Archive | January, 2020

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…