Ghosts of Molineux

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The Derek Parkin Tribute Dinner

I don’t get invited to many civilised do’s. Not because I’m a massively dysfunctional bloke (which I am) but people who know me are aware that my normal social circles are full of the highly dysfunctional too, gangsters, hooligans, crackheads and bagheads, etc. But last night I was invited to the Derek Parkin tribute dinner at the Molineux. Cold sweat time. There would be people there. Real people who had careers and were successful. I had to get the suit out of the attic. My suit was made in 1968 by Walsh of Sheffield in a mod style. A beautiful thing. Moths had eaten a big hole in the arm but that was cool. But Derek Parkin. Full back. One of my favourite players back in the 70’s and whenever a team was announced on a Saturday afternoon he was there, a lynch pin or an anchor point of the whole flowing beauty of that team. Of course there was a whole plethora of former 70’s greats there. I kept bumping into them rustling between the tables in a suite in the Billy Wright stand, exchanging a few words here and there, erupting into a sweat.

Thing is, back in those days these men were Gods to us. They used to drive past us on the Waterloo road and we knew what cars they drove, where they did their shopping. We didn’t stalk them but as we lived so close to the ground we always saw them and we would stop stripping the lead….er walking to school and for half an hour we would discuss that player. Last night I was bumping into these people and they would shake my hand as I stopped them. But I couldn’t say anything of interest as I was struck dumb. John Richards, Phil Parkes who looked great, Willie Carr, George Berry. Here I was in my moth eaten suit talking to these men. What was I doing here? I had a tenner in my pocket I was loathe to spend.

You see, I don’t move in these circles and at times it seemed highly abstract and unusual. Well out of the comfort zone initially. This environment was not mine. Everybody seemed to have all their teeth and knew what to do with the myriad of cutlery in front of them. I mistook the curly napkin display as funky bread sticks, I was concentrating on putting the chicken and mash main course in my gob. Eat with your mouth closed which was hard as my nose is shattered and I find it hard to breath through it so I had to eat holding my breath, use the right fucking spoon, right fork. Stop swearing so much, try not to laugh too loud, don’t take offence, stop sizing people up to see how they would fight later on. Fucking hell. On the pitch through the tinted viewing windows was the pitch and the empty stands lit by the movable grow lights to make the pitch happy and green. I kept glancing over to the Southbank and it was reassuring to see it standing there empty but powerful. I was wondering which bread roll to eat, the one on the left or the one on the right. One was wholemeal one was white, did you have to eat one with a certain part of the meal? The butter looked like little flower petals, what knife should I use to spread it? There was a bottle of water on the table, funky little wine glasses, should I pour the water in that?

These 70s greats eh? And they were greats. I was watching John Richards eat amazed I was, dumbstruck. I’m eating fucking dinner with John Richards. George Berry (who was my favourite player of those days) smiled at me as he brushed past. Fucking hell. Moth eaten suit, social sweats, shaking hands, trying not to swear. John fucking Richards spooning herby posh mash into his gob. George Berry laughing at something while he ate his roll. Phil Parkes moved past, Phil I loved you man and I want to grab him and hug him but you can’t.

George Berry was my favourite player because he was the only one I really identified with. The other members of the squad I hero worshipped but George I always regarded as one of us lot. He made me feel a lot calmer, a lot more chilled out. When he spoke about Parkin putting an arm around him and reassuring him when he came into the team was emotional. Black players put up with some hefty shit in those days. Derek Parkin was there for him and George Berry was there for me I suppose. Other players got up on stage and had a go heaping platitudes on Derek, all deserved, all on point. But I could see George nodding and listening, laughing too and all was good.

