Douglas Bastard's Rants of Rage

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This article was written on 15 Oct 2015, and is filled under Uncategorized.

‘I’m sorry, but we can’t pay you’

I applied for a freelance job on a football magazine who replied, said they liked me and then said that they couldn’t pay. As I need money to buy food, this is no actual use, but the two blog posts I did as part of my ‘audition’ are copied below. They have headlines and standfirsts because they were written for people who, in the end, turned out to be total cocks. Here they are.

The uncertain art of retro
Your jacket is holed, your coat is huge and you think you’re Richard Burton

You’re no longer a twentysomething. Going out in a t-shirt feels like it’s a bit lazy. Trainers feel as though you simply can’t be bothered. And yet you’re not quite ready to dress like your dad who thinks that anyone without a pair of stout brogues is practically naked. Which means you find yourself in a quandary. And then it comes to you in a flash. I’m going retro.

Unless you have a limitless disposable income and a personal shopper, going retro means one thing. You’re going to spend a lot of time on eBay, typing in ‘vintage’ in front of everything and looking sadly on as someone tries to pass off a five year old denim jacket as a bespoke vintage garment. You’re also going to spend a lot of time opening packages, putting things on and realising that the person who wrote the description was visually impaired.

When my first retro jacket arrived, it looked as though it had been shot from close range by a large machine gun as it was so full of holes. Another was too small to actually get my arms into. I wanted to set them on fire and see their tweedy rubbishness illuminate the night sky and then, wonderously, things started to arrive that were actually the right size.

And it’s then that I stumbled on another great truth of going retro. You really need a role model. After seeing one raincoat described as ‘Harry Palmer,’ I went online and watched Len Deighton’s ‘The Ipcress File’ with Michael Caine, which Wikipedia tells me was shot in 1965. And then I stopped watching it, because the acting was awful and watched ’The Spy Who Came In From The Cold’ instead, featuring Richard Burton, where it was a lot better.

I decided that ‘The Burt’ would be my vintage template. There would be nothing better than stalking around my part of west London with the collar of my raincoat turned up looking rueful and wounded. Then I would slope into work in a tweed jacket and a slightly unkempt air, looking disreputable and with some kind of aura of greatness. And then I’d have an amazing soliloquy and get shot by the Berlin Wall, which is where it falls down a bit.

Now that I have my vintage gear, I have no idea whether I look like Burton, but in my head I do and that’s good enough for me. Every time I put my gear on, I say ‘Moscow rules, George,’ as though I’m a character in John Le Carre’s Smiley novels. And there’s another and wholly welcome side effect of this, which is that the quality of the gear is amazing.

The thick overcoat is made in Sheffield, seemingly by people who were so good at it they should have received some kind of award. The seams are all thick and purposeful, as though, after a nuclear war, them and cockroaches will be the only thing left to marvel at. The pockets are stitched with a rigour that shames the rest of my wardrobe and there are expanses of thick, heavy material probably woven on a machine made a hundred years ago.

In short, they’re lovely. There is a simple joy in wearing clothes that were not stitched together by people in Bangladesh who have no human rights and who work in unsafe factories for money that wouldn’t be sufficient to make most people cross the road. These are stitched together by people with accents, who would make you a cup of tea and were, by the standards of the day, reasonably compensated for work which didn’t compromise their human rights. In my head, they’re called Mavis and George.

There are times when you can’t go retro. If you went to the gym, busily being retro, you’d look as though you were trying to win a bet in your singlet and vast blue shorts. I sleep naked and putting on a pair of flannelette pyjamas before bed feels as though it would be taking things rather far. And there are days when I just can’t be bothered and go out looking like someone who, in fact, can’t be bothered.

For all that, I now have some excellent jackets and overcoats, shirts that aren’t vintage but look the part and as fine a collection of knitted wool ties as will be seen this side of 1958. If you see me in the street, shout, and I’ll tip my hat to you before passing serenely on my way. Life is too short to spend your time fitting in, so take my word for it and be robustly retro yourself. There is nothing to lose. Moscow rules, George.

