Saturday, 29 August 2015


Last week at Seaham the man in front of me said that he had noticed something peculiar about Bovril. 'Doesn't matter what supermarket you go - Morrisons, Tesco, Sainsbury - it's always the same price,' he said.
'The buggers are fixing it, aren't they?' his friend said. 'It's a bloody cartel, is what it is.'
Hillheads and the romance of the Cup for me today. Meantime here's a thing for WSC.
When doing the cooking I listen to 5Live. This is partly because I have recently developed such a Radio Four-intolerance I suffer anaphylactic shock if I hear the words “With me, Mark Lawson”, but mainly it’s because I find the best way to judge whether broccoli is cooked is by putting it in the steamer and then counting off the times Steve Claridge uses the phrase “got the team set up right“. I find that six usually has it done in the fashionable al dente style, though if you want the more traditional British “boiled to a slop” you may have to go as high as 35.

Like everything these days, with the exception of my own life, 5Live is thrillingly interactive. This means that at some point the presenter will call a halt to Danny Mills and read out a text from John on the M25 “who says “These so-called fans should stop complaining and support the team”. Whenever I hear this comment I confess I am puzzled. To a hefty number of football fans – possibly even a majority -  moaning, grumbling and chanting “You’re getting sacked in the morning” at the manager is supporting their team.

Part of the problem seems to be that too many people think the verb to support only has one meaning. This is not the case. Just as there is a big difference between playing football, playing the fool and playing a trout (insert your own “though not much in the case of England” joke here), so there is a vast divergence between, say, supporting your children and supporting a football team.  One involves building self-confidence, nurturing, providing unconditional laundry. Supporting a football team, on the other hand, well, that is an altogether different business.

In August I was at a wedding of an old school friend in Devon. Another of our former classmates had flown in from New England. He’d moved to the US from Archway when he was twenty and been there ever since. In three decades his London accent has merged into Massachusetts.
We were sitting on the terrace of the hotel taking about football. “Gary Neville’s analysis is great,” my friend said, “I love Gary Neville”. I said I didn’t know you could get Sky in the US. “I can’t,” he said, “I watch clips on Youtube”.

His wife who was sitting beside him raised her eyebrows, “We have very long winters.” she said.

“Gary Neville’s fantastic. I just wish he hadn’t played for Man U” my friend said.

“He gets to watch them play every five years,” his wife said, “But he still loves Arsenal”.

My friend looked at her with scornful astonishment, “I don’t love Arsenal,” he said, “I hate them. They drive me fucking mad”.


A Saturday lunchtime a month or so later, I’m on the Tyne and Wear Metro. At  a gaunt looking man in his late fifties, wearing a grey tweed coat and a black-and-white scarf got on.  A bloke in a Newcastle shirt already in the carriage greeted him warmly. “How are doing, nowadays?” He asked. The other man smiled, “Much better, much better,” he said, “I had the six month check and I got the all-clear.”

The other man expressed his happiness at the good news. “Aye,” the first man said and fingered the black-and-white scarf around his neck, “Mind I’ve still got the agony of watching these bastards”.

The other man grimaced, “It’s been painful,” he said, “Really painful”.
“If I hadn’t been to the doctors that much recently,” the first man said, “I’d be round there now begging some tablets for it” the first man said. “Something to wean me off them, like.”

The second man said, “Boots the Chemist ought to make some patches”.


There followed a brief exchange in which the pair tried to raise the mood by talking about Paolo Di Canio, but it was plain their hearts weren’t in. The train pulled into Monument. “You getting off here?” the man in the black-and-white scarf asked. The other man shrugged, sighed and said, “I was hoping not too. But, aye, come on, let’s go and take our punishment like men”.

Were these men fans? Definitely. Yet anyone listening to them would have come away with the impression that the only time they’d get behind their team was if they were perched on the edge of a cliff and only needed a nudge to send them over and into the sea below.

Perhaps it’s an age thing, but to me this sort of mordant exasperation, a feeling of being driven mad, seems to me to be as much supporting a football team as naming your children after the forward line, or getting a portrait of the club’s all-time greatest player tattooed on your back. Yet so far Mark “Chappers” Chapman has never interrupted John Motson in mid-chuckle to say, “And Martin on Twitter says, “Why can’t these so-called supporters stop clapping and cheering the side’s every touch and just sit with their arms folded, glowering and making the occasional tutting noise?”.

