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Sport History

  • East End Born and Bled: The Remarkable Story of London Boxing by Jeff Jones

    Ninety years ago, on 18th February 1930, twenty-one-year-old Jack Berg, known as Jack ‘Kid’ Berg, stepped into the Royal Albert Hall boxing ring to face the American world champion, Mushy Callahan for the light welterweight boxing title. Fifteen rounds of tremendous fighting later and the title was his.

    A famous victory for Berg but it was more than just that. Berg was following in footsteps of another great East End Jewish boxer Ted ‘Kid’ Lewis who was also a world boxing champion, fifteen years previously.

    Playboy boxer Jack ‘Kid’ Berg. (© PA Images, East End Born and Bled, Amberley Publishing)

    Jack Berg was born Judah Bergman into a large Jewish family in Whitechapel, deep in London’s East End in 1909. That victory, twenty-one years later, and several more that followed cemented the reputation of not only Britain’s Jewish boxers but that of East End boxing in particular.

    Six months later, in New York, one Eligio Sardinãs Montalvo, walked purposely from his dressing room at the Polo Grounds venue, continuing the path to fame and fortune. ‘Kid Chocolate’ as he was known, came with a burgeoning reputation. The brilliant American based Cuban fighter entered the ring at the Polo Grounds, unbeaten in fifty-six fights and was considered the best ‘pound for pound’ boxer in the World at that time.

    Kid Chocolate was a firm favourite given the way he had despatched his previous opponents and his eyes were firmly fixed on the $66,000 dollar purse that was up for grabs.  An absolute fortune, one of the largest purses for a non-title fight to date. Sitting quietly in the opposite corner was Jack ‘Kid’ Berg. A win for Kid Chocolate against Berg would set up a world title fight later in the year. Neither boxer had fought for such a huge sum. Chocolate was there for both the win and the money.

    In New York. Jack Berg (white slacks) with the great Ted ‘Kid’ Lewis (far left). (East End Born and Bled, Amberley Publishing)

    Over ten blistering rounds of boxing, Berg’s East End grit and determination proved to be the deciding factor and it produced a narrow win.  One of the greatest wins by a British boxer on American soil. That victory, more than most, ensured that the world became aware of the East London conveyer belt that was rolling off great boxers. It continued to do so.

    For Jewish boxing, Berg was considered to be the last of the great East End Jewish boxers in a line that stretched back well over one hundred and twenty years to Daniel Mendoza, the most famous Jewish East End bare knuckled boxer and a true Legend of the sport.

    East London has produced well over 300 British, Commonwealth, European and World professional champions to date. The names that claim East End heritage and a place in British boxing’s hall of fame include, Bombardier Billy Wells, the truly great Ted ‘Kid’ Lewis, Pat O’keeffe, Teddy Baldock, The Corbett brothers, Sammy McCarthy, Terry Spinks, Billy Walker, John H Stracey, Charlie Magri, Terry Marsh, Kevin Lear and Lennox Lewis to name just a few *gloved” champions. There were many more, great bare-knuckled champions.

    Its amateur boxers are just as impressive, boasting several Olympic/Commonwealth gold medal winners. East London was full of boys boxing clubs that produced these champions.  The list of East London boxers goes on and on, as does its boxing legacy. Their stories are inextricably linked with the area into which they were born and bred. The East End.

    Jeff Jones's book East End Born and Bled: The Remarkable Story of London Boxing is available for purchase now.

  • Ali: The Fight America Didn't Want by Russell Routledge

    There have probably been more words penned about Muhammad Ali than any other sporting person in history – and the books still keep coming. Most of them are sitting on my bookshelves at home. Many authors of course recount stories of his former career as a boxer, some about his stand against the Vietnam War. Many remind us of his remarkable character and personality outside of the ring.

