May 142012
Bolton Wanderers 1920s

“I’m Bolton till I die,

I’m Bolton till I die,

I know I am,

I’m sure I am,

I’m Bolton till I die!”

A rather dramatic title perhaps but I suppose that is the point and I do not think a more gentle way to describe my feelings regarding Bolton Wanderers Football Club would be appropriate.

There are two kinds of football. There is the football you play and then there is the football you watch. This second kind of football really makes very little sense and it is the sort of football that I am writing about.

I am not sure that I like football. In many, many ways I don’t understand football but I love Bolton Wanderers with all my heart and I think always will.

What is Bolton Wanderers or any club for that matter? A name? 11 players? A stadium and some supporters? Well it really isn’t any of those things, although they are all requirements. Perhaps it is simply – history. The celebration of every goal and every fan who ever dreamed that this day may be our day.

Some people laugh when they find out that I am a Bolton fan or think that it is somewhat strange – why not support another team, a more successful team? I find this a bewildering attitude.

You don’t choose a football team to support! Your football team chooses you! It’s not a calculation or a decision. One day, you realise that you support a team and that is that. I can think of few deeds worse than that of changing which football team you support (with a possible exemption for children).

I admire and respect the dedication and heart that people put into supporting their football team. I never think, ‘really?’ I take my hat off to them and wish them well, unless they are playing Bolton Wanderers that week.

My first memory of supporting Bolton Wanderers is from January 1993. We were in the third tier of English Football. We hadn’t been in the top flight since before I was born. We were to play the FA Cup champions, Liverpool, the most successful club of recent years, certainly before the soon to take place rise of Manchester United.

We were written off. No chance, no hope, the result a mere formality.

I listened to the match on the radio. We were 2-0 nil up at half time! I can recall the unbelievable feeling of exhilaration as the goals went in. I think, and could well be wrong, that it was John McGinley and Jason McAteer who scored. In the second half Liverpool got two back and the game finished 2-2. We went to Anfield for the replay and miraculously, won. This would set the bar for my expectations rather too high for the years that followed. But we did have the odd few moments of glory in the FA Cup over the next few years. We would rise to the dizzy heights of the Premier League in 1997 after coming down from 3-0 in the Play Off final to win 4-3.

I think the hardest day for me as a Bolton fan was losing to Aston Villa in the semi-finals of the FA Cup. It was the last final to take place at the old Wembley Stadium before it was demolished. Bolton won the first FA Cup final that ever took place at Wembley, way back in 1923, and what an idea, that we might be in the final of the last FA Cup final to be held there. And who knows – we might even win…

But it was not to be. Bolton came desperately, heartbreakingly close to winning. The ‘golden goal’ system was in operation (the next team to score would win). But no-one did and it went to penalties and Villa won. Bolton weren’t in the premier league at the time and I remember the commentator saying how great it was that the final would have two premier league teams in it and he added that it would be a final, ‘worthy of the occasion’.

It wasn’t so much that we lost that bothered me (though it did, enormously), it was the idea that we didn’t deserve to be there in the first place. We weren’t just defeated. We were dismissed from the right of even competing.

To those people that laugh at the idea that someone would support Bolton Wanderers, I have a rather simple message: go fuck yourselves! To hell with your ridicule and your mocking.

It’s not just about winning! It’s about your team winning! If it was just about winning everyone would support Manchester United and in many, many ways that would not be a world worth living in.

Bolton Wanderers got relegated yesterday after 11 years in the premier league. I remember when we got promoted back in 2000, there was no sense of entitlement, we had earned it and we knew that we would have to earn it each and every year. We half expected to get relegated the very next season as we had done just a couple of years previously.

Some people support what they consider ‘big clubs’. Some club’s supporters believe that they have a right to a place in the premier league, even a right to success. If there is such a thing as a ‘big club’, you earn it, one tackle, one goal and one match at a time. No football club has a right to anything.

As a Bolton fan, I will never complain that we are not where we deserve to be (though of course, I reserve the right to complain about horrendous refereeing decisions). For better or for worse, we are exactly where we deserve to be, and I am right there with them. There is only one kind of victory in football that means anything to me and that’s a victory for Bolton Wanderers.

Bolton Wanderers is my football club and it always will be. God forbid that it should cease to exist one day, but if it did, well then I would have no team.

