The Football Fan

I think this is the first thing I wrote – back in 1994, not long after getting married …

THE FOOTBALL FAN

Years ago when football was much less important and people were by and large interested in more weighty matters, such as what her at number forty seven was doing with that nice young milkman, Lumpcaster United reached the final of the much prized Football Trophy Vase. As one can imagine, and despite their natural reserve, the residents of the small town of Lumpcaster were rather proud of their football team and there was much excitement at the thought of travelling to watch the gallant little band play at the famous Wemburlee Stadium. One man in particular was thrilled, Reginald Arbuthnott-Smythe, Chairman and owner of Lumpcaster United.

In his youthful prime Reginald had been the scourge of the local parks league as Lumpcaster United’s dynamic centre forward, earning himself a fearsome reputation and the nickname “Clogger”. Reginald’s keen competitive streak, commitment and scoring record very soon began to attract the attention of talent scouts from around the land, there were even rumours that the mighty Richtown Rovers were ready to make “Clogger” an offer to good to refuse.

Unfortunately, for Reginald, this was not to be. Three days before Rovers’ chief scout was to watch Reginald play, Reginald’s dog, Murgatroyd, was run over by the number seventeen bus. Admittedly, Murgatroyd’s demise would not have affected Reginald a great deal ordinarily, however, when Murgatroyd had been cruelly struck by the charabanc Reginald had been running alongside him and he too had been dealt a glancing, though nonetheless nasty, blow. From that day on poor Reginald could no longer play football, and he developed a curious and fervent dislike of all forms of public transport.

Thankfully, all was not lost for Reginald. Upon hearing of the accident, Reginald’s father, the Honourable Montague Arbuthnott-Smythe MP, keeled over in the middle of the select committee meeting and expired of a shock induced heart attack. The bitter pill of such treble tragedy was considerably sweetened for Reginald by the inheritance of the family fortune and business, the leading company in the wholesale tripe sector, “Montague’s Extraordinary Tripe”.

Reginald threw himself into work with the same hair raising energy that he could no longer employ on the field of play and very soon “Montague’s Extraordinary Tripe” grew to become “Montague’s Magnificent Meats,” eventually branching out into all forms of consumables as the national chain of grocers known simply as “Montague’s”. Despite his business acumen and success, Reginald still yearned for the days when he revelled in the clash of the tackle and crunch of the challenge.

“Clogger” missed his football.

In order to satisfy his passion for football in general, and his beloved Lumpcaster United in particular, Reginald decided to throw the full financial muscle of the Montague empire behind his former team, purchasing the controlling interest from the then Chairman, Sydney Sydneyson, for two crates of good malt whisky and three pounds of choice tripe.
Lumpcaster United blossomed under the sun of Reginald Arbuthnott-Smythe’s patronage, rising from the local parks league to the heady heights of third in the semi-professional Austin Conference, and now, the dazzling triple towers of Wemburlee beckoned.

So, the whole town was aglow with excitement, for these were the days when a trip to the nation’s capital still meant something to humble northern folk. Lumpcaster United scarves and shirts were being proudly worn, posters wishing United all the best appeared in every shop window and tickets had become as rare and valuable as an honest lawyer or a trustworthy politician. Needless to say, those who were fortunate enough to have tickets guarded them jealously and, not altogether surprisingly, a certain one-upmanship accompanied their possession.

Finally, the great day dawned, and as the birds greeted the rising sun, the coaches and cars sallied forth from Lumpcaster, bearing eager, shiny faced Lumpcastrians bedecked in their United regalia on the pilgrimage south to Wemburlee. That morning, so not as to appear too eager, Reginald stayed in bed an extra fifteen minutes and ate a leisurely, tripe laden, breakfast before donning his team blazer and climbing into his fiery red sports-car to join the team coach at Lumpcaster United’s home ground, Montague Park.
The journey to Wemburlee seemed to last an eternity for Reginald, his greatest ambition had been to play on that famous hallowed turf and, although denied that pleasure by a cruel twist of fate and road conditions, Reginald felt as though he would, in spirit, run out into the stadium with his players today.

Upon arrival, Reginald left the rest of the team party and strode purposefully towards the directors box entrance. With a firm grip, that masked his excitement and nervousness his grasped the fine round brass knob and turned it, as the door swung open before him, he heard a voice that he would remember for the rest of his days,

“Ticket please!

