The Tears of a Clown

Now if there's a smile upon my face…

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.

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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?

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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

Bill McLaren -They’ll be sad in the streets of Hawick tonight

I’ve just heard the sad news that the wonderful old Rugby Union commenter, Bill McLaren has passed away. Bill, a Scot from the borders town of Hawick had a career that spanned fully six decades working for the BBC and was awarded the OBE, CBE and MBE for services to the sport. Much beloved by those inside and out the game, Bill was also inducted into the International Rugby Hall of Fame. the only non-player to achieve this I believe.

6 Feb 1999:  A portrait of Bill McLaren the television commentator at the Five Nations match between Scotland and Wales at Murrayfield in Edinburgh, Scotland. Scotland won the game 33-20.  Mandatory Credit: David Rogers /Allsport

I’m a casual fan of Rugby Union, but always admired Bill McLaren greatly. I believe there was no finer sporting commentator anywhere. Very few have been his equal. Always strictly impartial and without bias, even when commentating on our native Scotland, you knew that you could trust in what Bill said when was behind the microphone. He was not only a gentleman but also a great man.

Bill retired from the job back in 2002 but his tones and turns of phrase will always be remembered with a huge fondness by me. He was one of those faces and voices that were a little cornerstone of your life, year after year. The memories of him I will always identify with my late father who was also a great admirer of Bill. Perhaps that’s why I loved him so much. Continue reading

January 19, 2010 Posted by | Sporting Tales | 2 Comments

A Short History of Hibernian Football Club

Welcome to a short history of Hibernian Football Club, the Green and White side of the Edinburgh professional football scene. ‘The Hibees’ play at Easter Road Stadium in Leith and have a proud, honourable and intriguing history stretching all the way back to 1875!

Hibernian Football Club has been part of the fabric and culture of Scotland’s capital since it’s early inception. The club’s name is most usually abbreviated to ‘Hibs’ by fans and media alike. The club sports an impressive 17,500 seat facility in Easter Road Stadium where they play their home games.

Hibs have traditionally played in green and white strips since their formation, a pointer back to the Irish origins of the club. These origins emanate and embrace Irish emigration into Scotland and its capital during the dark days of the Irish potato famine when many were displaced into the country and further afield around the world. The club badge has had several incarnations and it’s most recent one refers inclusively back to history and to the geographical placing of the organisation in its emblem of the Irish Harp, the castle depicting Edinburgh’s garrison and the ship signifying the port of Leith, respectively.

The club enjoys something of a high-profile fan base amongst its regular faithful fans. Notably, author Irvine Welsh has featured the club in his novels on many a memorable occasion, even hitting celluloid in the case of Trainspotting. Singing duo The Proclaimers contributed a modern-day and much-loved theme to the Easter Road terraces in their emotional ballad Sunshine on Leith. Further regular literary mentions also abound in Ian Rankin’s Inspector Rebus stories in which his assistant is depicted as a ‘Hibby’.

Charlie and Craig Reid -The Proclaimers

So who are this team then?  What is the lifeblood that has characterised this green and white phenomenon since its inception? Let’s take a leisurely and enjoyable stroll the through the history book to find out a little more about its rich past. Continue reading

January 10, 2010 Posted by | Hibernian FC, Sporting Tales | , , , , , , , | 12 Comments

Nottingham Panthers v Edinburgh Capitals

I attended this fixture in Nottingham last night and what a strange game it was! Shortly after the opening face-off, Nottingham began with a quick strike which the goalie appeared to have covered but in what seemed like an age squirted into the net. Three more Panthers goals followed in quick succession and looked to have killed the game as a spectacle not long after the half way point in the first period. The Edinburgh defence was spectacularly poor at times with little cover for the goalie from Nottingham players skating through on the net.

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Edinburgh surprisingly struck back though with the assistance of one or two individual errors by Nottingham. The game went into the first break with an unlikely 4-3 score line and a slight air of unreality about it. I pondered on what the respective coaches must have been saying to the teams in the changing rooms.

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December 20, 2009 Posted by | Sporting Tales | Leave a comment

The Nottingham Panthers – Memories from Lower Parliament Street

This article was inspired by an the excellent archived article Things The Arena Generation Will Never Know… from the original hard copy fanzine version of The Cat’s Whiskers website

It’s reproduced from an article I wrote for that excellent site and is a  list of twelve different memories from the original Nottingham Ice Rink located on Lower parliament Street, Nottingham, which part of the modern Nottingham Arena now stands on. The memories and nostalgia travel right back to season 1980/81 when The Nottingham Panthers were reformed and brought back to The Lace City.

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The man who made it all possible. Gary Keward, Coach and reformer of the modern era Nottingham Panthers.

Whilst the memories itemised here and mostly positive one, It’s important to add that not all my experiences were as savoury when visiting the old barn. I could probably wax less than lyrical on that subject though that’s probably another article entirely. In the meantime, here are a dozen of the best that come immediately to mind. I’m sure any fan of the Black and Gold, and a good few visiting fans will find pleasant memories jogged by the following.

1. The tiny little tuck shop with the sweetie jars as you turned left after the front foyer. Always a friendly face or two peering out from the little store on game night. None of that ‘concessions’ nonsense.

2. The life-size cardboard cut out figure of the ‘new’ hockey hero Mario Lemieux in the old skate shop in the foyer. We were thrilling to the exploits of ‘The Great One’, Wayne Gretzky and watching the powerhouse Edmonton Oilers on all-to-rare an occasion on our British TV screens when ‘The Magnificent One’ came along. Just like having the real thing…

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October 15, 2009 Posted by | Sporting Tales | , | 6 Comments

My Fourth Marathon – The Nottingham Robin Hood Marathon, 2009

My eyes slowly open wide and at long last it’s marathon morning. Today I have a long-promised job to do, a job to do well. Rising, calmness is key and I follow practised habits in slowly preparing myself for the mass start on Nottingham Trent Embankment and the gun of 10.05 AM.

My partner Melanie and I call to collect our friend and my training partner, Lesia and on through Nottingham towards the big river. Hundreds of people mill in the same direction, some bounding slightly excitedly and some trudge, somewhat disconsolately. I sit thinking in the rear of the little Toyota, stilled in the fussy traffic. I know I have much to do.20092009673

I’m offering soft platitudes outwardly. I hear myself offering that, considering my recent injury problems, I’ll pull up and drop out of this race if it should become necessary – if the pain should become too much. I know deep down that this is not true though. I will end this race dragging my leg behind me in my wake if I have to. I will not stop.

The jittery last few minutes roll past quickly and it’s time to slip out of the swaddling comfort of my sweatshirt and step on to the road. Step up to the plate. Lesia lines up at my side to accompany me, I’m not sure how long she will be there, perhaps a mile or two, I surmise. There seems a happy and welcome symmetry to this considering how many training miles we’ve passed together. A shuddering jog, stop, walk, trot takes us towards the start line gantry and I gesture to Melanie who is echoing our footsteps on the paving next to us and the massed beginning runners. Drummers pound a rhythmic beat. I cross myself I as I do at the inception and end of each and every run. Thank you for this.

It’s taken an awful lot to get here today and I heave a heavy sigh of recognition as we tread steadily towards the Meadows, past the wide ranks of cheering crowds lining our route.

The early minutes of such a long event are always a testing time. We take readings from our body; we monitor them and make sense of them. How does that injury feel? Is it stiff, sore? Will it dissolve into the disappointing pain of yore? Do IDSCN2244 have energy today? Is it a good day? How am I going to feel in two hours? Four hours? Where are my doubts today and can I dispel them?

Do I believe in myself today?

My friend and I chat a little, comparing notes and there is an enquiry in that familiar accent asking if she is disturbing me? In truth I’m happy to have her there to help keep me calm, to chat to just like every other Sunday morning, and make-believe this run is just as the rest. We even pass over familiar cobbles that we know so well whilst negotiating Castle Hill and point down into The Park residential area that understands our Friday night footsteps of many hopeful evenings.

I have perhaps ten Nottingham Robin Hood Half Marathons under my belt ranging back to my expectant debut race back in 1982. This is my initial full event in Nottingham though and the once familiar first half of the race traces a different route to my memory. Lesia and I pass calmly through a throng of steady runners past the picturesque and cooling lake of Nottingham University’s Highfields. Drinks are appearing now and I take liquid fastidiously at every opportunity.

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It’s but a few miles in and many runners are still in very good heart. There is an excited babble amongst athletes which has yet to quell. I know it will soon though. The beautiful Wollaton Park appears in front of us and we pass through one of the prettiest stages under thin but cheering and optimistic September sunshine. Suddenly a shout and Melanie appears smiling and happy next to us. Lesia hands her small backpack to her claiming excitedly that she was ‘going to run all the way’ and we push onwards and back to the city.

I am intentionally running well within myself. I need to save as much energy for the onslaught of the final miles and this is very much on my mind. It’s Castle Boulevard and a young man stops, walks, hands on hips, tiring, tiring. Printed on the back of his vest are the words FOR MY GRANDAD. I tell him his grandad would be very proud of him today and he smiles in surprise and replies warmly that his grandfather passed away just three weeks ago. I pat his shoulder for luck and assure him as kindly as I can that he will make it.

