Sunday, May 16, 2010

How a man from the Shankill won the World Cup for England in 1966 [The Thirty Nine Steps retold].

I have the honour of acting as legal representative and archivist to one Willie Smith of the Shankill Road who died recently after an eventful life. Among his papers is one in which he confesses to being responsible for England winning the football World Cup in 1966.

 “ As the hour of my death approaches, I have no fear. My affairs are settled and my conscience is clear, save in one matter which I will now confess, with you reader as my witness. ” Willie Smith, Shankhill Road

“ It all started when my long forgotten English cousin picked up a John Buchan novel, slipped and banged his head, and it ended a year later at the World Cup Final in 1966. In between times my cousin was stiff upper lipped Dick Hannay ever alert to conspiracy and betrayal of the motherland. If I tell you also that, by his own account Hannay had escaped, injured and bloody, from imprisonment by a man with a pencil moustache and a Germanic accent you will know that when he knocked on my door on the Shankhill that summer's evening he was already seriously delusional. Gradually as my alcohol and my painkillers kicked in, and in between glances out the window, he let slip the whole story from the very beginning.

How at an early age Brockwurst, Pieters, and von Mooren moved from communist East Germany to West Ham United, how they became Geoff Hurst, Martin Peters and Bobby Moore, and how they progressed from the youth team, incidentally always leading the communal singing, to full England internationals. By far the most dangerous of the three was the blonde, blue eyed and brainwashed von Mooren who was a trained assassin primed to be triggered at a crucial moment.

Well …my astonishment was matched only by concern for my cousin's welfare …but more detail was to follow.

Seemingly, accordingly to Hannay, the three footballers were controlled by a mysterious figure located in the Scottish Highlands known as Angus McHilter. Incredibly my cousin had managed to steal a manuscript entitled “Och ma stroogle” which gave brief biographical details, and more importantly, particulars of a fiendish plot. In sum, forced by circumstances to live in exile, in what McHilter considered a backward country, where music had not progressed beyond the 15 th century, and where men wore skirts and not manly lederhosen, it was McHilter's plan to avenge the humiliations suffered by his beloved Fatherland and to regain his personal honour. What better than to humiliate the England football team at Wembley by ensuring England lost all their games and to assassinate Her Majesty the Queen. The only outstanding question was how and when this foul murder was to occur. The only clue was the recurring phrase in the manuscript “The thirty nine steps”.

Well my astonishment was now matched only by my concern for my own welfare. Here was a man, my cousin no less, who at the very least was clearly paranoid delusional. And I admit I wanted to talk to someone about him, preferably someone wearing a white coat. My fear subsided temporarily as my cousin lapsed into a drug and alcohol fuelled oblivion. I took stock. Forget my cousin. Here, to all intents and purposes was Richard Hannay, a man of absolute moral certainty who had discovered a conspiracy and had set out single handed to frustrate the fiendish plot and there was me…….. cousin Willie Smith.

I, wanting to find out more about the World Cup, went out and bought a football magazine in addition to my usual Belfast Telegraph . I needn't have incurred the extra expenditure. There staring out from the front page of the Tele was a picture of myself without moustache without spectacles, but according to the caption it was Bobby Moore. Thus on that fateful day I learned that I with the habitual sick note for games, the champion school duffer, could be an exact double of the England captain - the world's greatest football defender.

I had to think quickly. Nothing. I tried thinking slowly. Still nothing. I reflected. Was it my problem, our problem or his problem? My cousin began to show signs of awakening and it came to me in a flash. It was his problem; let him worry about it, and I hid in the bathroom and waited. I glimpsed myself in the mirror but there was no trace of shame. I became curious however and removed my spectacles and lathered my face with a shaving brush, and slowly ever so slowly, shaved off my waxed moustache. Ever so slowly I became Bobby Moore.

Too late I realised what a damn fool I was! This placed me in even greater danger. In addition to Bobby Moore I was now Von Mooren, enemy of the state, part of the conspiracy, and alone in a flat with Dick Hannay. Now it was my problem.I had to think. I thought better of it and decided to improvise. I left the bathroom, entered the sitting room and held out my right hand. I have never ever forgotten the ensuing conversation as I gradually warmed to the task of entering and controlling his world.
“I congratulate you, Hannay, you are a formidable opponent. Nothing in my training prepared me for your English bulldog spirit; you are truly indefatigable. To survive.. to escape… to evade capture… was incredible enough but to post your cousin with the secret of the thirty nine steps together with a ticket on the QEII to New York was nothing less than a masterstroke. Indeed we are all at sea , and I must assume that the authorities have been forewarned. I can do no other. Take my hand Hannay, it's over, you've won”.

The pause was short but significant. He had accepted my new persona.

“What are you doing here Von Mooren? How do I know this is not a trick?”

“Because you are alive Hannay. Think man. You are alive because you are no longer a threat to my plans that, sadly, are now in ruins. In choosing to run with the hare your brave Shankhill cousin escaped a very painful death, spared your life and saved your Queen. You're men after my own heart, Hannay. What is it that they teach you on the playing fields of England and Ulster that they cannot teach us in Prussia ?”

Hannay took a step back, assimilated the information about his cousin and at last said, “I'll not shake your hand Von Mooren but tell me this, what will happen to you?”

I thought quickly again. “Nothing, both sides pretend none of this ever happened and start again. Already we have new orders.”

“And they are?”

Growing more confident I found myself saying. “Why to win the tournament, climb all those steps and collect the World Cup for England of course. What could be more proof that this never happened?”

“Very clever. One last thing Von Mooren, should you triumph and climb those steps, ah yes, those thirty nine steps , make sure you wipe your dirty Bosch hands before greeting Her Majesty…because I'll be watching you. One false move and you….”

I interrupted. “Don't worry remember she is my Queen too, she is of the House Saxe-Coburg-Gotha. One day the Fatherland and the Motherland will be united. Until that day we will continue to meet on and off the field. I promise you that you will not always win. Enough. Goodbye for now Hannay”.

The accumulated knowledge that his provincial Ulster cousin, Willie Smith, had saved his life and more importantly Her Majesty's, that the riddle of the thirty nine steps was so simple, and that seed of doubt about his beloved royal family was too much and my cousin hyper-ventilated, stumbled and fell to the floor - hitting his head once again. Quickly I put the recently purchased Charles Buchan Football Monthly in his hand and offered up a silent prayer. By the grace of God when he awoke he was no longer Dick Hannay.


And now looking back after all these years I wonder. What if my cousin hadn't come to my door? What if he hadn't revealed his delusions? Would he have taken it upon himself to eliminate Bobby Moore, Martin Peters and Geoff Hurst in the belief that they were the German assassins Von Mooren, Pieters, and Brockwurst. What if I hadn't confronted his demons? Would England have won the World Cup? What if, what if, what if…


All I can say definitely… is that for a brief time my cousin had the motive, the means, and most importantly, when he returned to his job as the England team barber, the opportunity.


“They think it's all over”. It very nearly was before it even began. Without me, Willie Smith from the Shankhill Road, England would never have won the 1966 World Cup and we in Northern Ireland would never have had the World Cup rammed down our throat by the English media ever since. I beg forgiveness from the Almighty. ”

Willie Smith

Signed in the presence of his solicitor.

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