All the arrangements were made through Brian Hathaway. He was a pleasant lad who I’m sure wouldn’t have wanted to get involved, but he was unfortunate enough to live next door to Ingham. He wouldn’t get any trouble, as he was just the messenger that’s how it worked.
The fight was to take place outside the Tasty Bake takeaway on Friday lunchtime. The Tasty Bake was at the top of my street and was definitely our turf. I felt a little bit better about this as I had a guaranteed escape route and, as it was on our patch, the turnout from our school would be substantial and we had plenty of back up if it got out of hand. I was even happier when Kev had told me that they had agreed not to use weapons. They were going to settle it fair and square.
I didn’t concentrate much in my lessons on Friday and I considered bunking off for the morning and coming back at lunchtime, but decided it was too dangerous. The morning flew by and we all congregated in the yard. The fight wasn’t until one so Kev sent out some scouts and the rest of us went for lunch. We didn’t want to all go at the same time as it would arouse suspicion.
When we finished lunch, we walked over the lower schoolyard, jumped the fence and headed to the Tasty Bake. I couldn’t believe the crowd that had gathered; there must have been at least one hundred and fifty. There was a splattering of girls, but it was mainly lads. Admittedly a lot of them were younger than us, but it still looked impressive. They cheered as we approached, and I thought that maybe it wouldn’t be as bad as I had expected.
We all chatted and exchanged pleasantries as we waited for Ingham. It was now five past one, Ingham was late, but nobody was particularly concerned. Whilst his gang could come from one of four directions we were confident that they would come along the main road. In any case we’d see them from miles off, there wouldn’t be any surprise attacks.
Sam Newcombe, who lived a few doors up from me, came walking up the street. I knew him to say hello to, but he didn’t mix with us much as he went to Southwick Comp. He had his uniform on and the mood turned ugly. I thought he was a little stupid to walk into this crowd, but Sam wasn’t the one we were here to fight. Nick stepped in front of him and blocked his path.
“He’s okay, Nick, I know him,” I said.
Nick didn’t move and stared Sam straight in the eyes although Sam didn’t appear to be intimidated.
“Come on, Nick, just leave it,” I said.
He still didn’t move.
“Nick, if Pete says he’s okay then he’s okay,” Kev spoke, and Nick moved aside.
“Alright, Pete? Waiting for Ingham?” said Sam.
“Yeah, he’s cutting it a bit fine.”
“I think you’ll have a long wait. He’s not coming.”
“Have you heard this, Kev? Ingham’s bottled it,” I said.
“He wouldn’t bottle it. We’ll wait.” Kev gave Sam an unconcerned glance and carried on chatting to someone else.
“Your choice, Pete, I’m only telling you what I know.”
“Yeah cheers, Sam. I’ll think we’ll hang on a little longer though.”
We waited another ten minutes and still nobody showed.
“What do you think, Kev?” said Nick.
“I don’t know. I can’t believe he would walk into our yard and take out Tomma but won’t come here to fight me. He’s up to something. Where could he surprise us on the way back to school?”
“The only place they could hide in any numbers is the industrial estate. Do you think they’re waiting there?”
“Could be. Take a couple of others and go on a recce. We’ll wait here for you”
“I’ll go,” I said.
This was a chance to prove myself. I was good at making myself invisible and I knew the area like the back of my hand, so I was sure I was the best man for the job.
“No, you’re okay, Pete. They can manage. You stay here.”
Nick and the others jogged off towards the Industrial Estate. Everyone was a bit edgy now. We thought that they weren’t coming but weren’t sure. We were confident on our own turf, but the walk back could be dangerous. We needed to know what was happening?
We didn’t need to wait for Nick to get our answer.
The un-silenced exhaust of a motor cross bike roared behind us. The rider, who wasn’t wearing a helmet, was hurtling along the pavement at some speed, sending the old women at the bus stop into a panic. The bike was heading straight for the crowd and everybody parted as it screeched to a halt in front of Kev. It was Dave Lennox. He was in the same home as Kev and was another thug. He went to Southwick Comp, but still got on with Kev as he didn’t take sides in the war with Ingham. Too many problems of his own to deal with he said.
“He’s not coming, Kev,” said Lennox.
“You sure?” Kev knew that he was a reliable source.
“He’s still there at the moment. Said he’s definitely not coming.”
“You better not be taking the piss. If he’s lying in wait for me somewhere I’ll come after you.”
“Swear on it, mate. He’s not coming.”
A ripple of excitement spread around the crowd. Nick arrived a couple of minutes later.
“They’re not there, Kev. He’s bottled it.”
