Cynics v Romantics – No Xmas Truce

FA Christmas Card Sent To To Oxford City 1976

Two more 1970’s Christmas Cards for Oxford City – one from the Met, the other from Middlesex Wanderers, a club formed in 1905  (the same year as Chelsea) who still specialize in overseas tours. Jersey was slotted in for 2020. Sadly we can safely assume that didn’t happen.

More from the Fred Munday archives!  Not directly yuletide related but welcome proof that the odd maverick figure at the upper echelons of the game have been known to reveal a sensibility in line with that of the paying spectator from time to time. More commonly known as Jack, John Woodley not only played over 900 games for Oxford City but also scored over 400 goals, despite spending quite a few seasons at the end of his career playing at centre back, as his knee problems intensified & reduced his mobility to some extent. He was a fabulous player who could undoubtedly have earned a living playing at a higher level, as several FA Cup goals against Football League opposition proved. Hearing  QPR’s veteran skipper Frank Mclintock attributed the longevity of his career to taking aspirin prior to a game Jack followed suit in the 1970’s. A knee operation was cancelled when the wear & tear where gristle meets bone was found by the surgeon to be too advanced for any effective repair work to be undertaken. He liked to recuperate post match with a lengthy soak in the team bath, so from the horse’s mouth we knew that in 1979 new manager Bobby Moore’s decision to rip it out & install showers did not go down well!  Moore’s arrival subsequently signalled the ending of Jack’s remarkable career at the White House & he slummed it playing cricket with idiots like me for a few years instead. My unbecoming teenage puniness contrasted strongly to Jack’s impressively muscular & toned physique, which many modern day gym narcissists would still kill to replicate today. Reproduced below is a copy of the letter Brian Clough sent on the occasion of his testimonial, having instructed all his first team players to purchase two tickets each for the game, 34 in total. He then promised to match their combined value with a separate donation himself. A hugely flawed man he may have been, but his failure to kow tow to  suits like Harold Thompson, allied to gestures such as this, only serve to reveal how much closer Cloughie was to understanding the true meaning of the game, & matching the mindset of the fan, than just about any other major figure of the game in my lifetime. Liverpool’s legendary Bill Shankley is his only rival here as far as I can see. Wonderful characters both, & this was a magnificent gesture from the extraordinary Mr Clough.

 

Another card from the FA, signed by chairman Sir Harold Thompson & secretary Ted Croker. Thompson never came across as a pleasant individual, callously sacking our only World Cup winning manager Sir Alf Ramsay with what appeared to be dismissive contempt. “He was a bastard. He treated the staff like shit” according to one FA official at the time. Not really a ringing endorsement. Thompson was an Oxford chemistry don which obviously left him superbly equipped to deal with the thorny issues of the day, including rampant hooliganism & safety within stadiums, not to mention hiring & firing for the top managerial post in English professional football. That’s right. Professional football. It was no longer 1856 but nobody appeared to have told the FA. The brash, arrogant & brilliant Brian Clough was never going to get the England job during  Sir Harold’s time at the Lancaster Gate helm, & the crooked, mercenary but doubtless suitably servile Don Revie duly took over from Ramsay with disastrous results. Our World Cup winning captain Bobby Moore retired in 1977 & had to wait 3 years for a managerial opportunity – at Oxford City. A fine way to treat a national hero, who most countries would have fast tracked into the international coaching set up. Posthumous statues & stand naming are all very well but where were you West Ham Utd by the way, while your most distinguished former player lapsed into near obscurity? Bobby’s middle name was Chelsea, & his son Dean ran the Imperial Arms on the King’s Road in the 1990’s, famously the favourite pre-match Guinness quaffing waterhole of late vice chairman Matthew Harding, still a hero to many Blues fans, alternatively an evil man if your name is Ken Bates. One of Thompson’s Oxford chemistry students was Margaret Thatcher. Ted Croker stood up to her after the Heysel tragedy in 1985 & was duly denied the  obligatory knighthood usually awared to retiring FA secretaries. Typically petty & spiteful behaviour from Thatcher but never forget that Croker was Eric Dier’s grandfather. Dier looks & behaves on a football pitch like one of those big, thick playground bullies who got a rise out of painfully flicking the ears of tormented smaller boys. As if playing for Spurs wasn’t bad enough in itself. Mourinho  likes him of course. Mourinho would. He has been known himself to enjoy the cowardly gouging of rival coaches in the eye with a finger. They all get together in the end.

