Well what a remarkable game of the cricket to get the 2013 Ashes series underway. I’m not sure I can remember many test matches in which the momentum swung so often and so dramatically. The final winning margin of just fourteen runs was proof of a close-fought encounter, but the bare figures don’t do justice to five days of compelling sporting action.
Did England deserve to win? I think they probably did—in James Anderson and Ian Bell, they had the two players who ultimately made the most decisive contributions. Had the Australians sneaked past their target, would they have deserved the victory? Absolutely. Their performance displayed all the determination and fight you’d expect from a touring Ashes side, and to come so close but fall just a few runs short must have been tough to take, especially for Brad Haddin and James Pattinson, whose tenth wicket partnership was simply superb.
From the perspective of the series as a whole, obviously the result does make an overall Australian victory much less likely, but events in Nottingham proved that England are arguably not quite as good as has been publicly perceived, and Michael Clarke’s squad was never going to be the walkover that the media had predicted.
The Trent Bridge test suggests we’re in for a fabulous summer of cricket and I certainly wouldn’t be willing to try and guess the eventual outcome, but I suppose the game will be partly remembered for some controversial moments involving the umpires and DRS(Decision Review System).
The “what ifs” of Ashton Agar’s “stumping” —what a brilliant debut from the young man, by the way—and Jonathan Trott’s first-baller are largely irrelevant now. And as for Stuart Broad standing when given not out for the big nick that ended up in the hands of first slip, I can see both sides of the argument—the “spirit of the game” against the umpire’s decision. I always walked when I was playing (mainly because it’s hard to stand there looking innocent when your off pole has cartwheeled past the keeper), but the stakes are so much higher in the professional arena and let’s be honest, true sportsmen of the calibre of Adam Gilchrist are a dying breed.
On balance, I don’t blame Broad for abiding by the umpire’s decision—however glaringly wrong it was—and although it’s a moot point, I wonder just how many players from either side would have walked in that same situation. That said, if Broad is on the receiving end of a shocker at Lord’s, there’ll be plenty of cameras waiting to record his reaction!
The fact that the result was decided on yet another DRS review—and an overturned umpiring call—was ironic to say the least, but shouldn’t detract from a thrilling match that is further proof (if proof was actually needed) of the profile and appeal of the five-day game.
Here’s to more of the same at Lord’s...
You know how it is, you hardly ever have a big night out and then two come along at once.
On Friday’s we’ll be travelling north to see the Mrs Brown’s Boys stage show (for the third successive year) and seventy-two hours later, Elaine and I will get the chance to see—and hear—the wonderful Bo Bruce at Newcastle’s O² Academy. We’ve had the tickets for ages, so I suppose it’ll be nice not to have to find the money—although as I remember, you don’t get much change out of a tenner for a drink and a hot dog at the Metro Arena (that’s where Mrs Brown’s Boys is taking place).
Of course, we could split the hot dog and get two straws for the drink. Better still, pig out at home and try and smuggle some pop past the security men...
Last year, we were lucky enough to meet most of the Mrs Brown’s Boys cast and I was impressed by how approachable and friendly they all were. I’m sure that in the world of celebrity, you will encounter any number of people wanting a bit of your time. Exchanging a few words, signing an autograph or posing for a photo might only take a minute or so, but especially for the young “fan”, those few moments will be both personal and special.
Down the years, I’ve almost shied away from such encounters, mainly because I always remembered meeting a couple of people I’d admired from the world of sport and let’s just say the prospect was far removed from the reality.
I wouldn’t use the word “heroes” —that word is reserved for the likes of Muhammad Ali—but when I was about nine years old, my favourite cricketer was the Lancashire and West Indies skipper Clive Lloyd. The meeting was a chance encounter with the West Indies touring party at York railway station. Virtually the whole squad had signed my autograph book when I offer my book and pen to the team’s figurehead.
But he refused... he’d signed too many autographs...
Sadly, at nine years old, I didn’t know the right word to describe my immediately ex-favourite cricketer. Forty years on, I know loads of suitable words... but I fear the moment has gone.
A number of years later, I was a club cricketer of little or no repute, and still a Lancashire fan despite being born in the White Rose county. I went to “an evening with” Paul Allott, decent test bowler and future poor commentator. I did admire him as a cricketer, but when I spoke to him, he was arrogant to the point of being rude.
Luckily by the age of twenty-six, I was far better acquainted with the term “arsehole”...
Thankfully, such examples are few and far between, but just go to show how the memory of one bad experience can linger for years—which probably explains why I don’t eat rice pudding.
