His name unforgettable, the other Baden Powell made a big impression, too

I saw him once, you know
Football-playing, long ago.
Northern Premier, Simonside Hall
A dilettante with a ball.

AN orienteering badge may be necessary to track how Baden Powell came to feature in today’s column, but it’s abundantly worth the effort, for all that.

He is not, of course, the Baden Powell – though a recent correspondent pointed out that his mother doubtless believed him to be – nor is there much in his story about scouting, at least not of the campfire calling.

Rather this is the Baden Powell who was a jet-heeled right winger for Darlington, who for 25 years caddied for Ryder Cup golfer Peter Butler, who in distant days of leaded and unleaded could run 100 yards in 10.5 seconds and maybe 10.25 were the wind to be behind him.

It is the maths teacher who once introduced himself to a new colleague – “Hello, I’m Baden Powell” – and was met with the riposte “And I’m King Tut.”

Prepared? “Oh yes,” says BP, “for just about anything.”

He was born in Hebburn, South Tyneside, his father Baden Powell before him, sat at the next school desk to future Manchester United goalkeeper Ray Wood, who shared his passion for football.

“Ray and I would play doors all the way home,” he recalls. “Our mothers were always demanding to know what had happened to the soles of our shoes.”

Ray was in the Newcastle United A team, Baden in the nursery side they called the Ns. He became a Boy Scout but briefly. “There wasn’t really a regular troop, it was Boys Brigade where we were so I never got into it.

“I was ribbed enough about my name as it was. Everyone expected me to be something special, just because I was Baden Powell.”

Neither nor Ray Wood was considered sufficiently special at St James’s Park. Baden spent four years – “the best of my life” – with the formidable South Shields Ex- Schoolboys side where, on a week’s training course at Rothbury, he had his first experience of life under canvas.

They also had courses in northwest England, coached by the likes of Joe Mercer, Tom Finney and Blackpool and England centre forward Stan Mortenson. On one occasion, Stan Matthews nursing a minor injury, Baden was asked to provide Mortenson’s crosses from the right.

“I remember Mortenson called over Stan Matthews, put an arm around my shoulder and told Matthews that if he could cross like that he’d score 100 goals a season.

You never forget something like that.”

HE became an apprentice with Reyrolles had trials with Tottenham Hotspur – for whom he played against England’s Under 21 side – and with Sheffield United, returned willingly to engineering. “I suppose I was reasonably clever, so they moved me to the drawing office instead of just hammering nails into planks of wood.”

Nichol Quinn, a Darlington scout who worked in the shipyards, recommended him to Feethams. A match against Workington Reserves convinced the directors – and manager George Irwin – of his potential.

“We won 4-0, I made three – the ball just had to hit them to go in – and scored the other. It was the goal of my life, like something out of Wilson of the Wizard. If the television had been there, they’d have been showing it still.”

He made his Football League debut, a 3-1 defeat at Wrexham, on November 11 1950 – Dunn, Davison, Eves; Parsley, Stone, Ward; Powell, Yates, Brown, Steel, Galley. Sixtysomething years later, it still stirs memories.

“Tommy Ward was an undertaker, would arrive for matches still in his funeral clothes. Roy Brown would hit a player like an Exocet missile; Gordon Galley was a lanky, tricky sort of player, Billy Dunn another Hebburn lad...”

At first he was an amateur. “I remember after my first match that I went to the office and was asked about my train fare. It was 7/10d return and they gave me ten bob.

“I was just a kid, against experienced players for whom experience meant they if they couldn’t stop you, they kicked you. I never kicked anyone, I was too soft. I looked at my legs, all bruised, and thought that I’d been kicked to death for two shillings and twopence.”

Mind, he cheerfully adds, he’d have done it for absolutely nothing.

A WIDOWER for 12 years he lives alone, immaculately, in South Shields. Mostly the house seems decked with photographs of Baden – and Audrey, his late wife – with the world’s golfing greats. “I just wrote to Peter Butler and asked him if he wanted a caddy,” he says.

We meet late on Monday afternoon, England’s match on hold.

Baden, button bright, is just back from a day’s exam invigilation at a local school. “It’s nice of them to still ask me,” he says.

Called up when his apprenticeship ended – the RAF the natural place for a flyer – he was paid a ten shillings a week retainer by the Quakers but played just a few more first team games. Whatever conscription’s privations, it may have been a life of luxury compared to Feethams in the 1950s.

“A lot of dressing rooms weren’t up to much in those days but Darlington’s was like a dog kennel, pathetic.

The stand was immediately above, and if a few people were going up and down loads of dust and stuff would fall on us.

“People would ask why I played for Darlington, because they were useless.

I said they were the only ones who’d have me.”

Released in 1954 – “it was the worst letter of my life” – he joined South Shields, they of Simonstone Hall, full backs mesmerised and traumatised in equal measure by a slightlybuilt winger thought old-fashioned even then.

“The best right winger outside the Football League,” said the Shields Gazette, a view clearly shared by Luton Town – then of the old first division – who wanted to sign him fulltime.

He declined. “I liked my job, my home and my friends. I’d only have signed for someone in the North- East,” he insists.

In the summer he was a foot runner, competing at games throughout the North-East, acknowledges the lead-in-the-pumps legerdemain legendarily employed to flummox bookies and handicappers alike. “It was commonplace,” he concedes. “I’m not saying I did it, but there were plenty who did.”

He won at least two races, one with a £50 top prize – “like a million in those days.”

Awarded a benefit after nine years with South Shields, he followed manager Charlie Thomas for a season at Horden Colliery before retiring. “Anno dominiwascatchingup.

Fullbacks weren’t just catching up, they were passing me.

I’d had a wonderful time.”

Fans like South Shields historian Bob Wray – to whom thanks for the orientation – remember him affectionately: “a skilful, fast and entertaining winger, a pleasure to watch and a perfect gentleman.”

BADEN left Reyrolles to become a teacher at Harton College.

On his retirement there, someone in the English department wrote the admirable poem – its first verse at the top of the column – about a winter’s day at Simonstone Hall.

The still green shirt against the snow
Waited for the war to throw
A weary, whacked-out ball its way,
And suddenly we saw it sway,
And shimmer with a sparkling glimmer
Past lesser legs and minds much dimmer,
Drifting through the heaving thighs,
Floating a cross which hangs and sighs
Far thicker heads to leap and score
For high-brow man a servant’s chore,
A haughty winger, quite disdainful,
His skill transcends the mundane, painful.”

He’s properly proud of that, treasured among six carrier bags of mementoes. The dilettante on the ball offers a lift back to the Metro station.

“It’s been a pleasure,” says Baden Powell, a man of honour, “how lovely of you to come.”