The Tears of a Clown

Now if there's a smile upon my face…

Lowdham Book Festival 2017: ‘The Lord Of Milan’

IT’S FLAMING JUNE ONCE MORE and that means the annual Lowdham Book Festival, a very favourite series of events of mine in a local Nottinghamshire village. Driving into the village and observing a new 20mph limit on Main Street, Saturday’s fluffy white clouds were punctuated by spells of very warm sun shining on the familiar homes and businesses lining the village’s main thoroughfare.

My destination this afternoon was mainly about a visit to the quaint Methodist Chapel for a talk promoting a book about a somewhat little-known Nottingham sportsman, one Herbert Kilpin, by author, Robert Nieri. The book being the product of a labour of love and some thorough and serous, yet enjoyable sounding research in Northern Italy and nearer home in Nottinghamshire.

Image result for herbert kilpin

Herbert Kilpin

Hebert Kilpin, termed ‘The Lord of Milan’ was the ninth of fifteen children born to a butcher at 129 Mansfield Road, Nottingham, a modest and narrow building still situated though renumbered since Kilpin’s day. Young Herbert was a keen footballer and played for local amateur teams the Garibaldi Reds and Nottingham Olympic on the nearby Forest Recreation Ground, where Nottingham Forest were named.

Herbert entered the lace trade as an assistant in Nottingham, working in the Adams Building on Stoney Street in the city, as the author explained in a job that entailed him running up and down spiral staircases in the warehouse all day long, helping him keep fit for his football. It was here that he met Edoardo Bosio, an Italian-Swiss merchant and football innovator who formed the Internazionale Torino Football and Cricket Club. Herbert at 21 years, was persuaded to join Edoardo in Turiin to work in the textile industry and to play for the Torino club.

After a period, the Nottingham man moved to Milan to work where he continued to commute each weekend to Turin to play for Bosio’s club, probably a three-hour train journey each way in those days. Eventually, Herbert decided to form a club of his own in Milan. What followed changed the history of Association Football as the early AC Milan came into being, the storied Italian team in the famous red and black strip, chosen by Kilpin for its intimidatory qualities, which became for a period the word’s top club with fully seven European Cups to its name among other significant European and domestic silverware.

A few years ago, Milan supporters became interested in the origins of their founder and a number visited Nottingham to see the home where he was born in 1870. Unfortunately, at that time, some were unaware that since Kilpin’s day the buildings on Mansfield Road had been renumbered due to the building of the Victoria Railway Station down at the foot of the road. This resulted on some of the Italian fans reporting and visiting erroneously a restaurant some doors away. This misapprehension has been corrected since and a small ceremony held to herald Kilpin’s real home.

image
Herbert Kilpin’s home, Mansfield Road, Nottingham (centre blue building)

Recently, a former long-closed restaurant in Nottingham has reopened as a public house and happily been named as The Herbert Kilpin, advertising Herbert’s great achievement in initiating the huge Italian football club. A city bus which travels Mansfield Road has been named after him and a youth football trophy is also named after him.

Affable, informative and pleasant speaker, Robert Nieri told us that he had been involved in talking to children in local schools about Herbert’s amazing story, of his modest skills but huge determination and spirit and that this is what the schoolchildren reported they took from the butchers son’s story – that you can achieve anything you want to in life given the determination and work ethic. Perhaps this message was Herbert Kilpin – The Lord of Milan’s greatest achievement of all.

Advertisements

June 24, 2017 Posted by | Sporting Tales | , , , | Leave a comment

Denis Law – The King

I came across the below pressing clipping on Twitter on the excellent Scots Footy Cards @ScotsFootyCards account. It reminded me of what was a quite pronounced Indian summer to my number one football hero, Denis Law’s career. The memories came flooding back. I will write more extensively about ‘The Lawman’ on another occasion but just wanted to acknowledge this nice snapshot into his latter dynamic career.

Image may contain: 1 person, standing

I remember this period of Denis’s career very well. Manchester United’s glory days receding into the distance at the time. The legend of Sir Matt Busby pushed ‘upstairs’. Bobby getting older and the Belfast Boy sadly succumbing to the drink.
Denis was 33 years-old and by some people’s reckoning it was pretty much all over for the mercurial ‘Lawman’. Injuries had seemingly taken their toll. And then…a new lease of life and an eventual Scotland recall in time for the World Cup in West Germany.

Around this time I remember Jimmy Hill waxing lyrical about Denis’s performance on Match of the Day one Saturday evening. Back from injury or suspension – the latter hardly a rare occurrence – he dominated the whole game covering every inch of the pitch with his electric pace. I swear sparks were flying off him in all directions. Clearing off his own line one minute, buzzing menacingly in the opposing penalty box the next. He was totally irresistible He was Denis Law.

March 5, 2017 Posted by | Sporting Tales | , , , | Leave a comment

Tommy Gemmell ‘Lisbon Lion’

TODAY SAW THE PASSING of the great Celtic and Scotland full back, Tommy Gemmell, immortalised ‘Lisbon Lion’, and formidable warrior in the green and white hoops for a decade between 1961 and 1971. Tommy, a driving force of nature from his defensive berth scored in two European Cup Finals for Celtic, most memorably the pile driving hammer blow that bulged the much-fancied Inter Milan’s net in 1967.

The Craigneuk, Wishaw man played on some 418 occasions for the Bhoys, scoring a remarkable 63 times and making 18 appearances in the Dark Blue of Scotland. The Celtic defender was also a fearsome penalty taker with a success rate of 34 goals from 37 attempts. It is my belief that the Celtic side of that era was not only the finest club side in the world but certainly the best I have witnessed in my fifty-something years of watching the beautiful game. That every player in that side hailed from a reasonably close radius of Glasgow made their greatness even more notable. it is a great and wonderful player indeed that can dominate in that kind of company for such a prolonged and consistent period.

It was a memorable night indeed 25 May 1967 when I ran home from playing football on the local recreation ground with my friends to find a place with my dad in front of the small black and white TV in the corner of the room. Although dad and I were died in the wool Hibs fans, Celtic represented not only themselves but also Scotland that night and we sat in great excitement whilst home-grown Celtic imposed themselves on the great Milan giants of the game. Dare I say even, a team of our own ‘ilk’ in Celtic, speaking as a Hibs fan.

Tommy was hugely instrumental that night and we cheered wildly when his rasping right-footer from the edge of the penalty area hit the net to do Celtic and Scotland proud. The first British team to win the trophy, as is sometimes overlooked south of the border I have to add.

European Cup winners, 1967 Celtic ‘The Lisbon Lions’

Even as a youngster, I was always struck by Tommy’s great likeness to the superb entertainer, Danny Kaye. So alike, they seemed almost interchangeable at times. It amused me today to read in an obituary that Tommy himself was very aware of this fact and indeed saw himself as a master entertainer!

Big Tam was not a man to be messed with though as West German internationalist, Helmut Haller found out to his cost after taking a sly kick at the Celtic man in a 1970 World Cup qualifier against Scotland. Tommy chased Haller down and simply kicked him up in the air after the whistle had blown. The full back would tell a tale in later years that he was ‘still looking for his foot’ after the incident! Unfortunately, Celtic Chairman, Sir Robert Kelly was not amused, claiming that Tommy had besmirched the name of Celtic with his aggressive behaviour which resulted in Celtic Manager, Jock Stein dropping him for the Scottish League Cup Final the week after. Not best pleased, Tam immediately slapped in a transfer request which he later withdrew. Damage, perhaps lasting, had been sustained to his relationship with the legendary Parkhead Manager though.

Tommy later played 39 times for Nottingham Forest and on 94 occasions for Dundee before retiring to a stint in management with Dundee and Albion Rovers. He will be remembered for his dynamism, power and irresistible, surging ability from his defensive position. He was most certainly one of Scotland’s greatest men.

God Bless, Tommy. Sleep well.

Tommy Gemmell 1943-2017 ‘Lion of Lisbon’

March 2, 2017 Posted by | Sporting Tales | , , | 2 Comments

Goodbye, Philippe Montanier

Image may contain: 1 person, close-up

NOTTINGHAM FOREST BOSS,  Philippe Montanier’s reign of just seven months ends making the club increasingly rudderless. Perhaps surprisingly quoting Churchill, the Frenchman departs with the words ‘Success is not final, failure is not fatal: it is the courage to continue that counts’. Poignant words for us all to consider.

Montanier evidently made a few mistakes but he is a decent man of honour and one with considerable experience and success. Crucially, I don’t believe he was allowed to run his own team due to the meddling of crackpot Chairman, Fawaz. This was most spectacularly seen when Scotland starlet, Oliver Burke, was offloaded to Red Bull Leipzig for £13M and replacing with very little – despite promises to the contrary.

His leaving mirrors the departure recently of John Sheridan, from Notts County – another good football man and talented manager, also after seven months.

Is anyone else utterly bored stiff with the stupid and pointless managerial merry-go-round that is professional football these days?

January 15, 2017 Posted by | Sporting Tales | , | Leave a comment

Hibs open Easter Road on Christmas Day for those less fortunate

Hibernian FC is a football club that in recent times has rediscovered and unearthed overtones of its original purpose in the community it represents. That early initial purpose, born and conceived back in the 1880s, is one of the cornerstones of why I love this club so much, that together with family tradition, truth, loyalty and the glue it embodies to me.

Christmas time should be one of joy and yet sadly, we understand that it can be distressing, lonely and heart-breaking for many, many people.

I am happy to read today that my Hibs are opening the doors of Easter Road on Christmas Day to those in need, providing up to 250 people a Christmas lunch, carols, a Christmas movie and other festive activities.

How proud can you be? Perhaps no more proud than I am at this precise moment at reading this announcement. You know what too? I have come to expect no less of them.

Bravo, my beautiful football club. x

http://www.hibernianfc.co.uk/news/7039

hibs

hibs-chris

 

December 3, 2016 Posted by | Sporting Tales | , , | Leave a comment

Some thoughts on George Best

On the subject of George Best…

One could easily write many thousands of words, whole essays elucidating his dynamic story and life. For now though, just a few words on why I  believe George was he greatest of them all.

I count myself fortunate enough to have seen George in his pomp playing for Manchester United alongide Denis Law and Bobby Charlton and also with Hibs and Fulham.

I consider George to be the best of all-time, simply because at his peak it was impossible to understand how anyone could play this beautiful game any better.

besty

His dribbling was mesmeric and artistic, quite different to anyone else’s and he had an ability to absolutely demoralise opponents by beating them again and again. His surging breakaway runs from deep were something to behold, likewise his fabulous and insightful passing which seldom seems to be mentioned. He was tough and durable too as many a hard man defender in the sixties would testify. It’s accepted that football habits are different now but going down under the slightest pressure for George was not something he did. Notorious defenders such as Ron Harris, Norman Hunter would hack and chop at him and he’d just get up and make them look stupid.

Georgie was not only a supreme attacking talent but would also run back after players and was an excellent tackler. For not a big man his heading was superior due to his athleticism and superb timing.

I’m not one to decry the modern greats but for me it’s a fact that if George was around today, with better playing surfaces more protection from officials and better diet and training he would be the best player in the world…by a significant degree.
He was utterly magic and you couldn’t take your eyes off him when he was on the pitch, so blindingly brilliant was he and so charismatic and stylish.

What’s more, he had a wee time at my club and I for one am happy that is woven into the fabric of Hibernian’s rich history.

November 27, 2016 Posted by | Sporting Tales | , , , | Leave a comment

Rest in Peace, Jackie Sewell

In this past week, the news came through that former Notts County hero and England forward, Jackie Sewell has passed away at the age of 78 years young.

