June 14th, 2008

Three Football Reports

An eerie paralysis has settled like a fog across the city of Liverpool this morning. Bicycles, upon which kids performed wheelies around shopping malls just yesterday lie abandoned today. No whistled melody plays on the lips of the milkman as he does his rounds. The lead on the church roof remains strangely unstolen, Jimmy Tarbuck and Tom O’ Connor, for once in their lives, have only completely unfunny observations to make. At TV rental shop windows, hushed folk gather around in the hope of updates on our manager, who surely faces a fight for his life over the next several days. At Anfield, fans form a long, patient queue, waiting to leave floral tributes at the point where the tragedy occurred, just 25 yards from the hallowed Kop End. One, spelled out in red and white roses, reads simply BARNSLEY?? This is a city united in grief, under the world spotlight, a city wondering to itself; did John Lennon of The Beatles die for this? George Harrison? Stuart Sutcliffe?

This is as a time for mourning, and for lessons to be learned from the dreadful events of what will be known as 16/2. And the first lesson that needs to be learned is by the friggin’ Barnsley players, in how to read. In case they didn’t notice, there’s a sign above your heads as you come out of the dressing room that reads THIS IS ANFIELD. It’s supposed to put the fear of Yosser Hughes into you. You don’t ignore that sign, you quail and genuflect. Then you go out and lie down as Liverpool Football Club walk tall, with passion and pride in their hearts and guts in their bellies, all over you.

It was quite obvious the way Barnsley played that they had completely the wrong attitude. No respect for their betters, or for the sacred turf they charged around on like kids misbehaving in church. How can you play like that, desecrating the memory of great players like Tommy Lawrence, Tommy Smith, Emlyn Hughes and Jimmy Carter with every last-ditch clearance, slide tackle and friggin’ 25 yard screamer? How can you do that in front of the Kop, where surging fans would sing Freddie & The Dreamers songs and piss in each other pockets? That was the community spirit we had back then  every man a toilet for his neighbour. There were no inside lavs back in the 60s, remember  when you need to go, you knocked on the door of feller in the next house along, he’d let you in, and you’d go in his overcoat pocket. And you’d do the same for him. Great days. Talk of the romance of the Cup rings sick and hollow this morning. To people who say that, I say  Myra Hindley and Ian Brady. Was that romantic? It was not. Neither was this. Cilla Black has quite literally been laid prostrate and defecated upon from a height of 30 metres once more and forced to crawl around eating the plop that didn’t land directly in her mouth. Cilla. Our Cilla. Well, I hope you’re happy.

But we are Liverpool. Over the next few days, the watching world will see an example of how a city copes with adversity, its citizens united, never walking alone, standing together, showing solidarity in their grief, except for the Everton scum, the city of Liverpool, together in unison as one.

There is a time for grieving but also a time for bitter recrimination. So, as of this morning, I am organising a city-wide boycott of all Barnsley products. Coal. Clogs. Michael Parkinson autobiographies. Barnsley shall feel the wrath of the people of Liverpool where it hurts. I’m also organising a Barnsley Appeal Fund. I’m hoping Marji Clark will agree to sing a few songs at a big show I’m planning, maybe get Paul McCartney to write one of them oratorios of his, in honour and memory of the Heroes who Fell At the Fifth, or reunite the cast of Bread to record a rousing version of You’ll Never Walk Alone. ‘Cos, you see, I’ve realised, if there’s one thing we can learn from the tragedy that was 16/2, it’s that we, Liverpool Football Club, need to buy more players. Stevie, Jamie, Stevie, they’re great la’s but they can’t do it all by themselves. Maybe, in future, a tragedy like this could be averted if we threw more money at a bunch of players who turned out to be un-useless and totally succeeded in gelling. That, and appoint Ricky Tomlinson as team manager. Passion! Heart! . . .