There is so much more to running long distance events than pure naked achievement. So many stories of love, sorrow, nostalgia and kinship that transcend pounding the streets amongst thousands of strangers all brought together for many and varied reasons. I want to connect with one or two of those souls today as I always might. Spread a little hope, to pluck a thistle and plant a flower where I thought a flower would grow.clip_image002

Its decision time for Lesia as miles ten and eleven are with us. I’m sure she had not intended to run this far but her help has been incredibly valuable. I urge her to complete the half marathon as it would be fitting to have a double victory today. Suddenly she begins to falter but hangs on. Its twelve miles and we agree to split at her urging, just before I peel off for the second half of the race. She manages a weary smile, I touch her shoulder, say goodbye for now and thank you. The familiar face of a friend Gill pops into sight, happily chatting away on the Embankment. I call her name and she shouts surprised encouragement. A minute later and Melanie is there once more with another cheer and more support.

So here I am on my own and heading away from the Half Marathon finish and out towards the confrontation with myself. The challenge now begins I consider as kind spectators’ cheers and words of encouragement ring in my ears by the wide grey river. Past Meadow Lane Football Ground, home of Sven Goran Eriksson’s Notts County and padding over a near deserted Lady Bay Bridge, still trying to run within my abilities, saving myself for the major battle that I know I will wage. I’m going to wage a war if I have to.

Lady Bay shows me its quiet and uneventful back streets. I note now at around fourteen miles that a few runners are beginning to walk. Lanes split with opposing runners coming towards me are on me now. The sports drinks are coming fast and furiously too. I drink greedily at them whilst not particularly enjoying the mixture. I think they may be my salvation in due course.

Holme Pierrepont Water Sports Centre comes into view as I crest a small hillock. The panoramic but desolate looking artificial rowing lakes offers the unwanted extra challenge of a strong head wind to test a runners resolve. My resolution and tenacity is strong. I notice it is getting stronger and stronger. I am beginning to feel the true power in my body as I keep my head down and work hard yet smoothly.

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All at once I hear a familiar voice and Melanie’s excited face is in front of me, cheering me and asking how I am? ‘I’m okay, I’m okay’ is as much as I manage. These simple words have to suffice after rehearsing what I might say at this point. I ask for a glucose tablet and Melanie shouts to the figure of Lesia standing a little further on. I pause momentarily whilst she coolly peels out a glucose tablet for me. She tells me that I’m looking good. Thank you, and I’m on my way again. Its twenty-two miles and I’m gliding efficiently along the Trent riverside tow path and back to the city. I’m focused and feel myself actually gathering pace.

Its here though that I begin to feel those darker voices in my head a little more often. ‘I’m tiring, I’m tired, this hurts, that hurts, am I running out of gas?’ I banish these thoughts and their negativity. More thoughts emerge, ‘is the injury beginning to come back, is that a twinge, will I be limping in a mile’s time?’ These thoughts will not win today. These thoughts are nothing but abstract feelings and emotions and I can/will beat them off. I am strong and nothing will stop me. They keep trying to return and as they do I feel my body react momentarily before I push them away. My head is high. I am winning, I am winning.

I’m passing runner after runner at this point. I understand their feelings and try to help them. Just a quiet, even whispered word in their ear as I pass ‘keep it going, keep it going, Come on Suzi’. The support of the race marshalls is magnificent at this point. As they talk to me I answer them and thank them, each and every one. They provide a breeze that pushes me forward. In a now very thin field of runners, many walking, Nottingham Forest’s City Ground looms and I run under the cooling overhang of the Trent End Stand, tracing the River Trent to my right.

It’s under Trent Bridge now and a large crowd of picnicking race spectators provide a huge clamour as I ascend from underneath the bridge into bright sunshine and a kaleidoscope of smiling, cheering faces. Go on! Go on! You can do it! Nearly there now! I’m looking ahead hopefully at the next bridge hoping for a crossing there and on to the finish line and I am crestfallen, dismayed to see that the bridge is unused and that I have to keep running down the river, this entailing the same distance to run back on the other side. Here was the big test to my resolve. What could I do now but keep going though?

Gill appears again on the bridge. Hey! HEY! Are you alright? ‘Yes, I’m okay Gill, thanks…”

DSCN2253 The finishing area

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The final sprint

I’m coming off that bridge now and running up to the finishing area on the grass. I’ve thought about this so much over the past months. What would it feel like, how would I react, how would I finish? I cross myself. The Father, the Son and the Holy Ghost. Thank you, thank you. Big crowds of spectators are facing me as I round onto the grass which I know denotes the finish and the victory. Where are Mel and Lesia?

It’s time to go for broke and I charge into a sprint, as fast as my legs will take me to that line. A line that only a week ago seemed a hurt and injured impossibility. Yes! Yes! Waves of adrenalin course through me and I hear Mel’s shout and her face flashes into view and then out again. Get under that gantry, get under it.

I’m there! I did it! I did it!

I pat the small St Andrew’s cross of Scotland that had been folded into my shorts pocket for inspiration. A following runner exchanges a warm handshake and a solitary Lesia, standing watching by the rope shouts to me. A helper removes my microchip and after a fleeting moment of nausea, I teeter steadily towards the exit and the meet area with Lesia towards Mel. I had really promised myself a pint of ice cold beer at this point but to no avail. This small but necessary pleasure was not to be – at least for the moment.

Back in Nottingham and after an awkward but refreshing shower two pints of the promised cider at last passed my lips along with pints of accompanying water. Six o’clock quickly comes around and the three of us walk to Le Bistrot Pierre in the city to celebrate in the time-honoured way, with a glass of champagne and a fine dinner with those close to you.

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To Melanie, for her unceasing support through thick and thin, particularly on those dark days when I didn’t believe I could do this. When injury struck, when the self-doubts loomed, when my mind was in turmoil, the support remained constant. You never gave up on me.

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To Lesia, for running with me along the pleasant lanes and through the pretty villages of Nottinghamshire and evenings in the city. For the inspiration of watching her own marathon triumph in London. For keeping my head straight in the all-important first half of the marathon by selflessly running it with me. Most of all, for the cool and objective opinions and support when I most needed a real friend.

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I couldn’t have it done it without either of you. That goes too for the wonderful well wishes from afar afield as Scotland and Canada. I carried them all with me, I really did. You all know who you are. A heartfelt ‘thank you’.

September 20, 2009 Posted by | Archives: The Marathon Diaries, Sporting Tales | , , | 9 Comments

Sven-Goran Eriksson signs for Notts County!

Staggering – that’s the only word!

I’m talking of course of the local football news story that former England coach Sven-Goran Eriksson has signed for the world’s oldest league club as Director of Football. Apparently Sven’s duties will include the overseeing of player development and training facilities at Meadow Lane. Other responsibilities will include looking after the youth academy, negotiating transfers for the club, scouting for new talent and the general health and fitness of the players. Joining him in dealing with these duties will be his long-time assistant Tord Grip.

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It’s all become a reality due to the recent takeover of Notts County by Munto Finance, a Middle-East based consortium who have highly ambitious plans for the club which include a realistic establishing of Notts in the Championship within the next five seasons. This patience makes a refreshing change in these kinds of matters. Those close to Munto Finance, the ambitious consortium which took control last week with plans to establish the club in the Championship within five years, say Eriksson is in for the ‘long haul’.

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July 22, 2009 Posted by | Sporting Tales | , , , , , | Leave a comment

Well…that didn’t last long

You have a city with a genuine bona fide football hero. A man that put a medium-sized provincial city on the world map of football and became the biggest thing since Robin Hood.

image After a protracted spell of hard work in fund raising, fully £70,000 is collected to commission an excellent tribute to the man in question – a permanent memorial for all to enjoy in a busy area of the city. Then some numb nut decides to vandalise it after only a few short months.

The statue of Brian Clough in Nottingham lasted intact from last November until this week. Sadly I think we all knew it would happen some time. Thankfully the wrong has now been put right.

There was a lot of consideration as to where to site the statue. One problem at the time was that Nottingham Forest were actually talking about moving grounds. It was decided that the statue should be in the centre of the city where everyone could enjoy it – not just visitors to the City Ground which is a short bus ride out of the city. On balance I’m glad they put it where they did. I walk past it frequently in the city and always have a peek at Brian and a wry smile to myself when thinking of him. The statue brings back many happy memories.

This Clough statue incident is one of sheer wanton and mindless vandalism. Quite likely attention-seeking behaviour too. i think this person will get his come-uppance though. It might have the useful side-effect of focusing local peoples’ thoughts on the problems of vandalism too.

I really wouldn’t like to be in the shoes of the perpetrator if his or her identity becomes public…

May 29, 2009 Posted by | Sporting Tales | , | 2 Comments

Hearts 0 – Hibs 1!

01 Riordan does it again! Is there any Hibby, with the possible exception of Ian Murray, that takes so much pleasure at putting one over Hibernian’s Edinburgh rivals?

