babblative (adj.): given to babbling; loquacious, prattling
I always struggle with booking the guest speakers, for the hospitality crowd. It needs to be a name, someone with some medals behind them, but they also need to have a fair bit of banter – some anecdotes and wee quips that’ll keep even those with no interest in football entertained.
So I’m made up when one of the auld fellas in the supporter’s club says he has a number for Jack Foster. He was captain for nearly five years, when the club was coming up through the leagues, and he had Jim Laramie as his gaffer too. Anyone who’s spent even ten minutes with Laramie has a story to tell, so Foster must have a right few good ones.
I phone him on the Monday and he invites me round for a cup of tea the next afternoon. He lives in Stirling, in the Raploch. I’m not expecting a mansion, but I’m a bit shocked by the grey pebbledash house with streaks of damp up the outside and a rusting washing machine planted in the garden. Foster doesn’t even have the whole house, just a flat on the top floor. The curtains and cushion covers look like they’ve just come out that manky washing machine. Aye, here’s an ex-pro who could use the hundred quid appearance fee.
‘What do you remember of Laramie?’ I ask, when we’re settled with a grim-looking tea.
‘Some man,’ Foster says. ‘Loved his pigeons. Only time he ever praised me – or I thought he did – was when he says ‘you’re the maist important one, without you the others dinnae ken whit tae do.’ I turned, tear in my eye, and he’s talking to a fucking doo, stroking it in his hands.’
I grin. This is the kind of story the corporate guests love. They have their soup and a steak pie, maybe a beer or a glass of wine, and then they settle down to listen to tales of when the club wasn’t all plastic pitches and kick-off times shifted for the telly.
‘Changed days, eh?’ I say, prompting him.
‘Aye. We used to train in the local park. Broken glass in the grass and dog shite everywhere. You’d go in for a slide tackle and come up like you’d been down the sewers.’
I remember Jack Foster well, though I’d have only been a teenager when he played. His close-cropped brown hair has grown out and there’s a thread or two of grey in it now, but there’s still a liveliness to his darting eyes, as if he’s on the look-out for an attacker trying to spring the offside-trap.
‘One time,’ he says. ‘These two junkies landed up in the park and started chasing wee Hamish Strang up the wing. We thought it was well funny, until we realised that one of the junkies had this fucking samurai sword in his hand. So we started chasing them – all of us – and them chasing Haimmy.’
‘Did you catch them?’
‘Aye, battered them. Then the gaffer says that was enough running to last us till the Saturday and gave us the rest of the week off.’
‘What day was it?’
We share a laugh. Aye, he’ll do nicely. As long as we can keep his swearing to a minimum.
The Saturday after, we’re playing Saints at home, so we get him in. He sits with me and Diane from the office and he’s full of the chat. He tells us about the time the keeper complained about the showers being cold so someone took a piss up the back of his legs, and he called out, ‘Hauld on, it’s getting warmer!’ But after the soup and the pie, we bring him out to a round of applause and he’s like a burst ball.
‘Any good stories about Laramie?’ I ask.
‘He was a character, alright.’
‘Did he ever give you any praise or was that all for the pigeons?’
‘All for the pigeons, aye.’
‘And you were training in the local parks at the time, is that right?’
He leans into the microphone. ‘Aye, that’s right.’
‘Any memorable incidents from that?’
‘Just dog sh – just dog mess really.’
Other folk would’ve just given up, but Foster’s a club legend and he’s obviously fallen on hard times. So I wait a few weeks and get him back in for a cup-tie. We give him a couple of whiskies, then I ask Diane to sit with him in the office while I introduce him. I’ve fitted him with a lapel-mic.
Everyone has their soup and pie and then they turn to the front of the room. I give them my wee spiel about Foster – league-winning captain, part of the team that reached the semi-final – then I flick on the lapel-mic.
Foster is mid-story.
‘…Laramie looked down at this lad’s leg, which is split open so as you can see the shin bone, and says to the physio, ‘aye, you’ll be needing the big plasters’.’
I put down the mic and sit myself down on the floor, clutching at my leg. There’s a titter of laughter. Next, Foster tells the story of the junkies chasing Hamish Strang and I sprint in a wee circle at the front like the hounds of hell are at my feet. The laughter gets louder.
‘And have I told you about the keeper in the showers – ?’ he says.
I flick the mic off.
‘Legend of the club, Jack Foster,’ I say. ‘Part of the side that kept seven clean sheets in a row…’
I flick the mic back on.
‘…biggest regret of my career,’ he’s saying. ‘Missing that chance in the semi-final at Hampden. It haunts me, that one. Comes back to me every night, full colour replay…’
‘Let’s get him out here,’ I say, then stick my head into the office. He comes out to warm applause.
‘Shall we start with that semi-final, Jack?’ I say. ‘Bittersweet memories, given that we didn’t make the final?’
‘Nah,’ he frowns. ‘Highlight of my career to play at Hampden.’
A couple of folk laugh. They obviously think we rehearsed that.
‘And Laramie?’ I ask. ‘Stories about him?’
‘He was a character.’
‘What about the time you were chased with a samurai sword, eh?’
‘Ach, newspaper talk that. Nothing to it.’
There’s definite laughter now. They think it’s a skit.
‘Do you enjoy coming back to the club, doing these events?’ I ask. ‘Chance to tell a few stories of the old days?’
‘Aye, maybe,’ he looks at me. ‘But the questions are always a bit shit.’