How Croydon lads confronted the Auld Enemy

By - Thursday 24th November, 2016

Andrew Dickinson recalls a kickabout to remember on the Purley Way

Photo public domain.

It’s Saturday 4th June 1977, some time in the morning. A few mates and I have got on our bikes and gone up to the Purley Way playing fields to have a kickabout. All normal stuff. We’ve walked through the huge car park where the 194 and 115 buses used to turn around (this is pre-Colonnades and the other retailers that are now there) kicking the gravel and stones and small bits of glass. The dog snatcher was putting bags of bones outside his van before darting back inside. The temptation to kick the ball hard against his van to set his dog off barking was resisted on this occasion. All normal stuff.

Our sleep during the night had been disturbed by sounds of rowdy behaviour out on the streets. This wasn’t unusual for a Friday night as the Propellor pub was down the road and looking out my bedroom window I often saw people returning home, worse for wear, having a drunken argument or pissing on a neighbours hedge. All normal stuff. Although the shouts this particular night were a bit sing-songy and had a bit of an accent to them, to a sleepy 13 year old dreaming about the following day’s match, nothing seemed out of the ordinary.

Across the Purley Way playing fields, parallel to where we had jumpers as goal posts, was the Aerodrome Hotel (now usually and imaginatively called the Hallmark Hotel) and it had several coaches parked up outside. All normal stuff. I had my back to the hotel as we played and after 20 minutes or so my shirtless mate (he’d left his house shirtless) whilst looking beyond my shoulder said: ‘When you turn around and look behind you don’t run!’ Not normal stuff! As I turned to see what it was he was remarking on I was confronted by an army, yes, an army: a Tartan Army! Maybe between 100-150 men some carrying cans of lager, some staggering, but all wearing something that related them to the Scotland football team, be it the lovely dark blue football shirt or a tartan bonnet or scarf. I was beginning to think I was at a Bay City Rollers concert (Google them).

It’s not like we’d start an argument if they decided to kick us up in the air a few times

Anyway, Scotland were playing England in the annual Home International Championships at Wembley Stadium (that’s the proper Wembley Stadium with the twin towers, not the identikit one we have now) and staying at the hotel, they had seen us having a kickabout and had decided to come and join in. We weighed up the odds of how we could take them all on, but they sorted themselves in to Anglos (Scots who lived in England) against Scots (those that lived in Scotland) and we got down to a game of 75-a-side. Things could’ve turned a bit nasty when my parents turned up to say they were off out: we thought I’d have to leave, thus taking the match ball, but mum and dad were glad to see we’d made some new friends and the game carried on.

One thing that remains with me with this kickabout was how gentle they were with us. Yes, we were kids and they were laying into each other, but it’s not like we’d start an argument if they decided to kick us up in the air a few times. But it stuck in my mind. Anyway, after a while they had to leave to get on the coach to make the journey to Wembley, so off they went. I turned to my shirtless mate now wearing a donated Scotland jersey which he said smelt of booze and fags and had food on it (the very reasons he’d left his shirt at home) and felt a twinge of jealousy. Jammy so-and-so.

What happened in the Wembley match? Well, Scotland beat England 2-1, revenge for the 5-1 thrashing England had meted out two years previously. At the end of the match the Tartan Army invaded the pitch which they then started to cut lumps out of for souvenirs and climb on the goalposts until they collapsed and took those as souvenirs as well. I looked on incredulously, wondering if some of those gentle guys that we were playing against earlier were those now tearing the playing field apart. All in all, a surreal experience.

It really did happen

Days later and walking about, thinking of the weekend’s events and wondering if they had actually happened, I found myself at the underpass by the flyover by the fire station and there scrawled on one of the massive concrete supports was the pre-match prediction: ‘Scotland 5, England 1′. I smiled to myself. It really did happen.

Why am I sharing this memory with you? Well, I’ve just watched an England v Scotland match on the telly and it brought the memory back and, after a very sad event for the town, I thought that it might make you smile a little bit. Take care, all.

Andrew Dickinson

Andrew Dickinson

I'm a long term resident of Croydon and I'm lucky to live and work in the borough. As a schoolboy my proudest moments were playing representative football for Croydon where I would fight tooth and nail to win for the borough and contribute towards its sporting reputation. For 18 years I worked up in London and became distanced from the town. Now I've re-engaged with the place over the last 20 years and feel frustrated in finding a way to vent my passion for Croydon (as I'm too old to play football) so I'm always on the lookout for any new initiatives to bring positivity to the place. I live on Bramley Hill with my lovely family and I have an allotment locally. I'm a keen amateur in gardening, environmentalism, permaculture, photography and website design. I'm an oyster mushroom farmer, run a social enterprise called Green Croydon, I'm part of the Croydon Fairtrade steering group, part of the Croydon ReUse Organisation, current chair of Croydon Transition Town and a community gardener; I'm on the borough Food Programme, Parks and Social Enterprise steering groups and a community apple presser. I currently work for the council as an officer creating and promoting community events in the beautiful Wandle Park. I put on the Croydon Environmental Fair each year and the Summer of Love theme and festival was something I dreamed up. I inspired the 'I would make Croydon better by' theme. There's also the Give and Take events in Surrey Street. I started the monthly Arts, Crafts and Vintage market in Exchange Square. Formerly I was a Turf Projects trustee, a Croydon Radio presenter and part of the Old Town business association.Between all this, I write the occasional article for the Citizen. I support local artists and local musicians by enabling the space for them to create I also support local independent journalism.

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    There are lots of ‘happy’ stories like this about our town and borough – let’s share a few more. Thanks Andy :-)