In the piece about Wilf Mannion I mentioned Bobby Baxter. Here's some stuff about him and some good old-fashioned manly fun...
Back in the 1930s Bobby Baxter was the Boro captain. A Scottish international central defender, Baxter liked to play the ball out from the back. He had style and a certain nonchalance. Imagine a chunky Alan Hansen with a matinee idol side-parting and you more or less have him. Middlesbrough's Aberdonian goalkeeper David Cumming didn't approve of his compatriot’s considered approach and would often be heard at Ayresome Park bawling, "Baxter! Baxter! Get that fucking ball away".
Baxter was the senior dressing room figure at the Boro when Wilf Mannion arrived. The pair didn't always get along. Annoyed by the fact that the junior player called him ‘Bobby’ instead of ‘Mr Baxter’ the defender gave the Golden Boy a hard time.
In a mightily entertaining interview in Paul Thompson's book Talking Middlesbrough the Boro full-back George Hardwick recalls: "One time Baxter was lying on the massage table naked, and he told Wilf to get [talcum] powder. There was a big container of it in the dressing room. Wilf took it over to the table, Baxter raised his legs and said, 'My arse is kinda fiery, powder my arse.' So Wilf powders and powders. Suddenly Baxter farted and Wilf disappeared in a cloud of powder".
As Hardwick says later: "I used to come away from that place with a bellyache; not from the exertion, from the laughter."
There were no TVs, or computers, in those days. People had to make their own entertainment.
David Cumming, the keeper, had a bit part in my childhood. One day in the late-1960s my father took me to the steelworks at Port Clarence. I was about seven. In one of the welding bays (‘don’t look directly at the sparks – they’ll blind you’) I shook hands with a short thickset man who – in the playful manner of the times - crushed my fingers until the bones jounced.
After the man had let me try on his welding visor, we said goodbye and walked away amidst the crash and flash of the fabrication yards. My dad said, ‘You know who that was? That was your granddad’s cousin, Davie. You just shook the hand that felled Leslie Compton.’
Leslie Compton was the Arsenal centre-half, brother of Dennis ‘The Brylcreme Boy’. He was tough and strapping and given to the sort of challenges that back then were called ‘uncompromising’ but nowadays would carry a jail term. When Arsenal played Middlesbrough at Ayresome Park on Boxing Day 1946, Leslie Compton irritated David Cumming. When the visitors got a corner and Cumming collected it Compton kicked him. The Scot had taken rough treatment all game. He cracked. He punched Compton in the face, watched him fall, took off his jersey, handed it to Johnny Spuhler and walked off the field and down the tunnel.
As Compton staggered to his feet a group of men vaulted the advertising hoardings at the Holgate and surrounded him. The Arsenal defender was knocked to the floor again. The police came on. The men were arrested. One of them was Davie Fixter.
My grandfather took great satisfaction from this incident. The very mention of it would make him laugh until his false teeth rattled. 'Banned him from Ayresome for five years,' he chortled, 'And the magistrate said if he misbehaved again they'd reduce it to one.'
His elder sister, Molly was less impressed. Questioned about the Compton affair in the 1980s she denied her cousin had been involved in the violence saying, ‘He only went on the field to try and restrain the others’.
Back in the 1980s I used to visit the London Library in St James’ Square once a week. They had bound copies of The Times going back to the mid-19th Century. I decided to see what the newspaper of record had to say about the incident. Nothing at all, it turned out. In 1946 The Times did not report professional football, and working class men hitting one another was not really news, even when one of them was an England international.
Things are not like that anymore, nor have been for some while. On the morning after Eric Cantona had grabbed the headlines in by doing a passable imitation of Bruce Lee at Selhurst Park, I appeared on a BBC Radio Newcastle phone-in. Amongst condemnation of the Frenchman's behaviour one contribution stood out like Jonathan Pearce in a trappist monastery. A woman who identified herself as a pensioner from Scotswood delivered the following verdict: 'I've heard what you're all saying about this business in London,' she said, 'and to be honest, I cannot understand it. I mean, in my day if two big, strapping lads wanted to have a bit of a set-to, we just said 'Good luck and may the best man win.'
Mark Jensen, editor of The Mag, was sitting next to me and whispered, 'It's Biffa Bacon's Nan.' Maybe so, but the Scotswood pensioner was not alone in her view. It was a generational thing.
On the same Tyneside phone-in a year or so after the Cantona incident the topic of discussion was Tony Bank's suggestion that national anthems should not be played before international football matches because they might incite violence. I remarked that they used to play "God Save The Queen" at the cinema before the film started but that that never lead to any trouble. A few minutes later a retired shipyard worker called in. "I don't agree with what that fella was saying about playing the national anthem at the pictures," he said, "Back in the 1930s in Jarrow it used to cause all sorts of bother. Some of the communists wouldn't stand up for it, you see? And other lads was patriotic and would be shouting for them to get to their feet. When they would not, they'd wade into them for it and all hell would break loose," he let out a great wheezy chuckle at this happy recollection, before concluding, 'Now, I'm not saying anything against the youngsters today, mind, but back then we had some lads that really could fight.'