10. Four men in a Ford


Balding batsman Geoff Boycott nervously dabbed the accelerator, creeping forward into meteorological deep-grey shrouds, the needle on his Ford Granada’s dashboard waving up and down above the “10”. Beads of sweat formed on the controversial cricketer’s forehead. Total concentration was required to navigate Cumbria’s fog-enveloped B-roads: the sort of mind power needed when facing the wrath of Windies.

Clough switched on the passenger-side interior light to view the Collins road atlas but was quickly chastised by Boycott who was unable to see through the windscreen.

After a while, Boycott asked, “What is fog, Brian?”

“Fog?” Clough echoed, pursing his lips. “Low cloud, I think.”

“But why is it on ground?” Boycott wondered.

“Geoffrey,” Clough chuckled, “even if I had an encyclopaedia on my knee, I couldn’t look it up, could I? I’d have to put the light on. You’d not be able to see through the windscreen and I’d get another ticking off.”

Boycott gave a short, loud laugh and for the next half a mile, his 90-degree-pushed lower-case b smile remained set like concrete. Boycott enjoyed Clough’s company: they were cut from the same cloth.

Clough and Boycott had been allies since 1963. As a Yorkshireman, Clough had a long-standing appreciation of cricket. When he was a free-scoring centre forward for Sunderland in the early Sixties, Clough would travel to see Yorkshire play at Scarborough once training was over, usually catching the last two sessions of the day. Fellow Yorkshire stalwart Brian Close introduced Boycott to Clough in the players’ area at Scarborough’s North Marine Road Ground. It was the beginning of a spirited comradeship.

“It’s funny, Brian,” Boycott said, “but I were only thinkin’ about you this mornin’. Do you remember Chesterfield over ten year back? We were playin’ Derbyshire. I pulled Alan Ward straight to fielder at midwicket – I think it were Brian Bolus. I was out for four. Do you remember that?”

Clough’s face brightened: “I do, Geoffrey. Solid captain was Bolus, too. He was at Notts and Derbyshire, wasn’t he?”

“And a Yorkshireman,” Boycott added. “Born in Leeds. He’d just left Yorkshire as I was startin’. So anyway, backtrackin’, I was out for four. I was so angry and disappointed wi’ meself that I wanted to climb up crooked spire and jump off damned thing, only I’d probably have messed that up too. You were there that day and you came in to see me. I think you’d just taken over from Don Revie at Leeds.”

“I’d been for a meeting in Leeds,” Clough corrected. “I was still buggering about in Brighton. I thought you might have needed a bit of cheering up and when I saw you, you had a face like a Sheffield furnace. First thing you said to me: ‘I’ve ruined the whole day!’”

“I did, didn’t I?” Boycott nodded. “I’ll always remember what you told me; and this is why you win things, European Cups, and why you get best out of people. You said, ‘You see your colleagues outside. They don’t know if they’ll make 100 now or ever again. You’ll get 100, if not tomorrow, then next week. You’ll get plenty of 100s yet because you’re that good.’ Now, I’d just cocked up but you soon had me feelin’ ten-feet tall. I’ve never forgot that, Bri.”

In-car feelings of warmth and bonhomie spread through the Granada’s plush interior but soon evaporated when bright lights illuminated the whole of the back window. The light was so fierce that Boycott was unable to peer through the rear-view mirror. A horn sounded. Boycott scowled at the insolence.

“Bloody idiot,” Boycott raged. “Fancy tryin’ to take over in this bloody weather. He’s got ’is full beams on and ’e’s right up my backside.”

Clough glanced over his shoulder but was momentarily blinded. Boycott continued his composed crawl, maintaining a safe momentum. The roads became twistier and potentially more dangerous but thankfully the fog thinned for a few moments. It was on a bend in a rare fog-free gap that the following car shot past and roared into the distance with a victorious sound of the horn.

“What a prat!” Boycott cried out. “What a dunce!”

“That’s Capri drivers for you,” Clough said. “Kevin Keegan used to drive a Capri, you know, and Bill Shankly made him get rid. It was the driving angle; it affected Keegan’s ankles. He was injured for weeks and weeks. The car went and he was right as rain in a few days.”

Boycott tutted: “They’re a lothario’s wagon.”

But no sooner had the celebrated slogger’s distaste for sports cars been revealed than the fog closed in again.

Changing tack, Clough asked: “Are there many poofs in cricket?”

“Poofs?” Boycott queried. “Brown-hatters? No, Brian, I don’t think there’s a single one. It’s a very masculine game is cricket, wi’ a big drinkin’ culture, which you know I’ve no time for. I’ve never been a boozer.”

“I suspect,” Brian said leaning forward, with a finger in the air, “that there are more fairies in football than we think. I’m not saying it’s necessarily a bad thing, Geoffrey, but I know a lot of the other players wouldn’t want to be around that sort of thing, especially in the changing room. The thing is, Geoffrey, when I go into a butcher’s, I don’t want to buy a loaf of bread. Do you see what I mean?”

