August 17 2018: Daley news

The blog two days ago recalled a two-word response – Get lost – when in the cornflakes queue at the 1986 Commonwealth Games in Edinburgh I’d asked the great decathlete Daley Thompson for an interview.

Grass Routes reader and Northern League enthusiast Geoff Thornton fears that we may have traduced the poor chap, a view shared by his wife, Margaret.

The Thorntons live in Sussex, where the double Olympic gold medallist went to school, lived and trained. On one occasion Margaret and he met in the local Sainsburys when he not only stopped for a chat but bought sweets for the children.

“He was a nice man and one that British athletics has never replaced,” says Geoff.

It’s wholly coincidental that, on the day the blog appeared, several national newspapers should carry substantial interviews with Thompson. “In his pomp,” began the Telegraph piece, “Daley Thompson had a relationship with journalists that can most kindly be described as vexed.”

He’s now 60, mellowing perhaps accelerated because he’s employed as an “ambassador” – a highy paid PR man – for something or other.

Oddly, several of the same-day interviews were tagged “exclusive”, a journalistic term meaning “We got the press release first.”

“World exclusive” means we got it before the South China Morning Post.

*We also hear from Clem O’Donovan, usually in Weardale but presently in Dubai, who with his wife won three VIP days at the Edinburgh Commonwealth Games in a competition run by Eddie Shah’s short-lived Today newspaper.

They’d travelled first class from Durham to London, were then flown to Edinburgh, given the use of a chauffeur driven Daimler and three days in the VIP areas “among celebrities like the Krankies.”

It was while in a queue for aperitifs that Clem also found himself behind Daley Thompson and asked for an autograph. The response was markedly similar to that when an interview was sought.

A while later, Clem was standing beside a tall athlete, again thought of seeking an autograph but noticed the guy’s name badge. Linford Christie, it said.

“I’d never heard of him so passed on that one,” Clem recalls. “I often wonder what he went on to do.”

You read it here first.




August 16 2018: risen indeed

Poor John Maguire may not have been the world’s most accomplished thief or, indeed, the most sober. His is a salutary tale, nonetheless.

It was carried in last Saturday’s Walthamstow FC programme, a magnificent and wonderfully original job, for the FA Cup tie with Walsham-le-Willows. In its “random” feature on another non-league club, they chose Darlington RA.

Maguire had been playing for the RA at Leeds Malvern in an FA Amateur Cup tie – date not recorded, but must have been early 20th century – when he and a few of the lads decided to make a night of it. As you do.

The night being pretty well advanced, much Bentley’s Yorkshire Bitter having been supped, they returned to the railway station where Maguire was observed by the constabulary to have something very large beneath his coat, ill-concealed and ill-conceived.

It was a bag of yeast, said to have been worth 6/6d and stolen from a barrow on the platform.

Maguire was locked up, appeared before the bench on the Monday morning with RA secretary Arthur Watt as a character witness. The wise justices of Leeds concluded that it was all down to the drink.

He was fined £5, to be paid over a year, and ordered to repay the North Eastern Railway six and a tanner. The match had been drawn, the RA lost the replay.

The blog mentions it for two reasons, firstly that a group of us plan a few post-match beers around Leeds after the Thackley v Thornaby FA Vase tie on September 1 and need, as they say in Yorkshire, to think on.

Secondly, it’s because the Walthamstow programme has been electronically forwarded by current RA secretary Alan Hamilton (aka Nobby Darlo) just when I was wondering what on earth to write about.

Like railway yeast, trust good old Nobby Darlo to rise to the occasion.

August 15 2018: wine tasting

When times were more innocent, less dangerous and not so universally controlled by public relations people, press and players could freely mix.

Thus it was that at the 1986 Commonwealth Games in Edinburgh, I found myself in the cornflakes queue in the athletes’ village next to Daley Thompson, a man notoriously hostile to the media.

Nothing ventured, I asked him for an interview. “Get lost,” he said, exclusively.

It’s one of many Edinburgh stories over the years, from Garry Gibson’s lavish wedding – special guest appearance by Four Puffs and a Piano – to the FA Cup Final Escape Committee match at Musselburgh at which John Dawson, King of the Ground Hoppers, appeared barely two weeks after his heart bypass.

Advised to follow a healthier diet, John did as he was told. He made do with two pies instead of his usual three and lives happily to tell the tale.

Today we’re at the Festival, specifcally the Free Fringe, to see a show about Last of the Summer Wine with BBC Tees man Bob Fischer and his mate Andrew Smith, a film producer from Gateshead.

