Mick died in September. I don’t know how old he was. Older than me, but still in the ballpark of years at which people, upon hearing of his passing, would shake their heads and comment that it was ‘no age at all’.
I don’t know either what kind of family life he had. A girlfriend? A wife maybe? A faint recollection of a woman’s face in the crop of a social media profile. A child? Had I seen him at a match once with a kid in tow? Possibly. Was it his, or a friend’s? A nephew? I couldn’t say. He was from Scawthorpe though, Mick, that much I knew. And he followed the Rovers.
You would think, from the pub-circuit-clairevoyant vagueness of those opening words, that Mick was someone who’d had little impact on my life. Ours just two faces that happened to be in the same crowd of a Saturday afternoon or Tuesday evening. In the last decade certainly we were no more to each other than a hello, a handshake, a quick joke, a wave of acknowledgement across an away end. But the truth – a truth Mick will now sadly never know – is that the one continuing strand of the last two and a half decades of my life, my support of this bloody football club, is largely down to him.
I was late to Rovers. For me no stoic family tradition instilled and ingrained through red and white Christmas gifts. No, I was 15 when I first attended Belle Vue with any regularity. Doing so with schoolmates, until it slowly morphed from ‘thing to do’, to unshakable habit. But it wasn’t the football that kept me coming back – how could it be in 1998? – it was the Pop Side. A shed without a fourth wall; the real stage for Saturday afternoon entertainment. I kept returning because I didn’t want to miss anything – not on the pitch, but on the terrace. I didn’t want to risk being outside an in-joke that would then get referenced in a chant or a perpetual bit of ribbing that would subsequently hang around for seasons.
At the turn of the millennium – and probably for decades before – the middle of the Pop Side was a playground, a creche for blokes old enough to know better, but wise enough to cling onto the youthful nonsense of it all. Whilst toddlers are put in soft play and ball pools, we were tossed on a terrace and left to toy with opposition full-backs who made the fateful mistake of doing something vaguely noticeable. And chief among all this was Mick with a booming laugh that could force a grin from Kanye, and a wit sharper than any of the play or passing attempted in front of us.
Mick was a master of the definitive football crowd yell – you know the one, timed deftly in that sweet spot, when a commotion is just returning to matchday white noise. Gurning out from a non-league away end to shout “Hey ‘keeper, I hope your kids look like me!”, telling a beleaguered Neil Campbell at Scarborough “Leave it now Neil, you’re scaring the children”. Watching Simon Marples get into an argument with a Hull City full-back whose ugliness we’d earlier been decreeing by singing Daphne & Celeste’s finest in his direction, and balling “Don’t look at him Marples! You’ll turn to stone!”
He used to start chants too. How could he not with that voice? If I picture Mick, I see him leaning on the back wall of the Pop, and as another non-league fixture faded away to nothing in front of him, voicing a great “Ohhhhh…” Those of us still there, readied ourselves to join in a chorus of “Jamie, Jamie; Jamie Jamie, Jamie Paterson”. Instead Mick veered leftfield, “…think twice. Just another day for you and me in paradise”. Giving it the gun fingers and a shimmy as he sang. As the laughter amongst those closest subsided he just loudly proclaimed “I’m an ace singer me” and turned back to the game.
And when things were going well, if the result was in no doubt, Mick’s party pieces came out. “Give us an O… Give us an O… Give us an O… What’ve you got?”. A few hundred northerners yelling “Ooooh” as if we were looking at Bully’s special prize being wheeled out, and not Dean Barrick optimistically lobbing a throw-in down the line. He’d do the same, with ‘A’ and with ‘E; and with ’S’, making the Pop Side sound like a school firework display, then if he felt like entertaining himself further; “Give us a W… Give us a B… Give us a W… Give us a B… Give us a W… Give us a B… and what’ve you got?” Fun, joyous fun.
Sitting writing this I’ve remembered other Mick moments I’d long forgotten. Spending a half trying to get a reaction out of a typically blase Belle Vue steward by shouting an increasing list of ailments, at intervals deftly timed so each bellow came just as you’d forgotten its predecessors. “Steward! Steward! I’ve fallen over! Help!” …Steward, Steward! I’ve broken my hand! …Steward, Steward! My leg’s fallen off! …Steward! Steward, this isn’t funny now! I’ve been dead 10 minutes!” Spending an entire morning in Gateshead interacting with anyone he met only by using the words, “I am from Barcelona, I learn my English from a book”. Joining the end of the line of the Rovers team entering the players’ entrance at Farnborough and proudly proclaiming “Mick Largent, reserve goalkeeper” at the bemused gateman who tried to stop him.
Despite what we’re told in earnest post-match press conferences, football isn’t a results business. Nor is it any type of business, not for us. For us it’s supposed to be fun, and Mick made it fun. Hugely so. For me, and I’m sure hundreds of others. I didn’t know him well, but then I didn’t need to. He was ‘Mick from the Pop Side’. He made me laugh, he kept me coming back, and I can’t think of him without a smile breaking out across my face. That’s surely a legacy we’d all dearly love to leave behind.
by Glen Wilson
This article first appeared in print in issue 110 of popular STAND fanzine, published in November 2022