Archive for July, 2010

Harry M. Woods, wrapped up somewhere in the cosmic afterlife, hears those jaunty first bars reverberating again, and groans.

What used to be Saturday to him, sometime around 3 in the afternoon every other week or so – When the red, red robin comes bob, bob, bobbin’ along, along… those same words reaching through the endless nothing.

Of all the hits he ever wrote, this is the one that needles him the most.

Wake up, wake up you sleepy head…

Damned foolish of him, writing that kind of guff. He hears the voice that used to be his own, saying, You might have fooled everyone else, Harry, but you never fooled yourself. And how was he to know he’d spend the rest of eternity just floating there, forced to listen to every dumb word of every dumb song of his whenever they got played down there?

Live, laugh, love and be happy

What are they doing down there, anyway? Sounds like it’s coming from London. Who in London wants to be listening to a song about a robin every other Saturday? Well, he hopes they pay more attention to those words than he ever did.

Memories of himself, soaked in drink, pounding some guy’s face in a bar-room somewhere, the fingerless stump of his left hand just pounding at the guy while his good right held him down. ‘He’s Harry M. Woods,’ his pal had said as they dragged him away. ‘He wrote Try a Little Tenderness.’

And I’m Looking Over a Four-leaf Clover, and What a Little Moonlight Can Do, and When the Red Red Robin (Comes Bob, Bob, Bobbin’ Along).

All those tunes tunes jangling around in his head, until they finally forget him and he can rest in peace.

I’m just a kid again, doing what I did again,
singing a song…

Ah, go screw yourself, Harry.

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Parkinson brings the car to a halt and kills the lights. He glances in the rear-view mirror, and checks his watch. 21:27. Three minutes to go.  The sign on the wall in front is of an Owl. So he’s in the right place, but why here? Why the Glades?

The voice had told him to come alone. He frets with his hands at the steering wheel.

In the rear-view he sees a coil of smoke winding up into the light above. He pushes the door open and gets out. The man steps back, into shadow.

‘Who are you?’ shouts Parkinson. ‘What do you want?’

‘I’m a friend,’ says the voice.

‘Murray?’ whispers Parkinson under his breath. ‘But… why?’

The voice goes on, ‘Come forward, Phil. Step into the light.’

Parkinson walks forward, holding his hand up to his eyes. He sees the tip of a cigarette glow orange; it fades away. He hears a clicking sound.

‘This suitcase contains one hundred and fifty thousand pounds. I’m giving you the lot. Buy yourself a striker, but choose carefully, Phil. YouTube ain’t all it’s cracked up to be.’

‘But.. the screen is broken, isn’t it? What about the screen?’

‘NEVER MIND THE SCREEN!’ the voice shouts. ‘Erm, we can do without the screen, Phil.’

‘Why all the secrecy? It’s you, isn’t it… Richard?’

‘Don’t say my name!’ Murray hisses.

Parkinson takes another step forward, but stops, perks his ears. And suddenly the sound of screeching tyres fills the air, and headlights are bearing down on him.

‘They’ve found us! RUN!’

But it’s too late – an army of goons dressed in black are jumping out of car doors; two of them pin Parkinson to the hood of a battered old Ford Estate. He looks to his left, and sees Murray’s face being pressed against a windscreen, his Deerstalker rumpled against the glass.

And there’s something else – clack, clack, clack – the sound of well-shod feet approaching.

‘Well, well, well. Look who’s getting ready to splash the cash.’

Parkinson struggles to turn around and sees an eerie orange glow in the corner of his eye.

‘Tangoman,’ spits Murray. ‘How did you find us?’

‘Your manager here’s a puppy-dog when it comes to losing his tail. Hand over the case, Murray.’

Parkinson watches wide-eyed as the goons get hold of his transfer kitty.

‘Pleasure doing business with you,’ says Tangoman with a grin. He jumps back into the car, closes the door, and winds down the window. ‘Oh, and enjoy another year of League One, you tosser! Ha ha ha ha ha!!!!’

The engines are revving as the goons pile back in, but then –


A dark figure falls from above; the hood of Tangoman’s motor crumples and steam billows everywhere. The thing is beast-sized, caped and masked. Whoever it is, whatever it is, it puts its fist through the windshield and pulls out the suitcase, flings it back to where the two Charlton men are cowering. The case skids to a stop; Parkinson grabs the handle and pulls it to safety.

‘What the hell is that thing?!’ he screams.

Murray is watching transfixed as the beast dispatches goon after goon.

Semedo,’ he whispers.