Boycott looked puzzled for a moment and then recalled a message he’d recently read scrawled on a toilet wall. “I was in this lavatory in Leeds, caught short,” Boycott explained. “I’d been buyin’ underpants. Some silly swine had written in marker pen on wall, ‘Jimmy will be gay for you’, and there was a number to ring. Now, I know Leeds ’as ’ad it’s problems down he years Brian, but what sort of mentality do you have to have to put your own bloody phone number on the wall of a public toilet offerin’ those sorts of antics. You’re askin’ for trouble!”

“Liberace’s got a lot to answer for,” Clough expounded. “And Danny La Rue.”

“Oh, I like Danny La Rue,” Boycott responded. “So when I’d done, I went up to barman and said, ‘Some idiot’s written “Jimmy will be gay for you” on your lavatory wall. I’d get it cleaned off if I were you. You don’t want to read that sort of smut when you’re spendin’ a penny.” And everyone started sniggerin’, Brian. It was sick-making. That’s the sort of childishness we ’ave to deal with nowadays, and it’s everywhere. Sometimes I think I should just move to South Africa and be done with it.”

“You’ve still a job to do with Yorkshire,” Clough pointed out.

“That’s if we ever get out of Carlisle,” Boycott uttered, peering out of the side window, looking for any landmark of significance.

Soon, the loud clattering of a powerful motorbike became apparent and a single beam of light remained fixed to Boycott’s bumper for some time.

“I think this motorcyclist’s usin’ us as a safety blanket,” Boycott noted, “which, I have to say, is reasonable given the conditions…”

But before Boycott could complete his sentence, the motorbike edged to the side of the Granada and a gloved hand thudded against the glass.

“I think we’re wanted,” Clough spoke.

“I think you’re right,” Boycott added.

Boycott located a wide grass verge and brought the car to a standstill. The motorcyclist sidled up to the driver’s door and lifted the glass visor on his crash helmet.

“I’m sorry to trouble you,” the rider explained. “You see, I’m lost. I’ve taken a wrong turn somewhere. I’m heading for the A69. I’ve never seen fog like this before, man.”

“Where you going?” Boycott enquired.

“Newcastle,” the rider replied.

“I thought as much by accent,” Boycott said. “To be perfectly ’onest, we’re lost an’ all. We’re tryin’ to find ’otel that’s nearby but we’ve no chance of findin’ it in this blessed fog.”

“I was hoping to get back for the snooker on the telly, like,” the motorcyclist mentioned, “but I cannae see I’ll even be back for Anne Diamond on TV-am at this rate. I’ll follow you if that’s Orkee and hope to come across an A-road or even a Happy Eater, y’know, and get some scran.”

“I’m not drivin’ quick,” Boycott warned. “I’d rather get through tonight in one piece, if you don’t mind. We’re in a bad seam ’ere. It’s ’orsework just keepin’ car on road.”

“That’s fine by me,” the Geordie said, taken aback.

Boycott manoeuvred his car onto the highway and the convoy set off in search of sanctuary. But this irksome evening had many surprises still in store for Messrs Boycott, Clough and Healy. Less than two minutes had elapsed before the frantic arm waving of a pedestrian in a beige sports jacket grabbed Boycott’s full attention. With the commotion, Boycott applied the brakes heavily only to hear a dull crump from the back of his car. In a panic, Boycott flung open the door and raced to the car’s rear. There, lying horizontally on the Granada’s table-flat boot was the motorcyclist, while further back along the road lay his bike, light shining at an awkward angle into the drifting murk.

“Are you alright?” Boycott called out in a panic.

“Aye,” the motorcyclist said, lifting his crash-helmeted head. “Just thought I’d have a doze for half an hour, like.”

Clough jogged to the stricken motorbike and inspected the damage.

“Front wheel’s a mess!” Clough shouted along the lane. “It can’t be rode in this state.”

“Oh dear,” a voice spoke, and a figure in shadow emerged dramatically from the wings. “I feel somewhat at fault for this,” he spluttered. “I’ll pay for any damage, of course. Is the motorcyclist still with us or is he pulling a great wheelie at the Pearly gates?”

The Geordie motorcyclist climbed down from the Granada’s boot and timidly moved his body, one limb at a time, to check for immediate signs of damage to bones and internal organs.

“What was all that arm-wavin’ abart?” Boycott protested.

“Ah,” said the well-spoken gentleman and pointed through a hedge in the direction of a farmer’s field. “I was hurtling down this thoroughfare when I mistimed the corner, went straight through the brambles and the car’s now resting about half a mile in a turnip field with steam pissing out of the radiator. It was a lovely car, though. A three-litre Capri.”

Boycott leapt forward, grimacing. “You’re bloody crackpot that passed us earlier! You’re lucky you didn’t maim someone way you were drivin’.”

