Me, Football and England
The Formative Years…
Although I went to a rugby-playing school, I was brought up in a football environment.
My Dad never took me to a football match. I used to play with my mates as a kid. They got me interested. Not family. They weren’t really interested at all.
I had no major influences. My father was Irish which meant I had to watch hurling matches! There was not much TV then so football coverage was limited. Children didn’t really read the papers so I suppose radio was the main thing. My primary school didn’t even have a team. I really only played when I got to secondary school.
My father was really a Charlton supporter. He never really went, but he followed them. One of his brothers lived right near Charlton’s ground – near where the dog track used to be. His sisters lived at Greenwich, which was nearby to The Valley as well. He wasn’t that interested in football though. But we used to argue – as you do – about Charlton and Millwall. If Charlton lost I was laughing and if Millwall lost he was laughing.
As a youngster my father used to bring me here (Whaddon Road, home of Cheltenham Town FC) and we used to stand behind the goal. It was a mud bank known as Nobbs Hill.
I started watching QPR… Sometimes I went with friends, but I often walked to Loftus road alone. Nobody gave it a second thought. I liked to get there about two hours before kick-off. There was a good café near the ground where I’d get a bag of chips for sixpence and sit eating them on the terraces. I always stood right at the front, behind one of the goals.
One day somebody said “Lets go to Spurs…” Spurs against Wolves – that was my first game. 1956 that was.
Millwall was me and my mates’ local team. I suppose I was about ten or eleven and wasn’t really that interested in football to be honest. But my mates would say, “Come down Millwall.” When you went down there all the dockers used to drink bottles of booze and cups of tea and they’d just leave them on the ground. So, you’d go round and get hold of all the empty bottles and cups and take them back to the kiosk. And you’d get a penny on a bottle and a penny on a cup. So, you used to earn a couple of bob.
It was my father who first took me to Millwall – though I don’t know why. My first game was when football had just begun again after the war. There was probably 40,000-odd and we lost 4-1 to Newcastle. Then I started going to reserve games rather than first team. But eventually I started going to first team games regularly. I used to stand behind the goal at the Cold Blow Lane End.
I got interested when I was about thirteen or fourteen. Then I used to go down Millwall regularly. As I grew older I used to go to Charlton, West Ham and, of course, Millwall. They were the three grounds I’d go to. I was Millwall, but I liked West Ham as well. Had a soft spot them. There was Johnny Dick, Ernie Gregory, Johnny Bond, Vic Keeble, Mike Grice, Malcolm Allison, Kenny Brown at centre-half. He was a blinding centre-half Kenny Brown. Only got one cap for England. But not Bobby Moore & Geoff Hurst. They came along later. So, when Millwall were away, Charlton were my nearest club. That was the team of Sam Bartram, Gordon Hirst, Billy Keirnan, John Ewing, Don Townsend – he’s Andy Townsend’s dad.
But the first time I went to Millwall was 1957. Once I went there, that was it.
When I was a lot younger my mother and father were always a bit apprehensive – even when I first started going with Millwall – but they gradually came round.
I used to travel away to watch them regularly in the 70’s.
I used to travel by coach to the away fixtures. There was a supporters club down at New Cross, in the Five Bells pub – quite near the old ground (The Den) really. It was like a social club. You could go down there and play darts and snooker and they’d run trips to the away games. A lot of us were mates because we used to play football together on a Sunday.
In the late 60’s and seventies I used to go to away games – usually by train. Some of the Millwall boys – the hardnuts – they was always out for trouble. One incident I remember – reckon about ’64 or ’65 – we went over to Brentford and one of the Millwall fans threw a hand grenade into the Brentford penalty area. Big panic! Wasn’t ‘live’ though. Don’t think so anyway! And I remember at the end of the game – I think we lost – this Millwall supporter in a Crombie coat climbs onto the pitch and he clumps a Brentford player, then runs back into were all the Millwall supporters were. Some right nutters!
If I had to name footballing heroes, they would have been Jimmy Greaves and the great Alfredo DiStefano. It was always fascinating to watch England when Greaves and (Bobby) Charlton were playing because whenever they touched the ball there was a different atmosphere in the ground – almost electric. The other one, of course, was Gazza (Paul Gascoigne). He had the same effect on a crowd.
My hero was probably Stanley Matthews. I watched that (the 1953 FA Cup Final – Blackpool 4 Bolton 3) in a friend’s house – well his relations’ house – and that was up in Camberwell. We had to go up there because very few people had televisions. But I’ve always thought that Millwall’s best ever player was Charlie Hurley (Millwall 1953 – 1957), a centre-half who went to Sunderland for something like £20,000 – which was a lot in those days.
I liked Danny Blanchflower at Spurs. But for a kid watching lower division football, well, they’re all heroes really. But no, there was no one in particular. For me, as a Millwall fan, Keith Weller was probably the best.
Stanley Matthew’s obviously. He was the first hero. I used to like watching Wolves on the telly – Johnny Hancock, Swinburn, Bert Williams – all that mob. They were the first on the telly. They played Moscow Dynamo, Honvad and all that. Wolves had the floodlights. I also Liked Bert Trautmann – Manchester City keeper, and Newcastle – Len White, Keeble, Ronnie Simpson – the keeper. But I never had any idols per-say. I just liked football generally.
I used to go to football wherever it was. In fact back then I’d have gone to see football every night of the week if it was possible. When I was in the army, based in an RAF camp near Munchengladbach, the shift work meant that I got a lot of time off. So I made, for example, a trip to see Holland play West Germany.
