Saturday, 26 March 2016


Yesterday I saw my 100th Northern League goal in my 24th match. Total cost of admission £139. As the cartoon on the front page of the first edition of When Saturday Comes said: Stuff Yer Superleague.

Today I'm going to a game with the Two Petes, the first time we have had such an outing since we went on the Northern League groundhop together in 1995.

We're going to see The Robins v The Colliers. So in a vaguely themed post here's a review from WSC of Dave Thomas's excellent biography of one of Ashington's football stars.

Jimmy Adamson was born in Laburnum Terrace, Ashington, a few doors along from Bobby and Jack Charlton. All three would be Footballers of the Year. They shared character traits too; Adamson had Big Jack’s abrasiveness and Bobby’s tendency to aloofness. Unfortunately he didn’t have the charm of the former, or the diplomatic skills of the latter. The result, as lifelong Burnley fan Dave Thomas relates, in this illuminating and well told biography, was a career that promised much but ended in frustration.

Adamson’s childhood was brutally hard. His father abandoned the family at an early stage; his mother’s struggle to raise her children on her own ended in depression and suicide. Later he would suffer the horror of having his two children predecease him.

Whisked away to Burnley as a teenager after the north-east clubs took their traditional path of rejecting a local star, Adamson started as a winger but soon switched to half-back. Intelligent, tough, with a rare ability to pick a pass, he quickly established a midfield partnership with Jimmy McIlroy and became one of the stars of a team that, alongside Wolves and Spurs, dominated the period..

Clarets' manager during that time was Harry Potts, another north-easterner (Ray Pointer, Arthur Bellamy and several others were on the playing staff). Potts was born in Hetton-le-Hole a few doors away from his lifelong pal Bob Paisley, a few streets away from a future Burnley star, Ralph Coates.

Burnley's attacking style of play and mastery of corner kick and free kick routines had been established before Potts took charge, by the Northumbrian, Alan Brown. Potts' coaching style seems to have been less focused than that of his predecessor, one ex-player claiming that the only instruction the manager issued was that the wingers should use the Turf Moor advertising hoardings as a guide and 'never cross till you get to the 'T' in Woolworth'. Despite, or maybe because of that - Burnley won the title in 1960 and came close to doing the Double a few years later.

As a coach Adamson was ahead of his time, a thinker and a tactician. After serving as assistant to Walter Winterbottom at the 1962 World Cup, he was offered the England manager’s job but turned it down to stay on at Turf Moor as player and eventually – after some backstage shenanigans to shuffle Harry Potts upstairs – the manager.

From Potts, Adamson inherited a side rich in young talent (including Geordies Ray Hankin and Peter Noble), labelling it “the team of the Seventies”. Unfortunately the economics of football had changed since his playing days and small-town clubs such as Burnley now struggled to compete with the big-city sides. The resulting financial pressures brought Adamson into conflict with Burnley chairman Bob Lord. Sitting in the head office of his butchery business in front of a large portrait of Winston Churchill, the man Arthur Hopcraft called “the Khrushchev of Burnley” was a self-made autocrat straight out of satire. (Indeed, one of the many entertaining nuggets the author has dug out is the fact that Brian Glanville wrote a sketch about Lord for That Was The Week That Was. Sadly it was never performed.)

As “the team of the Seventies” were dismantled to pay for ground improvements and fend off debt (and to line Lord’s pockets, it is alleged) the once close relationship between the two men descended into acrimony. “I wanted to build a team, the chairman wanted to build a stadium,” Adamson famously remarked after the split finally came.

Away from Turf Moor, Adamson never really settled. A spell at the side he'd wanted to play for as a boy, Sunderland, ended after a couple of inconclusive seasons, the appointment at Elland Road in 1978 was fraught with problems from the off. By then alcohol seems to have blunted Adamson’s talent and exacerbated his prickliness. After Leeds he did not work in football again.

Adamson continued to live in Burnley, but was so bitter about his treatment by Lord he refused to go and watch his former team even after his nemesis had departed. Thankfully he eventually made his peace with the club he had served so well and received a warm and heartfelt ovation from Clarets fans on his return to Turf Moor. It gave some semblance of a happy ending to a life marred by rancour and loss.

Saturday, 19 March 2016


We had a fine day out at Ironworks Road last Saturday, quite literally. Contrary to all expectations, coats were shed and sunglasses sported as the sun smiled down on a game that included a 50/50 tackle so ferocious I swear to God I heard the ball screaming.

Later in the week I went into my local bank.
Woman behind the counter: 'By, your very brown. Have you been skiing?'
Me: 'No. I was in Tow Law on Saturday.'

Today I am taking The Professor on his annual pilgrimage to see Olga.