So here’s to next season, to the heartache and disappointment of defeat and to the ecstasy of victory and to the sometimes too cruel hope that this year may be our year.

To those of you that do not understand why I support Bolton Wanderers – I pity you. To quote Thomas Paine, ”What we obtain too cheap, we esteem too lightly: it is dearness only that gives every thing its value.” That it so hard is what make it worth doing. Though sometimes I wish it wasn’t quite so hard.

Aug 242011

There are a number of different epiphanies or moments of realisation that you go through as a smoker. You think things are one way and then you realise in a blinding moment of understanding that they are not and everything is suddenly changed and the world may even look like a slightly different place. For example there is the first time that you realise that you can’t simply just stop smoking, that it’s no longer a habit but an addiction and that you’re hooked.

Perhaps the scariest realisation I had was that even if I stopped smoking perhaps the damage had already been done. I had always thought that as long as I eventually stopped smoking I would be okay, the damaging effects of smoking would be reversible. After all, I had only been smoking for a little while. Then all of a sudden, I woke up one day and I’d been a smoker for 10 years. Maybe the damage had already been done.

After starting smoking again, after my longest period of nicotine abstinence (57 days), the thought occurred to me, what if I can never stop smoking?

I had known for some time it would be difficult, then I thought maybe it would be the most difficult thing that I would ever have to do but I always thought, one day, I would manage to stop smoking. No matter how long it took, no matter how many times I failed and lit up again, I always thought that one day, eventually I would look back, a happy ex-smoker, free and contented. But now I have to face the fact that I may smoke to end of my days, and that that end could come a fair bit sooner and be a lot more painful.

I started smoking when I was 17. I don’t know why, maybe it was boredom, maybe I liked going out with everyone at break-times. I would often have to choose between spending my money either on getting the bus to college or to buy a packet of cigarettes. I walked an awful lot back then.

After two or three years of smoking, going for a run became a bit more difficult and I would cough up the most vile, despicable substances you can imagine.

I first tried to quit a few months around then. I managed nine days. In the maybe hundred attempts to quit since then, I’ve managed to surpass that nine days perhaps half a dozen times. I must have thought about quitting every day for at least the last five years.

Everyone knows that smoking is dangerous, that it’s a huge financial burden and that it makes you, quite frankly, stink. But less talked about, is the coughing and hacking and the phlegm and the fact that it gets harder to breath. I hate it. And I can’t seem to stop. For the last couple of months, I’ve gone about a week maybe two before I break and light up again.

Some people say that stopping smoking is like quitting any addiction – you just have to stop – and there is something to that. But saying that you just have to stop smoking is just repeating saying what you have to do – stop smoking. The problem is when you stop smoking you no longer want to not smoke, you want a cigarette and as soon as you light up, you want to be not smoking. I had to learn to tell myself that when I crave a cigarette, I really don’t, it’s just the addiction speaking. But sometimes it’s not enough.

Nothing great happens when you stop smoking. In fact things can get worse, you cough a lot more as your lungs start working again, and that little crutch that gets you out of office, that is your reward, is gone. You stop smoking and you take a look around and your life is pretty shit. It gets better, but it takes a while.

Some smokers say that they enjoy smoking, and I can’t disagree that on occasion having a smoke is great. Say after a meal or in the pub with a few beers but most of the time we puff away wishing nothing more than being free from this soul-crippling addiction. Even as we bring the cigarette to our lips we wish we could stub it out for the last time. Some people say they have no wish to quit smoking but I think most of the time that’s ego talking. Who wants to admit to being a junkie? So people tell themselves that it’s a choice that they happily pick.

As you go through a period of smoking less as you repeatedly try to quit, it is tempting to think you can just cut down a bit, that you don’t have to completely give up. You can smoke one or two a day or once or twice a week, but keeping yourself to that is a difficult task. It requires a huge amount of effort that I think it is unsustainable. Eventually you become a full-time smoker again. You’re a smoker or you’re not – there are no half-measures.

Quitting smoking is hard, I think it might be the hardest thing that I ever do. Thomas Paine said, “What we obtain too cheap, we esteem too lightly: ’tis dearness only that gives everything its value. ” And that’s it. You quit smoking and you get the world or least your life back.

