April 01, 2016

The Boy Done Well

The Boy Done Well


Childcare - the BILLY'S CONTRACT way



I recently came across a few photos of Contract junior when he was but a wee bairn and they brought back a lot of many happy memories, particularly in those days when as far as he was concerned I was Batman, Superman and Mr. Blobby all rolled into one. In his eyes there was nobody like Dad. 

Twenty-odd years later he still says the same thing, although it is tinged with a tad of sarcasm and a wry smile, as I recently made a hasty retreat in an Indian restaurant from a ladies' toilet which I inadvertently entered with curry stains down the front of my shirt.

When 'The Boy' first appeared on the scene nearly twenty-four years ago, overnight I had to put my responsible head on as I was now a father. Thoughts at once turned to the future: vaccinations, child care, work/life/home balance, which schools would he attend, exams, a good job. Would he be a good kid, what will his friends be like and which football team would he support? That was when the alarm bells started to ring very loudly. I had many a sleepless night wondering not about what sort of education he would get but which football team he would end up supporting.

 At the time I lived in darkest Teesside and not that far from Darlington either. I can recall vividly waking up in a cold sweat in the middle of the night from a nightmare so realistic that Stephen King would have difficulty in describing it. In this fearsome dream The Boy is staggering towards me, zombie-like, eyes wide open with his arms outstretched and mumbling something incoherent. It looks as if his shirt is bloodstained but the mumbling becomes a chant and I can make out the words "C'mon Boro, C'mon Boro", and what I thought was blood is the red of a Borer shirt. It is then that I wake up Screammmmming. with Hitchcock's Pyscho music playing in the background for effect.

Was this dream a warning or some sort of premonition? I had to think this one out. The statistics state that a son will tend to support the same team his father does. However another train of thought argues that it is the son's natural duty to rebel against the father's values and standards and, for him to keep in with, and be accepted as part of his group of friends, he must 'follow the pack', due to peer pressure. What to do? The signs were not encouraging.

Our next door neighbour was a Boro season ticket holder, as indeed was his neighbour, and both of them had their offspring wearing Borer tops from an early age. I had to think fast. Ring Ester Rantzen at Child Line to report my neighbours for child cruelty? No, I had a better idea.

I travelled to the Ancient Borough and sought out the guidance of the Elders. (I had to make do with the second-in-command as Poolpower, the chief elder, was getting his fill of fish fritters from Verrills at the time). The wise man told me to have The Boy decked out in Pools colours as soon as possible, which must then be worn on all occasions. In a secret ceremony conducted next to the Elephant Rock* (We had to wait until the tide went out), I was presented with the sacred Dut. I recall it was Navy blue on the bottom half and sky blue on the top with the symbol of a Hart jumping and in the background a large letter 'H'. I should know - I still have it twenty-two years on, and wear it on particularly cold days. Then, whilst my right hand was placed against the old blockhouse overlooking the sea front, I was made to take an oath that my son would attend a Pools match before he was but two years old. And that he should be registered with the supporters' club (I had already done this a few weeks after he was born). And that I would to purchase for him on a weekly basis a Pools-on-the-Move lottery ticket. And finally that I would sing Two Little boys to him each before 'night nights'.

Solemnly whilst the tail of 'The' monkey was swung around my head six times as St Hilda's clock chimed I swore that I would carry out these tasks without question.  The gods spoke, and less than 12 months later The Boy was rewarded by scooping the first prize of £1,000 on the Pools-on-the-Move lottery. I was asked by the newsagent if I would prefer to be paid by cheque or in cash from Pools. Based on Pools' track record on settling debts and Mr Gibson being in charge at the time I opted for used untraceable bank notes, to be placed in a brown envelope.
"He ...returned with the scissors and said 'Give me that shirt.' 'That's my boy!' I thought."

A few weeks later our kid, myself and The Boy, one day short of his second birthday, headed off to the then Victoria Ground to see Pools play the mighty Barnet. I remember it being a very hot day. Initially we stood on the banked terracing in front of the Corner Flag club house and behind the actual corner flag on the pitch. (eat your hearts out GPS tracking) and plonked him on top of one of the barriers. It was clear that, as the temperature rose, this location was not going to a great place to be if we wanted to avoid sun-stroke, or any kind of stroke for that matter, so we took cover in the seats in the the Rink End. 

In the second half, despite the shelter, it was not getting any cooler. The heat, even with the ever-present North Sea breeze was almost tropical and The Boy was getting uncomfortable (Talk about two men and a baby). A kindly steward seeing our plight said that there were some seats at the other end of the stand which were well in the shade. Whilst he was taking us to our seats he said that we might get a surprise when we took up our new vantage point. Indeed we did - Pools had a shot on goal.

