A chink of light appeared through the half drawn curtain,
the man on the small bed stirred. His head hurt, his stomach churned,
his mouth felt even drier than usual. Through the gap in the curtains he
could see that it was half light outside. But was it dusk or dawn? As
the window of the flat faced west he reckoned it must be dusk. At least
the pubs would still be open he thought.
As usual he had not remembered much about how he had got
there or exactly when. He still wore the same clothes he had worn when
he had left the flat that morning, or was it yesterday morning? A wave
of panic suddenly shot through him, his shakes in his hands becoming
more pronounced. Had the missing hours added up to more than a day this
time? He couldn’t be sure; his clear only memory at this point was
having arrived at the King’s Head at opening time.
Must have been a particularly heavy session this time he
thought as he struggled from the bed, well over the twenty-one ‘safety
limit’ in one go. Not that this was unusual for him. It was always the
same. On first waking he could not even face leaving the bed, could not
even begin to function.
He reached for the half empty bottle at the side of the
bed. He always seemed to remember where that was. The shakes in
his right hand verged on the violent as he poured the gold coloured
liquid into the glass on the table beside the bed. He rushed the first
one down his throat and waited a couple of minutes. He then poured out a
second, the hand a little steadier this time. He did not rush this one;
there was no need to. After a few more minutes sitting on the bed he
rose, he was “ready” once again.
As he dressed, little bits of his day came back to him
slowly. He had sat alone in the pub at first, just as he always did.
Everyone there knew him and he knew everyone, it was that sort of
situation. After a few drinks he would be persuaded to join some of the
regulars. By the time the drink was really taking affect on him big time
he would usually give into demand and ask Sam the barman to bring out
some of the videos from his old games, for them to be shown on the big
screen at the side of the bar. At one time he had kept the videos in his
flat but he was always forgetting them, leaving them in the pub or
losing them altogether. It seemed safer somehow just to leave them with
It was always the same, he would go along to the pub with
the firm (as he saw it) intention of resisting attempts by the regulars
to put a video tape on. As time went on though and the drink took
control he would get the tapes from Sam and a whole crowd would soon be
cheering at the action on the screen.
Other bits of the day were slowly returning. He
remembered that they had shown the video that day of one of his greatest
ever games, one of his own personal favourites. It was the cup- tie in
which he had scored five goals. He remembered that he had been shouting
and roaring with the rest of them watching that one. After that though
he could remember nothing more. From that point onwards until he had
awoken on the
bed, everything was a blank. Probably he had sat down
with some of the pub regulars. Some of them would have bought him
drinks, and they would have sat there drinking for hours recalling the
“good old days”. Perhaps they would have put on another video. He would
probably have stayed there, still drinking, long after the rest of the
regulars had drifted home.
Sometimes he would stagger the few hundred yards to his
flat, on other occasions a friend would drive him there. On this
occasion though he could not recall how he had got home. Again this was
not unusual, most likely he had staggered home.
If the truth be told he did not enjoy re-living his glory
days. It was always the effects of the drink that got him in the mood as
it were to glorify the past. Sometimes in fact he wondered if that
really was himself up there on the screen at his local. The hero of the
two or three dozen pub regulars on a daily basis, the idol of the tens
of thousands who had watched him on the terraces up and down the country
and in many far and distant lands all those years ago.
He had tried in the past to figure out exactly what it
was that made him in his more sober moments so reluctant to relive the
past. A past which after all had brought him wealth, worldwide fame and
adulation. He had too often
wondered if it was the pressures associated with fame,
pressures which had been further enhanced by an n inborn shyness and
insecurity, pressures that could only be deadened, not removedentirely
by drink that had led him on the path that his life had taken. In his
increasingly brief periods of sobriety he would admit, if only to
himself that the problem was exactly that and that watching himself up
there on the screen in the pub was a reminder to him. A reminder of how
the world at that time had been his oyster and that as a result of his
own weaknesses he had thrown it away. These periods of introspection had
become more frequent of late.
In the midst of so much success there was failure,
failure writ large.
