Uncomfortably young: "This town, you daft twat"

Cod Almighty | Article

by Rob McIlveen

7 June 2016

In the first part of his GTFC memoir, a seven-year-old Rob discovers, through a terrifying encounter with an enraged gardener, that Grimsby has a football team...

Street football

In mid-May 1967, I was fast approaching my eighth birthday. Back then, childhood was a pleasure rather than a series of National Curriculum key stage tests. As far as I remember, Nunsthorpe Primary School never had to ask its pupils to pretend to be civilised, if only for those couple of days when the 1960s equivalent of Ofsted came in to pass judgement on the quality of education we were receiving. With the exception of a couple of nutters, whose nutter-ness would today have some medical term applied to it and the parents given a prescription of some kind of psychochemical cosh, we were just a bunch of kids enjoying being kids.

Sure, we all knew our twelve times table (even that tricky bastard – twelve elevens), so at least Mr Hall would have been spared any damning judgement on his teaching abilities had the school been inspected. But mostly, we spent our time enjoying being children, and trying to figure out who Scott, Hillary, Drake and Cook were. Unlike the children of today, whose house teams are named after characters in the Star Wars movies or Hogwarts, our pseudo-belongingness was tagged to a real person. As the 'summer of love' approached, we at least knew that our blunt-toking elders owed some of their happiness to Sir Francis Drake. But I digress...

Like most kids, I kicked a football around in the street having been taught the rudiments of the game at primary school. It was lampposts and telegraph poles for goalposts, rather than jumpers, and for one very good reason. In Grimsby then, as indeed now, if you threw your jumper down on the pavement there was a better than evens chance it would land in some dog dirt.

I don't know what it is about Grimsby and dog dirt, but if by some remote chance you're a non-Grimbarian reading this, you'll find that Google offers you 19,000 opportunities to read, and in some cases watch (watch, for fuck's sake!), one town's obsession with canine excrement. Of course, if you're a Grimbarian, you'll simply shrug your shoulders and fire yet another airgun pellet at the 'No Fouling' sign that can be found on any of the town's lampposts. Once again, I digress, but as this becomes available, you now have 19,001 browsing opportunities...

Where were we? Ah, lampposts and telegraph poles. Rupert Road, just off Homefield Avenue, which in turn is just off Scartho Road, had two telegraph poles and two lampposts conveniently located at its top and bottom ends. It was ideal for four-a-side, with games only ever having to be stopped for Mrs Hawdin's delivery of Rington's tea, or the dandelion and burdock man's delivery to Mrs Hawdin. Aside from the beverage there was a difference, believe me.

Bateman was rarely seen by anyone, so it was something of a mystery that his garden was manicured to the highest standard. Perhaps he gardened by the light of the moon

Occasionally – well, more than occasionally if I'm being honest – the ball would end up in somebody's garden. Most of the garden owners were at work or trying to sleep after a night shift, so you could vault over a fence and quickly resume the game without fear of having a human shout at you or a shitting dog growl at you. However, there was one garden in Rupert Road our parents had told us never to kick the ball into, unless we were happy to see it disappear forever.

The garden in question belonged to Arthur Bateman, a police detective inspector. Now, I'm well aware of the expression "all coppers are bastards", and I know it's not true. Except in Arthur Bateman's case it was. Bateman's garden, although small, was beautifully kept. Bateman himself was rarely seen by anyone, so it was something of a mystery that his garden was manicured to the highest standard. Perhaps he gardened by the light of the moon. He might even have been, as some kids insisted, a vampire.

Anyway, the ball going into Bateman's garden was a heart-stopping moment. We always sent the youngest of our number, six-year-old Phil, to retrieve it. It wasn't that the rest of us were scared: it was just that we reasoned that Phil, being the youngest, was going to be the lightest of all of us and therefore less likely to do that much damage to Bateman's flowers. Well, at least Phil believed that's why it was his job. He also had a 100 per cent record of success.

