Looking to the future with one eye on the past.
For those interested in history, I’ve taken charge of an overhaul of my local history group’s website. The Arnold Local History Group is an established and growing organisation that offers education courses, events and exhibitions based on the town of Ernehale ‘The place of Eagles’, as it was formerly known.
The Old North Road of ‘immemorial antiquity’. Mansfield Road, Redhill, Nottingham pictured in 1925
Mansfield Road (above) which travels through our borough and close to my home fulfilled the role of joining the North and the South of England together and is arguably one of the oldest roads, if not the most ancient, in the United Kingdom. Almost certainly, a Stone Age animal path wending its way through Sherwood Forest originally it rose to prominence and importance as the main road from London to York. There are records of a 9th Century Danish Viking invasion marching from York to the city of Nottingham four miles to the south along the predecessor of the byway and accounts of William the Conqueror travelling what later became known as ‘The Turnpike Road’.
The site has some unique and high quality content for anyone with an interest in or link to the town and thereabouts or for those with a liking for history in general. The Arnold Local History Group site is available at:
Regular updates can also be found on the ALHG Twitter feed:
The news was announced this past weekend that the oldest league club in the world, Notts County have decided to part ways with their current manager, former Notts defender, Craig Short. Nothing too unusual about that you might suggest as yet another manager is unceremoniously sacked but by the local media’s reckoning this announcement means that the Magpies will shortly be announcing their sixth manager in just one year including caretaker bosses.
It was the mid-sixties when I attended my first game at the old Meadow Lane ground with a maternal uncle who, like others in his family, had watched Notts in their earlier fashionable days. As anyone with an inkling about Nottingham football history will inform you, the 1940s and 1950s saw the heady days of England centre-forward, the magnificent Tommy Lawton signing for the then Third Division (South) club for a fee of £20,000 which was sensational news that stunned the football world at the time. The England spearhead signed from Chelsea and came to preside over average crowds of around 35,000 at Meadow Lane. In those days Notts were arguably the glamour club in the city, scoring barrow loads of goals through Lawton himself, aided and abetted by an outstanding inside forward Jackie Sewell and other aces in a strong line-up.
A few short years later however and the writing was on the wall for County with, apart from the brighter news of a smattering of young stars who were sold off such as Jeff Astle and Tony Hateley, some generally very glum and depressing times indeed for the old club. It was in that dismal era with the club floundering amongst the dead men applying for re-election to the league’s old Fourth Division that I first heard the phrase used by my uncle ‘graveyard of managers’ for that is surely what Meadow Lane had become.
A little research tells me that in just over a decade leading up to 1968, Notts County had earned that tag by employing no less than eight different men at the helm. This era began with Lawton himself who lasted a miserable fifteen months and ended with former Forest hero, Billy Gray who managed just a year at the club. I think it’s fair to say that these statistics of the day were outstanding and for all the wrong reasons. Whilst maybe they would not be completely unusual in current win-at-all-costs modern football they were a damning set of figures at the time.
Glory days – Lawton scores his hundredth goal for Notts in front of another big crowd
To the present then and we can see that the more some things change, the more they stay the same as in a similar ten-year period the Magpies hot seat has been filled by no less than twelve managers, not counting caretakers. As previously mentioned, the local media is quoting six in just the last year including short-term appointments.
Craig Short, as far as I’m aware a reasonably popular signing due partly to his former popularity as an excellent central defender for the club has been shown the door after just five months and thirteen games in charge. Five of those games were won and at the time of the sacking Notts stood at a respectable sixteenth in their division. One has to ask, exactly what chance did Short have in that time of creating success at the old club? In furthering his case it has to be remembered that Notts are a newly-promoted side having gained access to League Two this season after a barn-storming finale to season 2009/10. They are now playing at a higher level and with many members of last season’s successful side needing replacement.
Short is very much a rookie, a tyro in football management terms with just a few months experience in an interesting looking former appointment at Hungarian side, Ferencvaros. He undoubtedly has much to learn but arguably showed signs that he was capable of doing so astutely and quickly. In any case, if he had been seen as too inexperienced to lead the Magpies just five months ago what has really changed in this time?
I’m a casual bystander in what happens in the Nottingham football world these days but I enjoy seeing both local teams excel. I have to say that when Ray Trew took over the ownership of the club a short while ago his common sense and financially prudent approach seemed to be exactly what Notts County needed after the ridiculous pie-in-the-sky Munto Finance days. His manner was straight talking and to the point and I liked the cut of his jib in sorting out what were worrying and quickly mounting problems at Meadow Lane. That’s partly why I am surprised and disappointed at the short-termism being shown here.
