Through thick and thin

They are a select few.

A small group of blokes who - apart from my wife - know, as few others do, the good, the bad and the ugly sides of Joe Citizen.

Our bond was forged through years of truancy, mischief and mayhem at high school and tempered with all that followed in our carefree, reckless and often miserably hung over days as immature bachelors.

Boozing, brawling, fast cars, loud music, cigarettes and the occasional joint were among the vices that frequently got us all into strife.

And through it all there was always a collective effort to make sure everyone got home safely - in a figurative sense.

I cringe when I recall the stupidity of those days and am eternally grateful no -one got killed or seriously hurt as a result of our thoughtless behaviour and, in particular, our cavalier approach to driving.

Each of us fell into a variety of jobs and some made careers out of those early choices.

Relationships came and went - as did opportunities financial and otherwise.

And always there was someone available just a phone call away to cheer you on when things were good or pick you up when they weren't.

Most of us met the women we'd marry and subsequently discovered the joys of family life.

That, coupled with the burden of mortgages and the time consuming responsibilities of domestic life, meant the phone calls and gatherings that once dominated our existence grew fewer and fewer.

We grew up and our lives took different turns - some for better, others for worse... one with tragic and fatal consequences.

But never have we lost touch completely, not even when geography has come into play.

Every now and then there is a compulsion to reach out and make contact - a desire to keep that old sense of brotherhood alive.

It may be six months between drinks, sometimes much longer, but inevitably it happens.

Like last Friday night when the phone rang and a familiar voice drifted down the line.

And then, less than 12 hours later, when by total coincidence, an email arrived from one of the others - just a couple of lines and the promise of a visit...soon.

We are all, it seems, in the same headspace.

I've met people who collect "friends" like Olympic athletes gather trophies - competitively and publicly.

They appear to me to be among the loneliest and most needy folk I know.

My trusted few would barely fill a phone box and the Christmas card list isn't a very long one.

But I know, no matter what life throws in my direction, those people on it will always be there.

They are my mates.

(Live Matches)