So much as I’m now far too old to be “star-struck”, I’m really looking forward to both nights. If the last two years are anything to go by, Mrs Brown’s Boys will be great and, having exchanged quite a few e-mails with Bo Bruce before her career really took off, she seemed to be a kind and genuine young woman —as well as a fantastic singer. Who knows, maybe I might get to meet her in person next Monday: I won’t have my autograph book (I threw it at Clive Lloyd’s carriage as the train pulled away), but, just in case, the camera’s already on charge!
On Saturday 15th September 1979, York City travelled over to Springfield Park for a Division 4 clash with Wigan Athletic. The game ended in a 5-2 away win for City and amongst the scorers was the gentleman pictured above, Peter Lorimer, the former Leeds United star, famed for his “one hundred miles an hour” shooting.
On the following Monday morning, I put up a “5-2” banner in the window of the room I shared with several other fifth formers at school – “shared” might be a bit of an exaggeration, they weren’t exactly what I classed as friends – and promptly got a bollocking from the housemaster for my art work...
A few months short of thirty-four years later and City have just managed to escape the Blue Square trapdoor, having dropped out of the league and clawed their way back in the intervening years. For Wigan, the story has been nothing short of remarkable as the “Latics” won promotion (as champions) from the country’s bottom division in 1997, repeated the feat in Division 2 in 2003 before securing a place in the Premier League just two years later.
As I write, their top flight survival hangs in the balance, but yesterday their fans were rewarded with a brilliant FA Cup final success over Manchester City which highlighted two things to me: firstly, you should never write off an underdog in a two horse race and secondly, just how wildly fortunes can fluctuate in sport.
Well over a quarter of a century ago, I celebrated a long-since forgotten York City victory against a club who, in thirty or more years time, will still be talking about the day when Ben Watson’s header brought the FA Cup back to Lancashire...
I offer my congratulations to the good folk of Wigan and wish you luck for the final two games of the season. The table never lies and you will finish where you deserve... but I sincerely hope you stay up.
I was very interested to read that the England rugby union forwards coach Graham Rowntree is “seeking clarification” on a number of decisions made by referee Steve Walsh during the Six Nations decider against Wales last Saturday.
Effectively, Rowntree is pointing the finger at Walsh for what he sees as questionable calls that ultimately had some impact on the outcome of the game –a reaction that is likely to provoke considerable mirth in the Principality.
Obviously I’m English and therefore not entirely impartial, but without being an expert on the technicalities of scrummaging, I certainly understand the frustration at being penalised by a free kick or penalty at eight out of the twelve scrums that were awarded and the players’reactions suggested they were struggling to understand exactly why they were being so consistently penalised.
That said, I would argue that in any team sport, you have to earn the right to play and essentially you effectively have to be good enough to take the referee, umpire or any other official out of the equation. Performances of officials in most popular sports will always come under scrutiny – they will make mistakes, because they’re human... but the media rarely focusses so closely on a player’s missed tackle, wayward pass or any other “error” that proves the human frailties we all possess.
Do I think that Steve Walsh was poor? Yes
Do I think that his decisions affected the game? Yes
Do I think that his performance changed the result? Absolutely not.
I thought the intensity of the Welsh performance was incredible. Their physical strength and fitness told during the second half, their defence was brutal at times (England’s defence was also excellent), their second try was superbly executed and there is no doubt at all in my mind that the best team emerged victorious.
I do think that England have a right to ask for clarification, but when such concerns are reported in the media, they will always likely to be accompanied by the words “sour” and “grapes” and I hope that any ensuing controversy doesn’t take the gloss off what was a truly magnificent effort by a fine Welsh side.
I’ve just sat and read through nearly 80,000 words charting the history of Gateshead Thunder’s rugby league club from November 1999 (when, for the uninitiated, our Super League side was... er... let’s say “uprooted” and generously given to Hull FC) through to September 2002.
The intervening months saw the formation of a brand new club (or should that read “clubs” – plural), an incredibly intense period of off-field politics and drama matched by equally tough times on the pitch.
Apart from today, I’ve probably flicked through the book once in the past decade, but even though I was reading my own words (something I knew because so many were spelt wrong), the memories of that time came flooding back, as did the emotional highs and lows (and a few more lows) that seem to have followed this fantastic club since its creation.
Buoyed by interest from both the club and the supporters’ club, I am planning on publishing this 280 page volume in the hope that others may want to relive a story that was researched and written at the time, but has never really been told. So many things have changed since 2002 – I don’t live in Gateshead anymore for one; but my love for the club has certainly stood the test of time – as have many friendships forged on the rugby league terraces.
