Archive | January, 2015

Man of Paper

30 Jan

matthiassindelar2Man of Paper


The long and illustrious history of football is now and again graced with men of pure genius. Footballing giants whose exploits are carried like a torch by fans from around the world, men who wrote their name in gold, footballers who live on in the memories of countless fans long after they have left behind this mortal coil.

One man who deserves his place amongst this celebrated band of players is a virtual unknown outside his own country yet his story is one of the most compelling.

A story that deserves to be heard, the tale of a great footballer and a great man, of loyalty, triumph and sadly tragedy.

Matthias Sindelar was his name and this is his story.



Sindelar was born on the 10th of February 1903 in a village called Koslov in the country of Moravia (Now known as the Czech Republic). His father, a stonemason, uprooted his family to look for a better life and they moved to Vienna, Austria.

Sindelar and his three sisters grew up in the neighbourhood known as the “favoriten” an industrial area full of factories and brickworks, not exactly the nicest place to live. The Sindelar family were devout Catholics but the majority of people living in this rundown area were Jewish. Little Matthias made many Jewish friends, playing games in the shadows of the smoking chimneys from the factories.

The one game that dominated playtime was football but like many other poor children around the globe they played with a ball made from a bundle of rags, a real leather football was out of the question for working class kids.

Little Matthias was a natural and baffled his often older opponents with his close dribbling skills. In 1917 tragedy struck the family when Sindelar’s father was killed fighting at the front. Matthias the only man in the house took on his father’s role and at the age of 14 enrolled as an apprentice mechanic.

His football skills were attracting attention now and the following year he signed for FK Austria. The Austrian team were known for their aggressive style of play and Sindelar who was a more cultured player found it hard to adapt at first.

In fact his career nearly ended as soon as it started when he suffered a bad knee injury. A well-known surgeon of that time Dr Hans Spitzy, was called on to cure the problem and the operation was a complete success. The incident worried Sindelar though and for the majority of his playing days he wore a protective bandage around his knee. His nickname was the “Man of Paper” there are two explanations for this. One road of thought suggests that Sindelar had a very slight build, he was tall and angular with a narrow face and high cheekbones hence his man of paper title, but he was a strong man despite his outward appearance. The other reason for his name was given by the English press who stated “Only the Man of Paper could have slipped through the tightest of defences” One of the few surviving players to have faced him 85yr old Paul Pongratz said “He was technically the best player of all. He would dance lightly around players avoiding confrontation. He could read the game like a chess master and it was him who created the tactical game they called the “Vienna school of football”

In 1927 Hugo Meisel the legendary Austrian football coach put forward an idea for a football competition involving club teams from Austria, Yugoslavia, Hungary and Czechoslovakia. The competition was named the Mitropa Cup and it was the forerunner of today’s Champions League. Sindelar led his FK Austria team to two victories in the competition. Matthias was now an international player and the Austrian side of the 1930’s became known as the “Wunderteam” the man of paper was the star of this great team.

The wunderteam had a great run of success starting in May 1931 with a 5-0 mauling of Scotland and ending in April 1933. They played 16 games, winning 12, drawing two with only two defeats; they scored 63 goals and conceded 20. Sindelar scored 27 of them and made the majority of the others.

One of the team’s defeats was a narrow 4-3 loss to England in 1932 when the Austrian’s received widespread acclaim for their style of play. Sindelar scored a goal in the game, which was described in the English press as the “Goal of the Century”

The Belgian referee from the game, John Langenus, described it thus “Zischek scored twice but Sindelar’s goal was a masterpiece, which no one ever again accomplished against such opponents as the English. Sindelar started out from the halfway line and simply bypassed anyone who opposed him and doubled back to put the ball into the net” Other reports add that he fooled two defenders with a step over before scoring.

In the same year they also defeated Italy 2-1 with two Sindelar strikes, one of the goals being especially memorable. From a corner the ball was headed on by one of his teammates to Sindelar who cleverly headed the ball over his Italian marker, ran around him and headed it again past the keeper to send the crowd wild.

Some of the other games played in that magical spell included wins over Germany 6-0 & 5-0, Switzerland 8-1, Hungary 8-2, Belgium 6-1 and 4-0 against France.

Sindelar’s magic was at its best in the 8-2 rout of Hungary; he scored 3 goals in the game and made the other five (Schall 4, Gschweidl 1) The team was managed by a British coach, Jimmy Hogan, and trained by a German Harry Gotz.

