Nearly thirty years ago I wrote a short article about an event that took place nearly fifty years ago. The event was breaking my leg playing football in the street, and the place of publication the football fanzine The Heathen. At work today I found this document and its cover can be seen below.
Now it might be that many readers (I like to kid myself that I have some readers) would be bemused by this, perhaps they would be perplexed by this seemingly odd activity. What the hell was I doing looking for this fanzine in my office? Why is the injury of a ten year old of interest to anyone? Surely even Guy's mother is bored of this by now, and so on.
Well, the reason is that on Monday I heard of the passing of Trevor Francis and it hit me hard. Trevor Francis was an amazing footballer, fifty two games for England, the (then) youngest ever player to play for Birmingham City, a European Cup winner (he even scored the winner with a rare headed goal) and a well known face via football management and commentary. He was also my first hero.
The reason I broke my leg is that I was attempting to perform a 'Francis special' - the origin and definition of this manoeuvre is lost in mists of time. Suffice to say it resulted in 12 weeks in toe to thigh plaster and fractures of tibia and fibula. It was the end of my football career. Some months later my mum, who worked in a local department store frequented by footballers after training, and who had captured me a number of prized autographs, spotted TF in a local supermarket car park. She accosted him with a retort that this 'Francis Special' had caused my fateful injury, only to be told that he had no idea what one of those was and that he certainly wouldn't know how to perform one. Mum asked if he would at least sign an autograph and Trevor indicated he would be delighted to. The only problem was a lack of paper. My mum frantically looked in her bag and spotted the Spiderman book she had bought me as a Christmas present and proffered this as a suitable receptacle for the great man's signature. Hence two superheroes met in a moment of unanticipated synchronicity. The images are below, and this story was captured in the aforementioned article, titled, in a post punk reference to track on Adam and the Ants debut Dirk Wears White Sox, 'The day I (nearly) met God'.
Fast forward now to the next millenium. Back in Solihull visiting my mum we went for a curry at a place on the Warwick Road. During the meal I noticed that the great man and his wife were eating at an adjacent table. Managing to control my excitement until he had at least finished eating, at the the end of the meal I approached his table with my son, Noah. I'm rarely tongue tied or awe-struck, but this proved exceptional. I somehow garbled some platitudes about what he had meant to me, told him the story of my broken leg and he listened, patient and gracious. Meanwhile, he and his wife started talking to Noah who was extremely chatty with them, telling them all about his own football exploits. Trevor offered him his after eight mints which Noah gladly took. whilst walking away from the table he exclaimed 'I've got Trevor Francis's DNA!' to much amusement in the restaurant. Unfortunately, I do not have photographic evidence of this, but here is a photo meeting another hero, Billy Bragg, where Noah told him about me getting his plectrum at a Red Wedge gig.
They say don't meet your heroes, and I agree it's dangerous, but meeting Trevor was an absolute joy and a real privilege and he really was a lovely man. RIP