November 22 2020: postcode lottery

Former Northern League referee Graham Smith orders a book, inadvertently both disturbing a cobwebbed memory and forging yet another link in coincidence’s lengthy chain.

Smith, it will be appreciated, is a not uncommon surname. Immediately below Graham on the Unconsidered Trifles mailing list is legendary former Darlington centre half Kevan Smith, 61 next month, who made 400-odd appearances for the Quakers and had a much shorter sojourn as co-manager at Crook Town.

Slightly to be different, Graham named his Wallsend house Smigsville. He doesn’t live there any longer, though. He lives in Smigsville ii.

Back in 2006, at any rate, the FA was getting a bit fed up of the confusion over all the Smiths on the referees’ list and so took to including the relevant postcode after each name.

It was thus a bit of a surprise when Graham, NE28, received match confirmation from Fisher Athletic, then ground sharing in south London at Dulwich Hamlet.

He replied cautiously: “I fear my expenses could be exorbitant and might indeed bankrupt the club. If possible, could I also have a map showing Kings Cross station as my sense of direction is akin to my interpretation of the offside law.”

Fisher failed to replay, or perhaps just to take the bait, but the match was refereed by Smith BN26.

*That little story first appeared in my Northern Echo column in February 2007. The same column reported the death, at 97, of long-serving former Middlesbrough scout Ray Grant, the man who discovered the 17-year-old Brian Clough playing for the village side in Great Broughton.

Ray’s finds also included Tony Mowbray, a nine-year-old kicking around Marske, and Ferryhill lad Stan Cummins who starred for both Boro and Sunderland. Last I heard of little Stan he was turning out for Ferryhill Greyhound in the Over 40s League. Anyone know what happened to him?

Ray was also close friends with Jack Watson, featured in yesterday’s blog, and that stretches coincidence yet further. The same Echo column had noted that Hibernian, managed by Tony Mowbray and with Jack Watson as his English scout, had won at Rangers in the Scottish League Cup the previous Saturday.

It meant that for the first time since 1997 there wouldn’t be at least one of the Old Firm in the final and that for the first time in 104 years the Hibees might lift some silverware. “I was quite surprised when I learned that,” said Tony. They thrashed Kilmarnock at Hampden.

*The Hibs’ thread had been started by a gentleman we named as Steve Cabbage, and to whom we thus owe an apology. Those steve.cabbage is his email moniker, his name’s Steve Young.

Blog reader Keith Bell had thought it a bit odd. In the land which gave us the Loons (Forfar), the Sons (Dumbarton), the Red Lichties (Arbroath) and, of course, the Blue Brazil of Cowdenbeath, weren’t Hibs also known as The Cabbage – rhyming slang, Cabbage and Ribs?

Further interrogated, Steve insists that it’s not just the Cockneys who have rhyming slang. In Scotland it might be Wullie Bauld (cauld), or someone might get Pansy Potters – his jotters, the sack – or suffer from the Duke of Argyle’s, which is piles.

Cabbage and ribs, he insists, is a favoured Scots’ delicacy – perhaps a bit like Stornoway black pudding or deep fried Mars Bar – from which briny soup might last the following week.

Not so green as they’re cabbage looking, couldn’t Hibs have been so nicknamed because of the colour of their shirts. “Those shirts are emerald,” says Steve. Maybe in future I should stick to the Northern League.

*At least one thing’s going right: for the third successive week, the blog’s visitor and viewing statistics are at record levels, and by some way. Whichever side of the border, many thanks.

November21 2020: all right Jack

If Neil Warnock isn’t the oldest manager in Football League history, wondered yesterday’s blog, then who is?

Well for a start there’s ex-England boss Roy Hodgson, now at Crystal Palace, who was 73 on August 9. Simon Mears also wondered about Bob Kyle, 23 years as Sunderland’s manager in the early 20th century – “these days they’d have about 15 managers in 23 years” – but Kyle died when he was 60.

John Briggs recalls Ivor Powell, most notably a player with QPR, Aston Villa and Bradford City and most successfully a manager at Carlisle United, who was a coach for Team Bath until he was 93. Appointed MBE, he died, aged 96, in 2012.

Much closer to home, the oldest person in full-time football employment was almost certainly my old friend Jack Watson, a quite remarkable man whose 90th birthday Sunday lunch was held at the Darlington Arena – at which he’s pictured, above – in April 2011.

Born at High Spen, near Gateshead, Jack was probably a better cricketer than footballer, though he kept goal for Ashington in North Eastern League days.