It ended in high drama last night – with a penalty eleven minutes from time after Hibs hit man Riordan went tumbling in the box before getting up to coolly side-foot the ball inside the oppositon’s right-hand post. It was all too much for some of the home supporters as the goal triggered a small pitch invasion. Comically, one Hearts fan, in his attempts to get to the jubilant Riodan managed somehow to punch himself inthe face and was led off with a ‘sair yin’! (see video)

What is really remarkable about this famous victor is not that it means Hibs are unbeaten against Hearts this season but that Hibernian had a full ten first team players absent through injury. In effect, Hibs visited Tynecastle with their ‘B’ team and still ran out winners!

Glory Glory To The Hibees!

May 8, 2009 Posted by | Hibernian FC, Sporting Tales | , , , | 6 Comments

Down in the Forest

It’s been many a long Winter since I’ve ventured into the environs of Nottingham Forest’s City Ground for a game. So long in fact that on my last visit, Forest were in their pomp and nigh on unbeatable under Brian Clough and Peter Taylor. It was with curiosity then that I ventured back, Trentside after so long away, being keen to take in the many changes over the years that would inevitably be evident.

My friend and I parked up early and some way from the ground in the ‘enemy territory’ of Meadow Lane – close to the home ground of Nottingham rivals Notts County. As we walked over River Trent via the Lady Bay Bridge it reminded me of the days when there was little to call between each of the two club’s teams. That was before Brian Clough and Peter Taylor came along and indelibly left their mark on Nottingham history.

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The City Ground, Nottingham

Early we were with the intention of a couple of pre-game drinks. We chose The Larwood and Voce Tavern situated in the magnificent Trent Bridge International Cricket Ground nearby. Cutting down Fox Road behind the impressive new stand, views became apparent of the superb interior of the cricket ground which somehow manages to look both traditional and modern at the same time. The Larwood and Voce Tavern, named after the famous pair of Notts and England fast bowlers is very popular for a pre-match drink for many fans. Apart from the predictable plastic ‘glasses’, it’s a very acceptable and good natured venue before the game. Continue reading

April 14, 2009 Posted by | Sporting Tales | , , , , | Leave a comment

When you pull on the Dark Blue of Scotland…

You don’t behave like Barry Ferguson and Allan MacGregor

The Glasgow Rangers pair have been in the news this week for all the wrong reasons as Scotland battle to gain their way to the 2010 World Cup in South Africa. After the Scottish capitulation to Holland by 0-3 in Amsterdam, Scotland captain chose to spend the whole night on a drinking spree with stand-in goalkeeper, MacGregor. Doubtless other Scotland players are not innocent but Ferguson appears to have no respect that he has had the honour of captaining his country upon him.

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There are various lurid stories about what actually happened on the night after the Holland game but what comes across very clearly is that these two ‘professionals’ seem to have little respect for their country or the army of fans that follow Scotland around enthusiastically. Surely, at least the fans deserve better than this?

The Scottish manager, George Burley acted promptly after the incident by dropping both players. It was also rumoured that Ferguson may relinquish his captaincy also. Unfortunately the weak and mealy-mouthed Burley turned his decision around by re-instating both players to the team bench for the crucial Scotland-Iceland clash last Wednesday evening. Surely this sends out completely the wrong message regarding team discipline?

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April 3, 2009 Posted by | Sporting Tales | , , , | 1 Comment

Clough

I’ve written a few words on the subject of Brian Clough on occasion and I’ll make little excuse for doing so again here. Last evening, ITV showed the documentary ‘Clough’ at 10.35pm and I looked to the TV schedules without too much hope of witnessing a new angle about the man.

The documentary was ostensibly about the new movie based on the best-selling book by David Peace, The Damned United, a part-fictional work on Clough’s infamous 44-day reign as manager of Leeds United in the 1970s’.

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It was well-publicised at the time of the book’s release that members of Brian Clough’s family were unhappy about the ‘fictional’ report of his short stay at Elland Road over three decades ago. His widow, Barbara received a forum in this documentary to voice her own great disappointment at the way her late husband had been depicted, as did Brian’s son, former Forest and Liverpool player and now Derby County manager, Nigel Clough.

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March 26, 2009 Posted by | Sporting Tales | , , , , | 2 Comments

Ultras Napoletani!

A few short years ago I was lucky enough to pay several visits to Napoli in the Campania region of Southern Italy, having friends there. I had some fantastic experiences in that country and visited beautiful, wondrous and interesting places. One incredible experience was when I visited a Serie A football match between Napoli and Roma in the San Paulo stadium in Naples. It was the most incredible experience in and around a football match I’ve had anywhere, and I’ve had one or two of those over the years.

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We visited some beautiful, wondrous and interesting places. One incredible experience was when I visited a Serie A football match between Napoli and Roma in the San Paulo stadium in Naples. It was the most incredible experience in and around a football match I’ve had anywhere, and I’ve had one or two of those over the years.

My pal and I were dropped at Pozzuoli metro and travelled along Linea 2 to the daunting San Paulo Stadium, home of SSC Napoli, then (and now again, happily) of Serie A. Picking up a couple of imagesouvenirs of the day, we overheard reports of trouble before the game as we sat sipping cafe alfredos in a cafe bar opposite the stadium. A few minutes prior to kick-off we lined up and picked  up the free newspaper from the turnstile, customary at the games, and headed high up in the stand towards our bench seats.

‘Why are we sitting so far back, mate?’ I asked my friend.. I soon found out. From before the first kick and until the final whistle and beyond a thin hail of full plastic water bottles descended towards the ball boys trackside of the pitch. Inevitably some didn’t make the distance and ended up hitting the unhappy recipients in the first few rows of the stand…

The game was a crucial one for both teams. A Napoli defeat would have seen them relegated to Serie B of the Italian League whilst conversely a victory for the men from Rome would have award them the league title. Things, as you can imagine, were extremely tense.

Once inside, the San Paulo was just incredible. I’ve been in some very big and impressive sports stadiums in my life but the atmosphere in there was absolutely electric and incredibly passionate and loud. The area where the despised travelling Roma fans were penned in was under almost constant attack by the Napoli boys from before the kick-off. From a distance it was like a scene from the Keystone Kops as each Napoli rush at the segregating fence was replied to with baton charges by the Polizia, repelling them backwards, only for them to regroup and charge again.

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Napoli were 2-1 down late into the game with the superb Francesco Totti and Gabriel Batistuta pulling the strings for Roma against the plucky Neapolitans. Napoli finally equalised however to make it 2-2 and all hell was let loose. I’d rarely seen scenes like it. Us two Brits were being hugged like we were long-lost brothers, all was well with the world…until we left the ground.

Once outside, we quickly saw several police cars ablaze as a riot sparked up in the streets. Me and my pal decided to shelter in a shop doorway as thousands of youths ran amok outside the stadium, running back and forth in pitched battles in the streets. One Napoli fan apparently lost a finger whilst setting off a flair, we heard.

We rendezvoused up a quiet lane away from the warfare with another friend and drove the short distance to his home in the attractive Vomero district which sits high above much of Napoli and offers a grandstand view of the city. We sat safely up on his outdoor balcony and watched the rest of the scene unfold whilst sipping cold beers. It was truly spectacular with imagefires blazing around the San Paulo, and loud explosions at regular intervals. Huge crowds of youths were still charging around the area long after the game, being pursued by a beleaguered and tiring Polizia.

Later on in the evening my friend and I caught the funicular in safety down from Vomero and took a walk around the bay in sunny Mergellina to meet our respective partners in Garibaldi Square for food. It was as though we had entered a different world and suddenly the events of the day seemed almost surreal. There was a curt reminder however later that evening when we walked back to the railway station to catch the metro back to Pozzuoli. The Metro station was a site of total devastation, completely trashed. Metro staff were already busily repairing the station like it was just another day, sweeping up glass, repairing woodwork and replacing windows. For a Napoli – Roma clash that’s probably not too far from the truth.

Forza Napoli!

March 25, 2009 Posted by | Sporting Tales | , , , , | 2 Comments

It’s Only a Game

In this age of mass commercialism in sport, in an era when hatred all too often raises it’s ugly head in the cause of a sporting contest I witnessed something quite remarkable this past Saturday night.

I had a ticket to attend a hockey game with friends between two great UK rivals of the grand old ice game in the Nottingham Panthers and Sheffield Steelers. These confrontations at the NIC in Nottingham are always keenly contested affairs, generally in front of sell-out crowds which can produce an incredible atmosphere. That atmosphere can sometime run over into one of some animosity and antipathy between the two rival sets of fans who, on some levels, have little liking for each other. It makes for powder-keg situations and a vital, emotional and charged atmosphere.

Prior to Saturday night’s face-off however and just as the usual pre-game build up complete with light show and pulsating rock music drew to a close, an announcement began by long-term Nottingham announcer, the excellent Stef.