I’m aiming to try and have the finished book ready for publication sometime in mid-March. Any comments (or even pre-orders!!!) are
always welcome but I will end this blog the same way I end the book – if there is to be a Gateshead Thunder history from 2003 onwards, somebody else will have to write it!
I’ve just seen Andrew “Freddie” Flintoff’s professional boxing debut... a winning debut at that... and I’d like to share a few thoughts.
Even in the build-up to the fight against American Richard Dawson, opinion has been divided as to whether or not Flintoff should have been granted a license to box and whether or not the reputation of the sport would be potentially damaged by what many saw as a “gimmick”.
Having watched the four-round contest, I think it’s fair to say that Freddie was a bit green, or raw... but he’s only been seriously involved in boxing for a matter of months, so his technique was never going to be flawless. Defensively, he left himself open – in fact he was knocked down in the second round – and I would suggest that a more experienced fighter than Dawson might have better exposed Freddie’s naivety.
When he came forward, his right hooks were almost “bowled” so round was his arm, but (and this is a “but” of the big variety) what Flintoff lacked in craft and skill, he more than made up for in strength and courage.
Let’s be honest Dawson is more of a blubberweight than a heavyweight, but there’s nowhere to hide inside a boxing ring and there’s potentially a lot more than just your reputation at stake when punches are being aimed at your head. I can’t speak from personal experience, but if you get hit by a 241lb bloke (who may not be in prime condition, but is still very strong) it’s going to hurt... probably quite a lot... and irrespective of how much training you’ve done and how much ability you have, boxing is incredibly tough and obviously not without risks...
Freddie Flintoff is an iconic figure, a cricketing legend, who clearly craves a challenge that is both sporting and personal. Boxing provides those tests and offers him an opportunity to prove (even if it is only to himself) that he can meet and even overcome a new challenge without ten other team mates there to help him if things don’t go according to plan.
I am sure the opposing views will remain, but for me, Freddie Flintoff is a man who really has nothing to prove, but whose bravery and determination I both salute... and totally admire.
Today I’m one step nearer to concentrating on my debut novel following the publication of my diary of Gateshead FC’s 1994/95 season.
The hard copy draft had been untouched in the loft for the majority of the seventeen years since I had actually written it and whilst my style has developed so much since then, I’m pleased that I’ve been able to take the time to retype the diary and turn it into a book that one or two fans of the football club might enjoy.
Actually, for one or two, read seven because that’s how many copies have been ordered since the book was released amidst drum rolls and trumpet fanfares (both of which are lies...) yesterday afternoon. Marilyn Monroe apart, I do seem to have a habit of choosing subjects that are fairly obscure and pretty certain to deny me fame and fortune... not that I want the fame. Maybe that will change when my next offering, which looks back at all the Coronation Street barmaids, becomes available (hopefully early in December), but I won’t be holding my breath...
But after that, I really must try and concentrate on the novel. It’s been started, changed, stopped, restarted, adapted, scrapped and resurrected more times than I care to remember since finger and keyboard first collided back in 2004. There are numerous reasons why the book has never been completed – it’s much harder to keep the thread of a piece of fiction rather than pick up factual research and an unsettling time at work doesn’t always lend itself to meaning-ful storytelling.
For now though, I just want to pass on my thanks to those members of the Heed Army who have been brave enough to buy the Gateshead FC diary. Hopefully it will be considered as £5.99 well spent rather than the bottle of Pinot Grigio that got away...
Weatherfield now beckons...
15th November 1999... just another ordinary day..?
Well not if you were a supporter of Gateshead Thunder, the latest addition to rugby league’s Super League competition.
A club and a team created to expand the sport away from the “heartlands” took many experts by surprise by finishing Super League IV in sixth position, just one place below the end of season play-offs. From a fan base of zero the crowds began to grow, drawn in by the sporting drama and spectacle provided by our mainly Australian squad. The eventual Grand Final winners St Helens were defeated... not once, but twice and reigning champions Wigan Warriors were beaten 20-16 on an amazingly emotional afternoon in Edinburgh on 1st August...
The action on the field was exhilarating... the atmosphere on the terraces was brilliant too. Rugby league had rarely seen supporters untainted by years of hard winter slog and bitter rivalries; the “Thunder Army” just loved every-thing... watching the games... meeting the players... travelling to away games... chatting with opposing fans... having the occasional sing-song. Breaths of fresh air aren’t always readily welcomed though – everyone is fine when you’re losing... ah but how it changes when you walk away with a victory from places like... er... let’s say the Boulevard.
How ironic then that Hull, the place we were made least welcome, would eventually be “home”to our players... our coach... pretty much our whole club, after the post-season political merry-go-round had ground to a halt.
