If today was yesterday, I’d be looking at the day ahead with some dread. It’s cold, very windy and wet. Just the kind of weather for when you’re at home or at work, but not if you are looking forward to a football match. And not just any old football match: the tribute match for Ben Hiscox.
We arrived at the Creek at noon to warm sunshine and warm greetings. Bristol Manor Farm had clearly gone to extraordinary lengths to make this game a success. The bars were spotless, the pitch looked in excellent condition and the smells from the smouldering barbecue would soon be enough to derail me from my new healthy eating regime, as would the sight of people emerging from the bar with pints of Thatchers Gold.
A few months ago, I would have known a good few of those arriving at the game, but now I seemed to know everyone. Nods of acknowledgement have gone, replaced by warm handshakes, hugs and kisses. And that was just from the players!
Just before 1.00 pm, the players from both sides left the dressing rooms and made their way to the centre of the pitch, each carrying blue and white balloons and accompanied by family members. It was not just the numbers of spectators that surprised me, it was the number of players, especially those from Stoke Gifford who could alone have fielded two teams. And there was a minute’s applause for Ben.
I was not always enamoured by the relatively recent introduction of the minute’s applause instead of the minute’s silence, but I have been won over. I like the silence for reflection but somehow the minute’s applause – and there have been a few for Ben Hiscox – have seemed just right. The minute’s applause yesterday was the best yet and all of us were able to give thanks for the life of that great man, to share the love he engendered and, as always, to show our solidarity.
The inevitable Goodnight Irene played across the PA system as the balloons were released. They climbed high into the sky, right up to the fluffy clouds that scudded by. Soon they were tiny specks in the heavens and then they were gone.
And soon we were underway, the reason we were all there in the first place: the bar was open! Oh, and the game kicked off. I forgot to mention that bit. At first, it felt like the friendly match it was – and how could it not be given that many of the players knew each other well? – and whilst the tackles were not exactly flying in, the natural competitive urge in every footballer began to kick in. As the game went on, the Gifford found themselves trailing 2-0. Desperate measures were required and they don’t get more desperate than bringing on 59 year old left back Stinky Turner as a marauding centre forward. To be fair to the village legend, he put himself about to great effect against the Toolstation Premier Division team, occasionally managing to even touch the ball.
Ashen-faced supremo Martin Black (59) rang the changes in the village side at half time, taking off his first team stars who had spent most of the previous night (and some of the morning of the game) ploughing through industrial quantities of cider and, god help us, whisky. Some of the first team, and I name no names here, Luke Bartley, did not even last as long as half time, feigning a back injury to depart the pitch (for the bar). Off went the likes of Roots, Cheesey, Moaty, and Meaney and on came Ben Bennett, bone idle student Nigel Johansen, ‘Big’ Jordan Russell, Gizzer Long, the Simple brothers, not to mention the self-proclaimed village legend Airsy at left back.
Bennett found himself in the nosebleed territory of a striking role and to everyone’s astonishment, not least his own, the great man provided two assists for Paul Evans to poach goals for the village. There was general agreement that Bennett would be competing for a first team position next season if the first team squad continued drinking at their current rate.
Although the village began to tire after about a minute of the second half, they put up a decent performance before the lighter alcohol consumption of the home team began to show, resulting in a 5-2 win.
Once the game was over, we retired to the bar for the raffle draw and auction announcements. The MC was John Gibbs, Gloria Hiscox’s brother. He did a quite wonderful job all day and I must pay rich tribute to his hard work. The prizes were all excellent, ranging from booze (the prizes villagers mainly wanted) and so were the football items, ranging from signed balls from Chelsea, West Ham United and shirts from the likes of Bristol Rovers and Bristol City. The Rovers shirt went for £350, paid for by the players to hang in the clubhouse in the Gifford.
I was with the family for a fair part of the day and I know that they were greatly moved by the incredible generosity of people, some of whom like John Hughes from 1970s Glam Rock act Fab 208, who brought items for auction, they had never before met. Even for me, watching from the sidelines if you like, it was a little overwhelming. Something terrible happens, something you never expected to happen, you feel like you are falling apart and then you are joined by hundreds of people who help put you back together, even if it’s just by offering a shoulder to cry on or buying a raffle ticket. A lot of people doing little things helps, but there were a lot of people doing a lot of things. If I could bottle the spirit of 4 May 2015 at the Creek, I’d be a rich man.
And there was something else about yesterday. From the people staffing the gates and collecting money, the programme sellers, the barbecue people (the burgers were wonderful, thanks!), the bar staff and all the other volunteers, as well as the players and spectators – nothing was too much trouble. I have experienced this incredible feeling, this powerful spirit of unity and love and support for a month now and it doesn’t seem to be going away.
In an ideal world, we would not have been at the Creek at all yesterday, but in the circumstances, I am so glad we were. I am glad the sun shone, which it always seems to for Ben. And I am glad we laughed and we cried because both emotions are natural and right. Many of us did both yesterday.
If I have missed anyone who should have been thanked, then it is my fault and mine alone. I did not take any notes, this essay is based on memories alone that were sustained and quite possibly distorted by copious amounts of cider.
The organisation at Bristol Manor Farm was faultless and words are not enough to express our thanks and gratitude to them. The best word I can use to describe that club is class. They showed it in spades. The same goes to the Gifford players and officials who have been immense in spirit and strength for a good few weeks now. And thanks to each and every one of you who came along yesterday to support the family. They know that our love and support for them is unconditional and endless.
In the words of the Carpenters, we’ve only just begun.