The scarf is around my neck as a gang of us venture over Ealing way to watch Wigan at Brentford. Strange bit of town this Ealing place. Or Ealing Green to be precise… Another village within the big city. In the pubs we visit it’s all Fuller’s beers and eccentric old men in tweed. In the pubs we get drunk in this Saturday. A few of us are out. A few exiled Wigan lads and a fair few of our lot – including a number of right rapscallions from The Cross – along with John from work who lives over these sides. We also meet Tom from work – who’s Brentford – and he shows us around these great ‘rural’ pubs. It reminds me of the village I grew up in. Has a rugby union feel about it. Waxed jackets and people sat nursing a pint, eating scotch eggs and reading the sports pages of The Daily Telegraph.
What they make of these twenty-or-so kids in training shoes, anoraks, cashmere scarves and leathers I’m not sure. But they serve us Guinnesses, lagers and Fuller’s ESB. ESB for extra-strong – or is it extra-strength? – bitter has been the downfall of many a man and woman and it’s taking its toll on a few of us today. It is a lovely beer but at 5.5 ABV maybe it’s a little too strong for a session beer. As we sit scattered around the lounge of The Red Lion pub I get talking to Trev who like me is a big observer of what’s going on around about him and around the city.
‘Some decent lads out here today, Rich.
‘You know it’ll go daft later as Browny’s on one.’
‘He’ll be fine as long as he’s got some ganja to calm him down.’
‘That’s the problem he hasn’t and lets be fair he isn’t going to score any around here, is he?’
And as I look around I don’t notice that Browny is particularly on one he just seems to be laughing at Antonio as he recalls his exploits to anybody that will listen. But Trev has known him since they were knee-high, has seen him get up to all sorts and has seen what football does to him. Not that Brentford have any reputation and I’m not sure they’ve ever crossed Spurs’ path but you have to be on your guard everywhere at the moment. Orient, Brentford, even non-League Finchley up the road from us has a little mob at the moment. And why shouldn’t they. Why shouldn’t Brentford have a few chaps that like to dress up a bit and get their nails dirty at the football? They are an established club that are almost a hundred years old. They’ve played at the top table of football and during the 1930s were one of the most successful sides. The love of the club has been passed on through the generations and just because we happen to be drinking in a pub that would not look out of place in the Cotswolds doesn’t mean there isn’t a rough estate around the corner, the fact that the club isn’t the size of Spurs or Arsenal doesn’t mean that there are not a number of lads there that will protect their club’s name. It’s the same with Orient. It is bang in the east end of London, a right rough hole so why shouldn’t they have a few chaps that like a row on a Saturday afternoon. Yet if you don’t watch it you switch off at these places. A dangerous thing really but when we went to Brisbane Road before Christmas we walked through the place like we owned it. All four of us. Me, Trevor, Guzzling and Browny. In our best gear, looking for the entire world like football lads. Well looking like football lads to those that know about it but it didn’t concern us. We bounced from pub to pub, went in their seats, cheered for Wigan and generally took the piss. It’ll backfire on some dicks like us at their place sometime. And so it should. Just strange how you react at certain grounds, in certain areas. A few weeks before the Orient game, I went to Eastville watching Wigan against Bristol Rovers. Just me and my old schoolmate Jim. He lives down that way and we had a great weekend but before the game we found ourselves in the St Paul’s district of Bristol. We somehow had just drifted there and there was a strange vibe about the place. But we dropped into a pub and it was great. There was a reggae soundtrack, being played from behind the bar, that was more The Mighty Diamonds and Pass the Kutchie than Musical Youth and Pass the Dutchie and we played pool and polished off a few Dragon Stouts and Special Brews. However on leaving the pub – as the rain teamed down – and we got nearer the ground there was a definite edge about the place and we had to get our heads down and rush on. Sometimes it helps when it pours with rain as nobody is interested in checking out who is who. Oh and a four-nil defeat to Wigan also helped. We slipped away and caught a bus back into town and found a warm pub to dry out in.
Today it is a beautiful winter’s day and by the time the clock strikes one we are all rocking and those who have gone out for a quiet lunchtime pint are being regaled by a gang of lads singing along to Don McLean’s American Pie on the jukebox. We are asked to leave. And to be fair it’s all very friendly and everybody departs without a fuss.
Down the hill to the ground or should I say to the pubs by Brentford’s Griffin Park. For as befits the quaint area – albeit quaint area dissected by the A40 escape route to the west – the ground has a pub on each corner. We do two of them as we meet up with some of the lads that have come down by coach and train. It’s a great atmosphere as everybody seems to be continuing the Christmas/New Year boozefest while the Wigan boys tell us about Walsall turning up in Wigan over the holiday period. They came on a double-decker bus, caught the Wigan lads unaware and caused havoc around the town and then came across the pitch to have a go at Wigan. Mad days these…
It is just-gone three when we finish our pints and go into the ground. Into their end! Goodness knows why we’ve done this. In fact I’m not sure we realise where we are going. I think it was just the first turnstile we came up to. We last a few minutes. We score, we go up and there’s a bit of a stand-off before Browny charges at them and scatters them all on his own. This gives the rest of us some bravado and we all pile in. To be fair a couple of Brentford kids stand their ground but that is all they are kids. They are also about a dozen pints behind our lot and sadly they take a few bad hits. There is no Old Bill in the vicinity and we leave it be, let the stewards open the gates for us and let us into the Wigan section. We are laughing our heads off and as I look back I see Tom stood forty yards away, shaking his head, also laughing away.
We win the game and for the first time in a while we looked a really decent team. As the game finishes Antonio and Browny get us all in order as there will be more Brentford outside but to be fair there are probably forty of us now as we have twenty or so from Wigan, that came down on the train, with us. What they think about the chubby cockney kid in glasses and Nike pumps quietly telling everybody to stick together I don’t know but as we leave the ground we turn left and can see a mob of Brentford by the petrol station across the road. There are a couple of police trying to keep an eye on the situation but there are too many normal folk around and as the traffic stops we cross the road together. No roar goes up, nothing. Browny just walks straight up to the kids at the front and we see them take a step back. A couple of Wigan kids brush past me and as Browny takes a step closer they run past him and get at the Brentford chaps with kicks and punches railing in. The few Brentford at the front are on their arse while the others are on their toes. The beer, the adrenaline, the results on and off the pitch has given us the confidence. Given us the edge.
It’s been a good day but we stick close together as we make our way up the hill to the tube at South Ealing away from the ground, away from west London and back to Euston where the kids from The Cross discuss trainers and jackets with the Wigan boys. We have a couple of beers in The George, see them off and nip to Mabel’s to meet Az for a couple. Antonio’s busy telling Az what happened while I have a quiet chat with Trev and Browny.
‘Cheers for that today Browny, think we might have been in a bit of trouble after the game there.’
‘Yeah and we might not have got into it if we hadn’t gone into their end in the first place!’
‘But it was you that led us in there, Trev.’
‘Fuck knows I was pissed by then.’
‘Just a good job I was there weren’t it, flash boy,’ says Browny to Trev.
‘Yeah makes a change from me getting you out of hassle don’t it fat boy.’
‘Ha ha we’ll see.
‘Anyhow good day all round and just a good job you northern monkeys had us London boys to help you out, eh Rich?’
‘And less of the northern monkeys I’m practically cockney now.’
‘You’re fucking not mate, not by a long way ha ha.’
Faded Lois Dreams