Do Not Tape Over!

27 Mar

“Do Not Tape Over!”

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I was slightly saddened to see that the VHS Player is being discontinued, and surprised because I thought they had stopped making them years back. I do tend to get sad at the drop of a hat, especially if it drops in a puddle, but I digress and the demise of VHS left me with mixed feelings. Compared to today’s media players the video tape is terrible but back in the early eighties it was a different story…

I was the first in my family to get a video player/recorder back in 1983. I couldn’t afford to buy one nor could many people, they retailed at around £599 in 1983 which is around £2000 in today’s money. I rented one from “Focus TV Rentals” which was next door to Ashton’s Tobacconists on Wallgate Wigan. In those days myself and Mrs T would be out every Saturday night visiting the fleshpots of Wigan town centre or if we were skint Newtown Workers or St Edward’s Club. Thanks to the video recorder we never missed an episode of Sight and Sound in Concert, Dynasty, Match of the Day and erm… Jim’ll Fix It

When bedtime came around we, like thousands of others across the land, covered up the glowing clock on the recorder with a cushion so that passing burglars couldn’t see the light emanating like a neon sign saying “Swag Here!” Sad but true. Blank tapes used for recording didn’t come cheap either costing around £7 for a 3 hour tape. That’s £22 in today’s coinage. So we tended to buy blank tapes sparingly and kept rewriting over them. The tapes came with stickers that you put on the cassettes to write down what was on it. Woe betide the man who ignored the message “Do Not Tape Over!” scrawled angrily over episodes of “Brookside”

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To make sure programmes didn’t get copied over you could break a little black plastic square on the back of the cassette making it view only. Once you got tired of watching “Live Aid” for the umpteenth time you could always put a bit of sticky tape over the gap enabling you to record again. After a while your collection of tapes would begin to grow and take over the television corner. Piled high on and at the side of the telly was not the look to impress your friends when they popped round for a prawn cocktail. Then someone had a eureka moment and designed video covers that looked like books! Now you could stroll over to your “bookcase” and get a video for your guests to watch, very classy. Apart from the bit were you had to open every “book” to find the dammed programme you were after…

The VHS revolution gathered momentum and it wasn’t long before Video Shops popped up quicker than Norweb shirts on a Wembley outing. From these shops you could hire films for a night or two for around £1.50p and it’s hard to describe the excitement of watching a feature film in your own house! The very first video we hired was “The Fog” by John Carpenter and we watched it 2 or 3 times to get our £1.50p worth. Some video shops you had to pay a membership fee to join besides your hire fee. Loads of independent shops sprang up from nowhere and even the local off licence had a video corner.

You had to wait around 9 months for a film shown on the cinema to come out on video and it was a struggle to get the film because everyone would be after it and some shops would only have a couple of copies. New VHS films cost around £60-£80 sometimes and obviously small shops couldn’t buy these until the price dropped along with the demand. But the small dealers had something the big retailers didn’t have, a burgeoning pile of Pirate Videos (Copied and banned films nothing to do with swashbucklers. Well not in the “normal” sense anyway)

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The video shop that myself and Mrs T frequented was based at the Saddle Newtown, think it’s a dodgy pizza place now. Anyway we, well I, were curious about these “behind the counter” videos everyone at work was on about. Mrs T would have nothing to do with this wicked deed so I had to go it alone. I wandered around the shop stroking my (behave yourselves!) chin and occasionally taking a video box out to peruse. Eventually the shop emptied and I was the only customer in there with the female assistant. FEMALE!!! Suddenly I got very nervous and sweat ran down my red face as I approached the counter, this was it, here goes…

I walked the short distance home clutching my copy of “Gandhi” with my reputation still intact and the behind the counter films undisturbed much to Mrs T’s amusement.

Pirate videos began to really take off and even our Mrs Mop cleaner at work was loaning them out for 50p. Mind you the quality of these films was very hit and miss with “The Empire Strikes Back” pirate copy being a particular low point. Even at 50p I felt cheated and spent the evening trying to make out who was who and what was what through a haze of shifting interference and neon blurred colours played out to Japanese dubbing with what I think were English subtitles.

I eventually became a “pirate” borrowing my dad’s video player and setting it up at the side of mine so that I could copy my rentals to his machine. I got my tapes from Wigan Library and copied classics like “The Demolition of Wigan Market Hall” well my dad liked em’ anyroad.

Anything and everything came out on video back in the eighties and film makers took full advantage of this new medium to showcase their “talent” Someone let me borrow their copy of “The Evil Dead” saying it was the scariest film they had ever seen. I thought it was one of the most outlandish, funny films I had ever seen and my mate thought I was weird when I told him so but later films proved that it was tongue in cheek. Though I think the first film was so bad it turned out to be funny unintentionally.

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It didn’t take long for Mary Whitehouse and her crew to take umbrage at these gory films and the “Video Nasties” were banned. Rumours abounded that some of these videos actually showed people being killed and mutilated in them and the term “Snuff Movie” was born. Cannibal Holocaust director Ruggero Deodato was charged after killings in his film were accused of being real. The Italian director was only able to clear himself by getting the “killed” actors to appear alongside him in court.

Some of the old video films are worth quite a bit of money now and it’s worth your while having a root if you still have some tucked away. I say some so I doubt you’ll get much for most of them. Look on the internet for valuations etc.

People of a certain age, and younger ones actually who have never used a video player, still say “I’m taping it” when they refer to recording something today. Long may that tradition continue…

Back to today and I’m typing this article up in my little room surrounded by video tapes that were in suitcases in the garage, a portable television that I recovered from the attic and a VHS player that I found under a wheelbarrow in the old shed. All cleaned up and free from spiders, I hope, and it all still works! I have about 40 tapes or so that I taped stuff on and quite a few have football on. The quality is surprisingly good when you consider they’ve been left untouched for so long.