“Ah, a Yorkshireman in Cumberland’s fair pasture!” the stranger softly remarked with some enthusiasm.

“Eh, hang on,” Boycott frowned. “Aren’t you… Aren’t you Lawrence of Arabia?”

“I know what you’re thinking,” Peter O’Toole replied. “He hasn’t aged a day! And you’re the batsman – Geoff Boycott! Is it true that you deliberately cock a deaf ’un to the authorities and slow-score?”

“He doesn’t slow score, he’s just in the crease for ages, cracking 100s week in, week out,” Clough answered. “Centuries don’t arrive in minutes. You work at them.”

“My God, look who it is!” O’Toole whooped. “Brian bloody Clough – the greatest football manager in the world! Well, what a smashing night this is turning out to be. I’m glad I crashed! So who’s the stuntman in the helmet? Let me guess. Daley Thompson? The Six Million Dollar Man? The Aga bloody Khan?”

The motorcyclist removed his helmet: “Just plain Tim Healy from Newcastle, I’m afraid.”

“But you’re an actor, aren’t you, young man?” Clough grinned. “You’re the one from the German programme. The brickie. My wife’s very fond of your show. Don’t you play the gaffer? The one in charge?”

“Well, that’s correct, but you’re the first person that’s ever recognised me so far,” Healy admitted. “I feel a bit chuffed now, like.”

“What a stellar collection we are!” O’Toole chortled.

“I suppose this means we’ve got a few extra passengers, Bri,” Boycott wryly noted.

“I’m still sitting in the front,” Clough affirmed.

Boycott glanced into his mirror to find out the frame of mind of the passengers on the back seat, as a captain might when assessing the fighting spirit of his team before an important match. “So where you headed to, Pete? You were obviously in a rush.”

O’Toole leaned forward: “I’m looking for a demented pile of bricks called Hangingbrow Hall. I know I’m near and I’m determined to find the bloody place before I leave Cumbria.”

“Have you got friends or family there?” enquired Healy, creaking in his motorbike leathers, rucksack placed on his knee.

“Sadly not,” O’Toole answered. “It’s a place of… historical interest, you might say.”

“It’s not an ideal night to be sightseeing,” Clough spoke from the front passenger seat. “Especially as you can’t see more than two feet in front of you in this weather.”

“As I’ve made a sizeable detour to find Hangingbrow, possibly writing off a brand new Ford Capri in the process, it would seem negligent not to have a nose around while I’m in the vicinity.”

“You say ‘historical interest’,” Healy squinted, looking sideways. “An old ruin you mean, or a castle?”

O’Toole gave the crackled laugh of a heavy smoker. “It’s a place I’ve read about. Haunted to buggery, apparently. Shatterhand Adolf – yes, Hitler himself – had shown some interest in adding the pile to his list of picturesque getaways. If I see a sign for this phantom-filled shed, I’ll jump out of the door, although this place is, I gather, rather off the beaten track. It doesn’t appear on any maps. It’s hush-hush. However, I have suspicions of where Hangingbrow is located. I made some notes and tucked the sheet of paper into my pocket. Were there’s a will, gentlemen, there’s a way.”

“Expect you’ll be after a pub first, from what I’ve read in papers,” Boycott spoke. “Aren’t you usually proppin’ up a bar at this time of a night?”

“My hellraising days are far behind me, smiler,” O’Toole admitted. “I’m now allergic to the stuff. My piss is pure Perrier water these days. They bottle it, you know, in the Cotswolds – when I can get there. But I miss a snifter terribly. I still go to the pub. As a rule, I don’t like the company of sober people. Et tu, Geoffrey?”

“Boozin’?” Boycott scoffed. “Do you know, I’ve only ever ’ad one ’angover and that’s been enough to put me off for life. It was monumental. It were end-of-season Scarborough Festival in ’68 after we’d won championship. We were sent cases of champagne and Closey – Brian Close – had swiped a whole magnum and put it in ’is bag. Now, I thought that was plain wrong. I took it out and ’e chased me all round changin’ room, trippin’ over bags and all sorts. I managed to get cork out and most of it came it in a wasteful shower. What were left, I gave to wives and girlfriends but I soon found another and by half-seven I’d become Britain’s most evangelical drinker, telling people to get some champagne down ’em. I quickly felt like I’d had ten gallons. I was so drunk that after I’d scoffed down a bag of fish and chips, I ’ad to be put to bed. It were nine o’clock. The rest of night were ’ideous. I felt like I were doin’ cartwheels inside a crashin’ ’elicopter whenever I closed me eyes. I still managed to make 102 following day.”

In the back seat, O’Toole quietly cried with laughter.

“I say Geoff, you’ve got a quiet car,” Healy said. “A milk float’d make more noise.”

Boycott glanced uneasily at his dashboard. “There’s a good reason for that,” he announced. “We’ve just run out of petrol.”

Go to Chapter 11: CR33 KET.