The best £26.50 I ever spent...
So there I was sitting in the bar of the Broadway Theatre, Barking, sipping on my bottle of alcohol-free beer when my mobile phone vibrates. It’s a text message from Smart saying he’s just stopped off at KFC for a bite to eat and would I like to join him. The answer, sadly, was no. I’d only just arrived five minutes before and was in no rush to step back outside into the frosty night air now I’d begun feeling warm again.
The reason for my being at the theatre in the first place (and Smart, eventually) was to see a show called ‘An Evening With Jimmy Greaves’. It’s not often someone so famous passes through our neck of the woods, and as he used to play for the teams we both support, it seemed only natural that we should go along to see what the show was like.
Much as I hold the former Tottenham, Chelsea and England star in high esteem, I can honestly say I wasn’t hugely fussed about getting tickets for the show. Fortunately for myself and you, the readers, Smart reminded me of my journalistic duties to keep you informed of what this evening of entertainment was going to be like.
Anyway, back to the theatre. While supping on my bottle of Becks’ finest, I caught sight of the tables that had been set up in the lobby where memorabilia and souvenirs were being sold. I sauntered over to peruse the modest array of items laid out for us punters to purchase, and there, predictably, were some replica Tottenham shirts, some books written and signed by Jimmy Greaves and any number of other small items.
What caught my eye, however, was a yellow replica Brazil shirt being displayed on a mannequin torso. It was signed by Pele, and below it was a card offering people the chance to win it in the raffle being held later in the evening.
Any football fan over the age of nine would have been tempted as I was to buy a ticket, so I bought seven. Well it was churlish not to – if you bought seven tickets for £10, you also got a picture card signed by Jimmy Greaves. It’s what we in the trade call a win-win situation.
So it was that I returned to my seat, raffle tickets and card in hand, to wait for Smart’s arrival which was fortunately not long in coming. Having welcomed him into the building, I ushered him in the direction of the bar where to my distinct pleasure he bought me another drink. Good bloke, Smart. I won’t hear a bad word said against him.
It was perhaps unsurprising that when we sat down for a chat, he too spotted the souvenirs being sold in the lobby and decided to go off and investigate for himself and less surprising still that he had also bought seven tickets for £10 with an eye to winning that signed Pele shirt.
An hour later and we had taken our seats in the main hall, listening as we were to Jimmy Greaves regaling us with tales from his footballing career. It was all very amusing as you’d expect being the funny half of that well known double act with Ian St. John, and if truth be known, he spent much of the night telling many a corny gag rather than talking about football.
No matter. It was actually a pleasure just being in the same room as him, and even his corny gags were rather amusing. There was the one about his agent telling him that he had to do a show for the British Paranoids Association and that at that moment, the chairman of said Association rang up on the phone. “We were just talking about you” Greaves responded before putting the phone down abruptly…
To help out Greavsie during this night of badinage and anecdotery was another legendary name from the heyday of English football. Actually on second thoughts, perhaps ‘legendary’ isn’t the right word to use there. ‘Notorious’ is perhaps more appropriate when talking about Chelsea hard-man Ron ‘Chopper’ Harris, especially given his pride in referring to the many career-threatening tackles he inflicted on other players.
Despite retaining the persona of a man who played football like a grim reaper for anyone who dared get the ball past him, Harris was remarkably humorous while telling his football stories and though he lacks the depth of personality Jimmy Greaves does, he was just as worthy of a place on the billing when all was said and done.
The second half of the show was largely devoted to a ‘question and answer’ session. This was the chance for any member of the audience to tap into the mind of the two men on stage, something that can be both interesting and unfulfilling in equal measures. This was never better illustrated than when Greaves failed to answer the question “What was the happiest day of your life and why.” Not only did he not have an answer to it, but the man posing the question had done exactly that with the same outcome on a radio phone-in a few days before.
At the other end of the scale, the question “what was the most difficult team you’ve ever played against” brought about the answer “Bolton.” He wasn’t joking. Greaves explained that the Bolton side of the late-50’s / early-60’s barely changed from year-to-year and featured ex-coal miners that were grateful for the chance to earn a better living elsewhere. It was a salient point and one worth referring to in this age of £100,000-a-week salaries for the best players.
The evening closed with the raffle and the chance to win the aforementioned Brazil shirt signed by arguably the greatest player that ever lived - Pele. Smart and I got out our tickets and waited for Jimmy Greaves to plunge his hand into the bag of duplicates he held on stage.
I won’t insult you with an elaborate description of what happened next. The winning number he pulled out was 493, and I was holding it in my hand. I couldn’t quite believe it. My brain wouldn’t accept that I, of all the people in that theatre, was the winner. I’d only ever won one competition before, and that was twenty-six years ago at the age of nine in my local newspaper, so how could this have happened?
Whatever the answer, it had happened, and I was being called up on stage to receive my prize. Half an hour and several hundred steps later, there I was shaking the hand of Jimmy Greaves himself in front of a gathered crowd of about two hundred people. What a moment. He even invited me to stand right in the middle of the stage so that everyone could see me (albeit so that they could identify me in the car park afterwards for a good kicking in, but you can’t have everything…)
I returned to my seat brimming with nervous excitement, still not fully at one with what had just happened. It was all very surreal yet utterly amazing. I was now the proud owner of a football shirt signed by Pele – something I could only have dreamed of as a kid. And I know there are probably hundreds of people around the world that can say they own something similar, but it’s still a club I’m proud to be a brand new member of.
I drove Smart home that night and we talked about the unlikely events that had happened earlier. It almost never happened. I almost visited him in KFC at the time when I bought my raffle tickets. I almost declined his offer to go to the show in the first place. I almost left it too late to get tickets for the show. Luckily for me, luck was on my side that night and I have Smart to thank for that.
If only he’d persuaded me to buy a lottery ticket as well…
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