A lot of water has passed under both the Humber and Tyne Bridges during the intervening 13 years, but the memories of that single season in Super League still remain -as does Gateshead Thunder, thanks to the commitment and devotion of people too numerous to mention. But this blog is dedicated to all our original players... some better known than others to fans of the game in general, but household names to so many of us across the north east.
The photo at the top is of Deon Bird scoring the club’s final Super League try at Warrington... and below are some of the players applauding their fans saying what would ultimately turn out to be their final farewell in a Gateshead Thunder shirt.
15th November 1999 was not just another ordinary day...
Boom, boom, boom, can you hear the Thunder roar..?
To many people of my generation, Saturday afternoon television meant just one thing... wrestling. The instantly recognisable tones of Kent Walton would introduce the viewers to grappling action featuring a host of household names. Johnny Saint, Giant Haystacks, Kendo Nagasaki, The Dynamite Kid, Mark "Roller-ball” Rocco, Marty Jones, Jim Breaks... the list goes on.
Arguably the biggest name (although not quite the biggest wrestler... but very nearly) was Big Daddy, who was born Shirley Crabtree Jr on this day in 1930. His let’s say rotund frame hid the fact that Crabtree had previously had a muscular and athletic physique, but fame would come much later in a wrestling career that started in the early 1950s.
His style was far different to the wrestlers seen in today’s American promotions, but even though Crabtree’s 26 and a bit stone bulk limited his moves in the ring, Big Daddy became a huge favourite with fans young and old. Sadly, tragedy struck in the summer of 1987 when Mal “King Kong” Kirk died soon after receiving Crabtree’s trademark “splash” at the end of a bout in Great Yarmouth.
Although absolved of any blame or responsibility (Kirk was found to have a serious underlying heart condition), Crabtree was badly affected by the incident and eventually retired from the ring in 1993.
Shirley Crabtree passed away following a stroke in December 1997 – he died in the same place he was born, the West Yorkshire town of Halifax and whilst the Crabtree wrestling legacy may have been consigned to the history books, the sporting dynasty still lives on through Shirley’s nephew Eorl, a professional rugby league player with Huddersfield Giants and also England.
Shirley “Big Daddy” Crabtree 14/11/1930-02/11/1997
Saturday’s Super League Grand Final was a quality clash between two fine sides. Leeds Rhinos eventually emerged victorious, avenging their recent Challenge Cup defeat at the hands of the pre-match favourites Warrington Wolves.
Cricket will always be my first sporting love, but for live action, there’s very little that can match the sheer excitement, skill and strength on display in a game of professional rugby league. I suppose the figures don’t lie... and football (the round ball variety) remains the nation’s favourite sport, but there are two reasons why I would always choose rugby league...
Although any player at the top of his profession will possess great skill, few sports demand the incredible strength (physical and mental) and bravery like rugby league. I’ve heard it said that the forwards will experience the equivalent of a 40mph car crash several times in a game; such is the impact in the tackle. And if you want examples of sheer courage and team ethic, look no further than Old Trafford at the weekend. Kevin Sinfield was knocked out by what was effectively a flying head butt (albeit accidental – or so it looked)... but he came round, got back up and simply got on with the game.
But what about Warrington prop Paul Wood (above left)? He suffered a ruptured testicle courtesy of a stray knee, yet stayed on the field for a further twenty minutes despite later admitting that the injury “smarted a bit”. In fact, it was serious enough for the testicle to be removed when Wood finally made it to hospital...
Compare the antics of some (in fact plenty) of very highly paid football “stars”... diving... feigning injury... arguing with officials... etc etc and I’m sorry, football and rugby league are at completely opposite ends of the tough spectrum. Don’t get me wrong, I’m sure “gamesmanship” in many forms exists in every sport and football can certainly be exciting and incite passion, but there’s a fine line between gamesmanship and cheating... and for me football has a bad habit of crossing that line too often.
The second reason that sets rugby league apart from many other professional sports is the accessibility and approachability of the players. I’ve lucky enough to meet some great people through watching rugby league... and quite a lot I am proud to be able to call mates. I’ve come across footballers playing at non-league level who thought they were superstars (they were wrong...) and whilst I realise that generalisation is not always fair and there are exceptions to prove every rule, I would have a beer and a chat with a rugby league player rather than a Premiership footballer every time... unless of course it was my round.
So this blog is a salute to Kevin Sinfield, Paul Wood and all those who are talented and courageous enough to play the thirteen-a-side rugby code... you have my total respect.
All my own work... almost.