Morrisey sang The Last of the Famous International Playboys on the radio and I quickly turned it off.
Some windows were blacked out with yellowing blinds. But I could see Stevie Tait’s galley kitchen from my own. Light shining on the work surfaces, like an aquarium. He’d a studio flat in a tenement block the same as mine, the settee in the living room—dual purpose—serving as a bed, unwashed sheets in the cupboard, but his flat a lower tier on the second floor of Dunbarton Road. He was no longer there.
Stevie was the kind of guy that suited those tracksuits we all wore that made up look shiny as a chocolate coin, with an open-necked T-shirt and sannies. Enough pockets for fags and throwaway lighters and loose change. He’d the low forehead, hair shaved at the sides to combat encroaching baldness and an unshaven prognathous jaw and thick neck. Something Neanderthal in his build. ‘That’ll be right,’ he cried when arguing with you and rolled his rrs into eternity.
‘Terrible,’ I sighed.
Biggins wore his fleeced colour of his denim jacket up to keep out the rain and his back was to the traffic. The shrine filled the overgrown front garden with green and white flags, Celtic strips and scarves and scrawled messages of support. Candles along the coping stones up to the entrance to the close. The half-empty bottle of Buckfast propped up near the red sandstone wall. A sprinkling of cans.
‘Aye,’ he said, with a glint in his dark eyes. ‘But he’d have liked this.’
I knitted my hands together as if in prayed. ‘Aye, shame,’ I whispered and turned my head to check if anybody was using the phone box on the corner.
Stevie was dragooned and played in goal for our Saturday morning team, when anyone out buying rolls, or the Daily Record, was likely to be bundled into a car and given a football strip. Stevie Tait had turned up one morning with Stevie Mitchel. They even looked a bit alike. They came from Mountblow, up the hill. If you hung around with Stevie Mitchel then odds on you were a boozer. But Stevie Mitchel’s religion was winning. It didn’t matter to him what it was: tiddlywinks, darts, pool, or football.
Stevie Tait was agnostic. He really didn’t give a toss. I played in defence and I remember trying to get our players to push out and further up the park. Stevie Tait was playing in goals and he was leaning on the post as if waiting for a bus. He’d a bottle of Buckfast the other side of the post. I think he thought it was hidden from the ref. But Stevie Tait did make saves. He wasn’t the worst.
When we got a proper keeper, Stevie would still turn up with his plastic bag and cans. He came to watch us, and he’d that booming laugh, when you mucked it up, as I usually did. He’d heckle you, and the other team on your behalf.
Stevie Tait would come back to the pub with us to get drunk after the game, but he’d a head start, and he didn’t have much money, so he’d head home early.
Back at his studio flat. We’d worried that the Council would take away the mementoes, in the way they used to knock down our gang huts and cart it away to the coup. But the shrine was still there, long after his funeral.
Scarves and tops worse for wear in the rain. No longer symbolic of a legend, but litter blown into other gardens. The Buckfast bottle the first to disappear, cans full of slugs, rusting into the ground. Nobody ever came and the passer-by didn’t see it.
I ambled down to the shops, or to use the phone, and it was a reminder. Stevie had checked out. As easy as that. No real reason. No ceremony. No note. He was there and then he was not. Then one wet day the sparkle of the shrine was gone. The garden returned to overgrown grass and dock leaves. I no longer looked into Stevie Tait’s house, but the light was still on, if he ever did return. He’d be middle-aged, like the rest of us.