September 14 2017: reunion dues

Once more part of the reunion, Bishop Auckland’s former players of the 50s and 60s gather for their annual lunch. That, several years ago, they took a shine to the upper room at my village local is a happy bonus.

Conversation ranges from the days when the committee picked the team to Princess Margaret’s smoking habits.  Neither, we conclude, was greatly beneficial.

Derek Lewin, the organiser, played in all three FA Amateuir Cup winning sides in 1955-57. He’s now 87. Bob Thursby was an 18-year-old right half in the team which beat Wycombe Wanderers in 1957.

Mike Greenwood and Billy Roughley came along a year or two later but also won England amateur caps. How many more might it have been, folk said, had they played for clubs in the south?

Derek’s trying to write an autobiography, supposes that he could write about the late Seamus O’Connell until the cows come home – appropriately, for the great goal scorer was a cattle dealer – and that madcap goalie Harry Sharratt might fill a few chapters, too.

Seamus also had a rich reputation as a ladies’ man, once said to have walked naked from the shower though a high society party in London. A lady glanced downwards. “Hung like that,” she said, “you should trot.”

Stories also survive of the return train journey from Wembley when the winning party was entertained by Kathy Kirby, the singer. Bill Roughley amended them: “That wasn’t the Bishops, it was Crook.”

As always, it’s a very happy occasion.

*Dean Gibb to blame, the blog of late has had quite a few memories of what might be supposed an exhibitionist streak. North Shields chairman Alan Matthews adds one of his own.

Alan worked for the courts service, recalls a case before Gateshead magistrates in which the defendant pleaded not guilty to indecent exposure following an unscheduled appearance at The Sage.

His barrister – a past chairman of the Everton former players’ association, says Alan – argued that his client had similarly appeared all over the planet, including a World Cup game in Argentina and running with the bulls in Spain. (Alan’s careful correctly to key “bulls”.)

Apart from anything else. at the Sage he’d been wearing a pink tutu – duly produced as evidence – and, since he was rather a little chap, there was nothing indecently to expose.

The case was dismissed.

*Sage or otherwise, the blog is now taking a week off for battery recharging. The next Grass Routes will be dated September 22. Do please come back.



September 13 2017: Name game (cont)

Save that the lifetime’s ambition of watching a Northern League team at Bemerton Heath Harlequins is frustrated for another year, receipt of the FA Vase first qualifying results is an annual joy.

Grass Routes, of course, is fascinated by names. Joining the Harlequins among first hurdle fallers are Coventry Sphinx, Barnt Green Spartak, Graham Street Prims, Sporting Bengal (defeated 6-1 by the great Great Wakering Rovers), Brimscombe and Thrupp, Highmoor Ibis, Pitshanger Dynamos, Eversley and California, Snodland Town and Wick. AFC Aldermaston no longer march, either.

Winners – those where we might yet pitch up – include FC Deportivo Galicia, Stone Old Alleynians, Leicester Nirvana, Ashby Ivanhoe, Tadley Calleva, Heather St John, Boldmere St Michael, AFC Wulfrenians, Royal Wootton Bassett Town and Cribbs.

All this what’s-in-a-name stuff reminded Peter Berry of his Lancashire childhood watching the splendidly named but now defunct Blackrod Villa – yet more improbably, there was a Blackrod Torino, too.

That a player called Sammy slid off the pitch and flattened him isn’t so much an indelible memory – “the ground was almost certainly soft” – as a subsequent occasion when poor Sammy broke his leg.

“When the ambulance arrived, the very small crowd was surprised to see an inflatable split used on his leg. Perhaps they had been expecting them to snap a corner flag in two.”

*A piece in today’s Northern Echo records that it’s the centenary of the opening of the paper’s present home, an occasion marked in 1917 by even more speeches than the Northern League dinner (1997-2016).

What history won’t record is that I’ve worked out of there for over half of that time or that at 7 45am today I’m back burrowing among the bound files to find details of November 19 1955 – when Bishop Auckland, Crook, Durham City and Shildon all reached the FA Cup first round.

So, it should be recorded, did Easington – then in the Wearside League – beaten 2-0 by Tranmere Rovers in front of a 4,000 Colliery crowd.

The William Stead, the Wetherspoons across the road from the Echo, is named after the first editor, in 1870, who went down with the Titanic. It seems churlish not to adjourn for breakfast – the 907-calorie “traditional”, not the 1515-cal “large” – and to raise a coffee cup in gratitude for happy days.

The Echo, it’s greatly to be hoped, will resonate a little while yet.

September 12 2017: without a city wall

Willington’s probably a couple of miles nearer Durham than is Consett, last season’s ground share, but poor old City must still feel a long way from home.

Club chairman Olivier Bernard insists in the programme for tonight’s match with Bedlington Terriers that “despite all the rumours” they’re still actively exploring new ground options.

Olivier’s also described as the “owner”. I often wonder what it is that these guys own.

As well as new tenants, Hall Lane has also gained a very handsome new terrace, built in memory of Jackie Foster – a tremendous tribute to a tremendous guy.

