November 13 2018: fairy tale in South Korea


It was Christmas Day 2004 and while Glenda Porterfield and her family enjoyed the festivities in New York there was a fairy tale in South Korea.

Ian Porterfield, forever feted for his triumphant goal for Sunderland in the 1973 FA Cup final, led Busan I’Cons to a no-less improbable victory, extra-time and penalties, in the South Korean equivalent.

Like Sunderland, they’d been everybody’s underdogs. “Winning the cup was the only way he’d have got away with missing a family Christmas,” said Glenda.

The man all Wearside knew simply as Porter was briefly mentioned in yesterday’s blog, Chelsea’s manager and employing Bob Stokoe as a scout at the time that Gretna played in the FA Cup at Rochdale.

Less than a month after that Christmas Day triumph, the three of us spent three hours together in an Edinburgh hotel, two of the trio on Diet Coke. They were truly lovely people.

Ian was a Fifer, played for Lochgelly Welfare – wasn’t it Lochgelly that was the home of the tawse? – joined Raith Rovers and was signed by Sunderland for £45,000.

Eighteen months after Wembley he was seriously injured in a late night car crash, rushed from Sunderland hospital to Newcastle for emergency surgery, had heard all the jokes about the last player to be transferred from Sunderland to Newcastle.

He’d kept the Wembley match ball, had had that iconic left boot dipped in gold – worth an estimated £95,000 at the time – though the real treasure came when he met Glenda, 12 years his junior, in her native Trinidad.

Named after Glenda Jackson – “my mother called all her children after movie stars” – she knew nothing of football, asked at her first game which side the linesmen were on.

In turn she’d tried in vain to teach her husband chess. Probably he wondered where the ball was. “I was a Fife miner’s son and she was an educated lassie from Trinidad,” he said.

Glenda supposed it a trade-off. “I still don’t understand football but I have a fantastic lifestyle and a wonderful husband,” she said.

She’d not quite mastered the Scots accent, either – “I love the Scottish people but every time I come here, it rains.”

After managing several Football League clubs, Ian led the national sides in Zambia, Zimbabwe, Oman and Trinidad and Tobago before his Korea move. In January 2005 he was approaching his 59th birthday and wondering what next.

“Bill Shankly was about my age when he went to Liverpool and built a great team,” he said.

All three of us kept in touch, even when he became national manager of Armenia, but within three years Ian Porterfield was dead. It was the most terrible sadness.



November 12 2018: begging, the question

You don’t get mumps like you used to, which is doubtless just as well. Cases globally have fallen 90 per cent since the MMR vaccine was invented.

We’d mentioned mumps in connection with Oldham – there was an Oldham Mumps railway station – Oldham in connection with Avro FC, Avro in connection with West Auckland’s visit in the third round of the Vase.

Stewart Taylor suggests that a mumper was a beggar, and that that part of Oldham was rife with them, though the etymoligcal link between begging and a nasty viral illness is obscure.

Alan Hamilton even forwards the words to The Ballad of Cowheel Lou, one of Mr Mike Harding’s finest, which begins:

North of Oldham, south of Diggle, lies a little town called Mumps

Where the tripe mines stand just by the washhouse wall,

And in that deserted town where the shacks are tumbling down

You can hear the scabby moggies’ lonesome call.

Mike Harding, now 74, is also known as the Rochdale Cowboy, coincidental because it’s 27 years ago tonight since Gretna, Northern League champions, were piped out at Spotland in an FA Cup first round replay.

They’d been the first Scottish side in the competition proper since Queens Park 105 years previously and earlier, at Bangor, taken part in the first “English Cup” tie between teams from Scotland and Wales.

At Rochdale it poured down, not what the travelling fair weather fans had hoped for. Their behaviour and language were appalling – “for such avowedly patriotic Scots, it’s surprising that every other word is Anglo-Saxon,” my Northern Echo column observed.

At half-time it was 3-0, the travelling supporters mumping the constabulary to let them out. The polis refused. It was neither Spotland, nor Scotland, the brave.

