Long Days

I enjoyed my bosses company to the very last sad moment but as sad as it was and a day where a reporter, who interviewed me later that week, saying, “Alan, looked much the same, still smartly suited but it looked like when Tony Waddington died a little bit of him died too,” which was not really true, much like losing your father or your mother when something like this happens there’s no such thing as little.

Last night was just another twist in the tail of the Lockdown Season as Sheffield United went to Old Trafford and left Manchester with all three points which my mate Don would call a “Brucie Bonus” and that leaves the door open for their neighbours to retain the title.

Friday 29 January 21:

My luck changed on the horses although it was not luck as much as bad judgement in the way of the selection but the timing, as l was at a loose end and should have done what l eventually did, something a little more positive in a time that can take you in the opposite direction..

As l now became at a loose end because l try to leave my writing for the cycle, which you might call a bait, a challenge or simply a good working decision – work being the cycling. I flicked through YouTube looking for nothing in particular and enjoyed doing something – gambling can bring on pressure – that was relaxing. I watched the podcasts of Don and l and although l know it’s not going to take us far l still look for improvement, in fact, in everything l do or try to do

I watched a little bit of old games at Stoke City again looking for similar things and my mind keeps telling me that I really live in a different world than those I drink and associate on a regular basis, as I listen to them talk of their local club, which is acceptable, after all that’s all they have. I then put on a Jimmy Greenhoff montage of greatness not realizing just how good he was at Manchester United, and then flicking through further found a match l remember if only for Charlie George showing the Midlands close-up just what a talent he is and has been since l first played against him at Highbury for West London against lslington Schoolboys Under 14s.

I look and listen to these local Chelsea fans and they talk about those they have watched at the Bridge, and mainly the foreign contingent, and that is why I mention the abuse Chelsea Football Club have given the local kids, or should have say pure ignorance. It is more highlighted right now as they’d rather spend all those millions than the players I am talking about, although I am not really going about it in the right way.

For example I have mentioned Charlie George, Tony Currie and then there’s myself, who since I signed apprentice in 1966 are the only three top class players who have travelled past Watford Gap to show those folk in Stoke-on-Trent, Derby and Sheffield that these Southerners or Londoners have brought their talent, or more like not wanted in their own backyard by clubs with managers who basically don’t have a clue. If Mr. Waddington had three such players born and bred on his doorstep from Crewe to Alsager to Blurton of Hanley (the home of Stanley Matthews and Mr. Smith captain of the Titanic) he would have built a football club not like Pep, or Jose with multimillion pound players from Real, Barcelona, Bayern Munich or PSG, but where he was proud to both live and build that football club up from scratch. When he rescued me it was like watching a movie of where a young lad had shown immense ability in his early years but somewhere and somehow gone off that rail.

It is not because I watch Bull too much it is because Bull agrees with me, he takes cases, like Seabiscuit the horse – remember they cannot talk – who I can relate to, as being on his very last legs when found by someone who saw through him. The man responsible was another Mr. Smith, only he took this horse up whereas you know what happened to the “unsinkable?”

Wiki: This was a true story of the undersized Depression-era racehorse whose victories lifted not only the spirits of the team behind it but also those of their nation.

It’s the Depression, and everyone needs to hold onto a dream to get them through the bad times. Car maker Charles Howard (Jeff Bridges) is no different, he who is trying to rebuild his life after the tragic death of his only child and the resulting end of his first marriage. With second wife Marcela (Elizabeth Banks) at his side, Charles wants to get into horse racing and ends up with a team of underdogs who are also chasing their own dream. The first is trainer Tom Smith (Christopher Cooper), who has a natural instinct to spot the capabilities of horses. The second is the horse Tom chooses for Charles, Seabiscuit, an unconventional choice as despite his pedigreed lineage, Seabiscuit is small at fifteen and a half hands tall with a slight limp – it really is too coincidental for me and Mr. Waddington.

But Tom can see something in Seabiscuit’s nature to make him a winner, if only Seabiscuit can be retrained from his inbred losing ways. And third is the jockey they decide to hire, Johnny “Red” Pollard (Tobey MacGuire), so nicknamed because of his hair colour. Like Tom, Red has always shown a natural way with horses, but a difficult upbringing due solely to the Depression has made Red an angry young man, which has gotten him into trouble both on and off the track. And he is large for a jockey, and thus he always feels the need to battle the weight issue. Another common trait between Tom, Seabiscuit and Red is that they have been called crazy by those in traditional horse racing circles. Against the odds, Seabiscuit, with his human team behind him, does show his winning abilities and captures the imagination of all those others wanting to believe in a dream.