Notts County are not a big cheese in the world of football these days but I do believe in this case here they provide a very good example of one of the ills of the modern game. There is a lack of patience and tolerance shown to managers generally in what is at 95% of clubs an incredibly difficult job. These men get little leeway to bring to fruition the plans they formulate for the teams that employ them. It is a mathematic fact too that only the few can win things in any given season. There are a myriad of reasons why success comes to certain clubs, huge support and financial backing probably at the forefront but it is not unconnected that even at a peak level such as that seen at Manchester United and Arsenal some of the most successful clubs are those that stick by the man in charge of team affairs on a long-term basis. Former Notts County legend, Jimmy Sirrel a man I met and was fortunate enough to talk to at length one sunny afternoon and a manager who never once suffered the indignity of being sacked, I know would be the first to agree.
The area of Nottinghamshire in which I live, Redhill, has seen quite a few changes over the years. Like many other places it has lost a few small businesses along the way, including a grocery store, a newsagent, the original post office and an excellent fish and chip shop. Two constants over the years though have been it’s two very old and neighbouring pubs, The Ram Inn and The Wagon and Horses which both stand prominently on the main Mansfield Road .
Just recently I have noticed that ‘The Ram’ has been closed up tight, boarded off and with workers cabins in the car park. It’s not clear whether this was to be a much-needed refurbishment as I’ve been assured the old public house has closed it’s doors for good and that it’s future is apparently as an eighty-bedroom residential care home. Contradicting this there are signs outside which indicate that is to reopen as part of a chain of pub restaurants. Who knows the truth but it raises the thorny situation of the future of so many British pubs.
Both of Redhill’s pubs are of a considerable vintage. The Wagon and Horses was reputedly built in 1827 as a coach house for the main arterial road north it stands upon while the The Ram is a few years it’s senior being built in 1789. I am informed that both pubs these days have a shared owner who has decided to close one of them. I dare hazard a guess that The Wagon has been kept because of it’s historic coaching inn past but that’s just conjecture on my part.
Over the years I had been a customer of both pubs. Before their lamented disappearance, the two main local breweries had been represented in the two pubs, The Wagon carrying Home Ales beer from it’s Daybrook premises just a mile down the road whilst The Ram sold the less popular Shipstones ales made at The Star Brewery at Basford perhaps just three miles away. Customers tended to go the pub whose beer they preferred. Well into the 1970s, The Wagon still retained its stables that had been originally used to replenish stage coaches with new horses in order to climb up the ‘interminable rise of Redhill’ northwards. Latterly the stables housed the pub’s toilets and in another area had swings for children as I recall.
Local landmarks: The Wagon and Horses and The Ram Inn
Latterly, The Ram had slipped so far backwards it was difficult to know what could be done to improve the place. It was a very good example of the typical ruination of a decent pub after the separate bars were gutted to make one large area. Together with a considerable extension to the rear, largely to woo potential diners, the atmosphere was barn-like and it also looked worn, tired and dated with it eighties-style former renovation.
Although only minutes walk from my home I have rarely used either pub in many years so I can understand how it has been difficult to retain the profitability of both establishments. I would have loved to support my local community’s public houses if either had been more to my taste. Typically, about once a year I’ll take an annual strollup the road to see if anything has changed. With both pubs being in such close proximity it was always easy to pop round next door if one was a little quiet. My usual experience has been to enter The Ram through it’s side door, find it almost completely deserted and walk straight out of the front door and on to The Wagon. In truth though, neither pub seem like the nice old local pubs that I used to visit years ago. Times have changed and I’d sooner go the trouble and expense of taking a return bus ride into the city where I can have a quiet drink in somewhere with a little ‘life’ in it and enjoy a good range of more interesting drinks such as some of the continental lagers and quality ciders. I don’t feel particularly pleased to say that and I’d love to have seen the old Redhill pubs back in their former guise and enjoy a walk up the road to enjoy a drink with a neighbour or two in a proper ‘local’ pub. It’s all a bit of shame.
The news about The Ram Inn is hardly isolated. So many of our old pubs are disappearing forever and things will never be the same again. Another local pub, The White Hart which was an incredibly popular and busy pub years ago, now lies forlorn and graffiti-laden, doubtless awaiting demolishment and redevelopment for retail purposes. It’s last apparition as part of a mediocre restaurant chain now a predictable memory. I never would have in the past foreseen the day when the likes of that place was no longer.