    A famous image of Muhammad Ali in his prime aged 25 – though not yet in his prime as a boxer, as history would prove – taken in 1967 by Ira Rosenberg. (Library of Congress, Ali: The Fight America Didn't Want, Amberley Publishing)

    The iconic boxer was and will always be a compelling subject. His fights with the boxing and political elite are legendary and his legacy I feel will be one of great inspiration and belief in oneself. Many of the boxing fans I talk to today weren’t even born during Ali’s career, but some still take more than a passing interest in the ex-champion’s life. I find it especially enjoyable when some fans from the younger generation tell me they would have ‘loved to have met Muhammad Ali – the greatest!’

    Nowadays, if that new generation of fans wants to watch the majority of his fights, they can be viewed on YouTube. His bouts – especially with Liston, Foreman and Frazier – have all been well documented. However, some of his lesser-knownbouts are confined to one or two paragraphs in books. This is insufficient to grasp the sometimes historic importance of certain fights, or to convey the turbulent times which surrounded them.

    The best example of this is when Ali first returned to boxing in 1970 and fought top contender Jerry Quarry. For some reason, in historical terms, this bout is recorded as a mere footnote. In reality, at that point in time, the bout was arguably the most highly anticipated big fight involving a returning champion since the ‘Great White Hope’ Jim Jeffries fought Jack Johnson way back in 1910.

    The reason Ali’s first return fight only receives a limited mention is perhaps because he was a (relatively) easy winner. Or maybe it was because his biggest challenges were just around the corner – his fight against undefeated Smokin’ Joe Frazier and the outcome of his battle with the Supreme Court, both happening in 1971. Later, there was so much happening in Ali’s supercharged life that his return bout after a three-and-a-half-year hiatus only served as an introduction to the title-fights that followed.

    I have searched through my extensive selection of books on Ali and at most, authors dedicate a chapter or two to Ali’s comeback fight. Yes, the first Quarry fight can be viewed, but the battle alone doesn’t reveal the highly controversial events surrounding it. Some accounts concentrate on the day before and the day after the bout, while some talk about the fight but only give a short account of the build-up and events afterwards. Movies detailing the life of the former champion fail to give this event the recognition it deserves. (One of the main characters in this story complained in a 2005 interview that one of the major Ali biopics only gave this bout a cursory mention.) There are snippets of information everywhere about the fight and events surrounding it, but no full retrospective account. So, here it is.

    I also hope to give one man the credit he deserves – the accounts I have researched seem to mention him only briefly.

    That’s the man standing opposite Ali in the ring on the night of 26 October 1970 – Jerry Quarry.

    Even leaving out the importance of the fight as the first for the ex-champion after his exiled years, the drama, characters and shenanigans outside of the ring make this an extraordinary story. This fight, which happened almost by accident, was hosted in the unlikeliest of places: Atlanta, Georgia, a city burnt to the ground in the American Civil War and the site of deadly race riots in the early part of the 20th century, but by 1970 the epicentre of the New South and one that had evolved as regards the balance of political power.

    Even before Jerry Quarry set foot in Atlanta, many newshounds and fans around the globe had him cast as a modern-day ‘Great White Hope’. There were also comparisons made between Ali and another once exiled champion, but one from the turn of the century: the first black heavyweight champion, Jack Johnson.

    Ali meets President Jimmy Carter, ex-Governor of Georgia, in 1977 at a White House dinner celebrating the signing of the Panama Canal Treaty. (Library of Congress, Ali: The Fight America Didn't Want, Amberley Publishing)

    In 1970, the Ali v Quarry fight was an international event and the press around the globe went to town. For Ali’s comeback, promoters brought all the way to Georgia a fighter regarded by many commentators as the hardest-hitting white fighter since Rocky Marciano. Jerry Quarry was the real deal, and just prior to his arrival in Atlanta the talented fighter from California was rated number one among the world’s elite heavyweight contenders by The Ring magazine. In addition to his number one status, he had been voted the world’s favourite active fighter by readers of Boxing Illustrated for the second year running (1968 and 1969).

    Jerry Quarry was riding high in the boxing world. He had previously made comments to the press about wanting to drop the ‘white hope’ tag, but in taking on the hugely controversial former black king of the ring, Muhammad Ali, the similarities with Jack Johnson and his fights with Great White Hopes Jess Willard and James J. Jeffries ensured that wasn’t going to happen.

