Archive for the ‘Half Man Half Biscuit’ Category

One of my ranting verses, loosely inspired by this story hich made the regional press throughout the north-west this week.    [ Oh and also inspired by the song by the mighty Half Man Half Biscuit, ‘Fun Day in the Park’].

 

     Fun Day at the Seaside!

 

My nephew saw it advertised on the internet,

“Junior footy tournament, our biggest event yet –

Tourneys for all age-groups, on Saturday and Sunday”

And why not stay over for a seaside holiday Monday?

 

“Something for all the family, it’s not just the football:

Face-painting, mask-making, tournament souvenir stall,

Tournament film or photo service, reasonable fees,

We’ve got discounts for campsites or local B & B’s;

 

Ice creams, balloons, hamburgers and hot dogs,

Beat the goalie, bouncy castle, photos with our mascots.

All this, and much, much more – you’ll be surprised.”

Nephew was insistent, we called his club, got organised

His team had never been to a big tournament before

So we forgot to ask about the “much, much more”.

 

******

The sun shone bright, as did some skilful girls and boys

A few parents on the touchlines made encouraging noise.

Impressive was the spirit from all our little fellas.

But oppressive was the spirit from a few other yellers.

 

“Get stuck in Josh, d’you wanna win Josh? Josh get in his face!

Josh be a man, he’ll bottle it, if you don’t give him no space.

Josh just boot it up the field, anywhere near our Ryan –

He’s just a better player, i’n’e?  And is Josh even tryin’?”

 

These were the parents of ten year-olds, no older

I bet kids’ games don’t sound like this at FC Barcelona.

And then, in the quarter finals, one incident I saw

Was what made me wonder ‘bout the “much, much more”.

 

Much, much more getting in the ref’s face

Much, much more calling her “a disgrace”.

Much, much more swearing at this teenage ref,

Much, much more calling her “blind and deaf.”

 

‘Cos she wouldn’t listen when your lad went down

With his much, much more diving and rolling around.

Much, much more running onto the pitch

Much, much more calling the ref a b*tch.

 

And, as the opposite touchline shouted you down,

Much, much more insulting about their rival town.

At my nephew ‘s first tournament, this was what we saw

Ref in tears, match abandoned – much, much more.

 

I had to wonder who was much, much more mature-

Them, or the kids that they were shouting for?

They were much, much more judgemental

Much, much less gentle, distinctly un-parental,

 

I could see the damn mental in their fundamental,

But where was the fun, which should be central?

It ain’t necessarily so, folks, it ain’t necessarily so.

Things that you’re liable to think won’t be tribal,

It ain’t necessarily so.

I keep meaning to do a “my top ten songs about football” article.  No crowd chants set to house beat, no cup final singles, just quality releases by proper musicians. Something lengthy and considered, with all my choices available in audio/video links,  like this fella has done on his blog here, with some high quality choices. He’s only chosen two over-played ‘world cup themes’ there, and a couple of his other picks, notably his number one, a song called’Strachan’ by the Hitchers, might well make it into my own chart. Check out the number two in his chart as well, by the way, if only for classic rhymes like “Four grand a week plus bonuses / I guess the onus is / On you…” And if you’ve never heard the Hitcher’s song, well it’s the kind of obsession-affirming song that you’ll probably only fail to love if you’re allergic to Leeds United.

Trouble is, most of my other choices could be a bit boring for you if you weren’t a fellow fan of the greatest band that ever lived, ‘cos I reckon at least seven or eight of my top ten would be tracks by the mighty Half Man Half Biscuit (HMHB).

HMHB - the Prenton Pups, a quarter of a century ago

Anyway, what is utterly indisputable is that Half Man Half Biscuit have now released, on their brand new album which came out today, what is undoubtedly the best song ever written about the cluelessness of (some) celebrity rock ‘n’ roll football fans. Please listen and enjoy

Buy this brilliant new album here, and read a half-decent article  here, detailing how HMHB’s Nigel Blackwell is the most prolific dropper ever, ever, ever, of football references into his lyrics.  And if you don’t know what a ‘bad wool’ is in Merseyside football parlance, then you might want to read my (very long) explanation, below  (if you do already know, then you certainly won’t want to read it).

