The fog clears and here we are.
It’s 2010 and I’m in a secondary school in the North of England. Just visiting. There are people I know here: the head, for one, whom I remember from the days teaching English in cold, squalid classrooms many years ago. I’ve been invited in to speak to newly qualified teachers for two sessions, one on this very Friday, and the next on the following Monday. I’m early, having misjudged the traffic, and am looking for old pals like an awkward teenager. I’m sure I’ll know a few here.
The staffroom is a big old place and there are teachers of all shapes and sizes milling around, being busy, checking pigeon holes, chewing the fat and swapping the banter. I’m almost misty-eyed at missing this sort of stuff: the camaraderie and the spirit of committed, chalk-face heroes; the public intellectuals in a tough part of the city. The NQTs should probably analyse what’s going on here right in front of them. There’s a lot of wisdom in this room, I think to myself.
I recognise the quips coming up from behind and turn to find the friendly folk I once shared a staffroom with. We’ve all moved on, but here they are. There’s the shaking of hands and then embraces. Making friends with your fellow teachers can be an occupational hazard, and a lovely one at that.
And there stands Bongo. That’s not his real name, but a nickname awarded to him after an incident with a magician in Scarborough back in 2007. It’s stuck, and it raises a chuckle even when I’m sitting on my own recounting this. Bongo has the look of a professional footballer right down to the Shockwaves-gelled hair and the sharp wit of a spaced-out Stephen Fry. He’s also the head of year. And a great one at that.
The briefest of conversations with Bongo finish with me acquiring a spare ticket to see (Man) City alongside his brother, Wink, the very next day in an apparently very important match. I’ve lost track with City since moving away but it’s got exciting with the arrival of Argentinian legend Carlos Tevez. I haven’t seen City play for years, but it’ll be great to meet with Bongo and the aforementioned Wink, so named as he has, over the years, developed a habit of winking at inappropriate moments to inappropriate people. I think his real name is Paul. I make the necessary arrangements and before I know it, it’s…
Wow! What a buzz. What an amazing stadium. I’m thrown back in time to standing on the terraces with my dad in the Maine Road days. I’m a kid in a snorkel parka shouting and cheering when my dad does; shaking a fist when he does and bigging up the goalie, Joe Corrigan, when my dad does. Joe Corrigan was the closest footballer to us in 1978. All season.
And now I’m here with Bongo and Wink, and the atmosphere is just as amazing. We are right down the front and although our view is occasionally obscured by camera operators and stewards, it doesn’t matter. Bongo and Wink have pre-loaded on cheap lager from Netto, as is the wont of younger, white-trainer-wearing men, but the mood is spot on. By the time I’d picked them up from Wink’s place earlier in the day, they were already singing. At least I’ll be able to get home early, I thought, sensing there wouldn’t be a big post-match night out after all.
The match is, well, a great one. Tevez is a marvel and wows the crowd, as do the other players in blue.
After one particular show of Tevez football magic, Bongo leans to me and declares his love for the Argentinian. Wink looks at me, nods in agreement with his brother and winks. He doesn’t really say much, I realise, and that might be the lager not talking.
The match goes on and I’m having genuine fun. It’s great. And then something happens to Bongo:
He gets emotional.
The match is coming to an end and everyone is desperate for a final flourish, a demonstrative and explosive rush of blue that will seal the day’s premiership deal.
Bongo leans to me again and in my ear shouts:
I think I’ve misheard. I ask him to repeat it.
He does. And beams a smile.
I look at Wink. He simply nods. And winks.
We look at the action playing out in front of us and, as if the football gods were conspiring against me, Tevez scores a beautiful goal. I won’t describe it here, but let’s just all agree that it was beautiful.
I look to my right to see Bongo majestically declaring, to no one in particular, THIS IS IT BOYS!!! THIS IS IT!!!!
And he runs. I mean HE RUNS, leaping the advertising hoardings, photographers and stewards like some crazy-happy high-speed zombie buzzing on the crack of life, love and sport. He’s like a blur of happiness getting himself into a load of potential trouble by running onto the premiership football pitch.
My gob drops open and I look back at Wink. He grins, showing off his tombstone gap, and winks.
Bongo, head of year, has performed a one-man pitch invasion. And the crowd go mental.
Especially when he rugby-tackles Tevez, felling him like a lamb to the slaughter.
Back in to see the NQTs again. I find the folks I know. They’re looking at a paper – it’s one of those free ones they give out on public transport. They hand it to me and I look at the picture.
It’s a beautifully captured image of Tevez celebrating the goal that sealed the deal. And in the background, with his white trainers tearing up the pitch like a pursuing cheetah, is a blurry Bongo, hunting the magnificent player down. If only the photographer had clicked again.
Into the staffroom walks Bongo, looking like a footballer. He smiles sheepishly.
And we all cheer.
And the fog descends.
When we still meet today, we all whisper "pitch invasion". Our stories bind us together. They keep the blurry memories alive. And our teacher rebellion ones are the best.