As a cricketer, he had lengthy Minor Counties spells with both Durham and Northumberland, was pro for eight different North-East clubs, once bowled Len Hutton – “one that went straight on, last ball of the over, I think” – and bagged 4-69 against the West Indies of Walcott, Worrall and Weeks.

When he was 70, he claimed a hat-trick for Bearpark, by whom he’d been head hunted, and kept the match ball mounted on the mantelpiece back home in Shildon. “I was so old, the other players called me Mr Watson,” he said.

In football, he was assistant manager or chief scout at each of the North-East’s biggish five save for Newcastle United. At Darlington he was assistant manager five times, twice turning down the boss’s job for the characteristically noble reason that someone else already had it.

At 90 he was Middlesbrough’s scouting co-ordinator, given his own office at the club’s Rockliffe Park training ground and, since Jack probably supposed a laptop to be somewhere for bouncing the grandbairns, secretarial support as well.

Tony Mowbray, Boro’s manager and a huge admirer, was at the 90th birthday bash. “Jack’s my kind of man,” he said. “He has honesty, integrity and old fashioned standards and he keeps finding what I’m looking for. He’s just very good at his job.”

At 90 he was still driving 15,000 miles a year to watch football, still familiar at every supermarket cafe in the land. Jack liked his grub. Birthday bashed, Tony Mowbray anticipated the following day.

“He’ll be in his office at 7 45am, brighter and more ready to go than any of us.” Very sadly, Jack died the following March.

*Then, at the end of a week in which we’ve several times celebrated coincidence, the most heaven-sent happenstance of all.

We’d mentioned that Yarm, south bank of the Tees, is a town full of football folk – to which haul of fame Steve Cabbage nominats Rob Jones.

This, it shoud at once be made clear, isn’t the same Rob Jones who’s Sunderland RCA’s admirable secretary. Apart from anything else, the RCA man’s not 6ft 7ins tall – and probably wasn’t as good a player.

The Rob Jones in question was born in Stockton, played around the doors for Whitby Town, Northallerton, Spennymoor United and Gateshead and in 2005 pitched up at Hibernian where he was soon made captain.

Perhaps unsurprisingly, the Easter Road fans knew him simply as Big Rob though, more imaginativerly, they serenaded him to the tune of Spandau Ballet’s Gold – “Always believe in Rob Jones, he’s indestructable.”

The love affair reached new heights in the 2006-07 Scottish League Cup final, when Big Rob scored the opener in Hibs’ 5-1 thrashing of Kilmarnock, the club’s first trophy for 16 years. The skipper later joined Scunthorpe, the Irons’ club record fee.

Steve Cabbage lives in Edinburgh and is a lifelong Hibs’ fan. A few years ago he was doing some work at the NatWest bank in Stockton when a customer spotted his accent. It was Rob’s mum – “lovely lady, legendary big lad” – who reported that he was living in Yarm. The following week, a signed photograph arrived.

That’s not the real coincidence, though. Who was the Hibernian manager who brought Rob Jones north of the border? Tony Mowbray, of course. And who Hibs’ English scout who doubtless insisted upon his signature?

It was the great Jack Watson.

November 20 2020: Old, old stories

After a week on the road, mostly in sponsored cars well past their MoT, it’s time for a bit of a catch-up blog.

Before proceeding, however, a perhaps final thought on Hartlepool players of the past – Tim Dredge recalls that Neil Warnock, now Middlesbrough’s manager, was Pools’ player of the year in 1971-72, his only full season at the Vic.

So he was. “Not the fastest or most skilful of wingers, he made up for this with pure strength and effort,” says A Century of Poolies.

The much travelled Mr Warnock will be 72 on December 1. Probably he’s not the oldest manager in Football League history, but anyone know who was?

*Yesterday’s blog recalled Boro’s Brian Myton, sent off for fisticuffs on his Football League debut, at Cardiff in 1968. Tow Law Town secretary Steve Moralee wonders if Myton Road and Myton Way in Ingleby Barwick owe anything to the gentleman who in the next five years made precisely ten first team appearances. Possibly not.

*Ah yes, but what’s in a name? Our kidder, to whom salutations, is much taken by Sunderland forward Max Power. Is it the lad’s real name, he wonders, and did his parents watch The Simpsons?

Eh? In some long gone episode, Dave recalls, Homer Simpson wanted to change his name to something more dynamic and chose Max Power after seeing the words on the side of a hairdryer.