The highlight, probably, was bumping into legendary former Sunderland manager Bob Stokoe, then scouting for Chelsea boss Ian Porterfield and a bit disillusioned after his second spell at Roker Park.

“There’s nothing left for me in the North-East. My wife wouldn’t go back, anyway” he said.

The Gretna story, a romance that was to turn sour, had several seasons to run – but I could write a book, not just a blog, about that.

November 11 2018: Skinningrove remembers

We’ve stayed overnight at the Raithwaite Hall Hotel, between Whitby and Sandsend, which is why yesterday’s blog was a bit past its hour. Homeward up the coast road, we stop at Skinningrove for a service of remembrance.

Skinningrove’s a fascinating place, pigeon flying capital of the North. There’s a shop, fish and chip shop almost on the rocky bay, school, Methodist church, ironstone mining museum, village hall but no sign of licensed premises.

Originally, inexplicably, the village pub was called Timm’s Coffee House. Then it became Moonfleet, a nod to the story of smugglers. Smuggling may have been Skinningrove’s second industry – after the ironstone, of course. It’s long closed.

The village is also home to a huge November 5 bonfire, always themed. This year’s theme was Christmas comes early. Surely they didn’t burn Santa?

The names of 25 village men who fell in World War I are on the war memorial. Most were from the Yorkshire Regiment, a couple of Durhams and, more surprisingly, a Lancashire Fusilier.

Nearer the beach, a plaque outsiode the Homing Society headquarters records the pigeons’ part in World War II. MoD men would visit the crees, pick the best and send them off for service as winged messengers. Many won the avian equivalent of the VC.

Among those at today’s ceremony is Redcar and Cleveland councillor Barry Hunt, 70, who’s spent the past 11 nights sleeping rough at the area’s war memorials to raise funds for the Soldiers, Sailors and Air Forcemen’s Association.

“I’m absolutely knackered,” he says, but still looks as smart as a Naafi carrot and has a local radio programme to present  – he’s a big bands man – between 10pm and midnight before he can take to his bed.

Though smaller than many, the cenotaph service is every bit as respectful, and as sombre. It’s not even the 11th hour but 12 15, but it’s very good to be there, and to remember.


November 10 2018: Madeira, m’dear

Sport Mulgrave’s a wonderful organisation which promotes grass roots sport in the small coastal villages north of Whitby.

Its pavilion and facilities for football, cricket and bowls cost around £1m, much of it raised in the community. “I thought if the kids and Leeds and Newcastle could have this sort of thing then so should our kids,” says Doug Raine, the 76-year-old chairman and driving force.

It’s their annual chartity dinner tonight and because I’m required for other reasons to be there early, there’s no football.

Folk that way, however, are discussing the resignation for family reasons of Graham Manser, Whitby Town’s chairman for getting on 30 years and a top, top bloke.

Graham was at the helm when the Seasiders won the FA Vase in 1996-97, my first season as Northern League chairman and the league’s first Wembley appearance since North Shields won the old Amateur Cup in 1969.

Under Graham’s guidance, a small town on a very long limb, they’ve survived for 20 years in the Northern Premier League top division though they mightn’t have done, it’s said, but for the income from the communication masts on every corner of the ground. One or two Ebac Northern League clubs get similar signals.

The dinner’s greatly successful, not least because the presence of Yorkshire cricketers Adam Lyth, Richard Pyrah and Jack Leaning means I’m not required to say a word.

The auctioneer’s a bit of a wag, too, telling the story of the Englishman who goes into a bakery in  Edinburgh – for the blog insceasingly wears tartan – points to a cake and asks the price. He’s told it’s a pound.

He indicates a second cake and gets the same reply. “All ma cakes are a poond,” says the wee Scots lassie. A third question brings the same. “All ma cakes are a poond.”

Finally he points to a much larger cake and is told it’s £2. “I thought you said all the cakes were a pound,” he says.

“Aye,” says the lassie,  but this is Madeira cake.”

*We all make mistakes, of course, but some of us more frequently – and more globally – than others.

