I remember the night well. The doorbell went and my brother John answered it. I was in the sitting room just feet away when I heard loud angry voices, so I went to investigate. Skinheads were outside, a couple standing just beyond my brother, and the others perched behind our front wall.
Skinheads were a relatively new phenomenon and these guys with their tightly cropped hair and steel toe boots looked menacing, even more so when I spotted a couple with bicycle chains wrapped around their hands, but I stepped in front of John and asked what was going on. For a reason I can’t remember, their leader had it in for John and wanted to fight him. That would be no contest, I thought, so instead I offered to take his place.
It was arranged that the fight would take place a few nights later at the local youth club. I promised to be there if they stayed away from John. They agreed, so then it was a question of waiting for the big night – and hoping against hope they wouldn’t turn up.
Now I’m no hero, but I was never one to walk away from a challenge. And in this case I knew what I was up against. The skinheads lived a couple of estates away, and the guy I was due to tussle with was a much better fighter than I was. His reputation, as they say, preceded him. To be honest, I was worried about getting a hiding, but could see no way out. There wasn’t.
Come the appointed night I arrived in the youth club with more than a slight feeling of trepidation. I knew some of the teenagers there, but not that well, and the girls whom I would have loved to chat up weren’t taking a blind bit of notice of me.
I was inside fretting away when word came that the skinhead gang was outside waiting. It was time to face my moment of truth, say a silent prayer and hope for the best.
As I crossed the road to fight John (that was his name) I glanced back to see a big crowd sitting on the wall looking on. They had a ringside view as John lunged at me. I had been given one piece of advice – don’t let him kick you in the face. Thanks, that was a no-brainer. We grappled with one another, me trying to land a couple of punches, but we weren’t playing by Queensberry rules here. He caught my long hair and tried to force my head lower while I was watching his feet and at the same time trying to hold him at a distance. Being taller was an advantage, but no use when I was tripped and landed on the ground, instantly aware that there was barbed wire just inches away.
All the while I could hear shouts of encouragement – for whom I don’t know. I had my own worries. I could feel the slow trickle of blood roll down from my nose, but I wasn’t getting too badly hurt. The struggle seemed to go on a long time, and while he raised his feet several times he never got to his intended target – my head/face.
Mercifully, I pushed him off at some point. We stood up, but the fight had left us. John went over to his buddies and they departed soon afterwards.
A bit shook and slightly bloodied, I walked back to the club to be met by several girls who took me into a room, dabbled at the blood, and spoke reassuring words that my body was still relatively intact. My head was sore where the hair had been tugged, and my shirt was torn, but those girls fussed over me like I was a puppy, so I lapped it up, took the cup of tea they offered and felt a little like Superman. A true hero.
From that day on people looked at me in a different way at the youth club. I was no longer a stranger and was even asked to join the committee. Of course none of the girls ever went out with me – I was too shy to ask anyway. It was also my last ever physical encounter. No matter, I retired undefeated like a true champ.