I suppose the reason I’ve never actually compiled my own top ten  is that I couldn’t decide on the order of all those other HMHB classics, but possibly, before this release, it would have been something like:

1.    1966 and all that.

2.   Dead Men Don’t Need Season Tickets

3.   Friday Night and the Gates are Low

4.   All I want for Xmas is a Dukla Prague away Kit

5.   Bob Wilson, Anchorman

6.   I was a Teenage Armchair Honved Fan

7.   Even Men with Steel Hearts (love to see a dog on the pitch)

8.   Mathematically Safe

9.   The Referee’s Alphabet

10.  On the ‘roids

….. oh I don’t know, it’s too hard. And the order would probably change every week anyway. But I do know what a ‘bad wool’ is.

Go on, then -what is a ‘bad wool’, Nige?
(NB –  this spiel is far too long – only read it if you really want to know)
Well, since you ask, first a bit about the Scouse term itself, and then the way (I am reliably informed) it is applied in this new song.

The internet and even some published books are full of crap about the origins of the Scouse term “woollyback” to refer to clueless outsiders. The term is not exclusive to Liverpool, incidentally, and has also been used in a very similar way in the North East. It is likely to originate from some or a combination or even all of the following: people from wool-producing areas; people bringing wool into the ports; people who wore sheepskin jackets; people with unkempt hair; people seen as “sheepshaggers”, hairy half-sheep, wide-eyed incomers there to be ‘fleeced’ as they passed through the port seeking work , or often on their way to a new life in the colonies or new world. Indeed, the term like a lot of Scouse-isms, like the word “Scouse” itself in fact, may well have originated at sea. Its first use may have been to refer to clueless, unkempt yokels amongst the crew and/or passengers.

The word has been around for a long, long time and does _not_ originate in any of the 20th century dock strikes, as some websites have it. Just because that’s the first time it came to wider attention, because it was “woollyback” labour from South Lancashire that was used to try to break the strikes, doesn’t mean that was its origin. Nor does it refer to wool left on dockers’ backs after carrying bales of wool. That would make the dockers themselves the woollybacks, which they weren’t.
In Liverpool it can refer geographically to people from Lancashire, people from the Wirral, Cheshire, Wales, etc. In Liverpool & Everton football circles it naturally came to refer to all non-Scouse supporters, even those like me who were born within a few miles of the ground.

“Woollyback” was abbreviated to “Woolly” and then just “Wool”.   These abbreviations became especially common in the aforementioned football circles. Wools were always objects of scorn for their fashion sense, which became symbolic of their general cluelessness about football. As the late 70s terrace song, still being sung today on the coaches to away matches, puts it:

“There’s a woolly over there (over there)
And he’s wearing brown Airwear (brown Airwear)
With a 3-star jumper halfway up his back,
He’s a f*ckin’ woollyback (woollyback)”

It was in the late 70s and early 80s that huge numbers of “Wools” from outside really started to jump on the LFC and EFC bandwagons, engendering hostility in some circles. But of course the reasonable view was that it was about “attitude not accent”, a phrase coined by one of the fanzine writers in one of the classic fanzines like The End or Everton’s When Skies Are Grey (WSAG) I think. Thus we gradually acquired the coinages “good wools” (people from outside town who get the culture of the club they claim to support) and “bad wools” (people who don’t, and who are an embarrassment).

