Tuesday, 14 October 2014

My 100 top fitba' teams : some kind of autobiography

OK, I've deceived you.  I only ended up with 30 teams but I thought the title My 100 top fitba' teams had more of a ring to it and would attract more attention than, "My 30 top fitba' teams." So gi'e us a chance and read on.

1. Dundee 
This is my team. I own it in my soul and I also have a £1 share in it which allows me to vote at the AGM.  I first went to a match there with my friend GL in late 1952. After reading about football in the sports page of The Courier, I'd said to my Mummy I'd like to go to a football match and she said I should go to Dens Park because they'd let you in free at half-time. They did. Dundee were playing Falkirk. Our greatest season was 1961-2 when we won the Scottish League Championship. We reached the semi-final of the European Cup - now the Champions' League - the following season.

The famous XI  :  Dundee FC  Season 1961-1962

I am a club record holder. In 1953 I was in the 43,000 crowd at Dens Park when Dundee played Rangers in the Scottish Cup. It is the highest attendance figure recorded at Dens Park. It was the only time I remember my Daddy (as I called him then) taking me to a football match. We went with Grandad Sharpe. We stood at the top of the terrace at the west end of the ground where the Bobby Cox Stand now is. I was able to see the match because I was sitting on my Daddy's shoulders.

Last season, 2013/2014,  we were Scottish Professional Football League (SPFL) Champions and were promoted to the Scottish Premier League. My wife and I were there.

2. Montrose 
This is my second team because my son and I together went to see the Links Park Dynamo in the early 1970s.  More familiarly nicknamed "The Gable Endies"  after the many buildings in the town that have their gable ends to the fore, after no doubt, the architecture of the Dutch ports with which in previous centuries the Montrose merchants plied their trade.  Enough information.  I still call them the Links Park Dynamo because the supporters used to sing, to the tune of The Red Flag, (even though Montrose play in blue),

We fear no foe where e'er we go,
We are the Links Park Dynamo.

Those were special times for me.  The "Dynamo" was managed by Alex Stuart  and it had arguably its finest ever side at that time including, among others, the attacking full back Les Barr, ace goal scorer, Brian Third, and the legendary striker, Bobby Livingston.

3. Manchester United 
United has been my "English" club since 1956 when I followed the exploits of the "Busby Babes". In 1958 when I was 12 years old and newly arrived in Coventry,  the Munich air disaster occurred in which 8 players and officials from the club died. This cemented my sympathy and support for United. I watched them play a couple of times at Highfield Road. The last time I saw them George Best, Bobby Charlton, Pat Crerand, Willie Morgan, Nobby Stiles and Alex Stepney were in the team.

4. Coventry City 
I first saw Coventry City in 1958 playing against York City (a 2-0 home win) at the old Highfield Road Stadium and I followed them until I left Coventry in 1968. They were nicknamed the Bantams when I started watching them but after Jimmy Hill became manager they were called the Sky Blues. The best occasion that I associate  with Coventry City is watching them in 1967 beat Wolves to win the second division title (now the championship) and so gain promotion to the first division (now the premier division) at Highfield Road when there was a record crowd of over 51,000. (Another of  the record crowd medals that I have in my ethereal trophy cabinet). I had many favourite players during the time I watched Coventry City but for some reason or another my favourite has always been the centre forward, George Hudson. Maybe it's because I saw him close up standing in a shop in Walsgrave on Sowe.
I am happy to hear that after playing in Northampton for 15 months the club has now returned to the Ricoh Stadium to play its home games in Coventry once again.

Coventry City promoted to the top division, 1967. I watched the match below that distant floodlight stanchion - yes those are people hanging on it.

5. Lochee Harp 

From about 1952, if Dundee was playing away from home I would walk up through Clement Park, walk around the edge of the industrial estate and there next to the Veeder Root factory was Beechwood Park the home of Lochee Harp Scottish junior football club which at that time played in the Dundee Junior League. The ground was an enclosed one and adults had to pay to get in, but my friend GL and I were allowed in free. They reached the Scottish Junior Cup Final in 1957 but lost to Aberdeen Sunnybank  1-2 at Hampden Park.

6. Hartlepool United 
At Trent Park Teachers' Training College in the 1960s I met and became acquainted with an unathletic bloke, TC, who nevertheless was one of the finest footballers I ever saw. He could dribble past people with intricate ball control and could score goals for fun. I once saw him score a goal from 70 yards in a college match. He liked to be known as "the black flash". I never discovered why. He always wore a black tee shirt under his strip, and certainly for such a burly fellow he could turn and flash past people before they knew what he had done. He followed the horses and was always having a punt. After reading the Racing Post he would decide which steeds he would lay his money on. Decision made, he would grandiosely prepare to leave his digs saying "Ah'm gangin' to the bookies, Why, Charlie Ah've some racing certainties the day"  TC was born and had lived all his life before his arrival at teacher training college, in Trimdon Station, County Durham. He was a Hartlepool United fan and since the 1960s Hartlepool United is a club which like my own has enjoyed mixed fortunes.

