The days when football really did go to the dogs

The days when football really did go to the dogs

OLD DAYS: The entrance to Stamford Bridge in the 1960s, when the ground was also used as a greyhound track

TRACKSIDE: The greyhound track which circled Stamford Bridge’s football pitch until 1972

HONORARY GEORDIE: Sir Norman Wisdom, with Pat Robinson on a cruise in 1992

THREE KNIGHTS: Sir John Hall, Sir Norman Wisdom and Sir Bobby Robson at Ramside Hall in 2003

First published in Backtrack

ON THE basis that what goes around comes around, we return – tail between the legs – to the subject of greyhound tracks around football grounds.

Two weeks ago, the column supposed that the last Football League stadium so to be girdled was Redheugh Park, Gateshead. There are those, indeed, who suggest that it was because Gateshead still went to the dogs that the club failed to gain fourth division re-election in 1960, despite finishing third bottom, ahead of Oldham and Hartlepool.

Now, however, a Darlington reader asking anonymity – “I’m in the paper enough” – quotes Simon Inglis’s inarguable Football Grounds of Great Britain that dog racing at Stamford Bridge ran until August 1968.

The track, he says, remained until 1972 when the old East Stand was demolished.

Stamford Bridge, Inglis notes, was the only English ground built before there was a team to play on it. By 1905, it’s said, the owners were seriously considering a Great Western Railway offer to turn it into a coal yard.

Greyhound racing began in 1933, the stand that became known as The Shed – and which in the 1960s, says Inglis, developed an “unwholesome”

reputation – was built in 1936 to house bookies and their cashhappy clientele.

The Shed was demolished in 1994, the name now covering the new stand at the Fulham Road end.

Thus is appears that Stamford Bridge was the last football/greyhound stadium after all. In the light of recent developments, however, you wouldn’t want to bet on it.

Shildon’S FA Cup third qualifying round tie at Workington today stirs memories for Ray Gowan, the Railwaymen’s manager when they reached the first round proper seven years ago.

“The last Northern League side that will ever get to that stage,” says Ray, pessimistically.

Back then it was Workington they beat, 2-1, in the preliminary round. “Tommy Cassidy, the Workington manager, committed Harry Carry,” emails Ray, without explaining who Harry Carry might have been.

Then he’s off – 2-0 at Durham, 5-2 in a replay against Frickley (”their manager resigned afterwards”), 3-1 in a right old battle at Shirebrook and 6-0 against Stocksbridge.

“An unbelievable opener from the late Lee Hainsworth and a Stocksbridge penalty turned down by the lady linesman with the nice legs.”

Joe Burlison in Chester-le- Street draws attention to the bookies’ odds on today’s Cup matches – Shildon are 15-2, Whitley Bay 6-1, Ashington 9-2 and Norton and Stockton Ancients 7-2 at home, huge crowd, to FC United.

Collectively, a tenner would bring £14,725. “Irresistible,”

says Joe.

COINCIDENTALLY, we also hear from former Hartlepool United and New York Cosmos defender Malcolm Dawes who himself made a nostalgic return to Workington – the last of his Football League clubs – last Saturday.

“They made a big fuss of me, still lovely people, though the ground seems to have changed a bit,” says Malcolm, now 66 and in Woodham Village.

Workington played Nuneaton, visiting physio Richie Norman also well remembered in the North-East.

Newcastle lad, Richie was in the Ferryhill Athletic side that won the Northern League in 1957, earned an England amateur trial – “at the hotel a snobbish chap with a blazer and a posh accent asked me which club I was from; he’d never even heard of us” – and became yet better known at Leicester City.

He made 365 senior appearances, helped Leicester to two FA Cup finals and a League Cup win, remains in Leicestershire and has been Nuneaton’s physio for 20 years.

“He’s still as fit as a fiddle,”

says Malcolm. Richie Norman is 75.

CLAD in Rangers fleece and Rangers baseball cap – and, let it be said, wearing glasses – former Premiership referee Jeff Winter could be spotted at Guisborough Town v Northallerton on Wednesday.

Craig, his son, plays for Northallerton.

A Boro boy, so familiar with goings on over the border, Jeff had just taken in five disparate Scottish games in as many days – “a record even for me.”

His new-blue allegiance is with Rangers, however.

“There’s a lot of after-dinner speaking to be had up there,”

he says. “Just last Friday I did a benefit for Derek Parlane.”

Most matches – to include, he promised, Guisborough – are reported on his website.

The last was Rangers’ Champions League tie with the Turkish side Bursapor.

“The away end was quite well populated, in the main probably by kebab shop owners from throughout Scotland,” he wrote.

Now online, the account of Wednesday’s game is articulate and affectionate – “a cracking experience”. Sadly for his dad, however, the boy Craig was sent off in the eightieth minute, second cautionable offence. “I did a Wenger, I didn’t see it,” his dad insists.

The one-match ban kicks in in 21 days, Craig happy to report that he’d have been away on a stag night, anyway.

“I wonder where he gets his patter from,” says Jeff.