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Murray slumps himself on the rail in front and exhales deeply. Jackson has just played it back to the keeper again and the bloke behind him is going ballistic.

‘Skin him next time Jackson just bloody skin him!’

‘Christ on a bike,’ Murray murmurs into his linen sleeves, ‘it’s only a friendly. Bloke’s going to give himself a heart attack.’

He takes a peek backwards, catches a glimpse of flying haddock. It’s that weird bloody fishmonger again, isn’t it? The man never stops.

Now the ball skews out of Akpo Sodje’s feet and he’s off lumbering after it, like a dog chasing a fish that keeps slipping out of its paws.

‘That’s yours Akpo son faster son faster!’

Behind his shades Murray’s eyes are closed. A heart attack in waiting, he thinks, this fishmonger who doesn’t know when to stop. But who does? That’s Charlton. Who ever knows when to stop? It’s not the way we do things. We carry on, don’t we?

The squad isn’t enough, he knows that. Everyone knows it. They need numbers, and they need quality. But there’s no bloody money left. Like that prick with the note in the Treasurer’s office.  No bloody money. Cheerio, good luck. Except there’s no-one Murray can leave any note for, just the same old purses pumping in money and getting out squat.

Still, nice weather.

He opens his eyes. Kyel Reid is sprawled out on the turf, and Parkinson’s frown is gauging deeper into his head. Young Davisson on the touchline. Nice little player, but hardly ready yet.

He closes his eyes.

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“Salam, mənim adı Deon Burton.”

Deon looks up from his phrasebook and scans the arrivals lounge. Over by the drinks dispenser an Azerbaijani family are huddled; the father eyes him suspiciously and cracks open a coke. Deon sits on his little island of luggage and smiles at the Airline girl in traditional dress as she swishes past.

Bloody place is empty. Empty, hot and dusty. He checks his watch. 16:45 – they’re almost an hour late now. Back to the phrasebook, then.

‘Zərb,’ he says under his breath. That means minted.

Strange to be out here on his own. The wife and kids at home, everyone he knows. ‘Azerbaijan?’ they said. ‘What are you going to do in fucking Azerbaijan?!’

‘Play football,’ is what he said. Make some money, is what he meant.

‘Dolu.’ That’s loaded.

Finally a car pulls up outside. The door pops open, and Tony Adams is there leaning across the passenger seat and calling to him, ‘Deon! Over here mate!’ Adams in the front, Stevens in the back. A couple of canny Englishmen out for all they can get in Azerbaijan.

And now Deon Burton too.

‘Son bir maaş günü.’

One last payday.

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Parkinson reaches across the table and shakes the Irishman’s hand. He makes his offer. Mooney listens; his big moon-eyes lower to the table.

And he’s thinking of Gillingham again, that goal in front of the Jimmy Seed. How many times has he replayed that one in his head. A real striker’s goal, all instinct: the way he let the ball pass under him as he turned, and how he lashed it, the keeper sprawling helplessly after.

His hand cupped to his ear as he turned away and ran at the boo-boys in the North Stand, hopping and jumping now that he’s saved them.

Parky finishes, and Dave Mooney just watches him heavy-lidded. Parky thinking, Come on Dave, I need you. Knowing how the fans will groan and jeer. They’ll never warm to Dave Mooney, will they? They want another type of player. A Darren Bent, or a Clive Mendonca. But we’re where we are, aren’t we? We keep going.

With Akpo Sodje, and who? Tamer Tuna? Guillem Bauza? Dave Mooney?

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Bobby Plays it Square cont…

A fictionalised recent history of Charlton Athletic; parts 2, 3 & 4.

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Robbie Elliot claps them as he goes off, the ragtag clusters of Charlton behind the goal.

He’s used to this kind of place; it reminds him of Erith Town and of Bishop’s Stortford, of Accrington Stanley: places he’s spilt the ball and flapped at crosses and been laughed at and goaded by fans only a matter of feet away from the goal-line.

Up at the other end they’re banging on the hoardings again. The young Welling keeper is having a mare with his kicking. Robbie watched him come on and thought the kid only looked about twelve, and it looks like the pressure’s getting to him, too.

The ball is trickling back to him now and Tuna’s chasing it half-arsed. The noise is rising – whooooooaaaa – and he hits it. Aaahhhh!

The ball skews off into touch again and the kid just looks shook up.

These Charlton lads aren’t making it easy for him. But they’ve paid their £11 and they’ll have their fun.

Welcome to football, Robbie thinks.

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