October 17 2019: Gazza and me

The taxi driver from Durham railway station was unusually chatty: his spare time job, he said, was as a football agent and his client was a young lad called Paul Gascoigne.

It was 1986, possibly 1987. Though agents were still almost unheard of, young Gascoigne was very fast emerging at Newcastle United. I asked the taxi man if he might set up an interview – no problem, he said (and, of course, no fee.)

We met, Gazza and I, in the Newcastle Arms, within sight of St James’ Park – no security men, no minders. none of the risible army of supposed public relations professionals, no agents. (The agent was probably driving his taxi.) He’d just finished training.

We each had two pints, maybe three, and two cheese and onion toasties. He was friendly, engaging, full of hopes, greatly quotable, had absolutely no side and he stood his round. I wish I could find the cutting but it’s long since disappeared from the library at work.

We didn’t kiss, though.

The only other time I met Gazza was at the Magpies’ Benwell training ground several years later. I was there for another reason, long forgotten, he was among a crowd when he spotted me. “You’re the guy from The Northern Echo with the cheese and onion toasties,” he said, almost excitably, and stopped for another little chat.

Much has happened since, but I was glad – if a bit surprised – that he was acquitted today. Clearly the poor lad has a problem with alcohol, probably he has a problem with picking his mates, but at heart, I reckon, he’s still as good as gold.

The agent got nothing for sorting the interview, but it seemed only reasonable to give a tip for his taxi driving. I think it was five bob.



October 16 2019: one swallow

Thanks to the many who commisserated about the Newton Aycliffe nose job – yesterday’s blog – even those who suggested it mightn’t have been an accident but a targeted attack. Had it been a targeted attack, they’d have missed.

John Maughan suggested looking on the bright side – “it could have been a sodden old caser” – but had it been a sodden old caser there might have been time for evasive action.

Ron Maxwell queried the use of the word “welted” to describe the ball’s velocity – I probably hadn’t used it myself since the back streets of Shildon 60 years ago – but Chambers among its many definitions says that “welt” means to lash. That’s what the guy did, welted it.

The conk’s now pretty much recovered – and why “conked out”, anyway? – the silver lining that its misadventures doubled the usual number of blog visitors. Schadenfreude, perhaps.

Had it not happened, I was going to recount spending the first half at Aycliffe in conversation with Paul Trippet, agent to Sedgefield MP Phil Wilson and the man who on Phil’s behalf took up with the FA the unsatisfactory case of BetVictor’s football sponsorship.

They themselves are sponsors. The MP sponsors the Newton Aycliffe programme while Paul sponsors Dean Thexton, the leading scorer.

Last we heard – and it must be two months ago – someone at the FA had sent the MP’s office a jaunty acknowledgment and promised that they’d be back in touch soon. Oddly enough, that’s the last the MP’s office heard, too….

The first time I heard from Paul Trippet must have been more than 20 years ago, when he rang¬† to suggest there might be a story following a cricket match between Trimdon Colliery and Deaf Hill and Yarm’s fourth team in which he’d been a participant.

A Trimdon batsman thought he was facing a dolly until the ball suddenly and hugely deviated and clean bowled him. Closer inspection revealed a dead swallow in its flight path. What should the umpire’s decision have been?

In the circumstances, all that a good journalist (and even this one) could do was ring umpire Bird.¬† Dickie was quite helpful, didn’t even ask for a consultancy fee. “Dead bird, dead ball,” he said. The umpire had got it right.

October 15 2019: blood sport

Just 15 minutes remain of tonight’s League Cup tie between Newton Aycliffe and Redcar Athletic when a welted clearance flies out of play and, from about four yards, whacks me square in the face.

No chance of evasive action, not with these eyes and these reflexes, anyway.

Blood spatters the hard standing, the specs fly, ref Pau Cooper – to whom thanks – at once halts play and summons Aycliffe physio Jack Petroczy from the other side of the pitch. The wound’s on the side of the nose, probably caused by the glasses, and it just won’t stop bleeding.

When Jack has to return to his day job – as it were – care and concern are taken over by Yvonne Wood, already an Aycliffe multi-tasker but herself a well-qualified first responder.

“You’re going to have a real shiner there in the morning. It’ll not do much for your good looks,” says Yvonne, copiously dressing the old snitch back in the hospitality room.

Let it be said that both Jack and Yvonne are magnificent, really attentive, underlining the FA’s concerns that all matches should have both qualified first aid personnel and a well-stocked medical bag – even if only for the dozy spectators. The magic sponge days are gone – real thanks guys.

I wouldn’t care but I’d really been enjoying the evening, not least the near-tangible sense of resurgence around the Moore Lane ground. Under head coach Colin Stromsoy, formerly with Team Northumbria, the team is flying high in the Ebac Northern League first division, though 14-goal top scorer Dean Theakston is out injured tonight.

