It began on a golden autumn morning. It was a Saturday in October 1966. I had just turned 19 back in the summer and England had just won the World Cup on home soil. I was in attendance that day at Wembley when Geoff Hurst stuck it to the Krauts. My best mate Jonny Carr and I sat on a bench at New Street Station waiting for a British Rail InterCity service to London, which was typically running late. This was my first journey back to the Big Smoke since I saw the Queen hand the World Cup trophy to Bobby Moore atop the famous steps of the old Empire Stadium.

The thing is, though, I was sick of it all by now; the World Cup, that is. Ever since July 30th, every single newspaper front page and back was devoted to England’s victory. Even the only two channels we had on television did nothing but talk about the World Cup final. I was beginning to wish West Germany had won the fucking thing; that’s how bad it was. Oh well, I was the son of Irish parents, a “Plastic Paddy” as they say, so how English was I really, anyway?

The Villa were playing away at Spurs that afternoon and the pair of us were earning quite a few quid working on the construction sites at the time, building Birmingham’s new glass and concrete  monstrosities, so we’d thought we’ll treat ourselves to an away day. When the train arrived, we boarded one of the rear carriages and pulled open the sliding doors to an empty cabin. The old British Rail stock was all cabins; the configuration is completely different nowadays, of course.

The train pulled away from New Street heading past Digbeth and across Small Heath’s industrial wasteland of factories and foundries. I recall even thinking back then what a shithole Birmingham truly is. I mean, it’s a total irreparable socialist cesspit now, but in the 60’s, it was one big citywide construction site. Then again, it was even a shit hole back in the 1920’s: you only have to watch an episode of Peaky Blinder’s to see that.

We sat there proudly displaying our claret and blue scarfs with rampant lion badges pinned on them, all while we drank our bottles of brown ale and smoked a few Rothmans. The scarf didn’t exactly match the stylish black suit I had purchased on Carnaby Street the day before the World Cup final. It wasn’t my regular match day attire, but we planned of making a night of it In the West End post-match. I was really looking forward to it because in the 60’s, London truly was swinging London, unlike Birmingham where the pubs and clubs closed at half past ten even on a Saturday night. What other country’s second city did shit like that?

Former World Heavyweight Champion Joe Louis was working as a guest host in one of Soho’s casinos at the time, so me and Jonny had plans of going down there and getting a glimpse of our boxing idol, or even better, an autograph and a photo together.

As the train pulled into Coventry, an older gentleman entered our cabin and sat opposite us playing with his moustache whilst reading the Telegraph. The front of the newspaper had a picture of Gordon Banks and George Cohen holding the World Cup trophy; they were grinning like they were being blown by Raquel Welch. I rolled my eyes.

Shortly after we passed through Leamington Spa, a tidy-looking young trolly dolly brought the buffet cart through. Myself and Jonny Boy purchased another bottle of brown ale each and the Captain Mainwaring look-a-like requested a pork pie.

I chuckled and said, “You’re brave, mister.”

“Whatever do you mean?” he replied.

“A British rail pork pie? Your dentist is going to love you.”

“Nonsense, boy,” he said, handing two shillings over to the young lady. “Nothing but poppycock, made up by scoundrels who don’t appreciate proper British cuisine.”

“Okay, sir, your funeral,” I sighed.

“What do you know, young man? I’ve urinated longer than you’ve lived,” he said.

The old man took a large bite of the pork pie. He screamed in agony as his two front teeth hit the carpeted floor of the carriage and claret-coloured blood that matched our scarves gushed from his ancient gums.

“I told you so,” I said.

We finally arrived into London Euston. Me and Jonny trotted down the station’s steps with our hands in our suit pockets and met my cousin Pete in the car park. Pete was from Kilburn, as was I; I was born and raised there until the age of seven. Being a Kilburn native, Pete was a massive QPR fan, but they must have been playing away somewhere up north that day because he was more than keen on a visit to White Hart Lane with us.

I took the shotgun seat in Pete’s 1963 Rover P6 2000 as we headed north, passing through Camden Town and east through Finsbury Park.

