The Wrong Outfit – Al Gregg
When I first talked to Al about his novel when he came on the Chelsea Football FanCast, I summarised it as “Adrian Mole on Glue”. Well on reflection I wouldn’t change that one bit!
We hear the story of what it is like to grow up as an ordinary boy enduring school, sisters, older brothers and various scrapes along the way into adolescence and discovering Football (that would be Chelsea FC) the opposite sex and their peculiar ways and the wonderful chaos that was the Punk Rock revolution in the process.
If you grew up in the ‘70’s and 80’s, love football and Punk Rock then you will love this book. Al cleverly pinpoints all those nostalgic cultural references throughout those two decades such as ‘70’s children’s TV shows like “It’s a Knockout” and “Captain Scarlett” and deftly relives those rose tinted childhood days. Of course, it’s all done with the benefit of hindsight from both author and reader making it even more poignant in the process!
Interspersed with this social history lesson are a flurry of absolutely hilarious anecdotes of a child growing up – such as being attacked by a sister with a bow and arrow, or ‘helpfully’ disposing of the Painter’s favourite wooden plank – all of course making perfect sense to the mind of a 5 year old. Adam has two older brothers who have a significant influence on his life – introducing him to music through Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars (still one of my top 25 albums) and then taking him to Stamford Bridge the home of Chelsea FC to see them play Huddersfield Town play in the spring of 1972. Like so many of us who experienced these rites of passage, clearly for Adam, life would never be the same again.
The main thrust of the book centres on these two obsessions and how school life, adults and growing up do their best to interfere with them. School life for many in the ‘70’s was not too different from our ‘hero’s experience. Sent away from family life, isolated and let down educationally by disinterested or sadistic teachers it became a case of survival and dog-eat-dog – expertly presented by Al. But, humour and strange characters are always in evidence to both lighten and lift the mood.
The book really comes in to its own when Al, through Adam’s eyes, recounts the details from Chelsea’s matches from the good old bad old days of the ‘70’s and ‘80’s. Hilarious and frightening in equal measure, these descriptions will take you right back there if you were indeed there with him, or put a picture in your head that many of the newer fans would do well to remember. Away trips to Millwall and Luton in particular made a few of the hairs on the back of my neck well and truly stand up.
If anything, Adam’s experiences at the early and classic Punk gigs of the Clash, Sex Pistols, Ruts and especially the ‘last’ Sham 69 gig are even more frenetic and vivid. You can almost smell the Cherry Red’s and feel the spit raining down on you as the electricity of these gigs course through you.
All in all, the Wrong Outfit perfectly conveys the isolation and obsessions of growing up in the ‘70’s and ‘80’s experienced by many of us of a certain vintage, but (and this is a very big but!) for those of us who found Chelsea and Punk Rock in the process, like Al, made us in to the blokes we are today.
I couldn’t put the book down when I read it and laughed my head off in the process. I recommend it as essential reading to anyone who loves Chelsea FC (or football) and Punk (and music) and has a passing or direct interest in what growing up then was all about. On top of all that Al is a top bloke and welcome back on the Chelsea FanCast whenever he likes as long as he continues to give me guitar lessons!!!