By now he had washed, had a quick change of clothes and
was ready for his second visit of the day to the Kings Head. A
couple of sandwiches sufficed for his ‘dinner.’ He did not eat very much
these days, a reasonable breakfast and that was about nit as far as food
It was now nearly seven-thirty; it was almost dark
outside by the time he left the flat, turning into the main road from
the terrace where he lived. In a few minutes he would be in the pub,
surrounded once more by the regulars. At least he would not have to go
through the routine of watching the videos this evening he thought, the
big European tie was on live and everyone would be watching that.
“All right mate?” said Sam the barman.
“Oh not bad Sam, the usual for me, a double.”
The first few sips of the drink further advanced his
steadily improving mood, he gulped down the remainder of the drink in
one go, a satisfied grunt emitting from his mouth as the alcohol hit the
The right hand, which had been shaking slightly, again to
start with, had once more steadied itself.
“Same again Sam, fill her up.”
Sipping his second drink of the evening he looked around,
it was half time in the TV game and most of the pub customers were
discussing the events of the first half, the highlights were being
shown, the main talking points being discussed by the TV pundits. It had
been a slightly earlier kick-off than usual, to fit in with the
Young George had joined him as he sat at his usual table
at the corner of the bar.
“Some game this evening eh?”
said the younger man.
“I’m just in, missed the first-half, good game is it?”
“Sure is mate, great end-to-end stuff, good attacking
football and a few goals as well, the way the game used to be played,
the way you played it in your time. I fancy United to capitalise on
their superiority in the second-half.”
“What you drinking?” asked George.
“Oh the usual, make it a double”
He watched as George moved, a shade unsteadily, to the
bar for the drinks. He had known the youngster for about a year now. He
was just starting out in the game; a sensation in his first season in
the game had been eclipsed by disappointment in his second, in and out
of the first team, his form shading off. This season his form seemed to
have declined altogether. Playing in the first game of the season he had
been dropped for the second game, argued with his manager and had been
That had been six months ago. Breaches of club discipline
had followed; he had turned up late for training on a number of
occasions and had been fined and suspended for these. He had taken this
turn of events badly and the older man had noticed that over the past
few months he had been drinking more often and drinking larger
quantities than previously.
“How’s things with you then George?”
George placed the drinks on the table, taking a huge gulp
from his brimming pint.
“Struggling mate, struggling. My
face just does not fit with the new manager, he’s a right bastard. If
big Jack was still the manager I’d be playing for the first team every
“I was lucky in my day” said the older man. “I played
under one of the greatest managers there has ever been, he could be
tough and firm, but he could be understanding and sympathetic too.
Understanding? I got away with bloody murder at times.”
“But that was because of how good you were, you deserved
Said George. “I feel
it doesn’t matter what I do for the team, it’s a personal thing with the
boss, and he just doesn’t like me.”
George had by this time finished his pint, his speech
becoming increasingly slurred.
“But you have to make it impossible for him to keep you
out of the team. Go out there and show him what you can do, sock it to
him as they say. Slow down on the drink, get yourself back into shape
and go out there and do your stuff. Make tomorrow in training the first
day of the rest of your football life, and then in the reserves this
Saturday, think of that game in the same way. Every pass you make, every
ball you kick, think of the impression you are making on that boss of
yours, don’t let him beat you George, you can beat him, its all about
“I’m just going over to speak to Harry at the other
table” said George, rising unsteadily to his feet. “Might see you later
He watched George cross to the other end of the bar to
join one of his younger friends. He genuinely worried about his young
friend. The lad had so much talent, so much promise. In that first
glorious season he had even been compared to himself at the same stage
of his career. It had all gone to his head, the instant fame,
recognition in the streets and everywhere else he went, guest
appearances all over the city and beyond and packs of young women
following him everywhere. The neat season, when things had started to go
wrong he couldn’t handle it and the drink and the late nights had began
to take over, the women too.
This was not the first time he had tried to talk to
George about the type of life he was leading nor was it his first
attempt try and steer him back on a steadier path.
