July 8 2018: an Englishman’s home



Home briefly from Oz, where he’s something very senior in the prison service – is this what they mean by penal servitude? – former Crook Town secretary Dave Thimpson sends the wonderful image above.

It’s football in the shadow of Bamburgh Castle, on the Northumberland coast. We’d been talking about scenic grounds: could anything, wonders Dave – not unreasonably – overshadow this one.

Our family once spent a weekend at Bamburgh Castle, getting on 25 years ago, when former Hartlepool United chairman Garry Gibson leased a five-bedroom apartment high up in one of the towers.

Other visitors had included the chief VAT man, and not what you’d suppose a courtesy call. though he in turn marvelled at the glories of it all. “It was like the executioner saying you had a nice haircut before chopping your head off” said Garry.

We were mates, still are, though he’d had a hard time from other members of the fourth estate. “Never mind the French and the Scots,” said Garry, “this castle was built to keep out the press.”

Pools had soared on his watch, briefly second in the third tier, only to fade again. He’d been pulling rabbits out of the hat for years, he said. “Now I don’t even have a hat.”

*Though our ruby wedding isn’t until November, we enjoyed the first present – and certainly don’t solicit others – this afternoon.

Characteristically generous and greatly thoughtful – especially for a Spurs fan – London-based ground hopper Gary Brand bought tickets for two on the afternoon tea train on the Tanfield Railway, which crosses the border from Co Durham into Gateshead, north of Stanley.

“Well, it doesn’t run in November,” he argued, not unreasonably.

It’s a lovely trip, and a very nice tea. The evening previously the railway had had one of those murder mystery evenings, fuelled amid World Cup euphoria – said the guard chap – by wheelie cases full of wine.

It was the vicar what done it. It almost always is.

*Yesterday’s blog sought a song to mark the NHS 70th anniversary, thought that “I’ll be There” by The Four Tops might have a particularly appropriate first few lines but urged other ideas.

Steve Wolstencroft sent ten, to which we shall return. None other responded: there’s usually a bit of a waiting list, isn’t there? More ideas, please. There were three in the bed and the little one said ‘Roll over’ will probably be disqualified.


July 7 2018: a song for the NHS

As soon as the final whistle blows, I’m off to an NHS 70th birthday bash at Coundon, near Bishop Auckland.

Darlington market place heaves triumphantly and, already, drunkenly. Crumbs, this was only the quarter-final. The NHS will likely be earning its corn tonight.

The Coundon do is organised on behalf of the Labour Party by former Evenwood Town and Spennymoor Town manager Ken Houlahan, a man with three degrees, mostly sports science related.

He once had a paper called “”Under performance syndrome in athletes” published in a learned journal. “It’s not a sexual disease,” he felt obliged to tell readers of the Northern League magazine, more of a secondary modern publication.

Ken’s also still licking his wounds, as they might say in the NHS, over his appearances – probably on behalf of the club – before the league management committee. Salt in the wounds, he also remembers the plates of sandwiches, though we tried to shift them before meetings began.

The Ramside Hall Hotel, where meetings were held, looked after us very well. The club representative who angrily supposed the jugs of fruit cordial to be wine was talking through his wig, however.

The birthday bash is not well attended – for the few and not the many, as they might never say in today’s Labour Paerty – nor is the disco themed for the occasion.

The guy does, however, play I’ll Be There by The Four Tops which could almost become an anthem for our generally marvellous health service:

When you feel that you can’t go on

When all your hope is gone,

Reach out….

Could there be a more appropriate song for the NHS? Other suggestions welcomed.

* Since recent blogs have had something of a Sunderland theme, it’s perhaps appropriate to mention a correction in The Times earlier this week. Her Majesty’s guard of honour at Holyrood Palace was mounted by the Argyll and Sutherland Highlanders and not the Argyll and Sunderland Highlanders as, unfortunately, they supposed.


July 6 2018: past Shadows

Is there something on on Saturday afternoon? Sunderland RCA man Tim Robinson emails that their opening friendly with Northumbria Police – “it should be a criminal offence in this heat” – will now have a morning kick-off.

The North Yorkshire and South Durham Cricket League, meanwhile, has told clubs that games can start as early as 9am. Perhaps there’s a siesta in the middle.

But back to Wearside. Following reference the other day to Stars Fell on Stockton – B-side of the Shadows No 1 hit Wonderful Land – blog reader Vince Taylor recalls that the flip side of Stingray, a slightly more penumbral Shadows recording in 1965, was Alice in Sunderland.

Perhaps it acknowledged the band’s North-East roots. Hank B Marvin was a Newcastle lad, Bruce Welch was raised in Chester-le-Street. “Like most of their 1960s output,” says Vince, “it still sounds great today.”

Googling Alice in Sunderland, however, chiefly brings stuff about a “comic novel” of that name, said to explore the links between Lewis Carroll and the city but which had something about the Hartlepool monkey, too.

