Football: A giant and his giant-killers

Buster Bloodvessel and the seaside club he keeps afloat have caught Cup fever. Kevin Keegan, be warned; Andrew Baker meets an ageing pop star whose largesse is feeding the dream of minnows

The people of Margate are getting used to strange visitations. Last week six UFOs were seen flying over the Kent town: two bright white lights hovering in formation with red, blue and green lights pulsing on and off. Unusual lights were also seen at the football ground at Hartsdown Road on Tuesday evening, together with weird figures from the Sky in shiny outfits toting hi-tech equipment. Here, though, there was an earthly explanation, although a few weeks ago it would not have been believed: satellite television technicians were setting up cameras that a week today will broadcast Margate FC's FA Cup tie against Fulham to the watching millions.

More camera crews - from local BBC and ITV stations, roamed the damp terraces, buttonholing regular fans and newcomers, interviewing players, coaches and Margate's manager, Chris Kinnear, who was enjoying a crash course in celebrity. No one wanted to know about last Tuesday's opponents, Erith and Belvedere, visiting for a Dr Marten's League fixture. Everyone wanted to talk about Fulham, about Al Fayed's millions, Kevin Keegan, Butch Wilkins and all. There was a persistent rumour that the celebrated UFO was in fact a top- secret Harrods-liveried surveillance craft sent to check out Margate's forward line.

"I don't have a problem with all the attention," Kinnear said over a cup of tea in the club's cosy boardroom, where a gas fire flickered under a modestly stocked trophy cabinet. "It's water off a duck's back to me. The only thing that matters is that we play well. We mean business as a club. Last season we were fifth in the league, our best performance for more than 10 years. But I want to take them further. We've bought one or two players, and there may be more to come."

There is little chance of Kinnear embarking on a Keeganesque spending spree. But just as Fulham's funds have been augmented by the interest of the exotic Al Fayed, so Margate's coffers have benefited from the largesse of another unusual figure, the club's main sponsor, Buster Bloodvessel.

Mr Bloodvessel ("Just call me Buster, mate, it's easier") was on hand on Tuesday night to watch his local heroes dismantle Erith and Belvedere 3-1. No cups of tea in the boardroom for Buster: he was on the terraces, joining the fans for a chorus of "We love you Margate, we do," and getting a shower of beer for his pains. "Very refreshing, that," he said, wiping down the Margate shirt draped like a marquee around his mountainous gut. Somewhere down there, out of sight, was a pair of blue-and-white striped Margate shorts.

Buster achieved brief national fame many years ago as the rubber-mouthed front man of the pop group Bad Manners. They persist as a successful touring act on the student circuit, and it is their name that is emblazoned on Margate's shirts. Buster's other business interests include Fatty Towers, a Margate hotel where the proprietor is often on hand to make sure that the guests are enjoying themselves. "Basically, I make sure that everyone gets drunk," he admitted.

This generosity extends to the players and staff of Margate FC, who held their Christmas party at Fatty Towers last year. But while Buster has a generous hand when it comes to pouring the drinks, there is a limit to the funding that he can pour into the club's coffers. "Mohamed Al Fayed has got a bit more money than Margate," Buster reckoned. "Our most expensive player here cost pounds 10,000, and even then people said we'd got too much money. Mind you, we'll make some money back on the Fulham game. We're certainly hoping to sell plenty of hot dogs - I'll eat most of them."

While Buster contemplated the sausage dividend, Kinnear and the players had more serious matters in mind. The night after defeating Erith, they gathered at their usual training base at Strood Leisure Centre for a work- out. The forward pairing of Martin "Bugsy" Buglione (who in his St Johnstone days played in front of 50,000 at Ibrox) and Paul "Psycho" Sykes pounded up and down the Astroturf while fireworks burst around them in the evening drizzle. But Lee Spiller, who normally plays in behind them, stood on the sidelines, gingerly flexing a knee he had damaged the night before.

"I'm worried," he confessed. "Scared, really, that this might keep me out of the Fulham game. That would be such a nightmare, to miss the biggest game of my life." A local physiotherapist will do all he can to get Spiller fit for Sunday, and the 19-year-old bricklayer's employee is also helping out. "No ladders for me this week," Spiller said. "The boss has been really good about it - like everyone in the area, really getting behind the team."

The midfielder Andy Blondrage trotted over to change his training shoes for football boots. Before he could get the left boot on, however, he had first to extract a sachet of Alka-Seltzer from the toe - further evidence that Margate are a club who know how to celebrate the good times.