One from local rivals Oxford United. Rather cheap & nasty paper quality in truth, times were hard at the Manor Ground in the latter part of the 1970’s! Competitive games between the two clubs have been fairly rare though I do recall United squeezing past their Isthmian League opponents in an Oxfordshire Senior Cup Final in the mid 1970’s, two late goals sparing their blushes after Martin Gilligan had given City a shock lead. In 1980, after the non-league game escaped the ankle chains of phoney amatuerism that the likes of old school tie tosspots like Thompson had imposed on it deep into the 1970’s, City made a futile attempt at buying their way to success. From Sir Harold Thompson to Sir Harry Redknapp, the devil & the deep blue sea anyone? Old soaks like Spurs defender Phil Beal & John Frazer of Fulham rolled up once a week to help City get relegated, reputedly on then handsome £90-£100 a game wages. I cannot verify the actual transfer fee for Trevor Francis’s move from Birmingham City to Nottingham Forest in 1978, the most significant of the age as it is widely believed to be the first £1 million fee exchanged between two British clubs. However,  I can confirm, via my brief, inglorious junior banking career, that in 1980 I saw a cheque for £4,000 confirming the transfer of centre half Andy Bodel from Oxford United to City. Unthinkable, in fact illegal, a few years earlier. Before the decade was out City were evicted from their long term home & out of business, landlords Brasenose College losing patience after members of the club hierarchy had ignored repeated requests not to conduct private business matters unrelated to Oxford City from the ground. Then architects of their own downfall, happily they successfully reformed, but in truth sympathy for them seemed surprisingly thin on the ground at the time.

“Scratch any cynic and you will find a disappointed idealist.” George Carlin

I unreservedly adore the evocative image of small boys playing football next to a lamppost as shown at the top of this page. Sadly date & location are not recorded on the Christmas card from the FA it appears on. It was rescued from the bin at the White House Ground, then home to Oxford City, alongside various other yuletide greetings included above, by my grandfather. There is a primary school opposite my flat & once upon a time I would make my way home from the shops & smile indulgently over its hedgerow as the kids noisily played out the latest attack v defence playground thriller, the one goal being the perennial painted bar & post on a concrete wall. The pleasures were entirely innocent from all sides but the hedgerow has long since been left to grow to a height disabling the view of the school playground. Denying visual access to grown men is probably more than a coincidental side effect of this tactic. Currently unemployed, I have recently been trying to ward off a growing sense of my own irrelevance & uselessness in the eyes of society by picking litter along the nearby streets & cycle paths. It’s been an eye opener as disposable masks & gloves have joined the perennially discarded items, bottles, cans & hypodermics supplemented occasionally by disposable nappies & on one occasion a dead, presumably baited badger in a huge white plastic bag. Sadly the internet means I am denied the pleasure of retrieving the torn up pages from porno mags, once a prime feature of the landscape, now residing in the English street missing items file along with white dog shit & indeed stray dogs, likely the predominant suppliers of said shit. Collecting the litter stick & relevant plastic sacks involved a long walk taking me past my own primary school, my destination being a stone’s throw away from Oxford United’s old ground in Headington. The school field on which we played football has been concreted over now, an act of bureaucratic vandalism that I can never forgive. Our year left the school in 1973 but not before we had supported the government’s ‘Plant A Tree in ’73’ campaign, launched in the wake of Dutch Elm disease wreaking havoc on millions of UK trees. A new one was duly planted on the the approach to our beloved football pitch. I had been with my ex Chelsea partner in crime Bill on the last occasion I had witnessed the concrete hell with which time & the council have replaced both tree & pitch. ‘Plant a fucking tree for ’73’ was Bill’s succint summary of the current, soulless vision. You could look over the hedgerow & watch the football there too back in the day, & unbeknown to me my mum was doing just that when I scored my first ever goal, as a ten year old playing for the third years against our triumphant double winning school team. It was a belter too. She would have missed that moment were it to happen now. Then again there is no pitch for it to happen on anyway. Adjacent to the school field further along the road was an alleyway next to a small play area. Rather unimaginatively we called it Shit Alley as its pavement was always liberally coated with dog faeces in various states of decomposition. Both Shit Alley & the play area have survived, a small crumb of comfort for Village Green Preservation Society types like me, not to mention lazy owners of incontinent dogs. Having collected my litter tools I made my way home via a different route, laden down with a sense of melancholy that the days of my school field & Oxford United at the Manor Ground are both long gone. How I wish they weren’t, but to quote Billie Bob Thornton’s brilliantly portrayed, dark hearted Willie in Bad Santa, possibly the greatest cinematic yuletide cynic ever, ‘wish in one hand, shit in the other. See which fills up first.’ However, even Willie finds some sort of redemption at the end of the first film (we shall not speak of the sequel, a veritable stinker that is not even salvaged by the presence of the glorious Christina Hendricks) & before I have left Headington  a semblance of the same is glimpsed for me. I cut through Rock Edge, a nature reserve, & on the grassy area at its borders are four lads having an after school kick around. Older than the small boys in the photo at the top, 13-14 at a guess, but entertaining themselves with nothing other than a football nonetheless, a commonplace sight in my youth but rarer than a Penny Black nowadays. On the corner of the entrance to Rock Edge, next to the busy main road, stands a house that once belonged to Arthur Turner, the Oxford United manager when I first started going to football. Arthur had once managed a team to an FA Cup Final, namely Birmingham City in 1956, a game now immortalized by the victorious opposition goalkeeper, Man City’s Bert Trautmann, playing on with a broken neck. Trautman had once been part of the Luftwaffe but refused repatriation after WW2 & overcame much hostility to become a much loved figure in English football. Arthur Turner took Oxford from the Southern League to the old Division 2 so is rightly a revered figure in the club’s history. I like the idea of his ghost looking through the back window of his old house & seeing these lads, school uniforms & bags in situ, keeping the dream alive. The litter picking has its consolations too. Rare is the day that nobody thanks me for doing it, or beeps on a car horn & offers a cheery thumbs up. It would seem there is no need to give up on humanity just yet. Not all of it anyway.