In the matter of ritual sacrifice – those unfamiliar with the Hartlepool monkey legend may care to google that, too – Tim also points out a 200-year mistake in yesterday’s blog. The burning of the Lewes Protestant martyrs which still is commemorated every November 5 was in the 1550s, not the 1750s.

Each is now represented by a flaming cross, carried through the streets in what’s claimed to be the world’s biggest November 5 celebration. Up to 80,000 people throng the Sussex town with a population barely a fifth of that.

The seven bonfire societies deny sectarianism. When Ian Paisley showed up to fan the flames in 1981 they burned his effigy – among others – the following year.

It’s doubtless all very jolly, but still sounds a bit scary to me. As usual, I think I’ll just stop home with a packet of sparrklers.

July 5 2018: Dripping yarns

Tow Law Town secretary Steve Moralee sends the results of (another) on-line poll to find football’s most scenic non-league ground.

Lawyers came but third, behind Malvern – where I’ve watched cricket, but never football – and Wearside League club Richmond Town, where I’ve watched both cricket and football and morris dancing, too.

Richmond, of course, have the marked advantage of that wonderful castle as backdrop, but the marked disadvantage that no planning authority on earth would let them erect floodlights or a grandstand in front of it.

After many years trying, they’re apparently on the verge of relocating to a new home at the town’s comprehensive school, allowing them at last to go up in the world

Others in the top ten include Matlock (10th), Padiham (9th) and Mossley (6th) and in eighth place Lewes – where, coincidentally, Tow Law had themselves played in the last 16 of the Vase on a wet February afternoon in 2002.

The ground’s called the Dripping Pan: explanations vary.

It’s the county town of Sussex, locally pronounced as in Lewis, so that when someone shouted “Come on, Lewis” you half expected Kevin Whateley to come trotting like some Oxonian lapdog at the behest of his imperious chief inspector.

Among the town’s claims to fame is the annual bonfire night celebration, at which an effigy of the Pope is carried through the streets and set light in memory of the occasion in 1757 when Paul IV ordered that 17 Protestant refuseniks (is that the word?) should be burned at the stake in the town.

Several bonfire societies have quasi-military watchwords like “Death or glory” and, possibly “Nope, Pope”, though memory suggests that such exuberance has latterly been opposed by the more religiously squeamish.

At any rate, Tow Law chairman John Flynn looked distinctly uncomfortable, as well a good Catholic might have done.

The Lawyers were managed by the unforgettable Dr Graeme Forster, accompanied  as always at that time – by the alluring Amanda, a Morticia to his Gomez.

They’d travelled on Newcastle United’s motor home, stopped overnight at a hotel in Dunstable, were collectively awoken at 2am by a feckless fire alarm, as a result of which Steve Moralee negotiated free breakfast for all.

“Shy bairns get nee sweets,” he said, by no means for the first or last time.

Soon down to ten, Lawyers held on at 1-1 until the closing minutes when Lewes hit three more. As the man in the song very nearly said, every which way but Lewes.

July 4 2018: Indian summer

Ian Larnach’s annual celebrity golf day takes place at Bishop Auckland on Friday. Ian, sadly, won’t be there.

Formerly a player with Darlington and several non-league clubs in the North-East, he’s been fighting cancer – magnificently, and without complaint – for several years. Through it all, he strives to help others.

Ian Larnach Cancer Charities have raised tens of thousands for local cancer-related causes, Friday’s event for St Cuthbert’s Hospice in Durham. Sadly and unexpectedly, however, Ian’s back in hospital. “S**t happens,” he says.

Ian, 67 next Tuesday, was also a party member – trainer, officially – when Crook Town made the most improbable tour ever undertaken by a Northern League club.

It was 1975 when someone half-jokingly suggested over a clubhouse pint that they tour India, “Why not?” said club doctor and local GP Orun Banerjee, whose father had played for Mohun Bagan, said to be the Arsenal of India.

They went the following year, the whole extraordinary event chronicled in Steve Chaytor’s smashing book Can You Get Bobby Charlton, published in 2003.

The title acknowledged the hosts’ hope that a big name – even bigger than Charlie Gott – could be added to the squad. Met in a Manchester hotel, Charlton agreed. “Don’t worry,” he said, “I won’t let you down.”

Two days before departure, he cried off with a knee injury. The Indians offered him £1,000 just to come and wave at the crowd. He declined.

Crook’s manager was Gordon Jones, the former Middlesbrough and England Under 23 full back. The team was augmented by former pro’s like Colin Sinclair, Clive Nattress and Boro boy Eric McMordie, who invited a Delhi damsel to the pictures and was somewhat discomfited when her mothet came too.

Gordon later explaiend his squad selection. “I picked all the rogues. I didn’t want any straight-faced sods.”

FIFA referee Pat Partridge was another guest, working his passage by taking charge of all six games which Crook played in 90 degree temperatures in 13 days – four of them at the Eden Park cricket ground in Calcutta.

It meant that Crook became one of precious few football teams to have played at two test match venues – having beaten Corinthian Casuals at the Oval in a 1958 Amateur Cup replay.