Crowds are fast rising, too, including the dozen or so excitable junior team members who act as mascots and the two dozen older lads gathered in the stand who sing – sometimes slightly off-colour – throughout.

“You’re just a town full of seagulls,” they chant, amusingly, towards the visitors.

The temperature’s much higher than the two degrees indicated on my new smartish phone – anyone know how to work it? – but since it also says we’re in Todmorden, it may not be as smart as it thinks. The tea hut burgers even have onions, an Aycliffe rarity of late, and Yvonne even cooks those.

Redcar are top of the second division, unbeaten until last Saturday’s setback at Tow Law, but trail 4-1 when I’m given an unplanned facial and finally go down 6-1 – two apiece for Ethan Wood and Johnson Ballan, a youth team product.

These blogs are written first thing in the morning – dressing gown and slippers – after the date in the header. Sharon peers doubtfully at the well-dressed hooter, says it doesn’t look very good but will doubtless be all right. She says nothing about my good looks.


October 14 2019: love bites

Since yesterday’s blog went quite well, and since there’s nothing much doing save for the Vase draw, here are ten more anecdotes from the “Love Football” books produced in 2001 by Barry Hindson and Paul Dixon and in 2006 by Barry flying solo. The guys chose their subjects well.

*While manager of Durham City, then ground sharing at Chester-le-Street, Billy Cruddas was sent from the ground and animatedly attempted to give team instructions while hiding up a tree. Spotted by the linesman, he fell into the beck below. “I was bloody drenched,” he said.

*During Blyth Spartans’ memorable FA Cup run in 1977-78, team manager Jack Marks insisted that the players take a swig from his hip flask before kick-off. He called it Speed Oil.

*Dean Gibb, much given to running round naked – cycling round naked, too – was sent off when with Bedlington Terriers in an FA Cup penalty shoot-out against Bamber Bridge after volubly advising the crowd of the error of their ways. “Inciting a riot,” said the referee.

*The late Colin Richardson, affectionately remembered across the North-East, was reported to the Race Relations Board after releasing five black players while manager at Bridlington. Rico successfully protested innocence. “They were just bloody useless,” he said.

*Free scoring Ian Crumplin was proud of the fact that he’d never been sent off for swearing at the ref – but was dismissed three times for swearing at Colin Richardson (aforesaid) in the dugout.

*Richie Bond never got on with legendary goalkeeper John Burridge when Budgie became manager of Blyth. “He liked players who weren’t afrad to show a nasty streak,” said Richie. To be honest I wouldn’t even put my foot in during the hokey-cokey.”

*Kevin Wolfe, another well-remembered goalkeeper – and a bit eccentric with it – played for Darlington Reserves at Northallerton when Quakers were managed by Cyril Knowles – “the scariest man I met in my life.” It didn’t help that Wolfy was covered in love bites – “I’d been a naughty boy the night before.”

*Ten minutes before kick-off in Tow Law’s Vase semi-final against Taunton in 1998 there was a knock on the dressing room door and a pantomime horse trotted in. “The players were p*****g themselves. It completely broke the tension,” said team manager Peter Quigley.

*Graeme “Doc” Forster recalled that after West Auckland’s FA Cup win at Kings Lynn, home officials switched off the clubhouse television so West wouldn’t know who they’d drawn in the first round proper.

*Magnificently long serving Dunston chairman Malcolm James recalled that in the early days of Fed Brewery sponsorship a player set off the fire hose in the brewery board room. “It made a terrible mess and covered most of the occupants, too.”

Heaton Stannington secretary Ken Rodger, incidentally, reports that the books are on offer on eBay. Whatever the price, they’re worth it.

October 13 2019: bull by the horns

Barry Hindson is a former head teacher who for around 30 years covered non-league football for BBC Newcastle. With BBC colleague Paul Dixon, still broadcasting, he wrote a lovely book in 2001 about the rich cast of characters in the non-league game and five years later, going solo, produced a sequel.

We Just Love Football and We Still Love Football are now collectors’ items, so much so that Barry, out of stock, is casting around trying to find spare copies.

Each book featured 20-or-so potted biographies of some of the game’s more colourful – the word may be in some cases be euphemistic – participants. the authors simultaneously able to tease the best and the worst from their subjects. Happily, the books still find room amid these crowded shelves.

Among those in the second volume was Newcastle Benfield founder and chairman Jimmy Rowe, who died a few weeks ago, recalling a minor league game in which he was stand-in referee. Seeing an angry player rushing towards him, Jimmy got in the first bat – as they say on Tyneside – nutted him and knocked him out.

Thereafter he was banned from refereeing. “It was probably best for all concered,” Jim conceded. A few more tasters:

*Sweet-toothed Newcastle Blue Star legend Ian Crumplin once produced a 7lb box of midget gems for an away trip and on another occasion brought half a pound of mince. “We asked for mints,” said his mates.

