Black Footballers Matter

On a shopping trip I found myself near Edlington Cemetery. The significance of this is that Arthur Wharton the first ever black professional footballer is buried there.

I’d read about his amazing goalkeeping career and how he ended up a publican and for his last 15 years down the pit mostly at the almost adjacent Yorkshire Main Colliery. He died pennyless and only in 2014 after a campaign by his Grand Daughter and Football Unites, Racism Divides, a Sheffield-based community scheme’ was a fitting memorial headstone erected at his grave.

Naively I had read online that he had a black headstone and with only seeing graves in ancient cemeteries in recent years, being met with 70% black completely confused and made me realise that I had a big hunt in front of me.

Luckily a man was moving some mowers who turned out to be the guardian of the cemetery. He was really helpful and took us to the grave and talked about the campaign to honour Arthur and the search for his unmarked grave which was only revealed when someone came in to enquire about a burial in the 1930’s and there at the top of the page for the date they were looking for was Arthur Wharton’s name which had eluded them for some time.

Arthur played for Darlington, Preston North End, Rotherham Town, Sheffield United, Stalybridge Rovers and Ashton North End between 1885 and 1901. He is also remembered for running 100yds in 10 seconds to equal the ameteur world record in 1886 at the AAA’s championship. The man in the cemetery said that local legend says that he achieved this on an Ash Track at the nearby Miners Welfare in Pit Boots! Arthur Wharton was a complete all round athlete excelling at cycling and cricket too.

The full Arthur Wharton’s story can be read in detail in his biography, ‘The First Black Footballer: Arthur Wharton 1865-1930’ by Phil Vasili, published by Frank Cass. The ISBN for the paperback edition is 978-0714644592 and for the hardback edition is 978-0714649030.

A memorial 16 foot statue of Arthur Wharton can be found at The Football Association’s St George’s Park depicting him tipping the ball over the bar.

Photograph of Arthur Wharton in action from Newcastle United Fanzine ‘True Faith.’

Arthur was part of a great line of Black footballers whose achievements can be seen as remarkable despite the racism they experienced.

Andrew Watson was arguably the ‘The Worlds First Black Football Superstar’ as set out in a book of the same title that I reviewed 19th November 2019.

Walter Tull who played for Clapton FC, Tottenham Hotspur and Northampton Town and is honoured with a statue in Northampton not only for his football but the fact that he was nominated for the Military Cross for his outstanding bravery in the First World War where he was the Army’s first ever Black officer to command white troops.

Jack Leslie the Plymouth Argyle legend who was picked for England in 1925 but not played because of the colour of his skin.

Viv Anderson the first black football player to represent England in a full international match. Not until 1978 though.

Brendon Batson, Laurie Cunningham and Cyrille Regis, who were legends playing for West Bromwich Albion in the late 70’s and early 80’s and great roll models to all on how to succeed despite the racism they endured. A statue to them all in West Bromwich town centre is a fitting epitaph.

John Barnes, my personal favourite, was an outstanding player for Watford and Liverpool who suffered many racist chants but kept his cool and destroyed the prejudice not only on the pitch but also in his eloquent observations off it. I recently saw him on a Breakfast program that was trying to make an issue about racism in football but Barnes was cooly saying that it was not a football problem but a wider society one. He was dismissed by his interviewer who should now know that it was he who was wrong. My greatest memory of John Barnes play was a goal he scored at St Andrews in the FA Cup. I was sat in the stand with Birmingham supporters and when I stood up to celebrate the goal and his great skill I thought, why did I do that. To the Birmingham fans credit they all clapped because the skill was a wonder. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6jzx68fnZCQ

Marcus Rashford who humbled the Government into a U turn over free school meals this summer.

There are others but these are the ones that come to mind. There is surely enough material with regards these few alone to create a book about ‘Black Footballers Matter’.

I can’t wait for the real season to begin!

Like many I sat down to watch the return of football but came away wondering why.

Now TV showing of Sky TV opening game of Premier League restart.

Villa and Sheffield United played out a dull goalless draw with technology being the only real talking point as Orjan Nyland crossed his line with the ball after catching an average free-kick cross under pressure from his own sides Keinan Davies.

The whole experience for me was soulless with what appeared little passion considering that both clubs had much to play for. The empty stadium meant no theatre with no opposing chants, no happy faces, no body language of despair, just nothing.

