Boxing day 1998
My cars owned by my Uncle were, throughout the entire nineties, pure awkward. This year more than ever thanks to his purchasing a three wheeler van to replace his 1966 Peel Trident. For those of you that donít know, the 1966 Peel Trident looked like a kids car with a bubble on the top of it. If you ever saw one on the roads of Bramley in the nineties, it could have only been my Uncles car.
However, sitting at the back of the boot in a three wheeler van wasnít too bad because I got to give my Cousin an old family favourite, the electric chair. The Electric chair is basically where the passenger sat on the front seat gets an uncomfortable journey thanks to nips, squeezes and pokes coming from the person sitting at the back. It wasn't long before my Uncle looked my way and told me to behave, meaning I had to stop it there and then.
Looking at me, he also noticed that Iíd come out without any form of suitable footwear in which to watch the match, so he offered two big Netto bags to act as cheap wellies. Basically, youíd put a bag on each foot and tie the handles tight around your ankles. This way my socks wouldít get any more wet than they already were, and my mates will think Iím cool because I have Rhino (amber) coloured footwear.
Before we headed for rugby, we had someone to pick up from The Kirkstall Lights, which was a pub about a five minute drive away from the stadium. In the late nineties this pub was still 'respectable' thanks to one bloke who probably is the biggest peacemaker in Leeds. He looked after this pub as his own, and kept all the trouble out. Not only that, he was one fantastic snooker player, and it was through this game that he managed to go into rival pubs and rebuild communities. After a few games of snooker the tensions where gone and friends for life were made.
However, we werenít there to pick up 'the peacemaker'. We were there to pick up another bloke that was the biggest Rhinos fan that ever graced the terraces of Headingley. When I mean big, I donít mean obsessive by attending every single game and having all the memorabilia imaginable stored away in his residence. Iím talking about someone who had natural passion for the game, and boy how he express it on the terraces.
Alf Balls brought light into any room that he graced and Kirkstall Lights wasnít excluded. A small crowd gathered around him as he raged about how useless Gary Hetherington was for not signing the worlds best players; how Jason Robinson didnít deserve to celebrate Christmas because he stole ours early this year at Old Trafford; and how Andy Hay let more in than a local brothel.
Seeing us at the door, Alf now had a face that indicated a reluctance to leave his now captive audience. But eventually he sacrificed his popularity for us, because we were family after all. He greeted my Cousin and I by patting our heads with his cider and gravy soaked hands. My style conscious cousin reacted with distress at this, whilst I felt like Iíd just been touched by the Pope. Alf was my role model as a kid because he knew how to work any crowd that was put before him.
After my Uncle and Alf had a quick catch up, I was facing the not-so-great prospect of sitting in the back of the van with my Cousin. A confined space with my Cousin, as you have gathered, can be a rather unpleasant experience. Thankfully, I was too mesmerised by Alf to take any notice in what my Cousin was doing. But what he was doing whilst I wasnít looking would have consequences for all those attending the match with me today.
To be continued....