The Ram Inn at the moment lies in sullen darkness after over two-hundred years of quenching locals’ and passing travellers’ thirsts. I hope it’s not all over for this well-known local landmark. What a dire state of affairs our local community pubs find themselves in in 2010. The biggest shame is that should the likes of The Ram Inn close down it would do so largely unloved and unlamented. It was not always thus.
A little more local stuff today and something about the town I’ve lived close to for a long time, Arnold, Nottinghamshire. I always liked the situation of the old King George’s Rec just behind Arnold market place. As a boy I attended the old ‘British’ School which stood approximately where the market place is now and would often attend Arnold St. Mary’s football games just over the road. I came to play a bit of cricket on those same playing fields too, not to mention tennis and in younger days the playground adjacent for general tomfoolery and falling off the slide and swings scraping my knees and tearing holes in my clothes regularly. Often the latter arose from balancing on top of the playground slide, fighting with several others for a free view of the game going on over the hedge.
King George V Playing Fields, 2010
I particularly loved the odd Midland League evening games that Mary’s would play, the two Scots forwards Joe Boucher and Bobby Tait and the midfield playmaking skills of Pete ‘Shonkey’ Burton et al. After the game my pals and I would head for the delicious chips from one of the several chip shops on Front Street before heading back to Redhill, just in time for the latest episode of Dad’s Army! Continue reading
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.
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’.
A walk in the local Sherwood Forest this week set me pondering the age-old story of the Nottingham outlaw and the legends surrounding his associated characters and places. I’ve touched on the story previously in articles featuring St. James Church at Papplewick and Sherwood Forest itself but I hopefully have a different slant to offer within this piece.
Sherwood Forest was enjoying a day’s respite from the regular reign of late on Monday, the high clouds finally clearing to offer fresh sunlight dappled through the old oaks, the rays searing into the clearings amongst the trees. Many visitors only appear to consider the Major Oak as worth seeing and truly it is a tremendous sight, but within a few minutes one can be in seclusion within the boundaries of the 450-acre former Royal hunting park.
Being a busy visitor centre much visited by tourists necessarily affects the amount of wildlife in the Forest but there are still compensations along the many pleasant paths through trees. Out in the Forest today were dozens of different fungi carpeting the ground and felled trees. A close up study of the ancient oaks is also quite a wonder. As I walked the gunshot fire of squirrels dropping acorns from the tall boughs onto the otherwise silent woodland floors. It was against this backdrop that I considered this story of the world-renowned outlaw of Sherwood Forest.
North Nottinghamshire still remains an area of more than average forestry. Some of it no longer deciduous but still attractive in its own way. This is especially so when requiring a part canopy against the elements on a wet day’s walking. It was on just such a day recently that I found myself walking with a friend in the local Thieves Wood and Harlow Wood. It’s in the latter that the site of a legendary Robin Hood story can be found.
Wet days can sometimes bring their compensations ironically and so it was today for a series of inclement days had seen the formerly dried up waters of Fountaindale gurgling and flowing busily. The ballad of Robin and the Curtail Flyer documents the first meeting of Robin Hood and Friar Tuck at Fountaindale. It’s a story that has been enacted many times for Hollywood and television. One legend has it that Robin had a resting place near the dale whilst the Friar may have either been from Nearby Newstead Abbey or possibly a smaller Abbey at Fountaindale. Robin had the reputation as the best bowman in England and had heard that the Friar was his match and more. When searching for and finding Friar Tuck at Fountaindale, Robin Hood demanded that the Friar carry him across the water. Tuck duly and obediently acceded to Robin’s demand only to drop him in half way across. Stories record that within humiliated, a fierce fight ensued before the two became friends after gaining mutual respect with Tuck joining Robin Hood’s band of men.
Another interesting side story from the area describes Sir Walter Scott writing parts of his famous ‘Ivanhoe’ epic at nearby Fountain Dale House. Scott referred to the area as ‘Copmanhurst’.
An excellent video account of one man’s visit to Will Scarlet’s grave
At nearby Blidworth lies what is reputed to be the grave of another of that band, Will Scarlet. The Church of St Mary of the Purification on the main street houses a curious monument to the rear which was not originally a gravestone but rather the original apex from the tower of the church. There are no markings on the stone but generations of local people have passed down the legend that Will Scarlet was buried against the back of the church. Who really knows? As with all stories related within the legendary story of Robin Hood and his Merry Men one has to use one’s imagination. Certainly though if there is any accuracy in the stories, the area of Nottinghamshire containing Sherwood Forest, Fountaindale and Blidworth would present a worthy epicentre of its activities.