Balancing the need for precaution against the safeguarding of personal freedoms has never been a more vexed issue than in this pandemic year. The rights & wrongs of mask wearing & lockdowns have triggered constant, furious debate. Keeping children off the streets & away from potential predators has long been  a preoccupation of the nation’s parents. Understandably so, although evidence that there are more paedophiles on the street than in my childhood appear relatively thin on the ground. At the age of 8 I would regularly return home as dusk beckoned or had called, from mass kickabouts on local recs, the golf course, & once a week the patch of grass near our cub scout hut behind the church. Parents seemed relatively unconcerned back then, & as it is today the kids were more usually in greater danger of abuse when back within the walls of the family home. Nonetheless, there is no judgements to be made here, especially from a non-parent like myself. Relatively rare it thankfully may be, but child abduction is a terrible thing & societal criticism of perceived lapses in parental judgement are swift & merciless. My nephew is now in his early ’30’s & a father of two himself, but in his childhood computer games had already become a major consumer of youth leisure time. Nevertheless he would sometimes take to the street with friends for a kick around. On one occasion an aggrieved neighbour called a halt because a man was taking pictures of them. This sounds sinister. It may have been sinister. However, at one time I used to carry my smaller camera around in the streets of Oxford to capture the sights & sounds of spontaneous street activity & colour. I would have loved to stumble across a game of football taking place in the street, & would have wanted to take pictures. The memory of this incident would have stopped me in my tracks though. My gueriila photo antics stalled long ago anyway due to another reason, namely a marked absence of talent. The man photographing my nephew & his friends may have been a pederast. Then again, he may have been attempting to capture a moment of youthful exuberance in the same way the FA Christmas card of 1976 did so sublimely. Hats off to whoever took it. Illusory it may well be, but it gives the appearance of representing if not a more innocent age then certainly a less cynical one.

I like the definition of cynicism outlined by the late American comedian George Carlin, although like the virus, it is a disease offering many mutations & the Carlin variant is one of the more flattering ones, possibly with a bit of self mythology thrown in. Its author was clearly something of a cynic himself. The football world is no more immune than any human activity where money rears its ugly head. Because fans are imbued with concepts of love & loyalty to their clubs they find the cheerful pursuit of cold, hard cash from the sport’s players, managers & administrators hard to stomach but doubtless many are happy to change their own place of work when more lucrative opportunities are presented to them. Football is a short career & players do not always have the same love of the game as fans, let alone a sense of long term duty to the team they represent. Fans tend to have a purer love of the game, the match going supporter the most pristine example. The investment in time & money required to attend matches across the country (&, for those at the top end, the continent) is huge, impacting hugely on income, family life, spare time & working arrangements. This is not helped by the constant tinkering with kick off times by the football authorities & television companies. At the moment the pandemic has halted all  this for much of the year, but the devotees are not grateful. They make the sacrifices because they love their club, & the current crisis clearly imperils  the future of many clubs. At the top end the suspicion grows that removing the fans may suit many. This is foolish. Fans responding to the action in the stadium is a vital part of the entertainment. I feel myself losing interest in the game as a whole in the face of endless opportunities to watch matches played in largely empty stadiums. The backdown of the television companies regarding the recent pay per view controversy is telling. Long term this unfulfilling spectacle has no future. We need full stadiums again as soon as it is safe to happen. For many years fans were treated as an unwanted inconvenience & it ended in stadium disasters & multiple deaths. It is vital for the soul of the sport a different mistake is not made this time, namely any misguided belief that the money machine will keep churning regardless of spectator presence at big games.

