The last time I appeared in Ashington the bloke who did the poster got confused and billed me as Harry Roberts. Several members of the audience were disappointed to find I hadn't killed any policemen.
Here's a bit of what I said this time.
Ten, fifteen years ago I used to come and watch football fairly regularly in Ashington, at Portland Park. I knew some of the people who ran The Pit Pony Express fanzine. One of them, Mick Hydes, moved up to Scotland. He said that at work one day he was talking to a woman who said she came from Portobello. She said that Gail Porter, the Blue Peter presenter also came from Portobello. She asked Mick where he was from. He told her. She asked if there was anyone famous who came from Ashington. Mick said, 'Jackie Charlton'. And the woman said, 'What, the bloke form the Kung Fu films?'
One Saturday in March 2001 I walked down the evocatively named Third Avenue in Ashington, Northumberland, past thoroughfares named after Shakespearean heroines - Juliet, Portia, Katharine - until I came to Beatrice Street, two long rows of brick terrace houses facing each other across small front gardens and a narrow pavement.
This was where Jack and Bobby Charlton were brought up by their indomitable mother Cissie and their father Bob, a quiet, tough man who won the money to pay for the wedding ring in the boxing booth at the Town Moor Hoppings. The family moved here from Laburnum Terrace, a street where the young Jimmy Adamson, then playing for East Chevington Juniors, lived. Laburnum Terrace is the only street in the World that has produced three English Footballers of the Year. Ashington is likely the only town.
Five-nil. Afterwards, the two teams sat at long tables in the clubhouse function room eating the fish and chips an Ashington committee member had brought in a few minutes earlier in a large cardboard box. On the wall by the telephone a photo shows Big Jack tangling with a Celtic forward at Hampden Park in the semi-final of the 1970 European Cup. 100,000 attended that game, the terraces so tightly packed just looking at the photo sends a shiver down your spine.
Ashington council have discussed the founding of a football museum, but it has come to nothing, yet. If any of the town's footballing sons had been writers, artists or politicians, though, it seems certain they would have been commemorated by now. Perhaps this is as it should be - a true reflection of the game's value.
Except that I look back now to a time twenty-five years ago, in a bar in a little village in the Picos de Europas in Northern Spain, when the man frying prawns on the iron hot plate heard that we were English and smiling, raised a thumb and called, ‘Bobby Charlton!’
I’ve never heard anyone do that withVirginia Woolf or Charles Dickens.