We asked Sunderland fanzine editor Paul Dobson, all-knowing if not necessarily all-powerful. It’s his proper moniker all right – and the lad, says Paul, was named after the family dog.

*Oh aye, and to the lengthy list of football folk who live or have lived in Yarm, Dave Cumberworth adds the late Malcolm Allison, who I once interviewed in a restaurant there. So what did Big Mal have in common with former Benfica coach Alan Murray, still in that Teesside town? Both managed Willington,too.

*Recalling the short-lived Football Alliance, 1890-92, we’d noted that the breakway Sunderland Albion club had been formed because its founders feared Sunderland FC was becoming too commercial. It may have been a case of what my old mother (and she unalone) supposed kettle calling the pan grimy a**e.

John Rogers kindly sends pages from West Brom’s Cult Heroes, telling the story of the formidable Bob Roberts – John’s great grandfather and the Baggies’ goalkeeper throughout the 1880s.

Known as Long Bob, Roberts stood 6ft 4ins, was West Brom’s first England international and made over 400 club appearances – few perhaps more memorable than the 1890 Staffordshire Senior Cup semi-final against Walsall Swifts.

Long Bob, it’s said, had had “an accident in a hotel” when he fell down a flight of stairs. “His body was heavily bandaged into a rigid position which did not allow him to bend at all. This small handicap didn’t prevent him playing.” West Brom won 2-1.

The move to Wearside – “imitation Albion,” the book calls them – caused uproar in the West Midlands. Roberts was to be paid £2 10s a match, plus a guaranteed £2 for summer work and the licence of a pub. “£2 50, says the UK Inflation Calculator, would be around £325 today.

After helping Sunderland Albion to second place, Long Bob returned to West Brom but after hanging up his boots came back to the North-East and was a decorator in Byker. He died in 1929.

*His email headed “Breaking news”, Alan Dormer writes at 15 13 today . The London Standard website, he says, has just announced the death of comedian Ricky Tomlinson’s brother from Covid-19.

Dave Tomlinson was chairman and then president of the North West Counties Lague. Grass Routes reported his death almost a fortnight ago. “Is the Standard just catching up with a proper journalist?” Alan asks.

That’s kind, of course, though the hiatus is naught compared to the delay in reporting the passing of Tom Spencer. Tom, delightful man, was a test match cricket umpire and former professional footballer who may best be remembered for being at the eye-boggling end in 1975 when, wearing nothing more than a pair of socks and some sunnies, a gentleman called Michael Angelow leapt the stumps at Lord’s.

Though a man of Kent, Tom had moved to Seaton Delaval, near Whitley Bay, where his wife’s parents had the chip shop. It was there that I interviewed him in 1990 and where, five years later, he died He was 81 and I wrote an obituary soon afterwards.

More than seven years later, January 2003, a number of calls arrived – including from Wisden, The Times and the revered Association of Cricket Statisticians, asking if it were really true that Tom was no longer with us.

Better late, they then carried obituaries, too. Never mind Neil Warnock, that really was old news.

The story’s one of hundreds in Unconsidered Trifles, my 390-page autobiography which still seeks to fill many a Christmas stocking.

Books sold (and paid for) 1,256

Books still seeking a good home 944

*

November 19 2020: ripping Yarm’s

Amazing where an elderly sponsored car can get you, and still we’re down the myriad highways and byways leading from last Saturday’s passing reference to Billy Horner’s Datsun.

Billy was twice Hartlepool United’s manager. Tim Dredge, indeed, points out that Pools had four managers in 1983, of whom two were Billy Horner. Sandwiched between those bookend appointments were John Duncan, a Scot, and Mick Docherty, whose record of one win in 18 games suggests he lacked his old dad’s magic touch.

Simon Lee recalls that, in the late 1980s, Jennings Ford of Stockton provided a new Ford Orion for each of Middlesbrough’s first team squad – white for the players, black (for some reason) for team manager Bruce Rioch.

Simon also remembers discovering in a charity shop in Yarm a brass-buttoned Blackburn Rovers blazer, very stylish, with the club crest woven into the breast pocket.

Yarm, for the benefit of a global audience, is a fast-growing town on the south bank of the Tees, near Stockton. Though its postal address may be Teesside, or Cleveland, many insists that – like Guisborough, similarly displaced – it’s in North Yorkshire.

Yarm is also a home for footballers past and present, great teams of them.

Simon, at any rate, was puzzled by his charity shop find until remembering that Alan Murray – another former Hartlepool manager who has featured in this week’s blogs – had recently left Blackburn, where he’d been Graeme Souness’s chief scout.