From Hong Kong, Bob Rogers – world traveller and grandson of Northern League founder Charles Samuel Craven – points out that the Aussies don’t say “Avro” (Tuesday’s blog) when they mean “Good afternoon,” they say Arvo.

From Canada, Keith Bell raises an electronic eyebrow at the use of “circumlocute” in Wednesday’s blog, when clearly it should have been “circumnavigate.” It’s a chronic blind spot, I do it all the time.

From all over the place, but firstly from Ted Roylance in Somerset, it’s pointed out that the highest “senior” non-league ground isn’t Matlock but Buxton, a few miles away in Derbyshire. Tow Law remains second in that ascending order.

“Being tucked into the town, Buxton’s ground doesn’t feel all that high except in the depths of winter,” says Ted. “”Tow Law feels high whenever.”

Opposite extreme, Lawyers’ secretary Steve Moralee insists that Canvey Island’s ground is 10ft below sea level. Happily, their heads remain above water.

November 9 2018: vulture culture

Vacating the Northern League chair two-and-a-half years ago has meant much less public speaking. If that suggests the sound of silence, many will be glad to hear it.

This week, however, there’ve been three engagements – usual fee. The first, on Wednesday, was a ladies’ group in Hartlepool, the second – tonight – the annual dinner of Thornton Watlass Cricket Club.

It’s a small and attractive village near Bedale, in North Yorkshire, the cricket field the vilage green and a road a good ten yards inside the boundary. So are several rather large trees.

It’s not about cricket that they ask me to speak, however – not even the story about Dickie Bird and the dead spuggie, Trimdon and Deaf Hill v Yarm fourths, 1994 – but about vultures.

Did you know that if a vulture gets too hot, what with all that plumage, it has the ability to pee straight down its legs, thus not only acting as a coolant but killing all known germs?

Or did you know that, in the curious lexicon of collective nouns for birds, a group of vultures when at rest – sat on their backsides doing nowt – is known as a committee? No comment.

In Thornton Watlass the vultures is the name for the watching locals who prowl the boundary like the devil your adversary (1 Peter 5:8) seeking whomsoever they might destroy.

They heard all about that, too.

They’ve been playing cricket there since at least 1895 – lovely club, lovely folk – but the really good thing about Thornton Watlass is that the green’s surrounded by housing, most of it from a later date, and that they live in total harmony with their neighbours.

On a slightly more serious note it was possible to recall the events at Lintz Cricket Club, near Gateshead, in the 1970s. They’d been there a long time, too, the new neighbours for approximately five minutes.

Though clearly they knew what was on the other side of the fence, the householders won a High Court case forbidding cricket at Lintz until ways could be found to prevent sixes landing in the garden – maybe even the windows.

For two years the good folk of Lintz raised money for an appeal. It was heard in 1977 before Lord Denning, the Master of the Rolls, and two lords of appeal. By 2-1, they upheld Lintz’s case.

“The club has spent money, labour and love in the making of the cricket ground and they have a right to play on it,” said Dasher Denning. “It has provided great benefit to the community as a whole and to the injury of none.

“Does it suddenly become a nuisance because one of the neighours chooses to build a house on the very edge of the ground? To my mind, the answer is plainly ‘No’.”

Things these days seem to have changed. As they know at Sunderland RCA and at Darlington Cricket Club, the issue of who was there first – maybe a century earlier – appears irrelevant.

The law is an ass, and should be fed to the vultures.


November 2018: noises off

Another word on Thornaby, that verdant and wonderfully transformed ground near the Tees. Among much else they have a PA system that not only works but can be heard in all four corners.

FA ground criteria stipulate that PA is mandatory at Ebac Northern League first division level but not, for some reason, in the second – where Thornaby presently reside.

In this communication-conscious age, shouldn’t an effective public address system be required on all grounds?

Even in the first division, how many clubs have PA? If they have, do they use it? If they use it, can it be heard by anyone standing more than ten feet away, a whisper in the grass?

The FA may primarily see a PA system as a safety requirement but it’s an information tool, too. We need to be better, much better, informed.