Here is a shorter, edited version of a piece that appeared in issue 19 of The Blizzard. If you want to read it all have a look here:

When former Northern Ireland and Middlesbrough winger Terry Cochrane signed for South Bank in 1992 the Teesside non-League club had problems. Thieves got in the ground at night, lifted tools from the shed, forced entry to the club house, fled with booze. The Bankers took measures. They bought a powerful Rottweiler. When training ended for the day, they let him loose and locked the gates. That night thieves broke in again, stole the dog.

That’s South Bank, Terry Cochrane said, fella has two ears they think he’s a cissy.

South Bank lies three miles east of Middlesbrough. Locally they call it Slaggy Island in honour of the ring of spoil heaps that once cut it off from the outside world. It’s not as glamourous as that nickname makes it sound. South Bank was the home of the Smith’s Dock shipyard, of Bolckow Vaughan and Dorman Long steelworks, clusters of iron foundries, warrens of brickyards. Blast furnaces, smelters, rolling mills and fabrication sheds converted ore to pig iron, iron to steel. They shaped it, cut it, and shipped it out. Through most of the 20th Century Slaggy Islanders lived their lives under a cloud of bitter smog. You had to catch a bus to see the sun.

Yet there was a power and a magic to it. The sparks off arc welders and angle-grinders danced in the darkness and at night the sky was dyed a dirty orange and pulsed like a heart. When South Bank’s most celebrated son, Wilf Mannion called his hometown ‘the enchanted city’ he wasn’t being ironic.

South Bank FC was founded in 1868, the first football club in the North East of England. The Ellis Cup, was launched - as the South Bank Amateur Challenge Cup – in 1889, which makes it either the fourth or fifth oldest football competition on the planet (the Northern League –of which South Bank was a founder member – began the same year).

Originally for under-18 teams, the Ellis Cup soon expanded to include senior sides too, not just from South Bank but from across Teesside and down into the mining villages of the North York Moors and Cleveland Hills. Over the next century over 100 players who’d turn pro played in it, amongst them some of the most influential figures in the English game.

George Elliott, my grandfather’s boyhood hero, played in the Ellis Cup for Redcar Crusaders, signed for South Bank shortly afterwards , then for Middlesbrough. Aided by two other Ellis Cup Slaggy Islanders, the Carr brothers, Jackie and Willie, Elliott hit 31 goals in 32 league matches in 1913/14 helping Boro to third place in the English top flight, the club’s highest ever finish.

George Hardwick’s father worked in the ironstone mines of East Cleveland. The mine shut down. Money was so short it could crawl under a duck. Hardwick’s mother picked up old jumpers, pulled the yarn apart and knitted George a red jersey and matching socks to play his football in. He turned out in the Ellis Cup for Saltburn, moved on to South bank, signed for Middlesbrough in 1937. A cultured full-back, Hardwick had a matinee idol moustache and the face and physique to match. When he smiled women’s legs turned to jelly. My Granddad called him ‘Gorgeous George’ and blew sarky kisses to him from the Ayresome Park chicken run. Hardwick laughed off the abuse. He captained club and country, people whispered happily of an affair with a Hollywood ‘It Girl’ : Ava Gardner, Rita Hayworth, accounts varied.

The Golden Boy, Wilf Mannion was born in Napier Street, South Bank. Mannion won the Ellis Cup with South Bank St Peter’s when he was sixteen. His side played South Bank East End in the final. East End’s stopper got no closer to the blond inside-forward than kicking the ball into his groin. The stopper’s name was Harold Shepherdson. Three decades later, as Alf Ramsey’s assistant he’d be leaping off the bench at Wembley when Geoff Hurst scored England’s fourth, the manager barking ‘Sit down, Harold, I can’t see,’ at his back.

The influence of Slaggy Island’s football trophy spread far beyond Teesside. Future Leeds United capo, Don Revie played in the Ellis Cup for Middlesbrough Swifts. Man United boss, Matt Busby, a serviceman at Catterick Garrison, helped Portrack Shamrocks defeat Cargo Fleet Home Guard in the 1946 final. Ken Furphy turned out for Stockton West End, went pro with Everton, achieved great things coaching Watford and ended up in the USA in the 1970s managing New York Cosmos, pairing Pele with Giorgio Chinaglia up front.

My friend’s Dad was the goalkeeper for the village team. Years later he’d recall an Ellis Cup match against Great Broughton – managed in those days by the village postmistress Nancy Goldsborough - when a shiny-eyed teenage centre forward banged in a hat-trick and at the final whistle wandered over, patted my friend’s Dad on the arm, told him ‘One day, when I’m playing for England, you’ll brag to your mate’s about this,’ smiled and introduced himself, ‘I’m Brian Clough.’

‘If he hadn’t been so little, I’d have planted him,’ my friend’s Dad said, telling the story for the thousandth time.

From the late seventies onwards hardship battered Teesside. The steelworks and the shipyards shut. The population of South Bank dwindled. Shutters went up over doors and windows, shops closed, derelict streets were bulldozed. Football clung on. Barely.

