Steve handed me my ticket for the match which he had generously bought and the programme. He tapped the programme with his finger saying, “You might want to check that out.” I did. By Christ ! There on page six in the ‘hoops messageboard’ section was a picture of my ugly mush astride a Mod Vespa with a little bit of history. I just couldn’t believe it and I wondered what had I done to deserve such plaudits ? I soon discovered that Steve Russell is not only a true Rangers man but he also has a big love for ‘The Who’ – and knows his ‘Who’ history. It said in the programme footnote that it was my first time at Loftus Road…well, certainly my first time at the new improved Loftus Road, but I did take my wife Maura there while on holiday in 1972. Prior to that I remember going to see some games when Ray Drinkwater and Mark Lazarus played and the club was nearly taken over by a geezer called John Bloom (“it’s not a sin to make a profit” – his famous words to a trade inquiry, I think) who was a washing machine magnate.
My seat was Block V, Row M, Seat 149 in the Ellerslie Road Stand and my neighbour was Bernard ‘Kerrins’ Lambert. Watching the game live is so different to lounging in an armchair at home with the action on Sky. You just cannot beat the atmosphere, the occasional shouts of approval and calls of derision that goes on. When it’s live you tend to be a lot more alert to what’s going on and you’re all the better for it. Well, we had to wait until the second half before I saw a real live goal. A fantastic long-throw from Fitz Hall had a part in it. The goal was to my right and in the blink of an eye the ball was in the net and everyone around me was up on their hind legs. I thought Bernard was going to have a heart attack. “Who got it ?” said I, your typical non-Rangers supporter who could really do with a pair of glasses. Before Bernard could reply, the man behind me who didn’t know me from Adam, was kind enough to educate this ex-Shepherd’s Bush Corkman, “Balanta mate, Balanta got it, Angelo Balanta !” He smiled through his Pakistan cheeks, glowing and slapped me on the shoulder. Then another goal, this time from another Rangers player and I instinctively turned round and there was my man again with a beam on his face and he says, “That was Buzsaky !”
I half expected the Pakistani gentleman to ask, “You’re not a regular here, are you ?” – and he would have had a point. I smiled to myself at the irony of it all. This elderly man was probably a grandfather like me and yet here we were, two people obviously not born within a mile of Bow Bells, but still with a claim on Shepherd’s Bush. Different cultures, different backgrounds, yet all in the one melting pot. How rare and wonderful life can be sometimes. As the game moved on, Bernard was becoming concerned with certain aspects of the Rangers defence. Once when four Rangers defenders were beaten to a high ball by a lone attacking Forest player, Bernard let out a cry that was audible the length of the Stand, “You’re giving them the ball.” He was right but what I noticed was that Bernard’s comments and complaints were not at all in the lexicon of personal abuse aimed at a player’s character – they were non-personal and accurate and I saw a few heads turn in curiosity.
A Rangers defender conceded a free kick outside the box. Bernard had the ultimate comment, “You’re too sloppy.” And when Lewis McGugan who had come on as a sub for Forest, drove a rasper of a free kick into the Rangers net with six minutes on the clock, Bernard was up in arms and rightly so, “Now look at what you’ve done, you’re begging for trouble.” It was 2-1 to Rangers but there was a very nervous six minutes plus added time on the clock. As I shouted and willed Rangers to victory to complete a perfect day, I couldn’t help listening to Bernard’s voice next to me. Somewhere in that time warp, that deep echo chamber of memory, Bernard Lambert was coming back to me stronger and stronger from the bit of green in Kelmscott Gardens and Ravenscourt Park all those 45 years ago. He speaks with a trace of a Mancunian lilt after his many years living and working in Manchester but Bernard’s voice was now back to his old Cockney and I could hear him as clear as a bell as he bleated and entreated like he did when he was fourteen back in Kelmscott. It was a day for a daydream alright. It’s strange how a sound or a person’s voice brings you back.
After the game, we returned to the ‘Conningham Arms’ where there was a match post-mortem in full flight and in between the ‘ifs’ and ‘buts’ I showed Bernard, Colin and Steve some family photos. We shook hands with Colin outside the pub and promising to do it all again another day. Then Bernard, Steve and I walked through the streets with the failing light and came on to Askew Road through Westville Road. We turned left with dear old Kelmscott Gardens on our right. Bernard reminded me as we approached the ‘Seven Stars’ that it was the 667 that was the last trolley bus in London as we walked towards the Goldhawk Social Club, now of course the Shepherd’s Bush Club.
Neither Bernard nor Steve had ever been in the club and were keen to see where The Who had practically started out from. I have been there many times myself in the past few years and have become very good friends with caretakers Mary and Danny Doherty. I also have made friends with a lot of the regular members. The Shepherd’s Bush Club (ex-Goldhawk Social Club) is unique because in all of ‘The Who’s’ chequered history, I don’t think there is any other venue still operating as a live function venue since the 60’s. On that Saturday night, October 18th, on the podium where there used to be a small ‘Who’ stage back in ’64 and I saw people like Screaming Lord Sutch, Wee Willie Harris, The Birds, The Clique, Millie, The Macabre, The Kinks playing as The Ravens, Four Pennies, Undertakers, Small Faces, Animals, Wayne Wright Gentleman, Federals, Bel-Airs, The Action, Nashville Teens, Jimmy Reed – a guy on vocals with a guitar and another on keyboards belted out some great stuff and much of it from ‘Memory Lane’….the fourth song in was the Chas & Dave classic, ‘There’s No Pleasing You’…Bernard and Steve nearly jumped when I stood up and hit the air with my fist, YES ! I absolutely love that song, it reminds me of Shepherd’s Bush Market ! And suddenly the headache had disappeared and I was looking for a pint of Guinness.
When I got back to my little bed & breakfast on Shepherd’s Bush Road there was the empty pint glass on the locker waiting to be filled with water. I poured three pints in all and laid my head on the pillow dreaming of Albion and Kelmscott Gardens. So, up early the next morning with my stomach a little tight but absolutely no hangover. All I have to do now before my flight back to Cork is to take one last wander down to the Green, sit on the bench, look at the row of shops and thank God I’m still above ground to meet up with such fantastic people as Bernard ‘Kerrins’ Lambert, Colin Woodley, Linda Jennings and good old Steve Russell ! It was a dream come true and we’ll have to do it again.
‘Irish Jack’ Lyons
(Thanks to Ian Taylor for including ‘the welcome’ in the ‘hoops messageboard’ section at short notice. I did get one thing wrong though, it wasn’t Jack’s first visit to Loftus Road. He had taken his wife to a game in 1972 and years earlier had also seen the likes of Mark Lazarus and Ray Drinkwater. So it really should of read ‘welcome back Jack’ – Steve)