Before I go any further into something I saw on You Tube yesterday, in the movie was a friend of mine, although we’ve only met on a handful of occasions, he is Gary Stevens in fact a very good friend of mine and many a jockey in the 80s Weighing Room. Jimmy Duggan, a man called back then “The Mad Irishman” who could be right on one hand and very much right on the other hand, but what Jimmy had was something very rare in this world, honesty. He would not, like me, fit into todays racing society unless he sat down with me and after a deep discussion both admitted we’d have to very much change our ways because now its a business not a sport. We could never be a Gary Lineker or Alan Shearer or many Jimmy could name in the racing game, and again Graham Bradley springs to the forefront of my mind a man who as Steve Smith-Eccles and I pulled up at Ascot one day – we had just came from a meeting with a Sky boss – and a Mercedes pulled up right next to us, and we were the only two cars in this vast Car Park. Out jumped the man know as Brad, Graham to me, alongside Charlie Brooks and as words were crossed the Eck says, “You’re all over the front page again my son” and changing from his shoes into his Jodhpurs (or wellies) Graham said, “Yes Stevie, and let me tell you, I’m the only man on earth who could have won on that horse, trust me,” and as we walked away Steve, no mug jockey himself said, “If he says that, believe it.” Graham was all over the newspapers, The Sporting Life in fact who I was writing for at the time, for all of the right reasons, as he ode a horse all the long way round Worcester race course (for better ground) to win from an impossible position. That is, apart from riding the horse of the same name is why he is known as The Wayward Lad and I have had his book three times and either given it away, another trait I have, or left it on one of my past homes, hotels, motels, hostels, hospitals but never Lay-By’s – like a certain footballer I know.

From a fantastic jockey (Graham’s a Leeds United fanatic) to a fantastic player (Charlie an Arsenal fanatic) where in this European Cup match brought back so many memories for so many different reasons but the one outstanding one was Charlie was at his brilliant best.

The Baseball Ground looked a little different from a 1975 clash when we beat the eventual champions after giving them a goal start in in conditions that made the heavy ground at Cheltenham racecourse look like one of those Bowling Greens my friend Joe Fisher goes for his regular libation, although Joe would relate this matter more to a snooker table being a terrific young player who could have been a big time performer but chose the easy life if being on the Docks in an easy life? I sometimes bring it up and can’t help but disagree that one should not waste a certain ‘gift’ in life.

Finally this is what caught my imagination while tuning into this match where one/Charlie scored a hat-trick with the opening goal, a delicious strike which brought back so many memories of his inborn talent. In between for Real Madrid their midfield player Pirri pulled one back to 2-1, and l mention this Spaniard as he was Man of the Match against our Chelsea team in Athens in that first European Cup Winners Cup final in 1971.

He was majestic in Athens and we were a wee bit fortunate he contacted an arm injury that he carried through the replay, and fortunately for us he was ineffective which gave another Charlie, our Charlie Cooke, and me the upper hand – if you excuse the pun.

2/My interest didn’t end there by a long chalk, because Gunter Netzer, the man who destroyed England in the 1972 European Championships at Wembley was himself taking back stage here to Charlie.

How l wished the huge talent and size of this player had been on show against Alan Ball and myself at Wembley in march of 1975, as many people say to me that he did, l wish?

Netzer’s performance that night where he combined with the deeper lying Franz Beckenbauer, the Keizer being switched by the ultra-shrewd German manager Helmut Schon, so that he became ‘unmarkable’ something that was far ahead than any Englishman’s thinking.

To move a brilliant number 4, your main midfield player, and drag him towards his own goal was genius.

Back in the Midlands Gunter actually gave away the penalty that Charlie converted to make it 4-1 while Pirri had his second goal offside and it was a first time l can honestly say had VAR been there to change the decision they would have been correct in doing so – well, percentage wise, they are due it?

3/Derby County became a team close to my heart in the years to come, but before l go into that, l scored my first ever goal on their ground in an incredible – for me – match where we led 2-0 with about ten minutes on the clock when l recall them getting a corner and as my future boss placed the ball l got my first real taste of a crowd becoming a twelfth man, it was scary for a rookie.