Jackie was pretty high up in my English uncles’ estimation when I used to get taken to the games in Nottingham as a youngster and I recall the hushed tones in which he was spoken of by them, referring to when they watched him at his peak in the 1950s.

sewell

Jackie played alongside the legendary Tommy Lawton for the Magpies as his inside man and rattled in a startling 104 goals in 193 appearances for the Meadow Lane side. He later featured in the British record transfer fee at the time of £34,500, to Sheffield Wednesday and also appeared six times for England among a galaxy of star names.

It’s fair to say that Jackie was a legend of Nottingham football and his presence upon his passing at 89 years will be sorely missed. Not least at Meadow Lane where he was often to be found attending games into his senior years.

Jackie was quite some player  and ‘Lawton and Sewell’ were quite the thing in the Lace City in their day by every account and they were synonymous as a pair. England centre forward, Lawton was the perfect, classical number nine according to accounts from people I have spoken to whilst Jackie feasted expertly and clinically from the prowess of his partner. They must have been a pretty awesome pairing, to employ a sometimes overused word

Good night and God bless, Jackie.

.

September 30, 2016 Posted by | Sporting Tales | , , , | Leave a comment

Notts County 1975/6

This is Notts County pictured in 1975/6 when they finished fifth in the old Division Two. Apparently this was the last time the Magpies finished above neighbours, Nottingham Forest in the league. Of course, a genius had just taken over the reigns on the opposite bank of the Trent and truly amazing things were just about to happen in Nottingham…

county

At that time I watched a lot of football, each Saturday afternoon visiting Notts’ Meadow Lane or Forest’s City Ground. Most Tuesday and Wednesday night fixtures too. These familiar and affectionate imposters in my football allegiances were however only ever secondary to my one true football love residing at Easter Road and the always treasured trips home to see the green and white. What a team and what players we had in that era too…

The interesting thing about this shot to me is that I can instantly, without hesitation, name every single individual in that team photo, even the reserve goalie. In these times, of numerous loans, Bosmans and short term contracts we can barely even remember who played for our team the season before last.

Just to prove the former point, here goes:

Back row: Dave McVay, Kevin Randall, Pedro Richards, Les Bradd, Arthur Mann
Centre: Ray O’Brien, Steve Carter, Eric McManus, Frank Lane, Dave Needham, Ian Bolton
Front: Jack Wheeler (Trainer) Eric Probert, Paul Hooks, Ronnie Fenton (Manager) Brian Stubbs, Ian Scanlon, Mick Vinter.

September 18, 2016 Posted by | Sporting Tales | , , | Leave a comment

Lewis Stevenson – Celebrating Ten Years

HIBS LEFT BACK, LEWIS STEVENSON’S  100% service to the Hibernian cause is celebrated tonight with a testimonial dinner. Many have quoted his unique position in being both a League Cup and Scottish Cup winner with the club and that is indeed impressive. It’s a different factor that I always think of with the solid Hibs left back though.

Lewis Stevenson – Hibernian FC

Lewis has never been a flashy or eye catching player, he is though totally dependable and fights with every breath he has for the cause in that green and white shirt. He knows that the name on the front of the jersey is more important than the one on the back. He is a modest and unassuming character which is becoming more of a rarity in professional football these days, Many times over the years he has been maligned by a section of the support. There have often been frustrating times for the team, generally, in fairness.

My favourite memory of Lewis Stevenson, apart from watching him lift the Scottish Cup, was his incredibly mature and influential performance in midfield for Hibs on the day that Kilmarnock were destroyed 5-1 in the League Cup Final of 2007. He was immense that day, controlling the game to a large degree from his midfield berth, spraying passes all over the field. Just terrific.

It occurs to me that, by my reckoning, Lewis has played under no less than EIGHT managers in his decade at Easter Road though. Each of those managers has realised his worth to the team and sent him over that white line to represent the only team that’s worth supporting. That will do just fine for me.

Well done Lewis – here’s to many more!

September 3, 2016 Posted by | Sporting Tales | , , | Leave a comment

Joe Baker – Gentleman and Legend

I talked to a man a few nights ago, just a little older than me, a Forest man all his days. Joe Baker was his great hero as a youngster. He told me that in 1968, when he was just a boy, Joe visited him in the General Hospital in Nottingham. Joe took that little boy a football annual as a gift and signed a photo of him playing in Forest’s dashing away white strip of the time.

Please now flash forward to the early 2000s, not long before Joe passed away. The great centre forward came back to meet his adoring fans from the 1960s in Nottingham. (Joe and his memory continue to hold a very special place in Nottingham – just like everywhere he travelled.) My friend took his football annual from that hospital visit when he was a child to a tiny city pub, The Falcon Inn, where Joe was meeting old friends in town. The landlord who had informed of his visit him asked him to keep it quiet as he didn’t want the wee howf overrun with admirers and fans.

article-2532837-0C851AD0000005DC-597_964x735

Another meeting some thirty-five years on and my friend got to meet his hero again. Joe apologised profusely to my friend that he couldn’t remember him as a child. He happily said that he’d signed many annuals for the sick children of Nottingham. My pal told him that he’d been his great hero and Joe simply replied, very humbly, that truly, he could never understand why he was so hero worshipped. He said that he was just doing his job which was being paid to score goals. He also said that his time in Nottingham had been the happiest time of his career and that he loved being here.

I’m a Hibs fan, born with it, I have green and white blood but boy did that last comment bring a warm feeling inside.

Joe Baker – gentleman, legend. God bless him.

August 31, 2016 Posted by | Sporting Tales | , , , | Leave a comment

Football Disconnected From its Supporters?

Reasons why professional football is a ‘bit rubbish’ nowadays, number 7062:

Oliver Burke, is a promising winger who has spent his fledgling football career at Nottingham Forest, recently breaking into the Scotland international ranks at just nineteen years old. Yesterday, he was sold in a shock move to German club, RB Leipzig for thirteen million pounds – despite the fact that he has played only twenty-five times (six as sub) for the Nottingham club. As an aside, the club’s Manager, Phillippe Montanier apparently received very recent reassurances from Forest Chairman Fawaz Al-Hasawi that the player would not be sold as the transfer deadline approached. Those reassurances clearly mean little when coming from Mr. Al-Hasawi as has been noted previously.

It’s my view that although it appears on the one hand ‘good business’ selling such an inexperienced player for such a vast sum, it is though pretty depressing for fans of any club outside of the elite – and Forest are a good, sizable and well supported English Championship club with a fairly glorious history – to know that as soon as clubs outside of that elite unearth or nurture a good prospect, it’s a very short journey to losing him to a bigger club, often as a mere bench filler.

I don’t think anyone is blaming the player or players and it can be levelled that every footballer has his price but then, so does every fan of every team have the choice of walking the other way when they’ve had enough. Football shouldn’t just revolve around a tiny favoured group of elite teams as it now does. We may as well just produce a generation of Sky TV watching Barcelona fans and be done with things.

It’s an interesting comparison that can be made with North American professional sports. Contrary, arguably to the political complexion of that continent, top sports are run on a more egalitarian system, i.e. the NHL and its draft system which allows teams to rebuild from the ground up by receiving first choice on the top young players emerging into senior ranks and therefore with astute trading and team building becoming competitive. I think it works well. Our football though is run on purely selfish and greedy lines which do not serve the majority of fans but rather entertain business first and foremost instead, often to the detriment of the supporters.

The most important factor is the health of any sport itself and to think otherwise is short-sighted. I’ll go further to say that the most important part of a sport is its fans – a much outdated concept I know these days. Unfortunately, the governing bodies in British football don’t behave in a way that suggest they understand or care about that.

Something really needs to change again in football to connect the fans back to their clubs and players as was once the case. To have that close relationship of being ‘as one’ with your club. It’s just sad to observe these days and it just doesn’t feel the same…

August 29, 2016 Posted by | Sporting Tales | , | Leave a comment

Lasse Viren – ‘The Flying Finn’

CONGRATULATIONS GO TO Mo Farah on a ridiculously good run to retain his Olympic 10,000m title in Rio de Janeiro.

Mo actually hit the ground after being accidentally tripped, picked himself up, controlled the race and won it in style and with absolute class and qualty. With a few hundred metres to go the experienced Brendan Foster commentating, was urging Mo not to look around over his shoulder at the possible threat from the runner in third place but rather concentrate on the man leading him in first place. Mo kept a cool head however, trusted his great ability and reeled the leader in, in classic style to finish a comfortable winner.

There were emotional scenes for Mo afterwards, understandably, as he was obviously recounted in his mind the long hours away from his family whilst training.

image

Lasse Viren

His performance reminded me of my own middle distance hero, the ‘Flying Finn’ Lasse Viren who fell in the same 10,000 metre event in the Munich Olympics in 1972. Lasse defeated Australian, Ron Clarke’s seven year-old world record although falling heavily during the twelfth lap when getting tangled up with Belgian, Emiel Puttemans. Mohamed Gammoudi additionally fell over Lasse’s legs during the incident.

image

Lasse falls on the way to his classic win

In under 150 metres, Virén raced back up to the leaders however, after losing approximately 20 metres to them. With around 600 metres left, Virén initiated an amazing and totally unprecedented one-and-a-half lap ‘kick’ that only Puttemans could respond meaningfully to. The great Lasse Viren ran through the tape to win the classic event in 27:38:40, still the record for the Olympiastadion München forty-four years later.

August 14, 2016 Posted by | Ripping Yarns, Sporting Tales | , , , | Leave a comment

Bobby McKinlay – a Portrait of Loyalty

RECENTLY, I CONTRIBUTED to a discussion regarding ‘loyal’ footballers. Those two words together seem an anachronism these days and personally, I don’t see players who deign themselves to stay with the likes of the Manchester Uniteds et all of this world receiving out-of-this-world remuneration

The first player that came instantly to my mind was one that many will not have heard of.

Bobby McKinlay was a Fifer from Lochgelly in Scotland who was associated with Nottingham Forest between the years of 1951 and 1970. Over those years, Bobby made 614 appearances for Forest, his only top class club and scored nine times.

Bobby, though uncompromising enough on the field of play, was a gentleman on and off the pitch and was renowned and loved at the City Ground for that. Young supporters were always, in particular, treated well and kindly by Bobby, him making sure they all got team autographs and bringing treats to share out among the kids when they would gather after Forest training mornings for signing sessions in the club car park.

After retirement he became an officer at the local Lowdham Grange Borstal in Notts, where his even-tempered and understanding way with young people brought him great credit in his new career.

Though playing at centre half, Bobby wore the Garibaldi red fully 439 times before being even booked. The irony is that it was after being pulled up for a foul on an Arsenal player and booting the ball into the crowd, a player by the name of Joseph Henry Baker – a dynamic centre forward who not long afterwards became his teammate at the City Ground starring in a terrific tilt at both the league title and FA Cup, both of which were punctuated by Joe’s lightening quick, exciting forward play, littered with goals and much adulation.

When I think of loyal football players, yes, I think of Bobby McKinlay who left the game of life in August 2002. Times have sadly changed but if there only a few like him now.

April 8, 2016 Posted by | Sporting Tales | , , | Leave a comment

Nottingham Football Report: March 2016

SO CURRENTLY, we have the world’s oldest league football club, Notts County negotiating stormy seas by way of the club being for sale and the team toiling somewhat in the lower reaches of League Two, it’s play-off hopes diminished to a practical state of no return. Unpopular Chairman, Ray Trew has been quoted as saying that ‘oh so brave keyboard warriors’ and their comments on social media about him and his family have finally drawn the conclusion that he wants out – at a price.

