Although born in W2, I spent most of my formative years in the East End of London. I was a kind of exiled R. The family had to move because of “housing” problems, as my Dad said. Once ensconced in the Petticoat Lane area, new friends were soon found in a predominately Jewish environment, as this was in the early 1970s. One of these was a curly-haired kid, who could readily beat two or three of the opposing team in the regular eight-a-sides on the concrete pitch between the two shed ends of the tenement block in which we lived. We became friends, albeit he was four years my senior. He told me he was having trials with big clubs and would make the big time... turns out he didn’t do too badly. His name was ‘Silky’ - real name Barry Silkman: former professional footballer; now erstwhile football agent, greyhound trainer & part-time singer. After securing a contract at Wimbledon, ‘The Silk’, as he became known, progressed to Crystal Palace in 1976, via spells at Barnet and (of all places) Hereford. He told me he that he could never eat kidney because the smell reminded him of Hereford cow shit.
Although I was a Rangers die-hard, I often went to midweek Palace games with him, accompanying his then girlfriend Mandy, who happened to be a right sort (apologies for the chauvinism), so I’d waltz into my seat with this blonde on my arm, watching a young Kenny Sansom banging crosses in for Dave Swindlehurst.
Most nights after work, I’d pop round to Silky’s - mainly to decide which dog track we’d be going to that night. Wherever we went, we’d always be late - as it took an age for his bouffant hairstyle to be washed, dried and brushed into place. Then it would be thrashing the arse out of the Opel Manta en route to Wembley or suchlike, only to miss the 7.45pm opener and see the dog you just knew would win, coming around the last bend five lengths clear!
One evening was different. There was another person in the front room. “The Stu (as Silky called me), this is Budgie...” Sitting on the sofa in front of me was a bloke with tight, dark, curly hair and a pronounced chin. “Alright, cocker?” he said in his distinctively Northern accent. What happened next would stay with me forever.
On the table was a full fruit bowl, from which he selected a big juicy orange. He then asked me to throw it at him to his left or right so he could dive full-length and produce a save worthy of winning a Cup Final. After a few throws, I excused myself and went to see Silky. “Don’t worry, mate - he’s harmless enough but totally off his head!” That turned out to be an understatement, because he then regaled me with the story of how, on the previous Saturday, when they were driving down Oxford Street, Budgie decided to don a German tin helmet and shout “Seig Heil” at pedestrians.
Budgie was a larger-than-life character who would eat anything in sight, usually without even asking permission; therefore the fruit bowl had to go. He turned up another night and asked where the oranges were (we wasn’t sure if it was for eating or throwing). We told him the shops had run out, although really we lived just a hundred yards from Spitalfields fruit & veg market.
Signed from Brentford, Silky moved to Terry Venables’s Rangers in 1980, being the first player he bought in after taking over from the sacked Tommy Docherty. That turned out very handy, as I got free seats and would meet the players post-match. John ‘Budgie’ Burridge hadn’t arrived yet - but in his absence he had a fine substitute in Simon Stainrod, who I thought was as daft as a brush.
I remember one night we were in Morton’s Club in Berkeley Square after a midweek match. Silky was singing Morris Albert’s Feelings, accompanied by the resident pianist. Terry Venables joined in on a few of the choruses and Simon Stainrod sat perched on a stall all misty-eyed, as the rendition obviously got to him.
Silky made his debut in November 1980 in a dour draw against The Codheads at Blundell Park. Then it happened - Budgie arrived some four weeks later, part of the Palace cavalcade along with Mike Flanagan and Terry Fenwick. So now the partnership was again together - and amazingly on Budgie’s debut, played on a cold Boxing Day, we beat the future Division Two Champions, West Ham, 3-0, with Silky getting the first!
The season continued in an up and down manner: good wins, bad losses and drab draws. But overall the ship was steadied, as Terry looked to play the kind of football that the fans wanted to see. with Rangers eventually finishing a respectful eighth and culminating in a 5-0 drubbing of Cambridge United on what was to be the last game to be played on grass for a few years. Some of you may remember, we were all invited to take home lumps of grass from the pitch as a memento - have you still got yours?
In September 1981, the partnership was broken up as Silky was sold to Leyton Orient, where he honed his coaching skills under the tutelage of Frank Clark. Budgie stayed behind, still carrying on with his handstand routines as part of his pre-match warm-up. That season was to become one of the most memorable in the history of the club, as we went on a cup run. In the third round proper, we played Middlesbrough and Budgie was dropped in favour of Peter Hucker - a position he never relinquished all the way to the Final. As they say, that was the straw that broke the camel’s back as Budgie flew the nest and signed for Wolves. (This is a football story and there are three animals in that line!)
So the two amigos were finally separated; two players who between them played or represented almost 50 clubs during their long careers. It was and still is a pleasure to know them both.
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