A Hackney Christmas Carol

With apologies to CJH Dickens. And the muppets.

Scrooge and his Clerk make ready for Christmas Once upon a time- of all the good days in the year, on Christmas Eve (sort of) - old ‘Ebenezer London-North-West-Scrooge’ sat busy in his counting-house. A tight-fisted hand at the league grindstone, dishing out only the most meagre of bonus points, even to the teams that #staylowly. No warmth could warm him, no wintery wind that blew was bitterer than him. Meanwhile, out on St Springfield’s churchyard, the town sweep Mr Rookeson toiled in the bitter and bleak rain, with only his small horsehair brush for company, endless rivulets of mud and water covering the playing surface. The town clocks had just struck one. Try as he may, wherever Rookeson swept, icy snowfall replenished, and the surface of the churchyard took on a muddy sheen suitable for only the most rudimentary old-fashioned game of association rugby. Through the crack of his counting house door, Scrooge kept his beady eye upon his clerk, Bob Mills, who, though he was a man of sagest advice on the subject of liquor and Christmas celebrations, would sadly not be partaking in one this year. As he tried to warm himself by the flame of the solitary candle, there came a knock at the door. “A merry Christmas Uncle! God save you!” cried a cheerful voice. It was that of Miss Turner, Scrooge’s niece. “Bah!” said Scrooge, “Humbug!” “Come, then,” returned the nephew gaily. “What right have you to be dismal? What reason have you to be morose? You have all the points a team could dream of, kept away for yourself, while honest teams like the lowly Hackneyemen Christmas upon empty stomachs.” Scrooge having no better answer ready on the spur of the moment, said, “Bah!” again; and followed it up with “Humbug.” And so Miss Turner left the room, on her way to the market to purchase a casket of social gunpowder, and several barrels of fine Australian ale to bequeath upon the team at the end of the day. She stopped to bestow the greetings of the season on the clerk, Mills, who, cold as he was, was warmer than Scrooge; for he returned them cordially. And so, as the single coal on the hearth grew coldly to ash, Mills, weary and worn-out from his days works, made tidy his bureau and asked his miserly master, not without expectation, whether he might consider giving the team a bonus point victory, observing with tact that, after all, it was Christmas. “A poor excuse for picking a man’s pocket every twenty-fifth of December!” said Scrooge, buttoning his great-coat to the chin. “Be gone with you Mills, and make sure you do all the more squats in warm up for they are building of both character and leg strength.”

The First of the Three Spirits

That night, when the be-nightcapped Ebenezer London-North-West-Scrooge awoke, startled by a creak of the floorboards, he was confronted by an apparition, a spirit. Twas the ghost of Hackneye Christmas Past. At first, he was as astounded as the village of Hampstead by this vision, “It’s the old guy!” Hampstead exclaimed, as new ‘old man’ Legg approached the line out. For the mantle of Chamberlain had been passed. And so the spirit continued, it led Scrooge along a path, a path of his youth, where bagels, winning bonus points and post-game shower celebrations of indecent nature lined the streets in bountiful abundance. Of post-game parties held by jolly tailor Julian Fezziwig and his companion the Miller, both men Scrooge had not seen of late. For in his youth, Scrooge was oft a visitor at the Hackney Christmas ball, and as he looked, he saw himself in convivial discussion with the Hackneyemen of past, pouring each other large glasses of points, tries and league titles. “Spirit!” said Scrooge, “show me no more! Conduct me home. Why do you delight to torture me?” “One shadow more!” exclaimed the Ghost. “No more!” cried Scrooge. “No more. I don’t wish to see it. Show me no more!” They were at the Mascara Tavern, witnessing a cabinet full to the brim of trophies of yore. They saw strange, self-contained, symmetrical urban settlement towns, surrounded by Greenbelts, where carriage upon carriage of Hackneyemen journeyed and returned arms laden with points. “I told you these were shadows of the things that have been,” said the Ghost. “That they are what they are, do not blame me!” “Remove me!” Scrooge exclaimed, “I cannot bear it!”

