Wednesday, 17 September 2014


George Best and Super Gran at Appleby Park, North Shields c.1984. The photo has only vague relevance to the following piece about the insidious effects of nostalgia, but somehow I just knew you wanted to see it. Thanks to Dan Jackson for sending it me.

Occasionally  you see a player grow old before your eyes. One minute he’s a lean, mean predatory machine, the next his feet won’t go where his brain is telling them and he’s standing in the penalty area with the puzzled look in his eyes of a man whose just opened a cupboard and suddenly can’t  remember what exactly it is he’s looking for.

Sport has a habit of making competitors age prematurely. It can have the same effect of fans too. though the effects are more psychological than physical. Quicker than anything else except pop music, sport turns us into our parents.

It happened with my mate John the other day. One minute he was talking perfectly normally, then suddenly he metaphorically wrinkled before my eyes. He said, 'They don't bustle anymore, do they, centre-forwards?'
'What?' I said.
'Strikers. You used to get the burly number nines - Billy Ashcroft, Billy Whitehurst, that mad bloke from Sunderland, Mick Harford.'
My dad once worked with a bloke who'd played junior football with Mick Harford. He said that even thinking about it gave him double vision. He said. 'Mick Harford seemed to have twenty elbows'. I didn't say any of this to John though. He wouldn't have heard me even if I had.
'They were uncompromising,' he said, 'They took no prisoners. You knew you'd been in a game. Big George Reilly! He worked as a bricklayer when he retired. A hod-carrier bit part of his ear off. You don't see players like that any more. Football has gone soft.'
'Oh for Christ's sake, get a grip of yourself' I said, 'You'll be saying there aren't the characters in the game anymore next.'
'Well,' John said, 'Now you bring that up...'

I shouldn't have been surprised really. I have seen it all before. John has just turned 40. That is the danger time. Before that you are full of youthful zest, but as you enter your fifth decade doubts start to set in. The players begin to look irritatingly young and slender and their names are harder to remember. You start to think about getting a seat nearer the exits so you can nip away before the final whistle and avoid the traffic. By 45 you have become your Dad.

Like alcoholism, nostalgia takes hold slowly. You start off with a few low-strength remarks about the wonders of Stanley Bowles and end up in dark basements pointing at images of Lionel Messi and saying 'He wouldn't have lasted five seconds with Stuart Boam'.

Football turns us into our parents and our parents into our grandparents. I was alerted to all this when I was very young. When I was a child I used to go to Ayresome Park with my granddad. My granddad had been watching Middlesbrough since before the Great War and was totally unimpressed with anything he had seen on a football pitch since 1926.

Every so often a friend and his dad would join us. Once when my friend and I were talking about Tony Currie or some other wonder player we had seen that lunchtime on Football Preview my friend’s dad said to my granddad, “These two wouldn’t think Tony Currie was such a great player if they’d seen Wilf Mannion play, would they, eh?”

My granddad face contorted into an expression of disgust such as you might imagine appearing on the face of Sam Allardyce if someone offered him a signed photo of Mike Ashley. He snorted with derision, “Wilf Mannion?” He said, “Wilf bloody Mannion! That long-haired fancy dan. George Elliott, now he was a footballer.”

Forewarned by this incident, I have worked hard at avoiding the traps that plunge a supporter suddenly from youth to middle-age. I have resisted the temptation to look back fondly at yesteryear and laughed at the rosy glow that has come to surround the Tom Selleck-moustaches and mutton-chop sideburns of Irvine Nattrass, John Tudor,  and Co, and I have never failed to greet the appearance of Rodney Marsh on my TV screen by yelling 'Get lost you boring old fart!'
I have stuck with it, too. Though every once in a while I can't help pining for Billy Woof. 




No comments:

Post a Comment