not over it, but life moves on, that’s how it goes.
So what was the whole point of this? Well, basically, it was this. I had a flash the other day that eventually, with all friendships, there’s always one person left at a gravestone wishing they’d told the other how they felt about them.
I mean, we hug, Jonny and I when we meet, and there’s nothing but love in that. Considering we’re northern, we’re stoic and we don’t do that sort of thing, we do do that sort of thing.
I just wanted to look back at what was a special part of my life, and to let someone know how important his friendship was back then; how much I appreciate the things we did, the time we spent, and the things we places we went together and St Patrick always reminds me of that time, and that guy, and I’m always happy to hear it and to be transported back. They were good times.
I wanted to remember some times long gone, and I wanted to reminisce.
I’m not on that sunbed any more, some kid in bright orange shorts is in it. He’s welcome to it, I’ve got people to tell how I feel, and I don’t much care for the sun anyway.