Being a boy, when you’re growing up, there are certain things that you seem to gravitate towards. Shooting your siblings while imagining that you are an army commando as you leap over a wall while escaping enemy fire was one of my favourites. Even though the gun was a twig, the wall was a bean bag and the enemy, in this case my sister and her friend, just looked at this stupid little boy seemingly going insane and trying to escape his own shadow.
Then I would launch my grenades in their direction. Balled up socks of my fathers were going to blow them and their like to smithereens. What actually tended to happen was my sister would shout for my mother to come and tell me off for interrupting them playing together, and I’d get a colossal telling off for having my dad’s clean socks end up covered in dirt, grass and needed to be cleaned. Again. For the third time that week.
When my father came home, having a kick about was the order of the evening. Typically, I was the striker, he was the goalkeeper and the blossom tree at the bottom of the garden was the net. The more blossom I knocked off, the better I was getting. As it turned out, my father liked that tree so he was a much better keeper than I was striker but I didn’t care, kicking a ball is a satisfying pastime. As I got older, I progressed to playing with neighbours’ and then as I went to secondary school, I started to play with my mates.
Then the realisation kicked in. Literally. I’m a terrible footballer. My boots may as well have been fashioned from a Toblerone as I had no idea when I kicked the ball where it was going to go. I had no understanding of playing the offside rule and eventually I realised that there was one place for me to play. In goal. I’d gone from back garden here to B team zero in the space of a summer or two.
I gave up playing the game other than an occasional kick about in the park as a teenager although I did spend many a Saturday catching the bus to Villa Park and enjoying all the highs and lows of supporting my team. Truth be told, I never really was massively ‘in’ to football but being with friends was more my reason for going.
As I got older, I still went to the odd game or two but had more of an appreciation for rugby, cricket, American football and basketball. I took up golf, which apparently I’m quite good at, but I realised that I wasn’t one for talking about different brands of club, ball or the ‘gear’ in general. People I played with would go into a frenzy about making sure they had clean clubs, buying a new set of shoes for £120.00 before a game and looking the part. When I turned up, missing a six-iron, wearing muddy shoes and using found balls, I felt the noses turn up right up to the point where afterwards they would moan about the missed putts, claim they needed a few more lessons and hate the fact that I’d beaten them.
Now I’m not trying to be smug (much) but more make the point that one of the things that football did make me very aware of growing up was advertising. Whether it was the local double-glazing company sponsoring the match ball through to the photocopier manufacturer that was emblazoned across the shirts, everywhere I looked I saw the advertising.
I remember one particular weekday cup game that prior to kick off, the ‘new’ Rover 200 was paraded around the ground so that we could see the motor and listen to them describe it seeing as our manager and team captain were going to be having them as company cars for that season. The main thing I remember thinking was, ‘oh dear.’
I knew people at the plant where these cars were produced and to be honest, I wouldn’t have been impressed if I’d had one as a company car let alone the heroes on the park having them. But within a few short years of the Premier League and its TV money arriving, the level of footballers car increased dramatically.
Of course, footballers and motors is not a new thing but some of them have been classy while others have not. For example, Franz Beckenbauer way back in 1972 was a fan of the BMW range. Aston Martin DB7’s were a flavour that David Beckham preferred. But in recent years, to support their love of Range Rovers, the other footballing staple is a Bentley Continental. Since the release of the re-styled, W12 powered, German owned, GT version in 2003, it has been ever present at training grounds up and down the country.
If you visit a Bentley showroom on any given weekday, it won’t be long until a member of the second team will come in, barely looking old enough to be allowed in to a nightclub, straight from the training session and into the trim selection room for their first car from their new salary packet.
Today, there is a new, leaner, more trim and tightly re-styled variant with a clever V8 under the bonnet to be had however, the Bentley Continental has actually been around since 1952. If I had the money (and the skill) of a modern day footballer, I’d be rather keen to go back to the original cars as for me, these coach-built creations of art represent some of the most beautiful cars ever to grace the tarmac but, as I’ve already pointed out, my clumsy skills would leave me no choice but a post coach built vehicle. More Rover 200 in fact.
Luckily, today I get to spend time with a proper car, not a Rover. The first thing you see is that instantly recognisable face that is just so typically Bentley. The DNA of this design can still be seen today throughout the new and old range and is testament to getting it right from the beginning. One thing that you expect from cars that originally were the preserve of a chosen few is a sense of arriving and this car gives you that.
With its vast doors, salacious curves and sturdy buttresses, it has cathedral sturdiness about it that makes you think it has been well built. Something that the 1989 Rover 200 definitely didn’t offer. Another thing not on offer from the Longbridge creation, was such a welcoming and comfortable interior.
Here though, a mixture of carpet pile deep enough to lose a small child in and leather that makes a Chippendale sofa look as comfortable as a church pew awaits. Sitting in the drivers seat, I’m surprised when I emitted a middle-aged ‘aaahhh’. This is normally something that comes out of me when I at last make it home for the evening so I take it as a sign that this then would have been my car of choice had I been so gifted back in the day.
The driving position has a wonderful view on offer, not only out the windscreen over that vast bonnet, but inside across the burr walnut dashboard. Liberally decorated with chrome and the all important chrome trumpet air-vents, this is a lovely place to be.
Closing the door with a very solid yet classy thump (if that is actually a thing) you are cocooned at once in your very own drawing room. Honestly, all I needed was a glass of port and a log fire and I’d just move in. Starting the engine, all you really notice is a slight rock of the car while the engine turns over but when running, it hasn’t really sunk in that I have to drive this thing. While waiting for the engine to come up to temperature, I take a closer look around the cabin. Although some of the features are clearly from the nineties, it has aged remarkably well. The Rover no doubt by now has been recycled many times into many different forms of fizzy drinks tin. At least, I hope so. As you can tell, I wasn’t a fan of that, but this, this has always turned my head and now, sitting inside it, my hunch was right. This is a fabulous vehicle.
Putting it into gear and slowly pulling away, it now feels as though I am inside a mobile cathedral. My cathedral reference is one of awe. Entering such amazing architecture stops you in your tracks to wonder how this was built. The car is no different. Whilst you could be unkind and state that this is due to its immense weight that would be slightly unfair as this was never going to be built for speed. A bit like me, it was built for comfort.
Pulling out into the sunshine emblazoned above the countryside you just feel a sense of satisfaction. Good car, great scenery, a heady mix. Rolling around in this thing is the perfect tonic to leave all the pressures of today behind, especially as I realise I’ve left the phone back at base. With all things from this era currently making a resurgence, it is easy to look back through the mists of time all dreamy eyed about how good the old days were. Truth be told, if things go wrong with this car, it won’t be cheap to fix. It isn’t that cheap to run, it has a little sign of bubbling around the edges and the steering is so vague your inputs may well be going to the wheels via the scullery downstairs. It takes a while.
But look in the mirror. I’m definitely showing signs of ageing, bubbling over my belt and because I’ve become a food and wine snob, I’m not cheap to run either. And, if things go wrong, it would be cheaper to remove the bits of me that work and ship the rest off to a Swiss clinic for disposal. In that respect, I think this car and me make a perfect couple.