Wednesday, 8 October 2014

RUNNING FOR YOUR LIFE IN WILD WEST DURHAM - KENNY TWIGG PART TWO


Kenny Twigg made his debut for Bishop Auckland when he was seventeen. 'There was a flu epidemic in Durham, half the team went down with it.' His first game was against Shildon. The Railwaymen were Bishops' biggest rivals in the Northern League, they had won the title four times in the previous five years. The game at Dean Street brought Kenny up against the legendary full-back Alf 'Wacker' Wild.

'People say Alf Wild was terrifying. And it's true that when he tackled you, you knew you'd been tackled. But I tell you something about him. I was pretty quick. First time I got the ball I pushed it round him and I was away, got my cross in. He trotted over, 'You're a young lad and you're new to this,' He said, 'So I'm going to let you off that one. Next time you do it, I'll break your bloody leg', So, you see, Alf Wild was rough, but he gave you fair warning.'

 
 
“People forget,’ Kenny Twigg said, ‘That in the 1938/39 season Bishops not only won the Amateur Cup and the Northern League title, we also won the Durham Challenge Cup. In my book that last one was the greatest achievement. The Durham Challenge Cup was harder to win than the Amateur Cup. The standard of football in County Durham was tremendous. There were hundreds of sides. Everyone was desperate to do well - especially against the big clubs like us. It was fierce.’

Sometimes literally.


‘We played a tie one time up by Stanley. Middle of winter. Ruddy freezing. Wind going right through you. The ground was packed. There was 2-3000 in there. The home side scored early. From then on we were all over them. Chance after chance. You could feel the tension rising. Five minutes from time Matty Slee goes down in their penalty area. The ref points to the spot. Straight away the crowd comes hurtling onto the pitch, screaming blue murder. We ran for our lives. The officials came charging off with us. We piled into the dressing room, barricaded the door. They were trying to kick it down. Took an hour for the police to calm things. Our team coach had to have an escort out of town. There was a replay. The police told us to have it on the morning and not publicise it in the newspapers. We played the match virtually in secret, beat them in front of two sets of committee men and the tea ladies.’

I said, I thought crowd trouble was something that only started in the 1970s.

‘Oh you’d be surprised what went on back then,’ Kenny Twigg said with a chuckle, ‘especially out there. In Wild West Durham in those days anything could happen.’

Who knows what triumphs Bishops treble winning team might have gone onto if the war had not intervened. Kenny Twigg joined up. He kept fit playing wartime football. At Ayresome Park he lined up against George Hardwick. Captain of Middlesbrough and England, Gorgeous George was the Clark Gable of the game. After the match Kenny Twigg came out of the changing rooms to find his wife in a flustered state. ‘When I asked what the matter was she said, ‘Ooh I've just seen George Hardwick in his RAF uniform and my legs have all gone to jelly.’


(After he finished playing Kenny Twigg coached Billingham Sythonia. That's him on the left in the snazzy belted coat. The season was 1950/51. 'We finished second. We only conceded 24 goals, which is still a Northern League record.')

After the War Ken Twigg left Bishop Auckland. He'd been offered terms by various League clubs, including Chester, but 'I had a good job and in those days, with the maximum wage, you could earn a better living working and playing part-time than you could as a full-time pro'. So he went to play for Spennymoor United. Spennymoor played in The North Eastern League. While the Northern League was - ostensibly at least - amateur, the North Eastern League was professional. Founded in 1906 it ran until the late-1950s. In the 1940s Blyth Spartans, North Shields, South Shields, Consett, Stockton, Ashington and Horden played in it. So did Workington and the reserve teams of Sunderland, Middlesbrough, Hartlepool, Darlington, Gateshead and Carlisle.

‘The first year I was at Brewery Field we won the title,’ Kenny Twigg said, ‘that was remarkable really, when you see the teams we were up against.’

I asked him how the standard’s compared with the Northern League. His reply has stuck with me ever since. ‘There was no comparison,’ Kenny Twigg said, ‘The North Eastern League was so much better – it was professional! Now, a professional - I don’t care what job he does - he always knows more about his trade than any amateur. He lives his work.’

‘I’ll give you an example. Spennymoor had this veteran centre forward, Alf White – he’d been born in the town. He was knocking on forty by then, but he’d spent four seasons at Derby County, played 150 odd games for Bournemouth in Division Three (South), been at Wrexham. He was still a hell of a player. The first game I played for Moors I got the ball on the touchline, in our half, facing towards our goal. There was an opponent on my back, so I did what I’d have done at Bishops in the same situation: I played safe, kicked the ball into touch. Next second there’s Alf White yelling in my face, what the ruddy hell was a playing at giving possession away?

‘Why didn’t you pass to me?’ he said.

I said, ‘I had my back turned. I didn’t know where you were.’

He said, ‘If you were me, where would you have been?’

I said, ‘I don’t know, I suppose on this same touchline looking for a pass up the line.’

Alf White scowled. He said, ‘There you bloody go then. Next time, play the ball where you think I’ll be, because that’s where you’ll bloody well find me.’

‘That was the difference,’ Ken Twigg said. ‘The pros understood the game. The amateurs, the amateurs just played it.’

 

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