May 17 2017: blind courage

The younger bairn draws attention to a piece in The Observer on John Stancombe, a ground hopper who’ll be remembered by many Northern League folk.

He’s a big lad, completely blind, and hardly helps his wanderings by living in Lowestoft, the most easterly town in England (but affectionately remembered by Whitley Bay supporters.)

Once he had a guide dog, called Arthur, but these days travels alone. He advises clubs of his expected arrival, asks if someone can talk him through the match – “they don’t have to be John Motson” – likes to have the ground described so that he can create a mental image.

The last time I saw him was at a midweek match at Crook Town. Thereafter he walked the 500-600 yards back to the bus stop, travelled to Durham, waited around an hour or two for the overnight coach, alighted in north London, got the Tube to Liverpool Street, changed at Ipswich for Lowestoft and was was home for a bit breakfast by about 10am.

I should never again grumble about the No 1 to Darlington.

The Observer caught up with him at Sandbach Unitd, his 1,640th ground. “You do lose confidence in life, being blind,” he said. “Until you can comprehend it, you’ll never appreciate what I’m talking about.”

I’d also seen him at Benfield and at Birtley in 2010. “My wife doesn’t really understand, but what does she know about football, she’s an Ipswich Town supporter?” he said.

At the time he was learning new tech skills at a college for the blind in Hereford. “It’s great,” said John, “I can tick off the Cymru Aliance as well.”

*Dave Whitcombe, twice world masters darts champion and the man whose walk-on tune was Can You Feel the Force, was an Ipswich Town fan, too. Nicely coincidental, that.

Dave was competing in the British masters at Redcar at which one of the press pack was a BBC Tees journalist called Mark Turnbull. Like John Stancombe, Mark was a very big lad; like John he was blind.

Mark declined a dog, would sometimes be guided by a hand on the shoulder of a sighted person. Thus coupled, he and poor Whitcombe collided with a piece of street furniture in Middlesbrough. Mark escaped unscathed; poor Dave felt the force – and broke his nose.

*Gary Beswick becomes on May 27 the latest in a lengthy list of former Northern League officials to officiate in an FA Cup final. Now one of 27 full-time Premier League assistant refs, and one of seven FIFA men, he’ll be what formerly was termed senior linesman at Arsenal v Chelsea.

Wearing a work hat, I spend 90 minutes with him this morning at his home in Newton Aycliffe. “My ambition when I started was to referee the Billingham derby,” he says. He achieved that one, too.

Still on refereeing matters, Terry Farley reports that former ref Peter Ramsey – now a familiar assessor – was taken to Newcastle RVI on Tuesday evening after a road accident. It’s much to be hoped that he’s soon back in the fray.

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