    When Ali returned to boxing, he was still years away from the adulation he would eventually attract. Then the fighter evoked intense feelings of love and hate, which ran through the veins of people the world over, especially in America. This was mainly because of his allegiance to the Nation of Islam and his refusal to take part in or support the war that was still raging in Vietnam. His publicly espoused views, combined with his character and personality, made him the most controversial athlete on the planet.

    The fight was headlined with slogans such as ‘The fight nobody else wanted’, ‘The Return of the champ’ and ‘The Battle of Atlanta’ (the original battle of Atlanta having taken place from 22 July 1864 to 2 September 1864, with over 9000 casualties). A hundred years later, in October 1970, another bloody battle took place in Downtown Atlanta – just on the intersection of Courtland Street and Gilmer Street in an old arena called the Atlanta Municipal Auditorium.

    The fight attracted mainly African-Americans, who turned up to see the ring rebirth of ‘their’ champion. At the time, Ali’s night in Atlanta was called by some a ‘black awakening’. Many who turned up came from the entertainment world, and some were hugely rich and successful. Their wealth was openly on display as they preened in the international spotlight, draped in expensive furs and jewels. It was a way of saying that Ali, and everything he represented, represented them too – black, beautiful, bold and the best in the business. It was certainly a night of ‘soul-power’ and soul at its most colourful.

    However, this jamboree in Atlanta also attracted some of ‘the best’ from the underbelly of American society; it wasn’t only the rich and famous that turned up, but also crooks, racketeers and gangsters. Big-time boxing always had a reputation for attracting both the famous and infamous in society. They said Sonny Liston once had links to the mob, and even the most famous gangsterof them all, Al Capone, was regularly spotted ringside at the big fights, especially the ones involving his sporting hero, the ‘Manassa Mauler’ Jack Dempsey. At these events, film stars of the day settled into their expensive ringside seats alongside the gangsters.

    Foreman, Frazier, Ali; will there ever be such a rivalry in the heavyweight division again? (Authors collection, Ali: The Fight America Didn't Want, Amberley Publishing)

    The fight itself was the climax of a big sporting weekend in Atlanta, and for a few days the cash poured in. The bucketfuls of moolah in town presented a prize opportunity for some villains to win big themselves. All they needed was a plan, and when that plan came to fruition it ended up with some of those bejewelled spectators who sat in the $100 ringside seats being victims of armed robbery. After all the money and diamonds were bagged and carried off into the night, one detective who worked on the case called it possibly ‘the biggest armed robbery in Atlanta’s history up to that point’.

    The year 1970 meant ‘flower power’, black power and peace protests. It was also a time of great disillusionment and anger, and the start of great changes, not just in the social and political world but also in the world of heavyweight boxing. The former champ would return to more than a reshuffled division. It would be one with some new additions – a division some experts said was the strongest in a while. At the beginning of 1970, the heavyweight boxing ratings now included 1968 Olympic heavyweight champion George Foreman, and knockout artist and undefeated ex-marine Mac Foster. Another new face on the scene was Leotis Martin, who caused a huge upset by knocking out the ‘bear’, Sonny Liston, in a pre-Christmas brawl in 1969. Teak-tough brawler Oscar Bonavena was still riding high in the ratings, with former 1964 Olympic Heavyweight champ Smokin’ Joe Frazier recognized by the New York State Athletic Commission as world pro champ. Ali’s former sparring partner, Jimmy Ellis, was WBA Heavyweight Champion.

    The sandy-haired Californian slugger Jerry Quarry, who started his pro career back in 1965, also added glamour and power tothe division. Many thought Jerry was a sure bet to be a future champion, despite losing previous title shots to Jimmy Ellis (1968) and Joe Frazier (1969) during Ali’s enforced exile.

    In early 1970, the heavyweight division still included some of Ali’s old opponents, including Sonny Liston, Henry Cooper and George Chuvalo. Cooper was reaching the twilight of his career, with Liston just hanging in there with plans for a 1970 comeback, while George Chuvalo, who also had a controversial win over Quarry, was mooted to take on undefeated heavyweight sensation George Foreman later that year.