It was not until a few minutes later I noticed that we were sat one seat away from the then Blackburn manager Kenny Dalglish, who was taking in the match ahead of Rovers' game against either the Mackems or the Mags the following day. Rumour had it, or so Garry Gibson said, that he was running the rule over Brian Honour. However the Barnet evening paper said that he was looking at one of the Bees' young players. I know which I would believe. Apart from taking a sneaky photo of the former Liverpool legend I did not bother him as he did seem to be the dour Scot that many described him as. He left ten minutes before full time looking very unimpressed. A Pools player who had been in the players' bar with him after the game described him to me a few years later as a miserable so and so who would not speak to anyone. Never meet your heroes.

Brian Horne gets the drinks in 
Brian Horne says "Now it's your turn to get the drinks in!"

 Even though we were now sat in the shade it was still very hot and The Boy's water supply had run out. However just after the final whistle blew, help was at hand in the form of Brian Horne, the then Pools keeper, who came across and gave us his water bottle so The Boy could quench his thirst. Top top man. Not long afterwards, one of the first songs that The Boy came to love to sing before 'night nights' was the Poolie chant (to the tune of the Beatles' Yellow Submarine) "Number one is Brian Horne Number Two is Brian Horne number three is Brian Horne" etc.

Two Little Boys
The match ended in a one nil defeat. However another highlight was when Brian Honour was leaving the field of play and I shouted across to Horden's finest and literally threw The Boy over to him to get a photo of both my heroes together.

A proud moment for his Dad a couple of years later was The Boy's first day at school. He went wearing his Pools dut. I took him to a few matches as he got older but he did not like the noise when Pools scored, which in those days was quite regular, and to be fair it was very noisy in the Town End back then. So it was when he was nine or ten when he started going on a regular basis.

On one occasion he was a ball boy. That was funny in itself. 'Pools were playing Exeter or Torquay in a night match in the middle of winter. There was only a handful of away fans in the Rink End (They must have come on a skateboard!) Pools spent most of the time in their opponents' half and the only two people on the grass at the other end of the pitch were The Boy, all two foot and a bit of him, and Taffy Williams. He said Taffy did speak to him but he did not understand a word that he said.

Even though he wasn't regularly attending any Pools games he was becoming very interested in football in general. As well as all the Pools players, he pretty much knew every player's name in every division of every league in Britain and Europe, and what teams they all played for. Still does to a lesser extent.

From four to five years old he took an interest in some of the Premiership teams and at one stage or another he wore the colours of West Ham (Dagenham Dave as he became known) Arsenal and, for a short period which did cause me some concern, he asked for a Man United shirt. Then he got into all the continental and international teams and had the tops of PSG, Barca, Real Madrid, Aachen, England, Ireland and Argentina. However I was not too worried which top he had as long as it was not a Borer shirt. In truth I think that he was more interested in the shirts themselves (he even had a Mayo Gaelic football shirt) rather than the teams, but for a while I did think that he might go down the Arsenal route as he had several of their shirts.

Then a few years later, out of the blue, or should I say 'Into the Blue', he asked, without any pressure from Dad, if I would start taking him to see Pools, and the rest as they say is history. He became a Pools fanatic and from then on it was only Pools.

At about this time he seemed to take a great dislike to the Boro. I am not saying that I radicalised him but...

Part of The Boy's radicalisation
process during an open day 1995-ish
 
I once won a signed Borer shirt in a raffle. Pretty much everyone of the 50/60 people in the room where the raffle was drawn, all of whom knew my feelings towards Middlesbrough FC, said it had been written in the stars that I would win that shirt. Even before the ticket was drawn I was walking up to the prize-giving area to accept that red rag, because I too knew it had my name, or should I say number on it. I took the shirt home and kidded The Boy I had bought it as a present for him for doing so well at junior school. He ran out to the kitchen and returned with the scissors and said 'Give me that shirt.' 'That's my boy!' I thought.

The season that we got relegated from League One he told me that on the actual night that Pools lost their League One status he was at a party in Newcastle and even though it was inevitable that relegation had been a certainty for some weeks beforehand he left the party early and in tears. He was nineteen years old. 

Occasionally, particularly when Pools are going through a rough spell, he tells me that he wished that I had been a Manchester United or Chelsea fan and that life would have been a lot more enjoyable for him football-wise. Sometimes so do I!

* Presumably this refers to the site of the Elephant Rock, as the rock itself was washed away by a storm in 1891. Even Poolpower barely remembers that. Ed.