The man, he died in obscurity

Robin Friday and the cult of seventies football

I hate all seventies footballers, bar one. For the most part, they had skills that were nothing particularly special, the haircut of a contemporary porn actress and nothing to show for either. In their memories, they were wild, untamed mavericks but in actuality they were just a bit rubbish. The one exception to this rule is Robin Friday.

Unlike, say, Rodney Marsh, who was sacked by Sky and tried to restart his career by bearing nearly all to a vomiting nation in ‘I’m a Celebrity…’ or Frank Worthington who wrote an awful book and looks like a sitcom writer’s idea of a bin man, Robin is largely unknown. The reason for this is that he died of a suspected drug overdose at 38, bookending his life with tragedy. In between, though, he was really quite something.

He played for Hayes in the Isthmian League and worked as an asphalter, a far cry from driving around Monaco in a Ferrari. He was spotted by Reading when he was in borstal, eventually signed, and then set about disturbing the Football League. He made all the goals for his new team on his debut and then scored on his second outing. Reading started to win, and at one point scored 16 goals in five games.

From having seemed certain for relegation, Reading ended the 1973-74 season in sixth place. Emerging from a brief stay on a hippie commune, he turned up just in time for the start of the new season to play everyone off the park in a pre-season friendly. He scored a hat-trick and briefly led the goalscorer’s league table with nine goals, ending the season on 18, many of them last ditch winners or showing the kind of blend of audacious skill and contempt for the opposition that feels like it should have been displayed by Cruyff, doing it in orange.

One goal has to stand as a vivid image of all the others. Friday received a long, raking past on his chest and with his back to goal, 25 yards out, and pivoting so that the eventual shot went over his own shoulder and into the net with enough ferocity to go into orbit. Clive Thomas, the referee who had worked at European Championships and World Cups, described it as the best goal he ever saw.

Friday’s problem, and perhaps the foundation of his legend was that while he played with an intensity that verged on the unbalanced on the pitch, he lived life off the pitch with the same lack of control. He was banned from one pub in Reading ten times, turned up on a nightclub dancefloor naked and took LSD like aspirin. He stole statues from a graveyard, stole a swan, shat in the opposing team’s bath and found time to get married in a brown velvet suit smoking a spliff.

In the 1975-76 season, Friday scored 21 league goals but fearing what he could unleash in his spare time, Reading sold him to Cardiff for a knockdown fee. He was arrested as soon as he arrived for not buying a ticket on the train, missed games and, while he still turned in performances, was too wayward to tame. After being sent off against Brighton & Hove Albion for kicking defender Mark Lawrenson in the head, he shat in Lawro’s kitbag and told the club that he was retiring. They let him go.

He pinballed around west London for a while, served time in prison and was found dead in 1990. The story doesn’t end there, though. At the funeral, there were unprecedentedly large crowds. When Reading held a vote for the player of the millennium, Friday won it. Both Reading and Cardiff named him their all-time cult hero and the Super Furry Animals recorded a tribute song, ‘The Man Don’t Give A Fuck,’ whose sleeve depicted Friday, wheeling away and flicking a V-sign to a keeper he had just easily beaten.

There are lessons to be learned about wasted talent from Robin Friday, and perhaps a few pious homilies to be preached about working hard and valuing industry above flair, but they seem to miss the point. All careers and all lives end, no matter how glorious they are. Even Lionel Messi will not be forever trapped in the Nou Camp, reliving his triumphs and players who won one trophy will be asked why they do not have three, five or ten.

While Robin Friday was alive and doing his thing, he was brave and strong, possessed of a brain that seemed to know where everyone was and driven to win in any and all circumstances. In short, he left a legacy that is glorious and, in its obscurity, one of those rare things that only the real fan will know. Somewhere, there are just ten minutes on the clock, Friday has the ball and there is magic in the air.

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