The Second of the Three Spirits

As he tossed and turned under his eiderdown, Ebenezer was yet again accosted by an apparition. This time, the bell struck two, and, shaken by a fit of violent trembling, Scrooge heard a soft voice calling him. “Tis, I”, called the voice, as it again took the ball to the line, whirled it around its head, and attempted the offload, “The Ghost of Hackney Present Outside Half (or until my next all day festival of meade and music) ”. “Spirit,” said Scrooge submissively, “conduct me where you will. I went forth last night on compulsion, and am a better man for it.” “Well,” replied the spirit “It’s exactly like Fraser said. We shall see the home of your lowly clerk Mills and you will come to reflect on the man you are. Touch my camel robe and we shall fly” Scrooge did as he was told, and held it fast. Holly, mistletoe, heavy laden trees and Christmas feasts vanished. Ebenezer London-North-West-Scrooge was flying above a scene, a muddy council pitch to the east of the town, of which he had never seen like of before. For all the Cratchits were there, and there in force. The formidable Master Penn, crashing and shouting through lines of his foes from a rolling maul to score the first try of the Yuletide. There was young Rich Cratchit, passing turkey behind his back to the Noble Cratchit, weary after yet again working a full day of sweat and toil with no rest. Young master Bathgate was there too, though his parlance was not audible or decipherable from the elevated vantage point of Scrooge and the Spirit. And Fraser Cratchitaittate crashed it, ate another and Cratchit-ed it again. And then, Scrooge’s eyes caught a downturned figure, cradling an injured limb in a Hackney overcoat. It was Tiny Strong (for the antipodean, Tiny Tim, was in fact not so tiny these days) “Spirit,” said Scrooge, with an interest he had never felt before, “tell me if Tiny Strong will live.” “If the shadow remains unaltered by the future, I see a vacant seat.” But then, Scrooge’s eyes caught something. There, beneath him in the quagmire, was his own clerk, Bob Mills. And he was making a halftime toast, to none other than the miserly Scrooge himself. “Mr. Scrooge!” said Mills; “I’ll give you Mr. Scrooge, the Founder of the Feast!” “The Founder of the Feast indeed!” cried Bob’s wife, Mrs. Jones, reddening. “I wish I had him here. I’d give him a piece of my mind to feast upon, if I can find it that is. What’s the time again? I’m OK. Is it Tuesday? Are we onside?” “Exactly what Frase said.” proffered the spirit. “He may be a miser,” continued The faithful Bob Mills Cratchit, “but ‘tis Mr Scrooge who has provided all that we have feasted on in days gone by. For all we need is a couple of solid exits and the game is ours. Put aside our bygones children and let us work, for nothing comes easy, especially on a bitter wintery eve such as this.” And so, heartened by the wise and selfless words of their father, the Cratchits / Hackneyemen (how do you expect me to maintain consistency across this 19th century multi-dimensional match report? Is time a dimension?) returned to the scene, with Jacob Marley-Grimmer wishing seasons greetings and offering gratis Christmas robes, emblazoned proudly with the Hackneye crest. Spectators from neighbouring towns looked on, one Eagle-eyed Hackneyeman taking note of a particular Belle. Following a couple of booming and excellently pre-planned exits from their end of St Springfields’ Churchyard, from which the Hampsteades somehow inexplicably scored a pair of fine pushovers, the Hackneyemen continued their foray, watched all the while by the observing Scrooge, whose hardened heart was beginning to soften, and whose withered and gnarled hands reached ever closer for his fine leather pouch of league points. For they were not a handsome family, nor were they bestowed heavily by points or league position; but, they were nonsensical, humble, genial, grateful and pleased with one another, and contented with the time; and when they faded, looked happier yet in the bright sprinklings of the Spirit’s torch at parting.

The Third and Final Spirit

The Phantom slowly, gravely, silently, approached. When it came near him, Scrooge bent down upon his knee; for in the very air through which this Spirit moved it seemed to scatter gloom and mystery. It was shrouded in a deep red and yellow Arsenal FC garment, which concealed its head, its face, its form, and left nothing of it visible save one outstretched hand. He felt that it was definitely a front row when it came beside him, and that its mysterious presence filled him with a solemn dread. He knew no more, for the Spirit neither spoke nor moved. “I am in the presence of the Ghost of Hackney Yet To Come?” said Scrooge. And he was, or sort of. For the phantom took entrance in the game that was already afoot below Scrooge, and made immediate impact in the scrums. For, though it did not speak, this spirit was possessed with the strength and fortitude of carrying seen rarely in the cobbled streets of this town. And so the Nick of Hackney Yet to Come carved through a weakened Hampstead defence, not once, but twice, to bring forth the yuletide blessings and hope upon the poor unfortunate Cratchits. “Before I draw nearer to that try line to which you point,” said Scrooge, “answer me one question. Are these the shadows of the things that Will be, or are they shadows of things that May be, only?” And the Spirit did not answer. And just like that, in a flash, he was gone.

The End of It

In cold sweats, Ebenezer London-North-West-Scrooge awoke. Yes, it was he, alive and well, safe in his four-poster, shrouded in the gilded silk of his bedsheets. Best and happiest of all, the Time before him was his own, to make amends in! There must be no delay! “I will live in the future!”, he exclaimed with good intention as he sprung from his slumber, “ For the Hackneyemens shall indeed have a point for Christmas, perhaps even several!” (“Well, let us not get overly carried away,” he thought in a moment of clarity). Running to the Churchyard, he accosted a passing boy, “What’s today, my fine fellow?” asked Scrooge in “Why, ‘tis Christmas Day!”, replied the lad. “Indeed, ‘tis Christmas Day! Here, take this shilling, go and buy, if you can, the finest curried Turkey in the town. Accompany it with all the trimmings, vegetables and dahls you can (For Cauliflower, is, traditional!). For the Cratchits shall feast happy today, on this day of glad tidings, celebration and organised dancing in community centres. And while you are there, stop by young Murphy, and allow him a shot at goal, to bring to all the men of the land a fine losing bonus point with which to end the season” “Scrooge?! Bless my soul,” said Mills, “Is it really you?” “ A Merry Christmas to you and all your club! I shall raise your yearly pints tally, and endeavour to assist your struggling family, we will discuss all your affairs this evening. But for now, let us enjoy a fine meade and a toast to this season of season, Christmas.” And so it came to be, the story of Ebenezer London-North-West-Scrooge, his altercations with the spirits and his pledge to honour Christmas and treat his fellow rugby clubs with kindness, generosity and warmth / points / losing bonuses. Or something like that. Merry Christmas.