Alan lived, of course, in Yarm. “Mrs Murray must have been having a clear out,” Simon suposes.

He bought it – like the blazer, all his buttons on – then put it on eBay. Soon it was on its way back to a grateful buyer in Blackburn.

All that’s coincidental – of course it is – because about 15 years ago I was invited officially to open another charity shop (it might even have been the same one) in Yarm. Yes, yes, that’s how important I was.

The star attraction was a very smart suit donated by former England manager Steve McLaren (who, of course, lives in Yarm.) Unfortunately there wasn’t a brolly. It could have made them a fortune.

*Yarm’s football folk foregather in the George and Dragon, once owned – quite likely still is – by former Darlington and Billingham Synthonia director Chris Neill.

Grass Routes reader Eddie Roxburgh, who also gets in the George, recalls a conversation about Boro’s youth team of the 1960s – the so-called M Squad embracing Alan Murray, David Mills, the late Willie Maddren, Alan Moody and Brian Myton.

Myton’s first team debut came at Cardiff City in September 1968 and ended with his being sent off after an apparently spectacular punch up with City’s Malcolm Clarke. Myton thus became the first player in Football League history to be sent off on his debut.

He made a further ten appearances over the next five years and then dropped into non-league.

*Yesterday’s blog recalled Pools’ 1992 trip to Transylvania, to play FC Borsov and to visit hospitals and children’s homes in that Communist-ruled part of Romania. Alan Murray was Hartlepool’s manager, his assistant Eddie Kyle (who also lives in Yarm.)

Thanks also to those readers – including lifelong Hartlepool fan Eric Elliott QC – who identified the Pools player in yesterday’s blog as Paul Olsson, a Hull lad who’ll be 55 on Christmas Eve.

Eddie well remembers the trip, the Tarom Airlines plane – Ed became a travel agent – so crowded with presents for the kids that cabin staff had to clamber over the luggage in the aisles.

“On the morning of the match it had been arranged for us to visit an orphange and a children’s home which certainly wasn’t good preparation for a football match against a very good side.

“That became irrelevant after what we witnessed that day. It was the most upsetting and draining experience for all of us and, in particular, for our players who had children of their own.

“It was so upsetting seeing and meeting some of those pitiful children that I can still feel the anguish to this day. The players handled it brilliantly, holding some of the kids and playing with others, but in the late afternoon when the match was played I don’t think any of us could concentrate on football having witnessed such harrowing events.”

We’ve still to hear from former Pools chairman Garry Gibson, exploring Australia in a camper van, still to recount why, in parts of Scotland, Eddie Kyle still bears an indelible soubriquet. Haste ye back, that’s for another day.

November 18 2020: Iron curtains

Grass Routes readers – the blog’s author, indeed – may by now be accustomed to finding themselevs in unexpected places, but never before in deepest Transylvania.

It’s the story of a truly ground breaking visit in 1992 by players and officials of Hartlepool United to that little known part of Romania. The Pools lads probably thought they had nowt – or next to nowt – until they got to Brasov.

“You can’t believe people live in such squalor,” said David Jukes, the club’s finance director. “You wouldn’t treat animals like that back home.”

For the blog, all this began with the simple recollection a few days ago of former Pool manager Bill Horner’s sponsored Datsun, continued with the 1990 Victoria Ground friendly against CSKA Moscow and then with a single sentence recollection from former assistant manager Eddie Kyle of that 6-1 defeat to FC Brasov.

That prompted Ronnie Chambers – to whom many thanks – to send a link to a 1992 video made by Paul Frost and Dave Picken – both still around – of that unforgettable visit behind the Iron Curtain.

The Hartlepool United chairman was Garry Gibson, 6ft 6ins tall and of commensurate profile; the manager was Alan Murray, of whom more shortly.

The trip had been masterminded by Newcastle policeman Bob Shields – anyone know what happened to him? – who’d seen for himself the conditions in Brasov’s hospitals and children’s homes.

Though the players’ luggage contained large quantiites of soap and shampoo given by Pools’ supporters, Bob followed with a convoy of other relief items. A collection at a friendly with Motherwell had raised £600.

The party was joined by a group of student nurses from Stockton and Billingham Technical College, who learned much during three weeks on the wards in Transylvania.

The game against Brasov was Romania’s first-ever charity match and was preceded by visits to hospitals and orphanages. The screen grab, above, shows an unidentified player – someone may know him – chatting with one of the children.