Aston Villa 4-1 Newcastle Well, At Least We Scored, And, Like The Man Said, Goals Are Hard To Come By Against Top Flight Teams


Howay! Tommy Toon here. Well  Tommy Sunderland actually, but Newcastle through and through, Newcastle till I die, then I’d have to stop, like, on account of being dead. I’ve just seen the game against Villa  bit of a rollercoaster, that one. We were cock a hoop when trusty little Michael Owen nodded us one up and it looked like it was going to be our day. I don’t know what King Kevin Keegan said to the lads at half time but it did them a power of good  even after they conceded a couple of quick goals at the beginning of the second half, they battled away just like you’d expect of a Keegan team, kept their heads up after Villa scored a third and showed typical never say die attitude when Villa popped in a fourth from the spot late on. You couldn’t fault the Magpies spirit  it’s just a shame they couldn’t sneak those four goals that would turned defeat into victory. Such a fine line. Still, like the man said, at the end of the day, that’s football  as well as the rough, you have to take a few knocks.

One thing about Newcastle, players and managers may go on their travels but the lure of St James is always liable to bring them back, the way it did Kevin, thank goodness, after he’d run away to join the circus and that. It’s like Paul Gazza Gascoigne  he went and found fame and fortune in the bright lights of London town, but I knew he’d return back north one day. And so he did, bonny lad. To Rangers, admittedly. But that didn’t stop a whole crowd of us turning out to wave to him from the platform at Newcastle Station as his train passed through from London to Glasgow. A lot of us turned out again when he took the train from Glasgow to Middlesbrough, a few years later. I like to think he spotted us and waved back. There’s always a pie, a Mars bar and a car parking space awaiting him on Tyneside.

Gazza was one of the Toon legends all right. But like the man said, at the end of the day, he’s not the only one. I think back over the last ten years, and some of the signings we’ve made  names like Steve Barton, Warren Taylor, Scott Taylor, Steve Warren, Taylor Parker, Scott Barton and Steve Parker. Between them, I’d reckon we paid a tidy £123 million for their services and great servants they’ve been to Newcastle United, especially in the relegation battles that followed them joining the club. Still, the daddy of them all, for my money, was Albert Shytehawke, centre forward of Newcastle’s most recent league championship winning team, in 1926-27. Young nippers today, you mention his name and they burst out laughing  it’s understandable, I suppose, the name Albert sounds a bit quaint to kids in this day and age. But it’s grand to hear a section of our support still honouring Shyte’s memory by chanting his nickname, as they have done quite a few times this season.

Anyway, I’ve got in my possession an old, yellowing cigarette card with a lovely pen and ink drawing of Albert Shytehawke, in his black knickerbockers standing on a laced football. It belonged to my grandfather, who’d had it passed down to him by his grandfather in turn. Sort of a family heirloom, really, even it’s got a bit stained over the years  nicotine, brown sauce and that. Anyway, that Antiques Roadshow came to town, so I thought I’d go down there and see what it might be worth, like. There was quite a queue, but I waited me turn and eventually I’m in front of one of their experts, feller with a moustache, who looks up, a bit testy.

”Well?” he says. So I pull out me cigarette card. He looks at it as if he doesn’t even recognise Albert Shytehawke.

”What the fuck’s this?” he says, which took me aback, because you don’t expect that sort of talk off telly. “Have you been wiping your arse with it, or what?”

”It’s a family heirloom, like, I explained. Collector’s item, I should think. Albert Shytehawke. Big hero round these parts. Scored 56 goals in 1926-27. Not sure if they had goalkeepers back then, but  anyway, I was just wondering what it might be worth.”

“He tosses it back at me. I’d give you a quid.”

”A pound?”

”Yeah. A pound. And he fished one out of his pocket. You fucking people. Talk about timewasters  I just had a bloke show me a shoe. One shoe. He said he’d lost the other one. Here you are, there’s a pound. I’m paying you a pound to go away, basically, not for this piece of arsewipe. Get it? It’s a Fuck off pound.”

Well, you can imagine what I made of that. A pound’s a lot of money and I admit I was tempted. But in the end, I decided the card was of too strong sentimental value so I thanked him for his kind offer but declined, and took my leave. Like the man said, at the end of the day, you can’t put a price on some things.