On the opposite bank of the River Trent, Nottingham Forest flounder listlessly mid-table with perhaps greater concerns over the ownership of the club than on the pitch. My understanding is that £70m is still owed to former owner, Nigel Doughty’s estate and that a sum in excess of that is owed to the current ownership in loans. I stand to be corrected. Court appearances for non-payment of debts are now becoming a way of life for the City Ground club with the latest set for March 14th for an unpaid tax bill. Only last week Forest were in the media for late payment of their staff which chairman Fawaz claimed was due to a Bank Holiday in his home country of Kuwait. In addition to this, the club still find themselves under a transfer embargo with no guarantee of emerging from it at the end of the season, or if they do, to no great avail.

image

On the pitch, Notts County have a huge squad of players, particularly at that level of football, who have underperformed and not gelled by all accounts. It would be easy to suggest that it is a case of ‘quantity not quality’ but the truth is that the club acquired some useful signings for this campaign. They have though shipped goals consistently throughout the season and are now struggling manfully under new manager, Scot, Jamie Fullarton’s stewardship. The ex-Forest coach is arguably the least popular manager in County’s long history whilst the atmosphere at Meadow Lane is absolutely poisonous.

image

Angry scenes as trouble erupts between the Notts bench at spectators during Bristol Rovers’ visit

Forest’s quite recent unbeaten run, characterised by many uninspiring draws is now a memory and the support appears increasingly unhappy and disgruntled about manager, Freedman’s cautious ‘style’ of play which encourages teams to come on to them and take majority possession of the ball whilst the Reds sit back and wait for a break.

This is clearly not Nottingham Forest football.

Back at Notts and one thing about this whole sale matter that appears to have emerged is that although chairman Ray Trew claims it is personal abuse that has driven him out of Meadow Lane (and I have no truck with that) it appears emphasised that this kind of thing has become much more apparent since his appointment of Fullarton as Notts’ Manager which is a deeply unpopular decision among the support. We see from reports though that Trew was actually in negotiation with a ‘Danish billionaire’ before Christmas. to take over the club.

Trew has done some good things for Notts County, especially initially when he basically rescued them from administration and possible oblivion and that should be recognised but his apparent arrogance and inadvisable decision making has since caused the club great harm. I do believe, for example, that a great number of the support have viewed the appointment of Fullarton as a ‘two fingers’ at them and this is one of the reasons for the angry ructions at Meadow Lane since. There is a huge gap between the ownership and the support causing a divided and aimless club.

What’s more, I wouldn’t particularly trust Trew as far as I could throw him the way he is conducting business to sell the Magpies. Only when he finally leaves can that club turn a corner and begin rebuilding this great damage sustained. Hopefully a sale will happen sooner rather than later.

What with the happenings on the black and white side of the local football community and Forest’s apparent inability or refusal to pay their bills on time and now the delayed payment of their staff due to a Bank Holiday in Kuwait. I have no confidence in the state of the way either of our city clubs are being run. I particularly felt for the rank and file staff at Forest, in ordinary jobs, waiting to be paid what they have earned last week. In Forest’s case I think the owners are beginning to make a fine old club look a little disreputable and it’s not good to see. On a practical note, potential signings for the club too will make themselves aware of what is happening in terms of the financial irregularities at the City Ground and be much less likely to sign for Forest.

Sad stuff then from both sides of the Trent. Let’s hope both clubs can turn a corner at some point in the near future.

March 7, 2016 Posted by | Ripping Yarns, Sporting Tales | , , , , | 1 Comment

Notts County: ‘Digging tunnels’ again come the Springtime?

I had a seat in the Main Stand at Meadow Lane yesterday, as I’ve got into the habit of late, for the Notts County v Fleetwood game. With yet another fresh season upon us, those with an interest will recognise the sterling efforts of the boys of 2013-14 to keep the old club afloat in League Division One before what seemed like an impossible task at regular intervals came to pass, with the team and manager eventually doing themselves proud – with the club seemingly readying itself for what appeared inevitable relegation.

So it was with some optimism, notwithstanding the huge turnover of players at Meadow, that I alighted the Nottingham tram at Station Street and walked alongside the canal by a busy London Road on a pleasant, part-sunny August afternoon. Meeting my friends at the busy Trent Navigation pub on Meadow Lane, adjacent the ground, it was good to catch up after what seemed a very brief close season.

image

Pensive – Notts manager, Shaun Derry

It wasn’t an auspicious start for the Magpies however, the first home league game of the season ending in an insipid and dull 0-1 defeat. Notts, in my humble opinion, lost some very decent players over the course of the close season and whilst it was always going to be difficult to adequately replace one or two of them, I expected a little more fight, urgency and determination from a side put out there by Shaun Derry, a man who’s attitude and integrity I’ve come to respect.

For the opening home game and considering Notts’ terrific and successful fight against relegation last term, I was a tad surprised at many supporters’ criticism of Derry at this early point, both in the ground and online afterwards. For me, he’s done a very decent job so far with few resources. Shaun, being a former Notts player and brought up a gritty local lad appears to ‘get’ Notts and the club’s fans better than most I’ve observed. Probably in common with many others, I’d originally viewed him as another, slightly strange, left-field choice – or more likely a cheap option – but I’ve enjoyed the way he talks about Notts and more importantly, what he seems to instil into the players in black and white stripes.

notts

‘The Great Escape’ of 2013-14

For the event itself, there is little I can impart that would make it sound like an exciting affair. Notts, though reasonably secure in defence, manifested a great lack of creativity in the middle of the field in particular and were fairly toothless up front too with Jimmy Spencer-replacement, Jake Cassidy having a somewhat lean afternoon. In truth it was extremely poor fare, particularly in the opening half with Notts seemingly unable to string more than a couple of passes together. The Magpies’ engine room huffed and puffed but showed a lack of energy, drive and in particular, subtlety which does not bode well for the coming winter. Notts missed their wide outlets of last season, appearing for a good deal of the game to play a more compressed style. It must be said that there were few, if any, highlights or eye-catching individual performances.

The typically bold, Derry substitutions of bringing on Balmy and Ismail in the second half brought about a short-lived improvement in the side and a little more life to the proceedings but ultimately, Fleetwood ran out with a deserved single goal victory which could hardly have been denied them. It’s early days with the season but an infant currently, first signs however, appear that the level of player brought in will see the Magpies endure another uncomfortable season. One hopes for better.

Without major improvements, sad to say, Notts County will be ‘digging tunnels’ once more when the season moves towards the sharp end…

 

As a footnote. I’d like to pay tribute to club stalwart of so many years, John Mounteney who passed away last week. His stewardship of the club will be remembered and appreciated by all. John was that most rare of individuals in the modern game, a gentleman and one-club man for many, many decades. Sincere condolences go to his family and friends, Rest in Peace, John.

August 17, 2014 Posted by | Sporting Tales | , , | Leave a comment

Hibernian – The Broken Harp

IN THE OLD IRISH TRADITION of Hibernian, a wreath of flowers in the shape of a broken harp would be presented at a funeral as a mark of respect. Yesterday’s events when, to quote the old ironic phrase, Hibs, snatched defeat from the jaws of victory, was not a funeral but was nevertheless a sad and emotional culmination of several years of struggle for the club.

It’s difficult to write these word without showing anger at the catastrophic mismanagement of the team and the clharpub as a whole but in the twilight of this ignominious period in Hibernian history that anger is reverting to the familiar frustration by myself and, dare I say, a majority of the support.

After angry scenes of protest outside Easter Road last evening we awoke to news that there are staff meetings scheduled at the training centre at East Mains today. Already the media informs us that no less than fourteen players are invited or ordered to end their association with Hibs. There are many fans that wished for this after one abject display after another over a series of months and who can blame them? For me though, the problem is that the man with a great shared responsibility for the club’s demise is the individual serving the ‘don’t come Monday’ messages in Manager, Terry Butcher. It’s an indication, however accurate or otherwise that he is being relied on to rebuild the Hibs – a gargantuan order that I don’t think he is fit be tasked with.

Since arriving at Easter Road I cannot think of one single positive that Butcher or his cohorts Malpas and Marsella have brought to the team. There is simply nothing. They have however brought disarray, discord, indecision and a brand of football that I can only describe as ‘prehistoric’. A (the) main tactic appears to be to dumping the ball into the opposite team’s corners in an attempt to create ‘pressure’. Former Hibs and Hearts midfielder, Mikey Stewart correctly identified this mediocre thinking on Sportscene last evening and added the sentiment that it’s the type of football that ‘deserves nothing’. I am much in agreement with Stewart.

The game itself against Hamilton featured a litany of managerial errors that cost Hibs dearly. cost the team it’s SPFL status in fact, and I remain amazed that this fact isn’t recognised by Rod Petrie and his fellow board members. Those questionable decisions included not selecting the old head and steady experience of Kevin Thomson for such a fraught affair – a man who might well have brought the ball down a little and protected his teammates. Butcher also mystifyingly returned Danny Haynes to the team from nowhere to replace out of confidence youngster, Alex Harris – a strange move indeed and surely either Cairney, who can play a similar position or the aforementioned Thomson would have been superior choices. Within minutes Haynes was being helped from the pitch injured so what did Butcher do? Yes, pitch Harris back into a white-hot relegation battle. For a man who proposes to understand a little psychology and use it with his players I found this, again, mystifying. Embarrassingly, he had to substitute his substitute later in the game. One hopes that Alex hasn’t been set back too far by his treatment by Butcher in general this season. How to ruin a young player’s development.

In the first leg, another youngster, Jason Cummings, happily broke his duck for the first team with a fine brace of goals. What did Butcher then do for this game? Play him further back in front of his own left-back in order that he could keep his treasured 5-4-1 formation, therefore rendering the keen young forward impotent as an offensive threat. Later in the game with Hibs having formerly clearly played for a draw and now desperately playing for a 0-1 defeat, the manager pulled the experienced and intelligent play of Heffernan from the action to be replaced by his favoured defensive midfielder Tudur Jones, leaving Hibs vulnerable with little goal threat should extra time have been necessary, which it proved to be.

Full marks should be given to Hamilton who played good, attractive, neat football at all times and passed it around and through their Hibs counterparts. It looked a sophisticated style when compared to Hibs’ leaden lumping of the ball forward, rendering possession to the opposition time after time.

After an excruciating two periods of extra time we finally came down to the almost inevitable penalty shoot-out and here again, Butcher showed his incredible lack of know-how for a man of his experience in the game. The club’s regular and arguably best penalty taker, Craig was not chosen to take the first penalty with Thomson gamely stepping up to take responsibility for getting the team on its way. The inevitable happened, with Thomson not being a regular penalty taker. Sadly, it came down to young Cummings again to take the do or die fifth spot kick and I felt this was a huge strain on an 18-year-old youngster – unforgivable really. He missed his kick, hid his face in floods of tears and Hibs were relegated. What a way to hang the young man out to dry.

So, the future and who knows, this piece may be out of date very quickly but it appears that at the time of writing the Butcher-Petrie axis remains with us. I have the strong feeling that the former Rangers man employs a somewhat ‘bullying’ style of management and this concerns me if so. There will always be players that can cope with that but others that cannot. That’s the way it is. I recall dear old Brian Clough at Forest terrifying some of his players at times – even to the point of the like of England international, Viv Anderson hiding under a desk when he heard Clough approaching but the big difference was that those same players had respect for their manager. I don’t think that exists with Butcher and the Hibs players. They appear to hate him and he them. The same feelings appear to surround coach, Malpas who has specialised in having run-ins with fans in the seats around the dug-out. Classy indeed.

I’ve said enough regarding this sad and disturbing part of Hibs history but of course there is one man culpable more than any other who I’ve barely mentioned – Rod Petrie. I have plenty to say about him for another time as it seems we are stuck with him still – even though he has brought in the interesting character of Leeann Dempster in order to deflect flak from himself. From the club’s owner, to him and his board, the management staff and the players, all have critically underperformed. In fact the only people who haven’t are the fans. I salute them – especially the ones who can find it in themselves to continue supporting this club after one abject humiliation heaped upon another.

