Salford Lads Club

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Status: Finished  |  Genre: Thrillers  |  House: Booksie Classic
When John's friend Dave suggested going to something called Salford Lads Club he had no idea what he was getting into. He was about to be drawn into the murky world of bare knuckle fighting.

Submitted: August 06, 2014

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Submitted: August 06, 2014

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It was a fairly normal Thursday afternoon. John Parker was busy at the office, just the usual really. Then he received an email from his friend Dave. He clicked on the message expecting either a silly joke or an invitation to their local Indian restaurant. But when he opened it the message was rather more intriguing. Just one question.

Fancy doing something different tonight?

What’s that? John typed in reply.

Not entirely sure. It’s called Salford Lads Club. Meet me later and we’ll check it out.

John agreed. He decided that the unknown was still better than trawling through five hundred channels of crap on television. As the afternoon wore on he wondered exactly what the hell they were letting themselves in for. They had arranged to meet at six forty five that evening.

John drove while Dave gave directions. They headed through parts of Salford that John had never heard of. He was still wearing his shirt and trousers from the day at the office. Dave was in t-shirt and jeans, having had time to get changed out of his work gear. John didn’t mind still being in his work clothes, he just hoped that wherever they were going had a bar. He really could do with a pint.

Dave pointed to the left. John turned, pulled onto a car park in front of a red brick building. The gravel crunched under the tyres. They both looked at the place. It must have been a cinema or theatre back in its prime. Judging by the dilapidated state it was in now its days of drawing in an audience were long gone.

‘You sure this is it?’

Dave shrugged. He climbed out of the car. He approached the building. John followed, glancing over his shoulder. He hoped that his car would still be there when they got back to it. The paint on the double doors was flaking. Dave pushed on the door. To their surprise it creaked open.

In the dim light he saw tables and chairs covered in sheets of dust and cobwebs. There was a must stale smell in the air. The place had clearly been shut up and disused for a while. As they walked slowly through the scene John was convinced he’d walked onto the set of a low budget horror film. Any second now they would be stabbed to death by a man in a hockey mask.

They saw people standing round in the middle of the large room. There was the sound of people talking. John was about to suggest they leave it but Dave whispered come on. The group was made up of around fifty people. All male but apart from that they were a real mix of people. They aged from eighteen or twenty to fifty years old. Some looked like out of shape desk clerks like him. Others looked like they had tough manual jobs that had toughened them up physically and mentally. John wondered if they were here for a football match, a poker game or maybe even an army style fitness boot camp. Perhaps it was a jazz night, but he could hardly see a horn section arriving and launching into So What? by Miles Davis. But whatever it was he had a bad feeling about it. There was the murmur of hushed chatter. John leaned in to catch his friend’s ear.

‘What the hell is this?’

‘Shush. I think it’s starting.’

The group moved, pushed and shoved to form a large circle. A man swaggered into the centre of the circle. He was a plain looking man with short dark hair. He reminded John of a serious lad in the accounts department at his office. The man looked around the group with excited eyes. He might have looked a bit on the geeky side but the way he moved and the glint in his eye, John knew he was trouble. The talking stopped.

‘Welcome to Salford Lads Club. My name is Gill. Most of you know why we’re here. And those that don’t-’ he grinned. ‘you’re about to find out. Let’s welcome our first two contestants.’

The crowd cheered as two men stepped forward. They pulled off hooded tops. They stretched and limbered up. A bell sounded from somewhere. John stared in disbelief. Was this actually what they were here for? Unlicensed fighting? He wanted to leave but his legs wouldn’t move. He glanced at Dave. His friend had a puzzled expression on his face. Then it happened. The men gathered round yelled and shouted as the two men circled each other. One of the men, in a grey Lonsdale t-shirt, slammed his fist into his opponents face. The men cheered him on.

The fighters exchanged blows. John felt sick. The grunting and sickening crunch as the attacks landed made him feel faint. But he could not tear his eyes from the scene. His heart was pounding. Adrenaline ran through him. One fighter shifted to the side, jabbed with a right fist that rocked his opponent. John watched as the two men punched, elbowed and kicked bloody lumps out of each other. He had hardly led a sheltered life but he’d never witnessed anything like this. The guy in the Lonsdale shirt drove an elbow into his opponent’s jaw. The crowd roared as the other guy’s legs went weak. Lonsdale spun on his heels and smashed a backfist into the side of his head. The other guy crumpled to the hard floor. The bell sounded. Ding ding ding. It was over.

The crowd applauded as the victor went to cool down and to catch his breath. The other guy was picked up and taken away to be patched up. As a second brutal bout got under way Dave grabbed hold of John’s arm.

