Sunday, 3 August 2008

A New Season Beckons.

Every waking moment is taken up by the move. Trip after trip after trip, the new bungalow will only take half of our belongings. Choices have still to be made, hard, sometimes anguished decisions as to what to keep and what to part with. With no end in sight, trying to stay positive without screaming. But never fear, we'll get there and, you lucky people, the new football season is just around the corner. Only joking, honest, I do realise football is anathema to many, and I confess, it doesn't seem five minutes since the season ended.
Derby is very much a footballing town and Derby County were one of the twelve founder members of the Football League in 1888. A friendly game on Saturday prior to the start of the new season included in the Derby County team the names Pereplotkins, Albrechtsen and Kazmierczak. How times change.There will be over twenty five thousand people in Pride Park at the first game on Saturday versus Doncaster Rovers including my wife and myself. The majority home supporters of a team that won only one game last season and ended with the worst result ever in the history of the English League.
I have been a Derby County supporter, man and boy for over sixty years. The old ground, the Baseball Ground was an infamous, dilapidated, wooden and corrogated iron structure, with a pitch reminiscent of a ploughed field and offering minimum facilities and maximum discomfort. Two or three years ago I wrote a short, somewhat nostalgic story entitled The Autograph Album. (One of the stories in 'There's Nowt so Strange as Folk'). The story may be fictional but the memories are real; happy days.