Reginald turned to face a small, spotty youth who sported a badge that proclaimed him “Official Directors Steward.” The youth smiled keenly, held forth a sweaty little palm and repeated, “Ticket, please!” Exasperated, because his grand entrance had been delayed, Reginald reached inside his pocket for his ticket, and then, ever so slowly, Reginald went paler and paler – he didn’t have a ticket! In all the excitement and hullabaloo of the build up to the match, Reginald had neglected to take the time to buy a ticket to the most important Lumpcaster match ever! What was he going to do?
“Ticket…please?” said the steward.
“Erm…um…erm…. Ah…well…erm,” replied Reginald.
Not surprisingly the steward had absolutely no idea what Reginald was on about, and in the manner of young men in positions of inconsequential authority, he decided that the only way to deal with the obviously senile old man before him was to explain things in a gentle voice as though talking to a confused three year old with a hearing problem.
“I…NEED…TO…SEE…YOUR…TICKET…BEFORE…I…CAN…LET…YOU…IN..SIR!” announced the steward.
Reginald Arbuthnott-Smythe fixed the callow youth with his steeliest glare, and between clenched teeth, he hissed, “I am not deaf!”
“Pardon?” replied the steward.
“I’M NOT DEAF YOU STEAMING GREAT…”
“No need to be offensive, sir,” finished the steward, curtly, oblivious to the scarlet flush that was slowly seeping up past Reginald’s collar and the sound of teeth being ground together, sharpening themselves for the feeding frenzy.

Reginald Arbuthnott-Smythe was not used to being asked questions, or having his behaviour and language reprimanded, especially by a pimply boy less than a third of his own age. Indeed, Reginald was used to such people quaking in their boots at the very thought of his approach, for Reginald employed that time honoured management technique of bellowing at all and sundry until you got what you want, and he saw no reason to change that policy now. Reginald decided he would brazen and bluff his way past this annoying little boy, as he had done so often in the past with others of his ilk. A shark like grin spread across his face, Reginald took a deep, soothing breath and regarded the boy in front of him coldly, pausing like a mantis just prior to the kill.
“DO YOU HAVE ANY IDEA WHO I AM, BOY?” Reginald roared.
“Nope,” said the steward.
“I AM REGINALD ARBUTHNOTT-SMYTHE, SON OF MONTAGUE ARBUTHNOTT-SMYTHE, FOUNDER OF MONTAGUE’S GROCERS AND…”
“And, do you have a ticket?”
“I AM THE OWNER AND CHAIRMAN OF LUMPCASTER UNITED, YOU BLITHERING IDIOT!”
“That must be nice for you,” said the steward, who displayed extraordinary bravery for one of such tender years. “Chairmen need tickets too, you know. Have you got yours?”
Reginald was very nearly dumbfounded. By now, the boy should have capitulated. By now, he should have given way and begged for forgiveness. By now, this childlike steward should have surrendered to Reginald’s barrage and let him in! Reginald saw no other option; he would just have to shout louder!
“LOOK, M’LADDO! I’VE PUT A LOT OF MONEY INTO THIS FOOTBALL MALARKEY, I’VE DRAGGED THAT TEAM OUT OF THE ‘SUNDAY-MORNING-MATCH-AND-A-SWIFT-PINT-AFTER-THE-GAME’ LEAGUE INTO THE AUSTIN CONFERENCE….AND WE’RE THIRD! I’VE REFURBISHED THE GROUND, EVEN PUT IN A RESTAURANT, WHICH DOES BLOOMIN’ GOOD TRIPE AN’ ALL! I’VE SPENT THOUSANDS ON THIS TEAM JUST TO GET THEM HERE’ NOW LET…..ME…..IN !!!!!”
The steward’s face brightened, “Did you say a restaurant?” he asked.
“Yes,” replied Reginald, slightly nonplussed.
“A good one is it?”
“OF COURSE!”
“Do people pay loads of money to get in, then?”
“YES!”
“Same here sir,” said the steward with a victorious grin, “Where’s your ticket?”

