“Follow! Follow!”

Issue #7 of Push is out on Monday 14th October, price £3 inc P&P via PayPal from joe.england64@gmail.com – here is a story I had published in issue #6 -:

Image

The crematorium’s silent. Near deserted as well. Fletch never did make that many friends. He wasn’t comfortable with people he didn’t trust. His mother’s in the front row, vague and glazed, a bored looking nurse patting her hand. Beside them Paula’s dressed in widow’s black, her arm draped round Billy’s shoulder. The kid’s been crying. I suppose he can’t understand why this has happened to his dad. Me neither. None of Paula’s family have turned up. They hated Fletch by the end. Julie and I are sat in the second row. Apart from a few lads Fletch used to see at the match, that’s it. There’s three wreaths, one from Paula and Billy, one from us and a combination of red poppies and orange lilies from the boys in The True Blue Bar, saying to a fallen comrade; NO SURRENDER!

Fletch wasn’t religious, but there’s a minister here anyway. Nobody listens to him. The hymn is an instrumental. When it finishes, the coffin, draped in the Red Hand of Ulster, slides through the curtains and the real music starts up. Fletch’s choice. Specified in his will. It’s what he used to sing, pissed or sober.

Follow! Follow! We will follow Rangers.

Everywhere, anywhere, we will follow on.

Follow! Follow! We will follow Rangers.

If they go to Dublin, we will follow on.

 

There’s not a team like the Glasgow Rangers.

No not one! No not one!

Celtic know all about their troubles.

We will fight till the day is done.

There’s not a team like the Glasgow Rangers,

No not one! No not one!

 

The last chorus hangs over the room like mist as we file out. In the open air we get blasted by dry afternoon heat. I loosen my tie and feel a gust of steam escape that turns to water on my chin and lower lip. The nurse steers Fletch’s mother across the road and forcefully into the back of a car. I get ready to wave, but the old woman stares straight through me. Her mouth twitches as if about to speak, but the moment passes and her head falls heavily back against the seat as another tablet kicks in. I’m jealous. They drive off and I feel tension spread across my shoulders. Fletch. I’ll always be angry with the stupid bastard for dying.

He must have been ten going on eleven when he turned up for the last term of Junior School. On his first morning, Mrs Kirkup introduced us all to the new boy who was joining our class. We were instructed to be nice and make him welcome, but not bee too upset if he didn’t join in our games and he’d had a hard time. His dad was a soldier who’d been shot dead. His mother had been brought up round here, so she’d come back to get away from all the upset and the memories. Mrs Kirkup talked so much she hadn’t taken the register by the time the bell rang. She told me to stay behind with the new kid, who she introduced as Kieran Fletcher and sent the rest away to assembly, then made me shake his hand. The palm was cold and dry.

As soon as we got outside the form room to catch the rest up, he punched me hard in the gut and grabbed me by the right elbow as I doubled up in pain. He spoke in a steady whisper through gritted teeth; “don’t ever call me by that Fenian name. I’m Fletch. Tell all your mates. Anyone says that name and you’re for it. Got that?” I nodded repeatedly until he stopped squeezing and let me go. From that moment, I never called anything but Fletch. Neither did anyone else.

When it came to football, school was split down the middle Newcastle and Sunderland, apart from Fletch. At first I thought he was just being different choosing Rangers. Once I asked him why he supported a team he’d never seen play and didn’t live anywhere near and in that same steady whisper through gritted teeth he’d used when we first met he told me it wasn’t just about football, it was about his dad’s memory. I didn’t understand what he was going on about then and now he’s dead I’ve still only half an idea.

His mam’s retreat from the outside world brought Fletch out of his shell. When they first moved in you’d see her in the front garden; thin, jittery, chain-smoking. Snipping overgrown bushes with an aged pair of scissors, smiling wanly to passers-by. After a while, she gave up and stopped coming outside at all. An indistinct shape behind yellow net curtains in the front room, she sent her son out for drink and cigarettes. Grown-ups said things about her, exchanging knowing winks and nods of the head, telling us to mind our own business if we asked what they were talking about.

When we were in last year seniors, Fletch wrote off to the BNP and they sent him hundreds of stickers and leaflets. He started going on about immigrants and Northern Ireland, parroting the shit he’d read. He wouldn’t shop in the local Londis after that, even though they’d sell cider and tabs to 12 year olds. Instead he started blitzing the village with stickers late at night, on lamp posts and shop grilles: Repatriation NOW!! Jobs for White Workers. Support Loyal Ulster. He told me it was his duty. I said he was crazy and it was getting out of control when the windows at St. Joseph’s started going in once a week. Fuck knows how he never got caught, drawing swastikas over his books and getting sent out of history for arguing about the Holocaust, it was obvious who was to blame. Irony was, school gave him such a shit reference because of his carry on that he couldn’t get in to the Army like his old man and so he got a job with the council.