We shouldn’t pretend that cynicism is a new phenomenon in sport, nor that it is confined entirely to its top levels. My grandfather retired in 1972 & for the next five years he would divide his time between watching a new afternoon ITV drama called Emmerdale Farm (an altogether gentler, less action packed entity than it is now!) doing a cleaning job at the bingo hall & helping out at Oxford City. A lick of paint on the fencing & buildings here, a swept terrace there, allied to the saving of otherwise unwanted ephemera. As the only other option seems to have been watching Amos Brearly & Mr Wilks bicker behind the bar of The Woolpack he was probably glad to get out of the house. The bingo job enabled him to supply us with ample spare bottles of Cresta, a soft drink of various unpleasant fruit flavours, produced by Schweppes & famously advertised by a badly animated bear with the byline it’s frothy man.

It was frothy as I recall. And revolting. The Christmas cards & programmes from Oxford City were more welcome, though his treament by the club left a similarly unpleasant aftertaste. He gave his time & labour free & for love. Of course. He was a true fan. The love may be unrequited but that didn’t put him off. When he became ill Oxford City were conspicuous by their absence. He had spells when he was well enough that some small gesture, say the offer of a lift to an away game, would have been treated with glee & gratitude. Nothing doing. Out of sight out of mind. For all the annual rosy cheeked, rosette wearing, rattle waving representation the suspiciously large turnout of non league fans get in the FA Cup from avaricious tv companies, desperate to see a big club get its pants pulled down, there isn’t much romance about the way smaller clubs operate further down the chain. Egotistical, often unscrupulous owners & players lured away to rival clubs at the drop of a hat are as commonplace as in the full time game. It is merely the size of the wedges that differ from the bigger boys. By the time John Woodley played the last of his 900 games in 1979 the Amateur Cup had disappeared & players were at last being openly being paid at that level of the game. My future brother in-law briefly  played at the White House Ground in this era, but subsequently enjoyed a nomadic career, taking a few bob extra when he could as he moved from club to club. This has become the norm & nobody stays long enough to play 900 games for one team these days. Who knows what decisions John Woodley would have made had his magnificent career started 15 years later than it did but he may well not have stayed in one place for the duration.

Not everyone exploited their new mercenary opportunities with intelligence. One lad I had once played alongside boasted of the £2 a week rise he had received (£10 to £12) when moving from one local club to Wallingford. Sadly, Wallingford was a 28 mile round journey from his home in Oxford. It had not occurred to him that the inconvenience & cost of this extra travel rather negated the value of his princely salary increase. When Oxford City chose to go for glory & spent handsomely recruiting unwisely, one, now legendary, footballing money guzzler was rather ungrateful. Bobby Moore a footballing god, should never have been expected to cut his managerial teeth at such a lowly level. The fact that he was prepared to try speaks volume about the famous humility of the man. Harry Redknapp was a different kettle of fish. Twenty years after arriving as Moore’s assistant he was still whingeing about the allegedly awful salary on offer, quoting in the process an amount that would have sufficed for many a skilled worker in the late 1970’s, let alone a rookie coach failing at an already struggling Isthmian League team. The jam roly-poly enthusiast & future king of Ant & Dec’s annual crocodile cock eating circus  was a resourceful fella even then in fairness. My cousin was a youth team player (& a West Ham fan to boot) & Harry was known to fling open the boot of his car at training sessions & pursue a neat line of second income via selling the selection of trainers contained therein. He isn’t the cleverest member of the Redknapp clan though. That award surely goes to Rosie, now sadly deceased, the family bulldog who managed to open a Monaco bank account earlier this century, depositing £189K into it in the process. We had a dog called Rosie. Good at chasing balls & chewing extremely large tree branches but no financial acumen whatsoever. Hopeless. As a player with limited first team action in the previous 6 or 7 years, the opportunity to learn the ropes alongside Moore might have seemed welcome. Harry has always been a master of self promotion though. Highly regarded by many in the game ( Brett Ormerod at Southampton & former West Ham playing & managerial colleague  Billy Bonds seem to be exceptions but nobody leaves football with no enemies) he has subsequently had a long, very high profile managerial career. Just the one trophy though, the FA Cup with Portsmouth in 2008. It took him nearly 30 years to achieve what Bobby Gould managed at unfancied Wimbledon in a year back in 1988. Gould went on to manage Wales but neither jam roly-poly salesmen nor Little Ant & Dec have ever subsequently beaten a path to his front door. There are no sold out evenings with Bobby Gould at your local theatre. Redknapp  lives in Sandbanks, the desirable millionaire’s row looking out over the sea at Poole. That supposedly paltry salary a small club paid him as he started out in management at Oxford City doesn’t seem to have done him too much harm. A couple of years before my dad died in 2011  Harry turned up at nearby Barton On Sea following inclement weather in search of an open gold course. The course there was indeed open, but the conditions meant there were restrictions in place. Harry duly tried to arrange a discount. On failing to procure one he drove off in a huff without troubling its fairways, a millionaire cutting his nose off to spite his face for the sake of a few quid. This is the man who threw a fit at a reporter labelling him a wheeler dealer in the transfer deadline market, which he famously & transparently was. His angry response only amplified the high level of the man’s deluded self image. In many ways Redknapp’s managerial career is the template for attitudes within modern football. Fair play, it’s been his livelihood & his overriding commitment has been to furthering his own career & maximising its financial potential. Doubtless many football fans approach their own careers the same way, but what is nauseating is the insincere badge kissing duplicity of players within the game in recent years, & the voice of the fan transplanted to the dugout schtick as perfected by the likes of Redknapp. Doubtless he loves the game but he isn’t a fan. He’s a businessman, albeit one who may sometimes have sailed close to the wind on occasions. Fine as far as it goes but all the everyman patter in the world shouldn’t con anyone. He has profited from the loyalty of football fans rather than represented them. Oxford City were a better team & club in the decades before Harry & his ilk rolled up, even if shackled by the ludicrous limitations of amateur status. I am glad my grandfather got to support them during those years rather than the ones that followed.