We managed to get the car parked outside some terrace houses just off the Seven Sisters Road and walked ‘round to the now recently demolished White Hart Lane, which had been replaced by a heartless gigantic stadium which looked more like an American NFL arena than an English football ground.

We paid our admission at the turnstiles of the old north stand of the stadium on Paxton Road. You never had to pre-book tickets back then; we just handed over our half a crown and walked right in. Half a crown? What a rip-off that was; typical London prices.

The three of us found an empty slot on one of the rails at the top of the north stand’s terracing just as the game was kicking off. There was no such thing as seating in those days or segregation of fans. Before all seater stadiums were made compulsory by law, spurs used to get 70,000 spectators crammed into the Lane. The same number they get at their new home now, only without today’s upper-middle class chin-strokers sitting in large luxury seats stuffing their faces with 20-quid-a-slice Domino’s pizza.

The terraces of football stadiums back then were like battle zones; you took your life in your hands every Saturday afternoon. Now they’re just libraries. Nowadays, you hear stories about blokes being ejected out of stadiums by the stewards and police for using foul language. I mean, what’s all that about? In my day, British society was more masculine: working-class men attended football matches to shout, swear, and get the stresses of the week’s labour off their chest. It was widely encouraged to an extent. Now it’s all, “Sit back down in your seat and mind your language, there’s women and children trying to watch the match!” Women at football matches? Whatever next? Oh well, fuck the Premier League, bollocks to the television rights, and screw the red-hot garbage that is the sanitised modern game.

I recall an argument breaking out between a Tottenham bloke and a Villa lad midway through the first half. The bold-headed Cockney threw a boiling hot cup of Bovril straight in the Villa lad’s boat race, and as he lay there covering his scolded cheeks and burning eyes, around half-a-dozen of the big Cockney’s mates stuck the boot into the poor cunt. An acquaintance of the seriously singed-faced Villa lad ran up behind the big bold-headed Cockney and hit him over the top of his bare scalp as hard as he could with his rattle and ran away through the hordes of scarf-cladded working-class men. Blood began to piss from the top of his canister over his boat and seeped into his lily-white and navy-blue scarf and onto his brown flying jacket.

A few of the Villa boys tried steaming into the Londoners, but they were far outnumbered and retreated almost immediately. After that incident, I decided to tuck my scarf into the jacket of my suit and began conversing with the boys in my original London accent, which I had lost around the age of 10.

“What are you talking like a Cockney for?” said Jonny in his broad Brummie accent a few decibels too loud. One of the Spurs men leaning on the rail in front looked over his shoulder at us and grunted. Luckily, he turned his melon-shaped head around, resuming his viewing of the match.

Aston Villa eventually scored just before halftime and myself and Jonny boy celebrated ecstatically, forgetting our surroundings. We got a few empty cups thrown at us but that was about it; the main Tottenham mob had moved down the other end of the terrace. About ten minutes before the final whistle, that main Tottenham crew, which now numbered around forty, stormed into a young firm of Villa lads who had around half their numbers. The Villa firm held their own for at least five minutes until the Spurs crew fought them off with fire extinguishers. It was a massacre; there was blood all over the far end of the terrace and the coppers just stood there laughing, probably taking bets on who would come out on top.

The referee blew his whistle and that was it. Tottenham Hotspur 0, Aston Villa 1. Not that it mattered in the long run: the Villa finished second from bottom that season and were relegated to the second division. We tampered our celebrations and fucked off out of there in case the brawling got any worse, which in hindsight I don’t think it could have. We got back in the car and Pete drove us to his mum’s house, my Aunt Maggie’s in Kilburn. From there, we took a stroll up to the High Road and had a few pints in a pub called Molly Malone’s Wheelbarrow. Drinking up on the Kilburn High Road back in the 60’s, you couldn’t tell if you were in London or Dublin. I also think a lot of those pubs up there were full of MI5 and MI6 operatives on the hunt for IRA militants.