After Terry Cochrane quit, South Bank’s ground was attacked routinely and severely. Vandals smashed the windows. Arsonists burned down the clubhouse, torched the main stand. Somebody took a sledgehammer to the dugouts, carted off the bricks. By the late 1990s the pitch was three feet deep in grass, a stadium that had once held 8,000 for cup ties looked like a bomb site. Unable to fulfil fixtures, the Bankers had long since been suspended from the Northern League they’d co-founded.

Now there’s a community centre, named Golden Boy Green in honour of Wilf Mannion where the ground once stood. There’s a skateboard park and a basketball court, no football, no memorial. These days South Bank FC play at Harcourt Road sharing the pitch with Eston Villa and Middlesbrough Homeless. They’re in the Stockton Sunday League. In 2015 they got to the final of the Ellis Cup, won it in a penalty shoot-out against North Ormesby Cons. 

Saturday, 12 March 2016


In the Letzigrund, Zurich last Saturday I saw my first scoreless game of the season. And frankly both FCZ and Thun were lucky to get nil. If ever the phrase 'Get stuck in, you bloody fanny merchants' deserved to be bellowed at high volume this was it. Sadly my efforts fell on deaf ears.

Today I return to Ironworks Road for the first time in many a year. On the last visit I stood next to an elderly man who called out - in the plaintive, hopeless tones of someone long marooned on a distant shore- 'Hells bells,Lawyers, hells bells.'

I hope he is still there.

For now, an article about a family food fight that appeared in Tees Business. The piece has little to do with football, but it amused me at the time and maybe it might you, too.

When Upex pies re-launched last November after a twenty year absence from Teesside’s culinary landscape, hungry punters practically knocked the shop over in their clamour to get one. Owner Steve Davies sold 1,400 in a matter of a few hours.

Personally I am not surprised. Upex pies have been around for over a century and there are few things that attract brand loyalty like a pie. I should know, my own family was savagely divided by what can only be described as pork pie civil war.

There were other gastronomic disagreements amongst us, admittedly. My father’s family were committed to tomato ketchup and Branston pickle, while my mother’s would entertain only Hammonds Yorkshire Sauce and Piccalilli; things could get a bit heated over the Lowcocks v Alpine debate when it came to lemonade and dandelion and burdock; many a trip to Whitby ended in an acrimonious dispute over the merits of favourite chip shops, and when it came to beer, the impossibility of finding a pub that served both Cameron’s Strongarm and Vaux Samson meant separate Saturday nights for a couple of branches. It was the pork pies that were the cause of the bitterest trouble, though. When it came to them it was The Beatles v The Stones, Blur v Oasis, Mods v Rockers. You had to pick a side.

You see, my granddad and his brothers grew up in Smeaton Street. As lads from the heart of the Boro they had – naturally - pledged pie-allegiance to Newboulds at a young age. While Joe and George stayed in Middlesbrough, my grandfather married a girl from Marske and settled there. Later his daughter, my mother, moved to Great Ayton. And that was when the trouble started, because our house was 50 yards from Donald Petch, the butchers.

At some point my grandfather was lured into buying a pork pie from Petch’s and pretty soon they were the only pork pies he’d give house room. He might have stayed silent on the matter, but, like a man converted to a new religion by a miracle, he just couldn’t keep the good news to himself.

It all kicked off round my great-gran’s house on Christmas Day when I was six. It was a tiny terraced house, the living room so small the only way all of us could fit in it was with kids sitting on knees and men folk arranged shoulder-to-shoulder around the walls. We all had our place. You could tell where the men stood even when they weren’t there by the height of the stains their Brylcreme left on the wallpaper.

At some point my great-gran expressed the view that a nice pork pie would do her for New Year’s Eve.

‘You want to have a one from Petch’s,’ my granddad announced.

‘What are you talking about?’ Uncle Joe said, ‘Have you gone looie? I’ll get her a one from Newboulds.’

‘The only thing she’s getting from you is a load of tripe,’ My granddad replied.

By this stage my mother had started to wrestle me into my coat and signalled for my Dad to go out and get the engine of the Riley warmed up. She recognised fighting talk when she heard it.

Things might have stayed at simmering point, but at this point my grandma’s sister’s husband who hailed from Skeleton, worked down Boulby potash mine and had a voice so loud and deep it sounded like an explosion in a cave, growled out his opinion that the pork pies from the butcher in Sleights knocked all others on Planet Earth into a cocked hat.

What happened next I cannot honestly say, for my mum had hustled me out the door. From reports it seemed the police got matters under control fairly quickly once they arrived on the scene.
Later my Dad suggested that ‘Blahblah’s Pies – They’re worth decking your brother-in-law for’ would make a good advertising slogan. As far as I know, it’s still available, if anyone wants it.