Saturday, 3 January 2015


'The North East had all the best sides in them days,' My grandfather would say, and he'd look over the pink pages of the Sports Gazette and wink, 'because floodlights hadn't been invented yet,' he'd say, and chuckle.

'It was darker then an' all. There was smoke from the foundries and the flarestacks, steam from the colling towers and fumes from the chemical plants. The sky was black as jet. By three o'clock of a winter's afternoon you couldn't have seen Moby Dick if he was sat in your lap, never mind a football. That gave our lads an advantage. They were used to it. Most of the Boro boys had worked down the mines. They knew how to get around in the dark. Owen Williams would scamper down the wing clutching a pit pony's tail. He'd cut the ball across and George Camsell would scurry into the penalty box on all fours, a Davey lamp between his teeth, and nod it into the net.

'What a forward line that was! Every one of them was a full international. Even Owen Williams' pit pony had two caps for Wales. Aye, that was the best forward line I ever saw. Not that I ever did see them mind. It was too bloody dark. You just had to use your imagination. People were used to that in them days. When you listened to the wireless you had to imagine the action. And in the North e East during the Depression you had to imagine the wireless an' all.

'Every Saturday, 30,000 supporters would pack into Ayresome just to see the lights on the pit helmets bobbing about in the smog. Those lamps were the targets for the players passes. And they were  deadly accurate. There's many a Boro fan gone to light up a fag and got his teeth knocked out by a Bobby Baxter 40 yarder. Nowadays they just hoof the ball into orbit and if it lands on the pitch they call it a pass, but in them days the passes were pinpoint. If they weren't the ball got lost in the blackness. And that was serious, because a ball cost more than the entire Boro team.

'One time the coach, Charlie Cole, come up with a crafty solution to the problem. He bought a bloodhound from the Durham prison Authority and played it at wing-half. Before the match he smothered the ball with gravy so's the dog could track it. Fifteen minutes into the first half the ball vanished in the darkness. The bloodhound dashed off. Seconds later he was back. He dribbled it down the wing, flicked it into the box with his nose and Billy Birrell volleyed it into the goals. It's the only time in history anyone netted a steak and kidney pudding.

'They sold the bloodhound to Leeds after that. he wasn't the best player ever to turn out at Elland Road, but he was the cleanest.

'When I say 30,000 turned up at Ayresome every Saturday, I mean every Saturday. It didn't matter if Boro were playing at home or not. The supporters were loyal in them days. There were no part-timers. And aside from a few Military Police looking for deserters, there were no bobbies in the crowd neither. You didn't need police to control the crowd back then, the crowd controlled itself. If there was a baloney-merchant stood near us, mouthing off, our Joe would grab his cap off his head and drop it over the back of the Bob End. It was 30 foot down.  'Anymore out of you, and you're following it,' he'd say. People listened to reasoned argument in them days.

'Aye, there's three things ruined North East football: the passing of the Clean Air Act, floodlights and the tripehounds. But I'll tell you about the last lot when you're older.'

And, basically like, that's all.

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