Going back to South Hornchurch

I come from a place called South Hornchurch, a small suburban town at the edge of the East London conurbation. My parents took the bold step of moving from South Hornchurch to Hornchurch proper five years ago which gives me few reasons to return.

However, as it was Easter Sunday and I had absolutely nothing to do, I thought I’d go back and have a look. I took the 252 bus past the site of the World War Two airfield, which still has concrete bunkers I played in when I was a child. Many people locally cling to those World War Two glory years, perhaps because it was a time when the area was of minor strategic importance, and also because  men had the chance to do a brave and good thing: defend their country.

As the bus rolled through the airfield estate I noticed on my right several flagpoles in people’s gardens. One flew the Union Jack, two others the English flag with one for the Help The Heroes charity. The four flags were in gardens backing on to each other. It looked like it was a keeping-up-with-the-Joneses exercise, with each goading the other to be as patriotic as possible. I couldn’t help but think that this patriotism was not a simple statement of pride but a banner for all manner of unpleasant, bigoted views, with Help For Heroes being charity of choice.

I got off the bus and went into the Good Intent pub, which I’d always found to be a heavily ironic name. However, there was a friendly atmosphere with the locals enjoying a diet of Sky Sports, decently-priced booze and red meat. I settled in at the bar next to a bloke who was wearing long hair, a cardigan and a Miles Davis t-shirt – the only man who didn’t look like he did most of his clothes shopping in Sports Direct.

The match, Arsenal v Manchester City, began. At one point, Yaya Touré got a heavy challenge and hobbled off the field. One of the burly, shaven-headed men pointed to Touré and said: “He’s black and blue!” which caused great laughter.

Mario Balotelli raised the ire of some Arsenal fans with a couple of late challenges. One of the men, a skinhead, said, “I’d kick him in the face.” None of his friends reacted, so he said it again. Still being blanked, he said to one of them. “I’d kick him in the fucking face. I am a racist. I don’t like blacks, jews, faggots or transvestites.” He then walked outside to have a cigarette.

A quick survey of the pub revealed the only black person was a barmaid who, despite her youth, had a long-suffering look on her face. How many gays, jews or transvestites there were in the pub who could potentially cause him offence I could not tell.

I walked out at half-time, not because of this incident, which I was half-prepared for, but because I wanted to walk around my old neighbourhood. I went to my old school, Brittons, and noticed it wasn’t a school any more – it was now one of Michael Gove’s academies, which I’m sure will make a massive improvement to educational standards. Happily, I saw that the No Trespassing on School Premises sign outside the school had changed to No Pissing.

As I walked around South Hornchurch most of the people I saw were black. This was a big change from when I grew up there, when I knew a very small number of black people.

With the Union Jacks and casual and not so casual racism, I’ve no doubt South Hornchurch isn’t particularly welcoming to these people. I hope that, like Streatham, where I now live, the pubs on matchdays will one day be filled with football fans from all backgrounds, and racists will not just be ignored but barred. But I wouldn’t expect that change to happen any time soon.

Advertisements

Short man Gattuso blows his fuse!!!

Last night’s display by Gennaro Gattuso was possibly the best example of a short man going on the rampage since Joe Pesci went at that poor unfortunate with the telephone in Goodfellas.

Infuriated by the beanpole striker, short man Gattuso goes after Crouch

Not only did he hand out this finger-wagging attack on Peter Crouch, probably just on account of Crouch’s preposterous size, but he sought out Joe Jordan, a jock known as hard even amongst his own rugged people, and dealt him a headbutt.

(A note on this headutt: while I fully admire the handing out of a headbutt by Gattuso on Joe Jordan, I cannot admire the execution. It was one of those half-hearted push-headed efforts which suggests that even this volcanic footballer was holding himself in somewhat. It reminds me of Zidane in the World Cup Final. I still can’t understand why he didn’t deal him the blow to the bridge of the nose rather than the breast bone. My philosophy – you should never waste a good headbutt.)

This takes me back to my own football-playing heyday when my pragmatic manager sent me out, week after week, to man-mark the tallest player on the field. There I would be, all furious because of the brevity of my physique, and take great pride in pulling this week’s giant to the ground with a succession of, shall we say, ‘committed’ challenges.

Occasionally, when it looked my nascent short man syndrome was not quite to the fore, he would suggest amiably that ‘the bigger they are the harder they fall’. That, it’s safe to say, was all that was needed to fire up the old Napoleon Complex and leave some poor gentle giant wondering why short men had such aggressive streaks.

Well, as Gattuso or Pesci would testify, there really is no explaining it. There is no saying why when I see a tall man I boil up in some sort of apoplectic rage. Is it genetic? Is it environment? Is it a complex mix of both? Hard to tell. It’s just the way it is.

And football is all the better for it. In a recent interview with the Guardian, Xavi suggested that Barcelona’s style of play was the most beautiful and, almost, that the result was secondary. Well, after we had watched the tedium of Spain’s succession of 1-0s winning the World Cup, I think the football fraternity is ready for a taste of an older style, that style of football where no one can be quite sure they are going to leave the field of play with all four limbs still attached.

Because, on the night that Arsenal play Barcelona, in what the aesthetes are calling a meeting of philosophers and artists, we should remember this: football began as a game being played with a pig’s bladder between working men who wanted to thrash a ball about and hurt each other after a hard day working in the fields. In an age when the two-footed, studs-up challege is anathema to many, we should rejoice in the behaviour of players such as Gattuso who are in it for the physical battle and as a legal way to unleash their psychotic tendencies.

From one short man to another: Gattuso, I salute you.

Notes: Gattuso is about 5ft 9ins. This is not short when it comes to the general population but in the world of sport people who are usually six feet or above, he certainly is. And what I always say when people are unsure if a man is truly short or not – you will be able to tell. With Gattuso, I think we can rest assured, in his heart of hearts, he is a short man and proud.

Joe Pesci keeping his short man syndrome nicely under control