Artie Yard and the Bogotá Bracelet
By Donnie Blake
An annoying little Willie
Four years. Four years: it is a long time. A lot can happen in four years. A lot had certainly happened to the individual members of the successful England football team in the four years since they had lifted the famous Julet Rimet trophy and won the World Cup in 1966. Winning captain Booby Moore and striker Bobby Charlton had both received OBEs; England manager Alf Ramsey had been knighted. There had been a lot of transfer activity: goalkeeper Gordon Banks had been unexpectedly sold by Leicester and moved to Stoke City; Alan Ball left Blackpool to join Everton for a then British record fee; and George Cohen had to call time on his Fulham career because of injury. Bobby Charlton helped Manchester United to success on the continent, securing the European Cup in 1968; his brother Jack guided Leeds United to League Cup success the same year; and Alan Ball was part of the successful Everton team, which triumphed in the Football League. And me? What has happened to me in the last four years? Bugger all.
Please excuse my coarse language, but I am now eighteen years of age, and no longer the fresh-faced innocent, who introduced himself in Artie Yard and a Very English Pickle. And why, you may ask, am I even presuming to compare my achievements––or lack of them––over these four years as they stack up against the likes of Hurst and Peters and Stiles? Well, I happened to have no small part to play in England’s greatest triumph, too. It is not all about the big names and the brightest stars. Give the backroom boys their fair due.
Perhaps I should properly reintroduce myself. My name is Arthur Yard. Artie. Artie Yard. I still live with my mum and dad––although, thankfully, all but one of my sisters has now moved out of our south London home––and, big news, I now have a girlfriend. Not Ivy, in case anyone is wondering. A nice girl, who works in the fish and chips shop on Selhurst Road. A nice girl. But not Ivy.
Work? It’s a funny thing, work, isn’t it? An honest living, that is how my dad always describes his job. It’s hard work, the building trade, though. I should know. I’ve given it a go. After I left school, I had still nurtured the same dream that I had fostered ever since my original adventures, which had brought me up close and personal with the World Cup. Strangely enough, this ambition was no longer to be a professional footballer but, instead, to be a detective. At the time, my early success in this arena had made the impossible appear achievable. However, experience brought with it some harsh lessons, not least of which was that a flash-in-the-pan triumph is no guarantee of lasting success; there is no fast-track highway to a golden career for life. Even the World Cup winners knew as much: there was no resting on their laurels for the victorious squad; instead, it was back to long hours of training, a strict fitness regime, and a punishing schedule of matches. It all came back to the same thing: earning an honest living. Which, as my dad knew only too well, meant hard graft, day in, day out. Faced with this depressing reality of a post-school dystopia, my detective dreams quickly lay in tatters and, weary of hearing my mum’s constant observations that I was “always moping around the house doing nothing” I began to help out my dad by doing an odd day’s labouring at his construction firm. Judged by any standards, it would be fair to describe myself as having grown into a well-built youth, and the physical aspect of the job had not been demanding but, mentally, I had always known that the work was not for me. I had tried to explain some of my latent career angst to Jill:
“Where do you see yourself in ten years’ time?”
“I mean, what do you want out of life?”
“What I’m trying to say is, are you happy working here in Frydays Favourite Fish Shop?”
“Don’t you ever dream of doing something different?”
“I don’t know. Anything. Look at you. You could be…”
I looked Jill up and down in critical appraisal. Dressed in her batter-spattered apron, her long blonde hair hanging lank and greasy like yesterday’s soggy chips, and with the aroma of tangy vinegar heavy in the atmosphere like a cheap cologne, it was frankly difficult to imagine her in any other environment. I tried to put a positive spin on the situation:
“You could be a film star.”
Even Jill was sufficiently unconvinced by my soft-soap to be able to scoff at the suggestion:
Undeterred, I tried to elaborate:
“Okay. Perhaps not an Elizabeth Taylor, or a Diana Dors, but certainly someone in one of those new Ken Loach movies. You know, kitchen-sink reality. Gritty…”
Jill stopped me mid-flow:
“All right. No need to rub it in. I know I’m no model.”
I tried to be encouraging:
“Now. Don’t do yourself down. Confidence is all a state of mind. Look at Twiggy. She had to start somewhere.”
“Not in a chip shop.”
“No, not in a chip shop,” I was forced to concede. “But somewhere.”
“What about you then, Artie? What do you want?”
It was a big question. And, somewhere at the end of the answer, lay an even bigger unspoken question. At least as far as Jill was concerned. Do you want me?
I was saved from having to supply an immediate answer by a customer arriving with an order of three large battered cod, chips and mushy peas, open, with salt and vinegar, and while Jill was busy bending over the deep fat fryers, I was able to rehearse the answer that I knew she wanted to hear. With the chime of the shop door and the smell of freshly-cooked chips as the only reminder of the customer, Jill repeated her query:
“Oh, I don’t know, Jill. Something simple. Settle down, have a couple of kids, nice stable job…”––I looked into Jill’s pale-blue eyes––“…loving wife.”
