Franks for all the memories

LIKE Arbroath smokies or Edinburgh rock, recent columns have had a Scottish flavour. Albert Franks - born in Boldon Colliery - continues it.

He played for Newcastle United, smote possibly the fastest 100 in the history of the Durham Coast League, and was, he believes, the first Englishman to play for Glasgow Rangers.

We'd mentioned him in passing a few weeks back, the police cadet who swapped the boys in blue for the boys in black and white and who eventually returned to Durham Constabulary to become a highly-commended detective.

Albert still remembers the day that Magpies' chairman Stan Seymour came to sign him.

"Quite a few clubs had been interested. It was a Sunday and my mother was a Methodist preacher. I had to ask her if it was all right to sign on the Sabbath. It was nice, that."

A Methodist background may also help explain his lifelong teetotalism, a rarity among footballers then as now. "I still socialised," recalls Albert. "The lads would try to get me to have a pint, but I'd just invite them to try what I was having, instead.

"I smelled beer once and it was disgusting. I certainly didn't want it in my mouth."

It may also be a certain Wesleyan reserve which prevents him from repeating exactly what was said when he broke up a training ground fight between Jimmy Scoular and Bob Stokoe by the simple means of sitting on the steelhard Scoular until he promised to see the error of his ways.

Suffice that the Scotsman's reaction wasn't exactly "Forgive me father", though it did contain a fair few Fs. "I was always physically strong,"

concedes Albert.

Born in 1936, he played both cricket and football for the Durham county schools side, did RAF national service shortly after joining Newcastle - "I was captain of the RAF football team we even played in Spandau prison, where Hess was" - made 75 cup and league appearances at left half and was renowned for the length of his throw-ins.

"I could stand on the edge of the D and throw a medicine ball over the crossbar," he recalls.

"Most of the lads couldn't even reach the penalty spot."

It was the late-50s, the Magpies' frequent line-up Simpson, Keith, McMichael, Scoular, Stokoe, Franks, Milburn, Eastham, White, Allchurch, Mitchell.

"It's not hard to see who was the worst player in that team,"

he insists, self-effacingly. "They were all internationals and I was a 20-year-old boy from Boldon Colliery who was just amazed to be there at all, but I never felt any pressure because of the humbleness and ordinariness of them all, especially Jackie Milburn.

"In my eyes Milburn had no equal as a player, but he was also the nicest and most humble. We'd walk from St James' Park to the YMCA for a glass of milk and he'd be shaking hands all the way.

"These days you never even see a footballer, apart from the 90 minutes on the pitch."

His four goals included one against Bert Trautmann, the great Manchester City keeper, another in United's 6-5 defeat at Chelsea, 50 years ago this September.

He also recalls an incident during a tour to Romania when the players all but debagged Alderman William McKeag, the formidable club chairman, and pushed a lizard down his trousers. "Ald McKeag," says Albert, "was a toff."

An illuminated scroll would also include the fact that he played in the first floodlit games at Newcastle, Sunderland, Middlesbrough, Liverpool, Hearts and Hibs.

When Charlie Mitten became Magpies manager, however, he and several others were soon on their way. "I detested the man,"

says Albert, Franks by name and frank by nature. I hated his management style. He wanted to be a new broom. I was out."

Rangers paid £6,500, more than twice what he'd paid for his first house - "a big detached place" - in Rowlands Gill. It was a lot of money for a Sassenach, but the Scots proved generous.

"There was no real problem at all, except that they'd spit at you. I didn't like that. Most people were very friendly, gave me gifts. I was even made president of one of the branches of the supporters' association.

"I suppose the only time I didn't get on with the other players was the Monday morning in training after England had beaten Scotland 9- 3 at Wembley. All I did was keep on telling them I wouldn't mention the match."

His first game had been in Rangers' fourth defeat of the season by Motherwell, but he did enough to be named man of the match. "That's what the papers said, anyway. You know what reporters are like."

His stay over the border included loan spells at Morton and Queen of the South - plenty of Durham lads there - before signing for Lincoln City and becoming player/manager of Scarborough, attracting 3,500 crowds in Midland League days.

Bradford City wanted him to become their player/manager; the clubs couldn't agree terms.

He returned, at 29, to the long arms of the law.

"I wanted a job where I could determine my own future, not where people would argue over me," he says. "I preferred a job with security than two years fame but no security."

He was a police officer for 22 years, mainly with CID in Chester-le-Street, winning 13 commendations. Det Con Franks was what old pollisses called a thief taker.

"I'd always had an investigative mind, I loved detective work," he says. "I could maybe have been a sergeant, but I didn't want to wear a pointy hat."

He also played for the Durham police team, but not for long before becoming manager.

A latter-day risk assessment would have considered it too hazardous.

"I quickly learned that there were a lot of policemen wanted to have a go at the former Football League player," he says. "They didn't have to be big or nasty, that's just the way it was; they wanted to kick me."

