About this series
Close encounters: Chris Hargreaves
25 November 2003
As with most other indie-minded Grimbarians of my generation, the Barge was the first place I did any serious drinking. In the late 1980s a bottle of Newcastle Brown could be had for about £1.20, and if you were still supping out of pocket money then a similarly sized glug of Camerons brown ale was yours for just 90p. As The Smiths, Thin Lizzy and Sham 69 battled it out on the jukebox, there I would sit every night, on the floor if all the seats were filled, outside by the water's edge in the summer; Robert Smith hair backcombed high, downing that cheap booze until I was sick down my best Echo and the Bunnymen overcoat.
The Barge was last place on Earth you would expect to bump into a professional footballer... and sure enough I didn't.
But one night, for reasons the world and I shall never recall, I stumbled past the bus station onto Osborne Street and began a relationship with Swigs that endures fondly to this day. Maybe it was the real ale, maybe I suddenly fancied myself a bit worldly and sophisticated for the goth/punk/metal crowd, or maybe I just liked the idea of being able to leave a pub in the afternoon without the eye-blistering shock of natural light incurring the very real danger of stepping in front of a number 9X bus.
I didn't particularly anticipate a professional footballer in Swigs either, so it was with some wonder that I beheld the appearance one night of Paul Reece and Chris Hargreaves.
Reece was remarkably short for a goalkeeper – five foot eight, I think – but had shown signs of becoming another inspired Alan Buckley acquisition, compensating with agility for his lack of stature and promising to fill the Steve Sherwood-shaped hole in our lives. Hargreaves, though he occupies a midfield spot for Northampton these days, was then a non-striking striker in the classic Buckley mould (he scored five goals for Town in 51 league appearances).
Without quite becoming part of the furniture, the Town twosome showed up regularly at Swigs (never drinking to excess, I might add). The occasion that stands out in my memory was when Hargreaves loped in to share, if not drown, his sorrows with some mates on returning from a disastrous loan at Scarborough, where he managed to pick up a red card and broken leg within the space of a fortnight.
The player drifted to Hull on a free in 1993, a few months after I'd slipped away to uni in Birmingham, where a West Brom fan called Stu would later become my bezzie largely by virtue of some drunken nights watching the USA World Cup. I ended up accompanying him to the Hawthorns a fair bit, first of all as a rubbish Keith Burkinshaw side spearheaded by Andy Hunt and Bob Taylor struggled to retain first division status – and then as Buckley defected, improving the WBA team but winning few friends.
One of Buckley's sins, as the fans saw it, was his well-documented reliance on players he'd already worked with elsewhere. Even those he had once offloaded were not beyond redemption, and before very long both Reece and Hargreaves turned up for tours of duty in the Black Country.
They were no more destined for greatness there than Buckley himself, though, and there you might expect this tale to end as the players moved on without my ever seeing them down the pub. You would reckon without the house Stu rented round the corner from me a few years later, however – where I ended up spending New Year's Eve in 1999 – and specifically a conversation he once had with the bloke next door.
"Albion fan, then, are you? Albion player used to live in your house. Never played for 'em much though. Ended up at Hereford, I think it was. Hargreaves, that was him."
So that's my encounter with Chris Hargreaves. Not that close, maybe, but drinking in the same pub and ten years later seeing in the millennium in his old house is reason enough to conclude that his children and mine will intermarry or something.