Even at the age of ten I took great delight in kicking Emlyn Hughes in the face. One look at his features, mutated after my Father had taken a hot knife to his eye socket was all it took. The chirpy, footballer turned personality, however, still grinned insanely through his deformity.
The field behind my home had become Wembley to the boys from our neighbourhood and the plastic Emlyn Hughes Superstars football had been the ball of choice for the past two years now.
The field, roughly the length and width of a small cottage, sloped off sharply in the right hand corner of what was known as the Back Lane End where the corner flag was replaced by a permanently muddy puddle. At the far side of the field we had the Bush End which had a privet hedge along its length. To the left of the field was a road that separated us from Tate’s, a large wasteland surrounded by a seven-foot brick wall and to the right was the gable end of the Pritchard’s house.
“I’m calling the police if you don’t stop belting that ball off our wall. Our lass is trying to watch Coronation Street.” Mr Pritchard was out again with one of his nightly rants. It was hard to take him seriously. He was five foot four and sported a bushy, black moustache that gave him the appearance of a schoolboy dressed up for a school play. “This is our field, I could get you done for trespass.” Saliva sprayed from his lips as he bawled at us.
“It’s not your grass, my M m m mam checked with the council. They said it belongs to them and we can p p p play on it as much as we like.” Elvis shouted and then took a step behind Bumper.
Paul ‘Elvis’ Morris lived three doors up from me. He was tall and thin for his age and wore a pair of thick-rimmed spectacles that he tied on with old shoelaces when we played football. His stutter came and went depending on how excited he got. I’m not sure if his Mam had checked with the council but it sounded good to me.
“Don’t talk wet son,” said Mr Pritchard.
“You’re the one talking wet. I’m bloody drowning here.” Bumper pretended to wipe spit from his face. Pritchard climbed over the wall that connected his garden to the field and went for him. He stopped dead in his tracks when he caught sight of the imposing figure on the corner of the back lane.
Uncle Tim was a giant of a man, six foot four in his tartan slippers, he was quite an intimidating sight. He wasn’t my real uncle but he was a friend of my Dad’s and always seemed to look out for us. He removed his pipe from his mouth, studying it briefly before ambling over to Mr Pritchard.
“Is there a problem?”
“Err no, no problem, ” Pritchard was shaking. “I was just trying to explain that our lass can’t hear the telly because of the noise they’re making.”
“Well tell her to turn the bugger up then.” The thought of Tim slippering Pritchard to death did appeal to me. I glanced at Bumper and you could tell that he was silently willing Tim on to chin him as well.
“Yeah, good idea, I didn’t think of that.” Pritchard climbed back over the wall, taking his moustache with him and headed back inside.
“Don’t worry lads, he won’t bother you again.”
“Cheers Tim,” I said.
“No problem, you know where I am if you get any hassle.” Tim replaced his pipe, glanced at the specks of mud that had gathered on his slippers then wandered off round the corner.
“Morning Mr Morris.” Kevin Davison stood menacingly in the doorway of the shop, temporarily blocking out the light.
“That’s not a pleasant way to greet an old school friend now is it?”
“What do you want Kev? I’ve got work to do.” Elvis put down his screwdriver.
“Glad to hear that you’re busy. That means that you shouldn’t have any problems paying the small rent increase that I’m going to have to impose.”
“Again? It only went up t t t two months ago.”
“That’s inflation for you,” Kev patted Elvis on the head. “It’s only fifty pounds a week more.”
“F f f fifty pounds? How am I going to afford that?”
Davison shrugged as he took Elvis’ glasses from his face and tried them on. “Fuck me, how blind are you?” His two friends, who had just come into the shop, laughed. “You remember Mr Thompson and Mr Couzens don’t you? I think you’ll find that it’s insurance day.”
“Shit.” Elvis shook his head.
“I trust you won’t have any problems paying them.” Davison went to hand the glasses back to Elvis but instead dropped them onto the floor before standing on them. “Clumsy me. Never mind, accidents will happen.”
We’d kicked off again and it wasn’t long before the ball was racing down the back lane alongside Tate’s. Gilbert chased after it as we sat with our backs against Pritchard’s wall, grateful for the rest.
“Fancy a swig?” Bumper handed me a bottle of Dandelion and Burdock that his mother had bought us. I took a swig of the bitter, sweet liquid and handed it onto Elvis.
“What’s down the bottom of the bank then?” Bumper hadn’t been in the area long but we had taken him under our wing.
“There’s a garage at the very bottom and another road,” I said, “that’s why you have to be quick; if the ball goes on the road it’s bound to be burst by a car.”
“Do you think Gilbert was the best man to send after it then?” Bumper looked down the back lane to see how far Gilbert had got. “He’s not exactly the quickest lad I’ve ever met.”
“He was in goal, ” I said. “It’s the rules. Gilbert’s ok, at least he makes the rest of us look like good footballers.”
“Seems like a good lad, doesn’t say much though. Has he been here long?”
“Yeah, he lives on the Marley Potts estate at the top of our street. He lives with his Mam and his two brothers.”
“What about his Dad?”
“Don’t know. I don’t think anybody knows who or where his dad is but we’ve never bothered to ask. It’s not something he talks about.”
Gilbert was just getting to the top of the bank. His face was bright red and he was out of breath. He was nearly as tall as Elvis but a lot chubbier and he sloped forward when he walked quickly, resembling a ski jumper speeding down the slope.
“What’s on the other side of Tate’s then?” Once Bumper started, he was full of questions.
“There’s a big car park that used to belong to the Plessey’s factory, ” explained Elvis. “At the far end of that is Inkerman Print.”
“It’s where they print the football programmes”
“Can we go down there sometime? I’d love to see it.” Elvis and me exchanged nervous glances.
“No, it’s far too dangerous.”
That’s the first installment, another one to follow same time next week.
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