Stanley Matthews, or Jonah?
It was on a very heavy muddy wet playing field come pitch, come quagmire on Melbourne Road Park in Nottingham that I made my first (and only) appearance in the Nottingham Thursday Football League, for the Nottingham Co-op Society Butchery Team.
It was not a planned appearance – although I had paid my 3/6d (17½p) annual subscriptions to the Nottingham Co-op Butchers Thursday League Team (in those days most food shops used to close half-day on a Thursday) I never really expected to get chosen for the team, and used to go around with my kit in a carrier bag, just in case of emergencies or injuries to any of the other lads. I used to come in handy for making the half time brew, bucket and sponge stand-in, first aider, and general toss-pot/spare prick.
That was until a Thursday, in 1961, after about two years of following them, in the hope of ever getting a game like a lamb. (By then I’d given up even taking my kit with me).
When to my astonishment, I was asked to play in a cup match against ‘Wigfall’s First Eleven’. (Wigfall’s Rentals was the forerunner to Curry’s for those who cannot remember) The reason for this request was partly that the horrible weather had deterred many of the regular lads from turning up, and my exceptional footballing skills coming to their attention. (Okay I lied about my exceptional footballing skills coming to their attention!)
I recall going around scrounging bits of tackle from all the lads – and what a sight I must have looked!
The shin pads must have been made for Godzilla, the black shorts dangled below my knees, it took me five minutes to roll up the sleeves of the black & white striped shirt to my fingertips, and the best they could do to get me a pair of size 8 boots, was a size 10 pair – and they were split down the side, the studs came through to the soles of my feet, they hadn’t been worn for so long, the leather didn’t bend anywhere! We found some old rope to use as boot laces.
And there I was, feeling proud and chuffed, but looking stupid, ready for my surprise début in Nottingham’s Thursday League!
Was the world ready for this I thought!
Into the fray!
The bad luck started as I ran out of the locker-room (I say locker room! it was the groundsman’s old tool shed really) I tripped over the step, causing the nails in the studs to dig into me foot – but that pain soon disappeared when I landed face down (I still had to carry the bucket of water and sponge to the touch line you see, they insisted) banging me head on the rusty bucket, then as I was just getting over the embarrassment of my and the opposition’s team’s inane laughter at me, I became aware through the onset of pain in me left leg, that a mongrel dog was chewing on it!
Back to the changing room (tool shed) to clean myself up a bit, stop the bleeding, and put some cardboard between my feet and the rigid leather stud-nails intruding crippling oversized boots!
Being the little warrior that I was, I soon returned to commence my chance to impress on the field!
This plan somewhat fell down a few minutes after the referee allowed me onto the quagmire of a field – I was to play at left back, and seconds after taking to the field, trudging through the mud, I managed to lose a boot!
This did not stop my tackling this 16 stone, shire horse-like hurricane of a Wigfall’s forward who was belting towards goal, with the football looking like a marble at his feet, (God knows how he actually managed to run in that quagmire) from facing one of my best ever crunching tackles.
Not that I remember much about it, until the St Johns ambulance man bought me back to consciousness, and bandaged me broken ankle, and stopped me split eye from bleeding, in readiness to take me the hospital.
Apparently, they tell me, the wondrous Wigfall’s giant centre-forward had just put out his hands out knocking me over into the mud, trampled over me and scored a goal!
The ref didn’t even acknowledge any foul, blew and pointed to the centre circle to restart the match. (He probably thought better of upsetting the man-mountain forward… wise ref that!)
I was never asked to play for them again – the team lost four – nil.
But I was allowed back to carry on (When I got out of hospital) as bucket and sponge man.
I think their writing Jonah on the petrol tank of me motorbike was naughty.