Monday, 2 February 2009

Sorry, Tone, I’d Rather You Didn’t

Another piece for the celebrity files, this one a little story recounted by comedian Phill Jupitus in yesterday's Times.

I’m like a little kid meeting former players
by Phill Jupitus

Despite being a West Ham fan, I have wherever possible tried to avoid meeting players. By retaining your “mere spectator” status it’s easy to stay objective about the shortcomings of men you worship. Also, when meeting ex-Hammers I share very little common ground, unless they are alcoholics or in recovery, as my grandfather used to run a pub in Barking.

My first “encounter” with a player wasn’t even that. In 1974 Bobby Gould spoke to my Dad’s Round Table group and the old man snagged an autograph. I repaid his gesture by showing it off around school, saying I’d met Gould, and subsequently losing it.

Fast forward a couple of decades to a behind-the-scenes tour of Upton Park conducted by Peter Storrie. After a less than enthralling glimpse at the dressing-rooms and treatment area, we ended up having lunch with Geoff Hurst and Martin Peters. As much as I craved for them to be waxing lyrical about 1966 or what Bobby Moore was like, the conversation stayed grimly pedestrian. I view it as one of my life’s great missed opportunities that I didn’t have the courage to spur them into lively reminiscence. In case you’re wondering, not going to Japan with Joe Strummer and the Mescaleros is another . . .

A couple of years back, a friend of a friend invited me to partake of a delightful pre-match lunch at the ground followed by a trivia quiz hosted by Frank McAvennie and Tony Cottee. Just before pudding I was tapped on the shoulder and turned to find myself face to face with the beautifully attired, healthy and handsome Cottee. It was like looking in a Bizarro World mirror. “Phill, do you mind if I mention you’re here, mate,” he said.

My mouth snapped into brisk and blunt reflex action: “Sorry, Tone, I’d rather you didn’t, I’m just keeping my head down.” Which is quite surprising as inside my head I was screaming: “Tony Cottee is talking to me!”

After the Hull match on Wednesday I was fortunate enough to meet Kevin Keen. He chatted about how brilliant Gianfranco Zola’s training sessions are and how optimistic the team are feeling. As he spoke, I smiled like a little kid again. For him I’m sure it was just shop talk, but for me it was utterly magical.

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