Ghost hunters – Awayday
Sunday, 11th Jul 2021 12:31 by Clive Whittingham
The latest round of Does Covid Live Here? took LFW for an Adele-style mooch around the corner of TW12 we used to call home, where we found the artist formerly known as Todd Kane lurking among the trees.
When I was a little dot my legs would whirl around at a thousand miles an hour with the boundaries between Hampton and the other south west London suburbs the only limitation.
Into the river in Bushey Park we’d splash, because when you’re young you don’t feel the cold of the water. Round the estate off The Avenue we’d fly on bikes, because when you’re a kid you don’t fear what lurks behind the next corner. Partridge Green was our Wembley – trees at the far end forming a perfect goal, copse to the right a giant overhanging main stand, miserable old hag to the left turning every request for the return of the football into a drawn-out hostage negotiation – because in those days the council used to come and cut the grass.
We went to Dillon’s newsagent (now an Indian restaurant) on one side of the mini-roundabout (now a crossroads) for our Merlin Premier League stickers, Dillon’s grocers (now a CostCutter) for our Kinder Eggs, and mum would make us write down the serial code if she gave us a £20 note in case Mr Dillon tried to play fast and loose with the change. Hold it right there Johnny Foreigner. Apart from that, as long as we were home before it got dark, and we stayed within the sunlit confines of Hampton, that was us. What about that shadowy place? That is Sunbury son, you must never go there.
On Saturday, that was us again. We were told to expect mutations and variants in Covid-19, because that’s what viruses do. They grow and spread and fester and change and morph to survive and thrive. Total victory in these wars is rare, but rarer still is coming across one quite as fiendishly clever as this. Covid-19 is now able to tell if you’re sitting down or standing up in the pub, for instance – leaving you alone if you stay in your seat, killing you to death if you head to the bar. It knows England getting to the final of the Euros is a big deal, so it leaves 60,000 maskless drunkards alone at Wembley, but run-of-the-mill pre-season friendlies are a force of evil which it targets with a cruel vengeance and so 500 QPR fans are not allowed to go to Gillingham next Friday night. Gillingham fans are allowed though, because it can apparently not only distinguish between one sports stadium and another, but also one set of supporters and another within that arena. It also has an intrinsic knowledge of the English footballing pyramid, and so while one set of London football fans are fine to travel to Dartford v Charlton on Saturday without even completing a Covid-19 test in advance, another load aren’t allowed at Priestfield the day before because Gillingham play in a slightly less abysmally shit league than the Darts. Have we all tried simply scrawling TEST EVENT on our foreheads? Maybe it’s like crosses and vampires? You thought Dungeons and Dragons was convoluted, try a round of Does Covid Live Here?
It’s turning everyday life into one long slog through airport security, where 250ml of bottled breast milk makes you a caring mother, but 300ml makes you a maniac who wants to bring a 747 down from the sky; three books of matches makes you a smoker the tobacco industry will lobby for, but four makes you a shoebomber set on the deaths of hundreds of innocent people. Covid, apparently, thankfully, does not live among the trees of Hampton and Richmond Borough’s beautifully appointed Beveree (grow up). Any threat of its presence warded off by a strictly enforced one-way system on the side terrace. Like a t-rex, its vision is based on movement, and if we’re all walking in the same direction it can’t get us. Use the entry level step as an exit without immediately being seized upon by a steward, however, and expect to have your lungs pulped into a gooey puss. And you’d deserve it too.
It’s a learning experience, everyday a new lesson, and so off I went to TW12 in desperate search of that buzz and thrill that only the 08.00 from Euston gang will know and miss. Past the junior school where I was taught to enliven Championship match reports with gratuitous swearing and graphic sexual imagery. Past The Windmill on Windmill Road, sadly, it seems, another victim of the pandemic and now about to head down the same yuppy housing conversion that befell its neighbour The Gardeners many moons ago. Down Acacia Road, home of Bananaman - which felt like the start of The Labyrinth when I was eight-years-old, four-foot tall and blond but doesn’t seem half as long now I’m 37, 5ft 11ins and bald – and across Partridge Green, no longer playable these days with the council happy to scrimp and save and leave it to rot/improve the environment by allowing it to “rewild”.