Dear old Harry – no stone left unturned in the pursuit of a pound

In the earlier part of the 1970’s the upper echelons of non-league football  maintained the pretence of amatuerism, along with Rugby Union & Athletics. Rugby Union players who turned pro & migrated north to play Rugby League were prevented even from coaching kids afterwards. I think the word is draconian. Cricketers were only paid for the months they played in the summer & many had to seek other employment through the rest of the year. The Kerry Packer breakaway series announced in 1977 was the key to ensuring better financial packages for its star players. Until then the rewards, even at that level, were relatively piffling. The ’80’s heralded the sweeping away of many of the barriers erected by old school tie elitism, administrators reluctant to move their sports forward & properly reward the performers, those who actually attracted people through the stadium gates. Ian Botham, the first English superstar cricketer to emerge following the Packer revolution, although he didn’t join it, once referred to the MCC dinosaurs still living in the Gentleman v Players era as ‘gin swilling old dodderers.’

Finally, & in case it seems I have entirely removed the Chelsea from Chelsea blog, I give you, for the second time in three years, an old Christmas card from the club. It depicts the great Gianfranco Zola hitting one of those sublime free kicks over a wall of snowmen while wearing a Christmas hat. Gianfranco,  like Harry Redknapp, also managed West Ham for a while. He remains one of the least cynical of modern footballers, warming the cockles of your heart with his behaviour on & off the pitch. Would there were more like him. Some other once revered sporting talents of yore have let themselves down quite badly during the pandemic. If you thought ex Southampton & England maverick Matthew Le Tissier was an admirable one off throwback during his 1980’s & 90’s heyday then join the club. He always came across as a good bloke too. Sadly he has revealed himself as a deeply odd individual of late, dismissing both the seriousness of the COVID19 outbreak & many reasonable online counter arguments, blocking some showing mild dissension to his viewpoint or employing rows of that scornful, sniggering emoji often favoured by the smug. Having angered many with his contempt for intelligent debate he then made a po faced video denouncing those who have trolled & abused him, laughably presenting himself as a victim. Abuse is never justified but when you block, demean & ignore the courteous you are swimming in murky waters yourself. Ashes 2005 hero Michael Vaughan has always come across as a narcissistic, arrogant prat but he has also outdone himself this time. During the first lockdown he & Le Tissier gave themselves away by making it clear that a main grievance was being prevented from playing golf. As men of some affluence who can doubtless self isolate with rather more space at their disposal than the rest of us these entitled buffoons might have been well advised to keep their gobs shut & count their considerable blessings. They haven’t even got the Noel Gallagher plea of mitigation that he squandered the last remaining family brain cell snorting those mountains of cocaine that can only be the explanation for 1997’s abysmal Be Here Now, presumably also the reason he has struggled since to write anything other than songs that Badfinger wouldn’t have considered for a B side, or indeed wiped their arse on. Apparently not wearing a mask & ignoring social distancing means it is ‘on him’ should he contract the virus. The elephant in the room is of course that in the process he might infect & kill others, is aware of this & basically doesn’t care. Live Forever eh?  This Man City fan (when it suits him) may not be a sportsman but as Sky prepared us for a Liverpool-City Carabao Cup final a few years ago with a lengthy interview between this nobhead & Jamie Carragher I include his vile contribution to the pandemic debate here too. Vaughan put up a truly execrable Instagram post online in October showing a host of WW2 bomber planes & announcing that the weekend’s changing of the clocks should see them all put back to 1944 when the country ‘had some balls’ – pleasingly there was a swift riposte to this nonsense, which pointed out that Michael was born in 1974 rather than 1944 & that as the Advanced Hair Studio disciple had shat his bigoted, foppish pants as soon as a few strands of hair started dropping from his empty head then perhaps the days of the Luftwaffe & ration books might not have been to his liking. I suppose he could have tried rubbing powdered egg into his scalp. God alone knows what the late Bert Trautmann, the man who served in the Luftwaffe & played on in a cup final