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Archive for the ‘Charlton stories’ Category

Slater steps out into the rain, the drops shattering on the rim of his fedora and spitting in the savage beam of the floodlights overhead. Out on the pitch the groundsman is putting in a late, wet hour; Slater tramps over to him and tells him to call it a night.

‘Harry, isn’t it?’ he asks, and the groundsman nods. ‘Go on back into the warm. But leave the lamps on, would you?’

Harry scuttles away, and Slater watches him until he disappears down the tunnel. He checks his pocketwatch, hides it away.

Eventually the other man appears at the corner of the Jimmy Seed and East; Slater watches him pick his way down the embankment – beneath the memorial garden, where ghosts of the past lay underground and not as they did everywhere else; in the walls of the place, the seats, the dressing rooms, and in every blade of grass – towards the corner flag. He straightens up, pulls his mac tighter against the rain, and saunters over.

‘You’re late,’ says Slater with a forced air of detachment, like it didn’t matter one way or the other whether the other man had turned up at all; like this was his home now: the centre-circle, the heart of this club, in the rain.

Mortimer stands stock-still, his hands thrust in his pockets.

‘So what’s the story, Slater?’

Slater keeps his face straight; he doesn’t move, he doesn’t budge an inch. ”How’s business?’ he asks.

‘Cut the shit, lawyer,’ snaps Mortimer. ‘I don’t talk small any more than I played small – and I never like to do either in the rain. We both know the score here. You had a good man and you kicked him out – and where did it get you? You’re on the slide – you know it, I know it. So what do you do? You’re a man that likes to talk, lawyer – but your talk ain’t nothing if your word ain’t shit, and you’ve gone back on your word once already. Make it twice? You don’t dare. So you call me in. And sure, I’ve been waiting on the call. But I was waiting from the start. Ain’t nothing I can do from here.’

And with that he turns around, heading back towards the Jimmy Seed.

‘Wait!’ shouts Slater. And Mortimer does wait.

Slater watches his man standing stationary, as all about him the squall of the SE7 winter resists the Spring, the coming of the new blood and the new life, and the resurrection.

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Mortimer lights a cigarette and kicks back, resting his feet on the table where old papers are in a mess and last night’s brandy bottle stands one third full. The morning after the night before, and there’s a feeling of quiet jubilation in SE7. A night of fear and madness for the referee – baying crowds, baying benches – and that goal from Wright-Phillips.

Morts draws on the cigarette, winces as he blows a plume of bluish smoke out under the low lamp. So many days have passed and no more leads. In his dreams he strains to hear the words that Parkinson formed in his mouth but never spoke. As he lay there on the floor, battered and passing out of consciousness. But always the words elude him. And now Parkinson is gone; it’s like he never existed.

Think, Morts. He frowns, stubs his cigarette out.

And there’s a knock on the door; he tells the shadow in the reeded glass it’s open.

The man who comes in wears a snood high over his mouth. He pulls it down.

‘Racon,’ says Morts. ‘I’ve been expecting you. Take a seat.’

And Racon sits right down. His hands wrestle in his lap.

‘Why so nervous, Therry?’

Racon pushes a picture across the desk, says ‘I want you to make him disappear.’ But in a French accent.

Morts laughs. ‘Therry, that’s not the kind of business I’m into.’

Racon puts his head in his hands; when he looks up his eyes are crazed and searching.

‘I don’t know what to do,’ he says.

‘Why don’t you start at the beginning?’

And so Racon tells him all about it, how the little Irishman’s pushed him out, and how the midfield now lacks balance, how they sit too deep, how they don’t carry enough threat.

‘So what do you want me to do about it? They’re winning, aren’t they?’

Suddenly Racon’s temper explodes. ‘But that’s just it!’ he shouts, banging a wild fist on the table. ‘It’s some kind of voodoo shit he’s into. But they believe it, Mortimer. They believe!’

The bandy-legged Frenchman closes his eyes; when he opens them they are full of knowledge. He’s said too much. He pulls up his snood and stands. And without another word, he leaves.

Mortimer pours himself a brandy. They believe. He repeats the phrase two or three times, turning the words in his mind.

How strange.

They believe.

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Big Dave Lockwood stands beneath the murmuring West Stand with a clipboard and a mic. What a day this is for the club he loves. The return of a hero, a legend. He looks up around the faces in the stand and feels a flush of nerves. What if he fluffs it? What if he stumbles on his words? All those people looking at him, disappointed.

No, he won’t let it happen. Not today. Not for this man. A true gent of football, one of the real good guys. Always smiling, always in good humour. A real bloody gent.

Big Dave nods his head approvingly. And a club legend to boot. What a day.

Here he comes now. Big Dave rehearses his introduction one more time in his head. And here he comes. The atmosphere is crackling, it’s electric – there’s lightning in the stands.

Garry Nelson, welcome home.

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Little Charlie Bucket pushed forwards with the crowd as it edged closer to the gate. The sense of excitement was in them all, all the boys and girls and men and women that held in their hands a red ticket. With a clunk the gate wrenched open and they poured forwards, into the grounds of the magical factory where Sir Chrissy Powell was waiting, dressed in red velvet, his eyes twinkling with a smile that cracked his face in two.