These terms are more often that not still used geographically, but “bad wool behaviour” is something that is independent of geography. A surprising number of Scousers still have crap trainers, despite all the advantages of the local education system and some fine retail outlets offering reasonable prices; some Scousers can sometimes wear the latest horrible shiny football shirts over jumpers; a few Scousers have even been heard to get carried away and chant the dismal, generic Soccer AM “Who are Ya?” chant; one or two have perhaps got carried away and let their kids wear face-paint at cup finals; some of them get very excited about international football tournaments and do embarrassing things with national paraphenalia. There are even a few Scousers who adopt Woolly habits and refer to certain opposition teams as “The Scum”. Equally there many out-of-town supporters who would not do any such embarrassing things and are a credit to the fanbase. The famous “Norwegian Wools” flag you see at all Liverpool’s European away matches is welcomed because of its self-deprecating humour, whereas if a flag went up with let’s say “Chesterfield Reds on Tour”, it would soon meet a sticky end. Bad wool behaviour to make an embarrassing flag like that. Incidentally Liverpool supporters consider it _very_ bad wool behaviour to write your club’s name on a national flag.

Clearly Nigel Blackwell of Half Man half Biscuit is not using the term geographically in his song. For a start, in a geographical sense, he is to many Scousers a “wool” himself, and his beloved Tranmere Rovers would be seen by many Scousers as a “woollyback” club (though I have also heard some of Tranmere’s finest and hardest use it ironically against Wrexham or Chester supporters). And if that wasn’t clear, well Nigel told me last week that “as you know, our generation’s idea of a ‘wool’ is not a geographical notion in any way” and that “the biggest baddest wool I know is from [he specified a well-known area of central] Liverpool”. He also referred to “bad Wools who’ve just discovered Johnny Cash”, spreading the theme to another track off the new album.

So in his new song it refers to people like up-and-coming rock and pop stars who jump on the football bandwagon without a clue. They appear, for example, on the Soccer A.M. sofa and spout shite about `footy’ to show how cool they are. In one live version of `A Country Practice’ a couple of years back, Nigel summed up his feelings on the matter as he screwed up his eyes and ranted as follows:

“Pop groups on the Saturday morning couch, yawning. Bad wools in the Luther Blissett Stand*. Bands on Soccer AM being asked “Well, you come from Southend do you ever get down to Roots Hall much ?” and they just look to the side to the TV chef, and they look at Razor Ruddock, but Razor Ruddock ain’t gonna help you now boys.

BAND (whispering frantically amongst themselves): What’s Roots Hall? What’s Roots Hall?

PRESENTER: I thought you came from Southend?

BAND: Yeah well there’s four of us in the band and one doesn’t like football. They support Manchester and Liverpool, and I errm, support Arsenal and Chelsea. Here’s our latest single.

PRESENTER: Thanks.”

This scenario is remarkably similar to the one described in this new song. Bad wools in this context = clueless fools, largely but not exclusively from the places like the home counties, largely middle class, with no idea of how to disguise their ignorance of real, traditional football culture at all gracefully.

* I hasten to add that I myself have only ever caught a couple of editions of the execrable excuse for a TV show ‘Soccer AM’, but for those unaware: ‘The Luther Blissett Stand’ is a particularly attention-seeking section of the audience of that particular Saturday morning show, called on to represent ‘their’ club, all clad in their horrible shiny overpriced replica shirts of course. They have to take part in certain embarrassing challenges – especially embarrassing to other supporters of their own club. I am told that Nigel’s new song is not necessarily to be seen as an attack on Soccer AM itself, so much as the clueless fools who go on it, and especially those kinds of rock groups. The song then goes on to broaden the scope of its satire about clueless behaviour in rock circles.

What is really sad is that the Sky generation of kids are taking their example from these people and generally following the creeping shiny Americanisation of our game. And that they aren’t supporting their local teams.

I’ve still got a few remaining footballing dreams to fulfil – one of them is to play some proper football in Brazil and Argentina, which should happen next January with any luck, when we’re heading out there with our friends from the Easton Cowboys and Cowgirls on their next incredible tour.  But one of my big ambitions was finally ticked off the list yesterday, when I actually managed to be back on the Wirral on a Friday afternoon, and so I at long last got to play in the famous Birkenhead Park all-comers’ match.

