Monday, November 05, 2007

Johnny Rumble:
Johnny's Folly part 3

“So Johnny, tell me, how many did you let through?”

The laughing was deafening. The whole group was giving me a good bashing about my first football game. I had done ridiculously terrible. So terrible in fact, that I had run out of both fingers and toes to keep track. I was laughing right along with them, so it wasn’t any sort of deal. I had had plenty of fun. The game we played was able to push out all the bad things that had happened recently.

“I don’t know Jack,” I took a sip of my Guinness, “I lost count somewhere around 20.”

The laughs started up again and it gave me a chance to take stock of my surroundings. Our game had ended about half an hour ago, and we had made our way back to the bar to get our own anticipation levels up and going. The bar itself was filled with many other fans of Greensea. People were laughing, chanting, singing, and drinking lots and lots of booze. Our group was seated in a corner booth, drinking plenty of beer.

Paul stood up and raised his glass, “To Johnny! The worst keeper ever!”

Everybody raised their glasses together and shouted, “Here! Here!”

When we sat back down, James grabbed my shoulder and looked me in the eye, “Before the game you said something about having a style before you got kicked out of University? What else did you do to that greedy son-of-a-bitch?”

I laughed. “Oh fuck man. I did every thing to that old bastard. I took a shit on his office chair, saran wrapped his car doors shut, and I think the best one I ever did is when I broke into his office in the middle of the night and took all the bolts, nails, and screws out of his desk. When he came in the morning, I was his first appointment. It took a few minutes to get him angry enough, but when he slammed fist on the desk, it completely collapsed on him.” Everybody had a good laugh at the Deans mis-fortune. I continued, “And there was the time I fucked with his computer. That one was a pure riot. Not even the campus IT could figure it out.”

Juan leaned forward and asked, “How you do it?”

“Well, there are computer keyboards that are known as “ABC” boards. Instead of the typical “QWERTY” set up, I swapped in an “ABC” keyboard and re-arranged the keys into the “QWERTY” set up. The dean couldn’t get any work done for a week,” I drained my beer, “I did loads to screw with him. Perhaps it’s a good thing I’m out of there. Anybody need some more drink?” I asked lifting my glass.

“Yeah man,” Sam said, “Bring another round for the table and a couple of pitchers of beer. St. Paulie’s Girl.”

“And a packet of those cracker like things that you put in chowder,” Mark requested.

“Oyster Crackers?”

“Yeah, yeah, those.”

I saddled up to the bar and waited for Danny. I grabbed a few packages of the crackers that Mark wanted and threw them across the room in his direction. He caught one or two, but the rest fell helplessly on the table, the chairs, or to Juan’s distinct determent, in his glass of beer. He laughed, fished it out, and tossed it at Mark’s head.

Danny had worked his way down to me and asked, “Lemme guess, another round?”

“Yes sir, But not Guinness. St. Paulie’s Girl. And two extra pitchers.”

“You got it,” the gruff barman replied. “You looking forward to the match today?”

“Oh yeah,” I suddenly remembered, “I keep meaning to ask, who’s playing?”

“Greensea versus Pilgrims. Pilgrims are out of Plymouth, Massachusetts. They are one of the stronger League 1 sides out there, so it should be a very good match. Here’s your tray,” Danny handed me a tray with nine overflowed glasses and two pitchers filled to the brink with beer.

Carefully making my way back to the booth, I maneuvered between chanting crowds of fans. Thankfully, I got back without spilling too much of the gold booze. The tray was empty of glasses and pitchers before it hit the surface of the table.

“Hey, Hey!” James exclaimed, “It’s our song! It’s Johnny’s Song!”

Paul threw his empty arm around me and pulled me into the crowd to sing. I didn’t know the words as it was, and the slurring crowds didn’t make deciphering them any easier. Never the less, I tried to sing along with the crowds.

“Where are the eyes that look so mild?
Huroo Huroo
Where are the eyes that look so mild?
Huroo Huroo
Where are the eyes that look so mild,
When our poor hearts you first beguiled?
Why did you run from we and the child?
Johnny, we hardly knew ya!

You had guns and drums and drums and guns
Huroo Huroo
You had guns and drums and drums and guns
Huroo Huroo
You had guns and drums and drums and guns
The enemy never slew ya!
Johnny, we hardly knew ya!
Johnny, we hardly knew ya!”

The crowd started clapping and shouting, “Greensea F.C.,” as loud as their voices could. As people veered off into another song, Paul pushed me out of the sea of people back toward the booth. I grabbed my glass of beer and Paul patted me on the shoulder. Pretty soon, everybody was back and sitting down. People were beaming pride and happiness. I was curious as to what the song was all about so I took a deep gulp of St. Paulie’s and put my question out in the open.

“The song?” Keith asked, and I nodded. “Well, the song is an old Bostonian tune. There’s many more verses than what we sing here. You see, way back in the 60’s, you know, hippie era and Vietnam, well, back then, Greensea had a player by the name of John Hawthorne. Greatest player we ever had,” our group started murmuring their approval, “The bloke was bloody brilliant on the pitch. Unfortunately, the government swiped him out of Wailer Grounds to go fight at Nam Fo in Vietnam. He never came back from that rotten valley. The town was devastated. The team suffered. When his body came back, the whole town showed up at his internment.”