This was in March 1956 at the Rhein-stadion in Dusseldorf. Holland beat West Germany 2-1.
I used to go to all the grounds so I could be a member of the 92-club. I got to about – I don’t know – eighty-odd, and then I packed up.
My holidays used to be a week in Blackpool and I’d pick a week where say, Preston, Blackpool or Burnley where at home.
One year I was up there and Doncaster was playing Millwall midweek and I managed to get across there and back again. And on the Saturday I went to Liverpool on my way home and stood on the Kop. It was unbelievable – the pushing and shoving. Suddenly you’d look down and your feet are swimming – everyone’s having a slash. It was an experience.
Another time I went to three (league) games in one day. It was a Good Friday. In those days – the Easter weekend – your team usually played on the Good Friday, the Saturday and the Easter Monday. Anyway, that day I saw West Ham in the morning – 11 o’clock kick-off, and then back to Millwall in the afternoon for a 3 o’clock kick-off, and then on to Leyton Orient versus Swansea for a 6.30 kick-off. That was all done on London transport.
This was April 15th 1960 – West Ham beat Man U 2-1 [Div 1], Millwall beat Torquay 2-0 [Div 4] and Leyton Orient beat Swansea 2-1 [Div 2]
In the ’60’s if Millwall weren’t at home and West Ham was I used to sometimes go there. There was no real worries about that.
I also went to quite a few European games. I wasn’t a West Ham supporter but it was the cheap trips. There was one or two blokes there I sort of knew, but I didn’t let on that I wasn’t really a West Ham supporter. We went to Greece and Czechoslovakia, even East Germany – you know, behind the Iron Curtain. That was a trip-and-a-half. It was Magdaberg. They’d search the coach with guns, and on the way out they searched again – in case anyone was hiding – trying to escape the country. One thing sticks in my mind; This bloke had a banana on the coach and there were these kids outside. Well, this bloke threw the banana out the window. I’ve never seen such a ruck to get hold of it. Couldn’t believe it.
I’m a bit more choosy now though. It’s Millwall or Millwall!
And So To England…
My earliest memory of the England team was the defeat by USA in the World Cup. I used to listen to the radio commentaries and see the newsreels at the cinema.
My first memory of England was the 1958 World Cup on a neighbours TV. And I used to watch England games on TV/Newsreel in the early 1960’s. I first really got the England bug when I watched all of the England games at Wembley in 1966.
Can’t remember my first England international but I used to go to Wembley regularly.
The first International I actually saw was in 1953 when England played a Rest of Europe side at Wembley, which finished 4-4. That was a good game but a short while later they played Hungary and got a right trouncing (6-3 at Wembley). I missed that one though.
Puskas with Hungary. I remember that very well. They just murdered us. Then we played them in Budapest and they done us 7-1. I didn’t particularly follow England games though. Just listened to the scores when they come on the news or whatever.
Before the days of floodlights at Wembley me and probably half-a-dozen blokes from the (telephone) exchange used to take a half-days leave because the kick-offs were always in the afternoon midweek. We’d all go together. Lots of people did that kind of thing.
England was always mid-week afternoons because Wembley didn’t have any floodlights. So, you had to either bunk off school to watch it [on TV] or miss it.
I can give you the exact date when I first thought about making it as a professional. It was just two days before my twelfth birthday… 25th November 1953. England 3 Hungary 6… I was over the road at (my) Aunt Rose’s flat. She was the only one in the family with a telly… I loved the way that Ferenc Puskas and his team played the game. I’d never seen football like that before… They were a totally different class to England… That day shaped my future.
I wasn’t really that bothered about the internationals though, as Millwall never had anyone playing.
I saw a lot of the England away matches as well. Spain at Real Madrid’s ground. Sat right up the top there – miles high. The players looked tiny – like midgets. It’s probably different now but all we had to sit on there was concrete steps and they’d give you a cushion…Portugal for a weekend when we won 4-3 – Johnny ‘Budgie’ Byrne scored a hat trick… There was Holland, Germany and Sweden and of course Home Internationals in Belfast, Cardiff and Glasgow. At Hampden you were a long way from the pitch and it was terracing then. I don’t remember it being particularly intimidating and I can’t remember any trouble either. We flew up on a day trip. My wife came from Aberdeen and, whenever we were up in Scotland, I’d always try and go to see some football. Lot of these trips were 1-day specials run by the England Football Supporters Association. They used to run a lot of cheap trips.
Sweden – The World Cup 1958
I also saved some money to go to the later stages of the 1958 World Cup in Sweden. It was an organised trip. I can’t remember who the organisers where though, but everything was done for us – tickets included.
I went from Harwich by boat to Esbjerg in Denmark and – if I remember rightly – I had a sleeper train to Stockholm. I was only in Stockholm.
Although I went on my own, I met some chaps from Sunderland out there – actually it was on the train out there. I remember we were all in a guest house – half-board sort-of-thing. These Sunderland chaps – they were as bold as anything – they managed to talk us all into the Swedish training camp and we watched them training. I was just tagging along with them. I kept in touch with them for quite a while.
I saw the semi-final and the Final in Stockholm – Brazil beating Sweden 5-2. I could have gone to the third and fourth place game in Gothenburg but I thought, no, I can do without that. I was lucky I suppose because I saw Pele at the top and the tail of his career. Anyway, I was standing behind the goal for that one. It was brilliant. He (Pele) was only 17 and he’d burst on the scene and he scored that brilliant goal. You could watch that one again and again. Of course, when he came to England (1966) they kicked him to death – especially that game up at Everton (Portugal v Brazil).