Storm Aileen’s on its way, they reckon, the wind still calm but the first half rain torrential. In the circumstances, a paying crowd of 65 doesn’t seem bad. The crack beneath the cover behind the goal is diverting, the match in the circumstances excellent.

City, who’ve drawn their last five, go 4-0 down before two cracking goals of their own in the last 15 minutes.  If  only we could sort out kick-off times – the programme and the paper say 7 30, the website and the ref say 7 45 – all would be right with the world.

*Bedlington have had a good run in the blog of late. Former Terriers vice-chairman John Garbutt writes with memories of Bob Rich’s well-remembered involvement, and of the American cookie king’s decision to send ideas man Eric Edelstein over here – a sort of larn yersel’ marketing.

Some of Eric’s wheezes were (shall we say) perhaps better than others. Particularly John remembers the attempt to introduce “twosome blankets” – “a couple of blokes would sit in the stand, snuggled up on cold nights.”

Then there was the notion of a spot prize – pie sausage roll, whatever – every time the ball went out of play and the American practice of playing organ music to ramp up excitement at corner kicks.

“I can just imagine the reaction at Tow Law on a cold December evening,” says John.

Eric has since advised Durham County Cricket Club and launched Reno 1868, a soccer team in the US.  John and he remain friends, together in the North-East only last month.

“It’s just,” says John, “that he took a bit of telling.”

September 11 2017: Unforgettable….

Most of us couldn’t have helped run the Northern League half so well without the support, administrative and personal, of our wives. Tony Golightly, for 22 years the league’s highly efficient secretary, knew all about that.

Enid Golightly’s funeral was held this morning at Chester-le-Street’s wonderful old parish church, the cortege entering to the song Unforgettable. They would have celebrated their diamond wedding next year.

Enid’s principal roles were to field innumerable telephone calls, particularly before the internet became universal and usually when he was down the bottom of the garden or off playing snooker, and to keep the guy nourished.

Few league meetings began before Tony had rubbed his stomach and informed us of the excellence of what North-East folk call their tea, usually followed by something and custard.

The minister omits to mention Enid’s steak and kidney pie — Tony never did – but talks of her helpfulness. There was perhaps one qualification, a long serving club secretary whom she found brusque (shall we say) and struggled to define those qualities she’d long since learned in the Civil Service. Service, certainly, but perhaps not always the first bit.

Tony himself hasn’t been too clever, as again they say up here, two months in coronary care at the start of the year, the direct result of which is now a gammy knee. Too much time on his back, apparently.  May better fortune attend him.

*The great joy of blog writing is reader interaction. Recent references to former Bedlington Terriers man Dean Gibb – happily very much still with us, but another to whom the epithet “unforgettable” could inarguably be attached – stir memories both of the lad himself and of running round naked. Gibby had a show-off streak.

Heaton Stannington secretary Ken Rodger, 80 next year and as youthful as ever, recalls his time as manager of Northern Alliance side Ponteland United in the late 1970s when the junior section was short of players. Dean, who was 14 and lived nearby, was persuaded to turn out with a couple of his mates.

After a couple of games, Ken was taken aback to receive a call from Ipswich Town’s man in the North-East – would that have been the fabled Carruthers? – to the effect that Gibby was on their books, that permission hadn’t been sought and that he must cease forthwith. “I didn’t know about illegal approach in those days,” Ken pleads.

The Ipswich manager was Bobby Robson. Unfortunately Dean was released. What the future Sir Bobby would have made of him must be left to vivid imagination.



September 10 2017: colour bar

Let’s go back to Campion – flower of Bradford, yesterday’s blog – and to an FA-inspired programme item that previously I’d not come across. The FA wants actively to help the colour blind, said to be one in 12 of British men.

The programme even reproduced an FA flyer – “When you see red, are you sure it’s not green, or black?” – and a quote from chief executive Martin Glenn that they’ve sought expert advice and colour blindness should be treated as a disability under the 2010 Equality Act.

“Any club that does not recognise colour blindness as a disability does so at their own risk,” Mr Glenn adds, a little darkly.

It’s all very commendable, though it does raise the question of when “disability” is so severe that addressing it would unrecognisably change the game for players or other spectators.

There are simple ways in which clubs can help those with visual handicap, nonetheless, and especially when a game’s under floodlights.

Paragraph 7.1 of the standard league rule book stipulates, for example, that shirts shoud be numbered in such a way as clearly to be identified by officials and spectators.

“Striped, hooped and otherwise patterned shirts,” it adds, “shall have numbers affixed to contrasting patches or numbers in a contrasting colour with bold outline.”

Does it always happen? Even if not in breach of a rule, do clubs in search of colourful originality give enough though to whether their players can be identified from more than ten yards? Or whether it’s helpful, say, to wear dark blue kit at night?

In matters of visual handicap I need to declare a beer bottle-bottomed interest, of course, but there are those with perfectly good eyesight who see difficulties, too.

Only last week, Whitley Bay fan Stuart Fitzgerald emailed after their match with Consett. “I used to complain abiout Whitley having black numbers on blue-and-whte striped shirts but Consett played in all-white with silver numbers. Unless the players were near the touchline, you couldn’t make them out. Ridiculous.”