A hospital official warned that the experience might leave them “a little bit brain scarred.” One player supposed, perhaps by way of understatement, that it made you appreciate what you had.

Hundreds of youngsters were let into the match without charge, adults paid 20p. It raised another £600.

Brasov had a good football team, though. The week previously they’d beaten the Egyptian national side and they saw off Pools 5-1 – not six, as Eddie Kyle had recalled – Lenny Johnrose scoring for the visitors.

“Liverpool wouldn’t have beaten that lot, never mind Hartlepool,” said Garry Gibson at the post-match reception – reckoned one of Transylvania’s social events of the year.

Alan Murray said he’d learned much. “It’s quite appalling, downright primitive. It puts things into perspective a bit, doesn’t it?”

*Now 70, Alan Murray had a managerial career which ranged from Willington – like Malcolm Allison and Alan Durban after him – to Benfica’s B team and as Graeme Souness’s assistant at Newcastle United.

He was also Souness’s chief scout at Blackburn Rovers where, 20 years ago, I went to interview him at Rovers’ magnificent training headquarters at Old Langho.

How did it compare to Hartlepool? “The colour scheme’s the same but that’s where the similarity ends,” said Alan.

And to Benfica? “At least I know that here I’ll get my money on the 25th of every month. I didn’t always at Benfica.”

Wherever he roamed, at one time he could be found every Saturday night at the George and Dragon in Yarm. These days I’m not sure where he is – but it’s likely to be a story of which we’ve not yet heard the last.

November 17 2020: deals on wheels

As grainy as a second-hand silo, yesterday’s blog carried a picture of 1980s Hartlepool United manager Billy Horner getting the keys to his sponsored Datsun – fairly humble these days but back then the cherry on the cake.

It drove Simon Mears deep into his Sunderland programme collection, surfacing with these two timeless shots from 1989.

The one at the top is Gary Owers – have you seen the shorts? – the second, slightly more formally attired, is central defender Reuben Agboola. The cars are relatively modest, too – these days they’d want a Porsche at least – but doubtless they were grateful.

It’s the wrong blog, of course, to ask what make they were, though I know a fair bit about Vaux Brewery.

Gary Owers, now 52 and assistant manager at Plymouth, played for Chester-le-Street schoolboys before scoring 27 goals in 307 appearances in Sunderland’s midfield between 1987-94. “The only problem about the photograph is that he doesn’t ,look old enough to be driving,” says Paul Dobson, editor of the Sunderland fanzine A Love Supreme.

For three years he was married to Wallsend lass Joanne Conway – remember her – twice an Olympian and six times British figure skating champion. Wiki reckons she’s now arena manager at Blackpool Pleasure Beach.

Paul Dobson also reckons that pronunciation of the player’s surname remains a talking point among Sunderland fans. Most suppose it to rhyme with “powers”, though dissenters claim it’s pronounced as in creditors – or, less obliqulely, as in former Darlington goalie Phil Owers.

Reuben Omojola Folasanje Agboola was born in London, his father from Nigeria and his mother from Dorset. Signed from Southampton for £150,000, he became the first player to be capped for an African nation while with Sunderland, which prompts another thought.

Hartlepool top scorer Kenny Johnson, recalled in yesterday’s blog, is reckoned the first player to win international honours while with Pools – capped by Hong Kong while on national service over there in 1950.

In the same breath, a Twitter correspondent reckons that Ian McGuckin – now assistant manager to his old mate Andy Toman at Bishop Auckland – made his Hartlepool debut as a 17-year-old sub in that improbable 1990 match against CSKA Moscow.

Agboola, at any rate, made 155 Sunderland starts without ever troubling the scorers and helped the team to promotion in 1989-90 (though they lost in the play-off final.)

He joined Charlton Athletic, became a pub manager in Southampton and according to his Facebook page (with further thanks to Paul Dobson) is now a “car assessor”, volunteers a couple of days a week and gets in a lot of miles on his bike. Whether or not it’s sponsored, I really have no idea.

*Impossible to talk of player sponsorship circa 1990 without recalling the telly shop in Shildon which promised a colour set – albeit reconditioned – to any player who scored a hat-trick. The lads, it’s fair to say, were not much in the habit of scoring hat-tricks at the time.

Clearly inspired, the great Duggie Grant – lovely guy – hit five hat-tricks in the season. Set fair, you might say. What he did with all the tellies is not recorded, but thereafter the shop withdrew the offer.

November 16 2020: cherry picking?