“Looks like you’re right. He’s bottled it.”
Kev punched Nick on the arm and, as the bike roared off into the distance, we headed back to school.
The walk back to school was jubilant. We were the conquering heroes without even having to fight. I had stood side by side with Kev and Ingham had bottled it. We were all late back for school after lunch, nobody gave a toss. With it being Friday afternoon, the teachers didn’t seem to care either and nobody got into any trouble.
The jubilation lasted all weekend but ended abruptly on Monday morning. Brian Hathaway came to school sporting a black eye. He walked straight up to Kev.
“He’ll have you today, at Marley Pots field. One o’clock.”
I slumped against the wall.
“Oh, fuck,” I thought.
Kev spent all morning trying to drum up support, but nobody was biting. Everyone knew about Marley Pots field; it was their turf and was where some of the most legendary battles of the last few years had taken place. The place was notorious.
“Come on, Pete, you have to come. You’re one of us now.”
I felt like I had no choice. There was no way that we were mustering the same numbers that we had on Friday. Aside from the location, our numbers were going to be depleted by the fact that Jamie and Martin had been suspended this morning. They had celebrated Friday’s victory by going into Woolworth’s in the town centre, emptying the display basket full of footballs and kicking them all over the store creating havoc. The police had been called and they were now in serious trouble.
Much to Kev’s disgust, Nick had also refused to go. He warned Kev that it was too dangerous, and he didn’t want any part of it. The top men in the gang were all missing; perhaps I could prove my loyalty now.
“Yeah, I’ll be there, Kev.” I noticed Elvis shake his head in the background. He hadn’t spoken to me much recently.
From the hundred and fifty that had turned up on Friday, our number had now been whittled down to thirteen. This number included many like me, there to prove their loyalty to Kev, but praying that it didn’t turn violent. I hadn’t eaten lunch, as I felt sick. My stomach was churning, and the mood of the group was sombre.
“Keep hold of this for me, Pete.” Kev handed me a short metal bar.
“I thought there were no weapons.”
“There shouldn’t be, but just in case. If it gets nasty, lash out with it, take as many out as you can.”
“Shouldn’t you keep it?” I said, “You’re in more danger than me.”
“Once I’m down I’m finished. If you see anybody jump in, hit out as hard as you can.”
Nobody expected Ingham to bottle it this time.
We headed onto the field. To the left of us were allotments and to the right was the football field and then more grass that sloped up steeply towards the changing rooms. Ahead of us was the main road that led to Southwick Comp, behind us were a line of bushes. We had come in through the gate separating the bushes from the allotments. There was nobody on the field when we got there.
“Which way do you think they will come?” I said.
“Probably come straight from school up the main road. No need to surprise us.”
We waited for about ten minutes and still nobody showed.
“Do you think he’s bottled again?”
“No. I’m not happy about this.” Kev eyed the field. “He shouldn’t be late on his own patch. What’s he up to?”
We waited nervously for another five minutes then we heard the rumble of Lennox’s exhaust again. He came racing up the pavement again from the direction of the school.
“He’s on his way, Kev. Good luck mate, you’re going to need it.”
He sped off up the slope towards the changing rooms. As I watched him disappear over the brow of the hill a crowd formed at the top of it. We were well outnumbered by about ten to one.
“Stand your ground lads!” shouted Kev.
I looked behind me to check my escape route.
We were surrounded. About one hundred lads were spilling through the gate that we had emerged through fifteen minutes ago. On the roadside an even bigger crowd emerged. This was the crowd that would include Ingham. I fingered the metal bar inside my pocket. I didn’t want to get it out as I didn’t want to provoke anyone. Then I realised that they were all tooled up. Metal bars, pool cues, and baseball bats, whatever they could get their hands on. I’m sure that Stephen Ford had started to sob behind me. The crowd headed down the hill.
“It’s just like Zulu,” said Paul Loftus.
They converged on us from all sides, there was still no sign of Ingham. A few lads brushed past me and they surrounded Kev. I edged towards the back of the crowd and noticed that others had done the same. Everyone was concentrating on Kev. The crowd on the far side parted and Ingham emerged from it, launching his assault. There were no pleasantries exchanged as Kev landed a right hook on his jaw and rocked him on his feet. He followed it with a left, right combination.
This was it. The adrenaline was pumping. I forced myself forward, so that I could get a better view. Ingham tried to swing a few punches, but didn’t connect properly, Kev followed with another combination and blood was now spilling out of Ingham’s nose. He kicked Ingham in the balls and he staggered backwards into the crowd. Kev followed him.