Time to return to the WI Hall for two more lectures before the festival would end for another year. Ink in the Blood presented by former newspaper editor Barry Williams and introduced by Nottingham Evening Post Features Editor, Jeremy Lewis was an interesting experience to say the least. Mr. Williams, a very accomplished man and former editor of three large local newspapers for many years including the afore-mentioned Nottingham edition was in Lowdham to talk about his recently written autobiography and seemed to have attracted many of his former work colleagues from the local newspaper to see him. I was struck by this at once as one of the old hacks sat next to me with a loud, self-important and booming voice appeared to believe I was a piece of furniture to be leaned on. Perhaps there had been a few gin and tonics over lunch I mused as I pulled my chair away from his weight. It must actually be a common ignorance that some old journalists have as another of his blue-blazered ‘chums’ appeared to consider my shoulder as a convenient leaning post before I physically took his arm and removed it to his surprise.
Last week I had the pleasure of attending the local annual Lowdham Book Festival for a Saturday of literary pursuit. Lowdham is a village just a few short miles from my home and has a special significance for this blog site. It was just a year ago that I attended a lecture given by Mike Atkinson, a free-lance writer and author of the excellent troubled diva blog site. That talk gave me the notion to set this site up after formerly experimenting with a homepage for some time.
The final Saturday at Lowdham is always the most popular and usually packed with events enough to interest anyone held in the several different small venues around the village from a marquee, through a Women’s Institute Hall to an old Methodist Chapel. The day also features a book fair full of bargain reads and is now widening into literary craft displays such as bookbinding.
With so many events overlapping and running simultaneously I tend to choose a few before the day and head for those. On this day my first choice talk Victorian Nottingham was to begin at 10.15am and being a little Saturday morning-tardy I decided not to rush breakfast and took a leisurely drive through the attractive village of Woodborough and over to Lowdham instead.
Summer is here, it is reported, and a good walk is all the more enjoyable for it. Today’s article chronicles in words and pictures a short walk around the previously mentioned Southwell in Nottinghamshire, the ‘Southwell Town Trail’. I can suggest this stroll of just 2.2 miles around the pretty town as an interesting and pleasant way to spend a couple of hours on a nice afternoon.
My recent visit to Southwell took in that quintessential pastime of a cup of tea at the idyllic tea room and garden in the village of Bleasby a few miles south off the road to Lowdham.
I can heartily recommend this place which comprises of an old stable block converted into a tearoom complete with the attractive gardens to an old rectory.
Bleasby Tea Room garden
Our walk began outside the ancient Minster. The first significant sight was the stately beauty of the many climbing wisteria plants draped languidly over the frontages of large imposing homes and small cottages alike.
In truth, on a walking tour such is this one there is little opportunity to gain a head of walking steam. There are too many photographic opportunities and points of interest to look at along the way. For a comparatively small place, Southwell has an incommensurate amount of points of historical interest dotted around the town. The first one on this short journey being the Bramley Tree Cottage. Behind the cottage in a private garden lies the very first Bramley apple tree planted back in the 19th century. The Bramley Seedling, originally popularised by local nurseryman, Mr. Merryweather, is surely the very best of cooking apples, having outstanding and well-renowned culinary properties.
Shortly afterwards the walk takes a pleasant diversion behind the main street’s cottages, through some shrouded woodland and up to Burgage Green with its own historic tale to tell.
The former House of Correction in Southwell only exhibits its well-preserved original gateway these days but still offers an intriguing look back to where the old prison would have stood from 1807. The Burgage itself is a green and pleasant corner just to the north of the town and almost feels like a separate little place in its sleepy and shady situation just over the hill from the main business of Southwell.
Before leaving the Burgage we find the home of arguably Southwell’s most famous (or infamous according to your point of view!) resident. It was here at Burgage Manor that one Lord Byron lived with his mother from 1804 until 1806. When people talk of Byron, Newstead is always mentioned but few relate the fact that the great romantic poet lived in the small Nottinghamshire market town for a significant period of time.
Southwell has many old inns and we pass one of them, The Wheatsheaf on the way down to the next historic point, The Saracen’s Head in the centre of town. The inn which is a focal point of Southwell is where Charles I enjoyed his last few days of freedom before being arrested by Scottish Commissioners in the Civil War. The building was originally called The King’s Head and parts of the present day inn date back to when it was first constructed in the 12th century. The Saracen’s Head was rebuilt in the 16th century and remains a fine hotel, restaurant and bar.