God bless the Hibs.

May 26, 2014 Posted by | Hibernian FC, Sporting Tales | , , , | 10 Comments

Hibs: One Last Effort

THE ONLY THING that’s predictable about Hibernian is perhaps the team’s unpredictability and this was again shown (at long last) when taking on Hamilton Academical in the first leg of a crucial play-off decider between the Championship side and a Hibs outfit woefully short of belief and form over the past few tortuous months.  Let it not be understated, the ‘Holy Grail’ of the Scottish Cup notwithstanding, this fixture and it’s second episode on Sunday are gigantic in their importance with defeat over two legs almost unthinkable. Clearly, such an outcome could set the Leith club back years – if not decades in terms of achievement and finance. ‘Absolutely crucial’ is the term dancing on my lips when considering the pivotal nature of the result.

Hibs’ Paul Heffernan

It’s recorded now, of course, that the Easter Road men finally remembered how to win again in the first leg. Heck, they recalled how to put the ball in the back of the net even. On this occasion, 18-year old Jason Cummings providing the firepower with a very welcome initial brace for the first team – something he’s promised for some little time. Well done him forgiving the whole club and it’s supporters a huge and timely lift.

Personally, I was stuck at home in Nottingham whilst the drama was unfolding at New Douglas Park. I did however have the very best and most reliable internet live stream I’ve ever had in a month of Wednesdays so obviously God was looking down favourably on my oasis amidst a Hibee desert. It’s been said by many that the performance was unimportant on the night and of course this has, for once, to be agreed with. Survival in the top flight is all and playing pretty and intricate football can wait for another time. Although many of the usual failings were present and let’s be serious, those shortcomings weren’t going to dematerialise overnight, there were some positive signs visible. I thought Paul Heffernan played an excellent, intelligent striker’s role, working the channels and giving the team different offensive options than the very basic lump-it-forward stuff that we have suffered for what seems an eternity. Alongside him, Cummings, apart from his two goals gave a lively, spirited performance and made himself a constant nuisance to the Hamilton rear-guard. Generally, there was a greater tempo about Hibs than in recent games, commensurate with the type of performance required on the night.

As I write, the Hibernian faithful are buying up tickets fast for the second leg at dear old Easter Road. They will be our twelfth man and no  disrespect to Hamilton who play some neat football, I believe they will make the difference that see Hibernian over the finish line safely and looking forward with some expectancy towards next season’s campaign and a (hopefully) new broom with fresh ideas in the shape of Leeann Dempster overseeing operations at Hibs.

One last big effort lads.

God bless the Hibs.

May 23, 2014 Posted by | Hibernian FC, Sporting Tales | , , | Leave a comment

Hibs and Kenny Miller

READING AROUND THE MESSAGE BOARDS at the moment there is much conjecture regarding the future of erstwhile Hibs striker and former Scotland internationalist, Kenny Miller. The 34-year-old former Rangers and Celtic hit man has of late been plying his trade in that most lovely of cities, Vancouver, with the Whitecaps who compete in the North American, Major League Soccer.

Kenny began his professional career at Easter Road of course before a big money move to Ibrox as a young player and left the Leith faithful with a raft of good memories of his early days. He has managed to have an excellent first class career resulting in an impressive 69 full caps for Scotland, scoring 18 goals in the dark blue jersey. Not necessarily the most potent scorer his game has been exemplified by craft and good honest hard work with no little skill. He has consistently shown his ability to play in an up-front pairing or alternatively on his own as a target man. Looking as fit and effective as ever, he scored a perfect striker’s goal against England in the last encounter in August 2013 between Scotland and the ‘auld enemy’ showing that his fitness levels, know-how and guile leading the line are by no means diminished.

Sources close to him suggest that he is keen to re-join the club he began his career with and end his playing career at Easter Road. Those same sources also state that he has already offered his services on a previous occasion to the club but that these were rejected by former manager, Pat Fenlon, being supposedly well furnished with an on-fire Leigh Griffiths at the time. Media reports state that the Rangers are seeking to bring him back this side of the pond also whilst a predictable silence stagnates around any proposed move from Hibs.

At a fit thirty-four years Kenny still has much to offer a club like Hibs, despite his age he is far in excess of the quality the club presently has on the books in that position and has tip-top fitness levels with at a minimum two good seasons left in him. Perhaps it could be suggested that Hibernian FC has a great deal of other issues to deal with at this current time also with the club facing a crucial two-leg play-off to retain its status in the top flight. For me however, if the club were to show a little dynamism and quick and decisive thinking in bringing Kenny back on board it would be a minor master stroke. The lift to the club and fillip to the support would be immeasurable, even without him being able to hurriedly take part in the play-offs. The fans could view a little intent to progress whilst on the pitch Kenny’s experience would also be invaluable for young players to learn from. We witness the club miss out on opportunities such as this so often due to staid and apparently over-considered thinking. I do believe it is a major reason why we find the famous old club in the dire straits it languishes in.

Over to you Hibs.

May 14, 2014 Posted by | Hibernian FC, Sporting Tales | , , , | Leave a comment

Hibs On The Brink

Well, as planned, I got along to Easter Road last Saturday for one of my all-too-irregular visits. The game against fellow strugglers, Kilmarnock had built up into something of a crescendo in terms of importance, since the time I booked my modest trip to the Capital, with the loser being consigned to the indignity and frayed nerves of a play-off position for relegation to the Championship. Privately, and in spite of the odds and all indicators, I’d felt that Hibs might well come through this test but sadly it was not to be.

lc

From observing recent televised games and listening to fellow supporters, there appeared to be something of a pattern forming with the Hibs huffing and puffing to no great end before being scored on and becoming totally deflated. It didn’t take a football genius to spot the same blueprint from my lofty position in the East Stand on Saturday. It’s sad, it really is. One can see that in spite of all the team’s many shortcomings it may only take a casual slice of luck to change fortunes, a coat of paint on a goalpost, a fortunate bounce but any good fortune does indeed appear to be hiding.

It was heartening to see the manager going with a little more experience in this game. I’m a great fan of youth being introduced early, but a relegation dogfight is not a good arena for a young player to learn his craft. One might opine that the more experienced members of the squad should also be charged with getting the club out of the abject mess it they placed it in.

It’s probably predictable to praise or slate players but there were glaring moments when Hibs’ rearguard completely forgot their remit and stood static allowing the likes of Kris Boyd an opening for his well-taken goal. Whatever Boyd might or might not be these days I’m afraid you don’t allow him cart blanche to use his craft to find space around the box, not even for a moment.

After the break it became increasingly poorer from a Hibs point of view with Kilmarnock taking control of decently long passages of the game. Craig, who showed some quality at times, rattled a heavy shot off the bar but an avalanche of fortunes never really looked on. A significant moment for me was the introduction of defensive midfielder Tudur-Jones when Hibs were haplessly chasing the game. I’ve seen reasoning that he’s good around set-pieces and that it appeared unlikely that Hibs would score from open play but I’m afraid that just won’t do for me. There was a little period a few months ago when Hibs scored from attacking a corner or two and gained a little success. Is this tactic as good as it gets though? If that’s how we are going to concentrate our offensive efforts then me might as well all go home now. Indeed, it was clear to me that Hibs had little or no method or craft in attempting to creatively carve out an opening or two. The main focus appeared to be the vain hope of getting on the end of a ball bumping and bouncing around the area. Even here Hibs are found lacking with apparently nobody seeming to relish going in where it might hurt to ram that ball in the back of the net.

There has been much criticism of the team of course in the past few months and whilst accepting it wholesale my personal viewpoint is that this group of players are not as inadequate or devoid of ability as they are being decried. There is a clear lack of quality in one or two areas and the squad certainly appears dangerously unbalanced too but for me this is a mid-table quality group. They are however, completely shorn of confidence and, it has to be said, not being well marshalled by the manager. There is no method about Hibs’ play and the players at times do not appear to understand what their jobs are. They look lost and the man directing them on the bench equally, if not more so. If I were to hazard a guess – and that’s all it is – I’d say that Terry Butcher has completely run out of ideas quite some time ago. He appears dumbstruck as to what to do next with everything he knows, which sadly appears to be a little limited rather than expansive, having failed miserably.

The full-time whistle blew and I honestly rarely recall feeling so absolutely gutted after ninety minutes of a football match. It was a special visit home for me this time but that wasn’t really the source of upset. It was much more to do with what this proud football club has now descended to. Hibs have no god-given right to success, heaven knows we understand that after all these years but the position the club is now in is just plain wrong. Mismanagement, neglect, lack of interest from above, all of these things but don’t now blame a heavily disgruntled set of supporters – even though I have recently stated my two-pen’orth on the need for us all to get behind this club in the remaining games.

So, on to two legs against either Hamilton or Falkirk it is then. Characteristically, many fans have us already in the Championship before a ball is kicked. I can’t blame them, only so many beatings, disappointments and having hopes dashed can one take. Common sense and a little study of the state of play shows us that Hibs simply cannot score goals yet equally will always let goals in. They can’t do the serious business at either end of the pitch where it really counts. For me the best chance would be for Hibs to go away from home in the first leg and attack their Championship opposition, with the chance of leaving a reasonable target to achieve back at Easter Road. With the important and influential Kevin Thomson back in the side, pulling the strings, providing the ‘glue’ and fighting for the jersey I happen to believe it can still be done. Hibs need to rely on experience though and this means the inclusion of the likes of Craig, the creative threat of Cairney and the craft of Heffernan at the sharp end. If Hibs are to save their status and for this to act as a conduit to a new, brighter future for the club the seasoned professionals are going to have to stand up here and be willingly counted.

May 13, 2014 Posted by | Hibernian FC, Sporting Tales | , | 2 Comments

Notts County: The Great Escape

DURING THE PAST FEW WEEKS I’ve been visiting Meadow Lane, home of Notts County with a couple of friends for a diversion of a bit of Saturday afternoon football, old habits die hard, and taken a big interest in the Magpies’ fight for survival in League One. Chairman Ray Trew has publicly acknowledged that he was preparing the club for the bottom flight of teams. With Notts fully seven points adrift at the bottom of the table in March, this could only have been viewed as prudent. Over three home games though I watched the team, never shorn of fight, grow in confidence, winning each one of those games – one from being two goals down.

Jack Grealish

It’s been an interesting experience watching the players’ performance grow along with their confidence and there have been some outstanding displays from the likes of Spencer, Grealish, Sheehan, Campbell-Ryce and Liddle. It almost seems churlish to single out individuals though as it has truly been a team effort.

The Notts I viewed in the first game played some pretty awful football if truth be told. A lot of head-tennis in the middle of the park and desperate no-look hoofs up the field to nobody in particular. Some of the defending was very shaky too. Over the weeks though they have come to play a good deal of decent football, passing the ball and using the wings, especially the clever ball play of on-loan youngster, Jack Grealish.

I have to confess, I had no particular thoughts about manager Shaun Derry, a man who appeared to be something of a cheap option with no managerial experience at all. Seeing the local man’s belief, determination and shrewdness has however convinced me that he has done a great job in the short time he has been back in his native city of Nottingham. In addition to that, his open letter to the Notts fans and the people of Nottingham a few days before the game was top-class – as were his interviews pre and post game around the final fixture of the season. Let nobody say that this man doesn’t have great determination and is very sincere too. Well done, Shaun.

image

Shaun Derry

I read a small article about team captain, Irishman, Alan Sheehan recently too who touchingly explained how his faith kept him going through the tough times with a weekly visit to his local Roman Catholic church in West Bridgford, nice stuff for someone to say in these cynical times.

