WHEN the TV cameras pan across a football crowd, they frequently alight on a small child holding a banner addressed to one of the stars asking: ‘Please can I have your shirt?’ The player often obliges, and wisely so, for this will ensure his team has a fan for life. Conversely, a child who feels snubbed will bear an eternal grudge. I write from bitter experience.
I was nine years old when, one day in 1964, I arrived at Seedhill stadium in my home town of Nelson, Lancashire, to watch a match between Nelson & Colne Schoolboys and their counterparts from Preston. Admission was free, ensuring a healthy attendance by the penurious local tykes. Not long after kick-off, a buzz went round the ground. ‘Jimmy Adamson is here!’
At the time, Adamson was something of a deity in those parts. Playing at right-half, he had captained Burnley to the First Division title in 1959-60 and the FA Cup Final in 1962, when they lost 3-1 to Tottenham. That same year he was offered the chance to succeed Walter Winterbottom as England manager but turned it down and Alf Ramsey got the gig. We all know what happened to him.
Among the Seedhill crowd was an enterprising young chap who happened to have a small notepad, about 4in by 2in, of the type then given away by breweries with an advert for their ale on the cover. Realising there would be a rush for Adamson’s autograph, he announced that pages were for sale, at a price for reasons known only to him of 5d (roughly 2p nowadays). Trade was brisk and I joined the queue. Although I had only a threepenny bit in my pocket, I was confident that he would take it having already trousered a small fortune. I was wrong. The entrepreneurial little swine (who no doubt made millions in later life) insisted it was fivepence or nothing. Eventually it was just me and him, with one page left. ‘OK’, he said magnanimously, ‘you can have half a page for threepence’. He folded the paper in two, tore it across and handed it over.
I made a beeline for the Burnley legend, who was soberly dressed in collar and tie, overcoat and shiny shoes. ‘Can I have your autograph please, Mr Adamson?’ He took one look at my 2in by 1in piece of paper, said: ‘I’m not signing THAT!’ and crumpled it into a ball before throwing it away.
What a charmer. If he could only have known how much revenue his thoughtlessness would cost his club over the years. Had he signed, I would have joined my school friends on the bus to Burnley every other Saturday and no doubt become a season-ticket holder. Instead I went home in tears and found my heavy wooden Burnley FC rattle, painted claret and blue by my dad before my grandfather took me to my first match at Turf Moor. It went straight on the fire. (Rattles were banned in the 1970s because they made a handy weapon for hooligans).
Thereafter I followed Nelson FC, by then a non-league outfit fallen on hard times in the Lancashire Combination despite having been a founder member of the Football League Third Division (North). My favourite big club became Manchester United, thanks to the glamorous appeal of Messrs Charlton, Law and Best. Jimmy Adamson became Burnley manager but was sacked in 1976 after a clash with the irascible club chairman Bob Lord. He was described as a good coach but a poor man-manager, with even loyal friends admitting he was ‘not everyone’s cup of tea’.
Certainly not mine. I watched with indifference Burnley’s slide down the divisions, almost being relegated to the Football Conference but for a last-match win against Leyton Orient in the 1986-7 season.
Adamson died in 2011, appropriately in Nelson. Seven years ago the missus and I moved back north after our retirement from national newspapers and were persuaded by friends to spend an afternoon ‘on the Turf’. We were greatly impressed by the Burnley team spirit which runs through the entire town and all was (just about) forgiven. Indeed, when Burnley play United these days, it’s the Clarets we cheer for.
Dish of the Day
WITH the great rush to university about to resume soon, I thought I would share one of the few recipes handed down by my late mother; the first meal I made after leaving home. As you will see, it is not the most complex of operations.
INGREDIENTS: Tomatoes. Cheese, preferably Tasty Lancashire but anything flavoursome.
EQUIPMENT: Saucepan, preferably but not necessarily non-stick. Wooden spoon.
METHOD: Place three or four halved medium-sized tomatoes in the pan. Cook on medium heat, stirring and squashing them with the spoon until they begin to disintegrate. Add a similar amount of chopped cheese. When smooth, serve on toast.
Fleet Street Remembered
ONE of my predecessors as Revise Editor of the Daily Mail was a keen horticulturist and used to prepare the gardening pages for the Saturday edition. We’ll call him Derek. To illustrate a regular column by the BBC presenter Percy Thrower, editorial artist David Ace used to produce drawings of Derek carrying out tasks around the garden, with captions such as ‘Prune roses’, ‘Prepare a bonfire’ etc etc. The hilarity in the office knew no bounds when one weekend a picture appeared of Derek with his foot on a gardening implement which he was pressing into the soil. The caption? ‘Prick with fork’.
On a Musical Note
THANKS so much to those of you who took the trouble to praise my Off the Beaten Tracks columns, which concluded on Monday. Greatly appreciated.
A PS from PG
‘SHE fitted into my biggest arm-chair as if it had been built round her by someone who knew they were wearing arm-chairs tight about the hips that season.’
PG Wodehouse: Carry on, Jeeves