Ivor's Insights Part 12

Part Twelve
    At this point I think it’s only fair to warn you that I shall now return to my ramblings on the football scene, so for anyone who wishes to skip these scintillating memories you may leave and I look forward to your return when the match is over, including extra time of course! So let’s carry on from where I was before, if I can remember, oh yes I know, I wanted to tell you that my interest in football increased rapidly. I would spend hours in the street outside the front of our house kicking a tennis ball against the wooden fence. The design of this fence was of the angled overlapping panel style which meant the ball would come back at you from different angles. This necessitated learning to use either foot, left or right to return the ball back to the fence. My dedication to this practice bore fruit because throughout my subsequent football years – and I say this with all due modesty - I could use either foot with ease and not worry, or waste time, juggling it over to what is called ‘my good foot’.  I find it pathetic when some of the present day so-called stars miss so many goal chances because they are fiddling about trying to get the ball onto their ‘good foot’. 
      Another action I undertook was due to reading in a football manual that a good way to practice ball control was to place a line of posts in the garden and dribble the ball as you weaved your way around them without knocking any over. Now, as I didn’t have any suitable posts, I improvised by using some of my Dad’s, I hasten to add, empty beer bottles. It was a sight to behold, this young football fanatic imaging he was Stanley Matthews bringing the crowd to their feet as he weaved his magic around ten empty bottles of Watneys Brown Ale without knocking any over.
   In those far off days our football boots were not like the present day lightweight models. Ours were very heavy particularly if the pitch was rain sodden, producing mud as cloying as any farmer’s cattle yard.  In an effort to combat this problem I followed another tip I read which suggested trying to ‘mould’ your football boots to fit your feet so that they felt like one entity and lighter. So, what did this young, dedicated, enthusiastic callow youth do? Well, he filled two large bowls with water, one cold and one hot. With boots firmly fixed on my feet I placed them alternatively into the two bowls. Sad to report it didn’t do a scrap of good and I ended up waiting ages for the boots to dry out!  It’s tough training to be a star I can tell you.
   None of this deterred me from my passion for the game. I became Captain of my school team playing in, what was called in those days, the left half position. This is similar to today’s midfield position. In those days we didn’t have the luxury of a dressing room to change in. We had to make do with a few pieces of corrugated iron sheets, the same as used for the Anderson Air Raid shelters. These sheets were interlocked and assembled into a tunnel long enough to provide room for twenty two boys to change. There were no doors attached to either end and, by George, the wind didn’t half blow through sometimes.  Inside this structure, placed along each side, was a wooden bench seat which housed our clothes.  On the occasions when we played a match on a rain sodden muddy pitch I couldn’t get home quick enough to wash away the mud caked on my legs and arms.  No luxury of baths and showers for us budding stars.
   Another memory I have is playing football on a pitch close to Wormwood Scrubs prison with some of the inmates watching and shouting ‘encouragement’ – at least that’s what I think it was! - from their cell windows. If my memory serves me correctly I think it was at the Scrubs, and also at Hackney Marshes, when we boys had to carry the goal posts to and from the pitch before and after each game. Another abiding memory for me was being selected to play for Middlesex Schoolboys in a big match against London Schoolboys. I can’t recall the actual score; I think it was a draw. I was warned in advance to watch out for the boy playing centre forward for the Londoners, he was their star player and top goal scorer. So I stuck next to him like a leech, wherever he went I followed. Whenever he got the ball I was there, tackling and worrying him so much that he ceased to pose any threat to us. At the finish I was congratulated for my performance. That’s enough of my self glorification.
   By now I had joined my brother David in becoming a member of the Boy’s Brigade and we both played football for them. We won the league championship one year which meant we attended the annual Boys Brigade get together at the Royal Albert Hall later that year to receive our medals. The Royal Albert Hall is one of London’s most distinctive and popular tourist attractions. The foundation stone of this unique building was laid by Queen Victoria in 1867 and named in memory of her beloved husband Prince Albert who had died six years earlier. The building was completed in 1871. During the Second World War it suffered little damage from the bombing raids. This could be because it is thought that many of the German planes used the unique structure of the building as a good landmark on their flight path!
   There are many entrances within the building enabling anyone to walk into the actual arena. Many of these entrances entail walking down a flight of carpeted stairways to reach the arena. Those of you will know this from seeing the annual Service of Remembrance held every November. Members representing all of the Armed Services, resplendent in their uniforms, and many others descend these steps and proudly march into the arena.  Well I can tell you from my experience that
it wasn’t easy walking down those steps wearing studded football boots and marching across the arena. Still, at least by this time my boots had dried out from the failed earlier bowls of water treatment.  Another memory for me was to play at the grounds of Walthamstow Avenue and Hendon.  There were quite a few occasions when I played twice on a Saturday, the school team in the morning and the Boys Brigade team in the afternoon. I remember my Mother telling me one day not to play football because the day in question was a Good Friday. She thought it wrong to play on such a day. She was quite right, as Mothers usually are, because during the game I took the full force of a football struck from close range straight in the face, leaving me with a ‘lovely’ black eye. Talk about retribution for not listening to Mother.