British football clubs were falling over themselves to buy the talented Man of Paper but he was happy to stay in Austria.

By the time the World Cup came around in 1934 the country was in a terrible recession. Estimates put the unemployment figures at 38.5% which equated to 770,000 people. Support at the Austrian clubs dwindled and they struggled to survive.

The World Cup held in Mussolini’s Italy could not have come at worse time for Sindelar and his team-mates. Money was so short that the team had to travel to the World cup without its coach and trainer, it seems incredible today but they couldn’t afford to take them, also the Austrian league season had only just ended and the players were not in the best condition, being physically and mentally drained.

Despite all these problems the team managed to make it to the semi-final were they faced the hosts Italy. The Italians were desperate to win on their home soil and meant to win at all cost; this led to them intimidating the more skilful Austrians with a series of despicable challenges. As the main danger Sindelar was picked out for the worst treatment, once being kicked when he lay on the ground injured and he had to leave the field of play unable to continue.

In 1938 Austria was occupied by Germany and Sindelar’s world was turned upside down. He hated the fact that the streets of Vienna were now filled with German soldiers and many of his Jewish friends had to flee the country for their lives. Some of those going into hiding were fellow players from his beloved club FK Austria whom the Germans identified as a “Jews” club. The Nazis also disliked Sindelar because of his huge popularity with the Austrian people. They also closed down football clubs such as the Jewish team “Hakoah” and the Czech team “Slovan”. The Germans took over the running of FK Austria and renamed it “Ostmark” but after vehement demonstrations they were forced to revert to its original name.

Any officials at the club that were Jewish were removed and the players were ordered to ignore them at all times. One day in the crowded marketplace Sindelar spotted the former Chairman Dr Michl Schwartz across the street, at the top of his voice he shouted “The new club fuhrer has forbidden us to say hello to you but I’m always going to say hello to you sir” an open show of defiance that took a lot of bravery.

Later that year the Germans arranged a football friendly between Sindelar’s club team and a Germany side. Sindelar insisted on his club side being allowed to wear the Austrian national team strip and 60,000 spectators turned up for the game.

Ex player and avid spectator at the game Paul Pongratz remembered the game well “There were rumours in the crowd that the Germans had ordered the Austrians not to score” recalled Pongratz “Sindelar missed chances on purpose time and time again almost at the goal. The Germans were humiliated until in the second half he finally scored with a long-range shot. The crowd went wild” Germany finally lost 2-0.

Sindelar’s performance did not go unnoticed by the Nazi hierarchy and his performance that day probably sealed his fate. He also refused to play for the “Greater Germany” football side in the 1938 World cup even though several of his Austrian counterparts were pressed into playing.

Matthias Sindelar played his last game of football on Boxing Day 1938 when he played for FK Austria against Hertha BSC in Berlin. Typical of the man he scored as well, he was 35yrs old. A month later he was dead.

He had bought a coffee shop a year earlier and had paid the Jewish owner his full asking price, which was typical of the man, Jewish people were being forced out of their homes and people less scrupulous than Sindelar were taking full advantage. It was in his flat above this coffee house that Sindelar’s life ended.

Matthias Sindelar and his girlfriend Camilla Castagnola went to bed on the evening of January 22nd 1939 the next morning Sindelar was dead and his girlfriend in a coma that she never came out of. The cause of death was officially put down to carbon monoxide poisoning; a faulty chimney was thought to have caused the fatal fumes to escape. Many people were not convinced by this theory however and suspected a cover up by the Nazis, barely 48 hours after his death the Austrian paper Kronen Zeitung reported that “everything points towards this great man having become the victim of murder through poisoning” The official police reports on the case mysteriously disappeared soon after, some say they were destroyed by the Nazis.sindelar_12B

Sindelar was buried in Vienna’s Central Cemetery, 20,000 people attended his funeral. Every year on the anniversary of his death current Austrian players and officials along with former players gather at his graveside to pay their respects to Austria’s greatest ever player.


Tony Topping




The Tape Recorder

25 Jan

tk125bMy Dad died just over six years ago and my Mam is still going through the process of deciding what to do with his belongings. She hangs on to things that mean something to her and slowly over time disposes of the things that don’t. Easier said than done as even something like a broken watch can bring back so many memories but she has done well all said and done. Sometimes she’ll find something that she thinks will interest me and it will be waiting for me when I go up to visit, the things my dad collected are many and varied.