They were different days – such things almost unheard of in the old fourth division – when Hartlepool manager was given a sponsored Datsun in which to swan around the town.

We’d mentioned it in Saturday’s blog – “as flat as Billy Horner’s Datsun battery” – and Nick Loughlin provides the evidence. Not a great quality pic but showing Pools’ old stand in all its ramshackle glory.

“That Datsun has become a big thing in Pools history,” says Nick, for many years a fixture in the Victoria Park press box.

Born in Cassop, near Durham, Billy Horner had a lengthy playing career with Middlesbrough and Darlington , became Quakers’ player/manager and then had two spells, over nine years, as Pools boss. He’s now 78 and still thought to be in the town.

Nick recalls that Billy lived in a flat on the Fens estate, conveniently close to the chip shop run by Pools all-time record scorer Kenny Johnson – lovely bloke, cracking fish and chips, died in 2011, aged 80.

Born in West Hartlepool, as then it was, Kenny hit 106 goals in 413 appearances between 1949-64, including a goal in the 1956-57 FA Cup third round tie with Manchester United, one of the few football matches to which an entire book has been devoted.

Supporters who’d grumbled about an increase in admission – from two bob to four bob – soon forgot about it as Pools fought back from three down to 3-3 before the Busby Babes’ late winner.

“The most exciting game of football I ever saw,” wrote Sir Matt in his autobiography. Different days, indeed.

*It’s wholly coincidental – like much else in Grass Routes of late – that blog reader and former Northern League linesman Ronnie Chambers should recall the improbable night, 30 years ago this Saturday, when Hartlepool played CSKA Moscow.

Probably it wasn’t meant to happen. CSKA had just lifted the Soviet cup and finished second in their league, Pools were mid-table in the bottom tier.

CSKA had hoped for rather more glamorous opponents but been thwarted, it’s said, by League Cup replays. Instead, Hartlepool were sandwiched between games at Aldershot and, most improbably of all, Merthyr Tydfil.

Crowds across all three matches totalled fewer than 2,000 – 671 of them at the Vic where the Russians gave free enamel badges to the kids. Hartlepool’s starting XI that night was: Cox, Olsson, McKinnon, Tinkler, MacPhail, Bennyworth, Allon, Hutchison, Baker, Honour, Dalton.

Despite Joe Allon’s 21st minute goal – whatever happened to the lad, still on the speaking circuit? – Pools lost 6-1. “A Communist masterclass,” says the the inthemadcrowd.co.uk website.

Rather more surprisingly, CSKA forward Viktor Yavshensky signed subsequently for Aldershot, where his performances were so indifferent that rumours surfaced that he was a spy.

The lad should have thought himself lucky. In Hartlepool they hanged spies, if only of the simian sort.

Inthemadcrowd has sympathy with the unlikely visitors. “In pre-climate change days, November nights at Hartlepool were really cold. Now they tend just to be wet and dreary.”

*A bit of non-Hartlepool news. West Allotment Celtic, rootless since leaving the former Wheatsheaf in Newcastle last season, have been awarded FA grade G for their new home at Palmersville, north Tyneside. Virus permitting, their first Ebac Northern League game there will be against Birtley Town on December 5.

*Another coincidence – what else? – former Pools assistant manager Eddie Kyle emails this morning to buy a copy of Unconsidered Trifles. Eddie wasn’t around in CSKA days but recalls, a few years later, that they played FC Brasov in Romania. They lost that one 6-1, an’ all.

Eddie, about whom we may have more to say in coming days, isn’t the only one buying the autobiography. It’s picking up for Christmas – details from mikeamos81@aol.com

Books sold (and paid for) 1,235

Books still out in the cold 965

November 15 2020: Daisy chain

Like a little lad with nose pressed against the sweet shop window, we have been recalling classic pubs – all presently out of bounds.

An internet list had suggested that the North-East’s only Grade II-listed pub was the wonderful Victoria, in Durham, and was clearly mistaken.

Blog reader and Sunderland RCA fan Simon Mears draws attention to the glorious-looking Mountain Daisy in Hylton Road, Sunderland, listed Grade II* and on Camra’s national inventory of historic pub interiors.

That it’s not in the Good Beer Guide may be something to do with the John Smith’s Smooth font. That would explain it. Memory also suggested that the Mountain Daisy was the team for which Julio Arca played on Sundays before signing for South Shields but that, says Simon, was the Willow Pond just up the road.