It wasn’t happy news we were to hear but that of the death of long-time Sheffield supporter Owen Grant, well known to many Nottingham as well as Sheffield fans, and also the passing away of the official Nottingham Panthers photographer, Dave Page, a man who has been around the Lace City club for many a year producing a wonderful pictorial history of the old club that he loved.

dave-page

A banner at the National Ice Centre in tribute to the late Dave Page, official photographer of the Nottingham Panthers

Dave Page’s family were escorted onto the ice before the proceedings to hear a very moving tribute read by Stef in both men’s honour. The crowd of some 7000-plus were then invited to join in a standing ovation for the former friends of the two clubs.

What followed was absolutely extraordinary.

Both sets of supporters rose to their feet and gave a tumultuous and incredibly touching ovation with loud applause that lasted fully five minutes. Further to this, the Panthers skaters lined up to offer condolences and words of comfort to Dave Page’s wife and family.

The game was played with the Nottingham team playing in their black uniform and Sheffield donning black armbands as a mark of respect for both men and their memory.

After the game ended with a 4-2 score line in Nottingham’s favour, every player from both sides lined the centre circle, placed their equipment in front of them and stood and applauded both sets of supporters before they left the ice. I have never seen anything quite like these events at any sporting game I have attended, it was truly remarkable.

What do we make of all this? Of course first and foremost it was a wonderful tribute to Owen and Dave. For me I sensed there was more to it than this though. It was almost as if somebody had called ‘truce’. Suddenly all the animosity was forgotten and what replaced it was a mutual sign of respect and kinship from both sides of the deep rivalry. Whatever Dave and Owen contributed towards the game of hockey (and that was a great deal) their families can also be proud that it made a few people think about what is important in life, the realisation that it really is  ‘only a game’ and that we can all rub along together, have a great time watching our chosen sports, rib each other certainly but still remain great friends sharing an enjoyable experience.

Thank you for that Dave and Owen. God take care of you and rest in peace, lads.

March 9, 2009 Posted by | Sporting Tales | , , , , , | 2 Comments

Hibernian: Five Positives

Man…this is going to be difficult! There is so much gloom surrounding Easter Road presently due mainly to serious failings on the pitch. Manager, Mixu Paatelainen is deeply in the trenches due to his widely perceived poor tactical  and motivational ability amongst other criticisms. I’ve not had the pleasure (?) of visiting Easter Road in a little while now but reliable witnesses tell me it’s turgid stuff being produced on a weekly basis currently. Not only are the fans not seeing a side wining a game or two they are being starved of entertainment too. This will not do of course and a somewhat poisonous atmosphere is steadily creeping over the old ground.

Who can blame these fans? Certainly not me. It is difficult to see the club that’s in your heart going downhill at such an alarming rate with little too apparently arrest this worrying state of affairs. In spite of this I’m going to try and cheer myself up by looking on the bright side for a moment, difficult though that may be.

Let’s give it a go…

 

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Negligible debt – how many UK football clubs can boast of being in that position currently? It’s not necessarily that savoury the way Hibs have got themselves into that position (i.e. by selling off a stream of good, young players, not to mention some long-held land) but hey, let’s try and throw a positive pose… Continue reading

February 27, 2009 Posted by | Hibernian FC, Sporting Tales | , , | 8 Comments

Hibs: Fit for what?

‘HIBS KEEPER ‘TOO DRUNK’ TO GET ON PLANE’

The above is the latest in a steady stream of unwelcome headlines to be printed about the Easter Road club’s players. This is not reproduced with any sense of outrage  nor is it a moralistic crusade but rather just resignation at the attitude of some modern footballers to their profession.

Grzegorz Szamotulski

Grzegorz Szamotulski

In the linked story, Hibs goalie, Grzegorz Szamotulski was refused access to a flight home to his native Poland for a mid-season holiday because he was judged to have been drunk and not in a suitable condition to board the plane.

This report on Szamotulski, affectionately know as ‘The Mad Monk’ by Hibs fans is arguable in it’s seriousness as an isolated incidence, though it can hardly be said that the Polish goalkeeper has been much of an ambassador for his club in this instance. For me it’s more the further questions it brings up about player’s lifestyles in these times. Continue reading

February 11, 2009 Posted by | Hibernian FC, Sporting Tales | , , , | 2 Comments

Nottingham Panthers 3 Manchester Phoenix 2

I’ve been missing my hockey recently after my last mid-season trip to Saint John in Canada. Whilst there over Christmas and New Year I made hay with a couple of live Quebec Major Junior Hockey League games at Harbour Station watching the local Saint John Sea Dogs. This was complemented by a daily procession of televised hockey games as is the way in Canada, in particular watching the home nation’s fabulous victory in the World Juniors competition.

Panthers sharpshooter, Dan Tessier

Panthers sharpshooter, Dan Tessier

It’s fortunate that living here in Nottingham, there are very few, if any, UK cities that are superior to follow the game. Not only does it host the oldest, most historic club in the Nottingham Panthers, it also boasts a fine ice stadium, the National Ice Centre, in which to watch the game. Arena hockey is not widespread in the UK with only a handful of teams fortunate enough to skate in them and the NIC has long been the favoured home of the Hockey Play-off Finals each Spring. It could be argued that the term ‘Hockey City GB is still Nottingham’s own.

I used to be very much a regular watching the Panthers on a Saturday evening but gradually, and for various reasons, that ended. One of those reasons was that the league downgraded in quality through clubs suffering financially and the resultant strict club wage-capping. From watching superior Canadian professionals of a good standard icing for the ‘black and gold’ on game night, more reliance was put on cheaper, often locally -bred options. There’s a fair argument that this was/is a preferable, more manageable state of affairs but that’s perhaps a debate for another occasion.

I miss my hockey and this season I’ve been back in the seats at the NIC on a few occasions, observing what’s happening down there on the ice. Last night the visitors were the Tony Hand-led Manchester Phoenix. Tony Hand, whilst not necessarily the most popular player in British hockey is nevertheless rightly lauded as one of this country’s greatest-ever talents. Now forty-one years young, his playmaking abilities appear very much intact. He is still the ‘smart’ he always was. It was difficult for me to envisage that I’d first seen Tony playing for his native Murrayfield Racers in Edinburgh when he was just a boy of fourteen years of age – playing in a team of men in a very tough sport indeed. That and the fact that he was drafted by the Edmonton Oilers of the NHL point to a very special player indeed. Continue reading

February 1, 2009 Posted by | Sporting Tales | , , , , , , | Leave a comment

A Nottingham Panthers All-Star line up

First of all apologies to some of the great players of the previous incarnation of the Panthers which ended in 1960. It would not be difficult to concede that the likes of Chick Zamick and Les Strongman operated at a higher level than any of the modern-day leagues. Their like would most certainly be shoe-ins for such a line-up otherwise. I am not of a generation that was old enough to be entertained by the great and the good from the early chapters of the Panthers’ glorious golden era.

I have watched the Nottingham team on and off from it’s re-inception from 1980 to present day. I’ve had the great pleasure in admiring some fine talent during those years and so many special players stand out in the memory. Indeed it is incredibly difficult to leave out some wonderful performers over the years and some personal favourites in particular. After racking my memory, I have distilled the players of the modern era down to these six choices. Feel free to disagree! (I probably will by tomorrow…) Continue reading

November 9, 2008 Posted by | Sporting Tales | , , | 2 Comments

Nottingham commemorates Brian Clough

At last it has happened. I was pleased to note whilst making my way through a busy lunchtime Nottingham today that a large crowd was gathering for the commemoration of one of Nottingham’s favourite adopted sons, football manager, Brian Clough.

THE UNVEILING CEREMONY IN NOTTINGHAM TODAY

The eight-foot high statue stands in a prominent position at the juncture of King Street and Queen Street, just adjacent the city’s Old Market Square.

Among the gathered throng for the unveiling were many players from Brian’s illustrious career, including individuals from his great European Cup winning teams such as Tony Woodcock, Viv Anderson and Kenny Burns.

Brian’s lovely widow spoke for the first time about the tribute to her husband and revealed a side to the great manager that few in the public eye were aware of.

The video shows various moments from Brian’s glorious managerial career and brings back many fond memories of great football and great celebrations.

November 6, 2008 Posted by | Sporting Tales | , , | 2 Comments

Canada ’08: Hockey Refs eh!

I tend to go easy on officials in any of the sports I watch. I’m not one for thinking that the referee has some sort of mysterious vendetta against my favourites and will never give a decision their way come what may. It’s an unenviable job being a referee or a linesman in my view – I try to cut them a little slack.

Sometimes it can only be observed though that the official(s) are having a bit of an off-night. I recall one infamous occasion then an American referee and his linesmen officiating at a Nottingham Panthers game had such a woeful performance that prior to the following week’s game, the Lower Parliament Street organist played Three Blind Mice as the stripeys skated out to start the game. Dear old Eric on the organ was duly knuckle rapped for that piece of fun I believe but the officials in question took it all in fun by posing in their uniforms, complete with false mouse whiskers for the next edition of the Ice Hockey News Review publication.

Here’s a recent smile that came my way anyway. I love this sign, it’s so lovingly created and passionate in it’s detail. Hockey refs – we love you really.

