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There Used To be: Cash Turnstiles

Colin Payne recalls the days before you needed a smartphone to gain access to Vicarage Road


As we tapped our phones against the red lights, grimacing and hoping the light would turn green, the relief was palpable it worked. Of course, the process was wrought with anxiety and trauma, as anyone of ‘a certain age’ declared defiant opposition to the idea of ticketless ticketing. Modern hokum, the very notion an unnecessary faff, especially for those where any instructions longer than seven words are ignored instead, we charge ahead blindly. Yet in truth, the process was painless enough my far more patient daughter did it for me.

However, entry to football grounds hasn’t always been so reliant on handheld technology and kindly offspring. For there was a time when you could turn up with a couple of silver coins in your pocket, queue for two minutes, then hand the cash over to a faceless figure hidden behind a fine-mesh screen, like a pious priest in a West Watford confessional. No words were exchanged, just the click as his foot pushed on the pedal that allowed you to heave against the heavy cast-iron turnstile that admitted you through the narrow red-brick entrance. Smelling of damp, pipe tobacco and WD40, this was your route to what was a very different Vicarage Road. The process was quick, very quick, a contactless transaction with pounds, shillings and pence. Only the local dignitaries, corn merchants, brewery owners and car salesmen had season tickets, because the reality was no one needed them. Room for all, everyone welcome!

The turnstiles themselves were things of beauty, weighing tons, ornate patent plates worn shiny by thousands of coins sliding across them, and those glorious clicks, was it four or five?, the last one freeing you to enter the place you love. Waist high, perfectly built for one-eyed Charlie behind his mesh screen to turn that blind eye as the price of a stout was added to a father’s entrance fee to allow him to hoist a tousle-haired son over the portal to lower-league delights. I should add that I never witnessed such transactions, just as I never witnessed PC49 delivering instant justice to teenage skinheads behind the Rookery, but folklore dictates both happened regularly, so it must be true.

The operators would parade around the pitch prior to half-time, green cloth bags in hand, full of crumpled pound notes and coins, lots of coins, on their way, no doubt, to plonk their bounty in front of Ron Rollitt to be counted and placed in some impenetrable tamper-proof safe. No one needed to go online before a match, because online had yet to be invented. No one worried about low phone battery or technical difficulties, just having the right change if possible, ‘to avoid delays’. Tickets were for the visit of Manchester United only, because Vicarage Road always had room for more, even if in truth it didn’t! Providing you had the right change!

Yes, there used to be cash turnstiles, but progress moved things on, progress always moves things on.