It was so ironic he thought that he himself was trying to
advise George. Not exactly a role model people would suggest, given the
course his own life had taken and his largely self inflicted troubles.
The thing was though that he saw of himself in George at the same age
and at the same stage of his career. He truly thought that he could be
of some use to George in his present troubles. It was true what George
had said, he himself had been fortunate in having an understanding boss
at the helm of the club. The situation was entirely different with the
youngster although he had not helped his situation any with his public
criticism of his manager in a Sunday newspaper the day after he had been
dropped at the start of the season, a criticism which had overstepped
the “acceptable” in tabloid sports journalism, by entering into the
Then the next month he had been involved in a late
Saturday night pub brawl when he had been provoked as he saw it by a
rival fan. There were also rumours that he had been fined by the club
for turning up at training still drunk from the night before.
He had told George at the time that he would have to get
used to that sort of thing and that it was one of those things that went
with the fame and the adulation. He would have to turn the other cheek.
“Easier said than done” George had told him. After that
his relationship with his manager had gone from bad to worse and he had
been playing in the reserve team for months now. Sometimes he had not
turned up for matches or training. Club suspensions had followed and he
was now on the transfer list. He was considered so “hot” difficult to
handle though that in spite of his undoubted talent, verging on the
brilliant, no firm bids had come in from any of the big clubs though it
had been rumoured from time to time that Chelsea were interested. George
in his worst moments had even threatened to quit the game altogether.
A huge cheer went up throughout the bar, United had
“That’s three nil” shouted Sam. They’re surely going
through to the Semi-Final now, what a fight back after losing the first
game two nil.
He suddenly realised that for the last twenty minutes or
so he had been lost in his thoughts of George’s career, consuming about
three drinks in that short period. He had forgotten all about the game.
Such was his ‘standing’ in the pub that all he had to do was to wave to
Sam and his drink would be brought over: treated like Royalty he was.
The effects of the evening’s drinking were by now
starting to show in him, he knew though he would be there until closing
time, he always was. He glanced across the pub, George was still there.
He had by now been joined by another two of his friends and a lot of
noise was coming from their table, although almost half the length of
the bar separated them he could hear the frequent uncomplimentary
references to his manager uttered by George, growing in intensity as
time went on, and with each drink. He watched George rise from the table
to go to the toilet, the slight unsteadiness of earlier had now
progressed to a stagger, and the young man swayed towards the toilet
He tried to think what had set himself on the road his
life had taken. Yes there were similarities with young George he
thought. Both of them liked the fame and the wealth that had come with
instant success. He thought though that he had handled it better than
George. It was about ten years into his own career that his problems had
begun, when he was in his mid twenties. With George it was happening
much earlier, he was not yet twenty-one after all. He had to keep
reminding himself that a lot had changed in the near forty years since
he had started out in the game; different values, different expectations
of players, from the game, different personalities, the lot. Yes, that
was a particularly big difference he thought, different personalities.
It was a whole new ball game, quite literally too. And, as George never
stopped reminding him when he was administering one of his pep talks, he
did have a good boss when he had been playing. In fact it was
noticeable that his really big problems had begun when the elderly man
was nom longer at the club. A similarity with George there he thought in
that George had blossomed under his first boss, his present troubles
seeming to coincide with the arrival of the new manager.
Then there was the drink. Yes the drink, it was probably
the main factor in the whole equation. He had always enjoyed a
drink, in the early days just to be sociable, to be “one of the boys”
and to have a good night out and all that. After a few years though and
the almost instant arrival of fame it began to be more than that. He had
always been quite shy and a little lacking in confidence. But suddenly,
with being in the spotlight on a daily basis he had felt the pressure.
He had begun to drink more and it had snowballed from there. The
premature end to his brilliant career had been largely of his own making
and when it was all over he felt a void in his life that increasingly
could only be filled by resort to the bottle. A number of failed
relationships and a failed marriage too had added to the deteriorating
state of affairs and that was how he had arrived at his present
position. He financed his life style with guest appearances up and down
the country at workingmen’s clubs etc. More occasionally he did some
work for television and radio.