Normally when I write a piece about the news or my life there is a natural end to the story. If it’s not there when I start, something usually turns up as I’m writing. But not this time. This story doesn’t finish, it just goes on and on and on. That’s the thing about quitting something. There is no day where you win, were you can stand up and declare victory and move on with your life. You just carry on, a day at a time, not doing something.

Anyway, I’m off. Writing all this has really made me want a cigarette.

Jul 252011
It's a bird.

This little tale isn’t really going to go anywhere; there’s no twist at the end nor a thought provoking moral lesson. But what took place this morning was somewhat unusual, so I thought I’d write it down in the hope that it may turn to be interesting or even funny. I’ve also not posted in a little while and this is all that I’ve got.

I’d just got out the shower to hear the front door bell ring and so answered dressed just with a towel wrapped around my nether regions. On the way to the door I heard a very loud thud but I thought no more about it preoccupied as I was with answering the door somewhat exposed. At the front door there was a delivery man who informed me that the loud thump had been a bird flying into my kitchen window. And that I had a delivery. Well the delivery wasn’t for me, it was for my housemate. This would not be the biggest disappointment of the day. After signing for the package and putting on some clothes, I went to investigate.

There was indeed a bird in the garden, lying on the plants below the kitchen window. It was not in a good way. Now I had always imagined that if a bird or other animal was in distress I would do whatever needed to be done do to aid the injured animal and ensure it’s recovery back to full health. There would almost certainly be a cardboard box, a blanket and a call to the RSPCA involved. Perhaps a few weeks of tender care involving some feeding with a pipette before the animal was released back to roam the wild or more likely it choose to stay with me, a friend for life. But it didn’t really turn out like that.

The bird wasn’t moving. I had no idea if it was dead or just unconscious. I went in for a closer look and there were mites or similar such insects crawling through its feathers. Seeing if it had a heartbeat much less any form of resuscitation was off the agenda. So what to do? My main concern was the fact that I was late for work. Terrible I know. Why didn’t I care more? I could only think, well, it’s just a dead bird.

Now, I couldn’t leave it there on the ground so I got an old towel and very carefully lifted it off the ground and with the towel for a blanket I left it on top of the bin. Now I considered throwing some water on it to wake it up but then I thought how that would be slightly ridiculous. It had smashed into a window and was probably dead. My only knowledge of rousing someone (or thing) from an unconscious state was from TV and films. But neither water, smelling salts or a slap seemed appropriate. I wonder how many more situations I will face in my life where I release that I know absolutely nothing about what to do because TV had fooled me in to thinking I knew something but in fact it was all merely ridiculous lies. Reality eh?

So I left the bird on the top of the bin (with the towel as a blanket) and went to work. I didn’t really think there was anything I could do or even wanted to do. I didn’t think I could justify coming in to work late and quite frankly I didn’t want to go to work late. When I was younger there was no way I would have left that bird and I wonder when it came to be that I didn’t really care. Although if it had been a cat or dog I would have rang the RSPCA. But if you’d asked me yesterday about whether I would have rang the RSPCA for an injured bird, I would have said yes.

Now I think a key factor here is that the bird was probably dead. If it had been obviously alive and injured I couldn’t have let it suffer. But I didn’t know, definitely, that it was dead, I just guessed it was. But what kind of a call would that have been? Hello, is that the RSPCA? I have a bird that I think is dead but it might just be suffering from massive brain trauma. Could you send round your top bird neurologist? Cheers.

So all day at work I wondered what would await me when I got home. Would it be there dead, would it have flown away or would it be in the jaws of a cat looking at me, blinking (do birds blink?) and just before it passed on it would say “Andy, you could have saved me. You bastard.” Great, I’ve just let the world’s first talking bird die.

Anyway, to cut it short, when I got home, it was lying there, dead. So I put it in the bin.

True story.

Jun 282011
An old bike against a wall

There’s not many good things about learning to ride a bike when you’re 30. It’s not only hard learning to ride itself but there’s a whole load of complications that come along with doing so when you’re 30. People look at you and aren’t really sure what’s going on. You have to get on your bike, fall off and ignore all the people looking at you and then do it again. And again.

