The Final Whistle


BILLY'S CONTRACT



Back in the day: 3rd of November 1973 to be precise, I was still two-timing Pools with my then favourite team, now my second-favourite team, West Ham. I was once asked why I started following the Hammers and I can assure you dear reader it was nothing to do with Hurst Moore or Peters but it was easy to spell.

On the day, Pools * were away at Northampton (just checked it!) so taking my life in my hands I made my first visit to Elland Road to see the Leeds United v West Ham match. In the seventies and eighties it was always a fraught experience travelling to football matches and trying one's best to avoid football violence and a possible visit to casualty. Looking back it was mainly daft lads looking out for gangs of other daft lads from rival teams to have a punch up with.

Of all my many football travels around the country over the years, the worst that ever happened to me was getting, when queuing for a ticket at Manchester Piccadilly railway station, a random soft kick up the backside from a pre-pubescent Manchester City fan of limited intelligence. I am guessing, nay hoping, that he was later sent down for his own good.

Our Kid on the other hand, come hail, rain or shine, followed Man Utd all over the country and witnessed all sorts of 'Bovver', once seeing a car overturned by Man U fans in Cambridge. In their defence however, they had probably never seen a car before. Every Saturday after a United away match there would be news on the airwaves of a town centre or a pub being trashed with dozens of police cars and ambulances on the scene tending to the injured.

Not that Our Kid would get involved in any sort of trouble but my poor Irish Catholic mother used to pray and light candles in church for his safe return home each weekend. This did work to a point but on one occasion after coming back from Old Trafford he was, for no apparent reason and nothing connected to football, randomly attacked from behind and beaten up by a local Headland thug 30 yards from my mam's front door. Just goes to show that you don't have to travel far to get a 'good kicking'. However, I digress.

Meanwhile, back in Leeds...

For those fans who had little or no interest in what happened in the confines of the football stadium, there was always the possibility of catching up with the forerunners of the Leeds United Service Crew and the Hammers' very own notorious Intercity Firm, neither of whom specialised in running train services ...ruining trains perhaps but not running them.
"Our Kid ... witnessed all sorts of 'Bovver', once seeing a car overturned by Man U fans in Cambridge. In their defence, however, they had probably never seen a car before."

In a perfect world it would be nice to believe that their members would pre-arrange to meet up for pre- and post-match drinkies, canap├ęs and chuckles, as well as to trade Jolly Japes with one and other. Sadly not the case. Luckily on this, my first visit to the City of Leeds, I managed to avoid all the thickos of the footballing fraternity. This was the era when Leeds United were the most cynical, horrible, dirty, underhand, cheating, unloved team in the land but sadly they had a tendency to win pretty much everything in sight (I won't mention the FA Cup Final against Sunderland earlier that year!)

Five minutes from time and with Leeds four-nil to the good against the East Londoners, I decided that I would make my way home. I had only taken a dozen or so steps from the ground when I heard a big cheer. The Hammers had scored. I went running back through the gates to see the Hammers' players returning to the centre circle and to learn that one of my then all-time favourite players, Ted MacDougall, had grabbed West Ham's one and only goal.

About the same time as I was walking back to Leeds railway station. ruing the missed goal, back in the away dressing room things were getting a bit heated as Hammers legend and my all-time favourite West Ham player, Billy Bonds, criticised MacDougall's work rate or lack of it, and an altercation ensued. Let's face it, there was only ever going to be one winner. Little did I know at the time, but that was to be Ted MacDougall's last goal for the Hammers and later in the month he was sold on to Norwich.

I promised myself that from that day on, I would never leave another football match, come what may, until the ref had blown the final whistle and that has been my mantra for the past 46 seasons. That was until the Pools FA Cup replay against Exeter. As normal time was drawing to a close my pal was in a conundrum, trying to work out, should the game go into extra time and possibly penalties, if he would he be subject to a £50 fine for having exceeded the three hour parking limit in the Morrisons car park. It suddenly dawned on me that I had parked up at Morrisons as well. First time in giddy yonks. It was a case of should we stick or twist.

As the final whistle blew, the incentive of avoiding a £50 parking penalty put us both in the 'twist' camp and we dashed to the exit and told a steward of our predicament who in turn advised that we were not the only ones making haste to Morrisons and not just for the sales.

I got my car out of the car park but the next problem was where to park? I went for the only parking space available, having guessed that no Hartlepool Corporation blue buses now run up Clarence Road, I abandoned my car in the bus lay-by outside the supermarket and dashed back into the ground. As the steward opened the gate to readmit me I was just in time to hear the cheer as Hawkes netted what turned out to be the winner.

Things got worse when I went to the cup match at Harrogate. Pools had just pressed the self-destruct button and from comfortably cruising at two nil up with a couple of minutes until full time the Yorkshire side had pulled level. Nobody around me seemed sure of the protocol once the ref blew the final whistle. Would the game go to a replay? Would it be extra time followed by a penalty shoot out if the scores were still level? Would it go direct to penalties? To be on the safe side and having a couple of pints on board I decided, before the ref blew for full time to make a dash ahead of a possible rush by others in the same mindset, to one of only four unisex Portaloos in the away end.

Having relieved my ageing bladder I emerged from the Portaloo only to see the ball rolling into the back of Pools' net. Had I not bothered to wash my hands in the loo I would have seen the the whole sorry performance of the comedy of errors and Dimi's faux pas that led to Betty's Wanderers' third goal.

Another missed goal. That's three missed goals in getting on for half a century. I hang my head in shame.

The moral of this story is if you don't want to miss a goal, play to the whistle.

* For the record, Pools were beaten one-nil by Northampton 3/11/73.


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