Actually, he seemed to settle down once he started at graft. As part of the apprenticeship, he spent two days a week at college in Bishop, which is where he met his first proper girlfriend Paula. While his mother got worse, not washing and talking to herself, he spent more and more time round at Paula’s. Her family felt sorry for him, especially her mam; she did his ironing and put his bait up for work. Never asked a penny for bed or board. After a year or so, he moved in and one of his mother’s neighbours told Doctor Atkinson about the state of her and the way she lived, meaning she ended up in hospital and the house lay empty. In time, I sort of forgot about Fletch; I stuck in at work, got right in to the football, met Julie and let my childhood recede. He’d just been some crazy kid I’d hung around with at school.

Maybe three years later Fletch, acting like we were still regular mates and Paula, who was about 6 months gone, turned up on the doorstep out of the blue.  Straight out, he tells me they were going to get married, were about to move back in to his mother’s house and wanted me to be the best man. In a daze, I got measured for a suit, organised a weekend on the piss in Blackpool with some of the lads we’d grown up with and delivered a speech in to about 40 guests in The Bay Horse one July Saturday. Fletch was just turned 20 and Paula a year older.

They had a boy called Billy and settled down to married life, but once the bairn was out of nappies Fletch started itching for a social life, having been stuck indoors for three years. Unlike Fletch, I was still at home with my parents, not pissing it up each weekend as Julie and I were saving for a deposit, but I still had the football as my only treat. One time I got a spare ticket in the Milburn for Liverpool at home and brought Fletch along; 2-2 and he seemed to enjoy it, though he still reckoned he preferred Rangers. That made me laugh. Whenever I had the chance of a spare or a freebie, I’d give Fletch the option; Paula seemed pleased he was getting out and even if he knew nothing about football, he could have a few beers with the lads and try and make up his lost youth. In return Paula went out with Julie the odd Thursday or Sunday and I’d take round a few cans to help Fletch babysit.

Back then Fletch wasn’t talking about immigration controls or Papish bastards any longer, though he didn’t rate Roy Aitken that highly, but relentlessly hammered on about the failings of Newcastle United, like the convert he was. At first he just did home games, but with Billy at nursery and Paula at work, he started to go away, because he could afford it after a bit of overtime; Plymouth on a Friday night, Southend on New Year’s Day, he was always there. Far more devoted than me. In his element. It was great for a few years, but when the team started playing crap, Fletch lost interest as quickly as he’d discovered it. Sold his ticket and got into computers; allegedly for the bairn to use for school, but mainly so he could fart about on the Internet. One site led to another and a few weeks later, he proudly showed me this Rangers site, Net Bears that played Derry’s Walls on what sounded like a digital watch while it was loading. Through contacts he made on there, Fletch soon sorted out a pair of tickets for a home game against Dunfermline, paying me back for the Liverpool game by giving me one of them.

I got to drive him up there of course, feeling nervous and out of my depth as Fletch got fluttery-eyed and flirtatious with his internet mates, mainly roid-rage gorillas with Red Hand tattoos on their necks in bars that reeked of hatred and violence. The ground was impressive I have to admit and 50,000 screaming their heads off as the Gers ran out 7-0 winners was some experience. I felt sorry for the 200 away fans, penned in a corner, but said nothing, as it wasn’t the sort of place to express your sentimental side. Afterwards Fletch wanted to hang around Glasgow, maybe get a hotel, but I talked him out of it.

All he went on about in the car back was how great a time he’d had; jabbering like he was on whizz. It wasn’t just excitement or adrenalin; it seemed as if he’d finally found where he belonged. We got back just before 9, but he insisted we go for a drink. He was like a man possessed; pints and shots disappearing in a blur. I left him pissed outside the Chinese with a carry out, singing Billy Boys at the top of his voice. Over the next few weeks Durham Royals graffiti started appearing on walls and garage doors, with Death to Fenians scrawled unsteadily on the side of St. Joseph’s. It seemed the old Fletch was back, perhaps even worse than before.

Eventually, Paula took the bairn and moved back home. She’d said to Julie that Fletch had changed the day he went to Glasgow. He’d frightened her with how intense and moody he became. The last straw was him getting nicked for attacking a Celtic fan at Queen Street after they’d beaten Rangers 2-0 on New Year’s Day. When he’d got home the next day, showing the charge sheet like a badge of honour, she called him out on it. Told him it was his own fault and he deserved what was coming to him, when he just lost it, smashing a dining chair across her back. She staggered out the front door in the clothes she stood up in, a screaming Billy at her side. Fletch went a bit like his mother after that; only venturing out to the off licence or Glasgow. I gave him a wide berth for months.

After Easter, I bumped into him on the street. We’d not been drinking since the shit with Paula had gone down, but I felt bad seeing him in the state he was, unshaven and scrawny, so I took him for a pint. He was jittery, constantly glancing around, wringing his hands. Chaining roll-ups and wiping at his eyes when the smoke got in to them. He was slurring so much it was obvious he’d been on it since before breakfast. I asked about work, but he was on the sick. I mentioned Paula and Billy, but he wasn’t interested. All he was concerned about was Rangers.