They scored which made it scarier and then scored again and we got out of their with a point having played superbly for eighty minutes.

My goal a stunning 25 yard volley was quite something but l look back and think had Brian Clough had chose taller goalkeepers in those days the ball might have nestled into the keepers chest.

If l can claim that goal against Ipswich Town then l can most definitely claim this one because it went inside the goalposts which l sometimes wonder if VAR, again, would have seen?

I mentioned my boss Alan Hinton taking that corner, well, also in that Derby team were Francis Lee, who Mr Waddington tried to sign in Cyprus the early morning after he signed Geoff Salmons, l can only think that this move by Sammy was sealed at the latest, or earliest ever hour, depending which way you look at 3am?

This time Franny declined for a reason l don’t understand as l think he ran his business from a few miles up the road from the Potteries in either Burton, Ashby or Derby itself.

Franny would have been a great folly for Greenhoff although the years were catching him up, but our boss loved an experienced player such as Lee.

He must have bought more players over thirty than any other manager in the history of the game – in the top two divisions.

4/It doesn’t stop there as in that Derby team, David Nish (possibly the best footballing defender l have ever come across) and that includes Marvin Hinton.

It also brought back memories of my three year ban from international football seeing Colin Todd alongside oy McFarland, As Colin was the third party of those who were in hot water for not making that trip, but like me Colin had a genuine excuse (if excuse is the word) while Supermac got a medical certificate and Alf accepted that. I know one thing for certain I would not have bothered going to see a quack to use as an excuse when I had a legitimate one for not only an Under 23 Tour but Alf either, after all he might have won the World Cup but he ain’t a bloody doctor of any sorts. When you have to lie to a manager you might as well go window cleaning, who do they think they are?

I got my injury and suffered the heartache of missing the two greatest occasions of 1970 football those two FA Cup finals against Leeds United, especially the replay in Manchester, and the greatest World Cup in my lifetime in Mexico.

If he (Sir Alf Ramsey) was still with us I would be a shade more considerate than he was as I would like to see him face to face, man to man to discuss this very important matter, because I know he had become the only man to win England not only the World Cup but any kind of trophy (forget the Rous Cup whatever it was called) but that does not given him the right to absolutely ruin my international career, I am not a criminal, I was a player who had a dream, one he turned into a nightmare.

This is why football supporters don’t understand the politics of our game they think we were all football morons running around every Saturday when the morons were on the other side of that fence, if it happened to them in their jobs and they had to move home and uproot wife and children when they were happy where they were I don’t think they’d still have the same opinion.

We took it on the chin because, unlike today, we couldn’t afford to tell them to “fuck off” but the worm has turned and if I were playing today and getting a million-a-month and my manager wasn’t happy I would simply tell him that once he qualified to ‘manage people’ I’d be back from the Caribbean or Bermuda (where I was better being under House Arrest) or maybe to back to Ocho Rios where I enjoyed the best three weeks of my life, and crazily my wife didn’t, and she was by my side every step of the way, maybe women simply don’t like me, but she shouldn’t have blamed have blamed this wonderful place a couple of hours drive from Montego Bay, with all of those beautiful spots in between.

If I had known that before we got married on that small yacht in Bermuda I’d have booked Butlins in Skegness where my parents took us every year.

They also had Bruce Rioch playing, a player who broke my leg on that same ground in the year of the heatwave and l say that because once the plaster came off l started my recovery running the streets of Barlaston under the most incredible conditions a man could face.

I remember it as clear as any day of my famous 1998 comeback.

5/As l was about to come out of this l saw Jeff Bourne taking off his tracksuit something l saw him do on so many occasions in Seattle, which is why l mentioned this place becoming close to my heart because Alan Hinton became my manager and in his first season brought these three players into a team that took them from a pretty ordinary one to a record breaking one.

Hinton also became the third man who as a manager became more than that as did Jimmy Gabriel, whose job he took, and then there was my you-know-who of both my football career and life itself.

At a loose end became a very enjoyable day although my luck is still out as l missed a bet l really fancied having backed Reading only about ten days ago in their 3-0 over Coventry, l sat and cursed my luck as they faced into a three goal lead against the more fancied Bournemouth.