The party was rapturously received and gleefully garlanded, forever greeted by a band playing the Abba song Waterloo – the Indians having got it into their heads that it was Crook’s theme tune. “We had Waterloo coming out of our ears, we bloody hated it,” recalled Clive Nattress, another ex-Quaker who’s helping organise Ian’s golf day.

They played six, won one and drew four, the only defeat against the Indian national side. Terry Payne, the former England and Southampton winger, guested in the last match.

A year later, someone sent Crook chairman Ronnie James an Indian press cutting about the New York Cosmos tour of the sub-continent in 1977. They’d been equally rapturously welcomed, hadn’t played badly, either – but, concluded the Calcutta press, they weren’t in the same league as Crook Town.


July 3 2018: hero worship


From 6pm to 6 55pm I’m in the pub in the next village with John Todd, who hands over the splendid image above, taken in the 1950s by Bishop Auckland photographer Ernie Johnson.

The most recognisable of the four fellers at the front may be Len Shackleton, second left, the Clown Prince who scored freely at Newcastle but who became an all-time Sunderland legend.

Many will also immediately clock the great Bishop Auckland wing half Bob Hardisty on the right, a man of whom it was often said that a book should be written. In 2010 Alan Adamthwaite wrote it – Never Again, the Jacqal Press – and uncovered some glorious stories.

It was simply sub-titled “England’s greatest amateur fotoballer” and only the word “amateur” might be arguable.

On the left is Seamus O’Connell, another Bishops’ legend, a striker good enough to be signed by Chelsea, to score a hat-trick on his debut against Manchester United in the Pensioners’ 1954-55 championship season but still happy to return to Bishop Auckland. He earned more that way.

But who’s the guy second right and clearly the object of much schoolboy attention, even in such exalted company?

It’s former British, European and Empire flyweight boxing champion Teddy Gardner, a WEest Hartlepool lad who won the European title at St James’ Hall in Newcastle in 1954 and defended it a few months later at Hartlepool dog track.

He became landlord of the Half Moon in Spennymoor and died, aged 55, in 1977. Long odds, maybe, but can anyone add more to the story?

The pub’s filling fast. In the various sweeps I get Colombia to win 4-2 and Arias to score the first goal, but before kick-off head home to watch proceedings in peace and, very happily, to lose as England win.

*Recent blogs wondered why the brilliant Beamish Museum makes relatively little of the North-East’s sporting passion. There’s a nod to it from July 12-15 when the Durham Amateur Football Trust holds an exhibition there as part of the museum’s 50s festival.

As always, the museum entrance fee means free admission for a year.

DAFT also have an exhibition at Newton Aycliffe library from this Friday until July 16, featuring Newton Aycliffe FC, the Auckland and District League and the Northern League. The library’s  closed on Wednesdays, Sundays and Saturday afternoons.



July 2 2018: mad for it

Though fellow members of the twin set, I never did get to meet Ronnie and Reggie Kray. Mad Frankie Fraser was different.

Last Friday’s blog told how the Krays had turned up for a haircut in Shildon, were told that they’d have to wait their turn, made their excuses and left.

Mad Frankie, not the height of twopennorth of coppers, twice presented the annual awards at Spennymoor Boxing Academy – clearly an offer he couldn’t refuse – looked a bit like Old Man Steptoe scrubbed up for a reunion or Wilfred Pickles with an Elephant and Castle accent. He proved wholly personable.

He’d done 42 years at Her Majesty’s displeasure, been certified four times, had had more bread and water than any man alive, been around long enough – for by then Frankie was a very old lag – to have been birched.

“Right on my deaf and dumb, that’s me bum,” he translated.

Attentively at his side was his girl friend Marilyn Wisbey, daughter of the Great Train Robber, whom he’d met at a cabaret evening. She was singing Crazy. “I fort is she getting at me or somefing,” said Frankie.

I was introduced as a fellow Arsenal fan. It worked, no problem about an interview. “Anyfing for an Arsenal fan,” he said.

In Durham jail, he recalled, the Saturday afternoon screws would shout the score through his door if the Gunners had lost. They only did it, he said, because they knew he’d smash the cell up.

Perhaps method in his madness, he not only insisted that he didn’t mind his name’s permanent prefix but wore it as a sort of badge of honour, like Bomber Harris, or Chopper of that ilk.

He presented the awards almost diffidently, like the guest at a public s0chool speech day worried about asking a hard-hearted headmaster for a half holiday. His message, he said, was that crime didn’t pay.

“My brother was in the war and won a very high decoration. Lovely man, dead straight. Don’t be like me, be like him.”

*Steve Wraith – former Gateshead sub-postmaster, Newcastle United fanzine editor and now boxing promoter – published The Krays: the North-East Connection in 2002.

He’d written about them for his GCSE course work, marketed Kray twins T-shirts and shopping bags, resisted the temptation to have Kray twin condoms with the tag “The ultimate protection racket.”

The book’s long since disappeared from these sheves. Whether it detailed short shrift in Shildon it’s sadly impossible to recall.