The final Saturday against Oldham in Lancashire saw Notts needing at least a point for safety after all their courage and fortitude over the past few weeks. Well into the second half it appeared that things were going terribly wrong when Oldham went ahead and Notts were looking down the relegation barrel with just fifteen minutes to go. A handling offence in the area however and a penalty to Notts with that man Sheehan stepping up to the spot saw Notts home, to great relief. Results elsewhere additionally going the Magpies’ way to ensure safety also. You can view Sheehan’s coolly taken spot kick here and feel the palpable relief from the black and white part of the stadium.

So, on to the close season and a job well done. The club have only three members contracted for the next campaign so there will be changes. For my money it world be an excellent idea if Notts were able to keep this nucleus of players together as much as possible. With a modest fan base that may proved economically difficult but with the end of season spirit and fight shown by this group of players they could do very well indeed next year. They’ve fought as one – a true team. Well done to all involved, you’ve made your fans proud and been truly worthy of the black and white striped jersey.

May 5, 2014 Posted by | Sporting Tales | , , , | Leave a comment

Hibernian: Keep The Faith

ON SATURDAY 1st MARCH 2014 Notts County suffered a horrendous pounding at nearby Rotherham to the tune of six goals to nil. Dispirited and bottom of the table they have since that time shook themselves down, gathered themselves and fought together with bravery and spirit to gain six wins and a draw from their last eleven games. On this penultimate weekend before the season’s end they have pulled themselves out of the bottom four relegation places and have battled, scraped and dug deep to give themselves an excellent chance of survival with just one game to play.

I have had the pleasure of witnessing a few of these games. I have also noted how Notts’ fans have fought along with them – never giving up – constantly urging them onwards, from the first till the last minute.

From behind my computer in Nottingham, following the Edinburgh derby game I ‘see’ a lot of defeatism. I understand where it comes from – ‘let down’ once more – but negativity will unfortunately not help, as much as we feel it justified (and it is). There is a huge and desperate need for fans to show some unity with the club – to keep cheering the team on in the club’s hour of need.

Forget for now the issues that many of us have with the people who run the club and the team (none more than me) and work together at the eleventh hour in helping this grand old football club out of this terrible mess it now finds itself in. Just like those faithful Magpies supporters have been doing.

You can make a difference.

April 27, 2014 Posted by | Hibernian FC, Sporting Tales | , , | Leave a comment

Who Do You Think You Are?

I was interested recently in an internet discussion regarding famous or well-know personalities that people had met. Considering that I’d never really met anyone of that ilk I began to think about the subject. I should add as an aside that I’m really poor at recognising well-known people – celebrity spotting is just a concept that doesn’t occur to me.

My first job on leaving school was working at Trent Bridge Cricket Ground in Nottingham. Being a Test Match venue you’d get to meet some legendary players and I spoke to the likes of Garry Sobers, Clive Lloyd, Geoff Boycott, Ian Botham, Viv Richards, Colin Cowdrey and so on, too many to mention.

Garfield Sobers

During the Tests in particular there’s be a fair smattering of celebrities taking in the occasion. One of the best known I met was John Le Mesurier of Dads Army, Sgt Wilson fame. He was pretty much Sgt Wilson too, cravat, blazer and all – a true gent who was kind enough to have a good chat with this 16 year-old whippersnapper. I almost expected him to come out with ‘I say, do you think that’s wise?’

John Le Mesurier

Back on sporting types, I met former Scotland international, John Robertson one time. (The great one that played for Nottingham Forest under Brian Clough). Visiting my brother-in-law’s garage he stated that there was someone out the back I might like to meet. Robbo was filling in time delivering cars whilst in between jobs so I was pretty staggered when I saw him standing there. You have to understand that he has pretty well legendary status in Nottingham and is part of local football folklore here being a double European Cup winner. I had quite a few questions for him and we had a really good chat. A great and yet very ordinary guy. The first one question that came to mind was ‘What was it like scoring the winning goal against England at Wembley?’! He told me too!

Wing Wizard – John Robertson

I used to see another former Scotland international, Dave Mackay, in one of the local village pubs here and he was always a friendly character. In the same pub I’d occasionally bump into former Celtic player and Notts County manager, Jimmy Sirrel. Jimmy wasn’t perhaps well-known out of football circles but again, was a legend in Nottingham and in the game. He was also great pals with one Alex Ferguson too. I was lucky enough to have a few drinks and a couple of hours of his time one summer afternoon and he related some great stories about football characters such as Gordon Strachan, Alex Ferguson, Herbert Chapman etc., some of which are detailed in the blog below

An Afternoon with Jimmy Sirrel

April 25, 2014 Posted by | Ripping Yarns, Sporting Tales | , , | Leave a comment

Notts County: Jimmy Spencer

I’ve been spending a little time going to visit one of the local football teams recently with three visits to Meadow Lane in Nottingham to see Notts County. The Magpies have unfortunately been bottom dwellers in League One pretty well all season long and as I write are in the midst of a desperate fight against relegation with just two games to play.

In the intervening weeks since my initial visit down the ‘Lane’ Notts have appeared to grow in confidence a little and have picked up a series of hard-fought victories. I’m out of touch with the playing staff at Notts but one or two individuals have stood out with the likes of young ball-playing winger, Jack Grealish coming to mind. Most impressive for me however has been the 22 year-old striker, Jimmy Spencer who has been reasonably prolific of late and put in some fine and mature performances.

Jimmy Spencer

It’s clear to me that Spencer is playing significantly below his level in League One. He is strong, holds the ball up well and has an almost uncanny ability to lay the ball off to a teammate, even under extreme pressure. Not least, the tall striker has superior ball control with the ball at times appearing glued to his foot before another subtle layoff to a teammate. He is quite remarkable in this ability at times and manages to keep possession in some quite impossible-looking situations. As one might expect of a spearhead, his heading is top-class, accurate and when need be, powerful as well as being well-directed.

Jimmy spencer is probably one of the best target men I’ve seen operating outside the top flight of football in this country in many a year. Perhaps the only trait that lets him down a touch is a tendency for constantly complaining to the match officials, which in spite of the rough treatment he receives from defenders he would do well to eradicate or at least temper.

The next couple of weeks are pivotal for Notts County and whether Jimmy Spencer continues his career at in a black and white jersey. I do hope the Meadow Lane club can manage to hang on to his talents. They couldn’t do better in the circumstances.

April 23, 2014 Posted by | Sporting Tales | , , | Leave a comment

When Pat Stanton speaks we should all listen…

Interesting views in the news from Sir Pat Stanton as always. Gentleman Pat is always worth listening to. If only Hibernian Football Club had a few with his attitude now, let alone a modicum of his sublime, God-given ability.

Playing on over six-hundred occasions for Hibs, one might state that Pat is allowed to say exactly what he likes about his beloved Hibs. Unfailingly however, he appraises the situation at Easter Road in a polite but assertive way, full of wisdom and know-how.

No wonder we call him ‘Saint Patrick’.

In the following article in The Scotsman, the subject matter is outwardly regarding Hibs’ impressive training facility at East Mains, a complex I’ve had the pleasure of looking around. Read on though to gather some illuminating general views from The Quiet Man, former captain and leader of the famous old Leith club.

Hibs should savour training facilities – Stanton

April 22, 2014 Posted by | Hibernian FC, Sporting Tales | , , | Leave a comment

From Eagle Valley

Things are looking pretty bleak for the local football club, Arnold Town, after a proud and illustrious past, formerly as Arnold St. Mary’s (and Arnold Kingswell). They perform a good service to the community, running some thirty teams for players of all ages.

It was sad to see them leave the centre of the town a few years ago when they lost their home at the King George V playing field after many a year but hopes were high with an excellent facility built-in the nearby countryside for them to use.

I’ve a few happy memories of watching them as a youngster, in particular against professional opposition in the form of Bristol Rovers and Port Vale in the FA Cup amongst many other games, here in the town and I really hope they keep a long, local tradition alive.

Come on The Eagles.

http://www.nottinghampost.com/Arnold-Town-FC-Emergency-meeting-held-eleventh/story-19865548-detail/story.html

October 1, 2013 Posted by | Sporting Tales | , , , | Leave a comment

Nottinghamshire History: Mordecai Sherwin, ‘Nowt Fears Me’

The name of Mordecai Sherwin, a local and internationally-known sportsman of his era was known to me from doing a little research and reading on the golden age of cricket in the nineteenth century and the county of Nottinghamshire’s part in it. I recently came across his name once more as being a former mine host of The Grove Hotel at Daybrook, Nottingham, approximately a mile down the road from my own home just a few minutes north in Redhill. The Grove is sadly no longer. Never a public house that I visited and now earmarked for demolition, it did however have an interesting cave system underneath the bars and a significant slice of history surrounding it. On reading that Nottinghamshire-born Mordecai was at one time the landlord of The Grove, I decided to take a little look at his story.

Mordecai Sherwin

Mordecai Sherwin

The man himself not only played professional cricket for Nottinghamshire and England but also appeared in goal for Notts County Football Club before retiring to become a cricket umpire and publican. In the mid-1880s, Mordecai was in his pomp and feted as arguably the leading wicket-keeper in the land and more than useful batsman. This was all achieved despite possessing a less than sylph-like 17 stone frame coupled with a reasonably modest height of 5ft 9ins for his bulk!

In the age of distinction between professionals and gentlemen (amateurs generally from the upper classes) in cricket, with few working-class professionals being bestowed the honour of leading their county, Mordecai was apparently the very last professional captain until many years later in the mid-1930s.

 

The famous Nottinghamshire back-stop was also well-known as something of a joker on the pitch it is said. Wisden, in choosing it’s wicket keeper of the year for 1891 said of him thus:

‘Always in the best of spirits, and never discouraged, however much the game may be going against his side, Sherwin is one of the cheeriest and pluckiest of cricketers.’

The almanac also added:

‘In point of style behind the wicket he is more demonstrative than his Lancashire rival, but, though the applause and laughter of the spectators may occasionally cause him to go a little too far, he has certainly never done anything to really lay him open to censure.’

Mordecai is further described as being of ‘great bulk’ but nevertheless ‘wonderfully quick on his feet’ and capable of acts of extreme brilliance behind the stumps.

Giving further colour to Wisden’s review, Mordecai is also immortalised by E.V. Lucas, humourist, essayist, playwright, biographer and publisher in his ‘Cricket All His Life’  book, as follows:

Moredecai Sherwin, the famous wicket-keeper in the great period, and as leader of the side in 1887 and 1888 the last of Nottinghamshire’s professional captains, was a very notable man … When interviewed … by Captain Holden at Trent Bridge as a potential wicket-keeper, he had been asked if he was afraid. “Nowt fears me,” he replied.  He followed by keeping wicket for Nottinghamshire for eighteen years with a remarkable record.  Mordecai (and I think Sherwin must have been the only cricketer with that name) was a rotund man of mirthful character and a leading member of the Nottingham Glee Club, which used to meet at the Black Boy to sing and be hearty together.’

The theme of Mordecai as entertainer persists with tales of him offering renditions of Oh Dem Golden Slippers and performing various somersaults and jigs to the amusement of others at social events!