I have great empathy for the players who must be so mindful to protect themselves and their loved ones.

I still have the feeling that it is all about money and avoiding legal challenges.

Perhaps it will get better, the play off games should certainly be more competitive and the best news of the day was that Barrow have made a miraculous return to the Football League after being cruelly voted out of the League system in the 1970’s.

The light on the horizon is that I am sure that I will eventually be in a ground somewhere watching an exciting game of football, listening to the crowds sometimes strange comments, basking in the sun, being drenched or frozen to the core. What has been most abundant has been time to plan and the journey looks endless.

‘You’re not singing anymore’

It is either inspired planning or incredible luck that Minnie Birch has today released an album of football songs interspersed with reminiscences by football fans called ‘You’re not singing anymore’.

With the season ready to re-start tomorrow with no crowds we can all watch on TV and sing the title song.

Will the anticipation be met with deflation as the atmosphere less stadiums echo to their past. The opener is at Villa Park where the Holte End has always been considered the twelfth man by their fans. It may be that if we listen carefully ‘Hi Ho Aston Villa’ will still be rumbling around this great old stadium.

Minnie Birch is a football fan, an ex Sunday League player and also a very good folk singer. If the demos you can hear on line are anything to go by she will do well in her genre of music.

Minnie’s renditions made me ponder on my favourite football chant and although I have heard songs and sung them ‘off key’ many times it is ‘He’s here He’s there He’s in the Rose and Crown, Rodney Green, Rodney Green.’ This was while watching Watford where Rodney Green played for them as an old fashioned Centre Forward between 1968 and 1970 scoring 8 goals in his 30 appearances, this was his swansong in English football.

Whether this was the current Rose and Crown at Kings Langley or the Rose and Crown just down the road from the ground on the High Street I don’t know. The one on the High street seems to have closed about the time of Rodney Green’s departure. I must also say that I have no knowledge of him ever going in the Rose and Crown. However he was a liked figure by the fans and would often acknowledge their chants.

The Day Italian Football Died

The Day Italian football DiedTorino and the tragedy of Superga

Written by Alexandra Manna and Mike Gibbs: Published by The Brredon Books Publishing Company in Great Britain 2000

This is a really sympathetically written book that takes as the central theme the tragic plane crash of May 1949 which was carrying the entire Torino team as well as reserves, officials and trainers. Torino were known at the time as Grande Torino because of their dominance of Italian football having won Serie A for the previous three seasons and were about to win their fourth,

The players were so dominant in Italian football that they contributed more than half of the national team players for some time. The final chapter in the book reveals some very profesional statistics about the players and the club and throughout there are numerous photos that bring the words to light.

There are obvious comparisons to be drawn with the Munich air disaster but what followed was not a rebirth into ultimate bright lights but a struggle to shake off what appeared to be a curse on the team and its fortunes.

The history before the crash from the clubs inception is covered as is the 50 years that followed and it was this anniversary that inspired the publishing of the book. This disaster had a profound impact on Italian football and is still very much in the conscience today.

Garage Football Find

You hear of Garage Finds of old cars but these are a few photos I have found in a major lockdown clearout. They were taken with a Kodak Brownie 127 at the famous England 9-3 win over Scotland on 15th April 1961. It has always been reported as the game where the Scotland goalkeeper Frank Haffey had a nightmare.

I remember it for the fact that England dominated the first half to go in 3 nil up at half time and that the group of Scottish supporters sat directly in front of us and who were out in party mood did not reappear for the second half. Perhaps the bright lights of the West End looked infinitely a better bet than the trouncing to come. But after 53 minutes Scotland were back at 3-2 and nothing looked certain, England though just ran away with it after that and my favourite Jimmy Greaves scored a hatrick.

I believe this to be England 8 Mexico 0 from 1961 when I was collected from school and taken to the game. England were completely dominant scoring 4 goals in each half with a hat trick from Bobby Charlton. If it is not that game it is England 2 Sweden 3 from 1959 but I don’t think we had the Brownie then. My memory from that match was my father lifting me up to look over the wall at the top of the terracing to see the throng of supporters outside streaming in, no wonder I don’t have a good head for heights.

