good morning bigmoose chums.
i have been doing loads of coffee shop mullarkey this week, but don't wanna become too one dimensional in my blog about it, so i'll spare you this week.
i gave you the first chapter of my book a few weeks ago, so thought i would give you another one this week, just to mix it up a bit.
i've skipped a couple of chapters to where i have started playing ice hockey, and going to secondary school, i hope you enjoy.
Chapter 4 - Tollington Park School
I was a goalie and I loved it.
Cousin Mark had seconded another player, Dennis Philips into my left wing slot, and along with John Rego on his right formed what was to become known as the ‘PPR’ line throughout the league we now found ourselves in.
The PPR line were breaking scoring records, and our young Sobell team were better that anybody ever expected in our inaugural season, and I was now taking my role backstopping the team very seriously.
I now had my own goalie equipment, including a great catching glove, designed to catch the puck on the ice, but in my bedroom I would spend literally hours hitting a tennis ball at the wall and catching it, improving my hand eye co-ordination, and providing me with great off ice training.
I was loving the responsibility of being the goalie, and when one of my uncles brought me back an Ice Hockey News magazine from Canada I devoured every article, and became obsessed with every goalie playing in the famous National Hockey League (NHL) the best league in the world, and never did I one day imagine I might grace it's pages, more of that in another chapter.
My life was consumed with hockey, it was my food, my drink, and my air, and my dedication to my craft, on reflection was crazy in one so young, I trained, and I trained, and over the weeks and months I started to improve, as our Colts team were becoming quite formidable, and tough to beat.
I loved playing on this team, and the bond we had was unlike anything I had ever felt,
we were a very close knit unit, and defended each other on the ice and off it.
I was now eleven, and about to make the transition to my senior school, and whilst my private school pals were heading off to the next fee paying place of study, the coffers had run out in the Smith household, and I was headed to Tollington Park, or Tolly as it was affectionately known.
A huge school compared to Whittingham, with no caps to wear, and where my acidic wit and sarcasm ended up with me getting beaten up probably four of five times in the first week, this was indeed a culture shock, and when walking home after school one day, I had an older kid drag me into an alley and put a knife to my throat and tell me to give him my money, I knew I had arrived in a different world.
Whilst you may have read that last sentence and been a little shocked, I discovered that when put into adverse situations I could stay calm and not panic.
I had about 30p on me, but my brain computed I didn’t want this knife wielding thief to have it, and so I chose to be smart.
Amoury Francis was the Captain of our hockey team, and as well as being a great skater, big hitter, and tough defenseman, he was also hard as nails off the ice, and he was my mate.
“Gimme your money before I cut you” my assailant spluttered.
“I haven’t got any money on me” I replied, worrying that inspection of my pockets would quickly reveal the truth, and deciding I needed rapid action to stop being searched.
“You know Amoury don’t you?” I quickly garbled.
“Amoury Francis?” knife boy asked.
“How do you know Amoury?” he enquired.
“He’s my best mate, we play ice hockey together at the Sobell”
Knife boy was slower at computing, and I watched the penny drop, but it took quite a long while to hit the bottom.
It had worked, he removed the knife from my throat, and proceeded to hug me.
“I was just spoofing you man, I never knew you and Amoury was tight, things cool yeah”
“Yeah no problem, I’ve gotta go though, is that ok?”
“Yeah cool, tell Amoury I was just jesting yeah”
“Yeah we cool” I replied like some rubbish Tupac impersonator, and I smiled as I walked home.
Wow, that was close, and I had no idea how I negotiated my way out of it, but staying calm seemed to be the answer.
I decided not to tell anybody about my run in, and it is another of those things that until you delve back into your past you don’t remember, but on reflection it was a fast track education on how to survive on the streets of Finsbury Park, though being threatened at knife point aged eleven was a far cry from my private school in Muswell Hill.
That incident was in my first week at Tolly, and during the Summer holidays prior to pulling on my Tollington Park school uniform on for the first time I had been part of a TV programme called Magpie, that was a very popular kids show that was aired in the afternoon on ITV, after schools finished, and had huge audience figures, so for us at the Sobell it was a pretty big thing.