The Sarcen’s Head
After a drink in the quiet backwater of the courtyard where horse and coaches would have once passed, we crossed the deceptively busy little road outside, over to the magnificent Southwell Minster. Words seem inappropriate to describe the huge old place of worship.
Like many churches it evolved over different eras but unlike many dates back to Norman times. Christian worship began approximately 1000 years ago on this site and is recorded from 900 years ago in the present building. A visit, especially to one of the concerts in the Minster, is the only way to really appreciate its grandeur. On a lighter note, a pleasant diversion, especially if children are present, is to play the game of locating the ‘church mice’ that are carved into various furnishings around the interior. Beware this is no easy task!
The Southwell Town Trail.
Bestwood Country park stretches 650 acres and is part of the original Sherwood Forest. It lies around five miles north of Nottingham and is accessible by city transport buses. It is also walkable from the Robin Hood Line train. Towards the Arnold/ Mansfield road side of the park is situated The Bestwood Lodge Hotel which is on the edge of the woodland. A decent meal or a drink in extremely civilised surroundings are available in the historic old building.
Meeting my friend at Bestwood Lodge today for an arranged walk with a park ranger was such a good idea. We met after nine-thirty and joined ranger, John and another walker an hour later, prepared to learn something new about the park we have used and loved so much over the years.
But a few minutes into the walk, we saw the rare black Hebridean Sheep which are kept in one of Bestwood’s ancient flower meadows. This particular meadow was described to us as resembling one from 200 years ago in its native flora and fauna.
Woodland management is a huge task in Bestwood. To preserve the natural vegetation of the woods – that of mainly Birch and oak trees, patches of sycamore are routinely cleared to allow the former to grow. As in most areas of nature, a natural balance is sought and it is felt that the sycamore offers too dense a shade in the woodland for the oak and birch saplings to flourish. This in turns affects the type of wildlife that exists happily in this area of the old Sherwood Forest, and has done for many hundreds of years.
All around the park there are piles of logs where trees have been cleared or pruned. It had always crossed my mind what happened to the wood and I found out today. Much of the material is left on the woodland floor for invertebrates to live in and for fungi to grow amongst. The deeper the pile of wood the better apparently for some creatures. Some of the wood is however sold as firewood. Something I will be availing myself of, partly to contribute to Bestwood and partly as there is something somehow satisfying about burning fuel gathered from my own community putting something back at the same time.
We observed young yew saplings which have been introduced to the woodland. Yew is one of the oldest trees this country has and can grow for up to a thousand years it is said. There is some confusion as to why Yew is often seen within churchyards. Our ranger’s opinion was that the yew offers extremely good waterproof cover due to its shape, and that pagan worship was held underneath the bows of the trees. The Christian churches were then built on these same plots after their introduction, therefore the yew being a common churchyard sight. Another strong theory is that Yews were planted by decree to supply wood for longbows for forest folk. The yew possesses bright red berries which are attractive to birds, it is however extremely poisonous to humans.
Finally our walk ended where we had begun, at the old winding house. This building was part of the original Bestwood Colliery which stopped producing coal in the 1960’s. Some form of maintenance work however carried on into the 1980’s. The winding house which contained the steam engine that powered the ‘cage’ that took the colliers down the shaft to the coal seams below has a team of enthusiasts who help preserve this unique building. In the past week it has been reported that a lottery grant of £1m has been won by the council to develop it. There will be lifts and visits possible to the coal face below, together with a tea room which is sure to be popular.
One wonders about the future of Bestwood and hopes that it remains the unspoilt haven of history and tranquility that it is now. The ranger’s opinion is that perhaps the winding house may end up as something of a ‘honey pot’ for visitors and yet those of us that seek more solitude and peace within the park will still use the majority of the wider area. I hope and believe so.
Bestwood Country Park (or as we say around these parts, ‘up Bestwood’) for me however remains Nottinghamshire’s best kept secret for the moment.
For those not necessarily of a Nottingham persuasion, here’s a fail-safe guide to survival to help you through a stay in the Lace City. It’s not comprehensive or foolproof and please note that important tasks such as ordering a pint etc. can be performed quite adequately by pointing, talking loudly and s-l-o-w-l-y. With the help of local language expert, John Beeton, here’s a selection of Nottinghamshire sayings and phrases that may help when visiting the city:
The former Drury Hill, Nottingham
A guide to Nottingham English
Prattinn abaht = Acting stupidly.