It’s an amazing event, the Festival, around 3,000 separate shows and a free 500-page guide the size and thickness of the London telephone directory. Among familiar names is Gavin Webster, who runs the excellent Football Comedy Club in Newcastle and Stephen K Amos who, for reasons that to some may be obvious, seems not to be a relation.

Even the municipal litter bins in Edinburgh carry jokes of the what-do-you-think-of-it-so-far sort. What did the fish say when it swam into a wall? Dam. What did the buffalo say when dropping his little lad off for his first day at school? Bison.

Like me, Fischer and Smith are passionate Summer Wine men. “People think it’s all about old men going down hill in a bath tub. That was one episode out of 295,” said Andrew.

Another of the 3,000 is called Gig Economy, which recalls my elder son’s insistence at Ryhope CW last night that the word “gig” comes from 1920s America when jazzmen usually played for nothing – a bit like the Edinburgh Festival then – and rejoiced when offered a few bob. So gig, he insists, stands for “God is good.”

I’ve taken leave greatly to doubt the theory. A pint rides on the outcome. On this Festival day, any etymologists about?


August 14 2018: Rash an’ all

Two unexpected sights at Newcastle Central station tonight. One’s police with sub-machine guns –  no doubt a reaction to events in London earlier in the day – the other the return of the world’s worst busker. I hadn’t seen or heard him for ages.

But here’s the thing: he seems not only to have improved in old age but is accompanied by a music machine with strings and choirs of angels.

Is his voice being synthesised, too? Is he miming? Does it matter? Mind, singing Can’t Help Falling in Love – the official anthem of Sunderland FC – on Newcastle station may not be the best fund raising idea of all time.

He’s still no Elvis, more Huckleberry Hound, but the word is that he’s raised many thousands for charity and great good luck to him.

I’m headed to Ryhope for the second time in ten days, this time for CW v Shildon. At once it’s apparent that the visitors have a greatly familiar addition to their ranks.

It’s Keith Graydon, known universally as Rasher, formerly at Spennymoor and then one of Morpeth Town’s great heroes in the FA Vase season. He’s one of several Shildon loan signings of late, and all while club secretary Martyn Tweddle is on holiday.

Club chairman David Dent, left holding fort and baby, is keen to acknowledge the patient help of league registrations secretary David Robinson in talking him through the minefield. Many over the years have been similarly grateful for Dave’s guidance.

Why Rasher, anyway? Everyone says they’ve been told but none can remember. Distant memory suggests that it really is something to do with pigs, though not the agricultural smell which hangs over Ryhope tonight. That’s muck spreading.

The welcome’s as warm as the August evening. Though there’ve been adventures along the road, Ryhope really have come a long way in just a few years.

Anyway, after five minutes and with just about his first touch for his new club, Rasher brings home the bacon with a screamer. The score stays the same until the last minute when Billy Greulich-Smith, more familiarly on the score sheet, adds a second for Shildon.

I’m getting a lift home from the elder bairn, thus avoiding Newcastle Central. It’s not the armed polliss that’s the worry, it’s the world’s oldest Elvis act.

*Yesterday’s blog spoke of speakers. Looking for something else, I come across a note on Norman Whiteside’s appearance at East Rainton Cricket Club in 2010. The former Man United star was keen to defend fellow Irishmen. “Ninety nine per cent are quite intellectual,” he said. “It’s just the other 25 per cent who are thick.”


August 13 2018: speaker’s notes

A lady from Richmond Town FC rings to ask if I’ll be principal speaker, usual rate, at their sportsmen’s dinner at the Scotch Corner Hotel.

Politely I decline, and it’s not the usual rate that’s the problem. Holding forth over a cup of tea to a bunch of usually elderly women is one thing, addressing a bunch of half-drunk men at 11pm quite another.

I once did a Darlington Rugby Club dinner at which the kitchen was in such turmoil after a lunchtime function that the meal wasn’t served until 10 15pm – imagine! – and I rose apprehensively shortly before midnight. Never again.

Coincidentally, however, the two best speakers I ever heard were both at Richmond Town dinners at Scotch Corner and both on the same bill.

One was the diminutive Alan Ball- “Good evening, I’m your after dinner squeaker” – and the other Fr Michael McKenna, a Roman Catholic priest in the diocese of Hexham and Newcastle who gave his fee to charity.

“I don’t know about saving souls,” said Eddie Roberts, then the club chairman, “but I once heard Fr McKenna save a sportsmen’s dinner at which Emlyn Hughes had been the first speaker.”

Probably it had little to do with Fr McKenna’s presence that Bally used just one very mild expletive all night, when talking his time as Blackpool manager and his friendship with former British heavyweight boxing champion Brian London.