I’ve been given ties that I’ll never wear, an old army knife that belonged to my granddad, several broken watches, cufflinks, a toy car he had in his pocket to entertain the grandkids, crossword books, Butlin’s badges, football videos, army medals and all manner of paraphernalia. I cherish everything I have that once belonged to him and I never throw anything away much to my wife’s chagrin.

A few months back I went up as usual on my weekend visit and went into the kitchen to make us both a brew. While I was in there she shouted through from the front room “There’s something in the wash house of your dad’s if you want it. I’ve put it in a bag for you” I walked through and saw a large box shaped thing sticking out from the top of a “Visit Wales” bag. It was our old tape recorder, a Grundig T20 Deluxe model circa 1968. I knew it was 1968 because that was when my granddad died and what little money he had was shared between his children and my grandmother. My dad used his money to buy the tape recorder.

The tape recorder weighed a ton and my Mam reckoned it wouldn’t work “I was going to throw it away but thought I’d ask you if you wanted it first. It won’t be any good now after all those years” “No, no I’ll take it” I said excited by the possibility that it might work and voices from the past would once more reveal themselves. When I got home I rushed through the front room and headed for the kitchen, trying unsuccessfully to conceal my new found treasure. My wife highly tuned to my foraging ways said “What’s that? Not more rubbish” “What?” I said, her glare told me she wasn’t in the mood for jokes “Oh this, just summat from my Mam’s” I said as the garish dragon on the Visit Wales bag stretched to breaking point. My wife shook her head and went back to watching an episode of “Come Dine with Me” that she must have seen at least three times.

I walked through and saw a large box shaped thing sticking out from the top of a “Visit Wales” bag. It was our old tape recorder, a Grundig T20 Deluxe model circa 1968.

Alone in the kitchen I went to plug in the giant tape recorder but technology has moved on from the 70’s and the plug had round pins. I couldn’t remember where the spare plugs where so I took the plug off the toaster and just hoped nobody wanted toast soon. With a little trepidation I plugged the recorder in and stood well back. The machine that had lay silent for over 30yrs hummed with power and the smell of burning copper filled the air. I half expected the machine to burst into flames and cursed myself for not having one of those little fire extinguishers that posh people have in their kitchens. Curiosity is a terrible thing though and I had to see if it still worked so I pressed the rewind button to take the reel to reel tapes back to the beginning. The machine jumped into life and the reels started spinning at a frantic rate, it worked! Well at least the rewind button did and I got the tape back to its starting point safely.

This was the moment I was waiting for; a little bit of Topping history would now be heard for the first time since the early 70’s. I carefully turned the dial to “Play” and the tape moved slowly and begrudgingly forward. It groaned like the wind in the trees of a gothic ghost story and I turned the volume up so that when the words came I would hear them clearly. The tape ran slowly through and the clear tape gave way to the brown magnetic strip that magically held all those memories. I put my head close to the speaker grill and waited and then it happened “WHAT BECOMES OF THE BROKEN HEARTED!!!!!” came blasting out of the ether and straight into my ears. I expected some family scene being played out not Jimmy Ruffin so I fast forwarded the tape and pressed play again. This time is was Arthur Conley then later on Billy Preston. Further investigations revealed that either I or my eldest sister Christine had recorded” Emperor Rosko’s Soul Show” complete with Radio 1 jingles from the medium wave radio.

I half expected the machine to burst into flames and cursed myself for not having one of those little fire extinguishers that posh people have in their kitchens.

This was followed by Top of the Pops chart shows from the 70’s and the reel finished with the Phil Spector Christmas album in full. It was not what I hoped and “Tie a Yellow Ribbon Round the Old Oak Tree” certainly wasn’t worth the bother of a new plug. Undeterred I swapped the reels around to listen to side 2. At first there was nothing, just the groaning of the turning reels and then it happened, voices… “Go on say something” it was my Dad…

He was talking to one of my little sisters; I had four of them, two teenagers and two little ones at primary school. We all lived in a three bedroom council house in Worsley Hall, my Mam & Dad, me, my four sisters and my niece. It was very rarely a quiet house and aunts & uncles were also frequent visitors. This side of the tape reflected this as voices filled the rooms with the everyday chatter and clatter of a full house. “Should I throw these lobbies away?” shouted my Mam from the kitchen “No my Dad said he’ll have them for his dinner” said our Eileen. “Sing us a song” says my Dad “Which one?” says our Kathryn “One from school” says my Dad “Wow wow wow the boat” sings our Kathryn.

