Part 1 of this story was published yesterday. If you haven’t read it, briefly, I have struck a deal with @ian_bec whereby I would attend my first football match if he promised to come mountaineering in Scotland with me for two weeks.
On 18th March 2006, Ian, his brother Jim and I travelled to Upton Park together. They were keen to keep me safe, as were hundreds of police officers. The uniformed officers were all in a very good mood; they were being paid on double-time. The fans seemed pretty good humoured too. I couldn’t see the need for all the officers but was assured by both Ian and Jim that the clubs’ fans had a ‘history’. Before we got to the ground, they briefed me extensively on the significance of the match. I gathered that Portsmouth were facing certain relegation and only a win against West Ham would stand them a chance of avoiding that dreadful prospect. I was informed that the prospects of a win were slim to the vanishing point. My thoughts of the pointlessness of it all seemed a little tactless to give voice to. Especially since Ian had risen the occasion so brilliantly in our tough hill walk the year before.
Inside the stadium, Ian and his brother took the seats on either side of me and warned me against mentioning that I was from Brighton or anything else which might reveal that I was not already a diehard Pompey fan. That pretty much killed off my conversation. The Pompey fans never sat down throughout the entire match. They hollered and roared their support. West Ham had obviously considered the match an easy challenge: they fielded players largely populated by their B-Team. Of all the football games I could have chosen to see first, this was an exciting choice. It was an excellent game. There were six goals. Portsmouth won the match 4-2! Most of the West Ham fans had filed out before the game ended, with the Pompey fans mocking them.
Outside the stadium the nearest tube station was closed. That left Ian and Jim with a bit of a navigational and dress code problem. They did their best to tuck their scarves inside their jumpers and tried to work out which direction to head in. Despite the apparent risks, the police overtime bill didn’t seem to extend to the period after the match: they were all piling into vans and driving off. Luckily, I knew the area rather well. I taken had already taken a lonely walk along the road we needed to take. Some years before, when I was living in a tower block on the Isle of Dogs, one of the neighbours across the landing, Alfred, had died. The only mourners at his funeral were my flatmate and I. A couple of weeks later, I had gone to collect his ashes and carried them along this road. Really, I hadn’t been lonely walking along the road, Alfred came with me, on his final journey. He was surprisingly heavy.
As Ian, Jim and I walked down the road we made quicker progress but we couldn’t discuss the game until we were safely away from their turf. Mostly I thought about Alfred and the considerable efforts I had made to locate his long lost family before the police had insisted his funeral go ahead. “Are you okay?” asked Ian, “it wasn’t that bad was it, the football?” That brought me to my senses. “No, I was just thinking about something else, sorry, no the game was excellent“, I replied. Then I noticed that there were some lads walking behind us. Once of them was carrying a cricket bat over his shoulder. They looked menacing. We were trapped on a long straight road, with no side streets to escape down! What to do? I mentioned my fear quietly to Ian and Jim. “Don’t be silly“, came Ian’s reply, “they’re just off to play cricket.“
That evening, safely home at Jim’s place, all my questions were answered. Ian and Jim proudly exclaimed that their team could turn their fortunes around, which they did. They asked me whether I would go to more football matches now? Alas, I had to disappoint them, Jim in particular. It had been lots of fun but it wasn’t really my thing, I explained to him. Ian said, “Duncan likes being in quiet, high places with danger ever present and, erm, that whilst I love the noise and communion of a football crowd, I think I can see his point…“. Somewhat annoyed, I exclaimed, “It’s not about the danger!” “I know, I know“, said Ian, “but I don’t have the words for it… yet.“