The Knothole Gang

It's 1975.

The Edmonton Eskimos have just scored a touchdown. The CHQT fire truck is about to start a victory lap around the Clarke Stadium infield, its riders skilled in dodging with some élan the rain of hot dog foil balls to be aimed towards them by jubilant fans. 

Jogging onto the field is #26, Dave Cutler, the toe-tied place-kicker on his way to convert the touchdown. For Cutler, this is automatic. For those in the Knothole Gang, the fenced-off bleacher zoo in the endzone into which the football will be drilled, the real battle is about to touch off.

Knothole Gang Patch
The Knothole Gang was sponsored by Woodward's, the grocery-department store that, like CHQT, Clarke Stadium, the young Dave Cutler, and 1974 themselves, are no longer around. But then it is very much alive. Like anarchy is alive. And at that moment, with the convert about to happen, there is no collection of kids more alive in the whole north end, or the world, same thing.

In your imagination, picture it. Fashion those bleachers into a giant measure of music staff paper. The horizontal lines are the wooden row benches. Now, compose the scene by crowding onto those lines every shape and weight of musical note and symbol. Heavy whole notes jammed next to jean-jacketed packs of eighth notes. The razored rest signs standing firm, unable to be budged. Inky quarter notes pushing their way through, flattening others in the process. Now, in your mind, turn on the sound of that madness.

It is toward that cacophony that Cutler will kick the football. The football is the prize. Because the kid who, in the infallible opinion of the stadium supervisors watching the ball's flight, first gets a finger on the pinwheeling ball, that kid actually gets a gift certificate for a real CFL football. (This is a big deal. In most neighbourhoods in those days, the game ball is a little plastic football called a pee-wee. You could throw it 40 yards, but the dogs typically got them.)

Three things then happen, pretty much at the same time. 

The ball sails through the tuning fork uprights and hits the crowd and some stunned kid is declared the winner. Being declared the winner takes away the pain of a finger sprained by the ball's velocity and whatever jabs and punches and headlocks were sustained to maintain position.

Ten or twelve other kids take advantage of the supervisors' turned backs and hop over the fence and make a run for the main grandstands. As the ball is flying in, they are flying out.

And, invariably, one of the jailbreakers, maybe a dotted half note of a kid by nature, is tentative, not sure sure he can make it over the fence. He gets his pants caught on the chain link and he is hauled back in by the supervisors as he watches his laughing buddies scamper out of sight. 

And now, somehow, it's 2015. Like an automatic point after from Cutler, the years fly.
Yesterday back at Clarke
And I am at Clarke Park, as it's now called. I am there with my buddy Rob McAnally and my wife and we have just played some games of bocce on the field to support an initiative of city councillor Scott McKeen. The field is now artificially turfed. I walk back alone toward the endzone where the Knothole Gang used to be, where I used to be 10-year-old north end kid who never managed to touch the football first. 

But who did have a perfect record getting to the grandstands.

Shelagh and Rob and Scott might not have been able to see what I was looking at at that exact moment, so, there you go.


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