The Upside Down (AKA stranger things have happened)

We will start with the statues.

It all started on a wet Monday in July, with a peaceful trip down to Waterloo Docks.

(As an impressionable teenage boy, I loved Carrie in Four Weddings, so this is in homage to her speech)

#100 was non descript and an anti climax. #99 was green and mouldy, like the Creature from the Black Lagoon. Could #98 talk? #97 was ‘more defined’, according to my notes… whatever that means. #96 was really weathered and a greeny/grey… #95 I could only see from a distance.

#94 reminded me of all the scare stories about people ringing 999 for the statues who looked like people about to commit suicide… the birds were circling, ominously. #93 had some strange bits of food on his shoulder, with flies buzzing around as if it was a rotting corpse stuck perpendicular to the sand forever. It looked cancerous, with offered sinister foreshadowing of future events. I liked the lines in the background of #92 and I couldn’t help but imagine if #91 might come to life. There were blue skies over #90… but #89 had been spray painted purple.

#88, whatever, and #87 was wearing a t-shirt which said ‘STEPS FOR LEWIS’ and also had spray painted (golden) genitals. #86, too far away but #85 wore another t-shirt, emblazoned with “My wife Cathy, Happy Birthday, Manchester Midnight Walk.” I liked the personal touch here, although it was darker than the others so far and I hoped this wasn’t an omen. #84 was too far out and #83, on softer sands, also had been spray painted.

#82 was a long way out but had the clichéd bird on its head. #81 and #80? Non descript… #79 I drew close up and #78 was being captured by other photographers whom I reluctantly engaged in conversation with. #77, I have nothing to say about. I got a nice composition with #76 but #75 was also too far out: #74 was buried up to its waist in sand and a tyre, and #73 (somewhat bizarrely) had bits of green on it. #72 looked very contemplative and #71 had rather haunting eyes, which had also been spray painted.

#70 had a dog chain around its neck, and a very craggy face, akin to one of the Fantastic Four. #69, #68 too far away and #67 had Elijah in the background as he had accompanied me on this particular trip to the beach. #66 and #65 were distant specks in the sea: it was a choppy day. #64 looked forlorn, #63 Mr Blue Sky, and #62 was barely visible. #61 reminded me of a rusting superhero, with piercing orange eyes, and, drawing him, I almost got stuck in the mud. #60 was wearing a snorkel parka like Liam Gallagher or Han Solo, and again I struck up a conversation there with a southern couple who were marvelling at this other place they were experiencing.

#59 was too far out, #58 was wearing a polo shirt inexplicably, and #57 just looked sad.

I put the project on hold at that point. I’d found a lump, under my arm, one Tuesday morning.

It was probably nothing, I knew… Still, I was naturally perturbed at this strange arrival on my person, so rang the doctor’s and made an appointment. I went to see her a few days later; it was a locum, she didn’t seem too concerned but I still went home worried.

A couple of weeks later, I’d tried to forget about it. It was still there, keeping me awake at night, but those six weeks were meant to be about rest and recuperation and actually had a bizarre dream about Wayne Rooney… the night before his arrest. I do have some mad dreams, largely due to frustration at lack of opportunity for creativity, but also alcohol and cheese, plus being at the mercy of a one year old’s teething and sleeping patterns.

I was sent back for a further check and the doctor seemed perturbed. He referred me for an emergency scan and blood tests, the results of which would be back within a couple of days. Teaching and busy all morning, it had to wait until midday.

I nervously enquired and after a deep breath was told ‘everything was fine’ so suddenly things were looking up. Everton win at last, we get good news, the boy turns one…

At this point I apologise to those readers who, like me, have had worse experiences personally, or lost family members to awful illnesses: I’m truly sorry if this brings back bad memories of mixed messages and ups and downs. There are many people going through it right now, too: my heart goes out to you, because, as you’ll understand, things change quickly, don’t they…

For me too: the next day, the hospital rang and they wanted me to go for a scan the next week.

As I sat nervously in the Marina Dalglish centre, I’ll be honest, I thought about Everton but the current plight of L4 4EL was far from my thoughts. I even felt new found respect for the founder’s family, as fellow patients came in and out, clearly concerned for the youngish man very much out of place at a breast screening clinic.

They said the scan was inconclusive and took a cell sample… I had to wait for three weeks, so that was that for the time being.