Jill turned back to the fryers, pouring in more oil from a large bottle. She had flashed me a fleeting smile but, deep in her heart, she didn’t believe my answer any more than I did. Not while Ivy remained an unspoken third party in our relationship.
It had been on Ivy Way that I had attached all my hopes. It was to have been Ivy who was going to propel my life out of the fixed orbit about which it seemed otherwise destined to revolve. PC Ivy Way, more latterly Sergeant Ivy Way. I had hoped that Ivy would provide the admission ticket to a world of police work, which could make my detective dreams a reality. I had even entertained a hope that we might both work together. After all, didn’t she still owe me something for that business back in ’66? Big time. However, it was not to be. Ivy had melted away almost as quickly as the last triumphant cry of “Eng-er-land!” had echoed around Wembley Stadium on World Cup Final day; certainly before the last pieces of red, white and blue tickertape had been swept clean along Wembley Way; and the final glasses had been raised in pubs up and down the nation toasting England’s success. It had all seemed so very different when Geoff Hurst had hoofed in the third goal of his memorable hat-trick, when the England supporters had started to run onto the pitch, and when I had hugged Ivy Way, two joyous supporters, united in unbridled celebration, lost amidst a crowd of tens of thousands of similarly anonymous and personal celebrations. At the time, it had seemed like a beginning when, all along, it had actually been an end. Ironic, really, that the only person from that memorable day that I am still in contact with should be Lenny. Lenny, who I had so resented at the time. Annoying little Lenny Bird.
Picture the scene: Wembley Stadium, 30th July 1966, Bobby Moore has just been lifted onto the shoulders of Geoff Hurst and Ray Wilson, and the gleaming Jules Rimet trophy has been paraded around the pitch as the victory celebrations got under way. The crowds stayed in their stands savouring the triumph but, little by little, even they began to disperse. I made to follow the exodus, but Ivy held me back:
“One last surprise.”
She led me away from the high banks of terraces, along a series of drab concrete passageways and staircases somewhere deep within the guts of the big, old stadium, until, as the cheers of the celebrating supporters grew ever more distant, we reached a plain, wooden door, which Ivy opened with the presumption of ownership. Inside the large, rectangular room that was revealed, a party was laid out: along one wall was a long table laden with champagne glasses and bottles of various shapes, colours and sizes; there were plates of enticing food; and, across the ceiling, colourful bunting, balloons and celebratory banners. The room was crowded with people, and there was a loud noise of chattering voices and the buzz of excited conversation. I looked at the scene slightly bewildered.
“Don’t say that I don’t show you a good time,” Ivy joked. “After-match party. We have exclusive access.”
Looking around the room more closely, I was surprised to register that I recognised some of the faces. Surely that was Nobby Stiles, with his gap-toothed smile? And wasn’t that Jack Charlton, seeming to stand a good head and shoulders above everybody else? It was odd to see faces in real life that I knew so well from my football magazines. Familiar strangers. Peculiar, also, to see these same icons of the Beautiful Game dressed in smart suits and sensible shoes, rather than what I believed to be their habitual attire of short shorts, heavy boots and club shirts. There were other people I recognised too: Alf Ramsey, the England manager, with his bushy black eyebrows: and wasn’t that the owner of Pickles, the dog that discovered the World Cup when it had been stolen? He was someone who I knew well from my local neighbourhood. I turned towards Ivy for confirmation, but she had already disappeared into the throng of happy revellers.
“’Ello fellah. You must be Arfer?”
I turned to discover who was addressing me and was momentarily shocked to find myself facing a large-headed lion, with a great shaggy mane of hair and a wide, gaping mouth. The fact that the lion was holding out its paw for me to shake was even more surprising.
“World Cup Willie. That’s me,” said the lion.
“Arthur Yard. Pleased to meet you,” I replied, slightly formally, unsure of the correct protocol in such an unprecedented situation.
“’Ere, let me take this off.” The lion proceeded to remove his oversized head, revealing the beaming, freckled face of a diminutive boy beneath. He was wearing a Union Jack t-shirt and white shorts, through the back of which a long brown tail protruded somewhat incongruously. “World Cup Willie. Junior club mascot. That’s me,” he restated, proudly, now divested of his face-mask. “Blimey O’Reilly. It ain’t ’arf ’ot under there.”
“How do you know me?” I asked.
“Told to look out for yer, wasn’t I. You and me, we’re the only two kids ’ere.”
I wanted to protest that I didn’t consider myself a kid, but Willie did not give me the chance to speak:
“Gotta stick together, us young ’uns, eh? Fancy summat to eat? There’s plenty of decent scoff ’ere. Get in there quick, before the others guzzle everyfink.”
Willie, the beheaded lion, clasped me by the elbow in a firm grip and proceeded to lead me over to a distant corner of the big room, far removed from the glittering social groups that surrounded my heroes: Gordon Banks, and Alan Ball, and Martin Peters.