That’s when the mallet hit him.
Someone had been carrying a woodwork mallet and as soon as Kev had begun to get the upper hand, they intervened. His nose had shattered, and he collapsed. They swarmed around him like ants, swinging bats and metal bars and systematically dismantling his face. I attempted to get near him, it was impossible, there were hundreds of them. I pulled the bar from my pocket, but it was useless against such a crowd. If I took one out there would be another hundred to take his place.
“Get them,” somebody shouted.
Then the crowd turned. They were facing me. I ran and realised the rest of my school friends already had a head start on me. I felt a thud on the back of my neck but didn’t go down. I couldn’t go down. I ran as fast as I could, but I was never that good a runner. I felt another bat narrowly miss me. I threw the metal bar behind me and heard a crunch and a thud.
I saw Stephen Ford scrambling over the fence into the allotments; he wasn’t going to make it. Somebody grabbed his leg and he fell back to the floor. The bats started swinging. I couldn’t help him. I had to keep moving. It was chaos, there were people running everywhere. People who were meant to be chasing me were ahead of me; bodies were lying on the ground surrounded by swarms of people after their blood. I got through the gate in time to see Paul Loftus hurdle the fence into the Junior School. He was away. He had been the school athletics champion and knew the fence was no problem. I wasn’t so sure. I was even less sure when I saw David Stoker try and hurdle it and stumble. They were onto him and he was taking a hiding. I decided against it and turned right and ran towards the school.
The adrenaline was pumping, and I don’t think I was even afraid at that stage; I just had to keep on running. Then I saw the bus. It was pulling away, but the doors were still open. This was my only chance. I ran alongside it while it was indicating to pull out. I got to the doors as they were closing. I dived and grabbed the metal pole as I dragged myself aboard.
“What are you doing?” said the driver.
“Just fucking drive,” I shouted to the obvious disgust of the elderly lady in the front seats.
The driver agreed when an angry mob attacked the bus with baseball bats. He put his foot down and sped away. I looked up the bus where everybody was staring at me. Apart from the elderly lady, the bus driver and me, everybody was wearing Southwick Comp uniforms.
Luckily, the passengers on the bus didn’t care much that I had been in a battle with their classmates. As it appeared that half their school were at the fight I could only assume that this was the half that were non-violent and were more scared of me than I was of them.
I got off the bus after two stops and I was now half way in between St Pat’s and Southwick Comp. I removed my tie, ripped off my badge and headed back to school.
When I got back to the school everybody wanted to know what had happened. Paul Loftus was already back and had been filling them in. A couple others returned bruised and battered, but generally okay. Stephen Ford didn’t return that day, or for the next six weeks as he was too scared to come out of the house. A special assembly was held that afternoon to warn us of the dangers of violence. I wasn’t listening as I had my eyes planted firmly on the police officers in the entrance hall and the van outside. They were taking this seriously. Kev took a right beating he could even be dead. We were in real trouble. After the assembly a number of names were read out and told to stop behind. Mine wasn’t amongst them. Most of the names had been the usual suspects who were called upon when this sort of thing happened. On this occasion they were innocent.
“Why didn’t you help him? Why did you run?” Sara grabbed me by the arm.
There was no point explaining that I was the last to run and there was nothing I could have done. I shrugged my shoulders and walked away.
While I was walking out of the assembly I noticed a face I recognised talking to the police in the entrance hall. The face was badly swollen, and he resembled a cabbage patch doll, but it was definitely Kev.
He was alive.
Apart from the damage from the initial blow, Kev had survived quite well. The beating had been so frantic, nobody had connected properly, and he had curled into a ball. He suffered a broken nose, bruising to his face, arms and legs, but very little else and returned to school a week later a hero. Everyone knew he would have won the fight if nobody had jumped in and he said nothing to the police. Ingham wouldn’t be back and the war was over until next year.
I wasn’t so lucky. It turned out that the only casualty from the comp apart from Ingham was the lad I managed to hit in the face with the metal bar. I had assumed this would have given me some credibility with the gang.
I was wrong.
“You ran Wood and you could have helped me.” Kev was unforgiving.
“Everyone ran. There’s nothing I could have done. Half of your mates didn’t even turn up.”
“At least they had the decency to say they weren’t fighting. You said you would then bottled it.”
“I didn’t bottle, I was there, I was hit with a baseball bat.”
“I’m going to make you pay for this, Wood.”
I tried not to cry as somebody smacked me on the back of the head.
The next chapter will be released soon. If you can’t wait, Leg It is available on Kindle, Paperback and Hardback.