On Growing up Skint and Seeing Stan Bowles Play

When you grow up poor(ish) you don't necessarily know that you’re poor. There are indications, though. Your classmates are the sons of accountants and mid-managers: the hems of their trousers are never as far from their ankles as yours are, their Dads don't have haunted expressions when you’ve outgrown your shoes and none of them have to force down weekly vile dinners of gag-making, putrid and really deeply unsavoury overcooked liver. But, then again, none of their Dads ever pick them up from school in a massive fuck-off lorry, so who’s the loser now, boys?

When you grow up poor, you invent fictional versions of a life that you pretend you have and these can get confused with reality. This can't be me, can it? Because I’m the centre of my own and all universes; I’m so nice I could be Jesus; this isn’t my real family; I’m probably royal or something; I’m called Philip, after all; that’s a proper prince’s name. You publicise being half-Irish as this makes you different, you pretend you have interest from pro-teams (no one believes you, of course), you support a team altogether more beautiful and more romantic than local losers, Palace, and some stupid team with white arms on red shirts who are unaccountably popular with your classmates. You are the only boy from Penge, the last congealed flob of spit at the edge of south-east London, at your school. You are the only Rangers fan at your school. It is the main thing people remember about you. “Phil Beadle, QPR fan, loved Stan Bowles, ankle swingers.”

When you grow up in Penge and you’re a Rangers fan, even the name Shepherd’s Bush reaches out towards you like the seductive arm of an exquisite woman you’ll never have. You worship Venables, love Mancini’s sense of humour and stupid hair. You wear you socks round your ankles while playing football with no shin-pads just like Dave Thomas does, and you love it when the PE teacher notices the cultural reference. But you’ll never go and see Rangers because it’s too far away and it costs too much and your shoes are falling apart.

So you worship from afar. And chiefly, and although Thomas and Masson are gods to you, you worship at the altar of Stanley Bowles: the great man, the great cavalier, the grandest wizard of wing-forwardry, the best 110K any club has ever spent. You’ll never see him on anything other than the telly, but this doesn’t alter the degree to which you idolize him.

And then, over time, something miraculous happens. Your Dad who’s always been absurdly hard working, is the token bloke that actually does the job in a management buy-out and the pen pushers start valuing him to the extent that you no longer have to eat liver any more. And then one morning, when you are fourteen, and haven’t eaten liver for a good six months, he comes home with a skip in his step.

“What you doing tonight, boy?”

“Watching telly, being bored, like every other night.”

“How do you fancy going up to see QPR? I’ll buy you a couple of programmes from the programme shop.”

“    ”.

You’re fourteen. You’re too old to be this excited. You are insanely grateful to your Dad. You travel across London in a blur. You arrive at the stadium. You enter. He has bought really good seats. These aren’t seats for wankers. These are seats for people with a bit of dosh.

You wait for Stanley Bowles to appear. Stanley Bowles does not appear.

There are twenty-one players on the pitch, and they all seem to be waiting for something, for someone, but that someone isn't there and it’s thirty seconds before kick-off. You turn forlornly to your Dad, and your desolate, tear-filled expression of, “He’s not play...” is interrupted by a roar, a groundswell as from out of the tunnel the object of your dreams jogs laconically to the centre-circle ten seconds before kick off. He kicks off. You are exultant. A star that knows he is the star and behaves like a star! What drama! What theatre! What flair! The avant-garde footballer demolishes the forth wall with a magnificent display of imposture! You are enraptured by his cheek. (You later realize that he wasn’t playing with the form in a postmodernist sense but studying the form in the nearest bookies, and he’s late because he had a gee-gee that was a ‘sure winner’ running in the last race of the day).

The game passes by in a blur. Stan doesn't do much, but he does it stylishly. Rangers are awarded a penalty. Stan steps up. He misses it.

Your Dad takes the piss out of you for this all the way home, but he does so to a boy that has the whole set of programmes from the UEFA cup run clutched tightly under his arm. You still have them. It is over forty years on. Your Dad takes the piss out of you for Stan’s penalty miss regularly over those forty years. He did so last week. But you saw Stanley in the flesh, and he was a God, and he behaved like a God, and he still is and ever will be. It is only correct that a stand is named after him. And it is overdue.


Added Mon, 15 Aug 2022 10:12

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