   I still have my three medals earned from my footballing days, but not the black eye..
   One of my school football team members was a very good friend of mine called Graeme Merton. He played in the right back position and as he was fairly tall and well built he used this feature to his advantage, as many a recipient of his tackles would testify to. His enthusiasm and the impact from it lead me to bestow upon him the accolade of ‘Killer’ Merton.  When we were not playing football we would travel from Park Royal tube station, on the Western Avenue not far from Hanger Lane, to London’s Manor House station, near what is now called Harringey. This journey took us through 21 stops on the Piccadilly line. Upon arriving at Manor House we would then fight our way onto a trolley bus to take us to White Hart Lane to see our favourite team Spurs play, (having changed my allegiance from Brentford and QPR to Tottenham) The big problem with this route was that when the game finished there was always such a stampede to get on trolley bus back to Manor House station.
So, to avoid this near life threatening mad rush we would, reluctantly, leave about 10 minutes before the final whistle. As if that wasn’t bad enough there were occasions when, as we stood waiting for the bus to turn up, suddenly there would be a big roar from inside the stadium signifying a goal had been scored but which team had scored was unknown to us until we got home. It was some years later when we found out we needn’t have used that long arduous route to the ground at all. We found out we should have gone to London’s Liverpool Street station where we could have caught a train direct to White Hart Lane!  Still, I have happy memories of those days seeing players of the calibre of Ted Ditchburn, Alf Ramsey, Ronnie Burgess – the Captain - Len Duquemin (from Guernsey), Les Medley (who later in life emigrated to Canada) to name just a few.   To illustrate the difference from those days to the present I remember being on a bus to the ground one day and seeing Len Duquemin get off the bus when we reached White Hart Lane and carrying his football boots in a brown paper bag!
   I never imagined in those days that one day, long into the future, I would not only walk onto Tottenham’s actual playing pitch myself but would also be sitting, with my wife, in the stands watching a son of mine playing on its hallowed turf! But this actually did happen in 2004 when our youngest son, Martin, aged 41 at the time, was playing for a team in a charity match.
   These charity matches were played at Tottenham’s ground and amateur players were invited to apply for the chance of playing at White Hart Lane. Each team consisted of ten amateur players with the eleventh player, and Captain, being a retired former Spurs player. Martin first played in one of these matches in 2003 when one of Tottenham’s best strikers, Martin Chivers, was the team’s Captain. The following year, when my wife and I attended, Mickey Hazzard led the team out to do battle against a team having Ricky Villa in charge.
   We were very proud to see our Martin run out onto the pitch and despite the fact that he was whistled up once by the referee for a, shall we say, slightly over enthusiastic tackle, bringing back memories of my friend Graeme? He acquitted himself very well playing mainly a defensive role but not afraid to undertake many forays into the opponents half and I must add, he used both feet, not at the same time of course.
   I had a video camera that day and shot some footage which is always nice to revisit.
Before the game started I was invited backstage where I saw the dressing rooms and hospitality areas which displayed many photographs and other memorabilia of many of the great players throughout the clubs history. As if that wasn’t enough I was also allowed to walk out onto the pitch where I stood in one of the goal areas. It was something rather special for me as the memories came flooding back of standing on the terraces with Graeme in those far off war torn austere, but also halcyon, days of my youth.
   Finally there were other welcome benefits of our day out at White Hart Lane. Namely, there was no need to travel twenty one stops on the Underground tube train to Manor House station and then risk life and limb in the battle to board a trolley bus to the ground. We saw the whole match through to the end without the necessity to leave ten minutes before the final whistle and thereby avoiding another trolley bus scramble. All of this was achieved because we travelled both ways in Martin’s car.
  At around that time footballers were on a maximum wage of £10-20 a week. It wasn’t until 1961 when Fulham footballer Jimmy Hill won a battle with the Professional Footballers Association to scrap this maximum wage. This made headline news and Johnny Haynes, also a Fulham player, became the first player to get a wage of £100 per week.  Nowadays England’s Wayne Rooney is on a wage of around £200,000 a week!
   During the war years many professional footballers were called up to one of the armed forces. This meant that many of those who became soldiers were posted to Aldershot whereas Portsmouth was the natural base for sailors. The football clubs of these two towns were allowed to use any players posted there to play for them as guest players. This greatly increased their chances of winning matches.
   My father, after discussion with Mum, decided to take on a second job. This was as a turnstile operator at Wembley Stadium. During the war years there were some matches played at Wembley and Dad was often able to obtain tickets for us. I saw England play Scotland once where such English stars as Frank Swift, Eddie Hapgood, Cliff Britton, Stan Cullis, Joe Mercer, Stanley Matthews, Raich Carter, Tommy Lawton, Jimmy Hagan, Jimmy Mullen, Leslie Smith and two of Scotland’s finest, Matt Busby and Archie Macaulay parading  their skills. After the war there was a great interest in Speedway racing and although I wasn’t particularly interested in it I did go to see it at Wembley a few times. I remember Bill Kitchen, Tommy Price, Split Waterman and Jack Parker.
--End of Part Twelve---

Add a comment

* Comments must be approved before being displayed.