‘Welcome, children! Welcome, one and all!’ called Sir Chris.

‘Oh Chrissy Powell, Chrissy Chrissy Chrissy Powell,’ sang Arthur at the back, his haddock flying high from the pole he swung wantonly above the heads of the kids, causing Sir Chris to turn quizzically to Slater at his side. But Slater could only shrug, forcing Varney to step forward and explain, ‘Just a local fishmonger, Chris. Quasi-mythological status among a very small number of the Addickted.’

Sir Chris nodded, not missing a beat as he reached for the hand of little Charlie Bucket. And together they led the procession through the factory door, where doves and yellow butterflies flew in the rafters, confetti fell unendingly, not a cloud gathered, and month was always May.

And where the workers ran like they’d never run before.

When the crowd had gone there was one man left out in the street. He wore a heavy coat, the collar plucked. His hat brimmed low over his eyes. And from his mouth drooped a lit cigarette.

‘Just what’s going on in there?’ said Mortimer under his breath. ‘What’s the story?’

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Outside his little room the crowds are on the street, jubilant, a mass of them forcing their way from Charlton Church Lane onto Floyd Road. Banners are flying, confetti falls from the air. Mortimer can hear them, their excited chatter, the cheering.

He puts the finishing touches to the miniature rocking chair he’s been working on all week. It is perfect, he feels a slow sense of pride.

Oh Chrissy Powell, Chrissy Chrissy Chrissy Powell!

The crowds keep coming. Men and women, girls and boys. They’ve got their Charlton back, and they’re loving it, every minute. Mortimer frowns, rests his head on the window pane.

What’s wrong with you Morts? Can’t you just get out there, get among them and celebrate?

But there’s something wrong, he thinks. Something that just doesn’t add up. Slater, Jiminez – sure, they’ve made a popular move, and it sends a message. But there’s something missing.

Mortimer feels the old instincts take hold of him again. Follow the money, Morts, follow the money. You follow the money, you find out who’s really at the top. Who’s really pulling the strings. What kind of Charlton we’ve really got.

Mortimer wheels around – there’s a scuffling at the door, a hand pressed against the reeded glass. What is that, blood? Mortimer reaches for his desk drawer, feels the reassuring touch of cold steel.

‘Who’s there?’ he rasps.

The handle of the door turns, and it gives with the weight of a man. He falls to the floor. Mortimer rushes forward. The man’s face is covered with bruises, scratches, smeared with blood. Mortimer leans forward.

‘Parkinson?’ he says, disbelieving.

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It’s Sunday afternoon and Mrs. Murray is taking in the washing when she hears a whining down the end of the garden. She pauses, gazes down the path, and turns back towards the house.

‘Richard dear,’ she says as she closes the kitchen door. ‘Don’t you think we should let him in now? He’s been out there all night, the poor love, and it’s getting awfully chilly out.’

Murray has on that dear old sweater she bought him three Christmases ago – the woolen one with the zig-zag patterning. It warms her to see him wearing it as he lowers the paper and looks over at her.

‘Not after yesterday, love. He needs to learn what’s acceptable and what isn’t.’

‘Oh, it wasn’t all his fault. And he tries so hard to make you happy, Richard.’

She goes back to her folding, and Murray sees again the red-faced old man storming by the dug-out. It means something when it comes to that kind of thing. But he can’t do it again, can he? He couldn’t face all the palaver. It would mean he’d got it wrong again. When he thinks of those steady old times, Curbishley… and it’s just not the kind of club to go around sacking managers just like that. We’re no Southampton, after all.

‘Go on, dear. Go down there and let him back in. He’s been punished enough.’

Bloody women. He feels the strength sapping out of him, and he knows he’ll fold again. So why fight it? After all, it’s a family club, and we reward loyalty – we give our people a chance or two.

He goes to the counter, picks up the lead, and sets off into the garden.

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Radostin Kishishev unscrews the lid of the J&B bottle sitting on his desk and plonks a dash into his glass. It’s hot in the office; Kish loosens his tie and frowns at the wall as he lifts the glass absent-mindedly to his lips. There’s a rap at the door.

‘Come in,’ says Kish, and raffish Gustavo Poyet sticks his head through the gap.

‘Raddy! Why don’t you lose that frown and we’ll go for some oysters and Martinis, maybe end up in a bar somewhere with some broads, get our kicks and suffer a heart attack or two. What do you say?’ 

‘I’d love to Gus, but I can’t. I’ve got the Charlton pitch tomorrow and I can’t find the right angle. I can’t find that spark.’

‘Forget it – just dip into that old nostalgia routine of yours and it’ll all be fine.’

Nostalgia, thinks Kish, his gaze drifting to middle-distance. Like a carousel, it takes us to a place we ache to go again. It lets us travel the way a child travels – around and around, and back home again, to a place we know we are loved.

‘Come on, Rad. They say once you start drinking alone you’re an alcoholic. Do me a favour now.’

The pain from an old wound. He sees the Valley, 26000 people, the Premiership.

He downs the last of his scotch and scoops up his hat.

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