A day and a life following the Albion – with a little help from a friend

Albion cover

IT was 50 years ago today Sergeant Pepper taught the band to play… and exactly 50 years since my very first Albion game.

Lucy was in the Sky with Diamonds, but at the end of the so-called Summer of Love I was about to begin a love affair that would give me greater highs than any acid trip.

I was a wide-eyed 11-year-old kid when a neighbour in my home village of Mile Oak offered to take me to my first proper football match, at a place I had only ever seen from the top deck of a bus on the Old Shoreham Road.

David Knott was 32, and as an Albion nut he seemed cursed to have a daughter who hated football. So I became his Saturday surrogate son, at least for the purposes of having someone to take to matches at the Goldstone Ground.

My first Albion game was on a bright and sunny Saturday, 2 September 1967; and it was a trip into dreamland as I witnessed a 1-0 home win against Bury in front of a bustling 13,413 crowd.

I stood with David near the front right of the North Stand and watched in awe as these 22 men battled it out on the sun-kissed grass.

I soaked it all in, including the fact that Bury were captained by Scottish international Bobby Collins, who was hard in the tackle and ran the show from midfield, until we scored.

Our scorer was a tousle-haired inside forward named Kit Napier. He became my immediate hero, and along with Brylcreem-blonde crowd favourite Charlie Livesey, they remain personal Albion legends.

Others in our team that day were the solid Norman Gall, John Napier (no relation to Kit), George Dalton, the emerging midfield dynamo John Templeman and two wingers Wally Gould and Brian “Tiger” Tawse, who would match Knockaert and Skalak for trickery, but maybe not pace!

So I was hooked for life and began a routine of a bus ride on the number 26 from Mile Oak to the ground for a home match every fortnight, and a Football Combination (reserve game) on alternate Saturdays – the matches when you got to talk with the keeper during the game!

Then there came the waiting-in-line at the North-West corner gates for players’ autographs after training, during the school holidays, scrapbooks of match cuttings from the Argus and the obligatory club scarf and a matching Subbuteo team.

It was an all-consuming schoolboy passion.

And a passion, which over these 50 years has endured living in Scotland, Yorkshire and the North East, the hellish fight for the survival of our club in the mid-1990s, the Gillingham and Withdean years and at last the glory of the Amex and our promotion to the promised land of the Premier League.

In 1967, England were World Champions, Harold Wilson was Prime Minister, the newest must-have car was the Ford Escort, mods still fought rockers on Brighton beach, man had yet to land on the moon and colour TV was still just a dream.

Yep, times have changed…

My return bus journey to the Goldstone in 1967 was 8d (about 3p), admission to the North Stand was 2s 9d (13p) – a lot less for the reserve games – the match programme was 1s (5p), a cup of Bovril 2d (1p) and a bag of crisps the same!

So to travel and watch my heroes every Saturday, and enjoy a half-time snack cost a stately 22p!

To put things in perspective: in 1967 a man’s average annual wage was £900, the average mortgage was £80 a year and a loaf of bread was just 5p… a season ticket to watch the English champions Manchester United was £8.50.

To allow for inflation, £1 in 1967 is worth £16.80 today, so I’ll let you do the maths and comparisons.

Now, aged 60 and sitting in front of a state-of-the-art PC with Sergeant Pepper’s playing on iPlayer, the years come tumbling back and memories of that sunny Saturday in 1967 will never leave me.

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A Sublime Day in May

newcastle1

MY paternal grandfather’s abiding passions were his vegetable garden, barley wine, horse racing and Newcastle United Football Club – not necessarily in that order.

But one thing was certain, enter his living room any time after 4.40 on a Saturday afternoon – once the BBC tele-printer was running – and there was complete silence, as he waited for the Newcastle result to come in.

Grandfather, or Pop as he was known, was born and raised in Throckley, seven miles west of Newcastle upon Tyne, the son and grandson of coal miners at the village’s Maria Pit. He was Geordie to the bones.

He had moved south in 1933, during the Depression, with my gran, my dad and his three siblings, to find work and a better life.

With his health failing, aged 86, he returned north early in 1979, following the death of my gran. He wanted to live out his final years on his beloved Tyneside.

All my life he had regaled me with deep passion about the pre-war Newcastle teams (particularly the 1926-27 First Division champions) and the three times post war FA Cup winners, with the legendary centre forward Jackie Milburn – the uncle of Bobby and Jack Charlton.

So we come to the evening of Friday 4 May, 1979, and I am sipping a large whisky with Pop at his comfortable new home on Tyneside and talking excitedly about the reason I am staying with him for the weekend.

I am enthusing about my beloved Brighton and Hove Albion and their end of season fixture at St James Park against his beloved Magpies.

He smiles, asks me to pour him another whisky – this time with a splash of ginger wine – and whispers: “Don’t get carried away lad, your team haven’t done it yet, they still have to encounter the Mags on God’s own soil.”

