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October 2020
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As the curfew is lifted, the Toppled Bollard centre for creative writing, re-opens

By Sir Hardly Anyone

It is many of long month since I have ventured towards the Toppled Bollard public house – denizen of the dead beat deadwood and the basically dead, who act as so-called “football journalists” to the world at large.

But called upon to show my nephew Percy Passage from ‘tup norf (ie Watford) the sites and smells of London’s less attractive quarters it was indeed to the Bollard that I repaired.  For here is where the football journalists of our great nation gather together to invent and exchange wild stories which have never been true, are not true now, and will never  be true, but which are nonetheless the stuff of headlines and the garbage between the advertisements.

“Fleet Street,” I told him as we progressed east, “is an old road, wherein you will find historic old-world chateaux, crammed with interesting scribblers and storytellers, inventing the future and re-writing the past hour by hour.  Their inventiveness and utter misunderstanding of reality knows no bounds.

“And indeed this is their year of triumph. Over 100 transfer stories of players coming to Arsenal, all invented before the window even creaked open and not one of them with a grain of truth.”

“When does it slam shut?” he asked, and I hit him in the solar plexus.  “We don’t use that sort of language around here,” I told him.

“But do you mean these football journalists make their stories up?” he asked, bewildered by my introductory lines, which I suspect he suspected could have been invented rather than reported.

“Not just their stories,” I said, “but the entire existence.   Have you heard about this so-called Liverpool club?”

He nodded as we entered the Public Bar, showing both our passports to prove we were not EU citizens and our inoculation certificates at the same time.

“Doesn’t exist,” I told him.  “Just an invention.”   We ordered two pints with double whisky chasers for starters as my nephew looked thoroughly shocked, amazed, bemused and annoyed.

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“You are familiar with days of yore,” I said to him, “the days before that is to say – the days when we were allowed to go on the beach and not be molested by the working classes, or indeed when we could walk around our great northern dockland cities safe in the knowledge that they were in fact merely cardboard fabrications used in films by Water Disney.

“I thought they were real,” the poor sap moaned.

“This,” I told him, “is where it was all made up.   You can of course drive north along the M1 and M6 and follow the signs to the place, but ultimately your car will get stuck in a bog and you’ll go no further.

“Thee story of Liverpool and 30 years was invented by Bubbly Restless of the Daily Forkbender, and over the years people just kept on adding to it with this mythical team that had this glorious past created by scoring highly dubious goals in the third minute of injury time just as the referee was about to blow up with six members of the opposition lying on the floor injured.  Although in later years some of those referees did actually blow up and quite jolly it was too.”

Polly Doodly behind the bar handed us our second round.  “But Liverpool! did have great players,” said the young relative. “People like Esmond Haddock at centre forward.  Always went with a bang on account of playing for the Serbian National Liberation Army Second XI.

“And Shergar.  He was a great player.   And Testen Trace – he played for Liverpool didn’t he?”

I calmed the lad down and explained.   “England is indeed littered with the shrivelled remains of journalists for whom some hard-hearted editor or other has looked at through his lorgnette and thrown on the scrap heap.   You’re not going to become a football writer with an attitude like that.

“It is not just that you are ludicrously credulous, believing that clubs like Liverpool! are actually real, the fact is that newspaper editors like to have men around them who are fat – men who after a solid night in the pub can make two chins grow where only one had been before, occupy an overcoat that could double as the sail of a racing yacht, and who can blame Hector Bellerin for the Korean War.”

I could see the poor sap’s lower lip tremble.  “But what of Arsenal – are they real?” he asked.

“Of course they are,” I said, “because without them there would be no news.  This week we are not signing Atletico Madrid’s Thomas Partey, although we were last week, Guendouzi is going to Man U, Martinelli will be out for all of this season and half of next season, and will never regain his speed, we are not signging Orkun Kokcu although everyone said we were, and Sports Mole will run a sponsored advert…”

“What’s a sponsored advert?” he interrupted.

I shrugged for I had no idea although that was what their website said.   “Just Arsenal will say we must get rid of Sokratis, Kolasinac, Mustafi, Ceballos, Ozil, Maitland-Niles, Torreira, Lacazette, Elneny, and Mkhitaryan.   In each case we must get rid of them because they are no good – which effectively reduces the price we can receive.  And then Arsenal must buy another load of players who are excellent, and thus five times as expensive.”

“Do we have that money?” asked the lad, by now getting the hang of things and imperiously waving at Polly to indicate another round was required.  Unfortunately due to his time out of London the lad’s hand gesture had gained an unfortunate midlands accent and instead of drinks she thwacked him with her mop.

“I think I love her,” he said, as she led him away.   Ah the young, I thought.  Such a pleasure to witness them growing up.

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