Saturday, 20 September 2014

THE FISH SHOP WHISPERER


 
 
Alan Pardew with two games left to save his job, Tim Sherwood spotted at Jesmond Dene House hotel by the window-cleaner's cousin.... You know how it goes. But in case you don't, or you forgot, here's something I wrote in 1997, with a bits from other stuff I wrote in 2001 and 2006 seamlessly crow-barred into it. The views expressed are entirely my own and have nothing whatsoever to do with Phil Stamp the Berwick Hills Beckenbauer.
 
 
 
 
 
 
'Well, you know what’s behind that, don’t you?' A football journalist said to me a few years back when I expressed puzzlement at the prolonged absence of a Premiership footballer from the first team squad.

'Everyday at training, right, he’d boot half-a-dozen new balls over the wall. His brother and a couple of mates were waiting on the other side. Bunged them in the back of the car and drove off. Flogged them to this lad down the market. When the club realised what was going on they secretly suspended him.'

The story must be true, the reporter assured me. It had come from an impeccable source, his wife's hairdresser 'And her auntie lives in the same street as the player’s family and she says they’re a right fucking bunch of tearaways.'
 
That's how things work in the North East. The place vibrates with football gossip. Whenever a major event occurs you can guarantee that within a split seconds thousands of people all over the region will be narrowing their eyes, lowering their voices and looking both ways before muttering. 'Aye well, what I heard was...'
 
The biggest source of any rumour is the social club. The North East social club is basically the Internet with more beer and less Star Wars. It is the primary source of 90% of all football tittle-tattle.


Actually strike the word 'primary'. Because it is a well known truth that nobody wants football gossip from a primary source. They don't want it from a secondary source either. No, in order to be a fully authentic and believable football rumours must come along a route as long and circuitous as a Garth Crook's question.
 
When Kevin Keegan suddenly quit Newcastle after his first spell as manager one of my top sources was a bloke I met on the bank of the South Tyne when I was walking the dog. This man had a savage Jack Russell terrier and a brother whose nephew had been at school with Bobby Moncur's milkman. Sadly his rumour about Special K's departure was the same as the one another Premiership manager had just called a press conference to deny - without actually saying what he was denying, obviously.
 
Luckily the next day the insurance salesman called round about my home and contents cover. The insurance rep is a genius of football rumours quite capable of taking even the most mundane threads of information and weaving them into a baroque fantasy; the Cup fever dream of HP Lovecraft after a heavy supper of cheese and laudanum.
 
Sure enough the insurance man brought forth his riches. Every element of the classic football rumour was in place: the labyrinthine trek from source to teller (...now bear in mind the body-waxer's brother-in-law was once manservant to the Bishop of Montevideo...) and the subtle yet glittering detail, (...and it turned out the nudie lass in the wardrobe was the daughter of that fella who did the Tudor crisp commercials...).
 
He has moved with the times too. Mindful that the fact that many clubs are now Plcs and that hostile takeovers are often preceded by the spreading of foul gossip about senior figures within a company to force share prices down, he concluded his peroration on the Keegan affair with the disclaimer, 'Though, naturally, that might be just what certain elements in the City want us to think....'
 
I nodded wisely. A few months before something rather alarming had been brought to my attention. I was talking to a writer from the Financial Times. I told him that the woman who worked in the local fish shop was from Wallsend and that she was related to Manchester United skipper Steve Bruce. She'd just seen him at a family gathering and he had told her that United were about to sign Alan Shearer.
 
The journalist listened. He said that since [at that time] United were a public company, if we were to buy shares in them based on this knowledge and those shares rose in value following the purchase of Shearer, then we would be guilty of insider trading and could face jail.
 
Thankfully Shearer went to Newcastle instead. But it gave me a nasty glimpse of the future: a world where a fan can end up in the slammer just for for listening to the woman in the fish shop. 
 
 
 

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