I always watch Toon games at the Shinner’s Arms. Funny, really, because me and the landlord don’t always see eye to eye. It’s one thing that you can’t smoke tabs in the pub any more, but now he’s introduced a new no farting rule as well. Said there’d been complaints, about me in particular. Farting’s one of the few pleasures I have in life and I’ve always farted considerately but without the smoke to mask the smell, well, there’s your problem in a nutshell. So now I have to go outside to break wind, which at this time of year, well, it’s cold, when all you’re wearing is a string vest. But like the man said, at the end of the day, that’s progress.

Thing about the Shinner’s Arms is, it’s my lucky pub. I was here a few seasons ago, when Newcastle played Chester in the FA Cup 3rd round, at home. I was so proud of our lads that day. If pride, passion, commitment and effort counting for anything on the scoreboard, we would have run out 10-0 victors. As it was, we went down 0-2, a result which flattered Chester, to my mind. Anyway, I was drowning my sorrows, feeling a bit down in the dumps afterwards and I mumbled to the landlord, ”I must admit, Len, I was expecting better from our lads than that.”

”What’s that?” I turn round and there’s this lad, a Chester supporter I could tell by his scarf, in a smart grey suit. Some sort of salesman, I think. Cut above, drank his beer out of a bottle. ”What’s that?” he repeats.

”Well, I was just saying -” 

”Yeah, I know what you were saying. Typical fucking Premiership aristocrat attitude. You sit up there on your perch and think you’ve a divine fucking right to win against the little teams like us! You were all high and mighty, you just thought all you needed was turn up, take a giant dump on us! Well, just for once, just for once, it was the underdogs’ turn. Yeah, yeah, we haven’t got money to throw around like you spoilt arseholes, as he said this, he produced a wad of £20 notes with a silver clip and starts waving it around. Think you can laugh at us for being dirt poor? Well, we may not have your money, but we’ve got something you Premiership glory hunters forgot about years ago. We’ve got integrity. We’ve got soul. And every now and then, you fat cats get complacent and we fucking turn you over. So take your fucking spanking, you with your big stadium and executive boxes. You’ve no idea what it’s like in the lower leagues, losing, week in, week out. Well, you’ve had a taste of it now, you fuckers! You make me fucking puke my fucking ring, you arrogant, self-righteous scumbags!” And with that, he sups up his bottle storms out the pub, climbs in his BMW and drives off. Well, the last laugh was on him, like, because if he’d known, just 100 yards down the road, there’s one of the most splendid car parks in all of the North East  ten storeys high. It was opened in 2003, after they knocked down the old community centre. Sometimes, if I’ve nothing better to do, I like to go down to that car park, you know, just to look around.

Anyway, I had hoped to watch the Villa game at the Shinners, but I’m actually writing this from hospital. See, I had a bit of a run-in last night. I’d been saving my brown coins all year for one of them customised club football shirts  y’know, the ones with your name on the back. Well, it came back yesterday. So I decided to give the string vest the night off and wore it down the pub. I’d hardly walked in the door, when one of this group of lads, our lads y’know, Toon, taps me on the shoulder.

”What the fook’s this, like? What’s with the fookin’ shirt? Some sort of joke, or what? You tanna piss? ‘Sunderland’?”

”Yes!” I said. “See, that’s me. I’m Sunderland.”

”You’re Sunderland?”

 “Aye. Sunderland. That’s me.”

Well, you know, sometimes there’s no explaining things to these big lads and the top and bottom of it is, I was in overnight for minor concussion and two broken ribs. I tell you, if Newcastle United can demonstrate the same passion, strength and commitment to the task these lads displayed as they beat the daylights out of me, then we’ve nothing to fear this season. Toon!