So I’m now going through those old tapes and seeing long forgotten images once more. It really is fascinating from old adverts to fashion, football to drama; I’ll keep you informed if I find anything of interest to you. Personally I’m thrilled to see the kids when they were kids, Mrs T and her sexy perm and me with hair that wasn’t quite so white…

 Take care kids

Tony Topping

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Going to the Pictures in the 60’s and 70’s

20 Mar

Once upon a time in Wigan we were blessed with a good number of cinemas and now what have we got? One, though it is a multi-screen extravaganza with Dolby surround booming out so loud it can make the floor shake sometimes. I still go to watch the odd film at the pictures, mainly Marvel fantasy type stuff with my son Martin but I also go to the Senior Film Club at the Empire Cinema on a Wednesday daytime if there’s anything decent on. Its £3.75p for the film, a coffee and a chocolate biscuit of your choice if you are 60 or over, marvelous! I dare say a few of my fellow senior film club attendees will remember some of these old cinemas that I frequented in my youth.

The Empire Cinema

The Empire was a very small cinema and the first one I ever went to. My Dad took me watching “Mighty Joe Young” there when I was about 5yr old. Or was it “King Kong”? It could have been them both actually as back then they would have double features on i.e. two films shown for the price of one which was common practice in the early days. Both films had been made years and years earlier than when I got to see them on the big screen in 1960. The Empire was situated across from the John Bull pub where that open space is now that attracts so many drunks in summer (Especially the Mudhutter lot after the last game of the season) I just remember the Empire having a narrow door that you had to virtually squeeze through before entering the two tiered theatre. Incidentally the John Bull was actually a Shoe Repair shop back in the day and only became a pub in the 1970’s. The Empire like so many other cinemas was turned into a bingo hall before being demolished not long after the John Bull opened.

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The Princes Cinema

The Princes was the first cinema I was allowed to visit without my parents. They had a junior matinee on Saturday mornings just like the ABC minors club at the Ritz Cinema at the top of town. I don’t know which club came first but I’m guessing it was the Princes as the Ritz was renamed ABC Wigan in 1962, could be wrong though. I was around 7 or 8 when I started going here on my own. I used to get sixpence pocket money back then. It was tuppence to get in the pictures, tuppence for toffee and I used the other tuppence to buy a comic. Last of the big spenders eh? My Grandad the Barry Norman of his day recommended 3 films that were worth watching at the Princes, “Rock around the Clock”, “The Al Jolson Story” and “Gone with the Wind”. I saw the first two films and put off by his choice didn’t bother with the third one which turned out to be the decent one. I also knocked about with a lad who lived a few doors from our house in Yates Street Wallgate and his Auntie was Manageress or something at the Princes so we got in free to some of the afternoon films too. We also got free ice cream from the sellers at the interval. I remember once we went upstairs to the upper circle in there at the time no one was allowed up there. Rumour has it someone fell from there to their death and it had been closed since. It was very spooky and I was glad when we got collared and dragged back down after being caught clodding stuff at the people below. Had 1,159 seats and closed on the 10th of January 1970 with the last film being “The Mad Room” starring Shelley Winters.

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The Court Cinema

So pleased to see that the old cinema/theatre is being restored back to its former glory soon. It wasn’t the most luxurious picture place in Wigan even back in the sixties. It was here that I saw my first James Bond film “Dr No” (1962) with my Dad I was eight years old and I thought it was brilliant at the time. Oddly enough the film only seemed to attract an all male crowd and everyone smoked, you could see the clouds rising to the ceiling. I had my biggest strop here when the family got dragged to watch “The Yellow Rolls Royce” and I wanted to watch “Darby O’Gill and the Little People” at the County. When a blockbuster film was on you would have queues down the side alley and up Library Street especially if it was a Disney film. The Court had a great toffee shop attached to the cinema and it must have done a roaring trade back in the day. Think it was owned by the Westhead Toffee Company and two sisters worked in the shop.

I used to moider the cinema staff for film posters but they wouldn’t give me any, be worth a bomb now. The cinema had 1,295 seats and closed on the 15th of August 1973 with the last film being “The Sound of Music” starring Julie Andrews.

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The County Playhouse

The County was a bit more stylish than the Court Cinema or so it seemed to me. Their tuck shop was inside the foyer where you bought your tickets similar to the Ritz. The first time I bought a Caramac was here and it was a massive bar of chocolate compared to some of the others. One stand out memory I have of this place is going watching “Jason and the Argonauts” with my mate Tony Lowe and having to take my little sister Eileen with us. Tony and I were 9yrs old so my sister would have been around 5 and we were trusted to go to the pictures on our own! There was a massive queue going down the side of the County and over the old iron railway bridge. The steam trains would envelop you in grey clouds as they went puffing past underneath. Everyone wanted to watch this eagerly awaited film and we just managed to get the last 3 seats in the house although Tony ended up sitting on his own somewhere. Always loved the County it was supposed to open in 1916 but a shortage of materials during World War 1 meant the opening was delayed until 1919. It seated 1,070 and the last film ever shown there was the Disney film “The Sword in the Stone” on Sunday 13th of November 1966 just 3 years after the Jason and the Argonauts film. Twelve days after its closure it reopened as the Star Bingo and Social Club. I remember my Mam and Dad being members.

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The Ritz

The crème de la crème of picture houses in Wigan was of course the Ritz. Opened in 1938 it was massive, seating over 2,500 cinema goers and very opulent. The foyer was impressive and had a great kiosk selling everything from sweets to Butterkist etc. In the 1960’s some of the greatest pop groups of that era played here including The Beatles, the Rolling Stones, Buddy Holly, The Tamala Motown Revue Show featuring Stevie Wonder, The Supremes, Smokey Robinson and the Miracles, Martha Reeves and the Vandellas and the backing was provided by the Earl Van Dyke Band. The guest artist on this show was Georgie Fame and the Ritz was half empty! Crikey I could have gone this show as I was 9 years old and I’d been swanning round town since I was seven. Saying that I once got refused entry to the Ritz when I went to watch the film “She” starring Ursula Andress because it was PG (Parental Guidance) meaning you had to be 13 to see it unless you were accompanied by an adult. I was 12 and spent the afternoon asking adults could I go in with them blimey! Thankfully everyone ignored me. It closed down on May 28th 1977 and was converted into a 3 screen theatre with a bingo hall opening again on October 27th 1977. The three screens seated 485, 321 and 106 and it closed again on 5th March 1983. That’s not the end of the story though it was bought by an independent company and reopened on 4th of January 1985 staying open until the 10th of April 1997. It was sadly demolished in 2002 despite the best efforts of Mudhutter legend Dylan Harris to keep it open .