I used to walk through Birkenhead’s Park on my way home from school most days, but don’t think I’ve ever previously kicked a ball on the luscious greensward of this, one of Britain’s most influential and historic public spaces.    This informal, some would say anarchic, gathering of Merseyside’s musical football veterans and assorted non-rat-racers has gone on every Friday for over 18 years. I first heard about it in Kevin Sampson’s  1998 book ‘Extra Time’ , which was kind of a ‘Fever Pitch for Liverpool fans’ type of thing – not that I’m sure Kevin would thank me for that comparison!

Kevin himself has pretty much hung up his boots now, and so it seems has the legendary Jegsy Dodd. Pity. Meanwhile, Peter Hooton of The Farm still attends most weeks, but recently he’s been too busy organising loads of important stuff, so I didn’t get to see him in action this time. Other members of The Farm and their friends were in attendance, as of course was the ever-present Nigel Blackwell of Half Man Half Biscuit.  ‘Nippy Nige’, I could call him. The days when opposing defenders used to say that about me are long gone, but this other Nigel, you see, keeps himself in a lot better shape than I’ve been doing lately, and is still a definite force to be reckoned with anywhere in the opposition’s half – particularly anywhere where his legendary “restless” left leg can leather a low lasher, or perhaps loft a lethal little looping lacer.  And he’s six weeks younger than me, you see, so no wonder he ran rings round me all afternoon.

Apparently this game used to be divided into Scousers v. Wirralians, but the sides today were decided roughly according to the colour of the shirts we happened to turn up in. That’s how the two best attackers ended up on the same side, with yours truly a lumbering defender on the other.  Nigel B. was aided and abetted in attack by a tricky Bosnian exile called Nico, a former semi-pro – he “played a few games for TNS”, I was warned. The two of them shared most of the goals, and athough I kept  a clean sheet when it was my turn to go in, beating aside a couple of stinging drives from Blackwell,  I conveniently lost count of the overall score well before the end. Good laugh though.

In other news, our post-match pints in The Shrew took me back to the sixth form days when it was a regular under-age haunt, and by sheer coincidence Peter “Agent” Johnson, Chairman of the mighty Rovers, was holding court in there in there when we went in. Get a grip Johnson and get Ronnie Moore back ASAP.

“There was one of the gang who had (insert whatever you like),
And because of that he thought he was better than you .”

Now I’m not one of those abitrary arbiters of fashion who dogmatically declare that “no grown man should ever be seen in public in a replica football top unless they are, actually, playing football”.   I’ve been known to wear such an item while doing other sport, too.  But I do think that anyone over the age of (let’s say) thirty needs a very good excuse, and I do think that your synthetic shirts can make you look like a bit of a synthetic supporter, especially if the sponsor is a huge faraway corporate entity and you’ve spent forty quid to become a shiny walking advertisement for some American financial institution or some Middle Eastern airline.

Standards Corrupted - a peacock and his replica away shirt

One good excuse, of course, is that your shirt can be a prompt to start conversations with like-minded individuals (or, indeed, abuse from unlike-minded ones). For example I may bump into fellow FC St. Pauli sympathisers, when I wear one of their famous brown and white tops at a gig or down the pub, and St. Pauli sympathisers will invariably be people worth talking to. Likewise,  if I wear my Dukla Prague away shirt, I may get talking to some of the most tasteful human beings alive.  No, I don’t mean Czech football fans, lovely though most of them surely are, but about the devotees of the world’s greatest alternative rock ‘n’ roll outfit, the “four lads who shook the Wirral”, Half Man Half Biscuit. One of HMHB’s best-known early tunes is the Scaletrix-and-Subbuteo-themed classic “All I want for Xmas is a Dukla Prague Away Kit”,  so of course it became natural that the “Toffs” vintage football shirt company would see a market and that the nostalgic punters would, from the mid-nineties onwards, lap them up at about £35 a  pop, plus P&P.

