Billy's Contract's Skool Daze

An educashernal peace by BELIZE KONTRACT

By any standard it was quite late in life before I began to take an interest in association football or soccer. I think I was fourteen or fifteen before I kicked a football in anger.

It naturally followed that my hard-earned pocket money was now being spent on football kits and not Airfix kits, as well as football magazines such as Charlie Buchan's Football Monthly and Shoot, as well as Goal, in which every bit of print was devoured and every picture scrutinised.

Then I started attending football matches. Initially Pools were not on our radar but a group of us would every few weeks randomly turn up at Hartlepool railway station with a view to taking in a match. Not a clue which match we would be taking in until we got on the platform which would either be bedecked out in fans wearing the red and white of Sunderland or the black and white of the Mags. It was only then we knew what our destination would be.

We got to see many of the all-time greats, nay legends of the game, such as Hurst, Moore and Peters of West Ham, Best, Law and Charlton of Man Utd., Bell, Lee and Summerbee of City,  Greaves, Gilzean and Cyril Knowles of Tottenham, and not forgetting Wyn Davies and Pop Robson at Newcastle and, errr... mmmm...  and hmmmm... of Sunderland.

For us schoolkids the biggest purchase of all and the most essential, in any game, was the football itself. Normally this would involved two or three lads chipping in and 'sharing' the ubiquitous* Size five, orange, Wembley Trophy heavy-duty plastic football which cost around seven shillings and sixpence, which for the benefit of our younger readers, in new money is around seven shillings and sixpence.

Prior to joining the real world, one of the biggest tragedies, disasters, disappointments, call it what you like, occurred in my young life about this time. The weekend was upon us. A wonderful sunny day but my pals and I were unable to get a game going because no one had a football. I was a few bob short of the purchase price of a Wembley Trophy football. For the benefit of our younger readers, a Bob is shilling, not the name of any of my chums. To that end I spent the rest of the day scavenging for money, putting my hand down the sides of the front room suite to see if I could retrieve a few mislaid coins.

I informed our kid that if he wished to partake in a game he needed to cough up a few pennies from his piggy bank for the privilege. Further funding was secured when I raided the larder which contained my dad's 'cigarette money' in the form of empty pop and beer bottles that were stored under the cupboard. These were taken down to the 'offy' in exchange for truppence; for each bottle. For the benefit of younger readers 'truppence' or 'three pence' would, in today's money  be worth around half of nothing, but they looked very similar to the new pound coin.

With finances secure a bee-line was made to Tommy Raw's newsagent and the purchase made of a Wembley Trophy football. On the way up to the Triangle on the Town Moor I carried, nay, cradled that ball like a proud father holding his first-born, though orange, child for the first time, not allowing anyone to touch it ...or kiss it. As there were only half a dozen of us we decided to play three pots in until the other thirty or forty regulars turned up. Only snag was that we did not have any goal posts.

Jumpers for goalposts were out of the question as it was summer and no one from the Headland even in winter would consider wearing such a thing. The lads would not give up their football shirts for the same purpose as they wanted to be seen in their various teams colours. All red or all blue. Our kid pointed out that some building work was going on at the adjacent bowling green pavilion and returned with two pieces of scrap wood measuring about an inch square and a foot high, which, for the benefit of our younger readers. in today's measurements would be roughly 36 degrees centigrade and 8 grams long. Or thereabouts.

Posts having been hammered into the ground with the aid of Our Kid's head, the game commenced. From the goalkeeper's throw (Our Kid again ...well he had to be first choice to go between the sticks having only contributed twopence to the cause), the ball fell nicely in front of me, bounced once and I was able to hit a first time left foot shot from around 10 yards which hit the recently installed left hand post. Next thing, we noticed the ball was spinning around on its axis with air hissing out of it. Turns out that there was a small nail left in the goalpost that had punctured the ball. One kick - game over.
"As there were only half a dozen of us we decided to play three pots in until the other thirty or forty regulars turned up"

As I was led away for counselling one of the lads noticed that there was a repair kit contained within the box in which the ball had been supplied. Not one of us had previously noticed this. Basically the kit consisted of a square inch of orange plastic along with a branding iron with a small circular head,  about 5/16ths in diameter, which you would heat up over a gas ring or similar. The orange plastic patch would be put over the puncture then the branding iron would be rubbed around the patch, which in turn would melt, and nine times out of ten the repair would be effected. On the down side, depending on the quality of the repair, one could not pump up the ball to its full regulation size for fear of it bursting. And if you managed to head the ball and came into contact with the repair itself it could be quite a painful experience and left a mark on your forehead.

Meanwhile, back in the classroom. I willingly hold my hands up and confess to not being the brightest in class but my new-found love of football helped me academically on two levels. In an upstairs classroom during a French lesson - can you imagine they were teaching us French up in West View in 1968 ...a century and a half after the hanging of the monkey. Instead of paying attention to my Un, Deux, Trois I was looking out the 'fenetre' at a football match on the playing fields, when the teacher shouted at me 'If you are so interested in what is going on out there why don't you go and join them'. And I did. Within a few weeks practically every lad in the French class was shown la porte and had joined me on the playing fields of St. Peter's Sec Mod.

I'd be the first to admit that my end of term French report was a bit of a disaster but I did get a high mark for my P.E. A few years later, our kid got poor grades in his school report in every subject with the exception of PE and Religious Knowledge, in which he got very high marks. My Father, upon reading this, and not impressed at all, said "what are you going to do with your life, become a running vicar?"

Through football my knowledge of the British Isles was greatly enhanced by researching the locations of various English as well as Scottish football teams. Who would have ever thought that Grimsby did not play in Grimsby at all but in the town next door, Cleethorpes? That Heart of Midlothian and Hibernian were from the Scottish Capital, and as for Charlton, where the heck was that? I could now pinpoint Walsall and West Bromwich on the map but the most significant discovery I made was not that Port Vale was not on the coast, but that Aston Villa was not a town in Italy.

When Pools joined the National League it came as a shock to accept that perhaps my geographical knowledge was not as good as I first thought. Who are all these strange teams that inhabit this league and where do they hail from? I had obviously heard of and even been to the likes of Tranmere, Halifax and Torquay in the past when they were football league teams but where on God's planet were Ebbsfleet, Eastleigh and Guiseley located? In fact, the only reason why I went to the Guiseley v Pools fixture was purely to find out that the place actually existed. As for Fylde I thought that they were located at the top end of Scotland.

Pools Joining the Vanarama league, in my case, was pretty much like joining an adult learning class. Certainly taught me a lesson!

* This word put together with the aid of spellcheck.