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Unit 4

Originally called The Royal Electric Theatre when it opened in 1912 it soon got called The Halfway House Cinema. In 1933 the name changed again to The Carlton Cinema (seating capacity 689) and stayed open until 1959 when it was converted into The Carlton Club later becoming The Sportsman’s Club an entertainment venue for Beat groups, Wrestling, Strippers etc. Resident band were “Eric Peps Combo” those crazy cats! In the 1970’s Apollo Leisure bought the building and converted into its original form a cinema but this time with 3 screens seating 117, 99 and 88. It closed as a cinema in July 1997. My son Martin made his first ever visit to a cinema here watching the film “Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles” when he was 5yrs old (No he didn’t go on his own, parents had become much more responsible by 1990 besides I wanted to watch it too) Mr Finton Stack our resident Mudhutter reckoned they sold the best hot dogs in the world here “Westlers Hot Dogs” Myself and Mrs T went watching a film for the first time as a couple here in 1980 when we were courting watching “Nosferatu” She wasn’t keen on it, the film not me, and she’s never liked any of my favourite films since. Double bills were a great attraction at Unit 4 like two Clint Eastwood Films, two Woody Allen etc. It was especially handy for the Halfway House for a swift pint before closing time. Although it often meant our mate Kev Leigh missing the end of the film while he got the round in.

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So there you have it and no doubt you have your own great memories of cinemas of the past. Take care kids, until next time.

Tony Topping

 

 

An Apple for the Teacher

4 Mar

IT WAS the hottest day of the year – 9 August 2003. I had awoken from a strange vivid dream of childhood to the reality of my son’s wedding day, and as I stood in the cool haven of a lovely old London church it was hard to shake off the past.

Images of my own wedding day, together with thoughts of my parents and my childhood home, drifted in and out of my senses. It was a day for dreams, and as we sang the majestic ‘Jerusalem’, I’m sure that every member of “our side” of the congregation sent a thought winging 200 miles through the sunlit afternoon to the “dark satanic mills” of our native Lancashire. Earlier in the year, Beccy’s parents, on their first visit to Wigan, had enjoyed a lesson in Wigan Pier’s Victorian school room, where they had to sing ‘All ThingsBright and Beautiful’under the stern eye of the schoolmarm.

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As a reminder of their visit that lovely childlike hymn was also chosen for the wedding, and as we sang, my thoughts travelled once more – not across the miles this time, but across the years to the Babies class at Ince Central school where I first sang it. The school was in the old building then as the present school was still being built. We had to take 3d. every week to pay for a brick, our payments being entered onto a little pick card – do any Ince readers remember that? My memories of the old school are naturally hazy, but I can see high windows and a coal fire surrounded by a huge fireguard on which wet gloves and mittens steamed gently on winter afternoons. In the schoolyard stood two rows of smelly toilets, the seat of each one consisting of simply a board with a hole in it. Mrs Sandiford and Miss Ashurst presided over the “Babies” and they used to read Milly-Molly- Mandy stories to us just before home time, which was at 4 o’clock then.

Sometimes, “Bobby Beacon” came to give us road safety talks. He was a big, kindly policeman with black hair and rosy cheeks and he would hang a sheet over the blackboard depicting a road scene. To this he attached a character called “Little Tommy”, demonstrating what would happen if careless Tommy didn’t follow the kerb drill!

During lessons we sat round a table in the middle of which stood a sturdy cardboard ‘Tidy Box’, which housed our pencils and crayons.Sometimes we played with clay on little boards – I can still feel the clammy coldness of it – and sometimes we made pictures with Fuzzy Felts or played in the sand tray. That first Christmas I made a spill-holder complete with paper ‘spills’ for my dad to light his pipe with but I got measles and Miss Ashurst delivered it to our house. I can remember my family crowding to the door to see “our Irene’s teacher”, as she walked away – such was the awe in which teachers were held in those days!

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Then came the day when the new school opened. How modern it was with light, airy classrooms and child-size indoor flush toilets – pink for girls and blue for boys. Best of all behind the infants playground was the Wagon Works where my dad worked, and he would often wave to me at playtime. Every child had a small bottle of milk to drink each morning, the milk-monitor having removed the foil top with a little gadget shaped like a flying saucer. Do you remember buying ‘Cheesettes’ from the biscuit- monitor? She counted them directly from her hand into ours from a big box, (no one bothered about plastic gloves in those days). If I had 3d., I would buy 24, and wolf the lot – (oh, happy days! – I only have to walk past a Cheesette now and I put 2lbs on!).

Outside in the playground, little Ince lads miraculously turned into Wild West cowboys and Indians, whilst girls linked arms and walked round chanting “who’s playin’ skilly?”, whereupon other girls joined the link until there were enough to warrant a game. Next day, someone might bring a sheet of ‘transfers’ to school. These were little stamp-sized pictures of perhaps, a Union Jack, a boat or a doll. We stuck them face-down on our arms by licking the backing paper which we carefully peeled off after a few minutes, leaving the picture behind like a tattoo.

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As the contents of our classroom nature-table changed with the seasons so did the games we played. There was a craze for hula-hoops, and we played ‘two-ball’ against the wall, singing “Nebuchadnezzar, the King of the Jews, bought his wife a pair of shoes” or skipped in a rope being twirled by two girls singing, “Queen, Queen Caroline washed her hair in turpentine”. We played “The Farmer Wants a Wife” and “What Time is it Mr Wolf?”. You could always hear young voices somewhere, chanting the age-old rhymes – we were allowed to be children in those days.

At the end of playtime, the teacher blew the whistle, and we formed ‘lines’ before leading into school hoping “Nitty Nora, t’bug explorer” wasn’t waiting to examine our hair for unwanted guests! The teacher heard every child read from their “Janet and John” book daily, and in arithmetic (which we called sums), we chanted our times-tables in a singsong: “One two is two, two two’s are four”. It wouldn’t be considered the correct way to learn these days but it certainly stuck!

On a cupboard in the infants’ corridor stood a pottery rabbit which held a strange fascination for me – oh, how I loved him! One day, I spotted an identical one on Baileys Pot stool in Wigan Market Hall, which remained there all through my school days. When I started work I bought him with my first week’s wages. He had been there for so long that I can recall the assistant shouting to her colleague, “Ey, somebody’s buyin’ t’rabbit!” He is looking down at me from my kitchen shelf as I write and the little girl who loved him loves him still.

