You can buy it by clicking the title tile to your right. ___________________________>
Many judges consider Hollywood Shakedown to be my best written book. My top friend Clive - a decent judge who reads fifty plus books a year and has a colossal library - definitely considers it so. You can read more about the book here...
In this Chapter, Buddy and Simon, the threatened manuscript hunters, find themselves in London and are persuaded by a collector to go to watch an FA Cup match. The book is written in real time. This is an actual match which took place on Sunday, February 14th, 2010 between Fulham and Notts County. The collector is a Fulham supporter and the text refers to Notts in the second person, though the author is, in fact, a Notts fan.
Notts County are currently having a terrible season, and any fan who was there will remember how brilliant a day this was.
Craven Cottage, London: Valentine’s Day
The train was packed solid, heading for Putney Bridge.
Three men in winter coats stood balanced – as best they could - by the doors. They were in good spirits, travelling to a football match, an FA Cup fifth round game between Fulham of the English Premier League, and underdogs, Notts County of League Two – English football's bottom tier. The latter had survived matches against insurmountable odds to arrive at this point, including a tenacious victory away at Premier League Wigan Athletic.
The newspapers were predicting a close game but the bookmakers – hard-nosed realists one and all – predicted a massacre in the capital.
So far, the anticipated winter freeze and Baltic snowstorms had held off. The optimistically named Green and Pleasant Land was covered in a bleak tincture of grey with not a beam of sunlight to be seen penetrating the skies.
In the middle of the magnificent Indian feast at Wingate's house last night, the host had invited Buddy and Simon to a football match. The gesture was connected to the quest. They would be meeting someone at the game who had something they were looking for.
Last night, Wingate wasn't letting on why, but he revealed that he could only meet his contact at the match. It transpired that he had invited him for dinner on Saturday night but he couldn't make it due to a prior engagement. His contact was, like Wingate, a crazed Fulham supporter and never missed an opportunity to visit Craven Cottage.
Buddy speculated that a football match was a good place to mix with hundreds of people around where any exchange of documents wouldn't be noticed. Buddy had seen enough episodes of Columbo to know this was standard practice - more hiding in plain sight for Mr. Wingate. Maybe he just wanted to go to the football and wanted to show off the game to his American friends. It was probably as simple as that – the Los Angelinos had nothing else to do that Sunday.
The men readily agreed. They had enjoyed Wingate's company and he had helped them make a huge breakthrough – in Buddy's case, perhaps, an emotional one - and in a real sense, he had improved their odds of survival. It was clear that he wanted to share his passion for football too. How could they say no? Indeed, Wingate was confident they would say yes. He had already paid for three tickets and he had said he would come up to Kings Cross to meet them, a mainline station not ten minutes from their hotel. He even paid for their one day travel passes, despite their protestations.
Last night, Wingate had buttonholed Buddy over cognac, a particularly fine vintage. “Besides, it would be good education for you. You Americans could do with joining in with the sport played by everyone else in the world. It might win you some friends.”
Though Buddy laughed convivially, Wingate was talking to the wrong man. He had been to just one gridiron match in his life - the Eagles versus the Jets when he was in Philadelphia ten years ago. As far as he was concerned, the world's sport could be yachting and he still wouldn't give a flying shit about whether America joined in or not.
He didn't mind some sport and followed football on the TV in bars but it wasn't a major passion. He'd hated team sports at college (many considered him a geek, though he was much too hard for them to labour the point), and deliberately found ways to make himself appear less skilled than he actually was so he would be ignored and shunned by phys ed teachers. It worked. By fourteen, he was left out of every team sport at High School and he could not have been happier. Buddy generally felt that sport was a waste of good reading - and later, drinking time. With the exception of horse racing, which he adored. His dad had taken him to the racetrack when he was a teenager and they'd spent loads of time at Hollywood Park. He didn't once complain about coming today because he was among friends in another country. Besides, this wasn't football.
This was soccer, a game for Mexicans, crippled kids and little girls, back home.
Here, they took it seriously. Extremely seriously.
After the curry, back in the hotel room, Simon had told him of a famous quote: 'Football isn't a matter of life and death. It’s more important than that!'
So much so that his English partner had threatened to refuse to talk to Buddy if he once described the sport as soccer. ('I'll let you get away with it back home, Bud. But not here, mate. Its football. Football. Okay with that?' Its football')
"I'm not really keen on sports. I prefer something more...interactive," he said to Wingate.
"We might get in a scrap. That will be an interactive experience, Bud. You'll enjoy that."
"A punch up. A bingo. An 'off' I hear the kids at the Cottage call it. A fight." Wingate said.
Buddy guessed that Wingate was kidding. He was at least sixty five. "Well, we'll have to avoid that then," he commented..