“Brian London,” he said, “is the only boxer I know who has a cauliflower a**e.”

I last saw Fr McKenna 11 years ago, when he was 71 and parish priest at Stanley. “I keep trying to talk to the bishop about retirement,” he said. “He pretends he doesn’t speak English.”

*Unexpected mention in yesterday’s blog of Cristiano Ronaldo coincided with something a little less unlikely in The Times. A columnist recalled a friend’s five-year-old son being asked his favourite footballer.

“Grunaldo,” he said, an apparent combination of CR7 and the Gruffalo – “a forward who earns millions a year crossed with a fictional monster who has shifted 13 million picture books,” she wrote.

“A money-spinning hybrid if ever there was one.”


August 12 2018: magnificent 7

I’m an innocent abroad, and for “abroad” read anywhere south of Northallerton.

Around the North-East of England I know the folk, speak the language, have numerous public transport timetables imprinted on my cerebellum amd have written about 100 million words.

Beyond that, as the ancients feared when sailing westwards, I fall off the end of the world.

Such (very) little-Englishness isn’t helped because I don’t watch football – or much else – on television, prefer grass roots to big-league boots and once got lost in Leeds.

So what on earth is CR7?

I’ve heard of the Temperance Seven, indeed watched them at Middlesbrough Little Theatre last year. I’ve heard of 7 UP, once wrote of a chap in Blackhall Rocks who owned every car registration from 1 UP to 7 UP, thought the first much the most valuable until the fizzy pop exploded.

Blackhall also has a Chinese takeway called the Blackhall Wok, though that may be supposed irrelevant.

Guisborough Town’s wonderfully multi-faceted media release on yesterday’s FA Cup tie with Newton Aycliffe makes much, as well it might, of goalkeeper Jordan Nixon’s last-gasp equaliser in the 3-3 draw.

I knew Guisborough press officer Bill Perfitt when he had nowt, or nowt save a reputation for making the world’s best eggy bread. His first house in the town, indeed, was called Eggybread Lodge and was (honest) in Fryup Crescent. That may be irrelevant, too.

They spoke to Nixon, the club captain. “I think I owe it to the CR7 we take before the game,” he said.

They spoke to team manager Gary Forster. “He must have had extra CR7 to find the energy to gallop up the pitch like that,” he said.

Some secret elixir brewed by a little-known Guisborough fan called Charlie Roberts? The product of hugger-mugger distillation on Coatham Rec?

A little googling reveals CR7 to be the universal brand name of Cristiano Ronaldo, that 7 is his shirt number, that CR7 covers everything from jeans to jackets and that in 2017 his $45m dollar earnings from football were almost doubled by those and other endoresements.

It made him the world’s third best-rewarded athlete after Floyd Merryweather and Lionel Messi.

CR7, it transpires, is a “hypotonic” sports drink “for advanced hydration and endurance” and, presumably, for goalies who want to make a last minute name for themselves at the other end of the pitch.

I really must get out more, so long as it’s not south of Northallerton.

August 11 2018: bah, humbug!

At lunchtime I’m at a Christmas-related event at Cockfield. The spirit of peace and good will to all men fails to extend down the road to the FA Cup match bewteen Bishop Auckland and Pickering.

Though the visitors wear pink, the Pikes show themselves red in tooth and claw. The Bishops, it should at once be said, are absolutely no saints, either.

Their players’ language, not least to members of the crowd, is quite dreadful.

Under new manager Ian Chandler, an all-time hero at Whitley Bay, the Bishops have won both opening games and sit, first time for a long time, on top of the Ebac Northern Leagie table.

Before today, however, there’ve been seven yellow cards and a red and before half-time there are further cards of both colours. A few minutes after the dismissal, numbers are evened after a similarly reckless tackle. On both occasions a mass confrontation ensues, a polite way of saying that all hell breaks loose.

After the second dismissal, Amy Lee, the Bishop Auckland physio, can be seen trying to drag players from the affray.

Tony Duffy, the Bishops’ estimable secretary, is wearing the “lucky” scarf he’s sported for cup competitions since 1967 – and, he admits, seldom washed. He may need to re-examine its credentials.

Pickering score twice after the interval. Bishops’ strikers miss four or five chances that on another day they’d have buried. It ends 2-0 and for once I don’t even stop for a pint.

For former Bishop chairman Steve Newcombe there’s the consolation that his highland cattle won two first and a second at Sedgefield Show that morning, for the rest of us only the horns of a dilemma.

It’s a pretty disappointing Cup day for much of the rest of the Northern League, too. Ah well,only 136 days to Christmas.