I had no experience with TV and treated it as just another hockey session, with bright lights illuminating the normally quite dull ice rink we trained in.
It soon became apparent that one of the presenters of Magpie, Tommy Boyd, was interested in playing in goal, and the director asked me if I would allow them to shoot a piece with me showing Tommy how to be an ice hockey goalie.
I agreed, and we left the ice to help him assemble our senior goalies equipment, and he proceeded to put it on, which must have been difficult, because hockey equipment smells somewhat, and if it’s not your kit, that is pretty gross.
We all stepped onto the ice together, me, Tommy, our Coach, and the cameraman wearing running shoes.
Tommy was led to one of the nets where the other cameraman was setting up with the lighting guys, and it was all very exciting, though when in front of the lights, very hot, and I could see Tommy was sweating profusely.
I showed him the basics of being a goalie, and he interviewed me, asking me why I had chosen to be a goalie, and I told him that being a goalie had chosen me really.
The camera guys set up a camera behind a goalie mask, to look as if it were the view Tommy was seeing, and as the players took shots, being instructed in no uncertain terms to avoid hitting the camera that was worth thousands of pounds, the Director got the shot he was after.
It was a wrap, as they say, and I enquired when the show would be aired, and was told the date which was during my first week at senior school.
Amoury and I told our new school pals to watch that night as we were going to be on Magpie, which was a pretty big thing at Tolly, and even our teachers were enthused about it, telling the whole class to tune in that Thursday.
I was pretty hyped up, and got home alone, while Mum was at work, and sat down to watch my TV debut, and as the catchy theme tuned played I could feel nerves building in my stomach.
There was Tommy in the studio with the other presenters, he looked different, more in control, and he wasn’t sweating as much.
The show went through it’s normal format, with different popular culture subjects, music, sport, wildlife, but no mention of our piece on hockey.
As the twenty five minute show continued, it didn’t look like there was going to be a very big piece on us, and eventually Tommy and his gang started to wrap the show up, and talk about what next weeks show would contain.
As the credits rolled I sat there confused, what had happened I wondered, playing different scenarios through in my mind.
Eventually, my mind wandered to the following morning when me and Amoury had to face our new schoolmates.
Oh man, that was going to be awful, they wouldn’t believe us.
And they didn’t.
Our hockey interview not being on Magpie was the icing on the cake of what was a pretty rubbish start to my secondary education, fights, being threatened with a knife, and public humiliation, hopefully it would get better, I hoped it wouldn’t get worse.
The hockey was shown the following week on Magpie, and my mates realized I wasn’t a junior version of Walter Mitty, thankfully.
My days at Tolly as I settled in were actually to prove to be a really happy time in my life, and as I discovered that sport was probably where I excelled, and I led a pretty charmed life.
Football was my thing, and our school was a feeder school for Arsenal, who though deadly rivals of my beloved Tottenham, when asked to go for trials I decided I should go, as if I got a break this could be a game changer, literally.
Our school already had one of my team mates from our school team, Raphael Meade, on their books, and Raph as he was known to us went on to have a glittering career playing for Arsenal and travelling all over the world playing, and was very much the golden boy of football at Tolly, and an amazing player.
I knew I had none of the talent Raph had, but still got asked to go for the trial, and as I arrived outside the Arsenal Stadium in Highbury a fifty two seater coach arrived to take us all to the training ground.
It seemed like all the boys knew each other, and everybody acknowledged Raph as he passed down the bus, I followed sheepishly in his wake, and sat down.
As I sat there, nerves jangling, a lad in the seat in front handed me an expenses sheet.
“Expenses for what?” I asked Raph.
“Travel” he offered.
“Travel?” I questioned.
“Yeah, travel expenses to get here.”
“I walked here?”
“Yeah, everyone did, but just put a fiver down, and then you’ll get paid.”
“Are you sure?” I didn’t want to halt my professional football future by falsifying my expenses this early in my career.