He’d a spare ticket for Kilmarnock, last game of the season; a win and the title was secure he explained. Through gritted teeth, the same steady whisper; “you’re coming with me. Be prepared though, there’s Fenians everywhere. Even here.” He gulped off his pint, pushed something in my hand and was gone. Stunned, I curled my fist round the craft knife’s moulded plastic handle until I got outside, and then dumped it in a litter bin. There was no way I was going to Glasgow with this crazy bastard, except I did. I was forced to.

When I told Julie of Fletch’s plan, she said Paula thought it would be a good idea; she was thinking of getting back with Fletch as Billy was missing his dad, so the lasses reckoned I should spend the weekend at close quarters and do some groundwork in sorting Fletch’s head out. Preparing him for an imminent return to family life. The idea of me playing matchmaker seemed ludicrous as Julie explained it and, stood in The True Blue Bar an hour before kick-off, it seemed even crazier.

The pub was rough; framed photos of Carson and camouflaged UVF men hung side by side with yellowed posters of Rangers teams from the fifties to the present day. The ceiling was covered with banners; Govan Sons of Ulster, Bridgeton Loyal Defenders. The barmaid hds a red hand tattoo, covering half her arm, writhing and inflating every time she pulled a pint. Live music by some mental rockabilly loyalists, thrashing out Shadows-style covers of The Sash and crappy, speeded-up cover versions with new words, like Billy Wright, UVF Hero added to the atmosphere. Fletch was bouncing up and down on the seats, pretending to sing along, even though he knew less than half the words. He looked the part in his Loyalist Prisoners’ Association polo shirt though, waving the Ulster flag with Durham Royals: NO SURRENDER!! in black, felt letters. At half two, the band played God Save The Queen and we all stood up, drank up and fucked off to the game.

Ninety minutes of non-stop Gers pressure, but the goal won’t come, then tragedy. Five minutes to go and the keeper fumbles a dribbly, cross shot over the line and it’s game over. At full time Fletch has his head in his hands, crying. The stadium is three quarters empty, those remain numb with disappointment; anguished shouts of disappointment echo round the stands, loud and sad, almost dignified… Then silence. Nothing left to do but drink. I haul Fletch to his feet and we leave. Never looked back once.

By half ten we’d been up and down Paisley Road and had a drink in every bar. I was starving and Fletch was pissed, but coming out of his depression slowly. He’d been promised a ticket for the cup final, so I sold him my idea of going back into town for a curry. We’d sort the B&B once we’d eaten.

At St. Enoch’s we saw a gang of Celtic, pissed and jubilant on the other platform. We were on our own here. I’d no colours on, but Fletch was sashing it up like he was going down the Garvaghy Road with a Lambeg drum, waving the Red Hand like a Grand Prix marshal welcoming the winner home. I did my best to steer him away from bother and up the escalator, but Fletch was ready to bite. The other lot started singing and he lost it completely, breaking free of my puny armlock and charging back down at them.

They scattered. One fell as he left. Fletch was on him straightaway, pulling a Stanley and slashing the poor bastard ear to chin. The kid’s face opened up like a burst football and blood spilled in a wave. The others returned for their mate, but froze as Fletch held them at bay with the knife.

I hit the emergency alarm on the platform wall. Fletch was startled by the amplified wailing, almost frightened. He threw the knife away. It arced into the blackness, soundless as it fell. Unfrozen now, the kid’s mates raced after him as I distractedly swabbed the kid’s wound with his Celtic scarf, while he whimpered rather than screamed. My eyes stayed on Fletch, who’d ran out of options. He took a swallow dive into the path of an oncoming train. The driver hit the brakes, but it was too fucking late. If the train hadn’t got him, the electrified rail would have done.

Fletch made the front pages on Monday; North East Soccer Fan’s Horror Death after Sectarian Knife Battle. Head injuries, said the coroner. The kid Fletch had stabbed needed four pints and 63 stitches. The cops questioned me, but I was in the clear. Having a psycho for a pal isn’t illegal.

Me and Julie have got the money together for a deposit and we’ve started thinking of kids, perhaps even moving away. Fletch’s house belongs to his mam still, but Paula and Billy are moving back soon. Some guy from The Independent wanted to do a feature about him and the word is Channel 4 are making a documentary. I don’t know whether to help, so the story gets told right, or tell them to fuck off and let Fletch rot in peace.

I head into the bar for a drink. It’s chilled and airy in here compared to the dry heat outside. Billy’s playing pool by himself. He looks at me and smiles. I notice he’s changed out of the dress shirt and pants he wore to the crem and is in the new Rangers away kit instead. I take my pint over to the table of mourners and sit next to Julie. She squeezes my hand and I know I’m going to start crying any minute.

Advertisements

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

w

Connecting to %s