There have been other big games in Margate's 101-year history. A quarter of a century ago, they entertained Tottenham Hotspur in the FA Cup, a game watched by 14,000 people at Hartsdown Park. That was before the hurricane put paid to the main grandstand, but the surviving facilities will still accommodate 6,000 or so on Sunday.

Throughout the Erith match a monumental queue snaked along the front of the clubhouse as punters waited patiently to buy tickets for the big game. Diehard fans taunted newcomers with chants of "If you ain't got tickets, clap your hands", but there was no malice, nothing to contradict the often-expressed view that Margate is a friendly little club determined to enjoy its moment of fame. "The facilities will be absolutely up to scratch," Buster said with pride. "And anyone who comes along will have a lovely time. Mind you," he mused, "I can't see Mr Al Fayed fitting into our gents' at the same time as his bodyguards...".

Sport
Super BowlAfter Katy Perry madness it's back to The Independent's live coverage of Super Bowl 49!
News
See what Twitter had to say about the first half of the Super Bowl
News
people
News
people
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Caption competition
Caption competition
Latest stories from i100
Daily Quiz
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

Career Services
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Tradewind Recruitment: PMLD Teacher

Negotiable: Tradewind Recruitment: PMLD Teacher A specialist primary school i...

Recruitment Genius: Online Media Sales Trainee

£15000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Now our rapidly expanding and A...

Recruitment Genius: Public House Manager / Management Couples

£15000 - £20000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Are you passionate about great ...

Recruitment Genius: Production Planner

£20000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This fast growing reinforcing s...

Day In a Page

The super-rich now live in their own Elysium - they breathe better air, and eat better food, when they're not making beans on toast for their kids

The super-rich now live in their own Elysium

They breathe better air, eat better food, take better medicine
A generation of dropouts failed by colleges

Dropout generation failed by colleges

£800m a year wasted on students who quit courses before they graduate
Entering civilian life 'can be like going into the jungle' for returning soldiers

Homeless Veterans appeal

Entering civilian life can be like going into the jungle
Sam Taylor-Johnson: Woman on top

Sam Taylor-Johnson: Woman on top

Fifty Shades of Grey director on bringing the hit to the screen
Shazam! Story of the $1bn 'what's that song?' app

Shazam: Story of the $1bn 'what's that song?' app

As in 1942, Germany must show restraint over Greece

As in 1942, Germany must show restraint over Greece

Mussolini tried to warn his ally of the danger of bringing the country to its knees. So should we, says Patrick Cockburn
Britain's widening poverty gap should be causing outrage at the start of the election campaign

The short stroll that should be our walk of shame

Courting the global elite has failed to benefit Britain, as the vast disparity in wealth on display in the capital shows
Homeless Veterans appeal: The rise of the working poor: when having a job cannot prevent poverty

Homeless Veterans appeal

The rise of the working poor: when having a job cannot prevent poverty
Prince Charles the saviour of the nation? A new book highlights concerns about how political he will be when he eventually becomes king

Prince Charles the saviour of the nation?

A new book highlights concerns about how political he will be when he eventually becomes king
How books can defeat Isis: Patrick Cockburn was able to update his agenda-setting 'The Rise of Islamic State' while under attack in Baghdad

How books can defeat Isis

Patrick Cockburn was able to update his agenda-setting 'The Rise of Islamic State' while under attack in Baghdad
Judith Hackitt: The myths of elf 'n' safety

Judith Hackitt: The myths of elf 'n' safety

She may be in charge of minimising our risks of injury, but the chair of the Health and Safety Executive still wants children to be able to hurt themselves
The open loathing between Barack Obama and Benjamin Netanyahu just got worse

The open loathing between Obama and Netanyahu just got worse

The Israeli PM's relationship with the Obama has always been chilly, but going over the President's head on Iran will do him no favours, says Rupert Cornwell
French chefs get 'le huff' as nation slips down global cuisine rankings

French chefs get 'le huff' as nation slips down global cuisine rankings

Fury at British best restaurants survey sees French magazine produce a rival list
Star choreographer Matthew Bourne gives young carers a chance to perform at Sadler's Wells

Young carers to make dance debut

What happened when superstar choreographer Matthew Bourne encouraged 27 teenage carers to think about themselves for once?
Design Council's 70th anniversary: Four of the most intriguing prototypes from Ones to Watch

Design Council's 70th anniversary

Four of the most intriguing prototypes from Ones to Watch