Middle Age Shred: Northern Mafia Jam

Works Skatepark, Leeds
Saturday 28th October 2006

Words and pics by Matt Sefton

It hung in the balance for a while – with tales of a simple private venue hire by ‘Godfather’ Carl Arnfield for one of the regular gatherings of the UK’s more, ahem, ‘mature’ skaters being taken over by a BBC film crew and, even worse, PEOPLE UNDER 30!, the ‘Northern Mafia’ Jam at Leeds Works indoor park looked like it would be wiped from the calendar. It wasn’t. It rocked. Hard!

Pulling in to the Works car park close to 8pm, it was immediately obvious that this wasn’t your usual skate night. The car park’s usual occupants – beaten up bangers held together with skate stickers – had been replaced by an overflowing fleet of shiny, polished metal. And from that metal poured a seemingly endless stream of skaters – over 200 at a tenner a head in all from as far afield as Cornwall and Wales – marking what must surely be the UK’s largest ever gathering of skaters old enough to remember lusting after green Kryptonics and Benjiboard Sabloskys and seeing Stacy Peralta on Blue Peter!

From the minute I stepped into the park and heard the dulcet tones of Blackpool’s Big Woody screaming obscenities at people he’d probably met for the first time 30 seconds previously, I knew we were in for a good night. I’ve attended a few of these jams before and there’s always a crowd of familiar faces. Tonight was no different, except this time the regulars were joined by dozens of new blood (well, old blood!). Guys (and girls) from their 30’s to their 50’s who had heard about the Jam either through a news piece in Sidewalk, a Works Newsletter or word of mouth, some accompanied by their children, had decided that this was the night to say “fuck what the bloke door thinks, I’m scarfing a handful of ibruprofen and going out on my skateboard”.

Leeds Works is a huge indoor park – probably the biggest in the UK – so 200 bodies quickly and easily located their terrain of choice, with a large chunk of them heading for Snoz’s latest creation – the pool, complete with backyard transitions, concrete coping and, in case you were in any doubt of its ability to cause serious bodily harm, enough sprayed on skulls to summon old nick himself. Be in no doubt – these guys hadn’t come for a leisurely roll around. They were going to christen this beast good and proper! Apart from Plymouth’s legendary Trawler, who managed to pull out a flurry of laybacks, tailslides and rock and rolls before a nasty slam took him down, the names on show won’t mean much to your average skater.

They’re just blokes who have skated for decades, still love to skate and go about their business week after week in parks throughout the UK. You know the ones – usually padded up with those funny rail things stuck to the bottom of their wider-than-average boards and big shit-eating grins on their faces. Mike from Barnstaple was the standout for me – super fast, super stylish with layback, frontside and backside airs, carve grinds and amazing frontside rocks in the shallow. Leeds Nick made sure the nice new coping was a few pounds lighter by the end of the night with a barrage of long and loud frontside slash grinds (most popular trick of the night – Dave Hackett should be on a royalty!) and Andy Cielecki brought back the lost art of the long boardslide, along with grinds to revert, feeble stalls and more lines than Kate Moss. And Felix was, well, Felix!

Elsewhere in the park, a huge, snaking mini-ramp session dominated, punctuated by the delicate tones of Mr Arnfield’s “ave it, you c**t” while the likes of Gixerkarl, Bod, Tim Walker, Old School Jonny, ChrisK and the legendary Teapot went about their business. The big bowl was put to good use too, Big Dean following in the Gonz’s footsteps by rocking the vert wall, as was the fantastic street course where Strawberry pulled off insane airs across cavernous gaps.

This being Middle Age Shred, the hub of the night was the upstairs cafe, where the comfy leather sofas were put to good use while aching bones took a breather and caught up with old friends before heading back downstairs for more carnage and make sure young ripper Jasper from Burnley wasn’t up past his bedtime.

And the BBC? Apart from causing a dangerous distraction with a rather attractive presenter, they were cool. Didn’t get in the way, seemed genuinely shocked by what they were witnessing and got the footage they wanted. Bet they still take the piss when the piece is broadcast though…

At the risk of sounding corny, this event is what skating should be about. Getting together with your mates, having a laugh, pushing your limits and going home with a smile on your face and possibly a battlescar to remember the evening by. Screw the sponsor me tape, the shoe deal and the photo coverage. As the great Tommy Lee once said “You don’t stop playing because you grow old. You grow old because you stop playing.”

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Matt Sefton