The buffet bar, pictured without doing it justice, is usually closed but can be viewed on request. Camra supposes it “truly spectacular”, with a visual feast of ceramic work , a wonderfully decorated mosaic floor, “stunning” quadrant-shaped tiled bar that’s one of only 14 in the country and a great gallery of paintings of the North-East, from Durham Cathedral to Bamburgh Castle, and Marsden Rock to Cragside.

Sunderland’s listed pubs also include the Londonderry, Green’s and the Dun Cow, next to the Empire Theatre, which won national awards following its restoration in 2014.

Simon reckons there are several more within walking distance of the city centre. It all suggests a bit of a pub crawl: chance would be a fine thing, wouldn’t it?

*Former Crook Town secretary Dave Thompson, now running the prison service in the Northern Territories of Australia, can’t let all this talk of football and privvies pass without recalling the story of the new Wembley’s netties.

Work was well under way, says Dave, when someone pointed the “No advertising” clause in the contract and the plumbing, Royal Doulton emblazoned, had to be ripped out again.

Neither the internet nor the blog’s men in high places can recall this – in for a penny, anyone? – though the website reckons the stadium has more toilets, 2,618, than any building in the world.

The website also claims that “all 90,000 seats are close to the action”, which explains everything. I’ve been to the wrong ground.

*Recalling the Football Combination’s “points-per-game” league table from 1888-89, the blog the other day pondered the whereabouts of South Shore – a Blackpool side, perhaps – and of Halliwell.

South Shore were indeed a Blackpool team. littorally, before merging with Blackpool FC and using South Shore’s Bloomfield Road ground. Blog reader David Walsh also discovers Halliwell to have been a village near Bolton, now pretty much subsumed into that Lancashire town.

A local bulletin board insists that it’s still a village – “we have a pub, chippy, paper shop, coffee shop, beauty salon, nature reserve just like every other village – and an idiot.”

Our village has few of those amenities, though the Shoulder battles on – when allowed to – and there is, of course, at least one idiot.

*Immodestly, as always, we noted a week ago that the blog’s weekly traffic had broken all records. This week’s stats leave even that well behind. Goodness knows why the sudden surge but, whatever it is, real thanks.

November 14 2020: little fish, big pool

When Saturday comes, and when there’s a lockdown and a blooming international break, what’s to be done to pass the day? “There’s always Eastleigh v Hartlepool on the telly,” suggests blog reader Neil McKay. Bit coincidental, that.

Back in working days, January 2018, I’d headed down to the Eastleigh-Hartlepool match with Pools in one of their accustomed pickles. Relegated from the Football League the season before, they’d gained three points from the previous nine games and the owners had pulled the plug.

On the train south I talked to Geoff Green, a Hartlepool fan who, bravely, lives in Darlington. “There’ve been a few dark days, a few shocking teams, but never as low as this,” he said.

In the Wagon Works, the Wetherspoons opposite Eastleigh station, someone received a text message that Ronaldo, the great Brazilian, was hoping to end his playing days in the English or Spanish lower divisions.

Spoons stirred. “Anyone got a phone number for Ronaldo?” Pools chorused as one.

About 300 had travelled. “Poolie till I die,” they sang, which sounded like a the definition of chronic illness in a medical school reception class.

Eastleigh’s stadium was impressive, much credit given to former chairman Stuart Donald who’d recently upped sticks to Sunderland and has ever thereafter given the impression that he earnestly wished he hadn’t.

Home officials, generously, rattled collecting buckets for the Pools. A notice by the visitors’ gate thanked them for travelling 306 miles to Hampshire.

It’s near Southampton Airport, a place perhaps best remembered as the launch pad for 8,000 wartime Spitfires built nearby, though it’s also claimed that Benny Hill not ony grew up in Eastleigh but discovered there the prototype for the fastest milk cart in the west.

Pools led after eight minutes, stood 2-2 at the interval. Visiting fans chimed (as habitually they do) the Rolf Harris song about two little boys, the only problem with wooden horses being that the wheels are apt to come off.

So it proved, Eastleigh won 4-3. The Poolies changed tune to that of Sing when you’re winning. “Three points from thirty….”

They finished 15th in the National League. Woking, Torquay, Guiseley and Chester were relegated.

*The only problem about this evening’s match, 5 20pm kick-off, is that we don’t have BT Sport and, in any case, the second half would overlap Dad’s Army.

Simultaneously, Sky Football is showing Cyprus v Luxembourg. We don’t subscribe to Sky, either. For those with both channels, it must be agonising. Talk about spoiled for choice.

