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Memories of May 26th 1989 by BobK


Oh God, THAT night.

I'd stopped going to the game a few years earlier. But I was, as ever, obsessed. I was living in Cambridge at the time, just moved there, virtually squatting - I had been homeless for about 3 months beforehand, was losing the plot and decided on a change of scene.

An old friend from Liverpool at Uni in Cambridge took pity on me, and gave me use of a tiny room that I could just lay down in lengthways, and a mattress on the floor, whilst I got my life back together. With a radio/cassette player and a few books and scarves it was all I had in the world.

Radio commentary IS the sound of football on the media to me. My football religious education had largely been at the apron strings of my mother, a die-hard red from Walton who took me to my first games in the early 70s. Living 150 miles from Anfield, Saturdays (as it was then) and midweeks in the years until I was old enough to travel to games on my own were spent in a hushed, tense flurry of domestic chores with Sport on Two on 3 different radios. TV didn't come to our house until I was 15, when my Nan could no longer climb the stairs to her flat in Joseph Morgan Heights, and came down south to stay with us.

It became a ritual, and as the clock ticked onto five to three I would set up the ironing board for mam, and place the washing in a huge crumpled pile. Enter the Voice - Peter Jones, or later Bryon Butler - the elite of commentators now ably succeeded by Alan Green (I view Alan Parry in the same way I view Souness's managership.)The Voice that was football went through the line ups and the game got underway, and so did the ironing. Slowly at first, but increasingly furiously, my mam bottling up so much nervous tension every time the opposition were said to have crossed the halfway line, sometimes accelerating the feverish pleating of my sister's school skirt, other times when it was too unbearable screwing her eyes shut, shouting involuntarily, and just holding the iron mid-air until the Voice gave her an eleventh hour stay with "Oh it's JUST over the bar !!!!!" or "Clemence - extraordinary !!!!" and she would scream with relief. The resulting goal kick would be marked by a new item to iron, a shirt perhaps, starting as a scrunched up bundle, building slowly from the back in long, immaculate moves, then out to Heighway on the wing, just the sleeves left, more fiddly, as he turns inside one defender, then another, now just the collar, Keegan, furiously creasing, TOSHACK !!!!!!!!!!!!!!! 1-0 !!!!!!!!! Phew. It would be an ok evening after all. Nothing worse than an evening at home when we'd lost.

And so May 26th 1989, recently off the streets, a bit lost and lonely, 3 hours to kick off, in the surreality of Cambridge. I knew few people there, no fellow reds, and my benefactrice who had given me somewhere to live was away. I blew the last of my giro on four cans and a chinese meal. Fish balls with fried rice.

I should have realised, of course. In an earlier episode in life I'd been studying the sciences of life at university, when I turned up. I should have been suspicious - fish don't have balls. I wonder to this day what it was that I ate. I thought little of it at the time, woolfed it down and the first of the cans, and sat in my tiny room listening to the radio. The game kicked off. I was unbelievably tense. Life had been shit. The terrible events of Hillsborough were all too fresh, we were still in shock, but anticipating a tribute, a championship, a double, another triumph of the redmen. It would be a turning point for me, I knew it. I had a home again, the reds were winning the league again, everything was going to be OK after all ...

It was just after half time when I threw up the first time. And then again. It was the worst case of food-poisoning I have ever had. I'll spare you the gruesome bits, of both the game and what was going on in my room, but at that moment, when Thomas scored that goal, I was saturated, heaving, hanging out the window wishing for death, but still with the radio held to my head. And then that goal. I cried with all the energy I had left, but it wasn't much. I turned the radio off, and hung there, puking, until an ambulance arrived and whisked me off. A stomach pump followed by anti-emitic injections and a night on the wards followed.

A couple of years later I ended up with the tenancy of the flat next to that Chinese restaurant, above one of the finest off-licences ever. The landlord, who ran the offy, was an Arsenal season-ticket holder, the best landlord ever, who sold beer from the wood, Belgian beers, weissbiers, etc when they were rare in this country.

One day he opened a packing case of bottled ale and it was full of cockroaches. They scuttled everywhere. I helped him catch as many as possible, maybe a hundred of them, in a beer glass. Then we went next door, opened the door to the chinese restaurant and threw them inside. The place was closed down a few days later.

Bob Kurac 2001


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