It’s Friday afternoon and there’s a hubbub of excitement among the troops. I was in my room. There was Mus, Sloth and Bedders chilling out listening to some Stone Roses or Inspiral Carpets or some other 80s trash music. The corridor reverberated with the heavy beat of a ‘Fields Of The Nephilim’ track – that would be Towey playing his stereo.
Diddly pops his head in to the room, it had its door open to the corridor. Shutting the door was just downright disrespectful. “Battery Bar’s open in ten minutes. Be there, or be square,” he announced. Senior Gunner of the flat had announced it so we best be up there soon.
I was on the third floor so I didn’t have far to go. You can hear the music already. Soon the local fritz would be complaining about the noise. I get out of my lightweights, shirt, put my beret in the locker along with my collection of biscuits brown.
“You not having a shower?” Sloth asks me.
“Uh?” he mimicks, “A fucking shower? Grots get battered.” He shadow punchs near me.
I drop my jeans and headed off to the showers down the corridor. The red hose from the stairs has been brought in to the showers and someone is getting the ‘Planet Of The Apes’ treatment. “It’s the WATER BABIES!!!” chuckles Tinker Taylor and I can hear someone screaming. A jet of cold water ricochets from the ceiling and down into a shower cubicle where a muscular, and well toned Mick Bridges emerges, screaming and laughing at the same time. Tinker is laughing like a nutter. They reel in the hose before I get in, thank fuck.
The Battery Bar is a heady, warm, smoky room filled with laughter, shouting and music. The clinking of glasses, crushing of cans and songs filled the air. There is an old, crusty full screw sat at the bar taking in a shot of some whiskey or Jagermeister. I say crusty, I’m older than they are now, but they’ll always be old to me. I am the Nig, the young pup and I am as naive as they get.
“You Douglas? Eh?” A moustachioed, skinny Bombardier asks me. He’s old enough to be my dad. “When were you born?”
“72,” I reply.
“Fuck me! I joined up in 1970!! I’m old enough to be your da’,” with that he gives me a toothy grin, fag in one hand and shot glass in the other. He downs it and grins at the biting sharpness of it. He holds up two fingers to the Battery Barman who duly pours two shots in two glasses. And that was that. At 30 pfennigs a shot you can get wasted on 5 DM.
Today is Muz’s birthday and he’s already wasted right now. He’s got this huge grin on his face as he drinks a pint of something. I think it’s half a pint of clear liquids from the optics with half a pint of lager. It’s also re-unification day, the first anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall.
“Hew man, it’s ree-yoonificayshun day yah hoowah!!” Muz screams as we make our way down the brown fire escape stairs to the cobbled side road by the block. Two of the lads help him out of the camp, pass the guard room (who are officially not allowed to let anyone drunk out of the camp), and into a waiting taxi. There’s a queue of them outside a residents place. Fuck living there. The taxi rank is next to the video hire place. I rent all my videos from there. They’re in German, but that doesn’t matter – wink, wink.
There isn’t enough taxis for all of us so we jump in three of them. We stick our heads out and shout at Germans we pass and at other taxis.
“I’m gunna get fuckin’ mawtal!” Muz keeps shouting. He’s already mortal.
When we stop, Muz springs out of the taxi like some Jack in the box and runs across several lanes of traffic. A cacophony of car horns and shouts in German! Muz has his hands in the air and screams, “IT’S FUCKING REEEYOONIIFICAAAYSHUN DAY YAH CUNTS!!!”
I can see one of the lads tut and shake his head, “We should have left him back at camp,” he says and retrieves the jubilant Muz.
That was Muz’s birthday in 1990 and I don’t think he remembered much of it. I don’t think many of us remembered a lot from the weekends, to be perfectly honest. We were pissheads.
Nineteen ninety was the year of the World Cup. One of the first infamous matches that involved penalty shoot outs. We have this hall set out for us in the Essex Club aka The NAAFI and the lads are hurling abuse at the TV screen at the german players on the screen. The screen is an ancient, huge cathode ray tube television which balances precariously on a plastic chair. In the centre are several slabs of beer; McEwans, Carlsberg, Boddingtons, that sort of stuff.
“Haway man, what’s he fuckin’ cryin’ fur? Fuckin’ fag. Get a grip of yersel y’silly cunt,” That’s Daz, a 16 stone, Gun Bunny with tattoos all over his arm like a tapestry of his past conquests. He turns to me, “Gazza arnly lives doon my street like, the fucker was never oot of a tracksoot.” I nod and grin at him. “Pass us me tabs,” he demands.
I hand over a crushed packet of Benson & Hedges and he fires it up with a flick of a thumb on a zippo. He exhales. “Aye…” he begins, “fucking never out of them…” He looks at the screen and then shouts, “What the fuck!? How is that not a fucking penalty, like?” Augenthaler has just Waddle down with a kick and the referee motions everyone to play on.
“You fucking NAZI cunt!!”
More abuse follows. When Lineker scores in the 81st minute there is jubilation. The television is nearly kicked over as the lads are all hugging each other and chanting. One lad stands outside and shouts out over the fence and to the flats, “Yes, you fuckers!!” He runs back in and slips over on a puddle of beer, but that doesn’t stop his jubilation.
The penalty shoot out at the end is perhaps the most intense period of that year, if I’m honest. You can hardly hear anything as these guys are lining up and shooting at the goals. When Waddle’s kick sends the ball inches over the bar, and dashes England’s dreams of going to the finals, a pint glass is thrown at the TV. The TV fizzles and bursts into smoking sparks. There is an immediate ban on British troops going into town. It’s on Regimental Orders and the powers that be forecasted trouble, regardless of who the victor was going to be in this match.
There are a number of guys who make it out, who escape, they climb over the top and go in pursuit of the tooting cars.
One crazy soldier is running full pelt down the street towards a car, its jubilant occupants have half their bodies out the car waving the West German flag. He manages to catch up with the car and jumps on the back of it, he grabs the flag and attempts to throttle the owner with it. He’s soon man handled off the Volkswagen Polo and thrown to the floor. He gets back up and head butts the driver. He then begins to stamp on the passenger door as the driver scrambles to get back in the car. Windows are wound up quickly, doors locked and after stalling the car it shunts off quickly. The enraged soldier is still going at it, bloodied hands, he pulls the windscreen wipers from the car and begins to whip the car with them.
“What the fuck are youse looking at!?” He stands up, the VW has gone now. It had knocked him down. A crowd of Germans were busy heading in the opposite direction away from the bloodied British soldier who is now grinning at them.