I once went to Pride Park when Derby were playing Everton. We were still in the premiership then so it was probably 2000 or so. I used to still occasionally wear a replica shirt to the match then, anyway.
Around this time I got friendly with a bunch of lads from Matlock, who were friends of a lad I worked with in Sheffield at Yorkshire Electricity, in the Disputed Reads Section. He was called Paul and was sound, quiet lad, never acted without thinking first. We worked for a character called Phil, who we nicknamed ‘Pop’ because he was fat and bald. He claimed to have been a trainee at Lincoln City and played semi-pro for Long Eaton Town or someone, fairly near the bottom of the pyramid. Actually, he organised a 5-a-side office team and entered us in a league. We did quite well and came second in our division, and Phil missed a penalty which was the last kick of our ‘season’ that would’ve sent us up, and no one could take the piss out of him for it because he would get upset. Phil used to sweat a lot when he played because he was overweight. He had good touch and could pass well, but his head used to shine with all the sweat. Simon, our keeper, used to say that he worried Phil would have a heart attack, what with all his shouting as well. If that had happened I think we would have laughed.
After one game in this league, Phil tried to organise a big night out. At my suggestion we went to The Varsity on West Street, they had a thing going on Thursday nights where if you paid a quid to get in then all your drinks were just a quid for the rest of the night. Phil had made it out to be a massive night out but when I got to The Varsity it was only me and another lad who showed up apart from Phil. After the pub we went to Kingdom where an awful ‘70’s tribute act called ‘The Gutter Band’ played. They were shit. There was loads of nurses in Kingdom and one tried to impress us by saying that she could make us come by massaging our prostates and she was really good at it because she was a nurse. I said, “You might buy me a drink first.” Phil called her a fat bastard and blamed me. I heard once that years ago when he was a coach in kids’ football he’d kicked a kid really hard on the arse for tackling him.
Anyway, these lads from Matlock I got friendly with, some of them were a bit handy, or thought they were. They knew some very handy types anyway. There were also two lads who were Paul’s mates called Nigel and Chris, who weren’t handy at all. It was these two I was friends with, and a harder lad called Graeme, all the others I really just knew to nod at. Nigel was slow and a bit simple really, but loyal and kind, he used to get a lot of grief for his name. Chris was sharp and bright, if a bit of a straight peg. He was a real ladies’ man though. He always got some action, or seemed to, fuck knows how. They were good drinking mates anyway, and knew enough about football for a decent chat.
We’d gone into the Merry Widows after the Everton game. We’d had a couple in the Waterfall immediately post-match, and then moved next door into the Widows. This was a game Derby had lost 4-3, coming back from 3-1 and 4-2 down. It was probably Branko Strupar’s finest hour for us, he scored with a classy header and a fantastic 35 yard volley that was probably the finest goal I’ve ever seen at Pride Park. But we still lost and it was another step towards relegation.
When we got into the Widows I was really feeling the drink. I’d had a few pints before the game and now I was drinking Strongbow. I liked the way it was easy to drink after pints of gassy lager, mixing well with whatever you’d been drinking before and producing a kind of appropriate headstrong buzz. We sat down in a corner by a fireplace. Either the layout of the Widows has changed since then or my memory’s playing tricks because the last time I was in there, for the Cardiff game this season just gone, it looked completely different and all the geographical indicators, like the bar and the toilet door, were in different places. Maybe it’s because the Cardiff game was in August or September, a sunny day like, and this Everton game was February time or something and it was dark by the time we got to the Widows.
I have a recollection of an embarrassing conversation with 2 coked-into-numbness DLF lads, friends of Graeme’s, but that might’ve been another time, I was really silly and drunk and asking what Wednesday were like these days. One of them was definitely there later on too, though, a ginger haired lad whose tight white skin was discoloured by dissipation beneath nasty blue eyes. He always seemed in a bad mood, and when I commented on this one time with Chris, he laughed and agreed. I wondered whether it was just me he didn’t like, but Chris told me he was like it with everybody, which was a relief. He was always really nasty, this ginger lad, if you were talking about the game he never said, “We should’ve played 4-4-2, not 3-5-2,” it was always something like, “Why didn’t we fucking play fucking 4-4-2, that stupid cunt Gregory, fucking 4 fucking 4 fucking 2! It never fucking fails!” Anyway, after this game he was with us for a bit in the Waterfall and the Widows too, but then he’d moved away to snarl with other men in expensive jumpers and baseball caps.
So me, Chris and Nigel sat down by the fire and were enjoying a rambling chat about a load of shit. I noticed that there were 2 or 3 kids playing about in the pub, about 10 years old or so, they kept going up to a fat woman with curly black hair who was behind the bar and getting crisps and coke off her without having to pay . She was the landlord’s wife and she had round staring eyes that were black and angry. I can’t remember what her husband looked like, he was indistinguishable from the generic shavenheads he was serving and chatting with in one corner of the bar. He only emerged into the wider environment to collect dirty glasses and ashtrays that needed emptying.
Beyond the immediate bar area, I remember the pub being strangely unlit. Only flashing lights from fruit machines and the lamps over the bar provided any light. It was hard to see people’s faces, and everyone looked very white, their faces contrasting grotesquely with the darkness. The pub had an intimate feel, friendly but exclusive, an insulation against the cold blue shadows beyond the windows.
Then there was uproar at the door. We turned round, Nigel and Chris and me. I sensed our bewilderment, I couldn’t see whether it showed on our faces. A large man with gelled hair appeared in the doorway of the pub. I can’t remember if it was the street entrance of the pub, or just an exit from the pub’s other bar. He was wearing a casual jacket and jeans, white trainers.
“Cum on den Daaahhrby!” he shouted, making the appropriate flapping hand movements.
Someone did go on. The landlord of the pub vaulted the bar impressively. I saw someone else’s hand grab a bottle of Beck’s that was still capped. The landlord punched the scouser and he went down, some other guys from the bar jumped in and kicked him. I saw the Beck’s bottle, still with its cap intact, break over the scouser’s head. Beer foamed and then trickled. Someone lifted him up and a little crowd fell through the door and into the streets.
Me and Chris and Nigel sat still, maintaining exactly the same poses and facial expressions we’d had at the beginning of the incident. I shrugged and the other two looked at their pint glasses. “Another one?” I asked, or something similar. I went to the bar to get a round in.
The landlord’s wife was standing by a fruit machine with her arms around a little girl who was crying. I heard the girl ask, “Did Daddy hurt that man, Mummy?” The woman smoothed the girl’s hair and carried on cuddling her.
“Is she alright?” I asked with a smile.
“Yes! No thanks to people like you though!” She was really aggressive and mardy.
I thought that was a little unfair.
Zack Wilson is a writer from Sheffield, England. If you click the link at the side of the page you can buy his book.