Perhaps no one sends in such messages. In the interests of balance they really should. And you know, if I didn’t have watch the carrots I’d do it myself.

Saturday, 22 August 2015


After Carlisle’s 4-4 draw with Cambridge last Saturday, manager Keith Curle said: 'We have to remember Rome wasn't built in a day. Likewise, Carlisle United wasn't resurrected in a summer. The pillars are in place where we can grow. There's no fear factor in the way we play because I know where the changing room is going.'

Which I rather enjoyed.

Also, on the first Saturday of the season at Sam Smith's Park. The game about five minutes old, the linesman on the touchline nearest us set off on a trot, slipped and fell flat on his face, provoing the following:
First fan: Sniper!
Second fan: Cheat
Third fan: He never touched him, ref.
Fourth fan: There's no one near him.
Fifth fan: Diving is the scourge of the modern game.
There was a pause. The linesman picked himself up. Then a Shildon fan shouted, 'Don't worry, lino - nobody noticed.'

Off to Seaham today. And so for no good reason whatsoever here is a piece that appeared in the 2012 Wembley Handbook. It’s about the 1948 Olympic football tournament. Great Britain’s squad for the event was entirely made up of amateur players from the Home Nations, yet despite the obvious strength of the Northern League only one player from the North-East - Bob Hardisty - was selected for inclusion. That didn’t mean there was a lack of regional interest, however. In fact a former-pitman from Darlington picked up a bronze medal....


At the 1948 London Olympics, a football team managed by a tough and patriotic English defender romped to the gold medal hitting 22 goals in just four matches and winning plaudits for their skill and athleticism. That might have been good for Great Britain, except that the Englishman in question, Yorkshire-born George Raynor, was the coach of Sweden.

Not that the 1948 version of Team-GB did badly. Great Britain had not won an Olympic medal since they took gold in Stockholm in 1912 and few observers expected that drought to end when the competition began on July 26th with a preliminary match that saw Luxembourg hammer Afghanistan 6-0 in front of 5,000 curious spectators at Brighton’s Goldstone Ground. Yet a Great Britain side that supplemented its post-War food rations with parcels of grub furnished by the sympathetic Swiss FA and trained on a Stately Home tennis court, put in an inspiring performance that did much to lift the spirit of the nation’s football fans. The team’s manager, Matt Busby, would later say that leading this makeshift side to within a whisker of a medal, ranked as one of his proudest achievements.

Playing in a strip that was simply the England kit with an Olympic badge sewn on the left-breast, Busby’s side was made up of recently demobbed military personnel and featured ten Englishmen (including captain Bob Hardisty, a mate of Busby’s from the Army Physical Training Corps), seven Scots (all from Queens Park), three Welshmen and a pair of Northern Irishman that included Denis Kelleher, who four years previously had escaped from a German POW camp in Bremen with such elegant nonchalance it inspired the film The Great Escape

The Second World War and its aftermath were keenly felt. Lack of funds prevented any of the South American teams from competing, Germany was not invited, and, under orders from Stalin, the USSR and the rest of what was soon to become the Soviet Bloc refused to take part. Amongst the 18 teams that did compete were three exceptional sides – Sweden, Yugoslavia and Denmark - and a dozen players who would go on to become stars in Italy and Spain.

While Luxembourg triumphed over Afghanistan, along the coast in Portsmouth a Netherlands side who had – daringly- flown to London the week before, overcame the Republic of Ireland, managed by Johnny Carey, captain of Manchester United. Holland was not yet a football powerhouse, but, coached by Jesse Carver – a Liverpudlian who’d played centre-back for Newcastle – there were inklings of what was to come, not least in the figure of Servaas Wilkes, who netted twice against the Republic. The inside forward was one of the best dribblers in European football, tormenting opposing defenders often merely for the sake of it. Shortly after the Olympics he’d leave his homeland – where football was still strictly amateur - for the rich pickings of Serie A, signing for Internazionale. Wilkes became a star in Milan and later moved to Spain to play for Valencia, where mothers named their sons “Faas” in his honour. Frivolous and entertaining, he was the idol and inspiration of thousands of youngsters in the Netherlands, amongst them Johan Cruyff.

The Dutch defeat of the Irish earned them a first round tie against Great Britain at Highbury. It was a blood and thunder encounter. Quite literally in the former case. Like Dutch teams of more the more recent past, this one did not shy from the physical side of the game, thumping into challenges with such ferocity that GB defender Tommy Hopper of Bromley finished the match with concussion and a fractured cheekbone. The physicality of the contest only seemed to inspire Busby’s men, however, and they went in at half-time 3-1 up. In the second period Holland hit back, with Wilkes striking a fabulous left foot volley to tie the scores.