At first there was nothing, just the groaning of the turning reels and then it happened, voices… “Go on say something” it was my Dad…

We were regular church goers, my Mam made us go when we were at school, we knew the Catechism by sacred heart. Thankfully no prayers were offered up to the great recorder though our Angela did sing a lovely version of “Ave Maria” The oldest recording on the tape belongs to our Christine and my cousin Mary as they play out a scene in a shop were a frock is taken back because there’s a rip in it. Christine demands her full refund of a penny back. My only appearance on the tape is a frantic whistling of the tune “We are ace, we are cool, we are Wigan and we rule”

There’s one more tape to try, it looks a lot newer than the first reel and I don’t hold out much hope for anything being on it, it looks unused. I carefully wind it on and press play. Again there’s silence but I wait and then comes the sound of my Dad singing “It’s a long way to Tipperary, it’s a long way to go, it’s a long way to Tipperary, to the sweetest girl I know, goodbye Piccadilly, farewell Leicester Square, It’s a long, long way to Tipperary, but my heart’s right there…

When the song finishes there’s silence and I let the tape run on but the silence continues, there’s nothing else just the noise of the reels turning and the constant hum of the recorder. My sisters, Christine apart, don’t want to listen to the tapes, they find it too upsetting. For me the worst part is that silence, it goes on and on and on…

Dancing with Ghosts

23 Jan

Dancing with Ghosts WiganCasino

A deserted rest room in an old tired factory that clung to the end of a terraced street in down town Wigan…

The cold December wind cut through the hole in the window and its icy fingers turned the pages of a discarded newspaper. A tap drip dropped into a stained and dirty deep square ceramic sink. Somewhere inside the dank walls a rat listened intently then scurried on its merry way. The sun lay low soon to disappear for a day never to be seen again but the date on the newspaper was still plain to see… Friday December 21st 1973…

Inside the Black Bull young men flexed and flowed past the young and not so young women, impressing none but happy all the same. Kisses were found but passion was absent in all but the few lucky ones and alas I wasn’t in that number but hope lingered in the smoky scented air and promise was never far away. The night of the Christmas do was near and a blind date awaited me.

The number 23 dropped me off outside the cavernous Wigan Casino with its red neon light and my platform shoes led me through that entrance door for the first time. I checked my reflection in the mirrored column and hoped it was good enough. A pint of ale to settle my teenage nerves and a nod to the old ones from work sat with their wives. The forty something’s nodded back though the odd one got up to pat  me on the back and asked me did I want a glass of pop before nipping back to the wife laughing.

Check the reflection again, sigh and make my way up the stairs to the balcony seats where the lads had arranged to meet. Some have brought their girlfriends and what does she see in him? Alan’s not arrived yet, he’s bringing his girlfriend and her mate. It’s her mate I’m interested in, sort of a blind date, if we like each other, best get another pint in…

I’m at the bar fidgeting like a dog at a flea convention when Alan walks in with these two girls and I wonder which one is mine, if she likes me, but they both look ok. He sees me at the bar and I pull myself up to my full 5ft 9in (5ft 6in Platform less) and straighten my tie as he walks over. The girls find a seat and check me out from a distance, let’s hope they are short sighted.

“Awreet T?” he sez

“Awreet Al” I say “Which ones mine? If she likes me”

“Dark haired one” he sez “She says your awreet, don’t worry T”

“Did she?” I say “What are they drinking?”

“Cherry B” he sez

“Bloody hell bit posh aren’t they!” I say, fiddling in my pocket to check my money, never bought a Cherry B before and not sure of its exotic value.

We walk over with the drinks, Cherry B not too exotic as it turns out “Awreet” I say “Awreet” they say followed by a silence that last two lifetimes. I gulp half my pint back and it kills me. Gillian, dark hair, looks at me and I do this wide smile with wet eyes, she looks away… “Do you want another Cherry B?” I say “Go on then” she says “I’ll come with you to the bar”

We get up and I walk towards the balcony bar and the bored barman “Come on” she says “We’ll go to the downstairs bar for the drinks” Bit daft I think but oh well. We go down the Casino stairs and as we reach the bottom she pulls me into an alcove and kisses me, and can she kiss. We were in there a while, or so it seemed when one of the forty something’s spots me and shouts to his mates “Look at this mon the randy little bugger!” I’m about to protest my innocence when one of the wives shouts “Good luck to em’ your only young once!”