How nervous we all were when the time came to move across to the juniors school! The top class seemed like adults, and we dreaded the ‘nowty’ teachers we had heard about. It was here that girls where taught to knit and I can remember the simple bonnet I made. We learned to do joined up writing – “real writing” we called it – and I suspect we were the last generation to use the old scratch-pens, which we dipped into a porcelain inkwell in the desktop. My friend Christine and I used to buy shilling fountain pens from Tommy Enty’s (Entwistle’s) shop on Ince Bar, but they always leaked within a few days.

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Our exercise books came in different colours – blue, say for English, red for sums and so on. Do you remember the ones with shiny covers which had conversion tables on the backs? Ounces into pounds, inches into feet, and strange measurements like quarts and bushels and furlongs. I had (and still have) a passion for stationery, and I would spend hours in Starr’s or Wilding’s on Wallgate, buying daft things like telephone memo pads, when nobody I knew possessed a telephone, or packets of gold stars like the ones the teacher stuck into our books for good work. Sometimes, we listened to ‘Radio Broadcasts for Schools’, via a mesh fronted wooden speaker on the classroom wall and once a term, we had a film show in exciting, giggle-inducing semi-darkness on Friday afternoon.

Games lesson usually meant ‘rounders’ on the school field where we wore team bands in red, yellow, blue or green. For a treat, if it was very hot, the teacher took us outside to listen to a story. How we enjoyed such diversions from the usual time table, and we sat on the grass making daisy-chains as the bees droned in the clover flowers, (which we called ‘sucky-bobs’), and the distant playground shimmered in the heat. The actual story probably went in one ear and out the other, but the memory of those golden afternoons remains as clear as a bell.

Eventually, we reached the top class, were we sat the eleven-plus exam – “t’scholarship” – which marked the end of our primary school days. I remember the day the letter came to say I had passed for the grammar school, along with two boys – oh, if only another girl had passed! I was a very shy child who found it hard to mix and the thought of going alone to a new school terrified me to such an extent that I decided to go to Rose Bridge Secondary Modern with my friends. However, my teacher talked to me about the chance I was throwing away and I was made to understand that a grant was available for the uniform which I was aware my parents couldn’t afford. Very reluctantly, I resigned myself to becoming a pupil of Hindley and Abram Grammar School come September but I felt like an outcast from my class from that day onwards.

On the last afternoon desks were emptied, inkwells washed and cupboards tidied. Then the teacher called for “Hands together and eyes closed” for our final prayers before the whole school whooped and yelled its way out into the sunshine, free for five whole weeks. I hung back alone by the railings. How I envied those who were returning! Even the top class would still have ‘story time’ in the afternoon and playtime, (which would now become ‘break’ at the grammar school). In the Babies class, a new generation of children would play in the sand tray and would see my little rabbit every day. It is hard to put into words, the overwhelming isolation and dread that I felt but I can feel it yet….

A sudden jangle of keys heralded the arrival of the caretaker and the spell was broken. I turned and ran, only vaguely aware of every day sounds: the chant of the skipping rhyme: “On the mountain stands a lady, who she is I do not know”, a snatch of television from an open doorway: “You’ll wonder where the yellow went when you brush your teeth with Pepsodent”. I would be home in time to hear Leslie Crowther announce, “It’s Friday, it’s five to five and it’s CRACKERJACK!” from our black and white television, but today I would stare unseeingly at the screen…. Oh, I didn’t want to go!

But I went (and survived!), and now school days are far behind me, and their sights and sounds are long gone from our streets – the paper lads whistle and his cry of ‘Chronicle!’, a game of marbles on the cobbles, the clip-clop of the rag-bone man’s horse and children’s shrill voices echoing down some back entry: “Oh the big ship sails up the alleyalley- o”….. they exist only in memory now, but once, on a sad summers day long ago they were all around me – real and vibrant and alive. But my eyes were blind to them and my ears closed to everything but the poignant clang of the school gate as it closed behind me for the last time. 

Irene Roberts

Spotlight on

28 Feb

Hello everyone a while back I started up what I thought would be a regular feature on this blog by introducing readers to writers I felt deserved wider recognition for their craft. Today I want to introduce you to Irene Roberts a writer who is from Wigan like myself. Irene is a big retro fan so as you can imagine we get on famously though we’ve only just become friends. Irene was a regular columnist for the local Past Forward magazine up until around 2010. I love her work and hope you do too, ladies and gentlemen, Irene Roberts…spotlight

The Dream

IN THE dream I am a child again, running over the back-field to the ‘pens’where the men keep hens and pigeons. I run in slow motion – I don’t mean to – that’s just how it is in the dream – that, and the strange silence. I can see my dad chatting with a pal by the pigeon-cotes, and he waves to me, the fragrant aroma of his pipe-tobacco mingling with the scent of privet and rosebay willow-herb, filling the air with familiar, comforting smells of childhood. High above, an aeroplane, inaudible in the odd silence, leaves a trail of white vapour in a perfect summer sky. I feel safe here, in the past, and I hold on to the dream, not wanting to wake up, because I know that, whilst I dream, my mam will still be at home in the kitchen, standing on the pegged rug in her faded cross-over pinny, humming to herself as she makes potato pies – a family one in the big brown dish and two tiny ones in little white, illicit ‘British Rail’ cups – a regular Saturday-teatime treat for my friend Christine and me.

She likes a ‘flutter’ on the horses, does mam – sixpence each way on “Newsboy” – and I hurry with her down the back entry to a house where bets are laid out on the table, and where the bookie’s wife and unmarried daughter are always ready for a gossip. There is a plaster Alsatian dog on a crocheted runner on top of a huge radiogram which, come Sunday dinnertime, will broadcast ‘Two-way Family Favourites’ . . . “And now a request from B.F.P.O. 17” . . . followed by ‘The Billy Cotton Bandshow’.

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Over the fireplace is a mirror etched with a picture of a crinoline lady in a garden. I can see that room yet, and I can hear the clock ticking and the fire crackling. Mam was the Mrs Malaprop of Ince – always getting her words wrong and mixing proverbs with a kind of reckless abandon: “A bird in th’and”, she would state dramatically, “gathers no moss!” – and then she would laugh with us, good naturedly, at her own mistakes. Those precious moments have gone down in history in our family – lovely reminders of that patient, gentle soul whose whole world lay in the vicinity of the damp little terraced house that was her home.