By Hugh McLaughton, Broadsheet Correspondent, 2/11/07

They say a woman is a costly commodity and as one whose patience with the comelier sex has oft been put to the utmost strain, I find that I cannot but concur. Ask anyone from any profession, be they sportswriter, executive editor, or senior manager in any field and they will tell you the same tale of woe – of the perfumes, stoles, and assorted fineries they have had to lavish, the milliner’s bills they have had to run up, in order to placate their wives and thereby preserve their conjugal rights, as must be demanded when stumbling in at three in the morning after a fortifying dram. Women, as the old Scottish sage Wilfred O’ Muchterlauchty once put it in phrases hewn from the granite of his infinite wisdom, ”are the apples of God’s eye. But they’re also the scum of the earth. Painted whores, every one of them, destined for the Inferno. Remember that, laddie. Aye, yere mother too.”

One wonders what that good man O’ Muchterlauchty, who died at the ripe old Scottish age of 37, would have made of the women of today? I speak, of course, of those roundly rebuked from the very heights of Ministerial Office, to wit, the likes of John Terry, Wayne Rooney, Cristiano Ronaldo, women indeed to a man as sure as gruts are gruts, who earn, according to ministerial figures, roughly one million pounds a day to act the perfumed pansy upon the too-pristine pitch, while to the North, the men of Govan are forced to forage on slagheaps in order to fill their coal bunkers for the coming winter.

Where is the passion of yore? The grit? The gruts? The granite? The grime? The gruel? One casts one’s mind back over the sadly elapsed decades to more straitened but economically rational times, in which footballer’s benevolent, tophatted paymasters did not have to abide to the behest of greasy, swarthy Shylocks, or agents (one hesitates to call them Jews) in order to decided how best to reward their footballing charges with the money they had honestly accrued thanks to the industrial revolution being, fortunately, not a revolution of the Russian sort. One thinks of The Potter Brothers, men of their word, for whom a spit and a handshake was worth more than any contract. When they signed young Stanley Matthews in 1932, they offered him the then princely sum of one shilling and sixpence a week, ample enough for a young lad to make a trip to the Flicker Gallery, feast on a Knickerbocker Glory then catch the last tram home. When he retired in 1965, the Potter Brothers showed their consistency and their moral mettle. The deal had been sewn up as surely as the leather casing on a football. Despite his advanced age, they did not reduce his wage by a single farthing. A shilling and sixpence a week was the deal in 1932 and a shilling and sixpence was the deal 33 years on, plus all the dubbin he needed to keep those wizard’s boots to a high shine.

One thinks also of wee Archie McGaughlicuddy, the Mercury Midget, the 4’6 Wonder Winger whose jinking runs would guarantee near-sellout gates of 320,000 at Parkhead when he turned out in the green hoops of Glasgow Celtic. The munificence of Harry Protheroe, the somewhat autocratic but fundamentally benign chairman and bankroller of the great club, was appropriate. He saw to it that the millions of pounds of revenue generated by McGaughlicuddy’s magical caperings did not go unacknowledged. To that end, when a reckless fondness for gobstoppers saw the winger turfed out of lodgings, his sweet tooth precluding him from keeping up with the pound a month rent, Mr Protheroe (as he was known to his close friends and wife Agnes) saw to it that McGaughlicuddy was put up on his very own estate  in Mr Protheroe’s very own coal bunker, to be precise. There, away from the temptations of Mrs Miggins’s confectioner’s store, McGaughlicuddy thrived. The more so, I should hasten to append, because he received from the great and goodly Mr Protheroe personally the finest advice he would ever receive in his life. ”If the yen for a gobstopper takes you,” said the furlined Captain Of Industry, ”suck on a lump of coal instead.” This the tiny winger took to heart. (Sadly, he died, aged 26, of coal poisoning, the way many a good Scotsman met his Maker back in those terrible, wonderful, terrible, wonderful days.)

Show the likes of a John Terry a tin of dubbin and she would doubtless apply it to her hair. Show Cristiano Ronaldo a lump of coal and advise her to make a meal of it rather than those manly challenges she clatters in a heap to of a week, and she would probably have to be revived by her agent with smelling salts. The Inferno surely awaits both these ladies . . .

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