We return to the balcony and I check myself in the mirrored column yet again, my reflection winks back. The night is drawing to an end and the wooden dance floor begins to fill with the old un’s doing their thing. The DJ puts the new Slade single on and I grab Gillian and make for the floor intoxicated by Brown & Bitter and Christmas but mainly by Brown & Bitter.

As we dance the old un’s make a circle round us and the floor is ours surrounded by smiling booze filled faces “So here it is Merry Christmas, everybody’s having fun…”

Then the light grows dimmer and the crowd begins to fade, people smile before vanishing into the ether and their shadows dissolve into the cigarette burned wooden dance floor, leaving nothing. I look at Alan and he smiles back and waves before he also disappears into that cold starry night…

Christmas 1973… I hope you’re all still dancing somewhere…

Dedicated to Alan Telford and Frank Robinson who sat with me on the young un’s balcony.

Tony Topping

Reading Festival 1975

12 Jan


As you get older your mind sometimes drifts back to simpler times when your weeks wage was your pocket money after you had paid your Mam or Dad your “keep” Back in 1975 I was a callow youth of 21 and my money was spent on drinking, concerts, records & clothes. Much the same as the youth of today, proof that things don’t change that much.

One event that took place in 1975 left a lasting impression on me; I visited my first and last rock festival. Reading Festival or to give it its full name The Fifteenth National Jazz, Blues and Rock Festival was held on the 22/23/24th of August and here’s the story of that momentous weekend.

I can’t remember the planning that went behind the trip, if indeed there was any but I suspect that the lad behind the venture was Stey Priestly. Stey seemingly went a concert every week and was a font of rock knowledge to someone like me who was still wet behind the ears not only with rock music but with everything. My other mentor was my long-time friend Tony Lowe but I mainly moidered him about books and history even though he also had an encyclopaedic knowledge of music.

Jemmy Ainscough, “Mad” Paul Robinson and “Mad” Billy Harrison completed our rock sextuplet. I think it was Stey who supplied us with our tent for the weekend either him or Baden Powell. It was a dirty khaki colour and had some rather unusual staining all over and it smelt as bad as it looked. We wouldn’t have any worries about someone stealing it that much was certain. Tellingly Stey chose to stay in his own little tent even though there was ample room in Rent a Stain.reading-75-camp-dawn

I’ll always remember my Dad making me a travel bag out of an old bean sack from Heinz. It had a great design on it and he looped string though the top so I could carry it like a duffel bag. Believe it or not all my mates wanted one when they saw it. As I said they were simpler times. I don’t know what I took down to Reading that weekend but it was a lot more than Billy took as Tony recalls “Billy came straight off a night shift to call for me that Friday morning. Puzzled by his lack of any bag I said to him “Where’s your stuff?” Billy rummaged round in his jacket produced a tablespoon and said “That’s it”

We got our ale in Wigan then caught the train on our journey to Reading. We had a great time on the way down but Paul had a way of rubbing Stey up the wrong way just by being…well Paul actually. In fact Tony remembers “Stey threatened to kill Paul on the way down. We were only at Crewe” Thankfully the tension was relieved by a “Hairiest Belly Button Contest” the result being lost in the mist of time but I know it wasn’t me as I have a Harry Hill button.

Finally we arrived at our destination and made our way to the festival grounds. Our weekend pass cost £5.95 and included all admission to the three days acts, camping and parking. By the time we had got there space on the camping site was already at a premium and we searched long and hard amongst the hundreds of tents to find a spot for Rent a Stain. Finally we found what looked a good place right in the middle of the campus “Hey this looks cool!” we cried “Wonder why nobody else picked it?” we laughed as we set about putting up our un des res. The reason became clear that night as we found out that we had plonked ourselves down on what can only be described as “Corrugated Grass” It was almost impossible to sleep on but we had nowhere else to go so we just had to put up with it. Not that any of this bothered Billy “He was asleep as we put the tent up and then again in the pub later” says Tony. It was the first time most of us had been camping and it showed as we even tied one of the tents ropes to the back bumper of a nearby car…