A bus-ride into Wigan, with a look round Woolworths and a cup of tea in Gorner’s Café, was a treat, and half a day at Southport was her holiday. We went from Ince Station, our feet echoing over the covered elevated walkway of wooden planks, and I tried not to look at the ground so far below. My dad bought our tickets from the little ticket-office, and there was a tiny waiting-room whose coal-fire lay unlit on our summer outings. Oh! The thrill as the train chugged into the station, filling the air with the heady smell of steam on a sunny June morning – it was enough to make you dizzy!

We sat in long narrow carriages with pictures above the seats and leather straps to let the windows up or down, and I can still feel the tingle of excitement as the guard blew his whistle and the train gathered speed. My dad always recited the stations between Wigan and Southport: Gathurst, Appley Bridge, Parbold …. And somewhere along the way there was a bone-works which stunk to high heaven, and the thud-thud of carriage windows being shut was like machine gun fire!

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Arriving in Southport, we always went to ‘Mary’s Café’ for our dinner; the building that was ‘Mary’s’ is still there, just down a side street – no longer a café, and seen today through misty eyes and memories, but in the dream we can still go inside. A ride on the miniature railway and a turn on the ‘caterpillar’, and all too soon it was time to go home.

As we walked from Ince Station the evening sun slanted on terraced rows, throwing into shadow the corner-shop with its huge potato-scales and its tiny toffee-scales. On the shelves, bundles of firewood and packets of Omo with 4d off jostled for space with ‘Twink’ home-perms and bottles of ‘Drene’ shampoo. Cards hung haphazardly on the walls, each holding a dozen combs or babies’ dummies or the little bottles of patent medicines in which our mams had such faith. Strings of paper bags hung on nails by the “penny tray” – little white three-cornered ones for sweets and square brown ones for fruit and vegetables; everything else went straight into the customer’s own shopping basket, or a threepenny brown paper carrier bag with string handles – there were no plastic carriers in our little world.

Today there is a fish-andchip shop in Ince Green Lane; in my childhood it was the Co-op – in the dream it still is. Everyone called it ‘t’cworp’ or ‘t’stores’ then, and there were chairs to sit on; the lady assistants wore little caps with “C.W.S.” on, and served you personally, reckoning up your bill at the speed of light on long slips of paper, licking pencils which they kept behind their ears, and our mams collected little yellow ‘checks’ which they stuck onto a card for their ‘Divi’.

Just further down the lane was ‘Little Amy’s’ offlicence, which was in a time warp even then! Ancient, faded showcards portrayed young ladies of a bygone era enjoying Bulmer’s cider – the only decoration to grace Amy’s, apart from the sticky yellow flypaper hanging by the one dim electric lightbulb. Packets of crisps were kept in a blue tin with a Union Jack painted on each side, and we bought ‘Spangles’ and ‘Penny Arrows’, ‘Black-Jacks’ and ‘Sherbet Fountains’; does anyone remember …. Not boxes, but bars of milk-tray chocolate – six different flavours all in one bar? We pretended to smoke our ‘sweet cigarettes’, which in these so-called enlightened days have to be called ‘candy sticks’ in case they encourage children to smoke, and yet I must have eaten enough to sink a battleship, and never once had the urge to try the real thing. download

 

As I emerge from Amy’s dim little shop into the brilliant sunshine, my mind begins to wake from the dream, but I fight it – I want to stay, just for a while, in my childhood, where old ladies sit out on chairs in the sun, watching ‘t’childer’ at play – little girls jumping into skipping-ropes …. “All in together girls, very fine weather girls”……. or whipping tops along the pavement with whips made out of ‘banding’ – a kind of tubular string which my Aunty Mary brought home from the Empress Mill. I walk, a child again, through a vanished world of rag-bone men and gas-lamps, of factory-hooters and outside toilets, of jagged pieces of glass stuck into cement on the tops of walls to deter thieves, and of running to the shop for a ’gas-shilling’ when the gas was ‘begging’.

I know that, if I stay asleep, I can still go on the Labour-Club trip and I will be given 10 shillings in a brown envelope to spend at Southport or Blackpool; and, twice a year, I can visit Silcock’s Fair on the spare land, with its toffee-apples and candy-floss, where the older girls, sporting beehive hairdos and stiletto heels, eye up the fair-lads who stand fearlessly on the waltzer, spinning the screaming girls dizzily round to the strains of ‘Cathy’s Clown’ or Bryan Hyland’s haunting ‘Sealed with a Kiss’. The fair came twice a year – once in the spring and once in the tingling autumn dusk, when we entered a magic world of glitter and flashing lights, and it is only when we wake from the dream that we see it as a few square yards of tattered gaiety set between back-yards and factory walls.

I always know when the dream is ending; I am running, again in slowmotion, down Ince Green Lane, over flagstones whose every crack and crevice is as familiar as my own hands. Little terraced homes, long demolished, still stand, and friendly neighbours, kneeling with buckets and donkey-stones, slowly smile and nod as I pass by in the eerie silence. Our terraced row stood back from the road, invisible until you reached it, and strangely, in the dream, I never do reach it – never get to see again the little row of six houses where I grew up, but I know it is there, waiting for me, just out of sight. I wake, slowly and reluctantly at first, and then I remember that this is a very special day; the past is a dream and I must let it go – the present is real and it’s here, and I have a wedding to go to!

Mam and Dad didn’t live to see the day; they never got to meet our Beccy, my lovely daughter -in- law, but they would have loved her as I do. I see their faces, smiling through the mists of time, but today they must stay behind in the dream, as I walk down the path of a lovely old London church, 200 miles and a million years away from my childhood home, to witness their grandson’s wedding. Their little girl is today the bridegroom’s mother, and I am conscious, as I enter the cool, dim interior of the church, that I must walk slowly with dignity, as befits my role. But the child in me is running – running through the clear air of a sparkling sunlit morning long ago, running for the sheer joy of living, as only a child knows how, across the back-field and down the dear, familiar road that will take me home. 