"Hope not. Other week I whacked a Pompey fan over the head with my umbrella. Being my age, he can't hit me back."
Simon looked up from his phone. "County got any fighting lads, Wingate?”
Wingate gave a sharp intake of breath. "Hundreds. All police leave cancelled today. Hundreds of the barbarians, mate. They've wrecked pubs, service stations, cafes, football grounds all over the country. They're marauding over Watford Gap in their hundreds. We're going to have to summon the spirit of Boadicea to stop them!"
Buddy had heard about violence at British football matches and part of him was looking forward to seeing it go off.
It sounded fun, rather than the intense, ultra-violent death antics of the LA gangs; the Baseball Furies, the Uzimeisters, the Dalton pickets, the Monsters, the Thai Town Thugees, the Compton Ninjas, the Crips and the Bloods.
He didn't want any part of it though. He was still wound up after Monique's non-appearance on the phone this morning. Valentine’s Day too. He was afraid that he would take it out on someone and sometimes he didn't know his own strength. That scared him. All things considered, he hoped that the match would pass off peaceably.
"Let’s hope we all have a quiet day, huh."
"I went to see the Giants once," Wingate continued. "Everyone mingling, tailgate parties, great atmosphere. Loved it, even if the game was a bit slow. Soon after I got home, I went to see Fulham play a team of tossers called Stoke City. Got my head kicked in near Hammersmith tube station. I played dead under an A-board and when they'd had enough of me, they started on some blacks on the corner going home from church. Hundreds of them. Don't like Stoke City. They’re the Darth Vader of British football. I'll never forget the contrast between that day, and the day I had at the Giants. Incredible. Still, it’s all fun and games until someone loses an eye..."
"I got my head kicked in at the football too, up in Sheffield," contributed Simon. "Mind you, that was only through chatting up the wrong woman in a wine bar after the match.”
The tube train reached Putney Bridge and the carriage emptied. Buddy tensed.
This is it! Hundreds and hundreds of people milled around the platforms all in black and white scarves. Both teams played in black and white and it was difficult to know who was who without listening to them speak. Cockneys and northerners, the ancient English division. Hawk and drake. They passed through the turnstiles and into bedlam. Outside, spivs and hawkers were in their faces like a cold wind. "Scarves, a fiver, just a fiver, anniversary scarves, woolly hats, come on, come on, get your scarves here, just a fiver...” several men were weaving and bobbing like boxers in and out of the heaving crowds.
"Fancy wearing a scarf, you guys?" Wingate reached for his wallet and grabbed hold of a young beefy with a bonehead and a denim jacket. 'Three Fulham scarves, chief.'
"Fifteen quid, squire."
He handed over a ten and a five and passed a scarf to each man.
“Three Benny hats too..."
Bonehead signaled to a bespectacled pal who rushed over through the scrumming crowds. “These'll keep you warm, chaps,” the tout said cheerfully. “Any tickets for today?”
When Wingate shook his head, the wiry tout walked off into the crowd. Ticket touting was big business in London with a thriving black market for every event. The sky above was a dark accumulation, an upside-down carpet of pregnant grey, ready to burst. "Take these back over to the States, Buddy. Tell the landlord of your bar that you've been to see the mighty Cottagers!"
They tried to get in the Eight Bells on the corner but couldn't. The pub was heaving with Notts County supporters. They were singing loudly and bouncers were having trouble with the snake-like queues outside. The trio had no chance of a pre-match drink and it was two thirty - the match kicked off at three. Buddy had come prepared though. "Here, try some of this." The recently purchased silver hip flask appeared as if by magic. Vodka.
The three took hefty, warming sips as they wrapped the scarves around their necks and mounted the black and white hats.
Putney Bridge is fundamentally an extensive park by the river and Buddy was fascinated as to how green it was. Trees in neat order like tin soldiers. Neatly sculptured hedges and lawns. Flowers dormant, the wildlife hibernating, waiting for the winter to pass (and they had experienced a bad one, the moths and foxes and badgers and voles and dormice of Putney Bridge).
Somehow, the biting wind made it seem greener, earthier.
The trio integrated with the rubberneckers along the River Thames. There were thousands of them but Wingate's warlike portrayal of the visitors couldn't have been further from the truth. A pleasure cruiser ambled along the centre of the river, the guests on the balcony waving to those on the shore. The water was as murky as the winter sky. Just down the way was the HMS Belfast, the Tower of London, the Houses of Parliament, the Eye and all the great heritage of this maritime nation. Buddy felt a sense of place. Simon tapped him on the shoulder as if detecting his thoughts: "Cook started out here on his way to the South Seas. And the Golden Hind too - I love the Thames..."
Soon, they arrived at Craven Cottage, the home of Fulham football club.
