Stan Bowles

The first line of Viv Albertine’s autobiography, ‘Clothes, Clothes, Clothes. Music, Music, Music. Boys, Boys, Boys’ is “Anyone who writes an autobiography is either a twat or broke. I’m a bit of both.”

Read into the above what you will.

I’ll start sharing resources, edu thoughts etc. when I am competent. But as a trial (which reading it may well be) I share with you a yet to be published article I have written for the QPR fanzine, ‘A Kick up the Rs’ about my boyhood hero Stan Bowles who has recently been diagnosed with dementia.

It starts like this:

It is 1999 and I am recovering from a broken long-term relationship being put up at my mate Sally’s flat while my ex partner is given the ‘space’ she requires. It turns out that this really is quite a lot of space, and there’s beer in cans and tears in pints. But not only beer. Sally is a top notch PR and has a lucrative gig as the representative of the brand Smirnoff Ice. This feels useful at the time, as I never have to return home from the pub without a final nightcap/kosh of teeth-rotting, overly-sweetened, paltry chemical spew to drift me off into a version of haunted sleep; though I will later mark this period and Smirnoff Ice’s role in it as a being a key milestone in my continued downfall.

As part of the promotion of Smirnoff Ice – currently described by its progenitors as ‘The Original Premium Flavored Malt Beverage that started it all’: it started everything, you see, with its ‘delightfully crisp, citrus taste’ – there is an idea to take a five-a-side team of ex-pros over to the only country who do not have a FIFA ranking: Greenland. What this has to do with vodka, aside from the fact that Greenland is cold and icy, and Smirnoff Ice has the word ‘ice’ in it? No one knows. Least of all my mate whose idea it is. But it’s happening.

Sally knows next to nothing about football and has no real idea who the ex pros the PR firm has lined up for her are. She has to spend a long plane ride and a few days with them, and asks my opinion of their respective abilities. I remember a few she mentioned and the opinion I expressed of them at the time.

“Who’s Graeme Sharp?”

“Centre Forward, Sal, ex Everton, ex Oldham, decent player, Scottish international, nice looking boy, not really the real thing.”

“Gary Gillespie?”

“In many ways a journeyman pro promoted beyond his abilities. Made his name at Coventry, transferred to Liverpool, centre back, Scottish international, highly rated by some though.”

“Stan Bowles …”

I recall thinking that ‘His’ name has come out of her mouth without any understanding whatsoever that she has uttered the name of God. The two syllables have reverberated briefly around her gob and have come out imbued with the same lack of significance as she might have used for any former professional ‘athlete’. She could have said ‘Gus Caeser’ for all it meant to her. I am dumbstruck.

“Phil, who’s Stan Bowles? Wake up!”

“Well, it’s difficult to tell you in a sentence, Sal.”

“Who? Is? Stan Bowles?”

“Well, Sally, as I say, it’s difficult, but ultimately … He’s the daddy; he’s the naughty boy; he’s the uber rascal; he’s the maverick’s maverick. Prettier than Tony Curtis, more saintly than Roger Moore; he’s the third goal in injury time in a three-all draw. The seventies were a decade for you or for me: they were just another uncared for possession for Stanley. He got pissed before Superstars and fell in the lake. He’s a profound moral lesson with the hips of a snake. He could pass a bookies, but he didn’t feel the need; he’s slower than John Robertson, but what’s speed when you’ve can land a ball on the head of a pin? He is the only person who can wear his shirt un-tucked in the correct and appropriate correct manner. He’s the gilded signifier of beauty on any Rangers fan’s banner. Yeh, Chivers had sideburns, but they weren’t quite the real thing compared to Stan’s as he effortlessly juggled the ball on the wing. They could not control him at Man City. So he’s Stanley to them, but he’s Sir Stan to me. He’s Shanks’s thoroughbred. He’s the playmaker, the risk taker – he mixed it with Clough, and he could have played more often for England but didn’t really give a toss. He’s the one, he’s the only, he’s the true, the current, the future and eternal King of England. And you, my friend, will be in the presence of real and true genius for the first time in your life.”

“I’ve PR’d Liza Minelli, y’know.”

“Well there are really quite substantial correlations between the two, Sal; as you’ll find out. Look after him. He’s the greatest.”

There’s a post script to this. Sally returned from her sojourn in Greenland with the ex pros. I asked her how it went and what she made of Stan.

“Well,” she said, “He’s the daddy; he’s the naughty boy; he’s the uber rascal. I was at the airport. Everyone was there, on time. No Stan!

I got a call from him. ‘Hi Sal’, he said, ‘It’s Stan. I’m not coming. I’m petrified of flying.’ I talked him down. I said ‘Look, I’ve got some muscle relaxants in my bag, trust me, they’ll relax you. You’ll be barely conscious.’ ‘Alright then’ he says. An hour later he turns up, bright and bushy, and asks, ‘You got those pills, Sal’? He was right as nine on the flight.”

“How did he play?”

“He was a different league, Phil. He looked as if he was really lazy, but then he’d do something that just made you gasp. He made everyone else look second rate. Oh, I’ve got a present for you.”

“Sal, I’ve had enough Smirnoff Ice’s, I think. I could do with laying off them a bit. My teeth are going black.”

Sally then presented me with the present that hangs on the door of my study wall as I write this: a Rangers pennant, signed by Stan, “Good luck Phil, you fucker. Stan Bowles. 4/12/99.”

Religion can be difficult to give up. You know that God is vengeful and intemperate, but he’s still God isn’t he? Having read Stan’s autobiography, I know now that he was the most deeply flawed of geniuses, but he was still a genius, and he’ll always be God to me. Stan Bowles was my first and most enduring role model: he taught me to stand out proudly, to live life with some flair, to wear my shirt un-tucked and to always sport proper sideburns. He taught me that most people want to be average, but the few that are prepared to live it as it might be lived, for them there is a place in history. We all end our days in diminished circumstances, and I’m profoundly sad that Stan is struggling, but few of us have the guts to live like heroes: Stan did and still has.

Added Tue, 2 Feb 2016 16:24

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