Ken Twigg is one of the people mentioned in the acknowledgments in The Far Corner, the only one who was a footballer of any repute. I spent a happy afternoon with Ken in the winter of 1994, looking at his scrapbooks, listening to his tales, eating his biscuits. I wish I’d taped the conversation. I wish I’d taken some photographs. Ken loaned me books. He told me lots of stories. A couple of them turned up in The Far Corner, a few others filtered out in newspaper and magazine articles down the years, most are being written up here for the first time.
Ken died in 2009. He was 92. Older spectators at Northern League grounds will often come up to me and say, ‘So you knew Kenny Twigg, then?’ Whenever people speak of him they do so with a smile. He was a top-class player and a really nice man.
(Bishop Auckland FA Amateur Cup Winners, 1939. Kenny Twigg front row, far left, Bob Paisley to the right of the goalkeeper)
‘If you’re doing a book about North East football you’ll need to talk to Kenny Twigg,’ my Dad said. Kenny Twigg was a welding engineer. He and my Dad had worked together at Dorman Long. Kenny Twigg was born in Hetton-le-Hole. In 1939 he played right-wing in the Bishop Auckland team that won the FA Amateur Cup.
‘Back in the sixties the firm built that bridge in Runcorn. I used to drive over with Kenny Twigg,’ My Dad said. ‘The Adelphi Hotel in Liverpool had a very good restaurant. I’d have my dinner there. I’d say to Kenny to come along too, But he’d say, no, he couldn’t. He had this old mate from Hetton who lived on Merseyside. ‘I’m off to see, Bob Paisley,’ Kenny Twigg would say.
My Dad had no idea who Bob Paisley was. Few people did back then. Bob Paisley was Anfield staff. He stood in Bill Shankly’s mighty shadow – likely wearing a cardigan and carpet slippers.
Bob Paisley had played in the Bishop Auckland team with Kenny Twigg. He was one of the stars. Bishops used to send a smart car to pick up from Hetton and transport him to the game. 'He didn't have much finesse,' Kenny Twigg recalled, 'But he was fit and bloody strong.'
When Shankly resigned and Liverpool gave his job to Bob Paisley, my Dad phoned up Kenny Twigg. He said, ‘Is this new Liverpool manager your mate?’
Ken Twigg said it was.
‘It'll be tough job, following Shankly,’ My Dad said
‘If anyone can do it, Bob can,’ said Kenny Twigg
Kenny Twigg was retired. He lived in a neat bungalow in Hartburn, one of the leafier bits of Stockton-on-Tees. I got the train and then a bus. When I arrived, Kenny Twigg was sitting at the kitchen table, a stack of three leather-bound scrapbooks in the center. His wife brought tea and biscuits. ‘Before we get started I’ll use the facilities,’ Kenny Twigg said.
When he was gone his wife patted me on the arm, nodded towards the books, ‘I do hope he’s not going to bore you, pet.’
Kenny Twigg came back. He poured tea. He asked after my father. He told me proudly of some complex engineering problem they’d overcome when building a bridge together in Newport. I nodded wisely.
Kenny Twigg took down the top scrapbook and opened it. The book was neat and tidy. The clippings straight and sharp. The captions, written in clear block capitals, gave the date, the place, the names. I recognised the style. My father’s photo albums from his National Service days were just like this - the utilitarian aesthetic of the drawing office.
‘Now,’ Kenny Twigg said, tapping his finger on a faded postcard-sized team photo ‘This is the best side I ever played in – Willington Juniors.’
‘Five of these lads turned pro,’ Kenny Twigg said. The best known of them was George Storey who played for Brentford several seasons, returned to Durham when his playing days were over and went back down the pit.
‘All the boys were good players, all of them,’ Kenny Twigg said, ‘but the star of the team was this boy, Billy Pears. Everybody called him ‘Biker’. He was centre forward. Strong. Quick. Fearless. Brilliant. He kept Tommy Lawton out of the England Schoolboys side. Newcastle had him on their books’
‘What happened, I asked
‘Accident at the pithead,’ Kenny Twigg said. ‘A steel joist fell on him, broke his spine. He had to wear a steel girdle after.’
We both grimaced. Heavy industry was like a warzone. The big pit disasters lived in the public memory, but men were maimed every day. Steel erectors had the lowest life expectancy in Britain. In the big works danger lurked round every corner. Men fell off buildings, were scalded by steam. Cranes toppled, boilers exploded, steel cables snapped, gas hissed, roofs collapsed. Limbs and lives were lost, promising sporting careers terminated.
My father would come home, sit down for tea and say: ‘Bit of a bugger of a day. A rivet worked loose at the site. Fell fifty feet. It glanced off Stan’s head, ripped off part of his ear and shattered his collarbone.
I said, ‘Are you all right, Stan?’
He said, ‘Better than if I’d been stood three inches to the right, chief.’
I said, ‘Aye, you’d been three inches to your right, Stan, that bloody thing would have come straight out your arse’.’
‘Is Stan going to be OK?’ My mother would ask.
‘Oh I think so,’ my Dad would say with a shrug, ‘His jacket’s completely bloody ruined, though.’
The boys from Willington Juniors had all gone to work in mines, foundries, shipyards, steelworks and chemical plants. Several had suffered debilitating mishaps at work, a couple had not got through the War.