Irene Roberts

 

Tomb Raiders

11 Feb

FireShot Capture 061 - Lost Stadiums on Twitter_ _Springfield Park, during demolition #WAFC _ - twitter.com

I can remember watching a programme on the telly years back about the old Wigan Casino and its fall from grace following a mysterious fire, yes another unexplained fire. This bloke a Casino regular from down south went down for a final look when they were demolishing the building and asked the demolition men could he have the iconic Wigan Casino Club sign. They let him have it money exchanging hands and he has it stored in his house somewhere.

Another couple bought some of the wooden dance floor and had it laid in their kitchen in a small terraced house in Wigan. Andy and Fiona Nevin now live in Melbourne Australia but they left the kitchen floor intact. Andrew & Fiona bought the flooring for 80 quid; Andrew was a hairdresser just round the corner from the Casino. They have some of the wooden floor in Melbourne and the rest is in storage.

Sometimes it’s just hard to let go of the things we love I suppose. From my childhood I have three special items that mean the world to me. One is a small electric train set that I got when I was around 10 years old. It was an expensive present back then and it never expanded beyond a simple oval track. I did get accessories from time to time like a station platform and a level crossing but it enjoyed its finest moments running over my little Airfix soldiers in a sadistic version of Von Ryan’s Express.

My second item is a relic of the Space Age tin toys that were imported from Japan in the early 60’s. Capsule 5 had flashing lights and an astronaut that moved back and forth in his seat. If it ran into a wall it would back up and change direction across the kitchen floor. It liked an oilcloth surface rather than carpet much to the pet dog’s distain. This toy is almost 60 years old and as I look through the Perspex window of the spacecraft at that old astronaut he hasn’t changed a bit. When he looks back at me he sees an old bloke who he remembers being a wide eyed eight year old kid who dreamt of things that were always just out of reach.

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The third thing I have is my trusty penknife. Every kid carried a knife back in the day and I can’t honestly say if that contributed to a lot of stabbing but it didn’t seem like it. Although in the week I was born a seven year old stabbed another kid in the heart with a knife on a field in Ince killing him stone dead. We tended to use knives for carving our name in wood a lot. The house I lived in at Worsley Hall had my name carved into the window frame of my bedroom along with the suits of a deck of playing cards. I didn’t get into trouble for that but I would have gone bananas if my kids had done the same. The old home has plastic double glazing now so that’s another piece of my history cast aside.

We also played Splits a lot when we were kids throwing knifes at each other’s feet to see if we could get them to do the splits. My knife was from Germany made in a place called Solingen which was a famous place for knife making though I only found that out in recent years. It has a real bone handle and many other attachments such as a corkscrew, can opener and one of those things for getting stones from a horses hoof and who can manage without one of those?

All this reminiscing got me thinking about some of the stuff that went missing when we left Springfield Park. Let’s face it that was a free for all that was undignified and disrespectful to the old lady that had served us so well over the years. Everyone had the same idea; we all wanted a keepsake from the old ground to remember her by. It started with the pitch an obvious place to start with a piece of the hallowed turf. Penalty spot? Forget it that was dug up quicker than an old joke in a Jimmy Tarbuck* interview when a showbiz person snuffs it. (*The real one not our esteemed editor) The same went for the centre circle so sod it any bit of sod would have to do. Some went for the advertising hoardings around the ground which were putting up a little resistance to being moved so that you ended up with half an advert for Rathbones bread.

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The morning after the last game at Springfield Park was when the real Tomb Raiders entered the fray. I went down with the wife and kids for a final look at the ground and I was surprised to see all the gates were open. We entered the ground and doors had been kicked in, leaflets scattered, just pieces of debris everywhere. Up in the Phoenix Stand figures could be seen swarming over the seats so we went up for a look at what they were doing. They had screwdrivers and were taking seats from the stand and I was bitten by temptation like Adam with that dammed apple.

“Erm can I borrow your screwdriver mate?” I said to one bloke making off with around four seats connected together. He reluctantly passed it to me and no sooner had it entered my hand than a shout went out from the pitch below “Get out that stand now!” It was Brenda Spencer with a couple of coppers “There’s an amateur cup final on here this week” she protested in one final futile attempt to stop the demolition. I looked down at Brenda she was surrounded by holes made by human moles: great swathes of the pitch were currently in pride of place in people’s gardens and backyards across the town. Good luck to the bloke who had to take a penalty from the spot two miles away. 

Brenda was almost crying with frustration and it brought me to my senses. I handed the screwdriver back to the bloke and made my out the stand with nothing but shame. The amateur cup final didn’t take place not that I cared; I knew a lot of the lads who played local league football and quite a few of them couldn’t stand latics or was I just jealous that they got to play at Springfield Park, my field of dreams and I didn’t? A few days later the real vandals moved in setting fire to the stand and this time the old Phoenix was too weary to rise again succumbing to the flames.

Could the club have handled the demise of Springfield Park better? Most certainly but then again so could the fans. It wasn’t pretty what happened and it’s such a shame that nothing was taken to the new ground when we moved. Maybe a crush barrier like they have in the football museum? Somewhere our younger fans could stand for photographs with a background mural of the old terrace. An old turnstile perhaps? The biggest crime for me was letting the Wigan Athletic AFC sign go that was proudly displayed on the outside of the main stand. This would have looked magnificent illuminated inside one of the DW’s main rooms. Imagine it on the wall in the supporters bar, such a shame.

However we are not completely alone in this ransacking of old stadiums so don’t beat yourself up too much. Just recently Spurs fans attacked the seating at the old White Hart Lane ground to take a souvenir home and in Sweden 5000 turned up one day to take home some of the AIK Stockholm ground. One man decided to go for a more unusual souvenir and after much deliberation decided a urinal would be ideal. He tried to convince his wife when he turned up at home with a piss stone that it would make an ideal place to put flower arrangements. Sadly the toilet still reeked of pee so his wife vetoed the idea and told him to put it on the Swedish equivalent of Ebay. Probably still on there if you want to put a bid in…

At the end of the day some of the best things aren’t tangible. The sight of floodlights cutting across the night sky, a whiff of wintergreen when you are stood against the perimeter wall, the touch of a players shirt when he’s taking a throw in, the smell of Old Holborn from your Dad’s tobacco tin, the steam rising from the old tea shop under the stand. Sunsets over the away end, flasks of coffee or something more spirited, the bloke behind you with a transistor radio to his ear, occasionally giving you football scores like the shipping forecast Arsenal 2 Liverpool 1, United now losing 1-0…