After we knocked a few jars back, we jumped on the tube and rode along the Bakerloo Line to Piccadilly Circus. I remember this stunning blonde getting on board at Warwick Avenue. She wore a skin-tight yellow-and-black polka dot top with the shortest skirt I’d ever seen up until the 1990’s. Lovely big voluptuous tits and an arse like the back end of a bus; beautiful. She kind of reminded me of Sandie Shaw, but with more curves. I was trying to get a glance up her skirt, but this young Jamaican lad distracted me by saying I would look even smarter if I wore a hat with my suit and that he knew a guy in Brixton who could sell me one real cheap. I told him I wasn’t interested and he sucked his teeth at me. Unfortunately after that, she walked off onto the platform at Baker Street before I could introduce myself.

When the boys and I alighted at Piccadilly Circus, we went into a couple of pubs on our leisurely ramble down to the Square Mile. By the time we got down to the casino in the middle of Soho, we were all shitfaced and it was pissing down with rain. There was a cardboard cutout of Joe Louis by the door of the casino and I was over the moon.

The bouncer on the door wouldn’t let us in; he said we were too drunk. I told him, “Bollocks.”

He said, “Look pal, you don’t want to make a fuss because you don’t want to get on the wrong side of the people who frequent this establishment.”

I was gutted I wasn’t going to be able to meet Joe Louis; we tried getting into the nightclub adjacent to the casino, but we got the same result. “Fuck off, you Brummie cunt! You’re too intoxicated.”

The boys persuaded me to go with them to the adult picture house across the street. None of us had ever seen a porno flick before, so why not? The clientele who visited porno cinemas in Soho back in those days could be really filthy. I don’t mean filthy-minded, I mean actually filthy as in not having bathed in weeks. They were all full of winos and down-and-outs just paying the admission prices for a place to lay their head for the night.

I purchased a bottle of brandy from the all night off-license next door and took my seat in the cinema. I must have passed out because I was awoken by Pete shouting at an old Scottish dosser behind us; he claimed the old fella had spunked on the back of his neck.

I went outside for some fresh air; by now the rain was coming down like a monsoon. I walked back across the road and attempted once more to find a way into the casino. It was a different bouncer at the door this time. As I attempted to walk in, he stopped me with his huge right palm.

“Sorry, son, it’s VIP only tonight. Come back tomorrow.”

“Oh, okay,” I said, feeling dejected.

The rain cleared up quite a bit and I stood at the front of the casino and lit a Rothmans. As I stood there smoking in the clear autumn night air, I heard another voice behind me.

“Got a spare cigarette, son? I left mine inside.”

I turned my gaze around and who stood before me? My jaw was wide open and my face was starstruck.

“Yes, Mr Kray,” I said as I handed over the smoke.

“Just call me Reggie. And thanks for the cigarette.”

“Anytime, Reggie,” I replied.

“Cheers, kid,” he said.

He looked a bit shorter than what he did on TV, but there he was, larger than life. Reggie Kray, brother of Ronnie and one half of the notorious Kray twins. The emperor and ruler of London in the prime of his life, dressed in a suit which made mine look like tatty rags. He stood there smoking away, chatting with a man who I think was Albert Donoghue. There was a policeman on the corner looking over at us. He was most likely one of Nipper Read’s goons, checking the lay of the land, ready to report his findings back to Scotland Yard.  I just couldn’t believe it. I told the lads the next morning, but they never believed me.

I never did get to meet Joe Louis on that rainy night in Soho, but I did meet a man who, unlike Louis, had an unbeaten record as a professional boxer, albeit a very brief pro career. And a man who, along with his twin brother, ruled over London for nearly two decades with an iron fist. A man who drank champagne with Judy Garland and expensive whiskey with Frank Sinatra and who had politicians in his pocket. At one time, he was untouchable. The twins were icons of British pop culture in the 1960’s and are still household names today. Some folks say if they still ruled the streets of London today, there would be no knife crime or acid attacks. I don’t know about that. I guess we’ll never know.

It may have been for all the wrong reasons, but they were the dictionary definition of legends.