The beauty of football
Years ago I wrote a piece about how a school pal, Ed Cockroft and me, went to the 1962 FA Cup Final: The 1962 Cup Final and a Schoolboy’s Tale, it was called. It’s still on the Up the Clarets website somewhere.
We were just fifth formers at Tod Grammar School and Ed had a brother who was a doctor in London who agreed to put us up for the weekend, look after us and take us for dinner at Simpsons on the Strand after the game. Other than the result it was a great weekend and dinner at Simpsons was something to remember. On the train going down, steam trains in those days and billowing smoke, we’d met a Burnley legend, little Billy Nesbitt in all probability, but we hadn’t the wit or gumption to realise who he was even though he showed us his Cup medal. Thus we missed the chance to talk to a real hero. Lord only knows what he thought of us as we just about ignored him. What would I give today for the chance to talk to him?
They were happy days back then; no thoughts of earning a living, no pressures and Burnley were a joy to watch even if they had blown the chance to win the title again. After that game and after Ed left school, we both went our separate ways and two young lads grew up and grew old but still loved Burnley FC. He worked for the Halifax and met his Mrs. And I went to Ormskirk College to be a teacher and met my Mrs.
If it was 1962 when we last met, then it would be 2018 before we were destined to meet again; this time after a football match, namely the Burnley versus Huddersfield game of October 6.
Rightly or wrongly, it was a game that had the knives out afterwards for both Dyche and the performance. Yes it was a 1-1 draw, yes it meant that in the last three games Burnley had taken seven out of nine points, but many of the natives were restless and the warriors of the messageboards and social media were not best pleased that Burnley had been so lacklustre and allowed the bottom club Huddersfield to dominate the game with possession stats that made your eyes water.
‘Turning into a poor man’s Stoke,’ was one comment of many. Boos rang out after the game, not sustained but loud enough to be obvious although you’d need to issue a questionnaire to find out if they were aimed at Dyche, the team, the performance or the referee who had irked the crowd on a few occasions. Vokes scored one, headed a golden chance straight at the keeper, and was, according to Dyche, denied a penalty. But after 51 games and 16 months we all know we don’t get penalties here, whilst Bournemouth have had six already this season.
Poor though Burnley were (all the football came from Huddersfield); the sun shone, the warmth was soporific, the programme was interesting, the hot dogs seem to grow an inch longer every game, and even though there was the inevitable comment ‘well that was 98 minutes of my life wasted,’ the day was not without its consolations. Matchday is always bacon sandwich day to begin with, and the Hare and Hounds on the way home from Tod does exceedingly good grub. With 11 of us to feed the Queen at Cliviger was not quite big enough. The latter I have to say still does the number one cheese and onion pie in the valley. So: if you thought of the day as a sandwich, it was only the filling that was a let-down.
If the game at the Turf had offered little evidence of ‘the beautiful game’ or ‘the glory game,’ it was afterwards at the Hare and Hounds that the beauty of the game was truly encountered inasmuch as it helped bring together two old blokes who hadn’t met for decades. It just so happened that Ed Cockroft my schoolboy pal, was coming to the game from Scarborough where he now lives, via Huddersfield, with his Huddersfield supporting nephew, and then travel to Burnley together. His nephew meanwhile, and this I didn’t know until we actually met, was the son of Gerald, the doctor-brother of whom I had also written about in ‘The Schoolboy’s Tale.’
With all this in mind and knowing that Ed and I were due to meet for the first time in 55 years, yes 55 years, I re-read the piece about the ’62 Final. Two things stood out; firstly the evening at Simpsons, and then secondly, Ed, out of the blue, telephoning six or seven years ago. The Simpsons bit still makes me cringe with shame although being just 15 years old does give some sort of excuse. It was my first experience of dining somewhere posh, rows of cutlery just for one person, haughty waiters in starched aprons, and a smug wine waiter. It was where I really blotted my copybook.
The smug wine waiter proffered the bottle of wine to Gerald to taste. He poured the merest hint of the stuff for him to sniff, slurp, and swallow. A real pro I think would have spat it into a bucket but silly me at this point stuck my glass under the waiter’s wrinkled nose and announced ‘yes please ah’ll ‘ave sum.’ How was I to know that this was just not done? Everyone stared. If looks could kill, but how was I to know?
In the silence that followed that seemed like a lifetime, with the waiter shocked, and Gerald embarrassed, I withdrew my glass knowing that I had committed some terrible sin, but having no real ideas what it might be. Gerald pronounced the wine good, the stuff acceptable. The waiter filled his glass and then mine but his eyes narrowed and were clearly reproachful. If Gerald had said ‘I’m sorry he’s from Burnley,’ it might have been Basil talking to Manuel.
