Roy returned to Kevin Branley’s recent email, took courage and looked at the Facebook page it linked to: Hoyland Hill School Reunion 2012. Its banner image was a formal, all-school photograph from 1970. Neat, bug-eyed first years sat cross-legged at the front while lanky, hairy sixth-formers stood, probably on PE benches, to the rear.
The pupil rows were bracketed by teachers, several of the older ones wearing black gowns in defiant deference to the ethic of the grammar school that Hoyland Hill had ceased to be. Also robed were the head and his deputies, who occupied the centre of the middle rows, survivors of the comprehensive tide yet hemmed in on all sides by the forces of modernity.
Roy quickly found himself in the picture, which was long familiar to him from Don and Gwen’s kitchen wall. It had hung there, smartly framed, since the year it was taken. Its special significance for the Paine family was that all three of the Paine children appeared in it, the only school year in which this would occur.
Down at the front sat Nerys, prim in her gingham summer frock. Brian was among those gangling at the back, his uncompromisingly old-fashioned side parting a predictor of the blazered sententiousness to come. He’d just sat the A-levels that would propel him to the University of Reading, becoming the first Paine to ascend to higher education.
By contrast with his siblings, Roy, untidy and rather small, was captured at a stage of fourth form transition. Until that point in his school life he’d occupied a narrow, social grey area between sporty cool and swotty square, but adolescence had hardened boundaries and Roy had found himself at the margins of the football culture’s male order, no longer good enough for the Under-15s with its unnerving alpha egos and early sideburns.
As weariness took hold, Roy now saw in the school photo a summer of disillusioning adaptation. He recalled England’s traumatic exit from the 1970 World Cup, losing a two-nil lead to West Germany in the sweltering heat of Mexico. “Ball-watching!” Don had wailed, as Seeler and Muller had finished off Alf Ramsey’s boys, he and Roy sitting suffering together in front of the family’s first colour TV as post-war presumptions of superiority over “the Krauts” began their process of decay. Nerys had looked up from playing with her doll. Brian was aloof in his room with his microscope and bound copies of Look And Learn.
A new mould had been cast that day and suffered barely a chip since. German teams, whether the old West Germany or post-reunification, were more efficient, more resilient and, increasingly, more exciting to watch. The latest one excited Roy as he watched it lash and volley the limited Greeks to a four-two defeat, Chancellor Merkel leaping in the stands. England had long since become a quarter-final football nation and Roy, deploying the cruel luxury of hindsight, wondered if the old school photo captured the start of something rather quarter-final about him too.
All previous instalments of Roy’s Summer of Sport are HERE.
On London strives to provide the best possible writing about the capital city. Become a supporter for £5 a month (or £50 a year) and receive an action-packed weekly newsletter and free entry to online events. Details here.