I went to bed that night with a huge grin on my face.

Saturday 5th May was our big day.

But strangely, it wasn’t the last day of the 1978/79 season.

A snow laden winter had left many clubs playing catch-up with their remaining fixtures, and we were going into our last game at Newcastle, at the top of a remarkably tight Second Division table, with just one point separating the top four clubs.

A win would secure us promotion to the First Division for the first time in our history against a Newcastle side in ninth place, with little to play for, bar pride.

So that morning, in bright sunshine, but with a chill wind in the air, I hopped the local train into the city.

At the station I met an old friend Pete – a Geordie with whom I had gone to many Newcastle games, while we were at university together in West Yorkshire. He had a black and white scarf wrapped around his neck and was grinning widely.

“Why aye, Nic, let’s do some beer,” he enthused, “There are quite a few pubs that open at 10.30.” And so we began a two man pub crawl for the short distance between the city station and the Newcastle ground.

We eventually reached The Strawberry, an infamous drinking hole outside the Gallowgate End of St James Park. It was (and still is) a pub for home supporters only.

“Keep yer trap shut inside,” Pete winked, “Or I am not responsible for taking you to hospital!”

The Gallowgate End or “Gallows Hole” was an historic place of public execution in Newcastle. In 1650, 22 people – including 15 witches – were hanged in one day.

The last hanging took place in 1844, only three decades before the first ball was kicked inside St James Park!

So I drank my pint quietly, to avoid becoming a 20th century execution!

Then, merry with beer, Pete and I shook hands and wended out respective ways to either end of this legendary football stadium. What followed, was the stuff of real legends.

The weather was sunny and dry as the game kicked off, in front of 28,434 fans.

The first 10 minutes was all Brighton as we attacked the Leazes End, where our 2,000 plus fans were gathered. We were dominating, and suddenly from a left wing Williams’ corner, skipper Brian Horton snuck between the Newcastle defence to bullet a header into the net. (1-0 Albion).

With Rollings and Cattlin immense in defence, Horton running the midfield, and Peter Ward inspiring, Albion began bossing the game. A few minutes later Ward let Maybank in with a clear shot on goal, but Teddy shanked it wide.

That was the key for Newcastle to up their game, and they twice came close to an equaliser.

But they hadn’t counted on Peter Ward, whose sublime mazy run through their defence and a directed shot, which somehow managed to cross the goal line, doubled the lead. (2-0 Albion).

Our football was expansive as the rain started to team down.

It was end to end stuff, before Ward fired at goal and Gerry Ryan poked in the rebound from a Newcastle defender. (3-0 Albion).

But the Magpies were not about to give up and they began to put steady pressure on our goal before the half-time whistle blew.

We were almost there… just 45 minutes to make history.

The second half was rocky in comparison as Brighton nerves made their way around St James Park. But the clock was ticking and when Alan Shoulder pulled one back for Newcastle, it was too late for a comeback.

As the final whistle blew, the moment (and the game) was savoured. We went wild as our heroes in yellow ran towards us, manager Alan Mullery ran onto the pitch, hugged Horton and joined in the celebrations.

Tears flowed, voices shouted, cheers echoed, hugs were exchanged and smiles enveloped every face.

We were promoted to the top flight for the first time in our history!

But it had gone to the wire: with a game in hand, Palace won the title with 57 points, we were second on 56, just ahead of Stoke on goal difference and Sunderland fourth on 55 points.

After the game I tried to find Pete for a celebratory pint, but in the days before mobile phones, and amid thousands of cheering supporters, the task was impossible.

A few days later, he telephoned me at home to say; “Where were you afterwards? We were all waiting for you in The Strawberry!”

But later that sublime Saturday evening I arrived back at Pop’s home, to be greeted with a smile, a handshake, a “well done, lad” and a very large whisky.

Pop sadly passed away, two years later.

I will never forget him, or that day.

 

Darton 2017

It’s hard to believe

That this is the place

Where I was so happy long ago

The wanderer returns

And everything’s gone

Now whistling in the wind

A melancholy song

 

Oh Henrietta, where did you go?

Did time for you move quickly?

Or like me far too slow

And do you remember that love lived here?

 

The pit heads are flattened

Grass grows anew

For the benefit of the many

Or was it just the few?

Butchers and dress shop decay

Left miming like an actor

In another lost play

 

Oh Henrietta, where did you go?

Did time for you move quickly?

Or like me far too slow

And do you remember that love lived here?

 

I walk down the road

Now so empty inside

This stupid numb pain

Watching lives fill the puddles

In black water down the drain

These tumbleweed memories

The saddest refrain

 

Oh Henrietta, where did you go?

Did time for you move quickly?

Or like me far too slow

And do you remember that love lived here?