October 19, 2008 Posted by | On The Road, Sporting Tales | , , , , | 2 Comments

Canada ’08: When Penticton Ruled the World

Fifty-three years ago the might of the Soviet Union team were the world new super-power in ice hockey winning the World Championships. Always previously known as ‘Canada’s game’ the on-ice game was changing fast as the Soviets had defeated the East York Lyndhursts of Ontario who were representing Canada. This ignominious defeat by seven goals to two sent shock waves reverberating through Canada and the world of hockey. Previous to this, mighty Canada had always sent a top amateur team to contest the competition against other nations and now the call went out for someone to restore Canada’s pride. The team selected for the task were The Penticton Vees. 

Penticton is but a small (and very pleasant) town at the southern end of Okanagan Lake. Tourists visit for the fine beach and winter skiing. Although always being fond of it’s hockey, it’s probably an unlikely place to search for a team to beat the might of the Soviet Union. Nevertheless, the Penticton Vees were the chosen to claim back the title, the team and Canada’s reputation being seriously at stake.

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September 11, 2008 Posted by | Sporting Tales | , , , , | 2 Comments

Sir Garry Sobers: Celebration of a Great

It’s the 40th anniversary today of a very special achievement in the world of sport by one of the greatest sportsmen the world has ever witnessed. Sir Garfield ‘Garry’ Sobers was the great West Indies cricketer who at the time, playing for Nottinghamshire, battered the perfect six sixes from a single six-ball over off an unfortunate Glamorgan side. The venue was at the St. Helens cricket ground in Swansea, the hitherto unthinkable feat creating a huge impact in the media of the day.

The recipient of Sobers’ peak performance that day was a hapless Malcolm Nash, a slow left-arm finger-spinner who developed into a fine seam bowler despite the confidence-draining scalping from the great all-rounder in full flight.

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August 31, 2008 Posted by | Sporting Tales | , , , , , | Leave a comment

Three Cheers for Golden Girl, Rebecca Adlington

The remarkable Rebecca Adlington was celebrated as an Olympic hero in her home town of Mansfield, Nottinghamshire, ten miles up the road from my home, this evening. Freestyle swimmer won Gold medalsat both 400M and 800M in Beijing to become the first swimmer in the games for around 100 years to perform such a feat.

The 19 year-old ‘girl next door’ from the North Nottinghamshire town witnessed 10,000 onlookers come out in the town to celebrate and commemorate her stunning success in China, lining the streets and filling the Market Place in a jubilee event. Rebecca arrived at the Civic Centre in a gold-coloured Rolls Royce to receive the pair of Jimmy Choo shoes which had been promised to her by the Mayor of Mansfield, Tony Eggington in the event of her striking gold in the games.

Enthusiastic crowds gathered with Union flags and banners plus huge gold medals in a time of celebration in the town to show their pleasure at the local girl’s medal haul and setting a new world record in the 800M event – a record that had stood since the year Rebecca was born back in 1989. Over 100 of Rebecca’s neighbours turned out in the street to laud her praises also.

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August 27, 2008 Posted by | Sporting Tales | , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Nottingham Panthers: The ‘Golden Era’

Nottingham has often been known as ‘Hockey City GB’ and not without some reason. The Nottingham Panthers in their original form were founded way back in 1939. Unfortunately Hitler was apparently not much of an ice hockey aficionado and certain of his activities in that year led to the team which had been recruited and imported en-bloc from Winnipeg, Canada making the long trip home almost in the first instance.

During the war years the Nottingham ice rink saw a little pick-up hockey action from Royal Canadian Air Force members stationed at the RCAF base in Langar in The Vale of Belvoir. Many will attest these old games with those expert Canadians putting on a show to the interest and affinity that Nottingham has long had with the grand old game.

After the war in 1946 the Panthers were re-formed, again with many professional Canadian skaters being brought over to entertain the Nottingham public in the originalstadium at Lower Parliament Street.

I was a little surprised to read in ‘Panthers Kim’s’ excellent article on The Cat’s Whiskers blog of the dearth of reporting about the original Panthers. I grew up in a home where both my parents knew full well of the likes of Chick Zamick and his deeds and would talk of him alongside the big personalities in football of that time. I had the strong belief that Chick at least, was pretty much a household name in Nottingham in those days despite the slight lack of media interest. I speak too of the 1960s’ when I was growing up, the Panthers were long-gone and but a memory, yet still their dashing and dynamic legacy lived on with the Nottingham public.

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June 19, 2008 Posted by | Sporting Tales | , , , , , | 3 Comments

Over the Hills and Far Away

An emailed conversation with a good friend recently focused my thoughts on the origins of how I began this addiction called ‘running’ many years ago as a twelve-year old with an attitude and an inclination. My friend Margaret and I have shared a few miles on the county’s footpaths and country lanes, we also at one time were part of the Redhill Road Runners club but that’s probably a story for another day. Safe to say, we have both had our share of pleasure, friendship, heartache, frustration and achievement over the years taking part in the sport. did I say sport? Perhaps more a way of life because I find one begins to define oneself as a runner in many ways.

When I think back to when I began running it brings a smile. Not quite into my teens and obviously knowing everything* I was probably kitted out in a pair of Tesco jeans, ‘Tesco Bombers’ as us Levi’s-deprived lads termed them. Completing my running clobber would be an orange Mickey Mouse t-shirt and pair of very flat-soled trainers which had starred in many a school playground twenty-a-side, tennis ball, football match.

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June 10, 2008 Posted by | Sporting Tales | , , , , , | 1 Comment

The Strange World of the Football Terrace

For those of us that enjoy the noble art of people watching, the old standing terraces of football grounds used to provide an environment of very rich pickings. Some of these characters undoubtedly still inhabit the seats in our modernised stadia though are palpably not as easily spotted..

I’m a football fan of long-standing over the decades, one who has had the good fortune to watch the great game portrayed in a few famous arenas and a few less so. This includes grounds in Scotland, England and mainland Europe, from Easter Road to Nottingham Forest and Notts County more regularly, via impressive arenas such as the Olympic Stadium, Amsterdam, the San Paulo, Napoli, Anfield, the home of Liverpool FC, and even from the North Bank at Highbury. One thing I can state quite clearly is that all of those football stadiums had something very much in common – they were a psychologist’s dream.

Some of the maddest fans, in the nicest sense of the word, I have ever seen were on the slightly crumbling terraces of Notts County’s Meadow Lane. Here, during the 1970s it was a veritable hotbed of stranglings, I’ll never forget any of them. One of the strangest – and I’m really not sure how he was let out on a Saturday afternoon amongst the public – was a gent probablyaged in his mid-thirties who would attend each home game in a biker jacket adorned with chains and a German Stormtrooper’s helmet complete with Nazi Swastika. He never actually said very much but once or twice a game would emit a deep-throated yet resounding sounding Come on you piiiieeeeessssss… (a reference to the team’s ‘Magpies’ nickname) I wonder where he is now and if the electric shock treatment was successful?

British people do standing jokes quite well don’t they. Well how about the same joke every other Saturday afternoon for practically ten months of the year? Like the sound of that? In those days a trio of gents who looked like they were probably closely related (what to and how large the gene pool was I confess I do not know) used to take position at the very same crush barrier every week in the County Road Stand at Meadow Lane. Whether this had any relevance is not clear. At half-time every home game the Golden Goal competition winner would be read out over the tannoy system to which the trio would all leap in the air as one with a gleeful shout of yeeesssss!!!!! as their torn up unsuccessful  entry tickets were thrown in the air and reigned down on us as confetti does. We laughed the first time and I suppose that was our biggest mistake.

It’s 1973 (yes really) and I’m in among that crowd with my mate, Graham as the fans invade the pitch to remonstrate with the Notts’ club chairman’s decision to ban German soldiers helmets from the ground. Actually it’s the last day of the 1972/3 season when Notts beat 4-1 Tranmere to gain promotion to the old Second Division.

Another oddball roamed ‘The Cowshed’ as it was known at my team, Hibernian’s Easter Road Stadium some years ago. The Cowshed was not the place where I was usually to be found at Easter Road, preferring instead the ‘glamour’ of the old North Stand and the Hibees!! stomp, stomp, stomp chant that would echo around the old wooden construction. This day however, I found myself under the sparse covering of The Cowshed and for some reason was continually distracted by the wanderings of an old gadgie around the back of the little stand.

The ‘Cowshed’, Easter Road

Purple-faced – it was either an anger-management, high blood pressure or Tennants Extra Strong lager problem – I know which I’m plumping for – all three of course. A small man with a large bunnet on his napper and a green and white Hibs scarf wrapped generously around his neck four or five times, he appeared to be getting, shall we say, a little more ‘upset’ as the proceedings unfurled when the boys in green and white went a goal down to Glasgow Rangers.

With Hibs losing out in a crucial moment of open play, let’s a say, being second placed at a throw-in or some such other calamity, our friend could take no more…

HIBS!! YOU’RE A BUNCH OF ****ING CATHOLIC B******S!!!!!!

Staggering really, like he’d just discovered, after going to watch his team four probably aroundfour decades, that the club was actually formed by Irish Catholic immigrants in Edinburgh. Something or some perceived slight perhaps had clearly been lodged at the back of his mind for some years and now was the time to vent it.

