Sunday, October 17, 2004

A short fiction for you whilst we are away.

James Alexander-Gordon

As soon as I heard the newsreader say Alan Beckers name, I just knew what was coming next. If Alan could have been with me, he would have known as well.

It all started over 30 years earlier; our fathers were workmates who shared a mutual and unfathomable devotion to Bristol City. Luckily for Alan and myself, this meant that every other Saturday the four of us would meet at Alan’s Dad’s house before heading off to the game. Other than Alan, none of my other friends were allowed to go to matches, either their fathers did not like football or they could not afford to go. We were still too young to go on our own but, to be honest, even as the teenage years came screaming over the horizon, I always wanted to go with my Dad. I had no interest in running around with the teenage fools who would rather fight than watch the match.

Alan’s Dad was my Father’s boss and, although their easy camaraderie proved that this was a genuine friendship, there was no easy way to hide the obvious differences in the comparative lifestyles of our two families. Whilst we lived in a pleasant 3-bed semi in an average neighbourhood, the Beckers house a few miles away had not only a drive but also, amazingly, a tennis court (not that it ever appeared to be used).

Alan and I were not school friends; his education was expensively paid for, whilst mine was in the hands of the local primary school. So our friendship grew in fortnightly bursts rather than the more usual hours in the playground. Still, after a short while, a friendship did blossom. Fostered by our common interest in City’s mediocre struggles and, maybe more importantly, in a little after match ritual which we enjoyed on every journey home, the memory of which smacked into the front of my mind, with all the crispness of one of the great John Galley’s headers from the early 1970s, when I heard the newsreader mention his name.

In the days before dedicated sports channels dictated that the football could take place at any time and on any day, keeping up with the latest results was pretty easy. If you were at home on Saturday afternoon, it was a straight choice between the two rival Saturday afternoon TV sports programmes.

Some people would choose to watch ITV’s “World Of Sport”, although I never could understand why. The poor host always looked as though he had been dragged into the studio from some sort of foppish decorating session. What else could explain the clothes and the outrageous white streak in his hair? They even classed the absurd pantomime of wrestling as a sport. It was clear that these people could never be trusted to give you correct information.

The BBC, of course, offered us a programme which treated sport, and particularly football, with the seriousness it deserved. “Grandstand” was fronted by quietly determined men in tweed jackets, who cared as deeply about the goings on at Rochdale as Anfield. It was the only possible choice for any aspiring football supporter.

The real gem of the BBC’s sports coverage was, however, to be found on radio with the marvellous “Sports Report”. Nothing could ever match the excitement of dashing away from the latest Bristol City adventure, flinging open the doors of the car and switching on the radio just in time to catch the Central Band of the RAF launching into “Out of the Blue” at exactly 5pm. After the briefest round up of the day’s highlights, the microphone would be passed to James Alexander-Gordon for his reading of the football results.

This was where the real fun began for Alan and me. In a time long before predictive texting, the venerable Mr Alexander-Gordon mastered the art of predictive announcing. Intonation was everything, a poor performance from the home side meant that their name would be announced in a flat and slightly disappointed tone. If the away teams name fizzed out of the speakers in an upbeat manner, you knew before the score was announced that an away win had been achieved.

Alan and I would sit in the back seat of the car, desperately craning our necks forward into the gap between the driver and passenger seats in order to hear the voice of authority. In the split second gap between the announcement of the team name and their score, we would yell out, “nil”, “one”, “two” or sometimes “three”, based on the subtle clues we had been entrusted with. The away team was always slightly easier as you could tell from the very first syllable whether they had won, drawn or lost. As the condensation of those damp winter afternoons turned the car into a fog bound vessel offering occasional glimmers of Bristolian scenery, we shouted and laughed at our ability to second guess the thoughts of this great man.

Occasionally our guess would be thrown into disarray by an unusual combination. For instance, a slightly disappointed sounding “three” would confuse us - how could a home side score three and not win? All would be revealed with exuberant exclamation of the opposition’s name followed by an exultant “five”, causing the two of us to chuckle in amazement.

When the ritual was over and the action on the radio switched to reports from the ground, Alan and I would excitedly talk through the results and complement each other on our wonderful powers.

As the years passed, the joint visits to matches first slowed, then stopped all together. Both our parents went through divorces, which meant that our fathers moved out, making the travel plans too complicated to achieve. In the same way that Alan’s family had always embraced things like foreign holidays, colour TV, Fondue and Hi-Fi years before we could, his family split was the first to happen.

From that moment, I saw less and less of Alan although, as an aspiring young musician, I became used to hearing of his exploits through the local media. Although The TV and radio presenters could never match the artistry of James Alexander-Gordon, their upbeat tone clearly delighted in the fact that this local boy was destined for great things.

I was happy to wallow in the nostalgia of our brief, slightly forced friendship as my life proceeded in a fairly hum drum way. When his records were played on the radio at work in our small non-descript office, I could tell my colleagues about the excitement of having Alan Becker as a friend. He went on to live the rock star life to the full. Even his occasional brushes with law were greeted with the cheerful acknowledgement that this was someone just having fun and pushing the boundaries as far as he could.

So, it was a shock when I heard Alan’s name spoken with a near audible sigh and depressed tone and I knew that Alan had, for the first time in many years, lost at something. Sadly he’d lost something more important than a game of football.


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