They had to walk past the hordes of County fans waiting to get in their enclosure surrounded by yellow-jacketed Police. Wingate deliberately bumped into a County fan. "Oh sorry mate," he said, though he was nothing of the sort.
The fan glared, but said nothing. His girlfriend sneered.
Simon grinned. "You'll get our ears clipped."
"We've got Buddy with us, what's the problem. Northern cants."
There were some meaty looking blokes hanging around among the throng, blokes who looked as if they could handle themselves in a fight. One of them looked over and Buddy wasn't sure whether he was looking at Wingate or not. They had mentioned that this was an important Cup game and County were in a different division, the very bottom division and Fulham were at the top.
They were expecting nearly six thousand County fans to make the journey here from the north and here, amongst them, there seemed double that on the streets of Putney Bridge. A mob of County fans started to sing something and all around them, everyone joined in. A song about a wheelbarrow. Buddy figured it was about their nickname, The Wheelbarrows. He made a note to ask Wingate why they had been saddled with such a nickname.
The three of them reached the Fulham West Stand. “I've got the tickets.” Wingate assured them and they followed him through a small turnstile. They queued up to get themselves three – very expensive – beers and because Buddy hadn't been searched, they followed the beers up with three warming sips from his trusty hip-flask.
Before long, the tannoy announced the arrival of the teams. Wingate led them down to a row of empty seats and he sat next to a man in a smart coat, a long blue coat and a yellow and red scarf. No hooligan he, more like a banker or an architect. The man was talking to someone on a cell phone, which must have been difficult because the noise was deafening, particularly from the end full of Northerners.
Of the four sides of the ground, only one was full – the away stand, and they were in good voice. Wingate applauded the Fulham side in white and acknowledged the man in the coat who put his phone down.
“Excuse me a bit, chaps. I need to have a chat with young Harold here.”
Harold acknowledged the Los Angelinos. “How do.”
The two Londoners went back upstairs leaving Simon and Buddy to the game.
Buddy had never seen a soccer game before, even on TV, and the speed and intensity of it was a marvel. Crunching tackles, lightning passing, the ball sailing through the air and heading - not something American sport contained much of.
Three match officials tried to keep a lid on the passion. The organised torrent of singing from the County end was something he hadn't heard before. The Wheelbarrow song, baiting the opposition's lack of vocal support (“Shall we sing a song for YOU!”), abject derision, (“Premiership, you're having a LAFF!”), and more of the wheelbarrow song.
Clearly, this was their favourite song – a weapon of psychological warfare – to which the West London locals had no answer. The six thousand presented a deafening cacophony of noise. A spectator in glasses and a red wool hat was clearly getting irritated. He stood up behind Buddy. “CAMON, FULHAM – DO THESE NORTHERN FACKERS!! HIT THE CANTS! ON THE BREAK, ON THE BREAK. TO THE BYLINE, THE BYLINE. CANTS, CANTS!” and others joined in with his tirade.
Seemingly as if responding to the man's taunts of encouragement, Fulham scored, a long range shot into the corner leaving the County keeper no chance. Silence from the away end and pandemonium from the home side. The man in the wool hat jumped on Buddy and tried to hug him. Buddy was filled with the essence of humanity and joy without fully understanding why.
Ten minutes later, Fulham scored again, the gulf in class obvious between the two sides, one assembled at great expense, the other put together for less than the price of one Fulham player: The British football experience encapsulated in one sentence, 'an allegory of medieval feudalism', Simon said in the hotel last night. 'The rich stealing from the poor to feather their own nests. The British game needs the US draft system...' Watching the inequalities underpinning this game of football, it was not hard to agree with that assessment.
There was no sign of Wingate. “I'll go and see where he is...” Simon said, leaving Buddy there sitting there watching the game. A wrinkled old man with a grey, wispy beard and wearing a black coat and two Fulham scarves turned to Buddy. “You a Yank, then?”
“Sure,” Buddy said.
“What do you reckon to this caper?”
“It’s great fun,” Buddy replied.
“Fun? Bunch of Northern cants. Glad to shut them up with the brace. Faccers!”
“I'll bet.” Buddy said to the second angry old man he'd met today - something which disconcerted him. The old man wiped his nose and continued.
“I ain't kidding, mate. I faccin hate them Northern cants. Coming down 'ere taking faccin liberties. I wish I was ten years younger.”
“I'd see em outside on the High Street, I would. Cants...I'll give em faccin Wheelbarrows.”
“Hey, listen, I'm just going to watch the game, pal, okay?”
The old man sniffed and turned back to the game. Stood up and berated the Notts County full back who carried on regardless.
Simon came and sat back down. “No sign. And he's got all the stuff in that bag of his.”