Reginald gaped, open mouthed at the resilience of his foe, a mere slip of a boy with the intestinal fortitude of a battle hardened veteran. Despite his predicament, Reginald felt a grudging admiration for the young fellow, but not enough to stop him from gambling all on an attempt at emotional blackmail.
“Look,” said Reginald, with a sudden conciliatory tone, “I’ve left mine at home…in my other jacket. It’s very silly of me, I know, but after all, I am the chairman of Lumpcaster United, and…”
“And, chairmen sit in chairs, which are the same as seats, which means you have to have a ticket to get in, sir!” said the steward, not giving an inch.
“And I’m the owner of the team,” continued Reginald hoping to overwhelm the boy. “I’ve supported this team all of my life, I’ve never missed a game in forty years, I’ve been all around the country to support them, I’ve been in countless grounds….”
“I bet you needed a ticket to get into them as well,” interjected the steward.
Reginald ignored him and plunged on, unaware that a desperate heartfelt truth was emerging in his manner and his words, “I live for this team, it’s all I’ve got!” he wailed. “Don’t you see, I was the star centre forward back in the days of thick knitted jerseys and ankle high boots, I was going to be famous I was. Richtown Rovers were going to sign me up…I was somebody…. I…. I…was Clogger! But I was injured, hurt like and I couldn’t play anymore, and so I worked hard at my job and put my money into the club…it’s my club! All I want to do is go in and see them play here, the home of football, Wemburlee!”
Reginald’s voice quaked with genuine emotion, which was as much of a surprise to Reginald as it was to anyone else, “PLEEEEEEEEEASE, LET ME IN!!!” he sobbed.
“Okay,” said the steward.
“Eh?” said Reginald
“I said you can come in,” sighed the steward, “On one condition.”
“Wh..wh..what condition?” stammered Reginald, astounded by the steward’s change of heart.
“That you show me YOUR BLOOMIN’ TICKET!” stormed the young man.
Reginald screamed aloud, a low moaning sound, full of mournful disappointment yet delicately tinged with just a hint of homicidal madness. Reginald’s hands balled into fists, his red face took on a dangerous, volcanic hue, his eyes bulged as though they would burst free of his head and attack the steward of their own accord as he stepped towards the young man, menace heavy in the air.
“Now then, sir, let’s just calm down now,” said the steward backing off, suddenly aware that Reginald was no longer in control of his own faculties, “There’s no need to go off half-cocked now, is there?”

Reginald was not listening to the steward, or at least he couldn’t hear him over the sound of the blood rushing through his head and the sound of his own hot, angry breath hissing through his tightly clenched teeth. Reginald felt sure he was about to do the lad a serious injury, he hadn’t felt as alive as this since the day he’d managed to hospitalise two centre backs and a goalkeeper in a local friendly, way back in his playing days. Reginald advanced, the predator closing in on the prey, pawing at the ground and snorting like a demented bullock.

“Excuse me,” said a deep, resonant voice, “What seems to be the problem?”
Reginald and the steward turned to face the speaker. To Reginald’s horror, he saw that it was none other than Arthur Higginbottom, the chairman of Cruddock Town, Lumpcaster United’s fiercest rivals and their opponents today! In the heartbeat of silence that followed, the steward leapt behind Mr Higginbottom in order to keep something between himself and Reginald.
“Its him, Mr Higginbottom sir, he’s trying to get in without a ticket!” blurted the steward, ” He keeps going on and on about how much he’s done for the game, how much he’s put into the club, how important he is, how good he used to be, how much he loves his football BUT HE HASN’T GOT A TICKET!!!”
“You haven’t got a ticket, Clogger?” asked Higginbottom, barely suppressing a smile, “You need one to get in you know.”
“YES, I BLOOMIN’ WELL KNOW!” raged Reginald.
“I mean,” continued Higginbottom, “You can’t just waltz in to the directors box on the strength of your business connections, can you?”
“No, you can’t,” said the steward.
“Hush,” said Higginbottom, “That’s hardly helpful, is it?”
“Go on, Arthur,” said Reginald, “You tell the little….”
“Shush, Clogger!” barked Higginbottom, “You’re not helping either!”
Reginald shuffled slightly and looked down at the floor, no longer bullish, more sheepish and embarrassed.
“As I was saying,” continued Higginbottom, “You can’t expect to get in on the strength of your financial commitment to your club, can you?”
“Well, I jolly well hoped it would count for something,” muttered the increasingly forlorn Reginald.
“Even the length of time you’ve supported the club won’t guarantee access, will it?” chided Higginbottom, “The glorious past you had playing for the first team back in the days you were slim enough to see your toes, the years and the miles spent travelling the length and breadth of the land to follow your team, and all the dodgy half-time pies you’ve eaten can’t do the trick, can they?”
“No,” mumbled Reginald
“Trying to bully your way in, even if you are three times bigger than the steward, definitely doesn’t work, does it?” asked Higginbottom gently.
“No,” Reginald replied, his voice a hollow whisper.
“No,” said Higginbottom, “The only thing that will gain you access to the directors box is something you do not have, namely a ticket, and you knew this didn’t you?”
“Yes,” whispered Reginald, a broken man now.
“You knew you needed a ticket, you found you did not have one and yet, you still tried to get in?”
“I did.”
“Well, I think our young steward friend here has proved the folly of that, don’t you?”
“He has.”
“Yes, I have too, thank you very much,” said the elated steward, his face flushed with victory, “And, since you plainly do not have the required ticket to gain entry, will you kindly push off!”