As has been stated, the Nottinghamshire man was also a hit between the posts with Notts County Football club in the late 1970s and early 1880s. From an age when it was customary to attempt to bundle the custodian into the net along with the ball, Wikipedia informs us of a memorable incident. Young and sturdily built Joseph Lofthouse (an apt name for this particular event) of Blackburn Rovers decided to have something of a run at Mordecai but unhappily for him rebounded harmlessly off the Notts goalie with Mordecai stating nonchalantly: ‘Young man, you’ll hurt yourself if you do that again’.  Not to be deterred, Lofthouse attempted another physical charge on the last line of defence with Sherwin, belying his size, dancing deftly to one side and watching the young Blackburn forward crash painfully into the goalpost.

image

The Grove Hotel, (right) Daybrook, Nottinghamshire, C. 1900

Finally, an interesting link has also been suggested between Mordecai Sherwin and no less than Sir Arthur Conan Doyle. A strong theory exists that Sherwin, along with fellow Nottinghamshire team-mate Frank (T. E.) Shacklock was the inspiration behind the Edinburgh writer’s classic Sherlock Holmes character with the legend ‘caught Sherwin, bowled Shacklock’ appearing with monotonous regularity on Notts’ scorecards in the 1890s. The two surnames being amalgamated to form the name of super-sleuth, Sherlock.

Mordecai Sherwin was most definitely a sportsman characteristic of a different age. An unusual sporting hero by today’s standards and criteria but nonetheless a high achiever and a success in two professional disciplines in a great era of professional sports.

May 9, 2013 Posted by | Sporting Tales, Times Gone By | , , , , , , , | 4 Comments

Alex McLeish and Forest part ways

WHILST HAVING no allegiances, I’m an interested observer of the local football scene and certainly both Nottingham clubs Forest and County find themselves in turbulent times once again, without a manager after various events over the past few days. Notts appear to be indulging their old ‘graveyard of managers’ tag while their counterparts across the Trent seem to be eagerly trying to relieve the Magpies of that title, now searching for their fourth manager in a ridiculously short period of time.

Forest manager, Alex McLeish’s departure was very much on the cards after the debacle of last Friday’s transfer deadline day over prospective signing, George Boyd. If those events hadn’t been the catalyst it seems there would have soon been another trigger to a similar outcome at the City Ground. McLeish had refused to comment to the press last weekend making it obvious he was considering his future.


I’ve no sympathy for McLeish, arguably a despicable character at best it seems and one who shafted my own club, Hibs royally, but the new Forest owners really do take the biscuit. The problem is that the club were in a very vulnerable position after former owner Nigel Doughty passed away and the Al-Hasawi family who took stewardship of the club came along at an opportune time. One of the first things we heard about them in Nottingham was that they were going to bring some players for ‘trials’ with them from Kuwait when they came to the club. For me, the writing was on the wall right there. They appear to know absolutely nothing about football but behave as though they do – a bad mix.

After the Al-Hasawi family claimed they were going to bring in an ‘iconic’ figure as the new manager they brought in the relatively modest Sean O’Driscoll – a good football man, respected by many who seemed like a very good, sensible and pragmatic choice. He was not the big name manager they had promised though. McLeish turned them down at that point too.

O’Driscoll was popular with the Forest faithful. Progress was steady and inconsistency somewhat prevalent however I believe a majority considered that he should be given time to build the club up. I certainly did. It appears that the large egos and ignorance of the Forest board led to them severing O’Driscoll’s contract to bring in their ‘big name’ and to push forward their game plan from one of consolidation and steady progress to ‘ensuring’ promotion.

Forest have a large squad which friends who are regular attenders tell me is ‘much of a muchness’. There is arguably little in the way of Premiership class within that large squad. In the meantime, the owners ‘fiddle while Rome burns’ spending money on two unwanted large screens for the City Ground and nothing in the way of players.

McLeish will surface out of this, reputation intact as he always does. I feel that Forest have much more major turbulence ahead though.

February 6, 2013 Posted by | Sporting Tales | , | 1 Comment

Notts County’s FA Cup dreams lie shattered

Now, I really don’t ‘do’ match reports of football matches I’ve been to, in spite of writing about Hibs many times and to a slight degree the local teams in Nottingham. I like to catch up now and again though and keep up to date regarding what’s happening. I do really appreciate a live game too – never having caught up on  the ‘Sky generation’s’ appreciation of televised football. I like to be there – looking down on what’s really happening with the sights, sounds and smells first hand.

image

I visited Meadow Lane to see Notts County for  the first time in a couple of years this week after an aborted attempt at last week’s postponed fixture which was called off shortly before the game was scheduled to kick off. I met friends at Nottingham Midland Station and walked through the Meadows district – the original and traditional heartland of Notts’ support – now much changed since younger days of slum clearances, being taken to watch the Magpies.

On a cool December evening and with a sparse crowd in evidence, we took our seats in the Derek Pavis Stand (the ‘Main Stand’ of my youth) and witnessed the pre-game warm-up. Eventually the players strode out on to the slightly heavy pitch, my friend remarking that it could be ‘Arsenal v Newcastle United’ emerging from the tunnel, considering the two lower league teams’ colours and if you half-shut your eyes and dreamed a little. The remark took me back a good while to when I witnessed the mighty Arsenal playing in the FA Cup at Meadow Lane against the team in Black and White from north of the Trent. Although Notts generally acquitted themselves well against high-grade opposition in that era, that day the Arsenal were impressive even in the warm-up and you understood that they were adjacent to ‘as good as it gets’.

And so to modern-day rebuilt Meadow Lane and a little casual resume of happenings on the night. It has to be said that Notts 0 – 3 Rotherham hardly even tells the story of a game where the Magpies were never at the races – it could have been six or seven nil and I don’t exaggerate.

From the first whistle, Notts seemed to want to just play their neat football – without getting stuck in and winning the battles presented by a tenacious League Two side, all over the pitch. In around half an hour they were two down and reduced to ten men after a silly and unnecessary incident. After forty minutes or so it was game over and playing for pride time at 0-3. Debut goalkeeper, local boy, Mitchell, after a fine early save had a torrid and nervous time though was not helped by a sieve-like Notts rear-guard.

The thin crowd, no doubt hit by pre-Christmas finances and the lack of appeal of the Cup grew increasingly disgruntled and they could hardly be blamed for that. Notts were second to everything and totally outplayed by a Rotherham side who themselves were playing some neat football and slicing open the middle of the host’s defence time after time.

In the second half Notts’ ten men fought back manfully but couldn’t remotely create any openings. Meanwhile, the visitors went close on several occasions. Notts looked completely toothless up front with barely pass marks possibly only being afforded to Bishop and to a degree, Judge, in the middle of the park. Wide man, Rice showed some good footwork and fast feet but nevertheless, little output.

Manager, Curle presided over all this fairly dispassionately . It was interesting to hear the very mixed views from Notts fans about his abilities or otherwise – definitely a very mixed vote on the former Wimbledon player – despite County being only six points from the top of League One.

If last night was indicative of Notts County version 2012/13 then I feel they have a long way to travel and the coming months will see them slipping further down the division. Let’s hope it was something of a one-off because they were truly poor in practically every respect last evening.

Friends who I was with tell me they play some nice football at times and I can believe that. It just seemed like last night they weren’t interested in getting stuck in and asserting themselves, in order to earn the right to play their football afterwards. Rotherham by contrast were really up for it. Notts were stunned by the first couple of goals and realistically – with a man sent off – they were never likely to make a contest of it. After around thirty minutes the game was all but over as a spectacle.

Neil Bishop showed some authority, leadership and professionalism in the middle of the park but there were too many posted missing on the night. As former Notts centre-back Dean Yates said on the radio afterwards, Curle could have substituted ten of them.

I was quite impressed with Rotherham who played some very nice football allied to plenty of graft. Their striker Nardiello had a fine game as did a few others.

It seems a bit churlish as he has done pretty well but I’m still a little unconvinced about Notts manager Keith Curle. There was nothing he could have done with what was I’m told was practically a full-strength Notts side on Tuesday night though. As soon as the Magpies crossed that white line they were chasing shadows all evening long.

We hope for better for Notts.

December 22, 2012 Posted by | Sporting Tales | , , | Leave a comment

Diary of a Football Nobody

WISTFUL SEVENTIES SATURDAY AFTERNOONS spent in the surroundings of Notts County’s County Road Stand were happily brought to mind whilst attending Billy Ivory’s Diary of a Football Nobody at Nottingham Playhouse last week. The production – eagerly awaited by myself – is based on former Notts County player Dave McVay’s diary-turned-book of 1970s provincial football life, Steak… Diana Ross: Diary of a Football Nobody.

image

I was at senior school at the time Dave McVay – a local Clifton lad – made his debut in Jimmy Sirrel’s Magpies side and watched Notts through the entirety of the young defender/midfielder’s stuttering career in the old Second Division of the Football League. Whilst Dave’s football career never met the heights of early expectations, his true vocation was found after leaving the game at relatively young age and signing on as a football writer and later features writer for the Nottingham Evening Post. He later became Midlands correspondent for The Times and finally a freelance journalist forThe Daily Telegraph.

David has a wry turn of phrase and a dry humour that I particularly enjoy. Reading Steak… Diana Ross was a great pleasure for me as it chronicled a period in football and an age for me in which I really enjoyed the game and attended matches regularly. It was in that context that I attended a performance of Diary of a Football Nobody at Nottingham Playhouse.

The production sprang to life to a backdrop of excellent and nostalgia-rending black and white slides of mid-1970s Nottingham. Places I remembered well, many now lost to us. A great opening and mood builder. Throughout the play, original, striking and comedic cartoon backdrop displays enhanced proceedings, adding support to some excellent performances. Particular credit should be given to Perry Fitzpatrick as Dave McVay who spent the majority of the evening on stage – a huge undertaking. Narrating the story, his character was likeable, funny and portrayed almost word-perfect. Equally impressive was Eric (Sgt Cryer from The Bill) Richard’s portrayal of ‘the Gaffer’ Scot, Jimmy Sirrel, the eccentric and knowledgeable Manager of Notts County, charged with whipping a team of largely journeyman footballers into a semblance of shape – something he did with unequalled success at Meadow Lane. Richard caught the man perfectly, the thick Glaswegian accent, the idiosyncrasies and all. I can say this clearly after meeting and chatting with ‘Sir Jimmy’ for a couple of hours one afternoon a few years ago.

image

Notts County – seventies style, with McVay back row, third from left.

The play as well as documenting the boozing and womanising of a section of local seventies footballers also contained many poignant moments, chiefly revolving around Dave’s family life and his Grandad’s deteriorating health and passing away at his old Clifton family home. The author claimed that many of his memoirs were not necessarily for public consumption, thankfully Ivory’s persistence in featuring them as a counterpoint to the show’s stream of humour was an unqualified success. Intriguing too were McVay’s reflections on his decision to embark upon a football career instead of going to university, an option which was certainly rarer in those days. His agonising over his seemingly unfulfilling life choice was interesting when noted against a similar choice to be made in the current day of millionaire footballers.

Diary of a Football Nobody was an enjoyable race through two football seasons in the middle seventies with some familiar and hilarious tales. From McVay’s leaving home to share a house with fellow player Geoff Collier in ‘the village of the damned’ – Bingham, Notts – and the boisterous,  laddish behaviour that ensued, to the regular egg delivery round that the leading character shared with full-back and journeyman pro, Billy Brindley. Particularly funny was the enactment of the infamous Meadow Lane game versus Manchester United and the rioting that ensued after plucky Notts pulled two goals back for a 2-2 draw. The plot relating Jimmy Sirrel’s celebrated potential attack on the Mancunian hoards with trainer Jack Wheeler’s bunion scalpel!

image

Jimmy Sirrel hails the Notts fans on the pitch after promotion to Division Two in 1973 with his captain, Don Masson

Knowing these players so well, I was particularly interested to see how they would be portrayed in 2012. During those days I semi-hero worshipped Notts captain, the mercurial Scottish maestro, Don Masson. Sirrel’s ‘Jewel in the Crown’ could do little wrong on the pitch, playing several levels below his true station at Notts County but his then persona was given a pantomime villain’s role by McVay as a particularly sour, obnoxious and hard-to-please character. Masson later went on to play at the highest level and although an extremely clever and highly skilled midfield schemer his personality had been partly confirmed to me by Sirrel in our chat when he mentioned that ‘The Don’ often had to be reigned in in the way he treated and talked to his team. Here, I would offer a minor criticism of the production in that while suspension of belief has to be carried out a little in these things, the visual portrayal of Masson was nothing like the player. I felt the actor could have easily been made to look more like the Masson I remember. A similar criticism would be of the way trainer, Jack Wheeler was depicted with the thin and wiry Wheeler being played by a much larger-built man. These and an occasional early difficulty in hearing some of the dialogue would be my only slight criticisms though from a hugely enjoyable evening feel a little churlish it should be said.