with a broken neck, would have made of lame,ill considered, halfwitted guff like this. There are a lot of entitled cretins like Noel, Matt & Michael around. Let’s briefly entertain Twitter cliche & say don’t be like Noel, Matt & Michael. We are now back to 1,000 deaths a day as a new mutation of the disease takes hold. The NHS may soon be overwhelmed. Dark days lie ahead. Perhaps one of these three will show some humility this time. Perhaps not. Vaughan has already been querying restrictions on playing golf. One time dope smoking scourge of the cricketing establishment, the recently ennobled Ian Botham has become something of a reactionary pillar of warped nationalism himself these days. Lord Revitive of Almeria owes his elevation to the House Of Lords to either his impressive & relentless charity walking endeavours in the past, or a stunningly hypocritical commitment to Brexit, depending on what you read &/or choose to believe. Now a Spanish resident Botham is apparently happy to wave the Union Jack while living in another country, denying  us plebs the same opportunity for future free movement in Europe that he has clearly enjoyed. He is as drearily boorish now as he was inspirational during his cricketing pomp. In a radio debate on fox hunting with Al Murray a few years ago, he responded to the latter querying the fetishistic need to dress up & hunt in packs to terrorize foxes rather than shooting them. ‘Waste of a bullet’ was the stupid & surly reply from arguably the most dynamic & exciting English sportsman of his generation. Seemingly more Gammon than Beefy these days, he may guzzle his own wine brand rather than swill gin but nowadays he frequently resembles those he once despised. The Al Murray incident revealed a dismal talent for maintaining an intelligent level of debate so I don’t think the great parliamentary orators have to much to fear from this latest representative of the blonde manbaby’s latest appointments to Westminster. Thanks for lighting up my teenage years Lord B but perhaps you should stay in Spain. Many of us might like to in the future. Thanks to people like you that won’t be possible. Cheers.

Thank God then for Marcus Rashford. His campaign may not be as cuddly & Tory friendly as dear old Captain Tom’s undoubtedly delightful fund raising but he has managed to marry philanthropy to a serious, polite, determined, avowedly non-party political  & most importantly successful interrogation of the government’s refusal to ensure schoolkids from poor families are being fed. The validity of his campaign has now been backed up by UNICEF’s recent financial intervention concerning the same issue. It is an intervention that shames us all, apart from top hatted twat Jacob Rees-Mogg, another Westminster parasite as free of shame as he is a chin. The only cynicism in the Rashford campaign comes from his sour, wrongfooted detractors, who seem to resent the fact that a rich young black footballer can also find time to invest in property to ensure his own family’s future at the same time. Does a principled stance mean the man has to falsely wander round in sackloth & ashes? Why? Rashford scored a hat trick in a Champions League game a couple of months ago but was back posting on the child poverty campaign within half an hour of the final whistle. Man of the year for sure.

Perhaps Harry Redknapp could chip in to to the campaign & supply him with some jam roly-polys….

Update 06/01/21

Oxford City announced the sad news that John Woodley  had died via social media earlier this week. He had been unwell for some time. RIP Jack.

‘Chilly’ Leaves Me Cold

Nothing wrong with Ben. Plenty wrong with Chilly.

Nicknames are bad names. So says David Brent, iconic comic creation of Ricky Gervais, hitherto a fan of jokey workplace monikers until he finds out that Toad Of Toad Hall & Bluto are two assigned to him & are circulating widely around the office behind his previously unwitting back. They certainly can linger. At school a boy named Kevin Goodwin would habitually have the dried green remnants of a runny nose trailing down perilously close to his top lip. As a result he was known to all as Snot Goodwin & even today, well over 40 years since I last saw him, I guarantee anyone of my vintage recalling his memory would not refer to him as Kevin, no matter how many mountains he may have climbed in adult life. As it was then so it is now. Snot has stuck. At college there was a girl whose actual name I can no longer remember. I do remember her nickname though. The Swansea Swallower. It’s a cruel world. She was a rabid Thatcherite so that tempers any potential sympathy somewhat. Was the nickname accurate?  I am unable to shed further light. She had a Welsh accent but I have no idea if she was actually from Swansea.

