One Moore For The Road - March 2017

Added on 31 March 2017

1979 may not seem an age away from 1974. But consider for a moment. Five years is actually a full secondary school education span in which time you enter through the gates complete with squeaky voice and fresh complexion and exit in deep baritone, sporting bum fluff, and an array of spots.

For me a journey from a 14-year old teenager in the midst of secondary school  life through to  the threshold of a 20-year struggling to make his way in the big wide world.

A journey involving transit through the security of school to the pain of the unemployment queue resulting in a thoroughly miserable span of life where football and alcohol were pretty much my two objectives-not always in that order.

In that same time frame Pompey had slid down the divisional pyramid and come the dawning of 79 were half way through their first ever term in the basement league.

So yes 1979 as opposed to 1974 was in such respects a lifetime where a kid became an adult and consequently a very different person who watched a very different football team.

It was also a year of history in the making with a lady named Margret Thatcher becoming Britain’s first female Prime Minister taking over from a beleaguered Labour government which ironically had taken over in that winter of discontent in 1974 that I previously wrote about.

Weekends and football stopped being a part of my everyday life and instead provided a welcome break from the drudgery of an otherwise aimless week.

But it definitely helped that after twelve years of supporting a team in either mid-table mediocrity or lower table crisis I was for the first time able to back one that won more than they lost and who at last took off on promotion charges.

After an ultimate failed promotion bid first time round the second half of 79 saw a second season in the basement offering the extended opportunity to visit northern outposts you would have never dreamt of stepping foot in, other than for the lure of football.

Indeed names you possibly wouldn’t have been acquainted with at all unless you persevered with the classified English football results to the point where James Alexander Gordon reached the dregs of Rochdale, Halifax, Scunthorpe, Hartlepool and Darlington.

Yet it was another kind of journey I encountered which probably long term was going to be the making of me having barely ventured north of London up to this point.

Fascinatingly these days there was still very much a vast north-south divide and as soon as you crossed it you stuck out like a sore thumb.

I can vividly recall a group of us turning up in a Rochdale pub where aged men were sitting in a snug in flat caps playing dominos. It really was that stereotypical, and the beer really was cheaper.

Possessing what most in those parts perceived as a cockney accent, the local insular inhabitants looked on you with a mixture of curiosity, fascination or displeasure and the equally insular aliens viewed the home spun dialect with equal amusement and bewilderment. 

Before this time I had only learnt about this parallel world in dramas on television or from books, so travelling north really was an eye-opening adventure where you really experienced how the other half lived.

A simple individual age before every high street contained identical shops, fast food outlets and theme pubs but held their own unique character, in an age when northerners lived up north and southerners lived down south. Simplicity itself.

It was much the same in the other northern outposts, yet quintessentially Darlington differed from Halifax or from Hartlepool each embodying their own unique traits and characters.

For someone not yet working these away days were funded by special train offers where if you collected so many tops of Persil packets two of you went for a ridiculous price.

Martin Fooks, who many from my generation grew up with, began to run private trains which became legendary and equally cheap always stopping off on the way back at Winchester or Fareham to pick up Sports Mails and Kentucky Fried Chicken.

And then there were the mini buses and coaches from Havant or Leigh Park where you all chipped in to help each other and got back sometime as the birds were beginning to clear their throats on the Sunday morning.

With beer still less than 50 pence a pint, and that was back down south, you somehow managed to get through the entire weekend well-travelled and equally well oiled.

This wasn’t just about football, it was a social adventure with your mates in yet unexplored places far from your natural habitat from which you took back many stories-some more fabricated than others.

It did something else too. It made you appreciate home far more than you probably ever had before.

On the football side losing only five league games up to Christmas and scoring 55 goals in the second half of 1979 made it personally my most exciting season thus far, with the away days the real icing on the cake.

After twelve years of possibly being able to count the away wins I’d seen on less than two hands you suddenly travelled with massive expectation.

Of course this was also the end of an era. A slight slump in the second half of the season occurred as the 80’s emerged but that only led to a memorable final day at Northampton on the final weekend of the season when Pompey’s 2-0 win coupled with Bradford City’s loss at Peterborough resulted in my first ever witnessed promotion.

That is another story. For the important point from 1979 and the 79-80 season as a whole was more than just success. It was one where I flexed my wings, migrated to the other ends of the country, had my eyes opened and finally begun to find myself.

With the 70’s now history we were thus entrenched in Thatcher’s 80’s Britain. A time where I finally moved forward and began to bridge the gap between school and the real world for the very first time.

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