It doesn’t even ease up when you’re finally on the road. Pedestrians and other road users assume you can ride the bike, after all you look like someone who can ride a bike: ie you’re a grown man and you’re on a bike.

Except that you can’t ride the bike or at least ride it very well. Long, straight bits of riding are mastered pretty quickly but as far as anything else is concerned you don’t really know what the hell is going on. Turning left is fine but I can’t put out my arm and indicate or I might fall over and as for turning right, forget it. As a friend pointed out, I’m the Zoolander of bicycles. Yes, I have the same comedy attribute as a fictional character. Bugger.

Small children wonder why you’ve not overtaken them. Why? Because uou’re afraid you might be killed by the car behind you at any moment if you try to take to overtake. The fear of death is not the ideal way to start your day but what doesn’t kill you does make you stronger. But for a while it is genuinely terrifying to not be in full control of some peddle-powered contraption while 2-tonnes of metal races past you about 20 centimetres away. People will say ‘you just need some confidence’, well yes, but confidence isn’t a switch you can just flick on, it’s some you have to work at.

When you arrive at your destination, people don’t seem very impressed when you announced that you got there by bicycle, by bicycle! Can you believe that! They look at you look like they are not really sure what’s so impressive about that or they notice that you appeared to have briefly assumed the characteristics of a 5-year-old. Which you have. You’ve learnt to do something most people managed when they were a kid.

I’m not really sure why I didn’t learn to ride a bike when I was younger, it just never really happened and then you get past the point where you want to be seen learning a bike. Then you get to 20 and then you get to 30. I’d almost given up hope but public transport can be an awful, dispiriting experience especially when you have no other choice. You have to get on the bus, you have to pay for the privilege and you have to an hour for the bus, frequently.

Margaret Thatcher said a man should consider himself a failure if he doesn’t own his own car by the age of 25. But then Thatcher was a mad women who when not destroying the fabric and economy of society, hated working class people and thought a person should value themselves based on whether they own a motor vehicle.

Spend thousands of pounds on a vehicle so I can drive to and from work and never go any where because I have no money? No thanks. Also I don’t really want to help pollute the planet. It would be nice to be able to get in to a car on the odd occasion – road trip! – but to go to work everyday? I have a number of other ways to be part of the machine and generally kowtow to the Man.

So the cars out, walking sucks and you start to hate public transport. But you can’t cycle and then there’s the niggle. That awkward feeling that you’re not doing something because, well you a big fat coward. And cycling would help with the fat. Sometimes a man has gotta do what a man has a gotta do and sometimes that’s getting on a bike and falling off.

But there are a couple of great things about learning to ride a bike when you’re 30. I’ve learnt it’s never too late to do something. That the more difficult it is to do something the greater the reward. And that humiliation and fear aren’t really the obstacles that they may sometimes appear to be. All clichés but all true. I learnt to ride a bike, finally, in about a minute. All it took was an empty car park, some encouragement and a bit of courage to look like a complete and utter fool every now and again.

The best thing about learning to ride a bike is that you can bloody ride a bike! It’s amazing! It’s fun and it gets even more fun when you turn right – you can go almost anywhere! And it’s fast, really fast, places become a lot nearer all of a sudden.

You can also give your bike a really cool name. A lot of people give their bike or car a name like Bob or Geoff. How ironic. Forget it. Give it an awesome name. Call it Phantom or Speed Demon. Sir Bike-a-lot is taken.

Jun 272011

In the next few days I will move into what will be the fifteenth house that I call home. This includes one residence that I can’t remember at all as I was very young at the time but I have no reason to doubt those that tell me that I definitely lived there.

When you have lived in that many houses it gets to the point where a new place is not really a new home, it’s just a place in which you are currently based. But what is a home and is it important?

Homes should have some kind of permanence about them and privacy. It should be a place you can come back to, not matter how far and how long you’ve been away. It should also be a place where you can close the door and take respite from the outside world. There may be at various stages in your life be one, two or three places that you call home but any number higher than that and it can become a little difficult to really call it a home.

There’s a whole generation of people now who permanently share with other adults and move every year or two and for more and more of us, a home to call our own seems unlikely to ever happen.

