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New Year - the gear

by Shaun Smith



Statistics released by some boffin with too much state-financed time on his hands last year claimed that January 23rd was the most depressing day of the year. Bollocks. Even though it provides the title of a woefully bad 1970s song by Pilot, January is a quality time to be alive in my book. And, unlike some, I’ve always enjoyed the first month in the calendar for as long as I can remember. For starters, you’ve managed to get Christmas and New Year’s Eve out of the way. “Can we have our pubs back now please?” – course you can lads. The part-time drinkers have done with them for the next eleven months thank you. It’s relatively safe to go out for a session again without getting accosted by some complete crank wishing you all the best/wanting to rip your head off or some whopper who can’t handle their ale throwing up their £5.99 three-course Brewers Fayre Christmas dinner all over your Timberlands .…


Not that I’m the complete Scrooge bah-humbug type. Most aspects of the festive season I can happily live with. Loads of food, drink, snogging under the mistletoe, drink, plenty of football, drink, classic old films on the telly, drink, time off work and the odd drink. Despite the modern-day, wanton over-commercialisation of the anniversary of Bethlehem’s worst hotel crisis, there’s still something about the Yuletide period that appeals to the big kid in me. So much so, I’m even prepared to tolerate the likes of Martin Kemp’s SCS [Silk-socked Cockney Spandau] adverts “… work till you’re musclebound? fuck that – get down to SCS for double discount starting on Boxing Day so you can wallow in front of Celebrity Big Brother next week and pay nothing until 2008, you mingebags …”. But New Year’s Eve? Without doubt this is the most overated twatfest of the year. And I knew I wasn’t alone in thinking this long before Grumpy Old Celebrity Narks reached our television screens. I found it very reassuring a number of years ago when overhearing a conversation between two assistants in a Manc clothes shop - “… see that in the Evening News about the Hacienda? Supposed to be one of the top ten places in the world to spend New Year’s Eve ...” - “… Fucking joking aren’t they? Went last year and it was shite. I’d rather stay in and watch Jools Holland …”. Too right lad I found myself mentally agreeing. I’ve probably reached the stage of life where I’ve seen in more New Years than I’m likely to in the future but I can count the ones I’ve really enjoyed on one hand ….


1979: still at school and too young to go to the pub but deemed old and sensible enough by my mum and dad to drink in the house. I welcomed in the 1980s necking a future lifelong best mate called lager while watching an Old Grey Whistle Test special featuring Blondie live from Glasgow Apollo. This was a great performance from a band at their peak, playing perfect edgy pop and fronted by probably one of the most gorgeous women I’d seen up to that point in my life. The gig concluded with Debbie Harry delivering a mental rendition of Sunday Girl to the accompaniment of a Scottish pipe band – a decade later I would have been blaming such a sighting on hallucinogens. File under “fucking ace”. See also 1999: babysitting for my goddaughter and spending most of the evening playing FIFA ’99 with her brother. The new millennium was greeted with Everton getting battered by a Barca side coached by a nine year-old tactical genius. 1993: shifting a pair of £25 tickets outside a club for £150 [mugs from Leicester desperate to see CJ Mackintosh? … come on down] and fucking off to the pub and curry house instead. A couple of great house parties since 2000 with some of my closest friends would also rank amongst the better ones – Gat Décor’s Passion blasting out as an impromptu firework display in the garden utilising distress flares to see in the new year would tend to stick in the memory. But then I weigh these up against the bad ones. Loads of ‘em. Mostly spent in nameless, now-closed-down pubs and drinking dens that could all have inspired a bad Christmas remix of The Specials Nightclub. All in the name of going out on New Year’s Eve to appease other people by being seen to be “enjoying” myself. “Shaun is easily led astray by others” – as well as appearing on nearly every school report I received, it’ll probably be my epitaph as well …. 