Reginald looked up briefly, his eyes gazing past Higginbottom to the Promised Land of the directors’ box. He then turned slowly, shoulders drooping, laden with woe, and, with tearful eyes, began a slow shamble away from the door.

“Good riddance,” murmured the steward, who was not yet old enough to appreciate the virtue of being magnanimous in victory.
“Show some mercy,” chided Higginbottom, gently, “A fellow can always do with a little mercy.”

Higginbottom and the steward watched as the bereft Reginald trudged away.
“I say!” called Higginbottom, “Clogger! Hang on a moment!”

Reginald paused, yet did not turn.

Higginbottom hastened forward, from the sanctuary of the directors box to the forsaken land of the corridor; he approached Reginald gently, as one would a frightened, wounded bird. Reginald turned his face a mixture of shame and fear. Shame, that he would try to bludgeon his way into a place he regarded with such awe and wonder, and fear that Higginbottom was going to give him another going over.

Higginbottom reached inside his Cruddock Town blazer and produced a stub of paper, “Here,” he said simply, “Take my ticket.”
Reginald stood, transfixed. He simply could not believe his ears.
“Sorry?” said Reginald.
“I said, take my ticket,” repeated Higginbottom.
“That’s not funny!” sobbed Reginald, his bottom lip trembling.
“It’s not supposed to be, Clogger,” smiled Higginbottom, “I assure you, I’m quite serious about it. I want you to have my ticket, so that you can get into the directors box to watch Cruddock Town and Lumpcaster United play in the final of the Football League Vase!”
“But…but I tried to lie and cheat my way in,” stammered Reginald.
“I know,” replied Higginbottom.
“I tried to use my own self importance to bribe a way in,” Reginald continued, “I tried to drag up past glories to impress my way in!”
“I know.”
“I tried to make out that I was indispensable to the team to earn my way in!”
“I know, I know,” said Higginbottom, “But, I still want you to have my ticket.”
“But, you’re the Chairman of Cruddock Town!” protested Reginald.
“So?”
“So, you’re the enemy!” wailed Reginald, full of amazed disbelief.
“I’m not your enemy, Clogger,” said Higginbottom, “I am your friend. Now, please, take my ticket.”
Higginbottom stretched out his hand, holding out the precious ticket to Reginald.
An eternity passed, and a look of wonder spread over Reginald’s face like a sunrise, “Are you sure?” he whispered, tremulously.
“I’m sure.”

Slowly, reverentially, Reginald raised his hand to Higginbottom’s and delicately drew the ticket from his fingers. He paused in mid action, and looked at Higginbottom questioningly, “Why?” he asked.
“Love of the game, dear boy,” smiled Higginbottom, “And love of the fan.”
Reginald grasped the ticket to his chest, his eyes full of tears again, only this time tears of joy and thanksgiving. He looked at Higginbottom, who stood just ahead of him sporting his Cruddock Town blazer and a Cheshire cat smile.
“Well, go on then!” urged Higginbottom, waving towards the open door, and the directors’ box beyond it, “The match will be starting soon, just as you get there I should think.”
“Thank you,” whispered Reginald, his voice full of emotion, “Thank you, ever so much.”
With faltering steps that became firmer and firmer Reginald walked, then strode, then practically ran towards the directors box.
“Ticket, please!” insisted the young steward.
“Here,” said Reginald, presenting the ticket,” A friend gave me it.”
The steward looked at the ticket, looked at Reginald, then looked down the corridor to Higginbottom, who smiled and nodded. The steward shook his head with bemusement, “Very well, Mr Arbuthnott-Smythe, this ticket appears in order, welcome to Wemburlee!”
“Thank you,” said Reginald as he walked into the room, allowing the steward to quietly draw the door shut behind him.

“I’m afraid I just don’t understand, Mr Higginbottom,” said the steward, “Why did you give him your ticket?”
Higginbottom smiled a smile of deep satisfaction,

“It’s just as I said dear boy,” he said, his voice ringing clear and true, “Love of the game. Love of the fan!”

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