Everything’s a house now. The shop outside my school where I used to buy a Dairy Milk for the walk home is a house, The Gardeners is a house, the swings we used to try and get over the top are now an extension of a house, the vicarage is now four houses, the BMX jumps we fashioned are a house. None of them affordable. The Royal Oak survives, in much the same state, with much the same locals, as it did when my dad used to hide in there from my mum. The greasy fingers of BrewDog haven’t slipped this far up the passage yet, your choices are Stella or a driving lager. I had a Kronenbourg. ‘Wendy and Chris welcome you…’ said the mirror on the wall. I was delighted to give them my fiver. You think it’s frustrating not going to Gillingham next week, imagine being a publican at the moment. Poor bastards. I will continue to sacrifice my liver to their cause.
The match Clive, what about the match? Alright stickler Meeseeks, what can I tell you? Well, speaking of ghosts, if you were looking for a depth charge update on Todd ‘Toddy’ Kane’s progress, here he was as the lone first teamer, nearly a decade older than any of his team mates, captaining/babysitting a creche. He played one nice channel ball in the first half which Dillon Da Silva enthusiastically ran out for a goal kick at high speed, and another hospital pass into midfield which killed a child to death and saw Hampton draw a good save from first half goalkeeper Max Little. The rangey keeper was probably the big winner here, making a number of good saves, brave one on one stops, and difficult high catches under pressure. Ody Alfa is quick, but on the regular occasions he torched Hampton’s right back he was quickly chopped to ground – lower league card enthusiast Charles Breakespeare would ordinarily have dispatched the kid to the dressing rooms long before half time but was in full pre-season mode here. Their full back on the other side, Razzaq De-Graft Coleman, who spends his spare time picking up extra names at car boot sales, looked a decent little player to me. Stephen Duke-McKenna, who has poked his head over the first team parapet, played some lovely defence splitting passes, but at other times seemed to try a bit too much, hold onto the ball a bit too long.
Kane sat on the bench for the second half in sandals, talking with coach Andy Impey about the respective merits of individuals in the team, making a point to praise Little for his first half performance, and ripping Ody Alfa for his ironing skills on his training top. He clocked a nearby QPR fan in a 2 Kane shirt – “at least somebody loves me”. (Nice to meet you, guys, by the way). Penny for his thoughts. Inconsistent when he did play for QPR, now miles out of favour after separate bouts of arseholery, a six-match ban to begin the season doth not render him pleasurable to a buyer’s eye. Take him off us before the end of August and receive this attractive carriage clock.
Nil nil at half time, Hampton kept at bay by Little and the crossbar, QPR’s goal threat rather summed up by experienced home goalkeeper - and a strong contender for this year’s Dean Trevor Two First Names Memorial Award - Alan Julian engaging in debate with a group of enthusiastic eight-year-olds behind the goal, the second half descended into the sort of multi-substitution farce these early friendlies often become.
Dean Inman free to head home unchallenged from a corner for the hosts, which gave me a warm fuzzy feeling inside, but this was quickly levelled by a genuinely outstanding goal from Hamzad Kargbo. Picking the ball up in a tight spot on the edge of the area he jinked, twisted, turned, slalomed and dragbacked his way around half the population of TW12 and beat former QPR goalkeeper Myles Bowman with a cute finish. Clive Allen fused with Devon White. Big lad, great touch, mostly starved of service through his second half outing and audibly frustrated about that, he started his afternoon by kicking Inman sending the Hampton man screaming after the referee which I quite liked on a day when it was mostly, literally, men against boys. The goal was worth making the trip for on its own. If Little won the first half for QPR, Kargbo was certainly the best of what we had out there in the second, along with Aaron Drewe who I thought you could tell had played this level previously with Oxford City and wasn’t quite as physically lacking as some of the others.