“’Ere you go. Glass of squash and a coupla sausage rolls. Get that down yer and you’ll be all right. Not bad ’ere, ain’t it? Say, I never properly introduced myself, did I? Lenny. Lenny Bird, that’s me.”
“Arthur…” I began to restate, still slightly dazed by my unexpected encounter.
“Know ’oo you are, didn’t I say so, straight up now?”
A part of me had been flattered by this recognition, even if it had only been by a little oik in an animal fancy dress costume.
“You heard all about what I did, I suppose?” I suggested, “Unmasking a foreign conspiracy and saving the government?”
“What? No, nuffin like that. Just ’eard that there was a little boy coming to this gig, and told to keep ’im away from annoying the grown-ups.”
So that was it. That was where I stood. A potential embarrassment to the high and mighty. Someone who had to be babysat by a street ragamuffin who was several years younger than me and practically half my height. Well, I wasn’t ’avin’––I mean ‘having’––any of it. I had as much right to speak to the ‘grown-ups’ as the next man. More so, by my reckoning. Across the crowded room, I gained a brief glimpse of the top of Ivy’s head, as she stood, laughing, apparently engrossed in earnest conversation with Roger Hunt. I began to move with the intention of joining her group, but I was forestalled by Lenny.
“’Ere, have some pork pie. It’s very good. Got proper egg in it, an’ all. Proper la-di-da.”
“No. No, thank you,” I said, pushing the offered snack away––although, in all truth, it did look rather appetising.
“What d’ya wanna do then? D’ya know any good games? Tell ya what. ’Ow about a song? Lovely voice I’ve got. You should ’ear me sing the World Cup anthem. Proper moving it is. Voice of an angel, that’s what my old ma says.”
“No, really. I don’t think this is really the time or the…”
My nascent protests fell on deaf ears.
“There’s a football fellah, you all know his name. And the papers tell us he’s in the Hall of Fame. Wherever he goes, he’ll be all the rage. ’Cause he’s the new sensation of the age.”
I was conscious that Lenny’s sudden impromptu performance was causing something of a stir of amusement among the ‘grown-ups’.
“Willie. I mean, Lenny. I really think that you should stop.”
However, once started, Willie was not to be so easily put off:
“Dressed in red, white and blue, ’e’s World Cup Willie. We all love him too, World Cup Willie. ’E’s tough as a lion and never will give up. That’s why Willie is fav’rite for the Cup. Willie, Willie, ’e’s ev’rybody’s fav’rite for the Cup.”
“Lenny! Everyone’s looking.”
Lenny was by now in full swing, oblivious to criticism, be it positive or negative.
“Well, we’re all football crazy and it’s plain to see. That we’re all so happy, like one big family. Now we’ve found someone who makes the rafters ring. Welcome to a brand new soccer King.”
As if the excruciating spectacle was not enough, Lenny had managed to improvise some energetic dance steps to tie in with the lyrics, and was prancing backwards and forwards with all the mock pomposity of Mick Jagger at a Rolling Stones concert.
“For Pete’s sake stop,” I shouted, trying to make myself heard above the unholy racket, conscious that I was likely to be castigated by association. Lenny remained undeterred:
“All dressed in red, white and blue, that’s World Cup Willie. We all love him too, World Cup Willie. ’E’s tough as a lion and never will give up. That’s why Willie is fav’rite for the Cup. Yes! Willie, Willie, ’e’s ev’rybody’s fav’rite for the Cup.”
I was aware that certain sections of our audience, far from being disapproving or annoyed by the unexpected cabaret, had actually begun to join in with the singing. Indeed, it was not long before the entire room was echoing to the combined choral output of mascot, team members, squad players and assorted sundry guests alike. Even I found myself unable to resist the infectious influence of the irritatingly catchy song, and joined in dispiritedly with the last two verses:
“All the fans are waiting, how they’ll spur him on. And those sixty nations will soon know Willie’s song. Wherever he goes, he’ll be all the rage. ’Cause he’s the new sensation of the age. All dressed in red, white and blue, that’s World Cup Willie. We all love him too, World Cup Willie. ’E’s tough as a lion and never will give up. That’s why Willie is fav’rite for the Cup. Ev’rybody! Willie, yes Willie, ’e’s ev’rybody’s fav’rite for the Cup. One more time! Willie, Willie, ’e’s ev’rybody’s fav’rite for the Cup.”
A rousing chorus of “Willie! Willie! Willie!” resounded around the room, and Lenny responded to the acclaim by regaining his lion head and making a great pretence of roaring at the crowd and pretending to claw and maul the closest members of the ensemble gathering, provoking playful screams among the women and mock counters from the men.
Little did I know it then, but this annoying little Willie was to prove to be the answer to my dreams.
Artie Yard and the Bogotá Bracelet is the second book in the World Cup Detective series.
© Donnie Blake
The author hunting for readers.
Read a free sample from the first book in the series: Artie Yard and a Very English Pickle.