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An only child, I was born two months before my dad Jimmy Strong kept goal for Burnley in the 1947 cup final against Charlton Athletic where he would readily confess that he never saw Duffy’s winning shot fly past him in extra time. Unfortunately, my mum, an early WAG, was unable to attend the cup final as she had a two-month-old daughter to attend to. Nannies were unheard of in those days and sadly there were no BFC bibs, rompers or babygros to adorn her darling daughter.

Dad had been stationed with the RAF at Padgate during the war and had made guest appearances for Burnley as well as representing the RAF XI alongside the likes of Matthews and Mortensen.

Mum and dad moved to their semi on Rossendale Road after the war when dad had been taken on as Burnley’s first post-war goalie, having guested for them during the latter war years. Although I was born in a nursing home in mum’s native Saint Helens, I was brought straight back to Burnley and apart from an eighteen-month spell in hospital in Biddulph and three years at teacher training college in Derby, have lived in the town all my life. None of these experiences have given me any interest in rugby league, ceramics or, indeed an inclination to support Derby County. I couldn’t be anything other than a Claret and was there as a teenager supporting them on their next visit to Wembley in 1962.

On weekends and school holidays, I would go across to the farm after my breakfast, usually just as they were having theirs. I would invariably be offered and gladly accept a bowl of porridge with top of the milk and heaps of sugar sprinkled on it.

We spent happy days on and around the farm, although I could never quite get the hang of milking by hand. Not so my hosts who would take great delight in grasping the cow’s teat and squirting milk at each other across the parlour. Sometimes the cows would be grazing in the ‘bottom field’ and we would bring them home for milking by leading them up the middle of Rossendale Road. Behind the farm, we would play games such as tin in the ring with a milk churn lid – a kind of hide and seek combined with relievo.

One of the highlights of the farm year was the haymaking season in June and July if the weather was kind to us, although sometimes it went on into August. With the vagaries of Burnley’s climate, we literally had to make hay whilst the sun shone and in fine weather, it was a dawn to dusk job. Even at my tender age, I was assigned the job of tractor driver for the ‘leading’ of the hay bales. The tractor would be put into gear for me and I would drive on the clutch and handbrake, giving the occasional jerk which always prompted cries of alarm and dismay from the stacker riding on the trailer.

Dad’s garden was his pride and joy and he spent most of his leisure time there. The annual ritual of ‘bedding out’ the front borders with alternate white alyssum and blue lobelia was always observed. Dad got these from Benson’s nursery just above Back Lane Farm but I don’t know whether he ever asked them if they could supply him with anything in claret and blue. He got his tomato plants from Benson’s too, growing these by the ring culture method in his beloved greenhouse. I can still remember the smell, especially after I’d been ‘helping’ him to nip out the side shoots. Like today, the tomatoes all seemed to ripen when there was a glut of them in the shops, but mum used to bottle them for future consumption. There were gooseberry bushes in the back garden too – lots of them, but I’ve already stated that I was born in a nursing home in Saint Helens! We would play lots of games in this back garden and strangely enough, I always remember it as being sunny! One of dad’s party pieces was to pole vault over the clothes line using mum’s clothes prop.

Dad had a treasured bench in the back garden. He would spend hours sitting on it smoking his pipe and looking pensive. He was good at pensive. He was a lovely kind hearted man with a wonderful sense of humour, an infectious laugh and a good word for all. Despite being such an accomplished sportsman, dad smoked both a pipe and cigarettes and I remember Tommy Cummings reminiscing about how ‘they’ could never prevent him from having a fag in the dressing room at half-time. He seldom had his pipe out of his mouth. I don’t claim to have any great belief in the supernatural but when my husband was clearing my parents’ house after the death of my mother in 2008, he swears that he smelled thick pipe smoke, just briefly, in the back bedroom. It was during this clearance exercise that my husband also discovered deep at the back of the under-the-stairs cupboard, amongst some fag ends a pair of dad’s football boots – probably his last. They were of the ‘old fashioned’ type with the bulbous toe caps and studs wearing down to show the nails and still encrusted in mud from who knows where? These boots are now in the safe custody of Burnley Football Club at Turf Moor.

Only once do I remember visiting Turf Moor with dad, walking through the changing rooms and being astonished at the sight of a row of bare bottoms! Dad recalls how it was not unusual for the ashes of deceased supporters to be scattered behind the goals on the Turf in accordance with their last wishes. He considered this a bad omen and often commented that he tried to keep his mouth firmly closed whilst diving. On one occasion, I think he must have had his eyes closed too as he concussed himself colliding with the post and spent the rest of the match asking who Burnley were playing and what day it was! Such games were watched by thousands of cloth capped fag smoking individuals. Photographs from the time show a sea of flat caps beneath a pall of fag smoke hanging in the air.