You carry these things in your heart, in your very soul, they run through your arteries, tragedy and triumph, warmth and cold, lost and found, shared and missed. We live apart you and I but we share the same house, we are family at the end of the day and the best families stick together. God bless good people and see you soon…

Tony Topping

 

 Tony that piece in the mudhutter is marvelous. Was recounting a funny story with my old man over Christmas about the demise of Springy. After the Chesterfield game no one ever thought we would have got in to the play offs, indeed some distant relation had organised a wedding for the day of the home leg of the play-offs. Much to the anger and disdain of my Mum and Nan me and my old fella went to Springfield resplendent in our suits. Coming out afterwards the vultures had already ripped down the signs off the turnstiles. I found the Junior Latics one on the floor, insisted that we took it with us. It was absolutely crawling with woodworm and was barely legible but I had to have it. We took it in the taxi that had to work it’s way through battling Latics and City fans. We eventually got to Aspull Civic Centre and I walked in to the wedding proudly with my new possession. Until my Mum saw me, bollocked me and made me put it in the bin. 😥 Sean Livesey

Greasy Snogs and Disco in 70’s Wigan

20 Jan

 

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(Photograph courtesy of Mick Pye and taken by his dad John)

The building is ugly but it has a tale or two to tell if you’d like to listen. To get there we move through the town centre past pie shops, Poundland and Primark until we reach a big cube of a place covered in sickly yellow tiles and bright red brickwork. The pavements round here are certainly not paved with gold but this unlikely looking venue once drew the youth of Wigan through its doors and left the rest of the town’s nightclubs fighting for the scraps.

Tiffany’s opened in the late 70’s and promised sophisticated entertainment for the over 21’s, well I suppose it was a little bit more upmarket than the usual late night haunts in town. Before Tiff’s we had places like Puffers and Blutos, smallish places that didn’t require any dress code especially Puffers/Pemps. I was also a regular at the Wigan Casino Rock Nights and once went there in a jumper I had slept in the night before. Bryan Ferry had nothing on me.

Tiff’s changed all that and initially split my group of mates in two. I suppose there was always an unseen diving line between us though we always got on well. Half the group would be in high waist many buttoned trousers with patterned shirt fitted over the top collar of their wide lapelled jackets or bombers and the other half would be in jeans, t-shirts and duffle or afghan.

I was in the t-shirt/jeans side of the equation. The differences were magnified on holidays that we took together when the trousers had one room and the jeans the other. The trouser gang took a bath and then used deodorant, a fact that amazed the jeans fraternity whose bottle of Hai Karate or Old Spice lasted from Christmas to Christmas. This combined with using hairdryers and brushes was ridiculed by us on the quiet but the facts are the nice smelling coiffured bunch seemed to get more women than us natural musk smelling scraggy haired lot.

When the trousers went to Tiff’s we initially refused to go but gradually the disco sirens calling to us from the yellow and red cube drew us to our funky fate. We procured the trousers, shopped for shirts, ditched the duffels and most importantly of all, got the tie. The tie was the key to the magic kingdom for without it your entrance was barred.

Now if you’re sat there imagining the jeans gang emerging like some lovely butterflies from denim cocoons think again. We looked like those Victorian photographs of old Wild West outlaws, after they had been killed; you know the ones, propped up on a board wearing an ill-fitting suit. We were as comfortable as a jelly on a bed of nails.

The tie was the worst bit, apart from Weddings, Funerals and job interviews we hadn’t worn one since our school days and it was the one item of clothing we were apt to forget. Tiff’s had a strict rule regarding ties, no tie no admittance and if you forgot your tie then you had to put your reserve plan into action.

This could include putting your belt round your neck and passing that off as a tie. This seemed plausible after 10 pints and your drinking partners would nod their approval as they groggily inspected your neckwear “Awreet that, corn’t tell it’s a belt” Alas such attempts were likely to end in failure unless the bouncers were myopic.

Allison Mason

(Membership card courtesy of Allison Mason)

By far the best substitute for a tie was the humble sock. Stretched out as far as it would go and then tied round the neck, pull your jacket up and together, push your neck down, keep one hand in your pocket to keep your pants from falling down and lift your shoulders up. Suave it wasn’t but it usually worked especially if you walked closely behind your tallest mate. The daft thing was once you got in the club you could take your tie/sock/belt off and nobody gave a monkey’s.

The place itself seemed massive and quite impressive but I was comparing it to Puffers with its tiny dance floor and barrels for tables. The dance area in Tiff’s was enormous and packed with women and Jason King lookalikes with shirts unbuttoned to the navel and enough chest hair to stuff a small sofa. Their moustaches could stuff the cushions.

In front of them was a stage and a DJ spinning the music which was purely D.I.S.C.O. Tiffany’s had a female Disc Jockey named Stella and I think she was a good looking girl but I never ventured up close enough to look at her and I didn’t think she’d play “Stairway to Heaven” if I asked her anyway. Up above the grooving gyrators was a spinning mirror ball casting a million stars around the room, kids this was the 70’s and all those clichés were right, well they were at Tiff’s.

Tables and chairs surrounded the dance floor and on the odd occasions I strutted my funky stuff it felt like you were being judged in a 70’s version of “Strictly” I can’t have a wee if the toilets are packed so if my version of the Hustle was a little wooden then that’s why. That’s my excuse and I’m sticking to it. Palm trees and Roman/Greek columns were dotted about the room and I’m pretty sure they were fake though that didn’t stop one of my mates trying to climb up a tree to see if they had coconuts.

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The stage was also the place where the resident group at Tiff’s played. They were called “Sunshine Cake” which sounds like something you might buy in the cafes of Amsterdam. I can’t tell you if they were any good but they must have been alright because I never noticed the switch between records and the live music. Mind you by the time they came on I was well oiled and probably chatting up a Roman column.

Three bars were set in the walls of the room and I remember the ale being bloody awful and if I’m not mistaken it was served in plastic glasses and went warm in a couple of minutes.  Tiff’s also had a snack area where you could buy chicken in a basket! I’d heard about this exotic dish from someone who had been to the world famous Batley Variety Club, what do you mean you’ve never heard of it?  The snack bar was ideal for a bowl of chips at around 1am and if you tapped up you could always impress your wench by sharing a chicken & chips basket. Oh those greasy snogs later!