He might have got more had it not been for Britain’s teenage goalkeeper Ronnie Simpson. The Scot was still school age, but he already had plenty of experience having made his league debut for Queens Park when he was just 15, Of all of the Great Britain’s players he would go on to have the greatest career, collecting two FA Cup winners medals with Newcastle United, before returning north to star for Jock Stein’s Celtic in the 1967 European Cup Final.

With Simpson pulling off a couple of memorable saves the match went into extra time. Here Busby’s ruthless fitness regime gave his side the edge, the British growing stronger as the Dutch wilted. A goal by Harry McIlvenny sealed it for the hosts. At the final whistle the gore splattered Hopper fainted and was rushed to hospital.

The most curious match of the first round was played at Lynn Road, Ilford where 17,000 fans watched India take on a French side whose training had been disrupted by a shortage of footballs (Nations had been asked to bring their own, but the French FA forgot theirs).  The Indians were playing their first official match since independence and astonished everybody by taking to the field without boots. Despite the obvious problems of going unshod, the Olympic Report declares approvingly that: “Not one shirked the heaviest tackle”. France took the lead, but India soon equalised. In the second-half the men from the Sub-Continent dominated, winning two penalties. Unfortunately for them the first was blasted wide and the second struck straight at Rouxel in the French goal. With a minute remaining the French burst up the field and Persillon struck the winner

In Portsmouth Italy, managed by the bespectacled autocrat Vittorio Pozzo who had taken the Azzuri to back-to-back World Cup triumphs in the 1930s, hammered the USA 9-0. The Americans – who had barely had time to practice together - were not demoralised. Two years later, in Belo Horizonte, many of the players humiliated at Fratton Park would pull off one of the greatest shocks in World Cup history defeating England 1-0.

Raynor’s Swedes, meanwhile, brushed aside an Austrian XI that included Ernst Happel, later to manage Feyenoord and Hamburg to European Cup triumphs; while South Korea beat Mexico 5-3 at Champion Hill, Dulwich.Luxembourg too were on the end of a thrashing, conceding six against a Yugoslavia team which played in a style so creative and free-flowing at times it appeared to British observers raised on the rigid certainties of the WM formation to border on total anarchy.

In the remaining matches Turkey easily defeated the Republic of China in Walthamstow, while Denmark – managed by one Englishman, Reg Mountford – defeated an Egyptian side coached by another - Errington 'Eric' Keen.

The son of a tailor, Mountford was born in Woodland Road, Darlington. He'd played for the Quakers and netted a hat-trick for them in a game against Rochdale before moving on to Huddersfield Town for whom he appeared in the first televised FA Cup final. After the war he'd emigrated to Denmark to take up a coaching position at BK Frem of Copenhagen leading them to the runners-up spot in the Danish League.
Eric Keen was born in Walker and as a junior played for Newcastle Swifts. He'd briefly been on Newcastle United's books but made his name at Derby County, winning four England caps. When the war started he was player-manager of Hereford United. After the Olympics he'd manage IFK Norrkoping in Sweden and Turkish giants Besiktas.
In the Quarter-Finals the Yugoslavs were drawn to meet Turkey in Ilford. The Yugoslavia line-up – who all played football full-time, though not, apparently, for money - included the strikers Stepjan Bobek who is – and is likely to remain – that now non-existent nation’s leading international goalscorer; Rajko Mitic of Red Star Belgrade and Franjo Wolfi of Dinamo Zagreb who had top-scored in the Yugoslav national League in the two previous seasons. The trio were in formidable form scoring two of goals and setting up the third as Turkey were easily vanquished.

Denmark – who were genuine amateurs - also had an outstanding bunch of attacking players and proved it by smashing five goals past Italy. The watching Azzuri officials were impressed and soon a trio of Danes – centre-forward John Hansen, left-winger Karl-Aage Prest and schemer Karl Aaage Hansen were on their way to Turin where they helped Juventus win the Scudetto in 1950 and again in 1952.

At Selhurst Park, Gunnar Nordahl of Sweden struck four goals as his team thrashed South Korea 12-0. Nils Liedholm and Gunnar Gren also got on the scoresheet. Within a year, the trio would form the so-called GRE-NO-LI spearhead of a Milan side that won the Italian title four times in ten years.