It would be nice to have a place of mine because I want a place where I can do what I want. It would be nice to sit around in my underwear and play computer games. I’m not saying I would (though I definitely would) but it would nice to have the option. Oh sure, I can put on some shorts BUT WHY SHOULD I!? I’m 30 years old and it has become increasingly likely that I may never have a place of my own.

It seems a wrong that we expect people to not have a home, it’s like a family and job; it’s a right. Maybe it’s impossible to guarantee it for everybody but we should make it available to as many as a possible.
When you think about it, it’s a little weird that so many people these days have to share a house with strangers. I’ve lived with some great housemates and some not so great housemates (and I know that I would be in the latter category for many of the people that I’ve lived with) but I want a place that isn’t a house but a home because it’s just right that everyone, everywhere has one place in this often complete-bastard-of- a-world that they can call their own.

We may share to choose with a loved one or with our offspring (not that they mutually exclusive) but that’s not really the same as having to share with people because of financial necessity.

I used to love my bedrooms) when I was a kid. I thought it was the greatest place in the world. I had my books, toys and eventually computer games and I could engage in all these activities from my bed! But it was also a place of refugee, somewhere safe for when growing up and life got a little too difficult.
Now I move from place to place usually every 12 months although my current abode got into semi-permanent status with me being there for 23 months.

It’s not that not owning a place bothers, it would be nice but hey, a lot of things would be nice. The thought of spending all my money on a mortgage so I can own it in 40 years time doesn’t really appeal to me. I also don’t really see the point of scraping and struggling to get my own home only to finally relax and look about my own place only to realise that I can’t go out because I’ve got no money.

I’ve worked out that I’ve now lived with just over 50 people. That’s loads and now I can’t even remember a lot of their names and am certainly not in contact with more than 10 of them and half of those I’m related to.
Why has a society have we not made cheap affordable housing a major priority? Instead we now have a situation where people think they are rich because they have an expensive house. Great, sell it and you can have loads of money and no home. We have a housing marker which is about keeping people off the housing ladder, and it has to keep people off the housing ladder if it’s all about making those who are on the ladder even richer.

I’ve learnt a lot through living in so many places and with so many people. I’ve learnt to wash-up and to not mind other people not washing-up – there are more important things in life. I’ve learnt to get along with people and that I would really like a place of my own.

I’ve also learnt that this generation is becoming increasingly shafted.

Jun 182011

It’s that time of year again, to make sure you get the card in the last post or to give him a call on Sunday to say sorry for forgetting to send a card – again; it’s Father’s Day.

But for some of us Father’s Day isn’t something that we’re ever part of, it’s for other people. I hear people talk about it and while all the words make sense, it just doesn’t really register. I imagine this is what it is like for people who don’t celebrate Christmas, once a year the whole world goes mad and you’re not really sure why. Of course Father’s Day is on a scale a whole lot smaller than Christmas, it’s even possible that you could fail to notice the whole day – if you don’t really have a father.

My father split when I was very young. I saw him a few times until I was about 10 but I haven’t seen him since then. I guess I’m more fortunate than people who never got to meet their father or don’t even know who he is. But I never had a dad and to be honest I’m not really sure what it is a dad is or does. Sure, I could write about what a father does in terms of raising a kid, but most of it would be guess work, probably right, but guess work still, because I have absolutely no personal experience of it.

There was no dad on birthdays or even in the morning at breakfast. There was no dad at sports day or Christmas Day. No football games or talks about girls. I was raised by mum along with my two sisters and I can’t identify with any other way of growing up.

When people talk about Father’s Day, I realise it’s not only a day that I will never be able to identify with but also a big part of growing up – having a dad around.

It won’t be sadness that I feel this Sunday but rather an awareness that something that most other people experience (some of whom will take it for granted – I guess that’s the point of the day) is something that you will never, ever be part of.

Who knows, maybe one day I’ll have children of my own and be on the receiving end of Father’s Day but I think even then there will be a shadow, and while I only notice it two or three times a year, I suppose the shadow is always there.

So this Sunday there will be some of us thinking about the dads that we never knew and I suppose there will be plenty of dads thinking about where did it all go wrong – but I don’t think that is what Father’s Day is about. It’s about a card through the door or quick phone call to make sure he’s alright, and a smile and a “thanks”.

That’s how it’s supposed to be. But then some things that are supposed to be never happen.

Happy Father’s Day everyone.