A NICE little ceremony at Mainsforth Cricket Club’s annual do, when Martin Birtle gave back to the club – near Ferryhill – the match ball presented to his late father in 1955 for taking three wickets in his first four overs, all maidens, in the Tom Burn Cup final.

Tom, who died earlier this year, is reckoned the last man to win Durham County honours while with Mainsforth.

He also played for Nottinghamshire.

Martin has also given them an Echo cutting, November 28 1966, claiming that Mainsforth were in danger of folding because they’d only had six regular players the previous season.

“They cannot keep on asking any Tom, Dick or Harry to make up the numbers,” wrote Bernard Gent.

John Irvine, now chairman of both the club and the Durham County League, finds encouragement in history.

Other clubs, he admits, may be on the verge just now.

“This may be an inspiration to them. From one team in 1966 we now have first and seconds, under 13, 15s and 18s and an under-11 side playing friendlies.

The moral is never say die.”

NOVEMBER 28 1966?

Sunderland used three goalkeepers in 35 minutes after Jimmy Montgomery had been knocked out during the 5-0 defeat at Man United – Charlie and John Parke the others – John O’Rourke hit three in Middlesbrough’s 5-2 win at Chester, Brian Clough’s Hartlepool were walloped at Shrewsbury and Durham City’s Mike Weston was offered his first England rugby trial.

In the North Yorkshire and South Durham Cross Country League, meanwhile, Billingham Synthonia’s Brooks Mileson “showed the qualities of a great champion”

by winning with a heavily strapped achilles tendon.

Brooks, the English youth title holder, became yet better known as chairman and benefactor of Gretna FC and sponsor, among much else, of the Northern League. A champion he remained.

Farewell to outstanding Sir Norman

NORMAN Wisdom’s telephone number is still in the little blue book: Isle of Man such-and-such. What a lovely feller he was, and an Arsenal fan to boot.

It was the future knight’s affection for Newcastle United, however, that earned him quite a lot of column inches back in February 1992.

The diminutive comedian had been a nippy outside right in the Royal Corps of Signals football team, alongside a young Geordie called Pat Dickinson. They were to remain lifelong friends.

Norman – “outstanding at just about everything,” said Pat – was also an Army boxing champion, lightweight presumably, and a formidable swimmer and cross country runner.

Frequently Norman would pitch up with his mate at St James’ Park – without his cap, often unrecognised – frequently join in a kickabout at Scotswood school, where Pat was deputy head.

“We’re still football daft,”

Pat had said back then. “If there are two kids playing with a ball in a field, Norman will stop and watch.”

Norman himself had been a Gunner since childhood, though he became a director of Brighton. “I was a real urchin at Arsenal and there was a very low wall,” he said.

“Now they have barbed wire and electric fences to keep out the likes of me.”

Newcastle, then in the old second division, had proved addictive. “Like the rest of the crowd, I still scream and stand up when they score. I don’t go raving mad or falling down the stairs or anything, though,” he said.

Kevin Keegan had just become manager. “He has a magic about him. I bet you anything they won’t go down,” said Norman. Nor, narrowly, did they. The Magpies were 20th, but won it the following season.

The two friends had been working on a biography. “He might come all this ‘Don’t laugh at me’ business,” said Pat, “but take it from me, he’s a clever old devil, is Norman.”

He’d claimed back then to be 72, a five-year economy with the truth. Three years later, the Daily Telegraph birthday listings put him on 75 when in reality it was his eightieth. Wisdom of age or otherwise, he could effortlessly be forgiven.

SIR Norman was also in the North-East in 2003, a guest at the fortieth birthday celebrations – and no fibbing about age – of the Ramside Hall Hotel, outside Durham.

There’s still a threeknight photograph of him alongside Sir John Hall and Sir Bobby Robson essaying an impromptu rendition of “Don’t laugh at me.”

Ray Gibbon, a retired police officer who was Durham’s mayor, well remembers the occasion.

They were mingling on the lawn – “I believe the term is now ‘networking’,”

says Ray – when his wife Margaret noticed the comedian some distance away and wistfully wondered if she might be able to meet him.

The conversation was overheard, the couple approached by a smartly dressed young chap who said that Sir Norman would be delighted to meet them.

Mayor and mayoress prepared to follow him across the grass.

“The young man held up his hand, insisting that he would bring Sir Norman to us,” recalls Ray.

So he did. “Here was a knight of the realm and a very famous man in his own right, according me precedence as mayor of my city.

“It was the humility that defines the great, as opposed to those who merely think they are.”

And finally...

TUESDAY’S column sought the identity of three of Europe’s victorious Ryder Cup team who shared a surname with a 1970s FA Cup winner.

The answer we had was McDowell (Graeme and John), Fisher (Ross and Hugh) and McIlroy (Rory and Sammy). Paul Dobson’s attempt to include Jimmy Montgomery must, sadly, be disallowed.

Another golf question: Fred Alderton in Peterlee invites readers to suggest Ivor Robson’s role this year, as always, for his 36th successive British Open.

Open all hours, the column returns – via Workington, inevitably – on Tuesday.


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