I woke up in a strange bed. For a moment I felt disorientated. I tried my best to work out where I was and when it was. As my eyes started to focus I saw them… a pair of feet… and then it all started coming back.
For me, going to University was a massive life changing event. Leaving the comfort of home, home cooking, having my laundry done. It all became very clear, very quickly that everything I had taken for granted had been taken away from me.
If I’m honest I didn’t even want to go. I wanted to be a rock star and travel the world in style. I wanted a stretched limousine and 5 star hotels. Sadly, my music was already going out of fashion as jean clad ‘West Coast Singer Songwriters’ were being rapidly replaced by spitting, safety pins and ripped tartan trousers as the world went punk.
Before making my final decision I did go to London to talk things through with my manager, the legendary John Reid. At the time John Reid’s management roster was quite small and focused. He managed Elton John, Queen and me!
I remember sitting opposite him in his Mayfair offices explaining why I thought I should forgo the opportunity of Cambridge University to concentrate on my music. Maybe he was being fatherly or maybe he already saw the writing on my wall for my musical career; he argued that it was too good an opportunity to turn down. I would be close to London; I could write new songs and he even suggested that he and Elton could pop up to see me as soon as I was settled in to University life.
As the office door closed so did all of my options of opting out.
I was always surprised by how much of a shock leaving home was. For the previous 5 years I had regularly travelled to London recording or appearing on radio or TV shows. I could order a taxi from Paddington to whichever hotel I had been booked into. I was more than able to sign for room service or for my bill at the end of the stay and make sure they knew where to send the bill. I had been well and truly spoilt.
University was different. I couldn’t believe it, I had to do everything!
My dad and brother Gareth came with me to drop me off. My dad wasn’t long out of hospital for a hernia operation. He wasn’t really able to drive or help carry all of my precious worldly belongings to my room Y29, on the 3rd floor of ‘Y’ block of 3rd Court in Christ’s College Cambridge. As they left I looked forlornly down the road. They weren’t coming back for months and I had no idea what on earth I was going to do next.
I remember 2 things for my first full day in University on that Sunday back in the autumn of 1978. Firstly I found an invitation had been slipped under my door which had been hand written on a Christ’s College postcard. It read,
‘At Home, Sherry 11am, Y 31’.
The invitation had been sent by my next door neighbour Richard from Chester. From memory he greeted me and the other guests wearing a smoking jacket and cravat possibly smoking a pipe but that could just be my imagination. It was a perfectly delightful time but as I nervously sipped my sherry I couldn’t help but wonder what on earth I had done.
The second thing that happened was even more shocking. There was no Sunday Lunch. The previous evening I had made some preparations by popping to M&S. I had bought some rolls, jam and butter for a snack but somehow I hadn’t made the leap of thinking what was I going to do the next day. I left the Sherry Morning in Y31, returned next door to Y29 and tucked into some Jam sandwiches. I felt lonely, lost, hungry, very miserable and rather sorry for myself.
Things changed dramatically the following day. ‘Freshers week’ is that first few days before lectures start when new students get introduced to all of the clubs and societies that they can join to make the most of their time when they aren’t studying. It also the time where you really start to make friends.
There was a film club, chess club, rowing club, music society, theatre group, board games society, record library club. It seemed just about every interest had a collection of likeminded students you could meet up with.
There was only one club I wanted to join, CCAFC, Christ’s College Association Football Club. As with all of the college groups the team and all associated affairs were run by the students themselves. They elected their own captain, secretary and treasurer. As we all entered the room we were given a form to fill in asking various personal details; room number, home address etc… but it was really there to find out about our level of expertise. I felt I might be in with a shot to get into the team. My playing career might have lapsed over the previous year or so, but I had been captain of the Swansea Schoolboys, I thought that must count for something.
The committee were pleased to see my past achievements but weren’t as impressed as I had hoped. My footballing CV paled into insignificance compared to Maurice Cox. Maurice was the English Schoolboys centre forward who was on part time professional terms with Torquay Utd. It was not the only time in Cambridge I realised that that I was among some very gifted people.
The introductory speech was given by Club Captain Micky McGuire. Micky was a little fella from Belfast who was inspirational from the very first moment. I think Mike Cullen, a scouser with a glint in his eye was Treasurer. Maybe I’m just mixing his student days with his later career as Global Managing Partner for Talent at Ernst & Young.
Within days I had found my home, I had joined the ‘footy monster’. These were lads with very similar background to my own who took the newbies under their wing. We would meet in one of the Michael’s rooms and all go to dinner together. We would cycle to training session or games in a peloton. We would finish our games in the Christ’s College Clubhouse and share a shandy with our team and the opposition with occasional other refreshments supplied by the groundsman and his wife Mr & Mrs Bentley.
The following spring we went on tour to Dublin and in the final term we won the Cuppers Final in a thrilling final at Grange Road. That momentous achievement had been immortalised because I had taken on the task of writing a new football song for the club which included a new verse being written after every round.
This week a number of the ‘footy monster’ all met for a golfing holiday in Wales. I’m not a golfer so agreed to meet them for dinner and a sing song. I walked into the bar… and back in time. They were all ‘grown ups’, mostly retired, but all I saw was the boys we had been. We talked about games we had played in, friends we had lost contact with and the banter was exactly the same.
After the meal, as usual, we got the guitars out for a sing song. Mike Cullen could still remember every verse of the CCAFC song from 1978. Having said that our memories for the lyrics for the songs of the Eagles and the Beatles faltered a little.
Just like the old days on tour we had agreed to bunk in together in twin rooms. It was only when we got to the room I was sharing with Club Captain Micky McGuire that we found out the twin room was a double!
Ah well, by them it was too late. We settled in, top to toe and snored our way to oblivion. As I said at the start, I woke up a little disorientated but as I told the rest of the ‘footy monster’ over breakfast, forget Cambridge, as far as I was concerned me and Micky will always have Cowbridge.