Or, rather, he did have a 100 per cent record. His luck had run out as on this occasion Bateman, his face beetroot red with rage, stormed into the garden, which at least disproved the claim that he was a vampire, given that it was 11 o'clock in the morning on a bright August day. Despite his enormous size – in both height and breadth – Bateman had managed to pick up the ball before the thought had even crossed Phil's mind, leaving poor Phil trapped between it and Bateman's fence. You might call it no man's land. Except it wasn't: it was Bateman's land.

We did what any group of seven-year-olds would do when their younger mate had been captured by the enemy. We ran away.

Phil's big brother was the only one of us who believed we were cowards. We just thought we were sensible. I thought for a moment that there was going to be a philosophical discussion about the nature of cowardice, and a debate about the merits of sacrificing your own genetic potential to rescue someone with whom all of us except Phil's brother had no genetic interest whatsoever. Fortunately, Phil's brother rendered this unnecessary. "I'm going to get Phil," he said. "Are you lot coming or not?"

Everyone shuffled their feet and looked down, avoiding eye contact with Phil's brother, hoping that by the time we looked up he'd have gone. I looked up. He was still there.

And so were Bateman and Phil. It seemed like we'd left Phil there for hours, but it can only have been two or three minutes at most before we decided we stood a better chance as a group. Still, it was time enough for Phil's anal sphincter to have gone into shock and consequent relaxation. But this was no time to laugh at the stream of diarrhoea running down Phil's left leg (well, not out loud, anyway). Bateman marched Phil out into the cul-de-sac. None of us dared move. Even Phil's bowels had regained their composure, as far as I could see.

Bateman launched into bastard-copper mode, telling us how lucky we were that we didn't live in Texas, where people were executed for trampling over flower beds, or being black, or both. But then a curious thing happened. Bateman suddenly mellowed, and clutched the ball to his enormous chest. He may even have had a tear in his eye. He looked skyward. We looked at each other in that "what the fuck is he going to do now?" way that seven-year-olds do.

Phil's bowels screamed their last scream. They had nothing more to give. I suppose that Bateman had every right to plunge his trowel as deep as he could into our ball. That was certainly what I was expecting him to do. But he didn't. He simply stared at all of us and said: "Who won the FA Cup and never scored a goal?"

This Crystal Maze moment was enough for Phil's bowels to splutter back to life – they'd been fooling us, and still had plenty more to give.

I desperately wanted to say "Phil, your right leg's good, but your left leg's shit"

Not that Phil cared any more. I desperately wanted to say to him: "Phil, your right leg's good, but your left leg's shit", but 'Bateman's riddle' was of more concern. You could feel a local union of sphincters being formed, all keen to join in Phil's so far solitary action. No-one had a fucking clue what Bateman was talking about. Phil's brother coughed. Or farted. It was difficult to tell. Actually, it wasn't, because if anyone had breath like that, they'd have a very serious problem.

"I don't think you can win the cup and never score a goal, Mr Bateman," said Phil's brother.

"That's not what I asked," replied Bateman, who'd suddenly become Ludwig bastard Wittgenstein with a football clutched to his chest.

"Then I don't know, sir, but can we have our football back or not?"

It was an act of defiance that had no effect other than to cause our collective arses to fart what sounded like the opening line of the Beatles' I Am The Walrus. Can you imagine that today? "And now on Britain's Got Talent an octet of seven-year-olds farting tunes by popular beat combos": "I am he as you are he" with Phil's arse splurging "and we are all together" in one stream of light brown excrement. Three 'yeses' for that from the panel.

Bateman clutched the ball even closer to his chest, if that was possible, and after another glance skyward threw it at Phil's brother, while simultaneously screaming: "Never scored the goal that won the FA Cup!"

Part of me wanted to ask Bateman what the fuck he was talking about. A larger part of me just wanted to get home as quickly as I could. The largest part of me wanted to tell Phil's brother that his right leg was good, but his left leg was shit.

Instead, I turned to Phil's brother. "What the fuck was all that about?" I asked.

He looked at me like I didn't know that football was a game played beyond the avenues and cul-de-sacs off Scartho Road or at Nunsthorpe Primary School. He was right. I didn't. "He used to play for the Town," was the reply. "Mum and Dad think he hates kids playing football because he can't play it himself any more."

"What town?" I asked.