There were to be no such heroics, or big money moves abroad for Matt Busby’s men. Still tired from their efforts against the Dutch t they battled hard to overcome a listless France at Craven Cottage, eventually triumphing through a single goal from Bob Hardisty.

The win set up a semi-final meeting with Yugoslavia at Wembley. To cut costs in austerity Britain the team travelled to the stadium on the underground. The match, pitting what was effectively a team of full-time pros against a side comprising of doctors, teachers and biscuit factory workers had the whiff of the FA Cup third round about it. Busby’s team were the underdogs, but cheered on by a crowd of 40,000 and with little to lose they tore into their opponents from the outset. Twice in the opening twenty minutes McIlvenny, was put clean though on goal only to muff both chances. Gradually Yugoslavia’s superior speed and passing began to assert itself. They took the lead through Bobek, when Northern Ireland’s Kevin McAlinden – who had replaced the injured Simpson in the England goal – fumbled.  Frank Donovan – who played his club football for Pembroke Borough - equalised shortly afterwards with a thumping shot, but the Yugoslavs’ attacking play was of a higher order than anything Busby’s men had encountered so far and Volfy soon restored the visitor’s lead, Mitic adding a third after half-time. England hit back with passion but insufficient guile, and could not score again. They had given everything, but been beaten by a better side.

Sweden edged out the Danes 4-2 in the other semi-final and then, in front of 60,000 fans on a heavy, wet Wembley pitch that didn’t suit the Yugoslavs mesmerising style, ran out deserved 3-1 winners to take gold.

Over the next decade Raynor would take the Swedes to third place in the 1950 World Cup, bronze medal position in the 1952 Olympics and then, after a spell coaching in Serie A, to runners-up spot in the 1958 World Cup.

Tired of living abroad the Yorkshireman returned to England shortly afterwards. But he was never given much chance on these shores, where his innovative style was regarded with suspicion and his success on the continent counted for little. A man who was feted in Europe as a football genius, ended up spending two seasons coaching Skegness Town while eking out his salary giving football lessons to children in a local holiday camp.

The Bronze medal match in which Busby’s now exhausted side took on Mountford’s Danes proved an anticlimax. Only 5,000 turned up at Wembley to watch a game the swift and skilful Scandinavians eventually won 5-3.

It was to be Great Britain’s last brush with Olympic glory. Four years later a GB side under the supervision of the coach of the full England team, Walter Winterbottom travelled to Helsinki and suffered the ignominy of being knocked out in the preliminary round by Luxembourg, 5-3. The team struggled on for another twenty years before finally giving up after failing to qualify in 1972.

Saturday, 15 August 2015


(Thanks to Tim Robinson at Sunderland RCA for the photo)

And so now we have all heard the traditional call that heralds the start of the North-East football season: 'Christ's sake referee get involved.'

I went to Northern League games on Friday, Saturday and Tuesday - part pleasure, part work, part desperate cry for help.

When I told a friend who knows nothing of these matters what I had been doing he said, 'You must really like non-League football.'
'No,' I said, 'I just go as a way of meeting women.'
'Wow,' he said, 'Really?'

The exchange resulted in this

Anyroad, here we are again, back as promised for another season of thrills, spills, bellyaches and gratuitous mentions of Arthur Horsfield.

Before we get started may I commend to you the 'Birth of the Blues' exhibition at Auckland Castle which is on until 28th September. It's a lovely collection of artefacts and photos detailing the history of Bishop Auckland FC. If you care about North-East football you should go and see it. And if you don't care about North-East football you should go and see it until you do. Who knows, you might even bump into Arthur Horsfield.

Extra Preliminary Round of the FA Cup, Benfield v Yorkshire Amateur for me today. Here's something I wrote a decade ago to teach new fans how to behave.

How To Go To Football

For the novice attending his or her first football match one important fact must be born in mind – no matter what the TV companies, advertising copywriters and sportswear manufacturers may think, people do not go to games to be entertained. They go to rant, to torment, to sneer, to experience child-like glee and black despair, but most of all they go because a football ground is the only place on the planet where a forty-year- old accountant with three children, a tracker mortgage, a Renault Megane on 0% finance and a rapidly expanding waistline can make obscene gestures at strangers without anyone thinking it in the least bit inappropriate.