7. Torquay United
I joined  the Yellow Army when in 2012  I took my wife, daughter and two grandsons to see the Gulls  play at Plainmoor. We have repeated this exercise every season since,  when the boys and their Mum visit us.

8 Elliott Albion
In 1956 GL and I watched this team who played at Camperdown Park. We saw them on the Saturdays Dundee were away from home and Lochee Harp were away from home. They played in what was called the Dundee Juvenile League but the players were men as far as us wee laddies were concerned. The goals didn't have nets. The Elliot Albion goalie was called "Jim".  He had fair to ginger coloured hair. We used to stand by his goal and talk to him during the matches. He was our hero.

9. Johnshaven Dauntless
The Dauntless was a junior football league team founded a long time ago. When we lived in Johnshaven between 1970 to 1976 the team had ceased to be a regular unit for a number  years  but it would reform sometimes for occasional matches with local sides. In 1971 it officially reformed as an amateur team in the Fettercairn League.

Jimmy Stephen, Portsmouth and Scotland, the most famous Dauntless Player

I remember passing by Wairds Park one Sunday when they were about to play the team from Gourdon, the fishing village 3 miles to the north. As well as the Gourdon team, a fair few Gourdon lads had come along to watch their boys. There were a few scuffles between the Gourdon lads and the young Johnner supporters  but it never amounted to anything which threatened life. There was no need of police intervention and in any case there wasn't a policeman stationed in Johnshaven. I knew this, for one day when I was getting off the bus from Montrose I heard a woman say to the bus driver as she got off the bus at the same time as me, "We dinna' hae need o' a bobby in Johnner we're a' guid fowk."

10. Aston Villa
I've had a weakness for the Villa since my Birmingham/Stonehaven nephews, A, S, and C, started, in the order they were born, to support the Villa from the 1970s. I like supporters who remain loyal through the difficult times and Villa supporters have had no shortages of difficult times. My eldest nephew and Godson wrote, edited and published the Villa fanzine Missing Sid.

11. St Mary's FC
I support this team because my eldest Birmingham/Stonehaven nephew AR not only played for them but wrote a book called The Weight about one season in the life of the club.

The Weight by Alex Russon : the story of a season with St. Mary's FC

12. Maritimo
I've supported this Madeiran club since 2003 when I went to see them play Sporting Clube de Portugal better known to most of us as Sporting Lisbon at Estadio dos Barreiros in Madeira. Playing superbly well for the Sporting Lisbon team that night was a 17 years old player, who was born in Madeira and who has gone on to have an illustrious career. I've forgotten his name for the moment... Cristiano something I think.  Sporting won 4-0 that night in front of a crowd of about 4,500.

13. Olympique de Marrakech
We spent Christmas 2012 at a hotel in Marrakech and I asked one of the staff what the nearest football club was. It happened to be Olympique de Marrakech  and he told me they were playing on the next day. He gave me directions to the stadium which was only a kilometre away.  I walked to the stadium but couldn't find the entrance. When I asked where I had to go, a kind old man took my hand and led me to the gate. It was a good purpose built stadium. There was a crowd of about 1500. There were no women among the spectators. Olympique drew with Ouida 2-2.

14. Leyton Orient
I worked in Leyton from 1992 to 1994 and would go down to Brisbane Road. It was just about the time they were changing to the new league structure and Leyton were in the lowest division but I liked the atmosphere there. The supporters were all faithful, passionate and loyal friends of their club.

15. Sunderland
As a boy I always liked the name of Sunderland and looking at the photos in the newspapers Roker Park seemed massive. Since I first knew about football I've always been obsessed by football stadiums. Sunderland had a famous player called Raich Carter. His first name fascinated me then and does now.

Raich Carter

 I've still not met anyone named Raich. The great Jim Baxter played for the Black Cats but I think he was just over his best by then though I stand to be corrected. My father in law George Ferry was born in Sunderland and supported them from afar.
I first saw Sunderland in 1963 at Highfield Road when they were beaten 2-1  by Coventry City in the 5th round of the FA Cup in front of a 40, 000 crowd.

16.  Hibernian  
I've always had a sympathy for the Hibs from the early 1950s in the days of  the Famous Five forward line but my greatest thrill was to go with my elder grandson, S, who was born in Edinburgh, to see them play at Easter Road against Livingston in the Scottish Championship at the beginning of this season (2014/2015). In this game the Hibees' goalie Mark Oxley scored a goal directly from his own penalty area with a huge clearing punt.

17. Raith Rovers
Who could not have respect for Raith Rovers FC the small club from Kirkcaldy where my younger grandson J was born ? This is the club that nurtured the great Jim Baxter but my proudest moment to do with Raith Rovers was to go to Starks Park with my younger grandson J and his brother S  to see the Rovers end up victorious in a League Cup match against Forfar Athletic earlier this season.

18. Newcastle United
I watched the toon on a few occasions in the season of 1984-85 with my Welsh friend ES when we were both seconded to a course at the University of Newcastle upon Tyne. On one occasion we attended  an FA Youth Cup match there against Watford. We looked on from the Gallowgate end of St James' where a wonderful young 18 years old player by the name of Gascoigne was gracing the field. Newcastle went on to win the FA Youth Cup that season.