Ee-addizzedd dahn the bog = He had been sick.
Bogga that furr gaima soajiz = I shall not continue with this course of action.
korl yersenn a faiter? = I do not share your confidence in your abilities as a pugilist.
Eez tookizz battomm = He is sulking.
Annair doo = A hairstyle.
Gerrupp them stairs = It is time for bed.
Ee doant gerronn wee nobbdi = He is unsociable.
Nehmind ay = Don’t let it concern you.
Batt yersenn dahn = Dust yourself off.
Av podged missenn. I have had sufficient to eat. Wairvyerbinn till nah? = Did you get lost?
Yo-a prattannarf yo-are = You are a fool.
Faktreh = Industrial workplace.
Eezabitt finnikeh = He is rather choosy about his food.
Up the spaht = Pregnant.
Wottyo prattin abaht wee? = What are you doing?
Yent, aya? = I don’t believe you have done that.
Gerrineer = Please come in.
Adunno worritts all abaht = It is a complete mystery to me.
Oajer noise = Please be quiet.
Ahtahse = Garden shed.
Av ott missen = I am in considerable pain.
yor gerrin woas yo ahr = your getting worse you are
Skehf = dandruff
twitchel, or jitty (more common in Eastwood in my time than ‘jennel’) tundish = funnel
Eastwood = Brown Town
Cotch = To Sit Down and Relax
Mardy = somewhat disagreeable
im gerrin ona bus ngooin dahn tahn = I’m going to take the to the town centre
giz a guzgog = could i have a gooseberry
Gerrontkawsie = Walk on the pavement
bobbo = horse
Enny rowd up = Which ever way you look at it.
Causie = pavement,
Entry or ginnal = pathway,
mucker = friend,
smigin = small amount,
wagon = lorry
Awerre! – I believe your are lying to me
Chatty = In a mess
Cummoninnoutonnit! = take heed of the inclement weather children !
eesraytstuckup = He is a little reserved/not friendly.
yadenni tea-ye? = Have you eaten dinner yet?
oowarraweethen? = Who was I with then?
I’ll seeyu safto = I’ll see you this afternoon
gerumrappedupduk = I’ll take them with me ,miss
Yerrwot? = What was that last phrase you uttered?
shut yagobb = Be quiet
Oldyerorses = Stop right there
See yer dahn the Bell Inn, yooth…
Tom Brown’s Brasserie
Tom Browns is set in a converted Victorian schoolhouse close by the River Trent a few miles from the city of Nottingham and close by the main A46 over Gunthorpe Bridge.
The surroundings are smart without being stiffly formal and the eating area is set on three levels. The staff are young, well-trained, courteous and attentive. The food is superior and imaginative and whilst the prices can be expensive most nights of the week have an ‘Early Bird’ deal, sometimes running all night where two or three courses can be ordered at a reasonable price.
Tom Brownes is set in the popular riverside setting of Gunthorpe between two pubs, The Anchor and The Unicorn. Two minutes from the restaurant are attractive riverside walks from the picturesque lock and weir. I can easily recommend Tom Browns as my favourite restaurant in Nottinghamshire.
Most people reading these words will know all about the ‘Master Manager’, Brian Clough and his association with the football world in the city of Nottingham but fewer will appreciate the other ‘master’ who operated a short distance away across the River Trent in the East Midlands city, Jimmy Sirrel.
Jimmy managed the terminally less fashionable Trentside club, Notts. County for many years over two stays. Fondly remembered for taking the old club from the basement of English football through three promotions into the top-flight, Jimmy is deservedly commemorated at his old Meadow Lane stomping ground with a stand named after him. It’s fair to say that he achieved an awful lot with very modest resources – except a shrewd eye for a footballer. Jimmy was renowned for his ‘team’ ethos – rarely if ever would he single out a player for praise but rather would offer plaudits for a good team effort. Seldom would he criticise his team in the press, unlike his opposite number across the Trent who treated us to much mirth over the years with his scathing comments! Jimmy retired only a very few years ago at an advanced age being still in demand as a scout with Derby County.
A friend and I were fortunate enough to briefly meet the little Glaswegian some months ago when he left a big impression on us. So much so in fact that Barbara and I had made an issue about our meeting him again some time. Many a Friday morning we’d meet up for a country walk hoping to bump into him in the same place afterwards for a more prolonged chat at the same pub. It became a bit of an in-joke joke actually as every week we wondered if it would be ‘the week’ when we finally saw him again. Barbara even began writing a book for her creative writing classes and called it ‘Looking for Jimmy Sirrel’.
