From The Camrose to Wembley
Posted on April 21, 2015
There is a tired old saying that suggests that by adding variety, the spice of life is enhanced and I guess that by visiting the home of Basingstoke Town FC one day and going to the FA Cup Final at Wembley the next, is a fine example.
My trip to the Camrose on Friday evening was actually an invite to a football club fund raiser from some friends I have cobbled together in my 20 years or so in Basingstoke, with the star turn of the evening being former top flight footballer, Neil ‘Razor’ Ruddock.
For those of you who have no clue who Ruddock is, he was the epitome of a Jack the Lad 90’s footballer, boozing, womanising and snorting his way to oblivion, despite once commanding a weekly salary of £25k whilst playing for the infamous Liverpool team of the 1990’s so often dubbed ‘the Spice Boys generation’.
There has been a lot of talk lately about football failing to deal with racism, sexism and homophobia but as an observer from the modern arena of the sanitised Madejski Stadium (home of Reading FC) I have to say that I have not really witnessed it and naively or perhaps even ignorantly, I assumed that the claims were over-zealous political correctness.
A night at The Camrose was confirmation that all of the above are just about alive and kicking and it is difficult to know whether to laugh or hold your head in despair at the attitude of some of the audience. Whatever the case, I suppose they paid £35:00 so they were entitled to laugh at what they wanted to laugh at, whether it was the tale of Ian Rush defecating in Ruddock’s pillow whilst on tour, or the spectacularly unfunny comedian for the evening, reciting jokes from a 1981 Jim Davidson manual.
There is no doubt that Ruddock must have been a bit of an animal in his time and I suppose the opportunity for someone who has slipped into bankruptcy at least once, to earn an alleged £3k to recite stories of debauchery, has to be taken. If exaggerating events for an expectant audience is what is required, that requirement needs to be met, so I don’t blame Ruddock one bit. How else can he pay the bills?
I have no axe to grind with Ruddock to be honest, he seemed a pretty friendly sort of chap really and as someone of exactly the same age as him, I would be a liar if said that I could place my hand on my heart and say that in the midst of 1990’s Laddism, if I had been tossed £25k a week, I would have been drinking herbal tea and been tucked up in bed by ten o’clock each night. What I find amazing is how you could lose that amount of money, but plenty have done it.
When big money started arriving after Sky TV invented the game of football in 1992, young lads, not believing their luck, must have been hard to control, especially when advised by dodgy agents or Terry Venables and his clan of rogues. Some like Alan Shearer, survived and prospered, whilst others like Ruddock and Paul Gascoigne for example, capitulated and I found his story quite an interesting one rather than a funny one.
However the most telling part of the evening for me, was when the Basingstoke manager, Jason Bristow, left the building with an expressionless face halfway through the routine of the stand-up comedian who by now, was getting just enough laughs to offer him sufficient encouragement to continue with his causal racism and homophobia.
I don’t know whether Bristow knew what he was doing (I suspect he did) but his decision to bail out was an absolute master-stroke if he is going to enhance his reputation in football and move on to fry bigger fish in the future. This gave me real hope that football is evolving and the last of the blokes who used to throw bananas at black players or drive a homosexual player to suicide, are in the final throes of existence.
If Bristow had been filmed laughing on someone’s mobile device, he would have had to say Goodnight Vienna to a future in the game, so I am glad for him he did what he did as him seems like a decent guy and a progressive manager trying make things fall in to place somewhere that is a million miles from the razzmatazz of the Premier League.
So, on Saturday, it was off to Wembley to watch a real David and Goliath encounter in the FA Cup Semi- Final where Reading took on the might of Arsenal.
The Modern Wembley on Saturday: A Theatre of Corporate Marketing and Advertising
The contrast at Wembley couldn’t have been more stark to that of the Camrose, with the target audience being families who are, from the minute they walk on to Wembley Way, faced with a barrage of marketing and advertising in a bid to extract as much of their cash as possible.
For anyone who remembers the crumbling twin towers and the sinister surrounding of the old stadium, this place is beyond recognisable. All around as you head up to the impressive arch that is attempting to gain the same fame as the old towers, are gleaming hotels, flats, restaurants and retail areas all sat patiently waiting for the money to pour in.
By the time we got to our seats my head was filled up with marketing and advertising on the grandest scale I have ever witnessed. I felt so exhausted I actually wondered if I might be able to sneak in a power nap shortly after the boisterous Reading crowd were silenced by Arsenal’s third goal after around twenty minutes of play.
However, the game itself some developed a pattern where one team was struggling to shake itself from the complacency that sets in when it is just another semi-final amongst many, whilst the other, representing a club in their first one (semi-final) since 1927, were prepared to run themselves until the soles of their boots wore through to their socks in a bid to be Reading FC history makers.
It was obvious that Arsenal were defter with touch and more precise with their passing than Reading could dream to be, however, their intricate play hit a stoic barrier time and time again whilst Reading looked an increasing threat on the break as they enjoyed the pristine surface nearly as much as their more illustrious opponents.
The class of Arsenal finally showed late in the first half with a goal that made intricacy look like simplicity and it was easy to get into a mind-set that damage limitation was the best dish that Reading could serve their fans as after all, it was all that they had ordered before the game. However, the Royals rallied and almost in surreal slow motion, equalised courtesy of a McLeary strike and howler from Scezny, the Arsenal keeper, who was of course, unaware that a fellow member of the goalkeepers union would later come to his aid.
As the tension heightened, Arsenal, marginally the more dominant force, squandered chances but Reading too, failed to capitalise on a series of half chances that would been buried in the back of the net by more accomplished players like Costa, Aguero or Harry Kane, who grace the Premier League. That’s the difference and you felt that even if Reading could force the game to penalties, their composure would be overwhelmed by the potential enormity of their impending achievement.
We will never know, as a shattering blow was delivered when Sanchez cut inside and miscued when well placed. Federeci gathered easily, then didn’t, and the ball desperately trickled over the line in the cruellest of fashion. If Sanchez had done what he is more than capable of and burst the back of the net with a pile-driver, that would have been fair enough, but this was a mortal blow and Reading, try as they did, never recovered.
It was over.
As I left the ground I wondered what I preferred about football, the dark days of piss stained terraces, widespread racism and indiscriminate, unprovoked bullying from Thatcher’s boot boys, or the clean and hygienic customer experience that is offered up at the modern Wembley, where families can support their local club in comfort and safety with their only concern being the emptying of their wallets.
I then saw a bunch of Neanderthal Reading fans hurling abuse and threats of violence down at Arsenal fans that were innocently walking from the ground in a subdued manner, relieved that their team had narrowly got away with being humbled in a very public manner. These young lads looked up at the malnourished looking Reading rat boys in amused bemusement before carrying on their way home with their perception of Reading FC as a club full of retards firmly etched in their minds.
It was at the moment when I realised that it is okay to reminisce about days out at football in its darkest era as they were exciting and adrenalin fuelled, but it was also an era when people died in fires or were innocently crushed to death in dilapidated stadiums that were an accident happen. Football fans were treated like caged animals and behaved accordingly; it was a dreadful era where they were blamed for their own deaths in the media.
Yes it’s definitely okay to reminisce, however, to dream of football’s return to its darkest age is a bit pathetic and fortunately, from what I have witnessed this weekend, the game is evolving and it won’t be long before the bigoted old guard die off in a cloud of Capstan non-filters surrounded by a cabinet of Jim Davidson videos and UKIP brochures.
As the WWII celebrations show us, Britain is a funny place where we are addicted to longing for a glorious past, no matter how dreadful it was.