I left the Nottingham Playhouse wishing I could go back and revisit those heady days. The seventies are often a much-maligned decade but hold some great memories for me personally. I could almost taste the beer in Nottingham’s historic old watering hole, the Flying Horse, feel myself raking through the shelves of records in Selectadisc or casting an envious eye in Paul Smith’s original shop window. There are so many memories. Thank you Dave – you brought them all back beautifully. I might just head back to the Playhouse for a second helping.

October 11, 2012 Posted by | Sporting Tales | , , , , | Leave a comment

Nigel Doughty 1957-2012

I am no authority on Nottingham Forest but I’d like to say a few words about Nigel Doughty owner of the Trentside club who passed away at his home yesterday at the young age of fifty-four.

Nigel by all accounts seemed a very decent man and although fabulously wealthy, never one to flaunt that wealth. I read a nice story about him today which told of him catching the Saturday afternoon train into Nottingham to watch his beloved Reds and walking from the station to the ground with the fans. This seems to typify the man. A true lifelong Nottingham Forest fan, perhaps latterly some of his decision making was questionable but he did an awful lot for Forest over a period of twelve or so years at the club and didn’t deserve to be spoken about the way he was by a vocal minority. I was much in admiration of the man as a hands-on owner with his heart definitely in the right place. Also a man who was a great supporter of charities

We know that football supporters can be fickle, I think many more appreciated him than didn’t, but when you look at some of the abuse he got, particularly towards the end when I feel he was hounded out of the Forest stewardship a little, you really wonder why on earth anyone would bother.

Nigel Doughty didn’t get every decision right for Forest. I believe for instance that he bitterly regretted the parting of the ways of Billy Davies and the club. He was served badly by several managerial appointments (not Davies) in my humble opinion. A lot of the money he made available to the club was squandered on mediocre players, particularly but not solely by David Platt, leading to the forming of the ‘transfer acquisition panel’ headed by David Pleat The TAP to me seemed unwieldy, dysfunctional and crucially, headed by somebody who should have been shown the door. Maybe I’m wrong but as an outsider that’s the view I perceived.

There appeared a lot more to Nigel Doughty than being the Chairman of a football club. He was a philanthropist, a decent and kind family man and as was said earlier, a man of the people, in spite of his vast fortune. He took over Nottingham Forest because he was a fan all of his life an he loved the club.

There might well be one or two Forest supporters, not the majority I hasten to add, having a little look at themselves today – and where their club goes from here. The point about what happens regarding the cool 100 million he loaned to the club might be the first question on a few people’s lips. Now is the time however to commemorate one of Nottingham’s finest sons. Life’s work well done.

Thoughts go to his loved ones.

Rest in Peace Nigel.

February 5, 2012 Posted by | Sporting Tales | Leave a comment

Monkey Man

It’s been a fairly austere time to be a Hibs supporter for the past while. Positivity has been at an all-time low and good fortune is indeed always hiding. There is however one chink of daylight, one source of fun that’s always a guaranteed source of mirth. It comes in the form of Heart of Midlothian’s soon-to-be former owner and loopy Lithuanian, Vladimir Romanov. Many have been his sparkling statements over the past seven years via the organ of his club’s official website (the webmaster must run and hide when he sees the latest pearls of cranky wisdom heading his way) but I honestly think this might be one of the most messed-up yet. Here it is in all it’s glory:

Press me to listen
Vladimir Romanov statement

05.01.2012

“As soon as Hearts moved closer to the third spot the monkeys start to squeal, lie and create conspiracy plots.

I thought I had expressed myself clearly – I am selling the club and I am not going to give any more money away. It is pointless to support show business, not football. Hearts is now living out of its own budget.
Everyone knew, including players, media and SPL that the wages are going to be paid as soon as the money was received for Eggert Jonsson, who was sold last year. But media still tried to create conspiracy plots about the team and managed to get a prompt and unwise decision from the SPL meeting, which the club asked it to postpone until next week in order to get opportunity to pay the wages.
As such I have not cheated anyone. The monkeys tricked the SPL, fans and themselves and showed who is in charge of the football mafia. They will continue to cheat as this is their job.
I am used to their lies. I remember when the fight started between two people at the end of one of our AGMs and all the cameras were there as they were expecting it. Later that episode was covered by all major stations as backdrop of the AGM, trying to portray the club as a mess.
I feel sorry for the poor monkeys. Mowgli is asking to work for the publicity of the Old Firm, that’s why they have to lie and tell tall stories.
But there is no future for Scottish football while these media monkeys are in charge. Not just for football, but for the whole country. When people tried to protest in the streets, media turned it into chaos, demonstrating masked instigators and hired gangsters in front of the cameras.
I have nothing to prove. Seven years ago I proved that there was no football, but only show business. When Kaunas threw Rangers out of the competition you switched your TV off to avoid embarrassment. Fear takes away the wisdom.
I am going to reiterate once again – I am not going to gift the club money anymore. The only thing left for the club to do is to develop its own youth and attempt to enlighten people who have been deceived and held as part of a stupid crowd by Mowgli.
The progress is there – Mowgli is under prosecution and in exile. But until they open a zoo for the monkeys and keep them in cages, they will keep jumping on people who are straightforward and not afraid to speak.”

http://www.heartsfc.co.uk/articles/20120105/vladimir-romanov-statement_2241384_2567380

Yes, you read that right. Pull back your chair, go and have a cup of coffee and some fresh air or something. Collect yourself.

Boy, I’m going to miss this man when his wagon finally rolls out of Edinburgh. All we need to figure out now is who is Mowgli? This could take as long as it took to discover who shot JR.

January 5, 2012 Posted by | Sporting Tales | , | Leave a comment

Sócrates Brasileiro Sampaio de Souza Vieira de Oliveira

One of the true greats of football passes away laving a wife and six sons. A life sadly periodically blighted by alcohol in more recent times, it is as a shining star of Brazil’s 1982 World Cup side that Socrates will nevertheless be remembered.

Winning a magnificent sixty caps for his country, the image of the great midfielder will always be that of his genius passing ability and great stature and presence on the field.

Rest in peace ‘The Doctor’

December 4, 2011 Posted by | Sporting Tales | , | Leave a comment

The Worksop Half Marathon

Last Sunday saw the annual Worksop Half Marathon take place, this year on Halloween which added a little colour to what I had found a year ago to be a very pleasant event.

They like to call the Worksop race ‘the scenic one’ and it should be said that this term is by no means undeserved. Beginning in the market place in the centre of town, the route runs for some four miles along an agreeable and undulating lane before taking an abrupt left turn into beautiful Clumber Park. The course then passes through the pretty country park for perhaps seven miles before surfacing at Worksop Colleges and finally back out onto the tarmac for a last stretch into town through a residential area.

Lime Tree Avenue, Clumber Park

The Worksop race is well placed at the end of October as it is a fine time to witness the autumn russets, golds and rusty browns of the trees in the park which would have at one time been part of ancient Sherwood Forest. The atmosphere is redolent of nature in the fall and overwhelms one with thoughts of the ‘season of mellow fruitfulness’. This makes the Worksop experience one to seek out for the runner who insists on an interesting and appealing environment in which to compete. All around, the rustling leaves and shyly opening chestnut shells are underfoot. On this day, swirling around in a slight breeze and under and an ashen sky.

The run my friend and I intended to do this year was intended as nothing more than a little training and a change of scenery for this particular Sunday. Safe to say though, many competitive club and non-affiliated runners battled it out for the prize money from what looked like a healthy field. As always, it was interesting to see the many and varied club vests being sported. Some were from local Nottinghamshire clubs such as my own area’s Redhill Road Runners with their distinctive horizontal red band and my former club as a teenager, Notts Athletic Club in their striking traditional city colours of green and gold. The event appeared to have drawn not only many runners from north Nottinghamshire, with it’s keen running tradition, but also a good smattering of South Yorkshire athletes. This was a reminder that Worksop is comparatively remote geographically from it’s county town to the south and is only a healthy training run away from Nottinghamshire’s northerly neighbouring county.

An early start and an urgent Sunday morning drive of perhaps thirty miles took us to a parking spot in a residential road before beginning the race. As previously mentioned, our day was primarily aimed at a little extra exercise and to enjoy the pleasant scenery but it was difficult to not become enmeshed and motivated in the excited atmosphere of race day as we should have known.

image

Strange goings on at the Worksop Halloween Half

Of course it was October 31 – Halloween, and there were plenty of modern signs of the ancient Celtic festival around us. Race marshal ‘skeletons’, Jack O’ Lanterns, and an eight-minute-miling warlock or two. There was also an abundance of wee red devils interspersed by an odd zombie or two. It all added colour to a refreshing and fun day.

Back in town and after a decent workout for the day, we found a bar offering an inexpensive lunch and a drink deal and set our slightly weary and rapidly stiffening bodies down for an hour. Perhaps the most important thing that came out of the day was a resolution and a new determination to tackle a winter training schedule to work towards greater fitness again. It still surprises me how attending these events can spark a little motivation and determination. Through a profusion of subtle autumnal colours the winter approaches, I feel more ready to do battle with it.

November 2, 2010 Posted by | Sporting Tales | , , | Leave a comment

Notts County – Graveyard of Managers

The news was announced this past weekend that the oldest league club in the world, Notts County have decided to part ways with their current manager, former Notts defender, Craig Short. Nothing too unusual about that you might suggest as yet another manager is unceremoniously sacked but by the local media’s reckoning this announcement means that the Magpies will shortly be announcing their sixth manager in just imageone year including caretaker bosses.

It was the mid-sixties when I attended my first game at the old Meadow Lane ground with a maternal uncle who, like others in his family, had watched Notts in their earlier fashionable days. As anyone with an inkling about Nottingham football history will inform you, the 1940s and 1950s saw the heady days of England centre-forward, the magnificent Tommy Lawton signing for the then Third Division (South) club for a fee of £20,000 which was sensational news that stunned the football world at the time. The England spearhead signed from Chelsea and came to preside over average crowds of around 35,000 at Meadow Lane. In those days Notts were arguably the glamour club in the city, scoring barrow loads of goals through Lawton himself, aided and abetted by an outstanding inside forward Jackie Sewell and other aces in a strong line-up.

A few short years later however and the writing was on the wall for County with, apart from the brighter news of a smattering of young stars who were sold off such as Jeff Astle and Tony Hateley, some generally very glum and depressing times indeed for the old club. It was in that dismal era with the club floundering amongst the dead men applying for re-election to the league’s old Fourth Division that I first heard the phrase used by my uncle ‘graveyard of managers’ for that is surely what Meadow Lane had become.