As we came to the end our latest riverside walk on a Friday lunchtime we headed for the familiar Cross Keys pub in the pretty village of Burton Joyce in Nottinghamshire and there he finally was – sitting alone having a quiet drink out in the sunshine. We greeted him and he smiled warmly while asking us to join him. The first thing we did of course was have that long-awaited photograph call with him.
Jimmy still retains an impish sense of humour and keen knowledge of the game though now an impressive slim and sturdy eighty-four years old. When one talks to him he comes across very much as a working class man and in particular a football man – one with the game running strongly in his blood even still. Barbara commented afterwards that the Scottish link between he and I helped the conversation along too! What followed left me feeling quite honoured that I’d been able to spend some quality time with this man.
I began talking to him about a recent interview he’d participated in for a local magazine and I dared to venture that he saw football as very much a simple game? His answer was hardly the one I’d expected as he maintained that it was ‘far more complicated than that’ and how on earth would players come to be internationals if it was such a simple matter! I asked him what it was he looked for in a player when he was scouting for new blood for his teams. What followed was a story using Gordon Strachan as an example, and how he had trailed him for Notts County whilst the young midfielder was playing for Dundee. The game he attended was at Queen of the South I believe he said. It was a miserable, wet night for a game of football and according to Jimmy; wee Gordon just wasn’t interested and shirked out of the game. Singularly still unimpressed, Jimmy labelled his performance a ‘cheat’ and still has little respect for him it seems. He further maintained that Strachan would only play well on one the side of the pitch at Old Trafford – the side where the Man Utd support largely was!
Jimmy played on the right wing for Celtic in the days leading up to the Famous Five during the 1940s’. He did say what a wonderful and flowing forward line they were, so good to watch. He mentioned his direct opponent, Hibs left back of the time as being a right hard little ****er! A friend’s research tells me that this opponent was probably Hugh Howie who gave service to the Leith club for several seasons.
During the conversation Jimmy had mentioned his friend ‘Alex’, and that this friend was away in Europe at the moment but that he was hoping to see him soon for their traditional annual break in Malta. Barbara and I imagined that ‘Alex’ was some guy from the pub until things became clearer. ‘Alex’ was actually Jimmy’s long-time friend, Alex Ferguson. When asked how they had got to know each other he said it was through the old Anglo-Scottish competition when Ferguson was St. Mirren boss and Jimmy was at Notts. To this day after all those years the two Scots have remained close friends.
We next chatted about some of the players he had handled and the subject of former Scottish internationalist, Don Masson came up at my instigation – one of my favourite players and Jimmy’s long-time captain at Notts. I said I’d heard what a difficult character he could be and Jimmy said that he was always agreeable with him but that some times he had to pull ‘The Don’ up about the way he spoke to other players. Masson – never a man to suffer fools gladly would apparently become very frustrated that his teammates couldn’t live up to his own extremely high standards. Jimmy also related an amusing tale about when Masson was transferred to QPR just before his international career began.
Apparently Jimmy and Don travelled down on the train to London for transfer talks. Jimmy told his player to, on no account sign a deal as he could get him more money elsewhere. Masson met Jim Gregory the infamous QPR chairman and immediately came out of Gregory’s office having signed a deal to play for the London club! Jimmy was aghast. A couple of days later Tommy Docherty, then Man Utd boss, was on the phone to Jimmy saying ‘what the **** are you doing to me?’ Apparently ‘The Doc and Jimmy had set up a deal for Masson to run the midfield for Manchester United…
Being a man from a different generation reared its head a time or two. Jimmy talked fondly of his now deceased former player Pedro Richards – a fine defender for Notts County. Jimmy added that he had a couple of black players in his team and used a term that whilst not as offensive as some we hear nowadays would nevertheless still be unsuitable today. There was no malice intended. I firmly believe the only thing that would have been on Jimmy Sirrel’s mind was ‘can they play football?’ He told me how much he loved those two lads too and how he missed Pedro.