Training days were very much oriented around ‘physical training’ and there seemed to be the philosophy that if the players didn’t see a football during the week, they would be desperately hungry for it on the Saturday afternoon. In June 1953 the club secretary Albert Maddox wrote to players on behalf of the manager Frank Hill and stated that ‘full time training will commence on Monday 20th July. Please report here at 10.00 a.m. with a pair of strong boots or shoes suitable for walking.’  Early training sessions seemed to involve long country walks, graduating to running which was always very popular. On home match days, dad would travel to the Turf by bus. On these and other occasions when we went shopping by bus dad would regularly be greeted by cries of ‘Olereight Jimmy!’ Dad once recalled that whilst the team were travelling by coach to the 1947 cup final, they stopped for a break in a village somewhere in the Home Counties. One local was curious and asked which team they were from. On being told that they were Burnley (and I suppose, from the North), the local then asked ‘So what league do you play in?’

Dad’s family in Morpeth were railway folk, and my grandfather was a real character. He played Scottish bagpipes with some aplomb and was quite fond of a drink. He was a prominent member of a pipe band and looked quite magnificent in his full-dress outfit although it was a labour of love for my grandmother getting him into this. Dad had bought Allery Bank, an orchard in Morpeth as a kind of investment. Within this orchard was a large outhouse which granddad Strong used as his den.

We usually only travelled to Morpeth during the summer holidays, but a highlight of the year was the arrival of our Christmas parcel from there, compiled by grandma Strong. This would be sent by rail, arriving at Rosegrove station and was packed full of goodies including homemade jams and a fantastic Christmas cake. It was not uncommon to collect parcel deliveries from Rosegrove station and in later years when dad was keeping poultry, he picked up a delivery of infected hens from there. It turned out that they were carrying a flu virus and they went on to infect and decimate the whole of his flock.

Our Sunday trips to mum’s parents’ home in Saint Helens became something of a ritual and it was the same Sunday lunch each week, but with a different meat. The thick gravy seemed to disguise what kind of meat we were eating, but we enjoyed it nevertheless. Coming home, we were always laden down with stuff from the shop and my favourites were always the biscuits and bars of chocolate.

On the way to Stuttgart for a friendly in May 1950

Many sportspersons have their own particular rituals and my dad was no exception. The number five was his lucky number and he would always insist on coming out fifth in the team line up as the Clarets took to the field. He never really felt easy with the adrenaline rush of matches and appearing in front of large crowds. In his personal life he liked a set routine and was reluctant to go onto cafes, a deprivation which I suffered throughout my childhood. He loved his own home and was never happier than when he was there and in his routine. That said, he travelled far and wide with the Clarets, but the further from home he was, the more uncomfortable he felt.

They used to say that smoking calms the nerves. Perhaps so. Jimmy Strong the smoker used to patronise the Co-op tobacconist on Hammerton Street where the air was arguably heady with the aroma of all the various tobaccos. Dad’s particular was thick twist which he bought by the ounce, or should I say ounces. Hammerton Street was the epicentre of Burnley’s Co-op with a furniture store and grocery. Many of us can recall those fascinating vacuum capsules which would whoosh off to the cashier’s booth containing your cash, returning in the same way bearing your change. Our Co-op number was 1045 or twenty-one years before Hastings as dad used to say. Giving your Co-op number with every purchase entitled you to an annual dividend or divi, but I don’t recall Burnley Co-op’s divi being particularly lucrative.

In my dad’s footballing days, I was a pupil at the now long demolished Back Lane School near the Gretna. The school had a variety of desks which included those with separate chairs, but also those with an integrated lift-up bench seat. All the desks had lift-up lids and inkwells. Pupils who graduated to using ink were issued with slender wooden pens with slide-in nibs which of course required frequent dipping into the integral inkwells. I was once entrusted with the job of ink monitor which entailed mixing the powdered ink in a jug and then decanting this into the inkwells. Needless to say, this was a messy job. Mischievous pupils would stuff blotting paper into the inkwells, gunging them up. On one occasion, poor Zilpha’s plait was itself dipped into an inkwell by the mischievous boy sitting behind her.

Quite a number of pupils wore clogs and delighted in sparking these in the playground. They made such a clattering noise especially when their wearers became involved in one of the frequent games of kiss chase. I half enjoyed these games, but was far from enthusiastic about being caught by certain malodorous boys. PE was usually done out on the playground and entailed only minimal changing – usually the wearing of plimsolls or pumps as this was no occasion for clogs.

Infant pupils always finished school earlier than the juniors and as an infant pupil in the mixed-age infant / junior class, I always wondered what the juniors did after we’d gone home. When I became a junior, all was revealed. We made puppets! We stuffed nylon stockings and sewed on facial features and we were so proud of them.