He thought that with George it was different. The
youngster, or so it seemed to him was not lacking in confidence the way
that he remembered himself having been at the same age. It seemed rather
that George simply liked to drink, liked to party. He wanted the
benefits, the rewards of the good life without always facing the duties
and responsibilities of such a life. He had noticed a change in George
from about the time of the arrival of the new manager at the club. The
drinking had become more regular, and with a greater intake too. When he
thought back to his own career though wasn’t it the case that he himself
had at least to all outward appearances, taken the same path as George
now had? And that he too had seemed to evade his responsibilities. Even
in his steadily advancing drunken state he thought hard about that one.
Perhaps their situations were not all that different after all, was that
it? Different eras, different contexts, different situations and of
course different managers with different ides on how footballers should
be managed and treated but were there really more similarities than
differences? Once more he thought hard on this. His final thought though
was how fortunate he had been. He would always, even in his most drunken
of moments admit that to himself, even if he would rarely if ever admit
it to anyone else.
“One for the road Sam” he
shouted his speech by now very slurred.
George was approaching the table; Sam was calling,
“time gentleman please.”
“Alright my mate” said George,
by now very unsteady on his feet.
“Alright George, you watch yourself, your in a bit of a
“No problem” replied the youngster. “No problem. In fact
I am going to take your advice and go into training tomorrow and let
that bastard know I mean business. You want a lift up the road man? I’ve
got the car and I pass your way.”
“You’re surely not driving in that state, wait a few
moments and we’ll both walk it home.”
“I’m ok mate, see you tomorrow.”
He watched as George staggered out towards the car park.
Hopefully he would be ok, he lived only about ten minutes or so up the
road anyway, that’s if he went straight home and not into town to a
night club or disco as he sometimes did.
He knew that he should have tried harder to persuade
George to leave the car and he knew that had he been a bit less drunk
himself he would have.
He had heard George’s pledge to mend his ways and to
apply himself more to training before. He had little confidence that
that this latest pledge would be any different from previous ones.
The pub was by now almost deserted, the football match
having long since ended. United had won 4-1 and had once more progressed
into the semi-final of the top club tournament in the world. It was a
couple of minutes after midnight.
He swallowed the remaining dregs of his drink.
“See you tomorrow Sam.”
“See you mate.”
By now he was unsteady on his feet as he exited from the
pub into the cold air of the Spring night. He noted with some surprise
that George’s car was still in the pub car park, as he approached the
main road. Must have decided to walk home after all he thought, he felt
relieved at this.
As he crossed the main road he could here the wailing
sirens of an ambulance or perhaps a police car. He could see lights
flashing in the distance to his right. Another wailing vehicle appeared
to be approaching the scene, about three hundred yards to the west.
It was still dark when he awoke, he never bothered with
an alarm clock, his “body clock” was more reliable he reckoned. Even
during his playing days he always awoke early. If he’d had a
particularly heavy night the night before he would usually lie on till
late in the morning, this had become so frequent recently that it was
almost the norm for him now. He remembered that this had caused problems
in his playing days with him being late for training and sometimes
failing to turn up at the stadium at all. It had always made big news
when this happened and he had often read about himself in the early
editions of the evening newspapers when this happened.
This morning he felt not bad considering he had done a
“double session” the previous day. Drawing the curtains slightly he
looked out. It was starting to get light; a light frost covered the
grass in the small park across the road. He reckoned it was about 6am.
Unable to get back to sleep he poured himself a drink, then another. By
now he felt hungry, so he had a quick snack and a cup of coffee.
He then went back to bed, he awoke a few hours later, the
sun by now higher in the eastern sky. He had another drink, then washed
and shaved. He had vowed that in spite of his lifestyle and the toll it
had taken on him he would always try to look his best.
For the next few hours he sat at the small table in the
bedroom having more drinks, the bottle was soon more than half empty.
The traffic outside was getting heavier and he could hear voices in the
street. Another day was in progress, a lovely, sunny Thursday morning.