He rubs his leg as if still feeling the bruises.

Retired from the force, he went into retail security and remains a consultant in international demand - "I always, always resolve the problem" - and lives in Vigo, near Birtley.

If allowed, he'd simply talk all day about his grandbairns - Aidan, who's in the county under-13s cricket team and eight-year-old Hannah, who's a pianist of much promise. "You can tell I think they're a bit special," he says.

The visit has, however, prompted him to dig out the old scrapbook compiled by his mother-in-law - headlines like "Police couldn't hold him", "Big chance for Franks" and "A medal for this Albert."

There's also "United half back scores 100 in 25 minutes", for Boldon Colliery at Wheatley Hill - 16 fours, two sixes.

He still sometimes watches Newcastle, hopes they stay up, questions temperament, ability and fitness and knows there's still much to be done.

Regrets? "Oh none at all.

Sometimes I wonder how I was thought good enough to play at that level, but I played all over Europe and had a wonderful time."

Interrogating the polliss has taken two hours and been wholly agreeable. Franks for the memory.

Another who went north to the South

THE tangle o' the isles - the lowlands, anyway - still hangs in the air.

John Todd in Barton, near Darlington, spotted one more familiar face in the 1960s Queen of the South team picture we reproduced last Friday.

It was Alex Law - front row, second right - with whom he'd been a student at Bede College, Durham, at much the same time. His dad played for the Doonhamers, too.

"Word flew around that a League footballer was joining the PE course," recalls John.

"When we heard it was only a Scottish League player, we thought it might at least be one of the Big Two.

"Queen of the South wasn't quite the same, but he was a real footballer, nonetheless."

On Friday afternoons Lex could be observed - "Huge kit bag by his side" - waiting in the student common room to head off for Dumfries.

"Unfortunately," says John, "I don't think the college team ever got to use him as a ringer."

TO THE list of Co Durham lads who went north to Queen of the South, Alan Stewart adds former Crook Town players Arnold Coates - 25 goals in 48 games - and English amateur international Billy Roughley, who made 11 appearances.

GEORGE Herd, a Scot who made the more familiar journey southwards - 315 Sunderland appearances followed, almost inevitably in the context of this column, by a spell as manager at Queen of the South - was in the visitors' dugout when Marske United played Sunderland RCA on Wednesday.

George, 72 in May and with Glaswegian fire still burning, had revealed in last weekend's RCA programme why he'd so welcomed the £42,500 move from Clyde to Roker Park.

"If Clyde went to Parkhead I was called an Orange ******* and if we went to Ibrox I was called a Fenian *******. I was just pleased to get away from Scotland."

IN THE week that their £80m annual deal to screen Champions League matches was announced, Sky was at the Marske match, too - once again airing the Arngrove Northern League's offensive language debate. The fee is believed to have been about £80m less. Pie and Sky, readers may also care to guess whether it was the ANL chairman or the television crew who had to get the beers in.

EDDIE Kyle's whiff of old Ayrshire - those epic battles between Cumnock Juniors and Auchinleck Talbot - reminded Alan Macnab in Darlington of his dad's 1920s football travels in those parts.

On one occasion, he was asked to run the line in a nearby mining village, given sound pre-match advice by the referee.

"If in any doot, son, gie it tae the hame team. If ye dinna, ye start a riot."

THE funeral of Tony Thomas, whose passing we recorded on Tuesday, duly took place that afternoon at St Mary's parish church in Norton-on-Tees. Tony was a lifelong Norton cricket man, altogether more accomplished with ball than bat. His son Chris began his eulogy accordingly: "My father died at 83, it was by far the highest score he ever made."

ARTHUR Clark, Northern League chairman for 21 years and a long-serving FA Council member, will be remembered at an exhibition starting at Crook library on April 1 and organised by the Durham Amateur Football Trust.

Born in Wolsingham, Arthur became Crook Town's secretary after the war, responsible for the paper work surrounding the twicereplayed Amateur Cup final with Bishop Auckland in 1954 and later secretary of Whitley Bay.

The official opening's at 7pm on Thursday, April 3, when those attending are expected to include John Motson, Ricky George - he who scored Hereford United's legendary winner against Newcastle - and Dexter Adams of Hendon and England.

It's a ticket only do, but tickets are free from the library - 01388 766504.

... AND FINALLY

THE identity of the last Newcastleborn player to hit a Test match century for England appears to have baffled even our most diehard correspondents - and it only happened last week.

The gentleman in question was Tim Ambrose - born in Newcastle, New South Wales, and who even played cricket, says John Briggs, for Wallsend Sports Club.

Readers may today care to decide what broadcaster Kirsty Wark, Peter Pan author J M Barrie and John Laurie - Private Fraser in Dad's Army - have in common.

If the winter weather allows a day trip to Lowestoft, the column returns on Tuesday.

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