“But what about the song? You said it came from Boston…”

“Hold your horses, I’m getting there. During the 60’s, there was a lot of off the pitch rivalry between the clubs. There were ‘social clubs’ called firms that supported the teams, and they fought each other. At that time, Greenseas biggest rival was Boston A.F.C. The firms fought each other at every game the teams played, and at some games they didn't. It was vicious. Well, after Hawthorne was brought back for his funeral, the entire Greensea firm showed up to pay respects. What we didn’t expect was when the Boston firm showed up. Bad blood was made sourer instantly.

“The two leaders had some words, and nobody knows what was said. But what’s known is that no blows were exchanged. Boston and Greensea stood side by side paying respects to a fallen footballer. Boston sung Johnny’s Song in a low voice, and then left. Since that day, Boston A.F.C. and Greensea F.C. have never had a problem. The club unofficially adopted it as the supporter’s song. We’ve been singing it ever since.”

“That’s quite a history. Really. Amazing actually,” I said between sips of my beer. I noticed that Paul was glancing at his watch with anticipation. “What’s up Paul?” He got up from his seat and walked over to the bar. He stopped at a brass bell hanging from the ceiling, reached up and grasped the rope with his hand. The room quieted down until you could hear a drop of beer hit the floor.

“Lads…I think you know what day it is. Today is the day of the finals. The last stepping stone on the way to claiming the GM Trophy Dash. I want that day to be today. I want a victory that we can be proud of for years to come. Now, unfortunately, we face a club that we haven’t beaten in 38 years. We face the Pilgrims today.”

The bar erupted in a chorus of boos and hisses.

“I know lads, I know. It’s been a long time coming. We want to see that silver hoisted on the shoulders of the mighty Fleet. Today is Finals day. Today is Match Day!” Paul started ringing the bell like there was a fire in Johnny’s Folly, and there pretty much was. The whole place went mad with excitement. People were completely empting their half empty beers in the air, arms were waving everywhere, people were yelling, and it seemed that the whole place became the mosh pit from when Bad Brains played CBGB’s New Years 82-83. Paul shouted, “Let’s get ‘em boys!”

The place emptied out on the streets on Greensea, and the fans were pushing and shoving their way out the doors. Everybody had literally gone mad. Viking mad. It’s must have been Jack that started to gather the troops with song and chant, the French accent was unmistakable, “Do you think you’re mental?”

The crowd responded, “Yes, we’re fucking mental!”

“Do you think you’re mental?”

“Yes, were fucking mental! Yes, we’re fucking mental!”

Jack was at the top of his voice now, “I asked, do you think you’re mental?!”

The amassed human bodies got rowdier, “Yes, were fucking mental! Yes, were fucking mental!” People were slamming into each other, yelling and screaming, and loving every minute of it. I know I would be in there if I wasn’t so stunned at how rabid everyone was. In the not-so-far-off distance I heard a car alarm go off. I just stood and watch from a window in the bar and the fluid movement of the fans causing a ruckus on the streets. Paul came up behind me with his glass of beer in one hand and threw his other around my shoulder.

He took a sip of beer before looking at me, “Rowdy bunch, they are. Every match day it can get like this. Although, I’ve got to say, it’s been a good long while since I’ve seen them this amped up for a match.” He threw his glass over his shoulder and it shattered on the floor. “Come on lad, let’s go have some fun.”

He walked outside, threw his arms in the air and started shouting, “Where are the eyes that look so mild?” The crowd responded by singing Johnny’s Song, Paul took the lead of the mass of fans, and they, we, set off down the street toward the stadium.

I stuck close to Paul’s side and chanted with him where I could. I really was stoked for this match. The energy of the crowd just fed my own fire and zest for life. About three blocks away from the Johnny’s Folly, a few mounted police officers flanked our group and escorted us the rest of the half mile to the stadium. No one seemed to care that somebody with the authority to rain destruction down upon our group was around us. We kept singing, chanting, and shoving each other around, keeping the carefully culled and crafted energy at its peak.

Independence Stadium was a smaller place than what I was imagining. There was only enough seating capacity for ten thousand people, but at both ends of the fields were large green expansive hills for fans to stand or sit on. It really was a small stadium. But what it lacked it size, it more than made up for in character. There were homemade flags being waved by zealous fans, massive seas of Greensea jerseys that flashed dark green and blue. Vendors were hawking merchandise and questionable looking food. Aromas and smells of sweat and stale beer filled my nostrils. Many people were chanting club songs and insults at the visiting Pilgrims.

The cinder block walls supporting the stands were being spray painted with personal messages to the players. One guy had even sprayed in bright florescent green, “Never Forget #13.” I learned later that it was Hawthorne that had worn that number and it had been retired after his passing. From our seats right near the pitch, I could smell the freshly cut grass. If heaven were like this place, I’d join the priesthood right now.

Sam was sitting behind me and leaned over into my ear so that he could be heard, “First game right? Prepare to be amazed, because here comes the Fleet now.” He pointed to a tunnel, and sure enough players started to emerge. Everybody started to cheer and whirl shirts, scarves, flags, whatever they could find. One of the ladies near-by us, I noticed, was twirling what looked like bright pink and lacy thong underwear. I couldn’t help but laugh and cheer right along with her and the other fifteen thousand people in Wailer Grounds.

The players took their positions on the pitch in front of us, the announcer was firing up the crowds even more, the referee blew his whistle, and just like our five-a-side match that morning, the Greensea versus Pilgrim kicked off.

Johnny Rumble

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