I tried to forget, but daily life was getting tougher. As the work situation intensified and other pressures mounted, there needed to be an escape. Not caring about international football other than to admire Italy’s new kit and Gerald Pique’s stance after the barbaric treatment of Catalans wanting to apply a basic right, I decided to go for a few drinks and drown my sorrows with friends in town one Saturday. This foray included a trip to a poutinerie I would wholeheartedly recommend as something different if you’re feeling peckish and want some chips, cheese curds and gravy from Canada.

Talking of town, how sad that almost every weekend now we are hearing about a fight or a stabbing and someone fighting for their life after violence when people should just be out having a good time. As a parent, I worry so much at what it’ll be like in fifteen years when my kids are going out on a Saturday night. It certainly wasn’t as moody when I first arrived in the city in 1999. Drugs play their part, I know, but I got the train home before it got too late because – perhaps due to the failings of the city’s two teams – there seemed to be developing an aggressive undertone where we were sat and I read later there was a stabbing in the bar opposite just a couple of hours later.

Still, in between times there were some positive experiences. Firstly, Joe Parkinson came into school to do some coaching and I managed to watch some of his session and have a good chat with him about the current squad, his recent experiences in the game, and the game in general. I wanted to remind him of Earl Barrett getting asked ‘who are the big eaters’ in the build up to the 1995 final but thought better of it. He was a good bloke and that made my week.

Going back even further, Peter Reid was doing a signing of his new book so I took my one year old to meet him and to get said book and a photo signed. Real gent, funny… everyone has a Peter Reid story and I’m forward to reading it. At around the same age, I’d taken B to meet HK in the exact same spot and, when they’re older, I hope it means something to them and that the current underachievement doesn’t diminish the greatness we had twenty to thirty years ago.

He was oblivious, thankfully.

In between times, I actually had to change my settings on Sky to get a stream of the Brighton match and not because of the bizarre Indian TV deal for the game, but because they thought it was inappropriate for children so the Internet safety shield wouldn’t allow me access.

It wasn’t the best performance but to describe it as a video nasty seemed a bit harsh. The next week, I actually made it to a game, and had fun despite the defeat, but was saddened even more by the father trying to punch a player whilst holding a toddler in his arms.

As a summative review of the month, then: October = despondency and despair, leading to several Domino’s Pizzas being supplied by our union; but on the plus side, feet being measured at Clark’s; anticipation of the new series of Stranger Things (which is incredible so far) and the League of Gentlemen along with genuine excitement building for the return of Morrissey…

Fast forward a couple of weeks, and I wrote the main part of this article sat in a car park, whilst my son had his morning nap. Two hours later, he was getting fitted for his first pair of shoes when the news broke about Koeman. It’s a shame, but it was never meant to be… I never liked him as a player, and only a few times as our manager. I admired his celebration when Holland beat West Germany; I respected his tweeting habits, his ambition and honesty and even the way he handled Christmas tree gate. But I didn’t like him and never really felt that he liked us very much either.

Talking of love, the day of Koeman’s sacking I was due at the doctors for the results of the biopsy.

I sat in trepidation in the waiting room, alone and wondering who the next manager might be… as well as how I’d tell the family. I’d only shared my predicament with a handful of people, understandably…

My name flashed on the screen and I walked down to room 3.

The results weren’t ready, I had to wait and ring back on the Wednesday morning.

I filled the time in between with lovely moments like this:

Though inside, was getting really scared.

I did ring. Still nothing.

Two hours later I had a phone call from the apologetic doctor, giving me the all clear, and a new chapter could begin… Not just for me, but for that frustrating football club too.

Call us insecure or precious, but we need to be loved a bit don’t we? And within five minutes of his first press conference, Unsworth showed us that he does.

I actually met him this time last year, when E was very poorly in Alder Hey and I saw Unsy in the atrium there on the way out one day. Being a fellow Lancastrian, I always loved him as a player growing up, and let him know this discretely, plus that the Norwich game was a very special moment. He concurred, saying it was the best day of his life, and despite the result, I think the Chelsea game might just have usurped it: even though it’s never nice to be knocked out of a cup (especially one we’ve never won) he should be proud of how his team performed.

For how long he gets the chance, we know not… whether it’s him or an alter ego, another hero or villain will enter stage left and become the new protagonist of our narrative.

In the meantime I will finish with a happy family picture, taken an hour after the good news:

November simply can’t spawn another monster… It’ll be beautiful.