Kevin was in good form when he returned my call and reminded that he and his friends horse had a real decent chance in the 3.15 at Doncaster in a very good race, but One For The Team is no slouch and didn’t tell him anything he didn’t know by saying that he ran against better horses last time seen on a race course. The money was down as the betting showed 14s to 5s. Kevin was best mates with the late great Matthew Harding who is the reason we met at Langans, the restaurant off Green Park which was once joint owned by Michael Caine and not a lot of people know that?
To my disappointment and no doubt for Kevin and The Forty Winks team the horse never looked like getting the job done, and l think we’ll find if it was not his disliking the underfoot surface, something l know quite a lot about, he might be off colour?
One of the reasons I take time to look back at those matches years ago is for hearing people say that, “The game has change so much, so and so wouldn’t get a kick today, the pace of the game would find them out,” which of course I think is a load of trash. I go back to my guvnor buying Stanley Matthews in his later forties, might have even touched fifty, and was very instrumental in getting Stoke City promotion which tells a story in itself. Tony told m a few stories about Stan over lunch one day and that was it we never brought his name up again as I saw Stan at a game one day and he did something that proved my friend to be right, not that I ever doubted him. And then there was that day I went up to the Potteries for farewell party of my friend and Sentinel reporter Peter Hewitt in that old hotel opposite which tells another story about the great times we had while me and my visiting family were there, the family comes into it because the hotel was where I left them after every home match as they boarded the London, Euston bound train. The lunchtime get together for Peter was a blockbuster event compared to me Press Conference in 1974, he had four times as many people, twenty four, and it was there through sheer conversation I asked Sir Stan, ‘Have you any regrets about your career (after what Tony had told me) and he said, “Yes Alan, I packed up far too early” being fifty two or three, I nearly fell about laughing, but he kept stone faced seriousness.
It is a great talking point though about yesterdays heroes of fifty, sixty, seventy years ago playing today and I am always interested hearing people making fools of themselves with their opinions, which really shows if you have never played at the top level you, with common sense, reserve judgement or opinion, even. I remember my father making me laugh in our old prefab when we had Frank Sinatra on the old record player and he crawled in from work, as he never jumped on a bus or taxi, no matter what the time of day or night, he was like the Forest Gump of wIndow-cleaners and decorators only he didn’t have all of those followers at three in the morning. We were talking about Francis Albert’s voice and Bill said, “Al Jolson didn’t have or need a microphone,” which put an end to that, but I think he saw what he was doing far harder work than Frank standing their with a brandy in one hand and cigarette in the other singing, “One for my baby and one more for the road,” I can only think it was that after walking home from Knightsbridge (where Harrods stands) about two and a half miles away.
Going back to players in yesteryear, a good, or more like great player would play in any era because of his football brain, the speed of thought on a football field will never change no matter how heavy the balls and pitches were and playing in Tony’s Testimonial (if you could call it that, Stoke City are so mean) after what he did for them, which I add if only they were as loyal to him as the other way around and I can say that through my very own experience along with Jimmy Greenhoff and many other vastly talented players that played for peanuts. I was running my pub and night club at the time of this particular match and the boys, me friends who were playing, had their pre-match meal (drinks only) there, because it was a really warm afternoon and they need a few pints for dehydration reasons. This afternoon Neil Franklyn, a very well known gentleman from the area, and I say that with great seriousness Neil was just that, who played at back for our team. I had heard from the locals that e was the best ever before leaving England because “He was made an offer he couldn’t refuse” to go to Bogota, and I can only imagine the bollocks he was told to get the best centre-half in England, and that included the 105 cap Billy Wright, before boarding that plane. I was about 35 at that time which made Neil around 65, I can only think out loud quickly, but my goodness gracious a ball came out of the Potteries sky with that “soot” on it and he killed it on his knee like Frank Beckenbauer and gently flicked it away like the Keizer also. That was that, gossip and hearsay no more, Neil, who was a real nice man, I’m certain could and would have played today, most probably watching the special God-given talent of Virgil Van Dijk (no relation to Dick, by the way) you might put him in that bracket, as I said speed of thought and mind. I say that and immediately think of Alan Ball and having played both with and against the pint sized genius – who made the Barcelona midfield look like Sunday players – with his speed and quickness of thought as you’d make one step to close him down and if you blinked he was gone, that is what the game is all about and watching Manchester United at Arsenal yesterday afternoon, all I can say if they are earning £200,000-a-week you can put another nought on the end of ABs contract negotiations. Yeah, as time passes by through watching that match in 1972, the year of Stoke City’s one and only triumph by beating our Chelsea team in the League Cup final, funnily enough speaking of age, with 35-year-old George Eastham scoring the winner. Thank goodness for that because that was the day Tony decided to buy Hudson as George’s replacement, and that was exactly what I told my old friend George Andrews on the radio yesterday and added that our finest young players were Jack Grealish Number One followed by the kid at Arsenal Smith-Rowe (a terrific football brain and touch) and the two Leicester City lads Maddison and Barnes both better than all of those hyped up over the last few years. Six hours later a little speed and thought of mind saw Jack (Grealish) brilliance set up the winner at Southampton for Barkley, another player who I liked at Everton (I thought he might be another Gacoigne?) a few years back but went backwards, but now he’s alongside Jack he looks like making a comeback, yeah forget Stan at sixty this kids making a comeback at 25. Oh how I would have loved to have played alongside the brilliance that is Grealish and oh how we have missed a player with such assurance, self-confidence and supreme swagger, no not me, Jack Grealish!