 

Darton 1981

The hooter booms

And day awakes

Coal trucks rattle past the door

Ice traces on the window pane

Memories of what went before

Coal dust in my hair

Coal dust in my nose

Coal dust in my clothes and mouth

 

Rats scurry empty

Miners huddle silently

The dawn breaks past the door

Hot tea poured in old brown mug

Memories of what went before

Coal dust in my hair

Coal dust in my nose

Coal dust in my clothes and mouth

 

Cash machine spitting

Newspapers selling

The sun rises past the door

The pit wheel turns and children run

Memories of what went before

Coal dust in my hair

Coal dust in my nose

Coal dust in my clothes and mouth

 

The day grinds on

The miners crawl in

Coke sack settles past the door

Rag man yells and women scrub

Memories of what went before

Coal dust in my hair

Coal dust in my nose

Coal dust in my clothes and mouth

 

Dinner-time snap

The kids fill a gap

Laughter lingers past the door

Coal cutters cutting and babies crying

Memories of what went before

Coal dust in my hair

Coal dust in my nose

Coal dust in my clothes and mouth

 

No one really knows

But many more fear

Rumours circulate past the door

The milk snatcher is snatching

The memories of what went before

Coal dust in my hair

Coal dust in my nose

Coal dust in my clothes and mouth

A song for the Goldstone

Kit Napier in the wind swings the ball in

Cha Cha Cha Livesey we all sing

Big Alex rises in the fog of the night

And his power header takes the game out of sight

Give me a sight, give me a sound

Sweet memories of the Goldstone Ground

 

Tiger Tawse races down the left wing

Now you can hear the North Stand sing:

“It’s Brighton Hove Albion

Brighton Hove Albion FC

We’re by far the greatest team

The world has ever seen”

 

Sully intercepts a long floated pass

He plays it wide on the Sussex grass

Beamish races towards their box

And tucks the ball away as the South Stand rocks

Give me a sight, give me a sound

Sweet memories of the Goldstone Ground

 

Tony Towner surges down the right wing

Now you can hear the North Stand sing:

“It’s Brighton Hove Albion

Brighton Hove Albion FC

We’re by far the greatest team

The world has ever seen”

 

Lawro takes the ball from under the stand

Horton signals a move they’ve already planned

Passes to Ryan who chips it to Ward

The PA announces it is Ward who has scored

Give me a sight, give me a sound

Sweet memories of the Goldstone Ground

 

Teddy Maybank sprints down the right wing

Now you can hear the North Stand sing:

“It’s Brighton Hove Albion

Brighton Hove Albion FC

We’re by far the greatest team

The world has ever seen”

 

Jimmy Case lines up a 30 yard free kick

Steve Foster stands like Fletton brick

The ball’s chipped over and Smith must score

But it’s Robinson’s goal and the fans want more

Give me a sight, give me a sound

Sweet memories of the Goldstone Ground

 

Gary Stevens runs down the left wing

Now you can hear the North Stand sing:

“It’s Brighton Hove Albion

Brighton Hove Albion FC

We’re by far the greatest team

The world has ever seen”

 

Words for Friends #14

This is part of a new series of blogs entitled Words for Friends, in which I will try to acknowledge some people in my life for whom words of thanks are not nearly enough.

These living epitaphs to my true and lovely friends are published in a random order as fancy takes me.

#14  Jayne

This July I took a long overdue holiday with my wife Gill, in my old haunt of Chichester, West Sussex.

Whenever returning home – as I still call Sussex – I always made a point of catching up with one of my oldest friends.

Jayne and I met as teenagers while nursing together way back in 1978.

But any hope I may have had of a romantic attachment disappeared quickly when on our second date, and after a couple of beers and an attempted snog, she told me she was gay and lived happily with her partner Julie.

She was the first openly lesbian woman I had ever met – in a time when personal sexuality was more closely guarded.

I was gobsmacked and in typical 1970s’ misogyny I said something like: “How can you be gay, you are too attractive?”

Horrid words, which ought to have choked me, there and then.

But, there was something deeper between us and instead of romance, we became lifelong friends.

Over the next 30 years on my each visit to Sussex, we would meet for a beer and swap stories about the directions our lives had travelled and how much weight we had both gained!

While my life and career took my all over the UK, Jayne remained my constant point of return.

This summer I had not seen Jayne for over 10 years, so this holiday visit was going to be an extra special catch-up.

But, before I set off for the drive down south, I cried myself empty, when I discovered that Jayne had died some 30 months earlier, aged just 56.

Her partner Julie was with her to the end.

Time, life and death waits for no one.

But my friendship and memories of Jayne will always remain.

 

A Grief Observed

Oh to leave behind this

Feeling

The lost souls are still

Bleeding

I watched you

On the beach

The white horses

Crashed

Vein hopes

Dashed

But in my dreams

You were calling

But still

Out of reach My Shannon

 

Oh to leave behind this

Feeling

The lost souls are still

Bleeding

The years

The fears

The broken raven

Dies

At my window

While time

Ticks

The years passing

But not love

Without you

My Shannon