Claire's standard-issue Dukla Prague Away Shirt

I’m certainly not implying in any way that the owners of such DPAKs, who include my own dear beloved herself, are sheep. Nor am I saying that you won’t find some outstanding HMHB band t-shirt designs on their merchandising stall at gigs, or even here on that there interweb. It’s only around 5% of the audience at the gigs who wear a DPAK, and anyway various alternatives are available for the rebels amongst them – particularly as, from time to time,

Home kit for your birthday, darling?

vintage Dukla Prague home shirts will pop up on the internet masquerading as away shirts. Some HMHB gig-goers wear these burgundy and gold (rather than gold and burgundy), tops unknowingly,  but woe betide any clever clogs who might bump into them during the gig and might drunkenly deride them for their apparent ignorance. It may in fact turn out that some Biscuiteers are wearing the home shirts ironically, and some as a statement of independence in their dress sense, thank you very much. You might even earn yourself an embittered smack, if it turns out that he (or she) asked for a DPAK just like yours for Xmas, but someone had, in all innocence, given him (or her) this DPHK instead.

Another familiar face at HMHB gigs is always seen sporting  his vintage “Toffs” Honved

Teenage Armchair Wear?

top, in celebration of that other early Biscuits  classic , “I was a Teenage Armchair Honved Fan”. This familiar face in the moshpit has, naturally, become known to his peers as ‘The Galloping Major” (that’s probably Ferenc Puskas to you).

It was also natural that, the first time that I had the chance to follow Liverpool FC to the Czech Republic, back in October 2000 when we were drawn to play Slovan Liberec in the UEFA Cup, I should feel compelled to seek out an actual, contemporary Dukla Prague Away Kit. Not just a Dukla Prague shirt, but the whole kit, and in fact I found it relatively easily that time.  The manager of the Sparta Prague shop in the historic tourist area  near the Charles Bridge had become so accustomed to half-pissed English tourists coming in and asking, half-jokingly, for a Dukla Prague Away Kit, that he had actually started to stock such items. For the equivalent of about twelve pounds I acquired the full DPAK that I have now worn at HMHB gigs for over a decade: shorts, socks and all.  I’ve only ever encountered  one other Biscuitista with the same shirt at a gig, and he told me that he too purchased it, about ten years ago, from the exact same shop in Prague.

The Sparta Prague shop, near the historic Charles Bridge

When I returned to Prague a few years later, by the way, in about 2005, the same shop was only stocking a retro cotton t-shirt in the home colours – the previous English-speaking manager had now departed, and the reasons why crazy English tourists would ask, and even the facts of exactly what they might ask for, were now lost in a haze of Czech whispers.

"Are you sure it's not this one you want?" If I had a Czech Koruna for every time I was offered one of these ...

At that time there wasn’t even a football club called FK Dukla Prague any more, as the ailing club had been “saved” (ahem) by a businessman (oh dear), who had merged them with his own club, FK Marila Pribram, and had moved them about 30 miles outside Prague. A two-hour tram and bus journey took me all the way there, but there was no club shop at the stadium, and nowhere in the rather bleak town of Pribram was selling any sort of home or away kit that day (incidentally, it shows how much I have in common with my lovely partner Claire that she had made the same pilgrimage from Prague to Pribram, for exactly the same reasons,  at around that time too, before I even knew her!)

***********************************

That obscure object of my desire ... still.

So, fast forward six more years to 2011, and at long last Liverpool have been drawn in Prague  again, this time to play Sparta over two legs in the Europa League. FK Dukla Prague, meanwhile,  have been reformed as a new club, have returned to their historic home stadium and have marched back up through the leagues. Looks like they’ll get promotion back to the top division this year. And the big news from the fashion point of view is that, like Liverpool themselves, Dukla now play in a splendid Adidas-designed outfit. You see, my old Czech DPAK is getting a bit threadbare after a decade of moshpits, a decade of beer and a decade of late-night post-gig curries. I must admit I’ve even played football in it from time to time, so I definitely need a relacement, but online I’ve only been able to find last year’s Dukla kit. Yes, they have the three stripes. but the home version of that one is an unattractive all-burgundy and the away version an even worse all-white, both a far cry from the classic retro away colours. This season, by contrast, photos from their home matches show them sporting the classic gold of the away kit, with red trim and the three stripes and all – I want that one.