The adidas Golden Boot for my personal NYE from hell though goes by a considerable distance to 1987. It was spent in a barn of a nightclub in the company - and at the insistence - of a young lady who, despite being sartorially-noused in the extreme, decided to mark the occasion of what turned out to be our only New Year together by dressing up as Lady Guinevere. This wasn’t totally inappropriate, given that her hometown was like Camelot – a medieval gaff where the locals were still into bear baiting and jousting in the market place. As soon as her sister announced the prospective venue for the “big night”, I knew it was all heading for Doomsville, Arizona but I had no real choice. I’d returned from United away a couple of days beforehand mortally drunk for an evening’s soiree with her parents that had been kindly arranged in my absence earlier that day. Following a performance of Norman Whiteside off-pitch proportions from yours truly in their local, brownie points were very much in need of notching with potential twin assaults on Wembley looming. But come 31st December 1987 and – as predicted - it turned out to be more Welcome to the Terrordome than welcome to 1988. I must have been the only person in the gaff not in fancy dress and there wasn’t even a Test cricket cameraman to play up to in sight. I stood there in a blazer, denim shirt, tie and cords, looking like an uglier Bryan Ferry roped in to co-present the New Year special edition of The Hitman and Her recorded in Broadmoor. Just about the only positive was that Guinevere seemed happy enough once she’d managed to get a few halves of mead and lime down her neck. Rather predictably, it wasn’t to last. One hour into 1988, her Lancelot in shining Armani was wishing he’d brought ye olde faithful Stanley Tools broadsword with him. I returned from a trip to the bar to find Guinevere in tears and being comforted by her sister [dressed as Betty Boop - for fuck’s sake] after she’d been groped by a passing Fred Flintstone. This eventually led to toe-to-toe in the nearby carriage rank outside as Yabba-grab-her-do and his mates Pink Panther (felinus rosa pricktium) and jockey in silks decided that they were well up for a three-onto-one duel with “puff in blazer” – quality. At least I had the satisfaction of unsaddling Peter Scudamore onto his arse with a sly dig before diving into a taxi while being pummelled from all angles by the cartoon prehistoric twat and cat combo. I really do miss New Year’s Eves like those ….


However, get that night out of the way and life is definitely worth living again. January brings the magic of the FA Cup Third Round and maybe even the fourth round if your team of overpaid mercenaries frame themselves. Even in these times of Sky-dominated, soul-less, over-priced tat served-up as “the matchday experience”, this is still one of the great days of the football season. A good draw – particularly away – is guaranteed to bring all the old guard from the past 25 years out of the woodwork and you actually get something to remind you of just how good going to football used to be. The fact that the draw is made in mid-December means you also get the chance to savour the prospect of such a day out right through the holiday period and that nightmare first week back at work. Even the long-dormant knobhead-letting-off-steam gene seems to stir from somewhere deep in the loins, bringing wry grins to faces when 200-plus turn up on the ordinary before opening-time at Shrewsbury and the EBF in the station [“major players on the England scene”] strangely disappear to go AWOL for the day ….


For those of you who can’t be enticed to move off your interest-free, Spandau Ballet-endorsed sofa,  January also sees one of the last few decent sporting events that your telly licence fee still contributes towards the broadcast of - the Embassy World Darts Championship from Frimley Green. The Lakeside Lodge is crammed with people dressed and acting in a manner that would normally have you wishing for an Uzi or praying for a sarin gas attack if it were in a football ground yet it manages to generate an amazing atmosphere. My guess is that this might have something to do with vast amounts of alcohol being consumed but I could be wrong. Any sport where a participant’s warm-up routine involves drinking a full 24-bottle crate of lager a la Andy “The Loyalist-sympathising No Surrender to the salad Viking” Fordham and also includes television analysis from Bobby George wearing more gold tom than a combined West Ham away following has surely got to be worth watching?             


Sadly, one January plus factor that has gradually been eroded away is the sales bargain – that is unless you’re after a new leather suite. Possibly because a: - the sales now start in November and b: - they’re shite. Stands to reason really – the shops are full of over-priced crap the rest of the year round ergo the sales will be full of not-quite-as-over-priced crap. The days of queuing around the block by Hurleys in Manchester for the right to scramble for a bad Lacoste cardigan against a Manc in full Tacchini trackie with “Jonzun Crew” stencilled on the leg now seem a very distant memory. Of far more interest than the sales in recent years has been the comedy/serious fraud that masquerades as “The New Years Honours List”. These reached a new nadir on the last day of 2006 with the announcement of the award of an MBE to Channel Four’s own Ugly Betty and resident irritant June Sarpong. A member of the British Empire for services to broadcasting, charity and sycophantically massaging popbiz egos on T4 - a member of an anachronism that no longer exists like the Inter-City Fairs Cup or the Double Deckers. Is it the kind of membership that gets you discount in certain shops or is it of no consequential use whatsoever, a bit like being a member of the Kia-ora Crows Fan Club or the Leeds Service Crew? Never mind Scotland Yard investigating the “cash for honours” scandal, if ever there was a case for the abolishment of this annual farce then this is it. If not, then roll on January 2037 when official Government records are released under the Freedom of Information Act 30-year rule. And the real reason behind the award of Dame June Sarpong’s 2007 MBE is revealed as a reward for her sterling undercover work on MI5’s behalf flushing out Taleban insurgents hiding in the VIP toilets at Chinawhite …




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