“You think he's crossed us?” Buddy asked
“I hope not. Mind you, let’s be right. There are a thousand sixty year old blokes in black wool caps here. Wingate could be anywhere... “The referee blew the whistle for half time. “Let’s go get a Bovril.” Simon said.
“What's a Bovril?” Buddy asked.
Simon grinned. “You'll love it. It’s a national institution.”
As they reached the top of the stairs, Wingate reappeared, this time on his own. He'd clearly enjoyed another drink. “Alright chaps. We having another pint?”
Simon put his arm round him as they queued up at the refreshment booth below for half time Bovrils. “Where'd you get to. We thought you'd been kidnapped!”
“Business.” He opened his satchel and showed them a brown envelope. “We'll open this later. I've been in the Directors box with Harold.”
“To do with the manuscript?”
Wingate nodded. “You're not having a Bovril are you?” He asked.
Buddy pulled out the hipflask. “I'd rather have a beer to cool this down.”
Simon, who was next in the queue to be served, assured them both. “You pair of piss heads. I'll get both then, shall I - beer and bloody Bovril.”
“Beer and Bovril, huh. A lethal combination.”
“What is Bovril?” Buddy asked once more, passing over the hipflask.
“You'll see. It’s a national institution.”
“So folks keep saying.”
He didn't have long to wait. A steaming hot plastic cup was passed to him along with a plastic pot of lager. Before he could handle both, he had to put away his hip flask, which was getting toward empty anyway. He had to admit, he was curious to find out about the Bovril.
“Go on then, Budster. Give it a shot,” said Simon. He sipped his and so did Wingate.
“In for a penny...” Buddy said and took a sip. Spat it out spontaneously, reflexively...
“Wow, that's disgusting.” Half a lager went down his throat in an attempt to wash away the taste. “What the hell is that?”
The Englishmen laughed, as did several bystanders. “Bovril. A gravy based drink.”
“It tastes like warmed up piss and shit!”
Simon and Wingate shrugged their shoulders. “You're not far wrong there, Bud. Bovril made our Island the nation it is...it built an Empire to last a thousand years! Here's to Empire building drinks which taste of piss and shit.” The former said, raising his Bovril pot.
“It’s true what we say about you guys after all...gravy, Jeez...”
“Bovril and football go together like Morecambe and Wise, “Wingate commented, sagely.
“Morec....oh don't worry about it.”
“Jellied eels tonight, Bud. Straight from the docks.” Wingate said.
“Jellied eels are a national institution, Buddy.” Simon added.
Buddy put the full cup on a stanchion. “You know what you can do with your national institutions.”
The hipflask made another lightning appearance and the three men emptied it of Vodka. The boys were merry and in good humour when they took their places for the second half.
The County supporters to their left had yet to stop singing and encouraging their team who were patently outclassed in a horrible mismatch.
Soon, the West Londoners found themselves three up.
Rather than pack up and go home in the face of an embarrassing massacre, even as the Fulham team returned the ball to the halfway line, the six thousand strong County army in the away stand stood up as one, raised their arms in the air and started singing...
“I had a wheelBARROW, but the wheel fell off...”
“I had a wheelBARRow, but the wheel fell off...”
...and the sound was deafening.
Wingate had to admit it was an impressive display of sheer bloody minded defiance in the face of adversity. The Fulham crowd could only applaud their goal in comparative silence unsure at how to respond to this reversal of crowd protocol.
This pattern was repeated after Fulham scored the fourth and then mercifully, the referee called time on proceedings and blew the whistle.
The three men stood and applauded a cracking afternoon's sport. Buddy had experienced enough on and off the pitch for him to enjoy the afternoon too and he was radiating a warm glow. As they left through the open gates behind the stand, they blended into the crowd. All around the ground fans swarmed, aiming for car, coach, bus and tube. It was near dark and no-one knew who was who, made worse by the fact both sides played in the same coloured strip. Twin black and white armies pouring through the residential Putney streets. “Let's head to Hammersmith. I know a good pub there called The Night Owl. They serve a good pint of Ruddles that will keep us warm while we talk a final bit of business. Up for it?”
The two men nodded. Buddy whispered: “Borrow your phone, Si?”
Simon flipped over the cell and watched as Buddy called Los Angeles.
Three young men walked past them looking as if they were ready for a punch up and they didn't care who with. Snowflakes began to fall over Putney Bridge and the wind chill began to sharpen. It was dark and the further they walked from the ground, the thinner the crowd became as it dissipated this way and that.
Buddy waited, the cell phone clamped to his ear. When he got through, he discovered that her cell phone had been disconnected. “This number has not been recognized.”
All of a sudden, his warm glow froze in the winter night.
What had happened to Monique?