“Fame is but the breath of the people”
- T Fuller, Adagies and Proverbs, 1732

The Autograph Album

They told me you were coming. You want to interview me about me album, now why would anyone be interested in my football memories? You’re new to reporting, you say. You have to fill a little column once a week and you get all the jobs experienced reporters don’t want. At least you’re honest, lass, so what do you want to know?
Do I mind if you record what I’m saying as we go along? No me dear, as long as it’s not going on the wireless, I’d feel daft hearing misen talk.
When did I first go to the football? Well I were born in 1939 so I’d be eleven in 1950. It would be any time after then I suppose. I used to stand in the Boy’s Corner behind the goals. Boy’s Corner, mark you, no mention of girls in them days. Big boys, little boys, all ages, shapes and sizes, but I don’t remember any girls. Not that I’d have noticed, the football were more important.
Three o’clock, every other Saturday, two fifteen in winter. No floodlights in them days. Then at the end of the match queuing for autographs outside the player’s entrance. And sometimes at the railway station if the teams travelled home by train. We were often cold and wet, but we didn’t mind. Now here’s me album, where shall we start?
Let’s see, who played for my team, Derby County. Jack Stamps, Albert Mays, Bert Mozley, Ray Straw, Ray Middleton, Cecil Law. Reg Harrison. My, how they bring back memories.
Jack were an old fashioned centre forward. Went blind in later life, they reckon it were from heading those old leather footballs. Albert ran a snooker hall after his football career ended. Bert, the first footballer I ever heard of who wore contact lenses. Saw him once looking in the mud after one came out during a match. Ray Straw, not too sharp, Ray, to put it kindly. See his autograph, you can only just read it. Mind you, he scored more goals for Derby County in one season than anyone else, thirty seven; a record that’s never been beaten. Mr Middleton, now he must have been bright because he became a JP. How many footballers do that? And Cecil Law, now he were Rhodesian, and there weren’t many Rhodesian footballers in them days. Not too many now, come to think of it. Reg Harrison, played in the Cup Final in 1946. There’s only him and Jim Bullions left from that team. Over eighty now is Reg. Still walks to the shops for his paper. Takes him ages, everyone insists on chatting. And he still goes to Derby County matches with his wife. A very popular man is Reg.
Do I remember all of the players in my album? Remember them all, good heavens, no, lass. In fact half of them you can’t even decipher their names; they were footballers, not scholars! And funnily enough, I don’t remember seeing individual players who were household names. Yet there they are, in my little book, as Arthur Askey used to say, “Right before your very eyes.” Whose Arthur Askey, did you say? Oh dear, I’m really showing my age!
Can I give you examples of players who were household names? Now let me see. Here you are, Wilf Mannion, and Tommy Lawton, oh, and here’s another, Len Shackleton.
Wilf Mannion were a slightly built man who were a wizard with a football. Played for Middlesborough and England, one of the best ever. Funnily enough, I were introduced to him in a working man’s club in North Yorkshire when he were in his seventies. He were ever so interested when he knew I came from Derby. A frail old man who had made no money from a game he had graced at the highest level.
“I remember Derby County well.” I remember his eyes lighting up at his memories.
“How’s Jacky Stamps?” he’d enquired.
“I’m sorry, Mr Mannion, he died.”
“Oh Dear.” A short silence followed.
“How’s Chick Musson?”
“Chick’s been gone a long time, Mr Mannion.” I remember squirming with embarrassment, but Mr Mannion were oblivious to my discomfort.
A much longer silence. “And how’s Leon, Leon Leuty?”
“He’s gone too.” I hated to have to pass on such depressing information, but we were, after all taking of an era long since gone. Mr Mannion returned to the housing complex he called home and I returned to Derby. Not long afterwards I read a glowing tribute in the Times in memory of the late Wilf Mannion.
Tommy Lawton, now there’s a famous name if ever there were one. One of the best centre forwards who ever lived. Here you are, see, playing for Brentford. Who are the others? A J Bloomfield, a Cliff Jefferson and a Bill Dare. How lucky they were to have played in the same team as Tommy Lawton. And what a privilege for me to have seen him. You’ve no idea what that means to me, my dear. And do you know how he ended up? So poor that he were caught shop lifting to make ends meet. His old club, Notts County had to play a match so that the poor man didn’t starve. Bigger than pop stars, they were, yet paid a pittance.
Len Shackleton, now there were a character if you like. A brilliant footballer, played for Sunderland, and wrote a book about football after he finished. One chapter were about what football directors knew about football. Left it blank, he did. He were his own man, were Len.
Are you getting bored, my dear, for you it’s all so long ago. Can you look through the album, of course you can.
What do you say you’ve found? A B G Palmer, Hasland 18c. What did you say, he doesn’t sound like a footballer.
You’re quite right, my dear. One day I lost my album. Distraught I were, I’d no idea where I’d lost it. I weren’t half upset. Mr Palmer were a railwayman who picked my book up on Derby Railway Station and posted it back to me. Thank you, Mr Palmer, you made a small boy very happy.
You’ve found another? Let me see. H Gartside JP, Chairman of Oldham. As Tommy Trinder would say, “Now’ there’s a funny thing!” Who’s Tommy Trinder? Don’t even ask! Strange that a football chairman would want to sign a small boy’s book. I reckon he were right proud to be chairman, don’t you. Strange too that a small boy didn’t know the difference between youthful footballers and ageing chairmen.
Why did we collect autographs, you ask. I don’t rightly know, if truth were known. In search of heroes, I reckon. Role models if you like, only such terms hadn’t been invented in them days. A bit of excitement, what do they say nowadays, getting a piece of the action.
Famous players, famous teams, the stuff dreams are made of. Cardiff, Swansea, Oldham and Chelsea. West Bromwich Albion, Bury, Birmingham and Bolton; Blackpool, Burnley, Stoke and Charlton. Such wonderful teams, with marvellous players.
Sam Bartram, Willie Watson, Malcolm Allison, Davie Drurie. To you, nothing, to me, magical memories to savour on dark winter nights. Nat Lofthouse, nicknamed The Lion of Vienna because of a wonderfully brave performance for England against Austria, one of the finest teams in Europe. George Robledo, a South American player for Newcastle when most players were home grown, and Lindy Delapena, a Middlesbrough player and the first black footballer I ever saw. What were it that young girl used to sing, “Those were the days my friend.” What were her name, Mary Hopkirk, something like that.
Is my autograph album worth anything, you ask. I suppose it might be. Would I sell it? What do you think. It might be dropping to bits, but it’s still my most prized possession.
I hope I’ve been of help to you. Thank you for coming. Do you like football yourself? You do? And who do you support? Manchester United! Oh dear, oh dear, oh dear!