The week previously I was at a night match when two spectators with perfectly good vision professed themselves wholly unable to make out the numbers on the away team’s black-and-white striped shirts from more than ten yards.

For those of us long paid to write about sport, colour blindness can be a particular problem of course – not least at the cricket where the ball is (usually) red and the pitch (almost always) green.

I always recall the reaction of a young optician, on discovering the additional problem. “Oh,” she said, “you’re colour blind as well.”

September 9 2017: Campion’s league

It must be two months, when first the FA Vase preliminary rounds draw was made, since the blog publicly predicted a first-time trip to Campion.

Memories of Gerald Campion, who played Billy Bunter in the 1950s and 60s, followed apace. Lance Kidney even recalls reading a couple of Bunter prequels, by Daniel Green, about his great great grandfather – “a bit Flashmanesque, funny filthy and totally enjoyable.”

The weather, alas, is rather less predictable than the visit. At 3pm it’s absolutely tossing down, at five past three so dark that the referee asks for the floodlights and at 3 30 a lovely September afternoon.

Since the game’s a bit uneventful, the kids entertain themselves by puddle jumping – but what happens thereafter is the most unexpected, the most astounding, occurence of the year.

Campion’s a couple of miles from Bradford city centre, the club named after the St Edmund Campion Youth Club where it began and now in the Northern Counties East League second tier – that of Swallownest, Rossington Main and Nostell Miners Welfare.

It’s their first ever Vase game, unlike Bedlington Terriers – today’s opponents – whose pedigree includes a final appearance in 1999. A chap wears a Wembley 1999 scarf. He’s from Sheffield.

Though Bradford City are away, the crowd’s no more than 50 or so, half of whom seem to have “Coach” on the back of their trackie tops. It also includes the magnificent Martin  and Denise Haworth, essential for so long to the Northern League effort.

Martin ran the Northern League Club, bless it, for getting on 20 years. You’d never meet a more  all-weather, all-terrain, what’s-a-little-wet-to-a-water-rat sort of chap. Denise is in her final season as webmaster.

At half-time, a few of us adjourn for a livener in the upstairs bar overlooking the goal before returning to the sunshine. Denise is back out taking photographs: there’s no sign of Martin – nor, indeed, of Mr Gary Brand (a Spurs fan, so feebleness must be expected) and Mr Nigel Brierley, a Huddersfield and not a Bedlington terrier.

All three, it transpires, have never left the bar. A couple of plates of prawn sandwiches and the decadence would be complete. “I felt I ought to give something to help a non-league club,” pleads Martin, a man who hitherto has been content with a sarsaparilla shandy.

Bedlington will be happy they went back out. Jack Foallie’s last-kick effort gives them a 2-1 win.




September 8 2017: Gibb and take

Inveterately, incorrigibly, the blog a few days back had cause to employ the word “ineluctable” with reference to Dean Gibb, habitual streaker and perhaps the only footballer in history to be sent off in a penalty shoot-out.

It sent Ray Gowan leafing through his Oxford Mini Dictionary – an essential concommitant when reading Grass Roots, he insists.

“Ineluctable” is defined as “against which it is useless to struggle”. Briefer dictionaries simply suppose “inescapable.” Apropos of nothing, the German philosopher Friedrich Schiller claimed that against stupidity, the gods themselves struggle in vain.

Deano, at any rate, is probably best remembered from the outstanding Bedlington Terriers side of 20 years ago, though he had a professional spell with Hartlepool United and also played Northern League football for Brandon and Seaham Red Star.

Ray claims joint responsibility with fellow long-serving manager Peter Feenan, who discovered Dean as a 15-year-old at Redheugh Boys Club, in Gateshead. “I then nurtured him, if that’s the word, into a play-anywhere 150 per center.”

Thus spurred, Ray nominates an Ineluctable X1, chiefly from the 60s and 70s, against which it might indeed be difficult to struggle – “a match for any side from the Premiership to Wormwood Scrubs.”

Playing 4-3-3, Ray’s Ineluctable X1 would be: Phil Owers, Bob Tookley, Tony Monkhouse, Ged Hartley, Tony Butterfield, Barney Malone, Paul Walker, Billy Lees, Dean Gibb, Billy Cruddas and Billy Wright. Colin Richardson, Richard Allan and Jeff Cranson would be subs.

I have suggested to Ray that it would be impossible to omit the late Doug Raine, of Stanley United and the Crook council bins collection team. It might mean dropping Ged Hartley to the bench, and bags me not tell him. Other nominations welcome.

There’s also been an email from former Bedlington vice-chairman John Garbutt, basically about unrelated matters – more in the next day or two – but which also feels compelled to mention Mr Gibb.

John swears that he was waiting for the bus the other day when, from the nearby subway tunnel, he heard a clanking noise. “On further inspection I spotted a heavily muffled figure pedalling an old bone shaker through the tunnel. It was Dean Gibb on one of his infamous training rides, but this time he had his clothes on.”

Ineluctable, or what?