There have been so many more of these people on the terraces during my ‘career’ on the hallowed terrace steps – too many to tell, in truth. My concern is that I’m actually one of them…

June 8, 2008 Posted by | Sporting Tales | , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

The Return of The Cat’s Whiskers!

In saying that my very favourite sport is the game of hockey (the version on ice) I find it strange that I’ve only ever submitted one story about the great game on this blog since it began in August 2007. I really must correct that state of affairs. Being a long time fan of the game and an on/off paying customer over many years I was pleased to hear of the re-emergence of one of British hockey’s most entertaining reads, albeit in a different format.

The Cat’s Whiskers was a fanzine run by a good friend of mine which unfortunately discontinued a fine and lauded run some five years ago. Aimed at British hockey fans and supporters of the Nottingham Panthers in particular, the publication was a labour of love for my friend Jonathon Bullard, known as Jono to his friends and Jono #72 around the boards of the ice game in the UK. The fanzine format suited ‘TCW’ well, being an irreverent mix of humour, serious reporting and editorials about the game. Along the great ice way some excellent material was collected including good quality interviews with big names in the sport at that time. Not bad for a publication run basically by a single private individual in his spare (hockey) time.

The Nottingham Panthers have had their ups and down as a club over the decades with just recently a little more positive news to report than the other kind. What is important is that the fans have forums and arenas to give of their views about what is happening at Lower Parliament Street. Sites such as The Cat’s Whiskers provide such an opportunity away from any stilted official line taken by the club.

Perhaps the heady days of fanzines are generally over in these days of instant information via the Internet and dare I say that’s just the way it should be. Instead such sites as the Panthers-oriented The Cage provide an excellent link for fans of the sport. Still though that enjoyable feeling of collecting a crisp paper edition of The Cat’s Whiskers or other similar fanzines and sitting devouring it word for word remains.

It’s 2008 now and The Cat’s Whiskers has moved on…online to be precise. It happily has access to much of the past material that was printed, folded and stapled lovingly together from five years ago and beyond but perhaps more importantly has a future too. The infant site contains brand new material scribed by some interesting, amusing and informative authors – not least Jono himself. I look forward to TCW developing into being an important resource for fans of the Nottingham Panthers and their contemporary clubs on this side of the pond as the site grows which it surely will. Good luck to Jono with the return of his project.

Click on the link to view:

The Cat’s Whiskers

June 6, 2008 Posted by | Sporting Tales | , , , , | 1 Comment

Tommy Burns – A Tribute

I can’t let the sad death of former Celtic footballer and manager pass without paying my respects on here. Tommy passed away yesterday after succumbing to the skin cancer that he was diagnosed with in 2006 and it is terribly sad to view how rapid his decline was.

Tommy was a man who commanded respect from those inside football and out. His playing career with Celtic spanned thirteen years and contained 353 appearances and 52 goals confirming him as a cornerstone at Parkhead. Continue reading

May 16, 2008 Posted by | Sporting Tales | , , | 3 Comments

A Tribute to Arthur Duncan

A little nudge for any fellow Hibbies dropping by the site as I know some of you do regularly. Our good friends in Northern Ireland, NI Hibs are hosting one of their terrific tribute nights very soon, this time to the great Arthur Duncan.

There are very few Hibbies that will not know of Arthur’s achievements with Hibernian. A stalwart of 610 games for the club on the left wing and latterly left back. Arthur had the sort of career that will likely never be repeated in the modern age of football.

Remembering his days at Easter Road, Arthur was an old-fashioned winger with great pace, sometimes a little reckless with the final ball as we will all recall! Hugely effective though and a worthy addition to the armoury of talent available to the great Turnbull’s Tornadoes team of the 1970s’. Many will also look back and remember his way with the fans at that time too, a friendly wave and a little banter with Nijinsky from the touchline was a regular feature most games.

Northern Ireland Hibs proudly carry the Hibernian flag for all of us in their home. I am always happy and grateful as a lifetime Hibernian supporter to see this. We should all be proud of them and offer them our support. Much like their hugely successful tribute nights to those Hibs legends, Lawrie Reilly, Eddie Turnbull and Pat Stanton, I hope this night will be a resounding success. I’m certain it will be. Well done all.

May 3, 2008 Posted by | Sporting Tales | , , , , , | 2 Comments

Hillsborough, April 15, 1989

Hillsborough – 19 years ago today, Saturday, Apr 15,1989

It hardly seems possible that this disaster happened the best part of two decades ago.
Living in Nottingham, I had quite a few friends at the game following the Forest that fateful day. They all told the same tale – that they knew little of what was going on down at what became the infamous Leppings Lane end.

As the tragic events unfolded, many Forest supporters began to boo as they had falsely imagined that the Liverpool fans were merely causing a crowd disturbance. A friend told me that the first he realised that a tragedy was unfolding in front of him was when a young man was brought around the pitch in front of where he was, apparently dead, laid out on an advertisement hoarding which was being used as a makeshift stretcher. Soon there was a frightened hush amongst the Forest support as the hapless struggle went on to release the poor souls trapped behind those high fences.

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April 15, 2008 Posted by | Sporting Tales | , , , , | 1 Comment

London in the Springtime

I was watching the London Marathon on TV this morning and it brought back a few memories of the two appearances I’ve made in the race. I think that most of us that have run ‘The London’ share a few pangs of regret, if not outright guilt that we’re sitting watching the progress of the participants rather than battling it out on the streets of London when the big day in April arrives.

I have many mixed feelings and memories of the two occasions that I took part. What I would say without hesitation however is that they were two of the most memorable days of my life. What happened on those days is still crystal clear in my mind and no doubt will remain so for a long time to come.

Today’s event saw some potential high drama with the discovery of a gas leak in the Isle of Dogs and on the marathon route. Worried reporters talked of re-routes, diversions and short or non-standard routes. Of course the latter factors there would affect elite runners’ qualification times for the Olympics so it was indeed serious stuff. Thankfully a chicane around the problem was added that gained the marathon distance but a mere two metres.

Celebrity runners Amanda Holden and Kate Lawler line up for the big event

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April 13, 2008 Posted by | Sporting Tales | , , , , | 1 Comment

Happy Hibee Anniversary

It was the corresponding weekend that brought a trip to Glasgow’s Hampden Park to see Hibernian play against Kilmarnock in the final of the CIS Cup final on March 18, 2007. What a memorable time it was!

My partner and I travelled up to Edinburgh on the Friday night before Sunday’s game to get acclimatised before the coach trip to Glasgow and to spend a little time ‘back home’. The Saturday evening featured a fine night celebrating with the worthy folk from the Hibees Bounce website. This was far from a strictly Edinburgh/Leith gathering at The Royal Nip on Albert Street, just off the heavenly boulevard of Easter Road though as supporters had travelled from various parts of the world for the festivities and the the date with destiny at Hampden.

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March 15, 2008 Posted by | Sporting Tales | , , , , , | 4 Comments

A Special Day: James Murtha

Today is a special day. It’s five long years since a friend of mine finally ceased chemotherapy and radiotherapy treatment for cancer. James didn’t just beat cancer he annihilated it, in his own inimitable way. I’m sure he won’t mind me quoting him here when I repeat what he has to say this day.

Jimmurtha

“If I was any better I’d be up on charges. Its got to be a crime to feel this good.”

In these days of increased awareness about charitable organisations through coverage by the media, it’s sometimes easy to become hackneyed in one’s views on the subject of charity due to that wide exposure. Every so often however, a story comes along that is so moving and portrays such emotion and human spirit that it is impossible to ignore. I hope to humbly relate just such a story to you here today.

I’d like tell you the story of a gentleman by the name of James Murtha of Burbank, California – Jim, a lion of a man and one who those who are aware of his story are proud to know. Jim is a former US Marine. These days he is the proud father of four daughters and works for the Disney Corporation. His allegiances to the football clubs, Hibernian FC in Scotland and Dundalk FC in Ireland were forged by his Irish heritage through his father. James is a man who never forgot his roots and how important they are to him.

James’ courageous fight against cancer and amazing recovery against very long odds has been extremely well documented elsewhere. This terrific and uplifting story of the strength of the human spirit cannot be bettered by anything I write so I will kindly suggest that you spend a few moments reading those words. Please prepare to feel humbled.

http://www.dundalkfc.com/Trust/Hospice.htm

As befits a man of Jim’s character, he decided that having beaten off the challenge of a life-threatening illness, he needed another test. He chose the lure of the great event – the marathon, in order to fulfill his next achievement and set off on the long road to the ancient event. Dublin was to be the chosen arena for his challenge.

As will be noted from the story linked here, James has several difficulties that for him made the 26.2 miles an even more arduous and exacting proposition than for the rest of us. His requirement for constant drinks due to his body’s inability to create its own saliva being just one of them. May I ask you to try to consider that difficulty for just one moment?