It was an hour or so later that he heard the loud, rather
“urgent” knocking at his front door. On opening it he was surprised to
see John, Sam’s assistant manager at the King’s whom he knew well.
A grim look was etched on the face of the morning caller.
“Have you heard the news?”
he said quietly.
.” “News? Whats up? I never
bother with the television or the radio in the mornings John.”
“Its young George” came
the reply. “He was killed last night, knocked down by a speeding
car after he lefet the pub” said the shaky, unsteady voice.
“He had left his car at the pub and walked. It appears he was heading
towards the estate to see one of his pals who lives up there, wee
John, by now almost in tears went on.
“Its tragic, he never had a chance, especialloy
the state he was in. They said at the hospital that he would have lost
both his legs even if he had lived. What a waste, what a terrible bloody
The other man stared at John, unable to believe what he
had just heard, then, his eyes moving he stared into space, into nothing
for what must have been two minutes, finally he said,
“yes John what a tragic waste.
Here, have a drink, you look as though you could use one. I could do
with a large top up myself.>”
It was John’s day off and for the next few hours they sat
there drinking, a few more bottles were opened and as time wore on they
recalled the “old days,” the good times, the not so good times and the
downright bad times. Inevitably though the conversation returned
frequently to the tragic event of twelve hours ago.
“The kid had everything”
said John. “He had more talent than anyone I’ve seen
since you in your prime, I mean that. He had all the looks too, just
like you, with your long dark hair, George with his flowing blond locks.
He was better looking than you though” a bitter-sweet smile
appearing on John’s face.
The other man laughed.
“I think he would have gone
right to the very top, been world class, an Internationalist for at
least the next decade,”
“I agree” said John.
Both of them were by now quite drunk.
John glanced at his watch. “Its
after one, I really must go” he said rising unsteadily to his feet. I
told Janice I was going round to see you but that I would be back by
“And she believed you?” said his companion trying to
lighten the sombre atmosphere that even the drink had failed to dispel.
“C’mon, have one for the road.”
“No I really must go, you take
care, put that stuff away and have a few hours sleep, it will do you
good. You know this mate, you’ve been a lucky man, a real survivor too,
don’t push things too far.”
John slurred a quick goodbye to his friend and he was
He sat by the window for what seemed an eternity. John’s
parting words seeming to stay with him constantly, like an old record
with the needle stuck. Yes he had been lucky; yes he was a survivor. At
times he despised his life –style, mainly in his more sober moments, but
then the drink took over again, everything was once more “ok” and the
whole cycle would repeat itself, like the rewinding of a video tape.
His thoughts returned to young George. In his short life
he had never had the opportunities that he himself had had, at least not
to the same extent. Now he never would. He himself had had the breaks;
George had experienced little of these. That he himself had messed up
his own life was largely his own fault. Likewise, he himself would
determine the course the remainder of his life would take. Again he
thought of this last point long and hard. Even in his drunken state the
significance of it was not lost on him. The choices were his and his
alone, just like they had always been.
He was doubtful though whether George had he lived would
have conquered his own personal problems; he did though think that he
would have, given the right circumstances and a willingness on his own
part. He remembered the first time he had seen George play, it was about
two years ago and he had just broken into the first team. He left the
ground that day along with over 50,000 others enthralled at what he had
witnessed, it seemed a new hero had arrived, George had scored two that
day, the second an unforgettable strike from the eighteen-yard line
after beating five opponents down the right. He was not an emotional man
but he felt somehow sad on recalling this, realising he would never see
George do that again.
A chink of light appeared through the half drawn
curtains. He rose from the bed, his eyes immediately meeting the chair
that he had sat on for so long earlier, the empty glass still on the
table beside the chair, the remnants of the drink having spilled on to
the floor, probably as a result of his failed attempt to reach the glass
before he passed out. He almost tripped over the overturned bottle as he
made for the window; he had probably spilled the contents as he
staggered on to the bed earlier.
“Must be evening” he murmured inwardly, seeing the
declining daylight out to the west as he opened another bottle. “Least
the pubs will still be open.” ©