With 17-year-old Matteo Salamon keeping goal in men’s football for the first time, and multiple changes to the defence in front of him, it wasn’t a great surprise that Hampton subsequently stretched away with three quickfire goals from Kadell Daniel and two for Ronan Hutchins. They looked fairly decent, I thought, and I’ll be interested to see how they go in Conference South. Salamon had actually made a string of saves to keep the hosts at bay before Inman scored, but it was rather a rabble back there in the closing half hour. Kids playing against men, first game of the summer, multiple changes, I’m not going to hang them for that and you shouldn’t either.
Rangers did get a second goal of their own. Charley Kendall, one Eastbourne postcode away from completing the All American Boy look, showing electric pace and a smart finish to burst through on Bowman and chip home. Patricia Routledge, kindly giving up her time to volunteer on the PA, announced it as Kai Woollard-Innocent’s goal, prompting handshakes and congratulations with Kai sitting in front of us on the substitute’s bench/garden furniture. Still, the first scorer had gone unidentified entirely so I guess this was some kind of improvement. The relaxed atmosphere, the smell of the freshly cut grass, pitch looking like a silk carpet, non-league tannoy announcer informing the ground they don’t know the identity of the goalscorer – pre-season is here again, and my God aren’t we glad to have it back. Did find it slightly odd/off that QPR hadn’t provided the home officials with a proper team sheet, and to look at the club’s social media you wouldn’t have even known there was a game taking place.
I’d been looking forward to seeing Kendall, who has a formidable goalscoring record at youth level, and Sinclair Armstrong who’s been the subject of excited chatter since arriving from Ireland a year ago, but both played extreme wide right and left with Kargbo alone through the middle. Armstrong spent the second half pretty much being talked through the position by Impey on the touchline, constantly moving him five yards this way and that depending on where the game was taking place, like a kid with a remote-control car. I was reminded of the last time we sat down with Les Ferdinand and he talked about the criticism they were getting at that time for the U23s and U18s suffering eye-brow raising big defeats at places like Colchester. Sometimes, he said, the purpose of a game at that level might be to improve Rem Oteh’s timing as he runs in behind, and his task for the day would simply be to run in behind the Colchester defence 20 times over the 90 minutes – if they got that skill into him, they didn’t care if they lost the actual game. Certainly, in the case of Armstrong, this felt more tutorial than competitive outing.
“Look how lovely and well behaved the rugby fans are compared to the football fans” was my taxi driver’s opening gambit as we wound back towards evening drinks in Richmond. Our grubby brethren can only dream of ascending to the levels of throwing dwarves around pubs and getting to know our friends more closely by setting their farts on fire. Having picked me up outside a football ground, after a football match, wearing a fucking Queens Park Rangers face mask, I can only presume somebody’s lockdown has gone so well that tips are no longer required – although electing to take the 316 past Twickenham at 17.00 on a matchday had already extinguished any hope of there being one of those. I haven’t lived here for 25 years mate, and was only old enough to drive a plastic Fisher-Price tractor around when I did, and I know that’s a rookie mistake.
Back at The Sun Inn, the evening’s entertainment was provided by a deliciously disastrous Tinder date where really quite an attractive woman was drowned in cigarette smoke by a large toad who it quickly became apparent had been using profile pictures varying between ‘aged’ and ‘wishful thinking’. They managed half a drink each before she made her escape, ostensibly to the toilet but really quickly away down the street, he only belatedly realising a jailbreak was on in time to see her turn, wave, and dive into a passing cab.
God I’ve missed awaydays. All of life is here. And Todd Kane.
QPR: Little, Kane, Innocent, Mahorn, Kefalas, Jude-Boyd, McKenna, Frailing, De Silva, Adarkwa, Alfa
Subs: Solomon, Mclean, Pitblado, Woodman, Domi, Drewe, Williams-Lowe, Ahoraha, Conte, Mema, Kendall, Armstrong, Kargbo
The Twitter @loftforwords
Pictures – Action Images
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