The challenge of the marathon is one that many, especially in the past three decades, have risen to. The boom in running arising from interest in the United States back in the 1970s has travelled full circle and back over that time. Along the way, it has encouraged and allowed a lot of people to experience and understand exactly how it feels to suffer the discomfort, pain, joy, anguish and sheer naked achievement of the classic distance. Indeed, one of the reasons that I was drawn so to Jim’s story is the common bond that we forged as pals, via the Hibees Bounce website, through an interest in the marathon, I myself having competed in four such events. Like most other runners, after having felt all the emotions and feelings surrounding the marathon, I was pleased to be able to talk about those things with James. It was strictly a two-way deal however. I think I learned far more from James during those long, typed conversations than he did from me.

Jim, not content with completing the distance the easy way, took the hard road by walking over 26.2 miles of the streets of Dublin where his marathon was held. Make no mistake that was no mean achievement. Imagine the pain endured in the marathon and then doubling that discomfort over such a duration. It should also be noted that when James walks, he walks more quickly than most are ever likely to run!

There was a further poignant turn in my chats with Jim. At that time another old running friend of my own, Les Skinner, passed away after a brave fight with cancer and leukemia. When I mentioned this to James he assured me that Les’s name would be commemorated on his purple ‘survivor’ t-shirt towards the end of the race. Les’s widow was extremely moved to hear that her late husband would be appearing in one last race.

Jim finally prepared himself in Ireland, the country of his heritage, readying himself ready for the big day. I am perfectly sure he was excited and waiting impatiently for the day of the marathon to come around – a bundle of nerves in fact as every other marathon entrant I’ve known has been. These were some of his salad days, the days he had trained long and hard for. All the sweat, toil and pain that every marathoner knows would have been in his mind, overtaking all his thoughts. The sound of the starter’s gun will have played through his mind countless times.

One can truly find oneself when running or walking long distances – out there alone, whether it’s on the country lanes, on the beach, through the forests as in the county I live in, or negotiating a series of busy city street intersections. Alone in one’s thoughts, and in the challenge lying ahead. Never giving in and never to yield. Rain, wind, storms, pain, injury. When your body says ‘no more’ – but you won’t allow it to.

Jim was well supported in his cause and his date with destiny in Dublin’s fair city. If anyone ever deserved our support it, was surely him. It was my pleasure to report that James completed the Dublin City Marathon in 7hrs and 11mins – well done James!

Indeed there is something about Jim’s achievement that endears me to the soul of Hibernian FC, the football club that both James and I follow. A doggedness and determination to overcome almost impossible odds. In James Murtha we have a man among us who exemplifies those qualities.

Ladies and gentlemen, James Murtha, a lion and a survivor.

March 14, 2008 Posted by | Sporting Tales | , , | 3 Comments

The Crooked Spire

I was driving through Chesterfield in Derbyshire recently and spotted a set of stadium floodlights, those of Recreation Park, Saltergate, the home of Chesterfield FC. My curiosity got the better of me and I went for a little exploration. There’s just something about old football grounds isn’t there.

I’ve only been in this ground twice and that was many years ago. It’s apparently the oldest remaining league football ground and it’s difficult not to notice that. I once went to see the ‘mighty’ Glasgow Rangers draw with the, then Third Division team in an Anglo-Scottish Cup tie, and on another occasion I was persuaded to go to see Notts County visit Saltergate on league duty. The Spireites as they are known ran out 3-0 winners on that occasion and the game was comfortably the worst game of football I have ever watched in my life. On every occasion a Magpies player received the ball in his own half the main strategy was to launch the ball over the old stands. The little-known, up and coming young manager of Notts County that day was one Neil Warnock. Nuff said.

There were parts of Saltergate that I viewed yesterday that were pretty much a disgrace. Stand ends thick with rust on the corrugated iron. A decrepit club hospitality area. The stand I’d stood in many years ago appeared rebuilt at around half the size – obviously due to prohibitive costs and being ordered to demolish the original. An open terrace behind a goal was something that some non-league teams would have turned their nose up at, so small was it.

When one views a lower league football environment like this, I wonder what the purpose is of such clubs maintaining professional and league status, sad to say. As a comparison I recall Notts County arriving in the old top flight First Division on two occasions and being followed by a tiny bunch of fans against the Manchester Uniteds, Liverpools and Arsenals of this world. It was sadly proven during  those times that there is little ultimate potential for clubs the likes of Notts, (and it gives me no pleasure to say that at all). Chesterfield over the years have sometimes made Notts County look like Barcelona…

Chesterfield’s honours (since 1866)

* Third Division (North) Champions 1930/31, 1935/36
* Fourth Division Champions 1969/70, 1984/85
* Anglo-Scottish Cup Champions 1980/81.

Chesterfield FC are the fourth-oldest league club in England. They have never appeared in the top flight of English football in that time. I’m all for loyalty to your local club and all that so I have to commend the long-suffering Chesterfield fans and others of their ilk for their faithfulness to the local club. I mean that genuinely and sincerely.

As I write there is at long last good news for the Derbyshire team’s supporters in that plans have recently been released for a brand new stadium. Let’s hope it changes the fortunes of The Spireites.

March 4, 2008 Posted by | Sporting Tales | , , , , , | 8 Comments

Peter Osgood – Remembering a Sixties Great


“OSGOOD – NO-GOOD!”

“OSGOOD – NO-GOOD!”

Picture if you can, a baying Trent End crowd at Nottingham Forest’s City Ground in the late sixties and early seventies chanting the above to the tune of a clock chiming… As always, football crowds can easily identify those that can hurt their team the most, and so it was with Chelsea’s ‘Ossie’.

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March 3, 2008 Posted by | Sporting Tales | , , , | 1 Comment

What next for Paul Gascoigne?

I was saddened to read of yesterday’s news story about Paul Gascoigne being detained under the Mental Health Act after an incident in a Gateshead hotel. It seems as thought the mercurial former England international footballer is never to be found far from problems or controversy. Indeed this latest report possibly shocks very few observers.

Gascoigne attracts very polarised views from the public, his image is that of a troubled yet cheeky chappy. A sad clown and one who possessed a serious talent for the game of football but struggles endlessly with the more serious game of life.

It would be repetitive to further relay some of the quirks, the twists and turns his life seems to have always taken. I have to confess to having been no admirer of his in the past, aside from his footballing skills. Here was a self-confessed wife-beater and alcoholic. In many lesser ways he has upset a myriad of people with his daft-as-a-brush mentality and just general ignorance. Infamously and ominously his former Newcastle United chairman in his early years as a young professional referred to him as like George Best without the brains. I wonder how hard we should be on him though?

What changed my opinion about Paul Gascoigne was the last book he co-wrote, Being Gazza. I picked the book up for two pounds in a discount shop after hearing someone along the way claim it to be an interesting read. Perhaps not my usual choice in literature but worth a gamble for so little money. I found the book extremely difficult to read, not in understanding it but in its nature. I wanted to understand if there was anything I could learn from Paul Gascoigne’s experiences and observations.

The book was partly written by Gascoigne along with Hunter Davies and the ex-football player’s long-time therapist, John McKeown. It takes the form of a case history of Gascoigne’s recent turbulent years with notes from him interspersed by notes from therapist, McKeown. A strong first point to note is for those who talk about his problems being solely those of alcoholism and bipolar depression. This is by no means the case. One glimpse on the book’s back cover refers also to the following issues which he apparently battles with, amongst others:

Gambling addiction

Bulimia

Drug abuse

Denial

Claustrophobia

Obsessive compulsive

Aggression

Anxiety disorder

Twitching

Physical injuries

Insomnia

Mood swings

Now some may point to that long list and state that many other lesser-known individuals suffer from these various problems – often without diagnosis. That would be true and for me, obviously also as sad. The book goes on to chronicle many incidents and experiences which were the product of one or a combination of the many health issues above, most of these whilst Gazza flounders around trying to comprehend what is happening to him. At times he appears as an innocent child who doesn’t understand the consequences of his actions. Not in a bad or evil way but rather in an almost endearing, childlike way. I did mention that my attitude towards him had changed after reading the book.

Throughout Being Gazza a constant feature are his many trips to a rehabilitation clinic in the USA. At times it seems as though this is the only place where he is able to find peace. I’m not sure how many of these long visits are known in the public domain aside from the book but I for one was surprised at the quantity and regularity of them.

Gascoigne often points towards a tragic incident in his younger years when a younger boy he was detailed to look after was killed in a road accident. Paul talks of his guilt and of picking up the boy’s ‘broken body’ from the road – an image that was to haunt him through his life. Who can say how great was the psychological influence this incidence had on him, but I’d like to offer that he is a far more sensitive individual than his public persona indicates. I feel that moment in his young life may underline what has happened, and to be fair, he has allowed to happen since.

His friends from back in Newcastle receive no slack at all from the public and the media. They are referred to as ‘sycophants’ and ‘hangers-on’ repeatedly and are often blamed in part for Gascoigne’s roller-coaster ride towards his demise. However, I am not sure if this is so. I believe that his well-known friend, Jimmy Gardner would have been his friend, fame and fortune or not. These friends fulfilled a need for Gazza. He never particularly wanted to leave his own  people behind and was always just as happy having a few pints down the working men’s clubs back home as swaggering among the glitterati in London or elsewhere.