*Thornaby also started us chewing on about the parmo, that Teesside delicacy now available for £3 50 from the tea hut or buckshee if chairman Apollo’s circumlocuting the ground in a good mood.

The younger bairn emails from London, where for too long he’s been exiled: “Parmos don’t come in a bun,” he says.

The reply’s not greatly paternal: “They bloody well do in Middlesbrough.”

*Back to Avro, West Auckland’s third round opponents in the FA Vase, though it’s Oldham – where the club’s based – which now demands attention.

John Maughan not only wonders if we remember the early TV commercial “I told ’em Oldham” but sends a photograph of a vehicle with the car battery ad on the side.

He might have added, but didn’t, that the town once had a railway station called Oldham Mumps. Someone may know why.

Geoff Smoult, Whitley Bay fan long exiled in Lancashire, sees fit to issue a long range weather forecast. “If you think it’s cold in Tow Law, Esh Winning, Consett or Brandon, wear double thermals for Oldham.”

Geoff’s mistaken, however, to suppose that Oldham Athletic’s is the highest Premier League/Football League ground. That’s West Brom, improbably enough, 552ft above the sea. Oldham’s 526ft, followed downhill by Port Vale (520), Accrington Stanley (516) and Macclesfield (513).

The lowest is Grimsby Town’s, just two feet above contradiction (and the North Sea swell.)

Memory suggests that the wonderful Ironworks Road ground at Tow Law is only the second highest “senior” non-league venue, mathematically – though not actually – a few feet more clement than Matlock.

The highest of all, 20 miles west, is Wearhead United’s – but they’re stories for another day.


November 7 2018: flight of fancy

Grass Routes is chiefly intended as entertainment, or at least to be mildly different. Many can write a decent match report, many more rant.

So here’s the dilemma. On the infrequent occasions that the blog feels compelled to get a bit cross – usually involving our friends at the Football Association – the visitors’ graph takes off (an appropriate phrase, as we shall see.)

When Monday’s blog bemoaned the wretched regional straitjacket that is the FA Vase third round draw, the average number of hits doubled.

Keith Stoker thought that the competition should be drawn north/south from the first round, with 256 clubs, and nationally from the last 64 – with money from the Premier League used to offset costs.

Bishop Auckland legend and long serving FA Council member Derek Lewin is forwarding the blog to former colleagues at Wembley in the perhaps optimistic hope that they might do something.

Much the greater interest, however, was in West Auckland’s third round opponents – Avro, based near Oldham. We’d wondered what was behind the name and received a remarkable response.

Avro was a pioneeering aviation company founded in 1909 by Alliott Verdon Roe, a doctor’s son who’d been fifth engineer on the SS Jebba before reaching for the skies.

We’re grateful to John Maughan for excluding the Australian use of “Avro”, which apparently is short for “Good afternoon.” Perhaps he’s been reading too much Bazza Mackenzie.

The most famous Avro aircaft was the Lancaster bomber, of which 7,000 were built – some at Chadderton, also in Oldham, but most by 17,500 people employed on a 1.5m square foot site – Europe’s biggest building – at Yeadon, now home to Leeds/Bradford airport.

To confound the enemy, the roof was planted with fields and hedgerows. Whether they added a few sheep and a scarecrow is unknown .

Keith Bell, in Canada, reckons that for folk of a certain age over there the name Avro Arrow still brings a tear to the eye – “either of rage or sorrow” – but that was to do with a project scrapped by Prime Minuister Diefenbaker in 1959.

“Legend has it that many of the technically gifted ex-employees found work on the UK’s Concord project,” adds Keith.

Knighted in 1929, Roe was also a member of the British Union of Fascists and a supporter of Oswald Mosley. He died, aged 80, in 1958.

As well as all those mentioned above, real thanks to Mike Bateman, Steve Jones, Simon Mears, Stewart Taylor, Paul Wilson and Steve Wolstencroft for their help and interest.

For a jobbing journalist, of course, the additional attraction of the match on December 1 is its potential for punning. It’s to be hoped that West Auckland clip Avro’s wings, anyway.