Years and years later to my utter surprise Ed phoned up. We talked for an age of this and that, of school, old friends and of course Burnley who at that point if memory serves were managed by Stan, chaired by Saint Barry, and were skint, the jar on the mantelpiece empty as he used to say. The conversation towards the end went along the lines of:
‘I still remember that weekend in London, wasn’t it great?’
‘Who was that bloke on the train do you think.’
‘I can’t remember much about the game.’
‘’Me neither and by the way how’s your brother Gerald.’
‘’Fraid he died a few years ago, but he never forgot how you upset the wine waiter at Simpsons. I’ve never forgotten you and that wine. Funny the things we remember all these years.’
And that was that for another ten years other than the odd communication on Facebook until he got in touch to say he was coming over for the Huddersfield game and could we meet up. We’d tried that before and agreed to meet in the beer tent before it was known as the Fanzone. Whatever the name it’s always crammed and meeting a friend in there is much like finding a needle in a haystack.
Thus we didn’t find each other. This time though, a better idea, meet at the Hare and Hounds and then we could talk about the game we’d seen and if we’d won that would be even better.
His two Huddersfield companions were tastefully dressed, that is to say in civvies, no garish football shirts and it was a few minutes before Ed actually introduced his nephew as Gerald’s son. In the background Newcastle were beating Man U at Old Trafford and Mourhino’s days seemed even more numbered.
‘Good Lord I knew your father,’ I burbled. ‘Ed says he died a few years ago.’
Ed and nephew looked at each other.
‘Er no, he’s not dead,’ said nephew. ‘He’s 81 and living in St Annes. I’m seeing him next weekend. I showed him that piece that you wrote and he was very surprised to hear that he was dead.’
Shock over, with me thinking that, dear God, all the people who bought that book would be thinking poor Gerald was now deceased, the conversation turned to the game with the Huddersfield fans filled with admiration for the way that Burnley had been so awful but still got a point. Like so many fans of the small clubs they saw Burney as a model, the text-book well run club, Dyche as a genius, and all the money we had in the bank as a football miracle, plus the beer at the ground excellent. If you looked to see how your little club could do a third season in the Prem, you turned to Burnley.
They were, of course, much surprised to hear our concerns, that notwithstanding seven points out of nine and a healthy position in the table, the squad was stretched, the struggling football was now the norm, and they were suffering what Dyche calls the ‘success hangover,’ after the heady heights of seventh place last season and playing in Europe.
‘Hmmm,’ we said. Burnley Pete more depressed than ever was down the other end of the table. ‘We’ve only won 9 of the last 37 games or something like that.’
Opinions are fairly well balanced at the moment we explained to the two Huddersfield lads, with plenty of people firmly believing that we are still a football miracle, but of course a growing element arguing that we really are a struggling side currently, we’re doomed Captain Mainwaring, and look who’s next Man City, and then Chelsea. And if we do get relegated, you can be sure the hot dogs will be shorter next season.
Of course it’s always difficult to know just what all fans think. If there were 17,000 Burnley fans at the game, it’s only a hundred or so that appear on social media and vent their spleen; but what is abundantly clear is that the magic and joy that we have felt battling against the odds is now becoming more akin to tough viewing. Genuine entertainment has been hard to find since the run of 5 wins ended way back last season.
‘Be careful what you wish for,’ was a comment on a thread that asked has Dyche had his day. It’s hard to imagine the club without him now, but at the same time it’s hard to imagine how this same squad of players is going to recapture the zest and sparkle they once had unless the purse strings are loosened in January and fresh blood comes in.
So: we didn’t moan and groan about the state of things, we just discussed all the pros and cons and hoped that there’d be another Burnley v Huddersfield game next season when we could meet up again. And maybe the two Huddersfield guys put it in perspective with: ‘well at the moment I’d take Burnley’s position happily enough.’
Despite the game, here was the beauty of football when it had allowed two old pals to meet up after 55 years and for good measure I’d learned that Gerald was alive and well.
By the end of the evening Man U had turned it round to win 3-2. I was too full to eat a pudding even though there was Jam Roly Poly. We had to head back to Leeds and they had to head back to Huddersfield. But I was desperate before we parted to think of a way and something to say to make up for the embarrassment of writing that Gerald was gone.
We shook hands and exchanged manly hugs and then I had a thought.
‘Tell him I’m so glad he’s better now,’ I said.Share this page :