I thought today that since the old gentlemen at the bar were reminiscing over footie, and I myself had mentioned Walsall Wood’s long love affair with the not so beautiful game on my 365daysofbiking Tumblr journal this week, that I’d feature this piece from David Evans. So get your strip on, fire up the tea urn and grab a meat pie (but hopefully not one like did a couple of weeks ago….)
My thanks, as ever, to David. Great stuff.
Walsall Wood Football Club, affectionately known as the Prims, was an important part of village life before and after the last World War. Saturdays and football went together. The preparation for the afternoon kick-off was meticulous; the lines were chalked, the goal nets were hung, the corner flags were pushed into the ground, the primitive public address system was checked.
‘One, two. One , two.’ Screech! It was working as normal.
Then the military music blasting over the faulty Tannoy system guaranteed an eager mass anticipation, and a big gate for the match, whoever the heroic visiting opponents were. The “life-saving” refreshments bar had opened and hissing bursts of steam mixed with the unique aroma of freshly- brewed Co-op blue packet tea tempted the arriving spectators into buying that welcome and much needed cuppa and a sarnie (Spam and Marge, dear) before kick-off.
The crowd grew bigger, jostling for vantage points in the big and little stands. Humorous comments ,delivered in pseudo Regimental Sergeant Major voices, began to ring out all around the field, much to the amusement of the supporters of both home and the visiting teams. The tension mounted and the wooden rattles were cracking in throbbing unison. Come on!
A fanfare! At last, a fanfare! The teams, officials, and trainers emerged from the dressing-rooms to the appreciative and spontaneous applause of all of the spectators and the players jogged in balletic, yet muscle-stretching fashion onto the pitch. A coin was thrown by the ref. The two captains looked down at the ground. They shook hands, and then… a whistle blew. The match began to a mighty roar from the crowds , followed by the coughing of the smokers among them. Another noble tradition was enacted.
To all the local young lads among the spectators the pitch seemed enormous, the heavy leather case ball seemed huge, and, my word it did hurt if you tried to head it. But, in the event, Arthur, the Wood’s trainer, was always on duty, like a true Gladiator, and Military Surgeon, with his bucket of water and his ‘magic’ sponge. In fact this was often seen being put to good use, especially if a player in the opposing team had become ‘a bit mouthy’ as the players in the home side called it, passing disparaging comments about the prowess of the local side. This invariably resulted in that hapless player receiving a well-aimed full-force shot of the case ball in his ‘scroticles’ as my mother called them. Somewhere inside the front of his shorts, I think.
As the red-faced player collapsed to the ground writhing in agony Arthur would instantly rush to the victim’s aid, a kindly deed, and was seen to thrust a sponge filled with near-freezing water down the shorts and perform a sort of circular, mystical, almost clutching movement. This made the player yell out and would bring even more tears to his eyes, and rousing cheers from the home supporters.
But the magic cure had worked.
The player would regain his feet and, though now noticeably quieter, would continue playing the game, if a trifle timidly, to the joy of the home spectators.
Away matches were a glorious event. Hot baked potatoes and Jones crisps from the man outside the cinema in Walsall were the treat that the young children looked forward to most of all as they waited for the coach in town. Collecting the players’ mud-caked strip after the match to take home for their moms to wash was the unwelcome weekly chore that had to be done, home or away.
I never did know who the dear old lady spectator was who used to call out her popular cry of ‘Bump it up, Bomper’, but home matches weren’t quite as enjoyable without her contribution to the festivities, or the rejoinder, from the men in the crowd; ‘Do as the good lady says, Bomper, and bump it up!’ Good times, indeed!
David Evans, November 2011