So off I trek northwards on the tram, and up the hill to the Juliska stadium. It’s a pity it’s still the winter break, which goes on till early March, so no chance of seeing any match action. I clamber in over a fence on the wooded hillside behind the main stand, and have a good nosey around. Here are some pictures.

The Juliska Stadium still doubles as the army’s national athletics stadium. Athletes are hurdling round the track and on the pitch itself, the Czech Republic’s next generation of Fatima Whitbreads are practising their javelin throwing -that’s one way of keeping intruders like me off the pitch I suppose. But this Czech army sports complex includes neighbouring artificial pitches too,  so when I say there was no

What he got for Xmas was a Dukla Prague training top

actual football action, well I did manage to spy on a training session and a youth team practice match. One of the youngsters speaks English. “Where can I buy stuff like that?” I point and ask him about his kit when the training session finishes. He doesn’t know. There’s no club shop here. The club gives them their gear, he says, and skips off before the strange bloke with the camera can ask any more daft questions.

As I leave, I pass a bemused security guard, probably wondering how I got in. Unsurprisingly, he doesn’t speak English, so I use a bit of sign language and he scribbles down an address, which takes me on  another two-hour jouney the next day – two more trams and a bus, taking me to the  door of a warehouse at the foot of the hills on the south-eastern outskirts of the city. Just when I’m starting to worry that maybe the security guard was in league with a ruthless mafia gang of human traffickers, that this is their lair and that my kidneys will soon be en route as spare parts for some ailing eastern oligarch, the door opens and it turns out that it’s the headquarters of the firm that does Dukla’s online shop for them.

I feel like I’m going round in circles – huge two-hour-long circles, as I’ve already tried and failed to get the current Dukla shirt from this same company via the internet. They’re not really even a shop, and they so rarely get an actual bodily visitor that they have to switch on the cash register when I arrive. They do  show me plenty more reproduction retro memorabilia, but I’ve already seen it all on the internet of course. As they’ve gone to the trouble of switching things on for me, I feel like I have to buy some badges and a scarf. In terms of Dukla shirts, their wares are ironically just the same sort of vintage cotton home and away shirts sold by our Toffs in the UK.  But do they sell the current shiny synthetic Adidas replica first team shirt ? “No, ” I’m told emphatically. “Nobody wants this; they have so few supporters compared to Sparta, or Slavia, or Bohemians Prague.”

The majority time of our time on away Euro trips tends, of course, to be spent absorbing the local culture, i.e. in the local bars. But this time it felt like most of my valuable drinking time was wasted on public transport – good job it’s cheap over there, but then so is the beer that I’m not getting to drink anything like enough of ! The previous evening, one of the Bohemians Prague Ultras has given me the addresses of two more sports shops that might be able to help, so there are yet more tram journeys, north and east again, and I feel like I’m getting to know Prague really well.  But everywhere I go, I find only that same retro cotton t-shirt in the home colours.

How many times do I have to mime that no, I'm after the actual kit? Like the ones they wear on the pitch....

So again I didn’t get what I came to Prague for, but at least Kenny Dalglish’s depleted Liverpool team did. It may have been Kenny’s first match back in Europe for 26 years, but he seemed to come looking for a boring goalless draw, and that’s exactly what he got. Did I mention, by the way, that I came on this trip to Prague without a match ticket, and never had any serious intention of going to this match at a minimum rip-off ticket price of SIXTY QUID ?!!  Sixty f*cking quid – and that was the same for the poor old home fans as well, coming out of their winter break hibernation to watch a stultifying crap nil-nil for SIXTY QUID OR MORE!!  The return leg in Liverpool cost about twenty quid, and I remember that the Liberec match over here in 2000 cost us about a tenner. So I sensibly watched this match with other ticketless Reds in a lively city centre bar, and I duly got my whole trip paid for too, when my bet on the predictable 0-0 scoreline came in. Perhaps I’ll leave it to Half Man Half Biscuit’s own lyrics to sum things up better than I ever could: “The results of my life are a string of nil-nils”, as they sang in their great 2005 song “Depressed Beyond Tablets.”

