Chewing gum and a football match

The taste of spearmint sweets and all at once it is a Saturday afternoon.

Chewing gum was, of course, banned from school.

To have a packet of Wrigley’s was not considered as great an offence as having a packet of Player’s No 6 or a bottle of Autumn Gold cider, they would have meant a journey to the principal’s office and a caning, the gum would merely have been confiscated and thrown in the bin.

The prohibition of chewing gum causes me to wonder how I came to have a packet in my pocket that Saturday afternoon. I know it was Spearmint because I preferred Doublemint and was annoyed at not having any. Perhaps it had been bought the previous Saturday and had remained in my coat pocket because it was not the favoured flavour.

Being a skinny kid under five feet tall and less than seven stone in weight (the statistics are from my school report of the time!), I might not have been expected to have been among the lads two years older who sat at the back of the bus. For some reason, they included me among their number, and I would sit awkwardly in the corner seat, often not understanding their conversations.

The strip of Spearmint gum marked the beginning of the journey to Plymouth. It was rare that we were allowed to go there. To those of us from small, rural villages it seemed like a big city, to the boys from London and the Midlands, it was just an ordinary town.

The journey was being made to allow those who wished to do so to attend the League Division 3 match between Plymouth Argyle and Charlton Athletic. Argyle were challenging for promotion to Division 2 and the terraces of their Home Park ground were filled with supporters.

In one of those extraordinary moments of synchronicity, I have just Googled the match to discover that it was played on 8th February 1975, exactly forty-seven years ago today. Not only are the details of the match to be found, there is even footage of the match online. (It is not possible to spot a short, skinny kid chewing gum among the 22,946 supporters).

Why after such a lapse of time did the taste of spearmint evoke memories of a match hardly remembered in the intervening years? Is it the case, as some psychologists have argued, that everything we have seen and heard is stored in our memory, and the question is one of retrieval? Deep within the recesses of my memory, is there a file marked “8th February 1975?”

If there is a file, it’s not very comprehensive, it can recall Spearmint gum, but not that Plymouth Argyle missed a penalty that would have won the match in the 89th minute.

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