Similarly people talk of him being ‘his own worst enemy’ and abusing and wasting his talent. When Gascoigne talks of his school days and first getting into football though his main focus always seemed to be in making money in order to support his family. I believe he stayed true to his roots in that respect and don’t believe that he threw it all away without caring. To think so shows neither compassion nor understanding of what makes the man tick.

When Paul Gascoigne talks about his recent achievements or lack of them in his last book, his words are often directed towards the ill-fated short stay he had as a manager at Kettering Town Football Club. In my view it is a great shame that for whatever reason this venture did not succeed, (the cynical may say it was never going to but I’m not so sure). The one thing that the man understands is the game of football which has been his life for so long now. He seems a husk of a man without the game to focus his thoughts on.

When I see Paul Gascoigne in the media these days his appearance worries me. Gone is the weight and stockiness which characterised much of his playing days. He now appears a gaunt and haunted-looking individual, a strange-looking man uncomfortable to focus on. It is so sad but his face amply belies his many troubles.

So as I write, we wait for further news on his most recent incident and a report about his ‘sectioning’. No doubt the pressmen and photographers will be working hard to bring us the latest piece of harrowing news and images of this tortured and mixed-up man. They are certainly not without blame themselves for the current situation he finds himself in. In my words here I could mention some of Gascoigne’s less salubrious acts, the self destruction, the aggression and the apparent stupidity but what I truly believe is that he deserves understanding and further help. Reading into the man did change my views about him but it was what was rather between the lines than the lines themselves. Paul Gascoigne needs compassion for his has become a most difficult life to live.

I wish him well whilst sadly fearing the worst.

February 22, 2008 Posted by | Sporting Tales | , , , | 4 Comments

The Streak

Okay it’s here.

Today marks eight years since I began a running ‘streak’ – running every single day without fail for a minimum distance of one mile. In practice the distance has been anywhere between one and twenty-six point-two miles (The London Marathon) along the way. I’m going to save the full story for another day but I’d just like to relate how it began and a couple of memories along the way from this past eight years.

I’d been originally thinking of this project for some time and had even achieved a period of several months of marathon training before sadly succumbing with a broken big toe. Ironically that was not caused by the seventy/eighty miles a week I was training at that time but by stubbing my foot on a door frame in the home! Such is life I mused as I struggled through a couple of painful eight and five-mile runs with the fractured toe before realising that particular streak was sadly at an end.

The idea of ‘The Streak’ came from former Olympic runner, Ron Hill. Ron is usually the first individual the running fraternity think of when the term is mentioned, his own Streak beginning way back in 1964 and still ongoing at 15,742 runs this very day. I took Ron’s criteria of running at least one mile a day and sometimes smile at the things he did to continue his long unbroken run of days. The former marathoner has told of running after a car crash in which he sustained a broken sternum and heart damage. Now that’s serious stuff. It almost makes his ‘run’ on crutches the day after an operation for bunions seem like small beer. This is the sort of mindset a streak puts you in however so I can easily understand what was going through Ron’s mind as people were undoubtedly calling him crazy for doing what he did. It’s difficult for others to understand the time, hardship and investment that goes into a Streak.

Over the past eight years I have been very fortunate with injuries, thank you God for that. I have however run with torn muscles on several occasions and dragged myself out of bed when I could hardly stand with a bad case of influenza. Travelling and holidays often presented a problem. I have run around airports whilst waiting for a late flight arriving, I have run down back lanes in Italy with a pack of dogs chasing me and got hopelessly lost in Rome when not being able to find my way back to the piazza upon where my hotel was situated. I have run in temperatures of -30 in Canada when the cold air burnt my throat and froze my eyelashes. I have returned home from a run with heat stroke conversely.

The Streak has enabled me to run in some beautiful places. Beaches, mountains, major cities such as Vancouver, London, Naples and Edinburgh. It’s also enabled me to connect back to nature on the majority of days, most often when I run in the beautiful old hunting estate, Bestwood, part of the original Sherwood forest in Nottinghamshire. I’ve done an awful lot over the years to maintain it thus far but it’s given me an awful lot in return. I have no idea if, how and when it will end but will continue to treat it one day at a time as I have always chosen to.

In four hours time it will be time once more to drag those trainers and kit on and today head off to dear old Bestwood for another three miles-worth of The Streak. Wish me luck!

January 31, 2008 Posted by | Sporting Tales | , , , , | Leave a comment

Les Skinner

It’s a running anniversary of sorts for me tomorrow (more of later). For that reason it seems like a very opportune time to remember an old friend and fellow runner who is sadly missed by all that knew him. This was my humble tribute to him at the time. Two and a half years on, this gentleman still remains an inspiration to me… 

Les Skinner ,who passed away on the 6th September 2005

A celebration of my friend Les.

It was with great sadness I heard the news of the passing of Les Skinner recently, an old friend of mine and a great friend to many at Redhill Road Runners and of the club itself. I felt it important to write a few words about him at this time and although this is a sad occasion, I shall attempt to relate some of the lighter times with Les – just as I believe he would have wanted.

Many of you will know that Les was a founding member of Redhill Road Runners, having begun running with a group of colleagues from his then place of work, Jessops, in the city of Nottingham. The rest is history as they say with the group evolving into a genuine and successful running club over the years and into the present day.

I was first ensnared by Les’s powers of persuasion in the early nineties. I would notice him when out running through our favourite woods at Bestwood, we’d shout a cheery hello when passing each other and on one particular day I saw him in the distance and actually managed to catch up with him, (no mean feat in those days!) We chatted a little, running alongside, and he duly invited me along to the Redhill Road Runners club. So numerous were the occasions when out running afterwards with Les I would observe him doing this with other runners. It was at this time I first realised his great pride in the club that he had been a founding member of.

One of the many reasons I enjoyed running and training with Les was simply because he was great company. Out there on the country lanes and through the fields and woods, a tough fifteen-mile run would seem to pass in the blink of an eye with him chatting away and laughing together with you. All that knew Les will recount his mischievous but good-natured humour. One of the attributes I always loved about him was his bright-eyed enthusiasm he brought to everything, it was impossible not to be motivated by him when he spoke, he was one of those rare people who make all things seem possible.

Les, back row, 2nd left, with his beloved Redhill Road Runners

Although Les lived away from his native Cornwall for many years his love for his home county never diminished. He remained very much a Cornishman and proud of it. One of the many yarns he would relate would be the story of him being born in a castle down there in that loveliest of counties – it was true too!

There were so many humourous times with Les, to recount them all would take up pages and pages, from the Nike ‘Shoe Mountain’ which was his pride and joy at home to the story of when he broke ranks, leading at the very vanguard of the London Marathon at the mass start. Perhaps he would be inclined to inform you about the latest of his many and varied ‘injuries’ which would thwart his latest plan for world veteran running domination! Les told me once he ran part of a marathon with Australian champion Steve Monaghetti and I believe him. Make no mistake though and casting jokes aside for a moment, Les was a special and gifted runner. Those who ran with him like I did knew that.

It seems almost churlish to mention facts and figures in the context of a light-hearted man like Les but I would just like to add that his best time for a marathon was no less than 2.49 – almost international class. Without being dramatic many of us will remember him as being a tough and determined character, well suited to the rigours and hardships of long-distance running. He also had a great, natural inbuilt talent for the sport too, of that there can be no doubt.

Latterly after Les contracted his illness I would still see him out on the roads and trails, not running but power walking (probably faster than many could run actually). This to me was the mark of Les Skinner – a true warrior athlete who NEVER gave in.

I’d like at this point to acknowledge all the considerable work and dedication that Les and his wife Sheila, who I am proud to also call a friend, have offered to the Redhill club over the years. I’m sure that you will all share this moment with me to offer our condolences to Sheila and his two daughters Tina and Kerry who Les leaves behind.

No more shall I see that familiar running style of Les with that distinctive left arm curling outwards as he raced along – was this man one of the most easily recognised runners from a distance you have ever seen?

What’s more I’m going to miss it.

Thanks for being a friend Les, you will be very sadly missed.

Stuart

For anyone interested in joining the club that Les helped found, please go to:

Redhill Road Runners

January 30, 2008 Posted by | Sporting Tales | , , , | Leave a comment

Mansfield on’t Telly Yooth!

I don’t really keep up with English football otherwise I’d have popped up the road to watch the Mansfield Town v Middlesbrough cup tie first-hand this afternoon.

Although Forest, and to an extent Notts have always been bigger fish than The Stags around here and are also half the distance away, Field Mill is only around ten minutes drive from the Kingdom of Redhill and therein Chez Frew.

Just tuning in live on the BBC and I have to say that I’m fairly impressed with plucky little Mansfield. After a shaky start when they resembled a pub team/Hearts they came on to a bit of a game and were a bit unlucky to be one down at the interval. During the second half they continue to give the Premiership side a tough time, with Mansfield forward, Balding’s pace showing up well and causing problems for the Teesiders.

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January 26, 2008 Posted by | On The Road, Ripping Yarns, Sporting Tales | , , , | Leave a comment