*Stanley United wing half Doug Raine, reckoned in the 60s and 70s to be the hardest man in the Northern League, locked himself in the dressing room to escape the wrath of Whitley Bay legend Billy Wright – harder yet.

*Russell Tiffin, a well remembered Northern League ref and Football League linesman, was also a farmer. About to officiate in a match at Hartlepool, he got a call from club officials at Chester-le-Street to say that his herd of cows had invaded the pitch and what was he going to do about it. Russ told them that the black-and-white one with the horns was a good centre half and that they should put a blue shirt on it.

*Knowing that Tow Law could get a bit chilly, Marc Irwin – skipper of the Lawyers’ 1994-95 Northern League winning side – surreptitiously lined the inside of team mates’ underpants with Deep Heat.

*Managed by “Doc” Graeme Forster, Evenwood Town were at Bedlington when a goalbound shot hit a cat on the line and was deflected away. The ref ruled no goal. Subsequently there was a piece in The Times, the Doc recalled – did the whole of the cat cross the line?

The books have many similar stories, anecdotal and affectionate in equal measure. Hang on to them, they’re gold dust – and if you’ve spare copies, there’s a retired head in Newcastle who;d love them.


October 12 2019: Fiona friend

Since I’ve never been and am unlikely ever to go, I can never spell the name of that place which sounds like Fiona Ventura where so many folk seek the sun.

Among them is Vince Kirkup, Crook Town’s magnificent chairman, who may never have realised when he booked the holiday that it coincided with the first round proper of the Vase. (There’s no question, of course, that he expected Town to be in it.)

They’re at Longridge, a small town near Preston, the word among those left behind that the chairman’s been anxiously texting all morning in a “Done this, done that?” sort of a way.

Among the the travelling supporters is former Brandon United secretary Barry Ross, who denies that he’s being drawn into Vince’s ineluctable web. “My daughter’s at university in Liverpool, it’s on the way,” he pleads.

Among the differences between the two places is that one’s included in the Sunday Times list of the top 100 places in Britain in which to live – a mixed blessing by all accounts – and the other isn’t.

Among the similarities is that both had railway stations which closed back in the steamy mists of time and that both are approached by the No 1 bus. Only Longridge has a shop promoting “Britain’s No 1 flea and tick powder”, though.

The football team were North West Counties League second tier champions last season, presently sit top of the premier division, have a good set-up and a list of sponsors half way back to the M6.

Vince will also have learned while frolicking with Fiona that goalkeeper Ronan Makepeace broke his thumb yesterday, that his deputy has work commitments and that striker Christian Holliday – isn’t that Easter? – has had to don the gloves.

He’s beaten after ten minutes, again before half-time. Some are still taking refreshment – cracking sausage rolls – when Dan Maddison’s diving header pulls a goal back but our boys finally lose 4-2.

Vince has been in contact throughut. There’ll be no dancing on the streets of Fiona Ventura tonight.



October 11 2019: up the junction

The theme, if theme it be, has been Songs From Thornaby Station, where now the public address plays classical music in an attempt to soothe anxious minds.

Tow Law Town secretary Steve Moralee, the Ebac Northern League’s No 1 Kylie fan, suggests that it might also play I’m Still Standing (after all this time) as sung by Elton John – a number also proposed by Steve Wolstencroft. “The stuff’s been going round my head all day,” he pleads.

Steve W also suggests Tracks of My Tears by Smokey Robinson, Help by the Beatles, Slow Train by Flanders and Swann and Homeward Bound (eventually) by Simon and Garfunkel. He might have added that Kinks number about being so tired of waiting.

Perchance I was again on Thornaby station on Wednesday, when the PA appeared to have been muted – and that’s the most appropriate Simon and Garfunkel number of all, the blessed Sound of Silence.

*Alan Cattanach recalls his time on the folk club circuit – “many, many years ago” – when Tom Gilfellon of the High Level Ranters performed a song called Clapham Junction, which bore a marked resmblance to the one beginning “Gentlemen must please refrain.”

Ladies wishing to pass water/would you kindly ask the porter….We encourage constipation, while the train is in the station….

,,,,and so on. As kids we knew a limerick a policeman from Andover Junction, but that’s probably a different line entirely.

* Another musical note: yesterday’s blog on the 50th anniversary of North Shields’ triumph in Europe said that the UK’s No 1 at the time was Don’t Go Breaking My Heart by Bobbie Gentry. Right singer, wrong song. As both Neil McKay and Nick Robinson point out, the hit was I’ll Never Fall in Love Again. The other one was Elton John and Kiki Dee.

*This Saturday is Non League Day, prompting John Maughan to see a link to the BBC website which carries a gallery of smashing images from When Saturday Comes. Well worth a look. It’s also Vase day, which I shall be spending to and from Longridge Town – Preston way – v Crook Town. Some notes on that one tomorrow.