Musings From The Padded Cell

A Critics’ Corner – Chapter 11

11 – Leap of Faith

When I first discovered Villas the clubhouse was little better than a crumbling wooden shack, held together by an annual application of the cheapest paint we could find and with appalling sanitary facilities. If the male “facilities” described earlier were bad then the ladies, housed in an adjoining old pigeon shed comprising a portaloo not out of place in Slumdog land, would probably have counted as germ-warfare and interested Saddam Hussein; although he would have had to borrow the big nose peg used by the unlucky junior that drew the short straw and had to empty out the frothy blue mess each month into the freshly dug cesspit. Life as a junior at the Villas could be tough. I Wonder if the ECB have a policy on clearing out the bogs?

The clubhouse had an entrance flanked by the two changing rooms with wooden shuttered windows; it sounds quaint you might think, a sort of the Little House on the Prairie, except this was the Wreck on All Alone Road. There was a small kitchen area backing on to the male toilets, which sort of suggests that all this modern day hype around health and safety may be a touch overdone.  You were more at risk from Mrs Johnson and a clip round the ear for nicking the sweets than typhoid and diphtheria. The sweets were never locked away and I suppose we did help ourselves along the way to the odd filling or two.

Captain Birdseye

In those days the teas were prepared mainly by Jean, long suffering partner of Mick Johnson, Captain Birdseye to us young lads and for a while the opening bat for the first team. For an old guy he was ahead of his time as a pioneer of the pinch-hit – long before anybody had ever heard of this tactic when it was introduced on the world stage by Sri Lanka. Birdseye, who had never been to Sri Lanka, was a Villa’s legend, walking out to bat in NHS glasses, a wispy white beard and his customary wide brimmed sun hat which took some wearing on a freezing cold April Saturday.

In later years, he was a regular member of the second team and extremely popular and valuable to the team because he owned a VW Camper van, which became the team bus…when it started that is. As young lads we had to meet at Birdseye’s house close to the ground. The house also operated as a working aviary as Birdseye loved his budgies and believed in a bird being able to fly at least from living room to kitchen. So we sat there nervously wondering if the VW would splutter to life ahead of each away trip and watching his beloved Jean preparing the club teas under constant threat of being buzzed by some errant, shit-bombing budgie. Nobody ever died of bird flu though.

Property Ladder

The old clubhouse was mounted on giant wooden sleepers and quite often the ball would go under the hut, meaning that somebody had to crawl under to retrieve it from the eerie, rubbish-laden darkness. This experience came in useful though when the twenty-man selection committee met on a Tuesday because you could crawl beneath and hear which old goat still wanted to keep one of his old cronies in and keep you out. If you could stay awake long enough you would know if you had made the cut and whose tyres to let down before you left. As kids we had spirit and were not to be messed with.

The hut was a bit like an ageing mistress in that it was always in need of a touch up and some long overdue attention. Yet as rickety as it was, it was our den and we lived in it…literally. As an enterprising fourteen-year old I could not face the onset of another cold winter excluded from our hut so I borrowed a key from Haighy on the premise of extra practice, got one cut and we started the winter in relative warmth, always using the dressing room farthest from Ken and Olga’s kitchen window so they couldn’t see the light on.

We were always trying to tart it up in some way. One year John “Bodger” Lee and I decided to enlarge the dressing rooms by doing an early “Changing Rooms” and moving the partitioned walls outwards. Now I have always admitted to being useless and clueless in the DIY department, but Bodger was simply lethal because he was convinced he could do any task yet had barely more idea than me. So with us both up stepladders inside the pride of the club, its only home and its weekly base we started to feel a tad concerned having freed the inner walls when the roof above started to sag.

Without any idea what we were doing, we’d threatened the whole structure and only just avoided it caving in on us. There are many things that well illustrate the madness of the recent property boom and subsequent bust but for me none more so than the fact that Bodger actually became a property developer. People are actually living in houses built by him unaware that at any moment the roof is about to come crashing down around walls constructed on shifting sands.

White Shag Pile

So we settled on a makeover and Bodger gave me thirty quid of the club’s limited money to go get some new carpets for the changing rooms as I had my dad’s Capri which had a bigger back end than Browny. A deal was struck, money was exchanged and I bid farewell to Mr Khan’s Bazaar and headed back to the club, delighted that I had achieved a big discount to carpet both rooms and save the club fifteen quid. The only problem was that nobody else shared my enthusiasm for the brilliant white shag pile as it was rolled out. If this didn’t land Sweet Caroline nothing would.