A check on the BBC website, free, reveals that the Eastleigh match has been abandoned at half-time after a day-long downpour. As the travelling fans gaze forlornly at the reflections in the puddles on the pitch, they may recall that Eastleigh play at the Silverlake Stadium – and that it’s another 306 miles back home.

At least there’s Belgium v England on Sunday.

*Another little coincidence, the younger bairn sends a link to a piece on the North East Sports News website written by long serving former Northern Echo sports editor Nick Loughlin, among the most ardent Poolies of all.

Made redundant after 27 years with the paper, Nick supposes media coverage of the Pools to be “as flat as the battery on Billy Horner’s Datsun.”

Billy, now 78, had a lengthy playing career with Middlesbrough and Darlington, managed Darlington once and Hartlepool twice and may well have had a Datsun, though what thaat’s to do with anything I’ve no idea.

The Echo sports desk, writes Nick, is now a one-man band. The Hartlepool Mail, which once sold 23,000 each night, now manages about a tenth of that. BBC website reports of their matches are written from Twitter posts by a bloke in an office near Hull.

These are terribly hard times. If only there were some football.

November 13 2020: PPG-force

PPG may become a familiar, perhaps fearful, code. It stands for points-per-game and will apply in the National League System in 2020-21 if a league’s fixtures can’t be completed but at least 75 per cent of games have been played.

The system may not wholly be new. From the Non-League Football Tables book, John Rogers very kindly forwards the closest thing to a final table that may have been devised from the short-lived Football Combination, 1888-89.

The Alliance was a curious beast, formed chiefly by clubs who’d failed to make the inaugural 12-strong Football League – all in what might broadly be termed the Midlands – but run very differently.

Before proceeding, however, an eyebrow may already have been raised at the Northern League’s long-time claim that, founded in 1889-90, it’s the world’s second oldest. This, ratified by the FA, means the second oldest survivor.

The 20 Combination clubs included some still familiar – Crewe Alexandra, Grimsby Town, Lincoln City – and others long forgotten. Were South Shore from Blackpool? Where on earth was Halliwell? Where did Derby Junction and Derby Midland meet?

Clubs weren’t required to meet one another home and away but to arrange their own fixtures, against whomsoever they liked, with an intended minimum of eight games.

Non-League Football Tables supposes the system “flexible”, John Rogers thinks it “anarchic”. Certainly it proved chaotic. The competition folded before season’s end, and with it the air on a PPG-string.

*The Football Combination was succeeded in 1889-90 by the 12-member Football Aliance, effectively but not formally a Football League second division and again drawn almost exclusively from the Midlands. The exception was Sunderland Albion.

How on earth did they get around? At what ungodly hour did they leave home and when fall gratefully into their beds? The poor horses must have been knackered.

Albion, who played on the Blue House Field at Hendon – Sunderland’s dockland – was a breakaway club from the original Sunderland FC. Albion’s founders were particularly fed up at Sunderland’s use of those pesky Scottish professionals (and no matter that seven of them jumped ship to the Albion.)

Sunderland had been formed as the Sunderland and District Teachers Association, perhaps even with an apostrophe, the club’s first known game 140 years ago this very day – a 1-0 defeat to Ferryhill in the Northumberland and Durham Challenge Cup.

Sadly it is not recorded if Mr Pete Sixsmith, long-time head of history at Ferryhill School, was in the side.

Rivalry between the two Sunderland sides was intense. When, doubtless coincidentally, they were paired in both FA Cup and Durham Challenge Cup in 1888-89, Sunderland withdrew from both competitions in order to prevent their rivals from getting a share of the gate money.

When two friendlies were finally arranged, before crowds of 12,000 and 18,000, Sunderland won both. Albion walked off before the end of the second, their brake stoned all the way back to town.

In 1890-91, Albion also entered a team in the eight-member Northern League where the following season they were joined by Sheffield United – and we thought that the Blades had a long way to travel.

Not helped by the fact that their arch-rivals had just won the Football League, Albion folded in 1892-93.

*There it might all have dned, save for a reference on Sunderland Albion’s Wiki page to the club “re-forming” in 2020 – and, again, at the hands of those unhappy with Sunderland FC’s direction of travel.

To what extent it’s possible to re-form 127 years later is not a matter which need concern us, though few founder members are likely to have survived.

A piece at the end of August on the Roker Report website talked of a community club and of early days, long haul and “not rushing into anything.”

Nothing else turns up. They will survive rather longer, it’s to be hoped, than did the old Albion.