“Yeah, nobody questions it, just do it.”
Wow, did that mean I was a pro footballer now, being paid to play, I questioned myself?
I wrote on the form Jeff Smith – Tollington Park School - £5.00
I smiled at the lad behind me as I passed the form on.
As I looked up I spied Mr Metcalfe our school sports master who also worked for Arsenal, and he smiled and mouthed “Alright?” as he called out the names on the sheet, I nodded.
The journey to the training pitches seemed quite long, and my imagination went wild with thoughts of playing in the F.A. Cup Final and diving to head the winning goal, and the Wembley crowd going crazy because of my effort.
We’re here Raph beckoned, as the bus pulled into the car park with the gravel crunching under the weight.
My stomach was in knots and I needed to go to the bathroom as soon as possible, and as I entered the dressing room, the smell of White Horse Oil invaded my nervous system.
I watched as every player methodically poured some of the medicinal compound into their hands, and proceeded to rub it onto their legs.
The bottle reached me, and I didn’t even ask, I just poured and rubbed, and passed it on as if I had been doing this all my life.
It’s funny how smell is such a strong sense, and the smell of White Horse Oil evokes such powerful lovely memories of my football career, and I used them before every game of football I ever played from that moment.
I was destined not make it that day, not because of my lack of talent, not because I knew I had no left foot, but because my trial for Arsenal didn’t see me make it to the main pitch, where Raph and the real talent were playing.
I was left with all the other runts on the second pitch, and when they kept swapping players around from pitch one to two, I never got the nod, so my professional football career ended there, with my total earnings being five whole pounds.
Where my football career stalled somewhat, my hockey career was blossoming, and we were starting to win stuff, and I loved it, the Colts were becoming a formidable force within British hockey, and we won our first Championship aged 12.
We travelled to the fishing town of Grimsby, winning 8-2 in the first leg, and came back to the Sobell to win the second leg 9-2, British Champions, and my first real silverware, and I loved it.
The responsibility of being the goalie, and influencing the result of every game was becoming obvious, and I relished the pressure, and I knew where my passion lay.
Academically I had learnt a lot at Whittingham, which put me ahead of the curriculum at Tolly, and as such I wasn’t being stimulated, which resulted in me losing interest, and only my form teacher Mr Fuller, who taught me English seemed to get the potential that I felt I had, out of me, and here I am writing a book.
I wish I could tell him.
He was a great teacher, very tall, long brown hair that went down past his shoulders, definitely a bit of a hippy, and was loved by all of us students, never losing his temper, gaining respect through giving respect.
I learnt a lot from him, and loved the way he taught English.
Whilst not making it as a professional footballer, I did still play in a very successful Tolly team, who led by Raph scoring umpteen amazing goals, and won a number of Championships, and I remember our head of year, my first experience of a Welshman, Mr Evan Evans, who was a massive sports fan.
Every Monday morning after we had won a game he would come into our class with two cups of tea for me and the other lad that played on the team Savakkis Ioannou, and ask us to tell the class about the game.
Weirdly the teachers all accepted this behaviour, and though I thought it quite strange at the time, on reflection, maybe it was his way of rallying the troops, and encouraging us to be a unified school, and to be proud of our fellow students achievements, I’ll never know, but I did enjoy the cups of tea.
It was quite funny watching him bring them into class I have to admit, and I remember him one day entering Mr Jones’ woodworking class with two brews, and informing the class that we had beaten local rivals Holloway, and encouraging a round of applause, completely barking, but lovely times.
so that's chapter 4, i hope you didn't nod off!
i'm off to the smoke tomorrow to be in town ready for an early kickoff on monday morning at the donmar in covent garden for my biggest talk yet, for barclays, and i am actually really looking forward to it, wish me luck, it's a long way from finsbury park all those years ago.
i hope you have a stupendous week ahead, and i'll update you with news from the coffee shop next week, oh we'll be selling bags of bigmoose coffee from next week, so if you want some, either for yourself, or as a prezzie with a story for loved ones at crimbo, just drop me a line.
i'll be seeing ya,