It were never same after they shut it down. The Club closing saw her off, me Mam said, not Covid. From being a little kid, me and Nan had gone to Northside Football Club, come rain or shine. ‘Forty year,’ she’d tell them at the tickets, ‘and I never missed.’ Come Saturdays, I’d hang on to her hand and we’d mix in with the crowd all swarming down street, all heading to same place. All in our blue and white. It was magic. Even when her foot got bad, she put her scarf on and grabbed her stick. From kick off to final whistle, the two of us stood in stands, yelling and shouting as loud as anybody. Then, suddenly, it were all over.
‘ How yer keeping Mrs Ollroyd?’ the ticket man asked her, week in, week out.
‘Not so bad,’ she’d answer, keeping a tight hold on me.
‘What d’yer reckon?’
‘You’re having a joke! No chance,’ she’d say. ‘Not now we’ve signed Miller,’ Me Nan was known to be as fierce as any of the men.
And then right in middle of Lockdown they went and closed it. It were an excuse, course it was. We all knew Northside had been on life support for ages but we never thought they’d have the nerve to shut us down, like we were nothing. The Club Board told us there was no money so as far as they were concerned, that were that. I’d never given a thought to money. I’d thought team turned out in their blue and white week in week out like night follows day. ‘Think it runs on thin air? Don’t they teach you anything at school?’ says Nan sharp. ‘This town’s over without the football.’
It took them close on 24 hours to knock down her forty years. Me and Nan went and stood outside in the rain on last night of Club. We didn’t give a toss what Lockdown was telling us and anyhow I made sure people kept their distance. She fished an envelope out of her bag and found a biro. All I could think of to write was 40 years. ‘Never missed’ she says so I wrote that too. She got the pen and wrote our two names underneath and I tied it on gates next to some others. It was coming down heavy by now so we knew it’d be soaked in seconds. We didn’t hang round. Lockdown you know, we told people but, tell the truth, we wanted to get away. At school, next day, it was my year’s turn to go in. Every one of us wore our scarves and some of teachers did too. We didn’t say much. We were still hoping some rich bastard would buy the club and save us.
Northside Football Club went from being packed out one day right down to this empty, clapped out building the next. ‘I can’t look at it,’ Nan said and we’d walk the long way round. On Saturdays, Mam told us to get out for a bit of fresh air but Nan had lost interest.
Lockdown carried on. School was on line. Everything was on line. Football was on line too. ‘Can’t be bothered. I’m tired.’ she says having a quick look at Man United v Everton even though Everton were winning. ‘Lockdown’s no different for me.’ A few weeks later she went to bed and she never got up. She told Mam to send me in. ‘Don’t you forget about Northside now. Promise me.’ And she gripped my hand hard. Next day, she’d gone.
Weeks later, still in Lockdown, an envelope arrived addressed to Mrs. Ollroyd. Mum half opened it then shoved it in my hands. It were a card saying how sorry Northside Football Club were now Nan had passed on. ‘It’s only Tom Black,’ Mum says. She’d never been much of a fan of Northside or of Tom Black. ‘He must’ve heard about your Nan. Northside Football Club‘s finished now so what’s Tom up to? Reminding people! Some people love living in the past.’
‘No way Mam,’ I shouted out loud, so loud I surprised myself. ‘No way is it finished.’ I don’t know what I thought I was going to do but I knew I was going to do it. Even if were only for Nan. I sat for a second. Only for Nan? It were for Nan. Surely her and her forty years were worth something. ‘You wait Mam,’ I says, ‘You just wait and see.’