I used to envy those guys on the television who played like they could read minds. You see, I really wanted to know for sure what Ruthybaby … not her real name, thought about me. Whether she had the same kind of hots for me as I had for her. If she wanted into my pants as much as I wanted into hers. Maybe she didn’t, but that’d be okay, because at least I’d know. At least I wouldn’t have to spend sleepless nights tossing and … well, you know.
Instead I used to have to try to imagine the way she thought about me. Lots of yeah, Brad, touch me there. Oooh, Brad, that hurts so good. Oh, oh, oh. Then she’d arch her back and kind of grimace. But in a nice way.
But hey, don’t get me wrong. I’m not a sleaze-ball. I’m actually one of the good guys. I still keep the fire burning. Not just for the future of the human race, which, let’s face it, is going down the pan at a rate of knots, but also for the important things in life. Like football.
So yeah, I wanted to read minds, but then that day happened. That was the day that I decided that there’s no way I’d want to know what people were thinking. Not no never.
Started out like any other Saturday. Me and my mate Russolini … no that’s not his real name, were in town doing something or other. He would have been recovering from a hangover, but he would pretty cool with it. I would have been looking at records and women. Of course, I couldn’t do that all the time. You don’t get many records walking down the street. Joke!
So here’s the funny thing – we were walking home from town and we starts to see people streaming towards us. More and more of them the nearer we got to home. It was a lovely day for walking. But not so nice for these people it seems. They were all crying.
Now I don’t know about you, but that’s not something you see every day where we lived. At least, not at that time of day. Actually, not at any time of day. You’d think that you might see a bit of it after four forty-five, but you don’t. It’s just not how we are up north. Must be the Viking blood. And anyway, it wasn’t as late as that. Must have been before three.
Being northerners, although actually Russolini was born in Brum and his dad came from even further south, somewhere near Naples I think. Being northerners, even ones with swarthy good looks and no accent at all, which I always thought was weird. I mean, how do you get rid of a Birmingham Italian accent? Anyway, being northerners, we didn’t really do much more than share a frown at first. A kind of a shared confusion as to what was happening.
Perhaps it was the southern blood in him, I mean – they’re more friendly down south aren’t they. They sit around drinking ouzo, or whatever they have in Italy. Oh, wait – wine, right? Yeah, they sit around drinking wine and practicing being friendly with each other. Leastwise, that’s how I got to know him, but that’s a whole ‘nother story. So it comes more naturally to them I guess. Being friendly that is. So that must have been why he asked first. Why they were so upset, that is. Or perhaps he was just a nosy git.
I was shy. I was so shy that the only way I could get to be close to a girl … and this is when I was in my early teens, I don’t do this anymore. Leastwise not intentionally. There are always occasions on the tube where people are packed close together on the tube for instance, where you can’t ‘observe proper social conventions’ and ‘maintain personal space’ even if you want to.
God know how they get on in Tokyo where they have professional pushers to get more people packed onto their trains. I mean, who knows what thoughts are going on behind those implacable masks. So, yeah – not like that anymore. But I was when I was a young teen … And I was quite young. Late developer and all of that. Well, not that late, but later than the other kids. I remember once in the shower, this other kid said … but that’s a whole other story too.
So there was me, being shy; and young; not a pervert; and there were crowds of people at concerts. And there were girls in the crowd. Perhaps I said to myself that they needed protecting from being crushed. Perhaps I gave myself some kind of a justification like that. It doesn’t really matter now; I was there and a girl would be there and we would be moulded nicely to each other and no one said nothing to no-one. Nice way to enjoy a concert. Nice way to get close to girls.
Then I got into the footie. There was this one time when, for some reason, the terraces were packed. I mean – really packed. I’m pretty sure it was a cup match, but I’ve no idea why it would have been important enough for all those people to be there. And we were only playing Burnley, or some other nobody team that began with B. Maybe it was Brentford, but certainly not Barnsley – I would have remembered that. And not Birmingham either. It was long before Russolini, but I would have remembered that too.
I said to myself that if we scored another goal I would casually hug her and jump up and down with her and then, if she was up for it, I would kiss her on the mouth and all of that. It would have seemed like the natural thing to do. I mean, even strangers get carried away when their team is winning three nil and they pop another in the net.
Picture the scene: we were right at the front of the crowd. Right in the middle of the kop. We kept looking at each other. She was fit, despite that tiny harelip thing she had, and I reckoned that I was fit too.
The fourth goal went in and the crowd went mad! If you’ve never been at a match in those days, they this is what it’s like: on the terraces, there are these broad, shallow steps, and there are barriers every twenty or so steps. I guess the barriers are to keep the whole crowd from falling onto the pitch like dominos every time a goal is scored. Thing is, you can fit a lot of people in between those barriers. And those people are pretty heavy. Okay, skip the classic English understatement – those people are enormously heavy.
I was stood right behind here. And she was up against the barrier when we scored. Of course, I had my arms braced against the barrier so that she was in a little protective cage. I thought that I was strong enough to hold the whole of the crown back. I thought that I could protect her. And I probably could have. I mean, I had good strength. I did a lot of push-ups you see. But I couldn’t as it turned out.
She must have got her arm caught between her body and the barrier because she was cradling it afterwards. And she was crying. And so I didn’t get to kiss her. Not that I would have anyway. I was shy, remember? And a wuss. Point is, those barriers were killers when you got all those people pushing against you from behind. Absolute killers.
They told us what happened. Through their tears. Through sobs. And they told us how many. And the worse thing was, the closer we got, the more the numbers went up. It was like they were dying as we walked. Ninety-six in the end. Not a good day to be able to read minds. Not a good day whichever way around. Long time ago, but we still remember.