The Festival line up on this first day was as follows: Stella 4:15pm, Judas Priest 5pm, Wally 5:45pm, Kokomo 6:35pm, U.F.O. 7:30pm, Dr Feelgood 8:30pm and headliners Hawkwind 9:45pm. All the acts were supposed to have finished by 12am to avoid a fine from Reading council but more of that later…

badge_drfeelgood_black-redWe made our way into the spectator area to find it packed with people and on our way in we were each given a Dr Feelgood badge which I’ve still got. It was hard to find a space near the front so we settled down on the grass somewhere near the centre of the crowd, everyone was sat down. Going off the timetable we were listening to Stella but I haven’t really got a clue, anyway it was good to be finally here in amongst all these hippies and rock chicks. The sun even peeped out from behind the clouds and I tilted my head back, closed my eyes and relaxed listening to the music. I opened my eyes after a minute and saw a big beautiful patch of blue sky… and then something passed through this clear blue vision, something shiny and tumbling, the sun light glinting on the objects smooth edges. While I paused for a second to wonder what it was a large brummie stood up yards away from me and shouted “Whoo the fook threw that?” He held an empty ale can in his hands and was looking towards the back of the crowd. A voice shouted back “Sit down yer prick” to which our irate brummie replied to our horror “Throw another fuckin’ one and I’ll kill yoor” For the next ten minutes we were bombarded with cans of various sizes not all of them empty and not all of them containing beer. Tony did risk the wrath of the crowd by standing on a “Party 4” can to watch Feelgood.

It was a running theme the can throwing throughout the festival but that first day was the worst. Oh and we threw plenty back anyway and it didn’t spoil our enjoyment of the day Dr Feelgood being the highlight of the acts for me though Hawkwind were good too especially when Stacia showed her boobs…or did I dream that? I certainly didn’t sleep much in the tent that night and the familiar cries of “WALLY!” went on till sunrise.

The following day the Yes fanatics Stey & Jemmy decided that we would have to go to the festival early to get a good spot for the headline act, it proved to be a very long wait! The line-up on day two was: Zzebra noon, Babe Ruth 12:40pm, Snafu 1:30pm, Kursall Flyers 2:20pm, Thin Lizzy 3:10pm, Alan Stivell 4:10pm, Heavy Metal Kids 5:20pm, Ozark Mountain Daredevils 6:30pm, Supertramp 7:50pm, Yes 9:00pm

After a few hours on the grass my arse was numb and after a visit to the bogs which was a nightmare to get to, picking your way through a human field of denim and an even bigger nightmare when your saw the sight that greeted you in the porta shitholes I looked round for something to sit on for the rest of the day. Luckily I saw a piece of cardboard box that had once upon a time contained a well-known brand of washing up powder and I was sat on that for the next 10 hours. I had “Persil” imprinted on my backside for months afterwards, still it could have been worse I’m just glad it wasn’t “OMO”

At least we had a good spot and it was worth the wait even though some Hell’s Angel’s just pushed their way in at around 7pm. “Yes” had a great light show with lasers but nearly fell foul of the council as Dave Holmes a local lad recalled: “In 1975, as a lad of fourteen, I was living with my family in Reading. It so happened that my Dad was Chief Environmental Health Officer for the local council, and so was in charge of measuring noise levels and making sure that the hot-dog stands weren’t selling real dogs, that kind of thing. As a bonus (not a bribe, honest!), he used to get backstage passes for the family. … I remember my Dad telling me that due to the local bye-laws, each night’s entertainment had to finish by midnight; otherwise the organizers would have to pay 1000 pounds a minute fine to the council. During the day of the concert, as usual with festivals in those days, things started to run late, and by the time Yes came on about half-an hour behind schedule, I was quite concerned that the band might over-run (being an anxious kind of boy). They played quite a long set, and I became more and more anxious the longer they stayed on the stage. Finally, to my immense relief, they finished around five to twelve. I was all ready for the short walk home, when, to my horror, they re-appeared for an encore. Yes being Yes, they then launched into a song which appeared to last about fifteen minutes, my anxiety levels rising all the time. Finally it ended, only for them to embark on yet another mini-symphony. By this stage I was counting minute by minute the thousands that were accruing in fines. Being close to the stage in the specially fenced-off area for “VIP’s”, (which fortunately they no longer have at festivals), I had a clear view of the proceedings. Imagine my horror (mixed with relief) when, at 12:23 as I recall, emerging from stage left, came the small, grey-suited and grey-haired figure of… my Dad! He walked straight up to Jon Anderson, mid-song, actually took the microphone off him, and made some kind of announcement to the audience about having to finish the concert. The rest of the band looked stunned and stopped playing. The stage lights went off, the crowd started booing and throwing cans of piss at the stage”