"This town, you daft twat," said Phil.

There was a moment's pause before I said: "You mean we've got a football team?"

It might not have been the first time a six-year-old knew more than I did, but it was certainly the first (and I hope last) time a six-year-old with his left leg caked in diarrhoea had got one over on me. Whatever, it was an odd way for me to find out that I'd managed to live for nearly eight years without knowing that my home town had a football team.

I thought about putting a post on 'the book' and sticking a picture of Phil's shit-caked leg on Instagram. But it was 1967, so I just remembered to talk about the whole thing with my father when he got home from work that night.

Seeing as it was Arthur Bateman who initiated the chain of events leading to my discovery of Grimsby Town Football Club, I think it's only fair that we find out a little bit more about him. He was born in Grimsby in 1908 and joined the Town in 1927 as a defender, apparently being equally good at either right- or left-back. He captained the reserves to the Midland League championship on no fewer than three occasions, but made only 18 league appearances, his debut being a 0-6 defeat at Leeds United in the old first division (the 'Premier League' as it is now called).

What we must remember, though, is that Bateman was a member of a squad that included Bestall, Robson, Buck, Betmead, and sundry others who were such good footballers that their faces regularly appeared on 'faggies', the cards that could be found inside cigarette packets. Believe me, Bateman had been a seriously good footballer.Bateman had been a seriously good footballer. His nickname at Brentford was 'Iron man'. If we'd known that, I suspect we'd have gone nowhere near his bloody garden

He moved from Grimsby to Southend in 1933, and from there to Brentford in 1934. He was vice-captain of the Brentford team that won the second division championship in 1935, and captained the side that played in the old first division between 1935 and 1939. He was even called into the England squad for a friendly against Germany in 1938, but didn't play.

My earlier depiction of Bateman might therefore seem unkind, but I've subsequently discovered that his nickname at Brentford was 'Iron Man'. If we'd known that at the time, I suspect we'd have gone nowhere near his bloody garden.

Bateman retired from the police force in 1969, and became a little more tolerant of us. Perhaps we'd caught him at a bad time those two years earlier. After all, solving crime in Grimsby was (and is) a job that's pretty much 24/7. Once we started secondary school, we more or less stopped playing football in Rupert Avenue. No-one was more pleased than Arthur Bateman.

Perhaps as a gesture of reconciliation, he gave us all a copy of a Brentford programme from the 1935-36 season, when they finished fifth in the first division, which remains their highest ever league placing. The 'pen pic' in my programme (for the game against Huddersfield, their first home game in Division One, I believe) was Bateman himself. For something that originally cost the equivalent of one new penny, collectors will now pay more than £50. I know this, because I sold it on eBay a few years ago...

As for Bateman's apparent tears? Well, I'm no psychologist. Wait a minute, I am, but not that kind of psychologist. Even now, I can see the air being squeezed out of our football as Bateman clutched it closer and closer to his chest. Despite his success, perhaps he did resent the younger kids who were doing what he could no longer do. Or perhaps, he was just pissed off that his flowers were being constantly trodden on. Let's go for that one, and cut the Freudian crap.

Sadly, Arthur Bateman passed away in 1979 at the age of 71, without any of us ever understanding the answer to 'Bateman's riddle'. Until now, that is. Here's what the FA website has to say on the matter.

"Who won The FA Cup and never scored a goal?" should be understood as "Who won The FA Cup without scoring a goal?" The answer is Cardiff City – they beat Arsenal 1-0 to lift The Cup in 1927 and the only goal is sometimes given as an own goal by the Arsenal 'keeper, Dan Lewis. If anyone suggests that a player called 'Never' played in The Cup Final, they’re wrong."

Bollocks! If only we'd had the internet (and Facebook and Instagram) in 1967. Mind you, I think that if any of us had dared to tell Bateman he was wrong, Phil's arse would have managed all three verses and the chorus to I Am The Walrus without any assistance from the rest of us. Welcome to Grimsby, where the dogs shit on the pavement and the kids shit themselves.

Photo by Fabio Venni, Creative Commons licence. More from Rob soon, but meanwhile send us your feedback.