The world of the British football dressing room has long been notorious for both the durability & lack of imagination of the assigned nicknames for its occupants. Tag on a y or an o (or less frequently an s) to the end of the subject’s name & Bob’s your uncle, or should that be Bobby’s your uncs? Holly. Clarkey. Wisey. Speedo. Steino. Furs. The personnel at Stamford Bridge changes, the cliched nickname formula remains. Even the late, great Peter Bonetti, widely referred to as ‘The Cat’ given his feline agility in goal, had that altered to Catty by his team mates. We all give in to it in the end. Nearly twenty years after leaving for Leicester City Dennis Wise is still Wisey.

However, hearing coach Frank Lampard (Lamps to most or Lampty if your name is Jody Morris) refer to new signing Ben Chilwell as Chilly is making me shiver. The preeminent figure in the current dressing room giving the royal seal of approval means it is unlikely to go away. Does this mean Mason Mount is known as Mounty or Reece James as Jamo? Possibly, even probably, & I had hoped the new foreign arrivals might herald a further shift from the nickname status quo. One of them conveniently has a y tagged on the end of his surname. Take a bow Eduard Mendy. Timo Werner is a no-go & good luck with amending Kai Havertz to fit the template lads. The fact is that foreign names generally don’t lend themselves to the continuation of the trend. Chelsea have had a lot of oversea players in the last 25 years so I suppose it is inevitable that any opportunity among the home grown lads to revert to the norm is grasped eagerly. Ben Chilwell has made a splendid start to his Chelsea career. Two years ago Blues social media ‘experts’ were loudly trumpeting his cause when potential new signings were discussed. A dip in form at Leicester last season led to a widescale volte face & suddenly it was Telles or Tagliafico they were heralding, anyone but Chilwell. Now Ben’s name is back in lights but when he has an inevitable dip in form, however mild, these intellectual & emotional incontinents will doubtless be screaming for him to be tied to a lampost & tarred & feathered outside The Butcher’s Hook before you can say Chilly. Best ignored on the whole. Chilwell is a more than welcome addition, although Tagliafico would at least have avoided the curse of the English nickname, while the Old Trafford dressing room now has its work cut out maintaining the nickname bantz hilarity with Alex Telles. Chilly it is though. Will we never be set free from this tyranny?

Nicknames in school years may be short of subtlety & frequently strip the recipient of any remaining shreds of dignity but compared to British football they are a beacon of originality. How did footballers fare themselves in schooldays, in tags given by them to others & vice versa? Sadly I have only a couple of examples. The only professional footballer to attend our school was Chelsea’s very own Clive Walker, but he had left years before I got there so if he had a playground nickname I have no idea what it was. In a recent joint  interview with former ’80’s colleagues Colin Pates (Patesy) & John Bumstead (Bummers) it was clear though that Clive had not avoided the dressing room curse himself. They still refer to him as Walks. He did famously earn another nickname on the terraces courtesy of an unfortunate off the field indiscretion in the late 1970’s but we’ll draw a discreet veil over that. As indeed Clive should have done at the time.

Spins a web any size…

My best friend at college had been to school in North London with Terry Gibson, later a striker with Spurs, Coventry, Man Utd & Wimbledon. At school he got his name in lights amongst his peers by disrupting an assembly, mooning the teachers from a balcony area immediately above the stage, in the process displaying an arse decorated with a profusion of hair impressive in one so young. He was known as Spiderman after that. Whether colleagues at the four top division clubs he frequented ever got past calling him Gibbo is unclear. In the modern Premier League dressing room some specific & immediate manscaping would doubtless be called for before Terry & his formerly hirsute buttocks were allowed through its metrosexual door.

A lovely woman called Julie used to sell books to me in my buying days at Blackwell’s, sometimes lightening the gloom of the surroundings in Oxford’s second best bookshop with tales of footballers she had known. She also revealed that at school she had  made such a noise wearing a heavy pair of shoes that she been nicknamed Stompie. Many years later a friend phoned her from the Etihad Stadium halfway through a Man City game telling her he was sat next to an old school colleague of hers who wanted  to say hello. The phone was duly transferred. ‘Alright Stompie, how are you?’ were the first words in a couple of decades Julie had heard from the lips of one time England winger & her aforementioned former classmate Trevor Sinclair (Sincs?) .You see, nicknames really don’t go away. As with Gibson’s Spiderman antics at least Stompie was unique & earned. Where Frank & the team’s use of feeble nicks like Chilly is concerned I can only conclude with that well worn teacher’s rebuke throughout my schooldays, a phrase doubtless also employed in the Goodwin household when monitoring poor old Snot’s incompetent nose blowing efforts all those years ago.