Between the bars and the seating area was a walkway running all the way round the club. It was carpeted and before too long it was sticky from all the ale spilled on it. The one thing everyone remembered when I asked them about Tiff’s was this walkway. All night long people would walk round in a continuous circle; it was a never ending cavalcade of women mixed in with the odd Jason King pillock. My mate Paul Richardson said “It wer like hookin’ a duck at fair”.

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Despite the plastic palm trees, glitter balls and ancient plaster columns it never really won me over, it was all a bit too artificial and all those hairy chests and satin shirts didn’t help either. I can understand though if some people loved it and probably more couples met there and went on to get married than from anywhere else in town. I met the future Mrs TT there and at least four of my mates met their respective partners there too. The place must have had something about it but personally I put it down to the Old Spice and regular baths.

Tony Topping

 

Taking the Step

18 Jan

It’s only when you get older that you look back over your life and think “If only I’d taken that step” It could have been getting a different job, working harder at school, asking that pretty girl out, moving away from your home town and so on. Well if you didn’t take “that step” it’s too late now my friend and I’ll see you in the coffee shop ruminating over the clouds swirling slowly in your cup…

 

Back in the early eighties a good work friend of mine who made me laugh a lot and eased the tedium of factory toil, emigrated to Australia. I missed him a lot as work once again returned to the monotony it was before his arrival. Years earlier a girl I worked with in the same old factory emigrated to South Africa and left me with no warm smile to light up the gloom. I was briefly tempted to follow them, one way or another, and while I still had my youth, but I only climbed to the top stage in the swimming pool to look down and not to take that leap of faith.

 

In the mid 70’s a young man with a wife and children was given the chance to take that leap into the unknown and he soared. His name was Brent Atherton, a Wigan lad like me but unlike me he was good at something, that something being football.

 

Brent first came to the attention of the football scouts at the age of 18 after scoring 64 goals in the local Amateur League for the SS Club in Downhall Green. Blackburn Rovers moved in and Brent spent a season there playing in the A team but found it difficult to break through.

The following season Brent signed for Prescot Town and later joined Kirkby Town where he teamed up with the infamous Johnny King. In February 1971 Gordon Milne signed Brent for Wigan Athletic. Brent now lives in Australia and I managed to get in touch with him via his old friend Danny Dewhurst another ex Wiganer down under.

 

TT: The 70/71 team is my favourite Wigan Athletic side of all time. What was it like for you as a local lad to join such a successful side?

 

BA: It was a dream come true for me personally. Wigan Athletic were one of the biggest, probably the biggest non-league club in the country at the time. Gordon Milne was a top man and a top manager. The training under Gordon was a lot harder than I was used to but the morale and the atmosphere was fantastic. Kenny Banks was trainer and I have fond memories of him, lovely man.

 

What was it like to be amongst ex England players like Derek Temple and Gordon Milne for example?

 

Derek Temple was a great bloke and a fantastic player; it was a pleasure to be at the club. Gordon Milne was a real gentleman and of course he had a fantastic career. David Breen was another player who wasn’t always first choice but he was an extremely skilful player, very tricky. It was a very gifted squad and it was really difficult to break into the first team but I enjoyed every minute of my time at Wigan Athletic. Some of the other players who the fans might not recall but were very good Ron Melling and Ivor Swarbrick who played in the reserves with me.

 

Gordon Milne left the club and was replaced by Les Rigby

 

Yes that’s right and for one reason or another Les and I didn’t really get along together. Les had his favourites at the club and it was like a closed shop. I left the club and signed for Skelmersdale United. Skelmersdale were a good side back then. They were coached by Roy Rees a top coach and a great innovator. Roy managed the British Universities team and was also a coach with the F.A. He later coached in America having great success with the USA under 17’s team taking them to four U17’s World Cups and beating Brazil, Italy and Argentina.

 

There seemed to be a flux of good non-league players back then

 

Some very talented players who could have gone on to play at a higher level which some did of course. Steve Heighway had just left Skelmersdale when I arrived there. Alan Wolf was a cracking player at Skem too. Mickey Worswick was at Chorley when I played and he could easily have played at a higher level. Many others too many to mention but Johnny King was another top player. Dougie Coutts another latics favourite followed me to Skem as assistant coach to Roy Rees.

 

After appearing for clubs such as Kirkby Town, Wigan Athletic, Prescot Town, St Helens Town, Skelmersdale United and Ashton Town you received an offer too good to turn down I believe?

 

That’s right whilst playing for Skelmersdale I was approached by a scout from Perth Azzuri a club in Australia. I jumped at the chance to move and together with my wife and two children we set out on big adventure in 1977. The opportunity was too great to turn down and we never looked back after that, settling down here for good.

 

Did you feel under any pressure to justify your passage from the other side of the world?

 

No I was always confident in my ability and quite a few players made the same journey from Britain at the time. The players that emigrated helped raise the standards of football in Australia. Perth Azzuri was an Italian based club and they really looked after us. I quickly adapted to the heat and in fact preferred it to the harsh conditions we got in England from time to time. It was less stressful and we just embraced the lifestyle with open arms.

 

You had a very good career out there too

 

Yes Azzuri won two Championships while I was there. I was playing in midfield by then and I’ve always been fit so I was quite an energetic player. I later moved to Kelmscott United and was made captain there, well I had to pass the armband on to Sir Trevor Brooking when he arrived for a spell at the club but I said to him “I want it back when you’re gone!” He was a gentleman on and off the field. We won the Cup playing together in midfield that season.  In 1983 I moved to Forrestfield United and it was there that I won my greatest honour being voted the league’s Best Player Award and receiving the Gold Star on television. I’ve loved every minute of my career and been fortunate to play with or against Bobby Moore, Trevor Brooking, Alan Ball, Ted McDougall, Maurice Parkin ex Leeds/Sheff Utd, Peter Holt ex Rochdale and John Salton ex Dunfermline.

 

Thank you to Brent for agreeing to this interview, many thanks also to Danny Dewhurst for doing the actual interviewing* Danny also performed the laborious task of typing the emails out. Thank you gentlemen it’s been a pleasure.

 

Tony Topping

 

*I did want to go over and interview Brent myself but sadly my Mudhutter expenses didn’t stretch that far. Still if anyone wants interviewing in Scholes I can just about scratch enough together for that, sniff…