‘Come on, John. Let’s get out of here.’

‘What? The next fight is starting.’

‘This is awful. Worse than Irlam at chucking out time on a Saturday night.’

Dave pushed through the crowd. He slipped away unnoticed. John watched transfixed as a fresh set of fighters exchanged punches. He knew it was barbaric and as Dave had said, on a par with watching a drunken Saturday night punch up. but he was captivated. He felt like electricity was running through him. He recalled a quote by John Lennon about hearing Elvis Presley for the first time. Before Elvis there was nothing, then Elvis came along and everything went Technicolor. That was how he felt as he watched the fighting.

A couple of hours later, after several gory bouts, the organiser, Gill entered the circle. He had the same evil smirk on his face.

‘Thank you all for coming. I hope you have enjoyed the entertainment. See you next week.’

He flung his arms wide in a theatrical gesture. Thunderous applause rang out.

 

On the drive home images of the fights went through his head. He could not wait until next week.

 

The following evening John’s mobile phone rang. The small screen flashed with Dave’s name and his profile picture holding a pint of lager.

‘Alright mate?’

‘Mate, that was awful wasn’t it?’

John said nothing.

‘What did you make of it? How long did you stay?’

‘Till the end. I’ve never seen anything like it.’

‘It was hanging. Who would want to watch two blokes beating the crap out of each other?’

‘I’m going back next week.’

‘What? You’re not serious.’

 

John knew his friend had a point. If he’d have known beforehand that it was unlicensed no rules fighting then he would never have gone along. Normally he wouldn’t even watch boxing on television. But having witnessed it first hand he was hooked. It was brutal, savage. But that was precisely the attraction. These days in the world of health and safety that he lived in, there was nothing as extreme as that. It was so wild, dangerous, so liberating.

He could not wait for next week. It was at the back of his mind all the time. Dave called him a few times. After chatting about television and football there would be a pause. Then his friend would ask if he was really going back to the Lads Club. John would just mumble that it was none of his business.

 

The day of the club John was like a teenager before a date. He had butterflies in his stomach. He drove quickly. He wanted to get there sharpish. There was more people there than last time. There could have been seventy men huddled round. John pushed through the crowd to the front. Again, Gill, the organiser, paraded into the ring. As he walked past John he nodded in recognition. John was elated. He felt like he did the time that Sir Alex Ferguson shook his hand before a match at Old Trafford. He felt honoured.

The bouts got underway with their usual flourish. John, once again, revelled in the danger and the barbarity of the fights. At the end of one fight John’s face was spattered with a fighter’s blood as a blow connected. John found himself yelling encouragement in reply.

 

On the drive home he sighed. These nights released something that was bottled up inside him. The rest of the week society’s rules mattered. You watched your language, queued in line in Tesco, did as your boss told you at work, but here at Salford Lads Club all that crap went out the window. Perhaps that was the attraction. It stripped everything down to one man against another.

 

Despite his friend’s protests John went back week after week. Salford Lads Club was all that mattered to him. Everything else was simply killing time.

A few weeks later he refused to talk about the subject with Dave. He quietly but firmly told him to ‘drop it’. After a silent pause his friend had changed the subject to talk about the Monty Python live concert shown on television the other night.

After that John did not really hear much from Dave. The phone calls, the visits and nights out seemed to dry up. The fight club had really come between them. John thought it was a shame but he really could not give up the Lads Club.

 

One night after the bouts had finished and the crowd was dispersing John hung back. He wanted to talk to Gill. He approached the organiser. Called his name. The man turned. The look he gave John asked what the hell do you want? John had prepared exactly what he was going to say but under the intense gaze of the intimidating character he forgot his words.

‘I want to fight.’

Gill grinned. Then landed a fist in John’s face. He lost his balance. Fell to the floor. Gill launched kicks at his body and head. Just when John didn’t think the attack would ever end and he could feel himself losing consciousness Gill stopped. He leaned over.

‘Come back next week.’

John managed to get to his feet. He tried to sweep the dust off his work shirt and trousers. He staggered towards his car. His face hurt as he laughed. I’ve got a fight next week, he whispered.

 

John went back the following week. The only thing he would change about Salford Lads Club was the starting time. If it started a bit later then he would have time to go home and change his clothing. Here he was, having his first fight and still wearing his shirt and trousers from the office. he had butterflies in his stomach as he joined the crowd. He wanted to shout that he was fighting tonight. Gill entered the circle. He looked around. His eyes locked on John’s. He walked over to him.

‘What’s your name?’

