In 1966, when England was in the final of the football World Cup, I was an 18 year old lance corporal in the Royal Military Police. There was only a handful of women in the unit (150 Provost Company) and many more men, gnarled and experienced, having served all over the world in the theatres of war. I was the youngest member of the company, newly arrived from training, after 5 years at a convent school. Not your average MP!
Guess who was on duty that afternoon, all alone, the only super hero maintaining law and order in Catterick Garrison while the match of all matches was played? Yep. Of course…. who else but muggins? There was no internet in those days, no TV in the duty room, just me and a bank of phones and my tiny tinny transistor radio to keep track of the score. The whole of Catterick was deserted, roads silent, our car park mysteriously emptied of its usual Land Rovers and staff cars…. but of course the duty roster was full….. so where were they all? They were crowded into the Military Police mess (a sort of bar and club house a mile away) noisily watching the game. Where else would they be?
Just before the end I gave up trying to follow the commentary, the radio reception too poor, but I soon knew when it was over; All over Catterick, a military township of thousands of squaddies, there were horns sounding, cheers, drums beaten, cars bedecked with flags came roaring past the unit and a steady stream of police vehicles returned full of my triumphant, noisy, flushed, ecstatic colleagues. Bunny Hare, the duty sergeant, came in banging out a tattoo on the high custody desk, and behind him the rest of them crashed in, in a Congo line, chanting ‘England! England!’ and other slightly ruder chants.
It’s a lifetime ago. So much has changed, the world is unrecognisable, and so am I. Of course on Sunday it will be only the Euros final, not the World Cup, but I’ll be there, glued to the telly, alone again but hearing and shouting and fretting with the rest of them, and texting my Italian friend, Salvatore, who will be watching it in Rome. Tonight he texted me ‘Is football coming home or is it coming Rome?’
He’s such a funny guy. He even makes jokes and rhymes in English. The bloke’s a priest so I know he’ll be offering up prayers, but then again, so will I.
Let’s see if God really is an Englishman!
Tonight I have a terrible tension headache.
But it was worth it.