A big “Děkuji” (thank you) too by the way to Martin, the old mate from the Bohemians 1905 Ultras who put me up in his flat and so made this trip such a cheap one – the only way I could have afforded it, in fact.

POSTSCRIPT – Autumn 2011.  When Dukla did indeed get their promotion back to the big time, they sorted out their online shop with another company, one that did actually decide it might be a good idea to stock some of the current first team shirts. So of course I made immediate enquiries by e-mail. They wanted the equivalent of forty quid plus another seventeen pounds for P&P!! So I would have liked to be the first person wearing one of these little beauties at a HMHB gig, but I guess that honour may now have to go to somebody rather richer…err.

Models of Individuality

Posted: September 16, 2010 in Half Man Half Biscuit

I’m walking for a few days up the Offa’s Dyke long distance footpath in the beautiful countryside of the Welsh borders. The kind of walking trip where you never quite know where you’ll end up camping each night.  Just hopefully somewhere with a decent pub.

So it’s a pure chance that I camped last night in the border town of Knighton, and  even more chance that while I was looking for a pint and a bite to eat, I happened to pass one of the most amazing and unique sights I’ve ever seen  in a shop window, anywhere. Wow – look at this!

A sign on the shop door tells me the opening hours – if I delay my departure tomorrow morning I’ll be able to have a look inside this veritable cave of treasures … and hopefully I’ll get to speak to its owner and find out how such a specialist little business manages to keep going as a shop at all.

A man who supports his local team & the oppressed of far-off lands: this is a shop I have to visit

Tom Taylor with his travelling army of synthetic superstars

Sure enough, when I drop in introduce myself to shopkeeper Tom Taylor the next day,  not only does he confirm to me that his are the only shop premises in the country entirely dedicated to table football, but after I ask about some of the amazing figurines on display, that he is also the country’s premier producer of  bespoke subbuteo  figures.

He shows me figures he has produced depicting, amongst others, an injured Wayne Rooney, folically-challenged referee Pierluigi Collina, various famous goal celebrations including Fernando Torres, and even a Thierry Henry figure handling the ball in that famous incident from Paris last year – faithful in all details, right down to his white boots. Well, you can tell who it’s meant to be anyway…

The hand of a subbuteo god

Tom even makes and sells subbuteo streakers, including sets depicting some of the most famous  incidents from the golden era of streaking , such as Michael O’Brien and Erica Roe of Twickenham fame – the accompanying arresting officers are also copied faithfully from contemporary press photographs. When Tom realises how genuinely impressed I am about all this, he shows me the printed rules that are enclosed with each streaker or set of streakers, telling subbuteo players exactly how they can be deployed to disrupt a match at key strategic moments. “The streaker and the police officer must always be positioned behind the goal line. At any time during the match, a player can shout `Streaker!` and place his or her streaker in the penalty area…”

Great to meet you, Tom. You’re a nutter. The kind of nutter we need more of.

What makes this chance encounter even more remarkable is that I just happened to see this shop the day before my trip was due to end, and that from there I’m heading on to Bilston (Wolverhampton)  for a Half Man Half Biscuit gig.  One of HMHB’s best known tunes, of course,  is that nostalgic paean to Subbuteo & Scalextric – their classic anthem “All I want for Xmas is a Dukla Prague Away kit”.  So I can’t resist purchasing one of Tom’s streaker-and-copper sets for the gig, and hopefully I’ll get a chance to fling him (I mean the streaker, not Tom) on stage during their rendition of that song, which just might be on the setlist this evening – if I’m lucky, ‘cos they don’t always play it.

As it turned out, they did play it and I did get to fling the streaker, hotly pursued by the plod.  Fortunately, the box cushioned the impact, keeping all the streaker’s vital bits intact, and the band did seem quite intrigued by their unexpected stage invader.  Even the sticker on the box was perfect: “Warning – contains small parts.”  The whole episode was just meant to happen.