‘John.’

‘Lads,’ he said to the crowd. ‘this is John. He thinks he’s got what it takes. Let’s find out.’

The crowd yelled as John stepped forward. He felt all eyes on him. His hands trembled at his sides. He made fists. He tried to control his breathing. A voice in his head asked what he was doing. Gill waved a hand. A guy much bigger than John stepped forward. The guy wriggled out of his sports jacket. He was wearing a training vest with the name of a Manchester boxing gym. He limbered up, threw punches at the air. Stared at John. John shrugged. He pulled his shirt tails out from his trousers. He glared at the guy. He couldn’t explain it but right there and then he really wanted to fight the guy. He wanted to go head to head and see who came off on top. He wanted to punch his face in. the bell rang. John held his breath. This was it.

His opponent waded forward, fists raised. John stepped to meet him. John threw a left hook. The guy leaned back and avoided the blow. Then slammed a fist into John’s face. He felt pain. His eyes watered. He felt something else. For the first time in years, he felt like he was living. He raised his hands to protect himself. He fended off blow after blow. Then he managed to counter and land an elbow to the guy’s face. The guy rocked back on his heels. The crowd cheered and whooped as John landed a right to the side of his head. He went for the left hook and felt a knee to his stomach. He gulped for air. Took a few steps back. Tried to catch his breath.

They fought on. John’s limbs felt so heavy. His guard slipped. He took a blow to the head. He crumpled to the ground. Couldn’t get to his feet. His opponent landed a few hard kicks before the bell rang. It was over.

The crowd roared. John managed to stand up. Every part of him hurt. He looked around. Again all eyes were on him. But this time there was no curiosity in their expressions. They were impressed. Despite his swelling features he grinned.

‘Gents,’ said Gill. ‘let’s give it up for your winner.’

Cheers and yells.

‘But let’s hear it for the newcomer, John.’

A thunderous cheer went up. He managed to raise a hand. As he hobbled towards his car Gill patted him on the shoulder.

‘You did good, mate.’

Despite being in pain he felt exhilarated and proud. He felt like he had been accepted by the group, that he belonged there.

 

There were gasps the next morning as he crossed the office. The women acted concerned but really just wanted the gossip. What happened? Was he okay? Who did this? John wanted to tell them the truth just to see their faces. But he explained that he’d been to see a band in a pub and had been jumped by a group of lads. They had not taken anything, thankfully. How awful, the women chirped. If you only knew, John thought.

 

That evening as he flaked out on the sofa watching a repeat of Red Dwarf on Dave there was a knock on the door. Expecting the window cleaner to be calling for his money, he snatched a fiver from his wallet and opened the door.

Dave looked disgusted as he took in the state of his friend’s face. John waved a hand, come in. When they were in the living room Dave spoke.

‘So is it true then?’

John shrugged.

‘Phil at your work text me saying you’d been beaten up. Except that is not entirely true, is it?’

‘Dave, you don’t understand.’

‘You’re going to do this again?’

‘Yes. Yes, I am.’

Dave shook his head and made for the front door.

 

In the weeks and months that followed John fought regularly. He lost often but then one night he found something buried deep inside him, found the beast within. He leaped at his opponent. With a flurry of limbs he demolished the fighter. His heart pounded. The excitement and elation was electric. The crowd went crazy. John gave a growl that came from that place deep down.

He became one of the top fighters. Always dressed in his, now trademark, work shirt and trousers, he would yank his shirt tails free as the bell rang and the people cheered. He usually fought last, top of the bill. His bouts were the main event. He did not care if Dave approved or not. It was the first thing he’d ever been any good at. He was not about to let that go, not even for an old friend.

Dave still insisted that he was not happy with what he was doing. His friend said that he was changing. John did not buy it. Absolute rubbish.

One afternoon outside Tesco Express, or little Tesco as everyone called it, a man in a rush charged right into John. John did the usual sorry, the way you do even when it’s not your fault. The guy snapped that John should watch where he was going. Without thinking John slammed a fist into the guy’s face. Went to the car leaving the mal sprawled on the pavement.

His colleagues at work stopped asking about his constantly bruised features. They did not want to know what trouble he was getting involved in. The women stopped chatting to him. As far as he was concerned that was a good thing. He never could stand the office tittle-tattle.

 

Another evening there was a knock at the door. Dave was standing on his doorstep. John was confused. He was not expecting him. There had not been much contact in recent months. In the past John would invite his friend inside. Today though he just stared at him.

‘Alright John? Look I know you don’t want to hear it but I can’t watch you do this to yourself. You have to stop this.’