I’m a distinctly working class bloke there’s no getting away from it. My environment is bus stations waiting for buses, I know how to sew and repair my clothes. My clothes last a long time. I’m used to sneaking into the ground (see The Great Wall Of Molineux) hiding in the bogs when we used to travel to away games so the ticket inspector didn’t get you. Territorial and lumpen I suppose. Drinking over priced beer in the rain at the back of the Southbank trying to keep your roll up alight. But here I was with the great and good. There was Steve Plant who has rode the money raising train that hard all his hair has fallen out. PR animal Russ Cockburn smashing the social thing. All the people there were men and women that had ideas and drive, they were movers and shakers within the whole Wolves thing. I started sweating again. Shit. I had last worn this suit when I collapsed teaching engineering maths to a bunch of disinterested lunatics in a Wolverhampton secondary school. I remember being on the floor as the kids freaked out, the rush of feet, the ambulance.

Now normally this weird as fuck episode would have had me heading for the doors and the bus home where I could be safe and sound away from the crowds and the madness of dinner in the Billy Wright. But it was different here. Because despite the success, the career talk and the dynamism of alcohol fuelled social occasions it was ok. These people were held together by a common thread, a common interest. We were all basically the same people. The same hopes and dreams I suppose. The atmosphere was upbeat and we were doing ok so everything was positive and cool. People were generally positive about the blog and that was good too, because it’s not mine it’s ours. The whole thing was ours really because without us there wouldn’t be a dinner or fund raising, joy and laughter. Without us these great edifices of our club would be empty spaces, just gaps in the whole narrative. We are what fill these places with soul and love, all the emotions that we pour out fill the gaps in the abstract and the strange.

At a quiet point in the proceedings I found myself holding a pint staring at the pitch and lapsing into some sort of stand-by mode wondering why the fuck I was here really. My suit itched, my shoes didn’t have enough room. John Richards laughed loud at something somebody had said. But I had strength, and that strength came from my stand, all those empty seats. There are ghosts in there you know. Because when we were kids and we were bored we would climb that wall in the alley and get into the ground. We would go and sit on the Southbank terrace in the dark because we were out of the rain, safe from a regular kicking outside from who ever fancied doing it, away from the violence of those days. Safe and sound. But we would sit there passing around a crumpled No6 fag lit with a match. Chatting about the games coming up or the ones that had gone. But between the conversations and the bullshit, if you were quiet enough you could hear things in that stand. The emotions expressed in it were powerful and they leaked into the very ground it stood on. There was blood spilled in there, and sweat and bloody tears to be honest. The whole stand was soaked in it and on some metaphysical levels they were played back when it was quiet and a few scruffy kids sheltering from the rain, bored, were witnesses to it. You could hear whispers and the odd bang from underneath. Footsteps up and down the terrace.Ghosts mate. But we weren’t afraid because they were our ghosts.

I was cool here because everybody was friendly and everybody had a laugh and the atmosphere was good, funny, a bit flirty sometimes. Everything was cool now because I had a reason to be there. That reason was the ghosts, our friends. fellow supporters, family, workmates that had passed away still stood on that terrace and if you looked close enough you could see the old Southbank transparent and ethereal underneath the new build. You could just about see the figures shouting on Derek, George, and John and it might have been a reflection on the glass but there was a faint figure running across the pitch surely? Doog is that you? You would have loved this night mate.

You draw your power from the ghosts I suppose and now the moth eaten suit and the itch, the feeling that you shouldn’t really be there was gone. Those Ghosts couldn’t be here but I was, so I was strong for them, I experienced it for them and all of a sudden it wasn’t hard to talk to people and it was easy because the ghosts out there and the life in here had the same foundation, our emotions all soaked into the same geology underneath the Molineux. It’s definitely something Steve Morgan never truly understood and maybe that’s where he fell short. You must have some connection to that ground, a blood connection, a spiritual connection and an emotive one too. I turned back around and joined in the chat happy now I could move around and be social, I did it for the ghosts.

Many thanks to Stefan for getting the tickets. Ian Powell for sorting them out for us. Thanks to Steve Plant for putting on a great event. Thanks to everybody who I met and were friendly and laughing.

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