Must do better.

 

 

Frank Wins The Real Quiz

05/12/20 Chelsea 3 Leeds 1

I am an admirer of the work of actor Ralph Ineson, a talented & versatile performer in scores of television & film productions for many years. Much of it is inevitably if unfairly overshadowed in the eyes of many by his masterly depiction of odious sales rep Chris Finch in The Office. He comes across as a good bloke too as far as I can tell. Dog lovers always get a pass here. He clearly hates Chelsea though. I can still recall some predictably salty comments following Chelsea’s 5-1 Carling Cup victory at Elland Road in 2012 . These seemed justified on that occasion, provoked as they were by nouveau Chelsea fans in a pub mistaking the great Kerry Dixon for a certain former Arsenal full back with the same surname. Chelsea hating goes with the territory for Leeds followers & is largely all grist to the mill. After all, we all  hate Leeds & Leeds & Leeds, Leeds & Leeds & Leeds & …. well I think you get the picture. Chelsea songs are traditionally long on vivid expression & short in lyrical content. The resentment has clearly grown in the fifteen years since the teams last met in the Premier League. Chelsea’s spending power & bulging trophy cabinet upsets far more than just Leeds fans. Equally, disgust at the knowledge that the magnificent team Don Revie built at Elland Road in the  ’60’s & ’70’s was underpinned by foul play on & off the pitch extends way beyond the Fulham Road. Bribes were offered, we only know about the ones refused by the whistleblowers. These include the late Bob Stokoe, approached by Revie in person in a dressing room at Bury in the early 1960’s. Stokoe exacted sweet revenge years later by masterminding one of the most famous & universally celebrated FA Cup final upsets in history when his Sunderland team beat dastardly Don’s mighty whites in 1973. Mighty but dirty. Dirty Leeds .

We’re none of us perfect. Not even Ralph Ineson. As a grown man I am as discomfited by the unequal nature of wealth distribution in football as elsewhere, but I didn’t create it & being the object of casual, hackneyed, chippy northern bigotry & hatred gets a bit tiring after a while. Leeds fans have a well earned reputation for malevolence over the years. I have also frequently been embarrassed by acts of puerile excess from Chelsea fans at times throughout the decades since that notorious 1970 FA Cup Final between the two clubs. My own record has been less than saintly, especially during the course of a live match. For that reason I never use social media during a game. Nobody is interested in my tweets anyway but really, why does anyone do this, how about concentrating on the football? It is the essence of self indulgence. Nothing is achieved by rushing to pronounce & publish while emotions are heightened, & even countless likes & retweets never changes the result. Ralph was stirring the pot before & after the game too.

All due respect indeed. Also to the patrons of the pub who clearly responded to it in the right spirit. Would a bar worker wearing a Chelsea shirt in a pub near Elland Road on matchday leave in one piece? Just asking. After all everyone is so much friendlier up north….

Ooh you’re hard as David Brent would have said. By your own admission everyone in the pub, including your son, had a good night. Nobody died or even got glassed yet you make a dark & hollow allusion to acts of violence had you been there. Why? You weren’t there. You lost. It happens. Get over it. Grow up.

It is possible to dislike another football team & acknowledge facts. The current Leeds team have a refreshing approach & really took the game to Chelsea at times in the first half. The future looks bright. You need enemies in football & they have been missed. Naturally I still hope they lose every week & defeat in the return match at Elland Road will still be as bitter a pill to swallow as all those suffered up there in my youth. For me they have often been a horrible club with many horrible fans, which is exactly what many say about Chelsea. You can still glower with rage at Chelsea Football Club & acknowledge the facts too though Ralph. Frank Lampard’s team is shaping up well at the moment & this was a thoroughly entertaining match. If Frank & Bielsa can move on from the Spygate/Play Off shenanigans between Derby & Leeds two seasons ago perhaps it’s time your bitter lot did too. Once again the abuse towards Lampard from rival fans this week has been absurdly disproportionate & raised about as many laughs as a Xmas episode of Mrs Brown’s Boys. Ralph was far from the worst but as defeat loomed & the euphoria at his team’s early lead & bright play evaporated he was reduced to this sad, rather pathetic aside:-

Never mind mate. A case of one up the bum no harm done for your lot in the long run surely? Anyway, you’ve thrown a copper kettle over a pub. What’s Frank Lampard ever achieved compared to that?

Answers on something rather larger than a postcard please.