Philosophy Football

20200522_092901_resized

Philosophy Football ‘Eleven Great Thinkers Play it Deep’.

Written by Mark Perryman:   Published by Penguin Books 1997

Yet another Oxfam Book buy (£1.80) that has sat on my bookshelf for some time.

A small sized book with only 131 pages I thought would be a quick read. Nothing of the sort, this book sets 11 great philosophers, thinkers, writers, musicians in Mark’s eleven a side football team. Mark reviews, extends and fits their life skills and what they have contributed to world development into their imagined position in the team.

This sounds deep and highbrow  but mark gets lots of light hearted writing even into some of the very serious team members.

For me it was not an easy book to read as I wanted reference to the individuals values that I did not know but it certainly was worthwhile. Mark Perryman is the Co founder of Philosophy Football which as the book states “is a self styled sporting outfitters of intellectual distinction”. www,philosophyfootball,com

Mark has written other books and writes regularly on different topics as well as football.

One recent article ‘Null and Void’ points out that in this pandemic top flight football has shown up to be in the main just another business that is scrambling to keep the money-spinning show on the road. I fully sympathise with his article and will look out for more in the future.

Just look up ‘Null and Void’ Mark Perryman and it will come up first on the google list.

 

Football will be back.

Public Health is the prime consideration for when football resumes and we will have to wait for that day.

My first football love was St albans City and still a go to on their excellent twitter feed for their scores when they are playing. Over this lockdown period I have been following some fascinating articles about the history of football in St Albans by the club historian David Tavener. I hope that he collates his depth of knowledge and great writing style into a definitive history one day.

Over the VE Day weekend the twitter feed published a copy of the program for the first game played at Clarence Park since the ending of the Second World War which was not played until September 1st. Hopefully St Albans will be playing their first home game by September if it is safe.

 

 

st albans program

Looks like it was an exciting game but the notations on the program look as if the person watching was not too impressed.

Bowles

20200504_184231_resized

Bowles’ written by Steve Bidmead and Published by Virgin Books Ltd 2002 as part of FourFourTwo Footballers series.

This was a nostalgic read capturing the era when characters not only filled the back pages but front as well of the press in general. Stan Bowles was the anti hero to some but a hero to many who saw him as one of their own. He has been termed a maverick by many which is defined in The Collins Dictionary 25th Oct 2016 as : a person of independent or unorthodox views….Over the subsequent course of time, the word has been used to describe people in both a positive and negative context. To me Stan was a postive person reflecting the lives of many of his time. He was also an amazingly talented footballer.

This book captures the time and with the help of Stan a look into his world.

Born in Manchester he first came to fame at Manchester City but a  not unusual fall out with another larger than life  character Malcolm Allison saw him leave and play for two northern clubs before he joined QPR in 1972 and set in motion a seven year stay that saw him idolised by the fans.

He was bought to replace Rodney Marsh, departed for Manchester City, whose number ten shirt no one wanted to wear. Marsh had become a cult figure at the club and I can testify to this having seen him dominate a game at Watford one evening. An injury on the far side of the pitch from the dugouts saw him leave the field, lean against the hoardings, chat to the fans for a few minutes, then signal to the referee to return and continue his masterclass.

Stan Bowles however was not fazed by his predecessors aura and soon became the fans darling due to his on and off field antics. As a player he would often receive the ball in the attacking half and be able to effortlessly jink or body swerve a defender and bend a ball with both sides of his right foot to produce a telling pass or shot. QPR  arguably had a golden era when Stan played for them.

Unfortunately his footballing abilities were overshadowed by his life off the pitch and this book captures this brilliantly.

Not to ruin the book I will list only two of his telling quotes and these only from the introduction, ‘I lost a half million quid on gambling, booze and women – the rest I wasted’ and ‘I was penniless again. I’d blown the lot on vodka and tonic, gambling and fags.Looking back, I think I overdid it on the tonic.’

If you can get a copy of this book sit back and enjoy a time when individualism was still above the team ethic and personal activities were not plastered across Social Media.