Arriving At The Ground

1)      There are two types of people who go to football matches. The first group wear thick coats apparently made from old boiler lagging and arrive at least half-an-hour before kick-off. They then mill aimlessly around glancing about the concourse in the hope of seeing the players’ miraculously over-dressed wives and children arriving. The second group where only the flimsiest shirt no matter what the weather and keep warm by a combination of beer and layers of aftershave. This group never gets to the ground until 30 seconds before kick-off. If you decide to join the latter body remember that in your rush to get to your seat you must shove, barge and stamp on everyone who has arrived sensibly early because they are the sort of middle-class tossers who are ruining football.

2)      When you get into the ground you will see lots of men and women in big, fat luminous coats that make there arms stick out from their sides like the wings of a wet cormorant. These people are the stewards. But don’t let the word steward fool you. They are not here to provide any kind of service. 

First Half

1)      Football fandom is a participatory sport, so get involved. Pick a player from your team and shower abuse on him at every opportunity regardless of how well or badly he’s playing. Don’t forget that everything that goes wrong is totally this man’s fault. When the ball is booted forty yards and runs out of play exclaim, “Where’s his bloody anticipation? Nothing should deter you. Just because the player you have chosen to target beats five opponents and finishes by blasting in a shot from thirty yards that is no excuse to ease up. Simply wait until the celebrations have subsided and then grimly observe, “The wages he’s on he should be doing that every week”.

2)      Always remember that the referee is devoutly biased against your team. Fate may be blind but refs are merely blinkered. It is essential to abandon any attempt at taking a balanced view of things. Fairness and perspective has no place in football. When abusing the match officials try to always include at least one reference to his or her rectum, for example “Where’s your yellow card, ref, up your arse?” or “Get your flag down from your backside, lino and start signalling”.

3)      The vast majority of people only go to football so they can get really really cross about something. Give them a helping hand by adopting an irritating habit. You might bring a klaxon, phone up your mates on a mobile every five minutes and hilariously pretend to be John Motson commentating on the match, or simply get up and go to the lavatory just when a corner is about to be taken.

4)      Or betters still adopt a few key phrases and shout them randomly throughout the game. Try to make them technical sounding yet senseless: “Our forwards just aren’t working the big slots”,   “We need to get more conscious in the third phase”, “We’ve gone baggy in the drop off zone” that sort of thing.


1)      Always bear in mind that at football matches you must do everything in advance to “avoid the rush” – even if it’s just the rush of people doing things in advance. So if you plan to eat at halftime leave your seat at least ten minutes before the whistle. You may miss goals and action, but you will get your offal, nose and throat in a bun quicker and force people on your row to stand up and let you through and that’s what counts.

2)      Never offer any appreciation for the half-time entertainment. Whether it is a primary school penalty prize, a junior dance troupe from a local care home, or an internationally renowned opera singer simply stare at them with blank indifference and then as they leave the pitch remark in a loud voice, “Well, what the hell was that in aid of?”

3)      If you go to the lavatory always take a drink or some food in with you. Remember, as long as you’ve got one hand free you can still eat a hotdog. And don’t whatever you do wash your hands afterwards. You don’t want people thinking you’re some kind of hygiene-obsessed sicko.


Second Half

1)      For a little variety you might like to select a member of the opposition to subject to a series of ribald witticisms. Bald players or those who have just gone through a well- publicised marital break up are particularly amusing. Everyone appreciates the man who starts the “If you’ve shagged his wife stand up” chant, especially when he’s sitting in the family enclosure.

2)      The most important question you must address in the second half is when to leave. You have two choices: you can leave five minutes early to “get away before the traffic”, or you can stay to the bitter end and then hang around the players tunnel to make rude hand signals to the opposition’s coach driver. Whichever choice you take you must stick to it no matter what is happening on the field. Only the most irresolute or feckless fan bases the decision on when to leave the ground on how the match is progressing.

3)      As the game goes on you may like to add to the mounting tension. Every time the opposition cross the halfway line say, “This looks dangerous” or “They’ve got men over, here”.

4)      No matter what the score greet the final whistle by yelling “£18 to watch that crap, I must be mental”.

Leaving The Ground

Whether you go early or stay to the end one or two important points of etiquette must be observed.

1)      Always bounce down the steps rapidly, as if you have just remembered you’ve have left the oven on.

2)      At some point remark loudly yet gnomically to a stranger next to you “I’ll not give him long after that result” and then look away as if you weren’t really talking to him at all.

3)      Always step out onto busy roads without looking. You are part of a football crowd and traffic has to stop for you. It’s the law.