One afternoon a week, the top two classes split into separate groups of boys and girls. I never quite knew what the boys did with Mr Ashworth, but I fancy it was some kind of craft work and even technical drawing. This left us girls with Miss Shackleton doing needlework and knitting. My knitting was always too tight! We would produce knitted squares and cross-stitched comb holders.

There were Christmas concerts and I had the honour of playing the lead as a ladybird one year but I fell badly ill on the day of the production and couldn’t perform. I don’t recall how my understudy fared. On another occasion I played Maid Marian to Robin Hood and wore a beautiful long blue dress.

One of my jobs from school involved being sent to visit the local Boocock’s grocers’ shop to buy coffee and packets of tea for the teachers’ brews. The Gretna area boasted a number of shops, several on corners and they could easily supply daily requirements without any need to go into town. There was an ironmonger with a fascinating array of wares as well as an alluring cake shop. I well remember the sweet shop with its precipitously steep steps owned by Colin’s parents.

After morning swimming lessons at Burnley Central Baths, I was allowed to get the bus directly home, suitably armed with the necessary bus ticket. This was not before I had crossed Manchester road and purchased a tea cake from the baker’s shop opposite the town hall.

I was one of a very few pupils who went home from school for lunch. If I hadn’t been to morning swimming lessons, I would walk home from school and mum would have prepared a full meal. This was our main meal of the day and there was always a hearty pudding which could have been a steamed pudding, Eve’s pudding, syrup sponge or a jam roly poly.

Dad’s love of any kind of music usually led to us listening to the radio during our lunches. I’m sorry to say that I hated Victor Silvester but was more receptive to ‘Workers’ Playtime’ which was on the BBC Home Service three times a week. It could boast the likes of Charlie Chester, Frankie Howerd, Bob Monkhouse and of course Morecambe and Wise. The programme was broadcast live from a factory canteen ‘somewhere in Britain’ and always concluded with the words ‘Good luck, all workers!’

Jimmy Strong in the Burnley team at Aston Villa

It’s difficult to remember when we actually got our first TV or telly, but the almost cubic box took pride of place in the corner of the living room and like those of so many of our neighbours was a rental job. That’s perhaps as well, because those early tellys were quite temperamental and prone to breakdowns. It was not unusual to see the telly repair man walking up someone’s garden path carrying his repair tools in a case a bit like a doctor coming visiting. Early telly owners, particularly those who had bought outright rather than rented dreaded to hear the diagnosis of ‘Yer tube’s gone.’ This was invariably terminal. A lesser fate was to hear that a valve had gone and the telly man’s tool kit always contained a soldering iron. Sometimes the telly had to go back to the workshop and could be gone for days.

We had our first telly in time for the Queen’s coronation in 1953 and telly-less neighbours came in to join us in our viewing. That aside, one of the main annual events was watching the FA cup final, a ritual which was always played out with the curtains drawn and, in some instances, alcoholic beverages close at hand. I can remember us watching Newcastle beating Manchester City 3-1 in the 1955 cup final with Jackie Milburn scoring in the very first minute.

Eleven years later on cup final weekend in 1966, I had brought my boyfriend or ‘young man’ home from college for my parents’ initial appraisal. He was a Sheffield Wednesday fan and Wednesday were playing in the final against Everton. What a charming young man he appeared to be as Wednesday went two goals up, but then alas, disaster struck as Everton eclipsed them to win 3-2 with Mike Trebilcock scoring the winner in the 74th minute. The previously charming young man then lapsed into a sulk for the rest of the weekend, despite my dad, a man who knew what defeat at Wembley was like saying to him ‘Come on lad, it’s only a game’. Fortunately, the damage done was not irreparable and my dad approved the lad’s request for my hand in marriage three years later.

By 1966, tellys had come on apace and I have to say that my future husband, a lad from the rural West Riding of Yorkshire was mightily impressed by our setup then. By then we had the Rediffusion system of piped TV and radio, with a cable slung between houses and our selection being made by way of a dial fixed on the window sill.

If only we had known what technological advances were still to come. Had dad been playing today, these advances may have turned him into a different and certainly wealthier person. His final contract with Burnley ensured that he was paid £14 per week. That was before Jimmy Hill and Sky and in the days when cup finalists could still remain anonymous whilst making their way to Wembley.

I had such happy times growing up on Rossendale Road in a house filled with laughter and fun. Sadly, my mum and dad are now gone, but certainly not forgotten. They were inordinately proud of their two grandchildren and dad amused them so much with his mischievous sense of humour. Mum lived just long enough to hold her second great grandson, but passed away the month after he was born. Unfortunately, dad never knew his two great grandsons although he would have been so very proud to follow their own footballing progress and both of them are now season ticket holders at Turf Moor, along with their dad.

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