And so ended day two and it poured down…

We decided to have a day of fun on day three, our last day of festival life. We went into town for some dinner after a quick wash in the Thames and I wondered why my face was all spotty the week after. We went into a café full of hippies and the only thing you could buy was toast or chips so we bought both and had chip buttys made with hard toast. The locals were quite keen to rip us off wherever possible. Tony and Stey went into a local supermarket and were amazed to see “Guinness & Orange” soup on sale. It was a nice day and we sat at the side of the Thames with two other Wigan lads, “Mad” Frank Smith & Les Ritchie. “Mad” Frank was the most intelligent bloke I’ve ever met but he was quite mad too. He and Les kept shouting to the posh people sailing down the river “Come and have a look at the fucking hippies!” I’ve not seen Frank for ten years or more and he’ll either be a millionaire or living on a commune in Devon somewhere, cracking lad though.imagesLSSXFQ90

Our baiting of the rich people ended when an Indian lad with a football asked us if we wanted a kick about. He was the greediest footballer ever and just refused to pass to anyone preferring to run with the ball saying “Best, George Best!” We just fell about laughing. A group of big cockneys saw us and asked for a game to which we reluctantly agreed. They were taking no prisoners and obviously had a grievance about northerners. Luckily for us the Indian lad was still in “Best” mode and he got kicked to shit. Each time he would bounce back up and set off again though his cries of “Best” got a little quieter and he eventually wandered off with his ball a little wearily. Tony remembers us going off for an ice cream and while we were queuing up Concorde flew over on a trial flight.

Later on we went to a pub and when I asked the locals did they support Reading they all burst out laughing. I phoned home to find out how latics had gone on and my Dad said that on the BBC they reported that around 100,000 were at the festival. Most of our gang wandered back to the concert later that evening but I stayed in the pub a while longer as I had “tapped up” All I remember of her is that she had glasses on, long hair and huge bazooka’s and we actually skipped down the street back to the festival. She was on something and it wasn’t the newky brown I’d been supping. She pulled me down an alleyway and said “Wer gonna get it on in my van” Now I’m a quiet lad and I was even quieter back then and I was just about to say “Shouldn’t we like be pen pals for a few months first?” when she dragged me through the crowds to some scruffy transit. She flung the back door open only to find her mate in there “getting it on” with someone else “Shit” she said and slammed the door shut “Oh well” I said and ran off in the other direction as fast as my little legs would carry me.

I walked past a Pizza Van to see Tony & Jemmy being forced to climb down from the roof of it by policemen with dogs and a group of irate Italians. We watched headliners Wishbone Ash and then went back to our tent for the last time. The line-up that last day was: Joan Armatrading noon, Jack the Lad 12:50pm, String Driven Thing 1:50pm, Climax Chicago Blues Band 2:50pm, Caravan 3:45pm, Soft Machine 4:45pm, Mahavishnu Orchestra 6:00pm, Robin Trower 7:15pm, Alberto Y Los Trios Paranois 9:00pm, Wishbone Ash 10:15pm

We awoke the next day to find that nearly everyone had gone and the car we had tied our tent rope to had noticed we used their vehicle for an anchor and kindly untied it otherwise our grotty home would be halfway down the motorway by now. We packed up and took a look at the festival site for the last time. Cans and debris were scattered everywhere with a few people wandering around looking dazed and confused. The weekend was over and as we left I turned to look at the scene with sadness and the feeling I had left something behind. Looking back I realise it was my youth but I wouldn’t change a thing… well maybe I would have jumped into that scruffy transit van with some vigour, just maybe…

I’m still friends with most of the players in this story, I see Tony, Billy & Stey on a regular basis and we still enjoy a pint or two. I’ve not seen Jemmy for a couple of years, Paul disappeared from my radar a long while back and Mad Frank and Les have also gone the same way. A special thanks to Tony for his help with this article.

Tony Topping

Popeye v Bluto

6 Jan

blutosSomething exciting happened to the Wigan club scene back in the mid-seventies. No it had nothing to do with Wigan Casino or a Labour Club dream line up of Trevor Wallace, Harry Pemberton, Johnny Meadows and Copper Kettle. No this was a proper nightclub called Bluto’s and the youth of the day flocked to it. Prior to this there wasn’t much to get excited about for late night revellers. Puffers (later known as Pemps) was loved by many but not exactly state of the art and we had Rock Nights at the Casino. Of course if you were into Northern Soul then the Casino was also the place to be. The King of Clubs was off limits to me, my Mam said “You can go where you want but stay out of there” I’m sure she did the sign of the cross after saying it too.

