It’s a sad sign of the times when the sight of a footballer at a bus stop makes back-page news. But that’s exactly what happened when QPR’s Adel Taarabt left Craven Cottage after being substituted at half time and ended up in his club tracksuit, waiting for the No.49 with a load of supporters. Whether or not he should have left the ground early, it was quite refreshing to hear that Taarabt was happy to use his Oyster card rather than jump into a chauffeur-driven limo. But there was a time when players used to use public transport as a matter of course.
As a young player at Chelsea, I’d always get the Central line from Hainault to Mile End, then jump on the District line to Fulham Broadway – by which time the Tube would be packed with fans. It was always good-natured and you’d enjoy chatting – although it could be a bit unpleasant if we lost. My Chelsea team-mate John Sillett once caught the bus home after scoring an own goal in a disastrous home defeat. He had his cap on and his coat pulled up round his face and found himself having to nod in agreement when a fan commented how bad that ‘w***er of a full-back’ was.
These days players communicate with fans on twitter but 40 or 50 years ago the equivalent was getting up close and personal – sometimes too bloody close – in a crowded carriage. Even when I got a car, Chelsea wouldn’t give me a parking pass, so I ended up jockeying with fans for a place in the side streets. But as much as I hate the roped-off VIP world of the modern footballer, I understand why they tend to shy away from too much contact with Joe Public.
Especially when you hear the sort of vile abuse aimed at Emmanuel Adebayor in this month’s north London derby. I do consider myself lucky to have played in an era when that sort of hatred just didn’t exist. There were still cutting terrace chants, don’t get me wrong. My Spurs team-mate Terry Dyson would never forget the day we played at Anfield just after he’d had his collar felt for buying a job-lot of dodgy fags from a Jack the lad at our training ground.
As we warmed up in front of the Kop, 20,000 Scousers sang: “Ee-aye-addio, Dyson nicked the cigs.” The London Choral Society could not have made a better job of it but Terry said to me: “Hark at those f***ers, Jim.” I replied: “Well, it’s a fair cop, though, Tel.” Yet there was never anything violently abusive and we were only too happy to drink and to travel with supporters without fear of anything naughty happening.
I still get recognised all the time, and find that quite flattering at the age of 71. Although, to this day, my missus refuses to go out shopping with me because she loves her anonymity. Which is one way of getting out of doing the shopping. But there was one time when I actually remember using the ‘Do you know who I am?’ line and that was when I was called for jury service at Snaresbrook Crown Court, not more than a few miles from White Hart Lane, while I was a Tottenham player.
I told the court people that if I was going to send down some nasty piece of work, and all of his mates were in the public gallery, then they wouldn’t exactly have trouble recognising me if they were after a spot of revenge. But the legal people wouldn’t budge, so there I was on the Monday morning, sitting on a jury.
The first case was a brawl between two lorry drivers, which left one of them up on an assault charge. It seemed pretty much six of one and half a dozen of the other so we acquitted the bloke. The defendant said to the judge, ‘Thanks, your honour’ and turned to the jury, raised his fist and yelled, ‘Thanks Jim – and up the Spurs!’ At which point the clerk of the court realised I had a point and discharged me on the spot.