 

The phantom football season of 2019/20

Yes The Non-league season of 2019/20 should have ended yesterday with the final league games being played,  leaving only the play offs and Wembley finals to be concluded. There was no jubilation, celebration or despair as promotions, playoff spots and relegations were not decided. All games from step 3 and below have been deemed not to have taken place and the season became a mirage that certainly was there but disappeared in the world created by the Covid pandemic. There are still positions to be worked out in the National Leagues and perhaps some legal issues to be sorted on the way to a new season whenever that may start. Some mystics are predicting that Non-league games will not start until January 2021 but no one knows. My fear is that some teams will not survive the shutdown or the new normal to follow, a quote from John Betjeman seems apt: “It’s strange that those we miss the most/ Are those we took for granted.

However for me  the season was not a mirage and it gave me a great deal of fun, enjoyment, entertainment and chips.

It started for me on a very very wet Sunday afternoon in September at O N Chenecks in Northampton. The FA Cup qualifier was spoilt by the rain but it had the excitement and cut and thrust of this grand old competition.

20190811_144836

The stand out events of the season were:

Hearing two young men talking about their futures in the Athersley Recreation Club House eating my chips prior to an entertaining evening game.

20200115_191317_resized_1

The excitement of the home supporters at Clay Cross as they sneaked a deserved cup win on a foggy November 5th. The fireworks were not just in the sky nearby.

20191105_200845

The A6 derby on Boxing day is always a goalfest and vocally supported. This is a Christmas highlight.

20191226_145719_resized

Being warmly welcomed in the club house at Workington and seeing this club resurrecting itself from a disastrous few years.

My 70th Birthday celebrations that saw me visit Hellas Verona for a Serie A match on Sunday, Aston Villa’s league Cup semi-final win on Tuesday and finishing the week with a trip to Everton on the Saturday. Thank you to everyone who made this possible.

A trip to F.C. United (A must for all football fans) which really restored my faith in the future of Non-League football. They have so many ideas here that should be looked at by other clubs.

20200229_151854(0)_resized

But my best memory was a visit to Walthamstow FC where on a beautiful sunlit Saturday afternoon I was privileged to see a real community atmosphere of all sexes, ages and ethnicities enjoy their afternoons football. Keep it up Walthamstow I’m sure you will achieve your promotion next season.

20190824_150008

Of course I must mention the chips and that Shirebrook Town again won my chip league despite having a poor season on the pitch.

20200314_144403_resized_1

I look forward to next season whenever it starts and have already started my list of must see games.

 

 

Footnote: The Lockdown has found many of us the time to tidy, computers, homes and gardens and I’m sure a few gems have been turned up. I have found the three bricks I was given by the demolition men as they tore down the old Holte End, an amazing reminder of some great times.

My son has some as well as some of the mosaic bricks from the old Lion emblem that used to adorn the stand that the Doug Ellis Stand replaced. I believe that the vandalism that wrecked the mosaic and the stained glass windows keeps haunting the Villa and they should be recreated in the new North Stand when it is finally built and the good times will then come back. I hope the current owners Mr Nassef Sawiris and Mr Wes Edens take note.

20200426_151944_resized

 

 

brilliant orange

the neurotic genius of dutch football

brilliant orange : written by David Winner  : Published in 2000 by Bloomsbury Publishing PLC

This was another classic must read football book I found in an Oxfam bookshop for £2.50. It’s bright orange cover has sat there for too long enticing me to pick it up and now was a good opportunity.

20200422_190141_resized

Firstly I must say that sometimes the football was incidental as David Winner educated me on Dutch history, culture, architecture, environment, people and much more and this enhances the background to the football.

This is an explanation of how ‘Total Football’ was born and developed from the 1950’s to the end of the millennium. The Netherlands had been considered a dull, efficient, practical country that changed in the 60’s with a vibrant youth culture, pioneering architects and a new flowing total football that encompassed individual skill with a team pattern that was to surprise and please the world.

Much is put on the shoulders of Johan Cruyff but the book explores his undoubted talent but also the flaws and the other key players who created the revolution.

Ajax are at the centre of the book with their amazing European Cup achievements in the early 1970’s when they won it three times and once again in the 1994/95 season under Louis van Gaal. There is also major analysis of why the National Team have not won the World Cup or beaten their major rival Germany when it seemed turning up was all that was needed. Is it arrogance, no killer instinct or are they are just nice people, the interviews with players and coaches give an in depth insight.

I won’t spoil it for you, but I will say I shouldn’t have left it on the to read pile for so long.