The part of Frankie's brain which deals with the nomenclature of the Red Letter Days of the British Autumn appears to be malfunctioning. Halloween has become 'Evil Weekend' (as in,'will we be doing pumpkins again for- what is it called-Evil Weekend?') and Guy Fawkes has been renamed 'What is he called again? Bonfire Jim?'. But my favourite is 'The Day That Everything Freezes', which had me properly stumped during this increasingly mutually exasperated exchange the other Saturday morning:
'Is tomorrow the Day That Everything Freezes Daddy?'
'The Day That What? Well the forecast is chilly, if that's what you m-'
'No! The Day That Everrything Freezes! We've been doing it at school. You know'.
'I've got literally no idea what you're talking about Frankie. The-'
'The Day That Everything Freezes! For the dead soldiers! With the poppies!'
Which, you would have to admit- while lacking a certain Dimblebyesque lunchtime-on-the-BBC gravitas, is sure as hell a lot more snappy than the somewhat stuffy and redolent-of-brussel-sprouts-in-front-of-Harold-McMillan-on-the-wireless Remembrance Sunday, and if anyone has the number for the marketing department of the Royal British Legion perhaps you could let us know.
Later that same Saturday I have occasion to observe that the custom of remembrance remains stoically entrenched in the deepest recesses of the non-league pyramid. In advance of the kick-off at Cheadle Town versus Oldham Borough, the referee beckons the 22 players to arrange themselves evenly around the perimiter of the centre circle, and with a short blast of the whistle, ordains 120 seconds of head-bowed silence. On the sidelines and up in the high-stepped single rickety wooden stand. a similar number of spectators shuffle their feet and, reverentially, pause consumption of steaming hot meat and potato pies.
Just half an hour earlier, it had appeared The Fallen would remain uncommemorated in this particular outpost of Mancunian suburbia, the football match necessary for the preliminary observance of time-honoured ceremony being momentarily at risk of falling foul of the conditions. As raging inclemency battered the roof of the portakabin (strong smell of damp; draught pumps out of action since 1989; cans of Carling at £2.50 a pint out of the fridge or nothing) a harried looking man in an official-looking raincoat burst in among us to announce that there would be a short delay to allow the clouds to clear and hailstones to be swept from the touchlines. Kick off- we were assured- would be no later than 3:15PM.
The be-gabardined gentleman is as good as his word, and at 3:12 prompt a game of association football is underway. From the outset the quality of the play belies not only the challenging conditions but the supposed lowly standard of the North West Counties Football League Division Two. Resplendent in all green, the home team take early charge, their slick passing game too much for a youthful opposition outifit rich in individual verve but lacking the hardbitten streetguile needed to prevail at this level. A goal midway through each half has the outcome settled beyond doubt by the hour, which is enough for the specators, but evidently not for the home coach- a thick-set authoritarian in a padded anorak who prowls the touchline until the last whistle, hoarsely bellowing at his charges. The left winger- a short, balding, wiry individual reminiscent of Nottingham Forest's Steve Stone in his pomp- has the misfortune of being closest to managerial earshot, and is particular target for constructive criticism as a series of quickfire passing moves end with misplaced centres:
'Arrgghh! Float it son! Just fucking float it!
'Orrggghh! Drill it! Early! Fucking drill it in! Near post!'
'Aaaooorrghhh! Stand it up! Stand it up fucking back post he's fucking screaming for it! Fuck's sake!'
For the avoidance of doubt this last tutorial is delivered accompanied by a short but focussed twin-footed assault on the pitchside advertising hoardings which brings a mildly admonitory sideways glance from the nearby linesman. Moments later and to the surprise of no-one whatsoever the flag-wielding official is called into more routine service, lifting the proferred 'Number 11' board to signal the withdrawal of the hapless wingman.
The remaining minutes are played out in increasing obscurity, as play loses its competitive edge and the spindly floodlights prove inadequate to enable continued ready distinction between teams whose already similar outfits (Borough sport Chelsea-esque all blue in keeping with their self-destructive preference for flamboyancy) are by now generally muddied beyond recognition. After a regulation two minutes of injury time another short blast of the whistle brings and end to the proceedings. The home coach pumps his fists and performs a surprisingly deft jig of delight on the gloom of the touchline, and in the wooden stand there is a moment hearty applause before the specators begin to shuffle down the high steps towards the exits. As I hasten my way across the puddles and towards the welcoming interior of the number 11 to Stockport via Edgely, the lasting impression is of a Saturday afternoon well spent, with this outcome:
North West Counties Football League Division Two. Saturday 9th November
Cheadle Town 2 Oldham Borough 0
1-0, 12 mins. Left wing corner, half-cleared. Falls invitingly to centre forward who finishes low and clinically from 12 yards.
2-0, 57 mins. Right wing corner, cleared to byeline and returned with outswerve and interest to goalmouth for centre half to nod home with aplomb
Conditions: Hail, Sun, Darkenss, Bluster (meteorological and human)
Remembrance: Impeccably Observed.