19. Arbroath
Who could not admire the "Red Lichties" playing at a ground battered by the North Sea and who for such a small club played in Scotland's top division for a season or two in the 1970s? In the mid-1950s my friend GL's sister for a while went out with a lad called Charlie Dunn, a  young full back who was on the books of Arbroath at that time.

20. Potters Green
In  1958,  my family moved to Coventry and we lived in the Potters Green area of the city. Here there was an amateur team who played in the local recreation park  called Potters Green FC and the leader of the boys' club I joined in Potters Green was a man called Peter -  I can't remember his second name  - who played left back for them and I went to watch the side for a season before I became more interested in Coventry City.

21 Partick Thistle
In 1977 I took a group of young people to Glasgow. They were members of the pipe band of a residential establishment where I worked in Watford, Hertfordshire. The boys played for the crowd at the beginning of a match at Firhill between Partick Thistle and Celtic. After the match, we met with Kenny Dalglish  but the real thrill was to see the Maryhill Magyars play. Alan Hansen was playing for them that night. Both he and Dalglish joined Liverpool the following season. It seems a shame but it is a good story, that Billy Connolly thought they were called Partick Thistle Nil.

22. Barton Rovers
I've followed this club since about 1987. I was preparing to walk the Ridgeway and so every day I was hiking in the hills around Hitchin and Luton to get fit for my trek. One day I came upon this village, Barton. It was in wooded country just north of Luton and among the trees I caught sight of this trim and neat little football stadium. It was the home of Barton Rovers who a few seasons before had been the runners up in the FA Vase. I see that they are still in the FA Cup this season. The idea of this stadium hidden among the trees in Bedfordshire still holds magic for me.

23. Everton
I've supported Everton since the late 1950s. Two of my footballing heroes then were Jimmy Gabriel who was transferred from Dundee to Everton and Alex Scott who was transferred from the Rangers to Everton. When I turned up in Totnes in 1989, CW, the landlord of The Bull Inn at that time was an Evertonian but he was not sectarian and the Bull Inn was for many years the Scouse consulate for Totnes and both blues and reds congregated there.

24. Brechin City
When I played cricket for Montrose from 1970 to 1974 we used  to play against Brechin Cricket Club and it was there that I found out that one side of Brechin FC's ground was bounded by a hedge. How could you not warm to a club with a hedge ?

Brechin City's hedge - once threatened by EUFA but now saved

25. Forfar Athletic
This would have been my Dad's home club but he was never really interested in football. He was much more interested in flying model aeroplanes. Nonetheless I've always had a soft spot for the Loons for I lived in Forfar from 1946 to 1950. In the summer of 1946 I  came third in a bonny baby competition at a fete held at Station Park, home of the Loons. I am  particularly interested in them at the moment as one of my heroes, Rab Douglas,  plays in goal for them.

Bronze medallist in a bonny baby competition, 1946

26. Ottery St. Mary
I have a friend, Ian, who is a scouser and a Liverpool supporter but his hobby is to go around the south-west and often further afield watching matches at as many different non-league clubs as he can. Sometimes I go with him on his jaunts and one of the teams I like because their supporters are so friendly is Ottery St. Mary in Devon where the poet Samuel Taylor Coleridge spent much of his boyhood because his father was the vicar there.

STC : He never got off the substitutes' bench

27. Liverpool
The powerful mental energy of Bill Shankly drew me to this club in the late 1960s. As an aside, his brother Bob was the manager of Dundee FC in its most successful period to date. My support was reinforced when Kenny Dalglish, for a number of reasons a hero of mine  joined the Reds and then when I learned that both my grandsons had taken up with Liverpool as their English team, this re-affirmed the wisdom of my original decision.

28. Totnes and Dartington FC
My non-league enthusiast Ian drew me here as well. I brought my grandsons to their ground to play football in the summer when there was nobody there. Like all boys still are, I think,  they were excited to play on a ground that had a perimeter fence and goals with nets.

A pitch with nets and a perimeter fence. (Courtesy of  Ian Whittingham).

29. Gosfield School Under Twelves
This was the only football team I ever coached and it was undefeated in season 1968/69. The best player was a boy called Steven Foley who I think became a professional football player. On the basis of this I think I merit consideration for the Scotland job.

30. Watford
I've been sympathetic to Watford Football Club since 1976 when as a family we moved from Johnshaven to Watford. Elton John became chairman of the club and appointed Graham Taylor as manager. The best match I saw at Vicarage Road was a 4-3 FA Cup replay against local rivals Luton Town. Paul Walsh scored two excellent goals for the Hatters but Mo Johnston scored two goals for the Hornets and John Barnes scored a brilliant goal for them too.

The enigmatic Mo Johnston heads one home for Watford against Luton 

My football recollections seem in a mixed up way to provide a particular narrative of a large part of my life. There are other possible narratives but maybe they too, like this list, will never get near to the whole story.

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