The gang of lads I mixed with could be classed as laid back as far as fashion went. Of course we did have the odd Beau Brummell amongst our ranks and we all made an effort on New Year’s Eve for some strange reason going from duffel coats, Afghans and denim to velvet jackets of various shades (Yes Tony Lowe and Jem Ainscough I’m thinking of you)

So the rough and tough late night clubs suited (sic) our, ahem, casual attire but then along came Bluto’s…

Compared to the aforementioned clubs Bluto’s was a bit special. For a start it was clean and everything was brand new. It had four floors, bars, pool table, pinball machines and arcade games. My memory’s a bit vague about this but I think they also had a machine you could win packets of Polo’s from? Maybe not…

The top floor had the disco and dance floor with the DJ perched high up a spiral staircase. A very dangerous climb down when you had been up to request a record and you were full of lager. The place was always packed to the rafters at the weekend; to be honest they let too many people in and it was a health & safety nightmare but hey did we care?

Getting in wasn’t much of a problem though you had to queue if you left it until the pubs chucking out time. But to get in you had to walk through the meanest, toughest bunch of bouncers this town has ever assembled. I was scared to death of looking at them and I’d squeeze through them hoping I didn’t attract their attention by accidentally sneezing or breathing on my way in. Some of them wore sovereign rings and had one on every finger. Good investment I thought until it was pointed out to me that they were great knuckle dusters.

It was murder getting served at the bar but luckily two of the barmaids lived in our street so I got served quicker than most, thank you Shelagh and Eileen!

Fights broke out now and again, bound to do with so many people drinking in such a confined space. When a fight did start the bouncers sprang into action with glee knocking everyone in their path out of the way unceremoniously. One night I happened to be in the way of one the bouncers and he pushed me to the side resulting in me spilling my warm pint all over myself. Unfortunately I have a Popeye gene that leaps into action after too much alcohol intake and I shouted “Hey you idiot!” to the rampaging beast of a man enjoying himself scattering people, tables and girders out of the way.

You know when you’re watching a film and something nasty is hunting someone in the woods and they stand on a twig? That… The bouncer stopped, turned his head sharply to look at me and did that narrow eyes glint thing when the nasty monster knows where you are hiding. Before I go on to the next bit I must tell you that my Popeye gene lasts all of ten seconds before I revert back to my normal placid self. As he rushed towards me I had just enough time to utter “Sor..” before I was “scutched” by the neck and dragged down the stairs at breakneck speed.

Once we reached Bluto’s entrance (Oooer Missus!) I was thrown out into the cold night air. I landed somewhere near Woolies… Oooo now my mad was up! The Popeye theme tune actually came into my head as I rose from the floor “Derdiddley der der der, derdiddly der der der, derdiddily diddley diddley diddley diddley der to der!” As I rushed back towards Bluto’s a tattoo of a battleship appeared on my upper right arm and fired a shot across my chest to a battleship on my left arm which duly sank. I whirled my right arm like a dervish or a windmill in a gale and muttered away to myself occasionally laughing “Ack ack ack ack”

I was just about to reach the entrance when a bouncer popped out and Popeye disappeared to be replaced by mild mannered Tony Topping of the Daily Planet. I did a quick u turn and looked intently at a tailors dummy in Jackson’s window, stroking my chin and glancing at my non-existent watch whilst cleverly giving the impression I was waiting for the shop to open in just 32 hours’ time. It worked the bouncer went back in and I made my way to the Pacific Ocean, no not that one, the Chinese Restaurant on Market Street.

After a mixed grill (the most exotic thing I had back then was an extra portion of mushrooms) I made my way to the Taxi Rank at the side of Wallgate Station and settled down for the late night WBC* event. *Wigan Boxing Cretins. Who needs Sky box office?

Honourable mention to the gentlemen who worked at Bluto’s, you certainly were the hardest lads to work the doors anywhere and trouble was quickly dealt with. I hope I’ve caused no offence with this article but if I have let me know in writing then I’ll have enough time to move to the Outer Hebrides.

Finally congratulations to the Mudhutter fanzine on reaching 50 issues. It certainly is something to be proud of and wouldn’t be here if it wasn’t for the dedication and drive of Martin (Jimmy) Tarbuck whose constant cajoling rouses the lazy writers into life, sort of. Mr Migs aids and abets Jimmy and puts the whole mess into a readable format, no mean feat in itself. To all the writers and our resident cartoonist Tat keep up the great work lads! Thank you to everyone who buys the Mudhutter and advertises in it, without you it wouldn’t exist.

Tony Topping