‘We’ve been through this. That’s not going to happen.’

Dave sighed. He ran a hand through his hair.

‘If you do not pack it in then I will tell the police about the club.’

John gripped the door handle tight. Glared at his former friend. It took everything he had not to pummel Dave’s face in. He slammed the door. Marched back through the house. He was fuming. Who did Dave think he was? He was a grown man. He would do what ever he wanted. If he wanted to spend his free time fighting then it was up to him. He did not interfere in Dave’s life, or anyone else’s for that matter. What he did wad nobody else’s business.

 

The next fight night. John parked up. He walked across the gravel towards the building. He heard sirens and screeching of tyres. He turned to see police vans tearing across the car park. He rushed back to the car. Gunned the engine. Slammed his foot on the accelerator and raced back towards the main road. He almost collided with the approaching police vehicles as he skidded out onto the road. He drove hard and fast. He went the long way home just in case. He felt a pain in his chest. He knew who had called the police. His old friend had been as good as his word. And that word, as far as John was concerned was betrayal. No other word for it.

 

An hour later John’s mobile phone rang.

‘John. It’s Gill.’

John said nothing.

‘We’ve been stitched up, haven’t we?’

‘Yeah, looks like it. Did anyone get caught?’

‘No, nobody got pinched, thankfully. We’ll have to move location but I’ll be in touch about that.’

‘Okay.’

‘There’s another reason I’m ringing everyone. Do you have any idea who could have called the police?’

‘It was a lad I know.’ said John.

‘What’s his name? Where does he live?’

Before he knew what he was saying he blurted out Dave’s name and address.

‘Cheers John.’

The line went dead.

John swore. He felt ice cold. His hands trembled. What had he done? Gill would no doubt be on his way to have a word with Dave about calling the police. It was one thing consenting adults punching each other’s heads in but he really could not see Dave come to any harm. He dialled Dave’s number.

‘Hey mate. You left me with no choice I had to call the police.’

‘Dave, listen. They know it was you that called them.’

‘You told them?’

‘Yes. Gill is on his way round. You’ve got to get out of there. Get off to your brother’s place in Wigan for a few days.’

‘You told him it was me?’

‘I will make it right. Just get out of there.’

‘Will do. And John?’

‘Yeah?’

‘Me and you are done.’

‘I know.’

John hung up.

John turned down Dave’s street. The last time he’d been on this street he had been attending his friend’s barbeque. That seemed decades ago. He noticed the space where Dave’s Fiat Punto was normally parked. He sighed. At least his former friend had taken his advice and scarpered. That was something. He pulled into the space out front of number twenty. He got out of the car. Looked up and down the street. He should not have too long to wait. He leaned back against his car and waited.

He heard the roar of a speeding car. There was the scream of brakes as a car came to a halt in the street. Gill and another man the size of a large garden shed came storming towards him. John walked out to meet them.

‘Where’s your friend?’

‘He’s gone.’

‘Did you warn him that me and him had business to sort out?’

‘Yeah. You can take it up with me.’

‘Why are you turning your back on the club?’

‘My friend told me I was changing. I think he was right.’

‘That’s a shame. You were a handy fighter. And you were respected. You noticed a few other people wearing shirt and trousers? You’re being emulated.’

John didn’t say anything.

‘And now you are against me?’

John nodded.

Gill charged at him, fury in his eyes. John dropped into a fighting stance. He managed to block the first couple of blows. Then Gill caught him with a head butt. John staggered back. Shook his head as he tried to focus. Gill came at him again. John smashed an elbow into his jaw. Gill growled in pain but fought on. As they exchanged blows John felt sick. Any exhilaration he had felt was gone. He just wanted his old life back. A few beers with the lads, microwave meals and crap telly. Gill slammed a foot down on John’s shin. He winced. Then threw himself at Gill, half falling, half jumping. They both hit the ground. John wrapped his hands around Gill’s throat. He squeezed tight. Gill wriggled and squirmed but John’s grip was strong. Gill’s face turned purple. His eyes widened.

John felt a sharp blow to his head. He had forgotten that Gill was not alone. He felt another boot to his head. He rolled over. Landed on the pavement. Before he could get to his feet there came another attack. He saw Gill stand up. Despite still gasping for air he managed to join garden shed man in kicking lumps out of John.

He felt blood streaming down his face. He was losing consciousness. Nearly over. Then back to normality. Dull and boring. Gill grabbed John by the shirt collar.

‘You could have been my top fighter. Bloody shame.’

John smiled. He spat blood and saliva at him. Gill drew back an angry fist. Smashed it into his face. Everything went black.


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