If further proof was needed that our partnership as developers was never going to threaten Persimmon or Wimpeys, it came when Bodger led the project to build the new clubhouse in 1982/3; or, to be more accurate, stick it together as the committee had opted for a sectional pre-fabricated building with an estimated life of fifteen years. Progressive and forward thinking it was not. Bodger engaged me as his labourer to assist with jobs such as knocking out then refilling in holes in various walls for the pipe work. Trouble was, I rarely got the right wall and spent just as much time filling in holes where there should not have been any – often with neat cement as nobody ever fully explained the role of sand in the mix to me. Once again my father’s son I clearly was not.

A New Clubhouse

Now the decision to erect a new clubhouse was a momentous one for the old guard. Indeed it was a “Leap of Faith” based on the momentum the club was showing on the field more than off it. The club had seemed to be perpetually broke and I suppose the committee at the time could barely believe its luck when a brewery offered to loan the funds to build a new clubhouse as long as we then drank enough of it is vile brews to repay them; it was perhaps mad cow disease in it is earliest form going by the name of Greenall Whitleys and time to say farewell to the Five Lane Ends and the Wrose Bull.

In many ways the choice of new clubhouse reflected the state of the club. It was a compromise, opting for a short life modular building so secure that when we were burgled the thieves simply pulled a section of the building away with the targeted cigarette machine still stuck to it. No point in crawling through a window with this shack when you could take the whole wall with you. We were to continue to keep getting robbed over many years, but that was mainly certain members failing to grasp the concept of paying for their beer.

Demolition Man

Once the clubhouse was up and running, we turned our attention to the even dodgier relic of a score hut. Now it is fair to say that construction skills were not in huge supply at the club. One of the more disastrous ventures we undertook fuelled by endless enthusiasm and blind ignorance would simply not be allowed in these days of health and safety paranoia. We had come across an old scout building that was in huge concrete sections and offered to us if we could dismantle it and transport it to the club from over in Leeds. Somebody had the bright idea that this would make a great new score box.

So we spent a tortured weekend risking life, limb, asbestos poisoning and worse. The threat of asbestos was barely understood in those days and was evidenced by Dave Tattersall’s rapid hair loss subsequent to that dreadful weekend of punitive hard labour. When we finally got the slabs back to Villas many of them just crumbled and we just about managed to bolt enough together to build what resembled a nuclear fallout shelter rather than a score hut. Its glory, however, was short lived as Bradford Council objected on grounds of planning permission stating that it was not in keeping with the area. Pity they hadn’t employed the same logic before they constructed most of the city centre.

Hangover Valley

So, back to the new clubhouse and our very first bar, funded by the generosity of Greenall Whitley Brewery. Compared with what we had – nothing – it was palatial and in keeping with the club’s tradition it owed much more to hard work by dedicated volunteers rather than handouts. Had we cottoned on, we might have figured that by facing it east and adding a few turrets we might have got some financial assistance from the council. Still, it was ours and the only morning wailing heard were from the effects of the shocking ales on offer.

The club began to thrive; one early promotion being was a Pernod night, at twenty-five pence a shot. Just how drunk can a man get on a fiver? It snowed heavily that night, so much so that we had an impromptu breaststroke race across the car park and I then did the equivalent of the channel crossing to doggy paddle home.

The brewery must have loved our committee because we took every offer they threw at us. I think we single-handedly took the whole year’s consignment of Tico and had ample stocks many years later despite the late Beryl’s best efforts. Bodger ordered a crate of a potent 8% a.b.v. bottled ale, took one sip, nearly puked and donated it to the groundsman to sort out the moss long before Stevo rocked up to reinvigorate it. And we had 20,000 boxes of matches printed with the club’s picture on them – notwithstanding that we had 200 members at best, most of whom didn’t touch the deadly weed even when the gaping hole in the clubhouse wall was repaired with the cigarette machine bolted down again…for a while.

These were heady days and it broadened the club’s base as the introduction of a bar generally does. In a few short years the club was relatively rolling in it despite it is newly accorded charitable status amongst a select few members and the decision was made to finally replace the old hut which had remained in place as the changing rooms. Haighy, played the role of Chief Foreman each day resplendent in his M&S slippers, as he cracked the whip over the cheap labour hired on some government scheme, managing the project in inimitable style by doing absolutely nothing. The following season we opened spacious new changing rooms with showers, inside toilets and a great view across the field.

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  1. Paul Thompson says:

    Captain Birdseye’s bat was called ‘Excalibur’ the big SP bat lol

    • Steve Wilson says:

      Thommo we must get together re my new book…you remember far too much…send me your email address and will email you a chapter am working on when we were lads

      • Hi – I remember the old Bolton Villas Cricket Hut very well – and most of those “hardy men”who turned up every week – but going back to the 60’s!! I was one who helped make “the teas” on a Saturday

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