There were other more comical tales from Meadow Lane and Bramall Lane where he managed Sheffield United for a time. Jimmy mentioned that he would peer through his office window and watch the players troop in for training in the morning and sometimes have to take one aside for a dressing down for some misdemeanour or other. He claimed that more than once he threw a player against his office wall for messing him around, one even turning into a full-blown fight! He then complained about players wives who he said caused him more bother than most players! His example was on selling Sheffield Utd’s top player to Leeds one time. I believe this may possibly have been striker, Brian Deane. He mentioned the pressure from the chairman to find some cash and that the player was the only one that was worth anything to sell. Apparently the player’s wife was straight on the phone asking what the hell was going on with her husband however and giving Jimmy hell!
An enduring reminder of the great man’s achievements – The Jimmy Sirrel Stand at Notts County’s Meadow Lane ground
Still on the subject of Notts he talked fondly of the club’s trips abroad in the close season during the 1970s’. One in particular to Gibraltar where he was assigned pocket money by the Notts chairman to hand out to the players if they ‘showed good behaviour’! Still on Notts he turned to the subject of goalkeepers – the ‘most important man in the team’ according to Jimmy. On one occasion he toured Europe for two full weeks before finally ringing back to Notts. Chairman Jack Dunnet saying that he had found ‘a goalie who would keep them in the Second Division’. The player was Raddy Avramovic who cost Notts £200,000 – big money for Notts in those days. Raddy and his family stayed at Jimmy’s house at first until they bought a home of their own. At the beginning of the goalie’s career at Notts there was a social function at which Raddy went around and bought all his new teammates a drink as a friendly gesture. A local Evening Post reporter who followed Notts around saw this and wrote a piece about Raddy being a ‘boozer’ and a ‘big-time-Charlie’. The next time that same reporter went to Meadow Lane, Jimmy physically had hold of him and had him thrown off the premises and further banned from the ground. The Evening Post had to give the reporter the Forest job whilst the City Ground reporter switched over to Notts!
Revisiting Jimmy’s youth in the 1930’s and 1940s’ proved a fascinating conversation. We talked of the razor gangs and ‘malky’s’ in Glasgow of that time and in particular his own area of Bridgeton. He said that he could never see any point in getting mixed up in that business and stayed well clear of the religious problems in the city as a young man. He did mention almost getting a ‘chib’ at a dance hall one night whereupon he decided on finding another more suitable establishment for his evening’s entertainment!
Jimmy went to sea in the war years and came back to begin his professional football career. He was actually offered contracts by Celtic, Rangers and Arsenal. He told of his train journey to London with his wife to visit Herbert Chapman the legendary manager of Arsenal. ‘I didn’t like it there much and I told him so’ said Jimmy! He was straight back on the train and signed for Celtic in the first instance.
Pausing for a moment, the great man insisted he brought us a couple of pictures to view that he happened to have in his car. Most striking was the one of him and a very young Brian Clough, Derby manager at that time, standing in a group shot at a charity function. Brian had on a very fetching pair of slacks of the time. He mentioned how much he liked his adversary across the river, how got on with him really well and now missed him. It struck me that it would have been most unlikely for these two men not to get along, their integrity working-class common sense and common, shared values would not have allowed for that.
We broached the modern game and Jimmy had some amusing insights to offer. He claimed that the sight of managers prancing about on the sidelines shouting to players on the pitch was a load of contrived nonsense for the sake of the TV cameras (only he didn’t say ‘contrived nonsense’!) He claimed that when out there, probably the only player he might be able to make himself heard to was his near-side winger – if he was lucky. He added that he thought many modern-day managers were just ‘actors’, with ill-disguised scorn at their antics.
Towards the end of our conversation which lasted fully two hours we got talking about the great Scottish wing half, Dave Mackay who also lives locally and who Jimmy had known for many years. I ventured he was one of the very greatest men to wear our proud Dark Blue of Scotland. (I had to keep remembering when talking about football that I know nothing really whilst this man knew the game inside out!) Jimmy agreed that ‘David’ was a great player but also a ‘vicious bastard’!
I popped into the pub before we said our goodbyes to Jimmy. There was another familiar-sounding Scottish accent greeting me in there ‘lovely day out there eh’… Yes it was Dave Mackay! What a surreal moment.
The final thought I had about this conversation was of how Jimmy saw footballers. It perhaps IS a simple game in some respects. According to him ‘all you need for a good team is the best players’ – it’s as simple as that. If he could afford a player who was better in a certain position on his team than the one he already had he said then he would go and get him. He thought little of 4-4-2, 3-5-2 and all. All you need is the best players. I came away from this lovely afternoon understanding that I had just been blessed with the company of one of its best managers. A private audience with one of the men I admire most in football. Now that memory will live with me forever.
The legend – Jimmy Sirrel.