A little research tells me that in just over a decade leading up to 1968, Notts County had earned that tag by employing no less than eight different men at the helm. This era began with Lawton himself who lasted a miserable fifteen months and ended with former Forest hero, Billy Gray who managed just a year at the club. I think it’s fair to say that these statistics of the day were outstanding and for all the wrong reasons. Whilst maybe they would not be completely unusual in current win-at-all-costs modern football they were a damning set of figures at the time.

image

Glory days – Lawton scores his hundredth goal for Notts in front of another big crowd

To the present then and we can see that the more some things change, the more they stay the same as in a similar ten-year period the Magpies hot seat has been filled by no less than twelve managers, not counting caretakers. As previously mentioned, the local media is quoting six in just the last year including short-term appointments.

Craig Short, as far as I’m aware a reasonably popular signing due partly to his former popularity as an excellent central defender for the club has been shown the door after just five months and thirteen games in charge. Five of those games were won and at the time of the sacking Notts stood at a respectable sixteenth in their division. One has to ask, exactly what chance did Short have in that time of creating success at the old club? In furthering his case it has to be remembered that Notts are a newly-promoted side having gained access to League Two this season after a barn-storming finale to season 2009/10. They are now playing at a higher level and with many members of last season’s successful side needing replacement.

Short is very much a rookie, a tyro in football management terms with just a few months experience in an interesting looking former appointment at Hungarian side, Ferencvaros. He undoubtedly has much to learn but arguably showed signs that he was capable of doing so astutely and quickly. In any case, if he had been seen as too inexperienced to lead the Magpies just five months ago what has really changed in this time?

I’m a casual bystander in what happens in the Nottingham football world these days but I enjoy seeing both local teams excel. I have to say that when Ray Trew took over the ownership of the club a short while ago his common sense and financially prudent approach seemed to be exactly what Notts County needed after the ridiculous pie-in-the-sky Munto Finance days. His manner was straight talking and to the point and I liked the cut of his jib in sorting out what were worrying and quickly mounting problems at Meadow Lane. That’s partly why I am surprised and disappointed at the short-termism being shown here.

Notts County are not a big cheese in the world of football these days but I do believe in this case here they provide a very good example of one of the ills of the modern game. There is a lack of patience and tolerance shown to managers generally in what is at 95% of clubs an incredibly difficult job. These men get little leeway to bring to fruition the plans they formulate for the teams that employ them. It is a mathematic fact too that only the few can win things in any given season. There are a myriad of reasons why success comes to certain clubs, huge support and financial backing probably at the forefront but it is not unconnected that even at a peak level such as that seen at Manchester United and Arsenal some of the most successful clubs are those that stick by the man in charge of team affairs on a long-term basis. Former Notts County legend, Jimmy Sirrel a man I met and was fortunate enough to talk to at length one sunny afternoon and a manager who never once suffered the indignity of being sacked, I know would be the first to agree.

October 26, 2010 Posted by | Sporting Tales | , , , | Leave a comment

Hibs: McParland a Candidate?

Well, here we are again. Hibernian FC is again a rudderless ship once more after just sixteen months with manager John Hughes being allowed to leave by ‘mutual consent’. In fairness the club had to act to counter an appalling recorded of just four wins in thirty-three games and nowhere would you have heard that proclaimed louder than from me. So now the usual lottery of choosing a new manager at Easter Road ensues and one wonders at the selections procedures that are used by Chairman Rod Petrie and his cohorts. One thing is for sure, the method of choosing a former playing hero of the club will not necessarily wash.

A person that has been mentioned yet again along with many others is former Forest and Notts County boss, Ian McParland I’ve been a big admirer of ‘Charlie’ in the past, both as a player and manager and have had the chance to watch him manage on both sides of the Trent at The City Ground and Meadow Lane

I see his name coming once more into the reckoning in various places and thought I’d just comment. Originally at Forest he was a somewhat reluctant caretaker manager being thrust into the job to hold the fort after Megson left, after around ten years being a quite happy reserve team boss. At this time he was slightly taciturn with the media and tended to leave that stuff to his co-manager, Frank Barlow. It worked well and Forest played some great football before and had great results before Colin Calderwood was appointed manager (surprisingly to many).

He reverted back to his former role as reserve team boss before taking the manager role at Notts, who were ultimately enshrouded in the media circus that was Munto Finance and Sven-Goran Eriksson. The ‘millions’ that were promised for the club were found to be built on sand but in the meantime, Notts saw fit to part company with their relatively low-profile manager and acquire someone more ‘fitting’ with their new-found ‘prestige’ and image.

Apparently Charlie is reportedly is happily continuing his career at Ipswich as a coach and I’m not sure, considering, his past experiences, how much he wants to dip his toe in the water again. He has been reported as as admitting to being a big Hibby and offered in the past that he’d love to manage at Easter Road one day though.

I like Ian McParland. i think he’s a real football man and loves his team to play with flair and pass the ball on the ground. At Notts he systematically went through the whole club top to bottom and repaired what had become a joke and a shambles of a club that nearly went out of the league. What you see is what you get with this guy – he doesn’t talk a lot compared to some but he talks straight.

All this wasn’t enough for some Notts fans who were split in opinion about him at the end. I think they had had their heads turned with talk of the likes of Roberto Mancini (yes, I kid you not!) coming to manage the club. It was a very silly time on that side of the Trent.

The main criticism you’ll hear Magpies fans make of McParland is that he ‘couldn’t change a game’ – does that sound familiar? It may be a fair criticism but for my money it’s becoming one of the great clichés of modern football, we hear it at a lot of clubs. Another factor is that Charlie is most definitely a Hibby – a Tranent lad who supported the club when he was younger but doesn’t shout about it a lot. That once was a factor in his favour but from what I hear nowadays wouldn’t necessarily be now – quite the reverse for some in fact.

Hibs fans – make your own mind up!

October 5, 2010 Posted by | Sporting Tales | , , | Leave a comment

The Vuvuzela

Parrrrppppp!!!

With the World Cup 2010 in South Africa well underway the talk has been less about the technical aspects of say, the Italian game, the powerhouse Germans or England’s dismal failure to despatch their adversaries from the United States, but rather about the Vuvuzela, the South African trumpet-like instrument which is dominating football debate currently.

The vuvuzela is around a metre in length, made of plastic, usually brightly coloured and sounds singularly like an elephant and collectively, in their thousands in the magnificent South African stadiums, like a great swarm of angry bees. Apparently the vuvuzela has come to symbolise sport in that country.

Being a regular visitor to one or two football websites, (Hibernian FC) I’ve read several debates about the vuvuzela and its effect on the World Cup and in a totally unscientific assessment I’d say that around 90% of fans seems to be against them. Personally I’m no great lover of the sound, any more than I was the constant ringing air-horns of the European games of my youth in the seventies (now there’s an irony) but I really don’t understand the lack of tolerance towards the vuvuzela. Granted, they tend to be more than a mite intrusive on one’s viewing of the World Cup games but I think that like most things, with enough exposure one gets used to the drone after a short time. Continue reading

June 15, 2010 Posted by | Sporting Tales | , , | 1 Comment

World Cup 2010: South Africa 1 Mexico 1

You can see it in the little children’s wide-eyed faces. The ‘greatest show on earth’ has descended upon South Africa and things may never be the same again. There has been tumult, concern and excitement in equal measures since the day the decision to hold the first World Cup on the continent was made six long years ago – all of it heading towards this day in history.

Television coverage allowed us highlights of the magnificent Opening Concert from the eve of kick-off day and in that abbreviated hour we understand the way things are going to be for the next four weeks or so – a joyous celebration of the world’s greatest game in circumstances never before seen. A pure unadulterated month-long carnival of singing, dancing, enjoyment and a festival of top-level sport.

In Soweto we see supporters of Bfana Bfana ‘Our boys, Our boys’ awaiting the hour of destiny – South Africa’s opening game against Mexico. Some are interviewed happily for the TV cameras amidst their modest corrugated metal homes and their lifestyle relayed to us. How different this all seems from previous World Cups, the majesty and grandeur of Pavarotti and Italia ‘90, the heady and chaotic tickertape evenings of Argentina ‘78, or the humidity, razzamatazz and corporate-lead enterprise of USA ‘94. This is surely the true beauty of the World Cup though, and now ‘Africa has it’s time to shine’. The competition has a new continent as it’s home; forward. Continue reading

June 12, 2010 Posted by | Sporting Tales | , , | Leave a comment

Football days in Arnold, Nottinghamshire

A little more local stuff today and something about the town I’ve lived close to for a long time, Arnold, Nottinghamshire. I always liked the situation of the old King George’s Rec just behind Arnold market place. As a boy I attended the old ‘British’ School which stood approximately where the market place is now and would often attend Arnold St. Mary’s football games just over the road. I came to play a bit of cricket on those same playing fields too, not to mention tennis and in younger days the playground adjacent for general tomfoolery and falling off the slide and swings scraping my knees and tearing holes in my clothes regularly. Often the latter arose from balancing on top of the playground slide, fighting with several others for a free view of the game going on over the hedge.

028_crop1

King George V Playing Fields, 2010

I particularly loved the odd Midland League evening games that Mary’s would play, the two Scots forwards Joe Boucher and Bobby Tait and the midfield playmaking skills of Pete ‘Shonkey’ Burton et al. After the game my pals and I would head for the delicious chips from one of the several chip shops on Front Street before heading back to Redhill, just in time for the latest episode of Dad’s Army! Continue reading

April 3, 2010 Posted by | Sporting Tales | , , , , , | 3 Comments

Alan Gordon

It was sad news for Hibernian fans of a certain vintage when the reports of former classical centre-forward and ‘Turnbull’s Tornadoes’ clip_image002star, Alan Gordon’s passing away emerged on Saturday evening. I have to say that I was a little stunned to hear of Alan’s short illness with cancer and subsequent death and reading around various Hibs Internet forums it seems that I was not alone.

Alan Gordon was a much favoured former star of the club, despite the tall blonde haired striker his playing more games for city rivals Hearts and also spending time playing for both teams in Dundee. The fact that his was a relatively short period at Easter Road, I think speaks volumes for what he achieved at the Leith club.

As a younger player in the 1960s’ he had short term playing for Durban United in South Africa in what was an unusual move at the time. He returned to Scotland’s shores and quickly resumed an excellent career.

Continue reading

February 20, 2010 Posted by | Hibernian FC, Sporting Tales | 2 Comments

Nottingham Panthers: Titleists?

It’s a been a long time along the great iceway since 1955–56! It’s a date that hangs over the Lower Parliament Street club like an albatross and everyone associated with the club must be heartily sick of the years of failure to bring the league title back to Nottingham Could this be the year?

CameronMann8.jpg image by suzie444

Then and now: Former scoring sensation and hero Chick Zamick and present-day favourite Cameron Mann

I’m not much of a judge personally only having been to a couple of games this season. The first one, the home cash against Edinburgh before Christmas was hardly representative of anything either – such a strange game it was with no real pattern and not much you could discern one way or another. Since that time I managed the game against Cardiff in the days between Christmas and New Year in which Nottingham were reasonably solid in a 5-0 blanking of the Welsh outfit.

I see that leaders Coventry Blaze are now beginning to implode a little, notably losing two games against the aforementioned Edinburgh and wonder if they may crack under pressure? With the Panthers playing old rivals Sheffield on Saturday (which despite The Steelers poor season) is still bound to be a test, and a meeting with Coventry themselves I reckon the next couple of days might have quite a bearing on whether the modern-day Panthers are finally able to emulate those excellent players of the 1950’s – heroes all, Chick Zamick, Les Strongman and the boys.

Nottingham seem to be the form team at the moment are results are rock-solid down in the city with around ten consecutive wins I believe.
I have a feeling in my water. I wonder if Nottingham will put Coventry title plans on ice this weekend?

January 22, 2010 Posted by | Sporting Tales | , , , | Leave a comment