Ahead of me – one empty sat-down seat,
centre-back, in this well-attended free bus,
cushion dipped by time, worn by re-visits,
and other weightier-trips across Brighton;
first leg of our return home from the stadium.
We left five minutes early, off wind-groomed pitch,
to get my old boys’ seat, back to the racecourse blow.
Five-a-side, a match before me, no kicking-off;
two bus-faced rows of old men on bench seats,
aged choristers, wearing no wings, winter-wrapped,
and, my guess, a combined span of seven hundred years,
taking me, quickly, to the birth of The Renaissance,
and to Jan van Eyck – not a football manager.
My two boys, lost in the standing coats, look so young,
bus-jolted, but enjoying life, beyond these grim choir stalls.
Just one of the five, down the left, singing aloud now:
‘One goal, should have been three!’ grimly thrown.
I look again at the aligned church-shined toes,
brogues, Clark’s boots, and other comfortable soles.
Steamed up, under-powered, as we climbed over Falmer:
Then, Woodingdean’s winter illuminations:
Misted-view of a bruised bus stop, naked, no poster,
pub lights, still beaming pre-ban smoky yellows,
and angry traffic lights outside the Downs View Hotel.
This journey, to the whine and song of the diesel engine,
over rattle of chassis, clanking like an ill-fit armoured suit,
and an under-pinned stutter of gears and transmission;
I could be tunnelling, Underground, returning from Chelsea,
another lost night at Stamford Bridge, of over-paid play,
on an overloaded tube, instead, this winners’ free bus.
The last hill-grind, up to the racecourse and car park,
relief among the two teams, their bladders held tight,
for that final long release in the loo, before bed.
I stand up, as we shunt over the potted road,
My walking stick matches that of the older players.