    Other new and young heavyweight hopefuls on the horizon were lining up and the one that showed the most promise in the UK was a then 19-year-old blonde Adonis called Joe Bugner (he would turn 20 on 13 March of that year).

    However, at the beginning of 1970, although Ali had been inactive for years, his name was still printed in the respected Ring magazine above all others as the heavyweight champion. The ‘bible of boxing’ would stand by the inactive boxer until the law courts gave a final verdict on his fate, or he permanently retired. So, for many, Ali was still champ, but a champion without an opponent as he was not allowed to fight.

    There was and still is, nothing crazier than boxing politics and at the beginning of 1970, Frazier, Ellis and Ali were recognized by various organizations as world heavyweight boxing champion. So let’s go back to those crazy times and follow the turbulent events, which led all the way to that wild, celebratory and for some, dangerous night of Ali’s return to boxing in Atlanta, Georgia.

    Russell Routledge's book Ali: The Fight America Didn't Want is available for purchase now.

  • Sheffield Wednesday FC: The Official History 1867-2017 by Jason Dickinson

    Although Sheffield Wednesday have recently celebrated their 151st birthday, the story of their first 150 years remains a fascinating account of how this grand old club started life almost 200 years ago, when Wednesday Cricket Club was formed by the ‘little mesters’ of Sheffield, gentlemen who played a prominent role in the manufacturing boom in the town, which was driven mainly by the production of cutlery and steel. The cricket club quickly grew to become one of the best, and most well supported, clubs in the North of England as the town of Sheffield embraced the game, which eventually led to the formation of Yorkshire County Cricket Club. It was the booming membership of the cricket club that led directly to the formation of a football team as members were keen to stay together in the winter months. Wednesday Football Club was duly formed on 4 September 1867 in the Adelphi Hotel, where the famous Crucible Theatre now stands, and joined the growing band of clubs as the new sport of football gained a foothold on the local sporting scene. The city of Sheffield still boasts the oldest club in world football (Sheffield FC) and the oldest ground (Sandygate, home of Hallam FC).

    Sheffield's Midland Station as the FA Cup is brought back in 1935. (Sheffield Wednesday FC, Amberley Publishing)

    From those early beginnings, Wednesday FC slowly rose to become the prominent club in Sheffield. By the late 1870s it became known nationally after several headline making runs in the FA Cup, reaching the final as a non-league side in 1890. Although they failed to gain election into the newly created Football League in 1888, they were voted in four years later, along with newly formed neighbours Sheffield United. Honours duly followed in league and cup and although Wednesday have now been outside of the Premier League for almost twenty years they remain one of the best supported club’s in the land. A loyal following that followed them during the dark days of the 1970s and early 2010s when the very future of the club was on the line. That passion for the Owls (a nicknamed coined when the club received a gift of a wooden Owl, which was placed under the eves of a stand, and saw the start of a winning run) has been passed down through the generations. From their early years playing on roped off pitches to a move to Olive Grove and then to Owlerton, and remains as fierce now as it did back in those Victorian years when the likes of Heeley and Lockwood Brothers were the club’s main rivals.

    The Official 150th Year History of Sheffield Wednesday was written in a format that is an homage to the seminal work of Richard Sparling, who published ‘The Romance of the Wednesday’ back in 1926 – one of only a handful of football history books published in the pre-war era. Like that tremendous book, the club’s fortunes have been detailed in specific ‘standalone’ chapters. From the early years of the cricket club to over 4,600 games played in the league and from the best players to the managers who’ve led Wednesday through all their up and downs. All the major events of those 150 years are covered in detail with chapters also detailing Wednesday’s exploits in European football and the League Cup, in addition to a detailed look at their much beloved home of almost 120 years, Hillsborough. A chapter detailing derby day meetings with city rivals the Blades are also within the pages, along with stories of Wednesday’s numerous trips to foreign lands and even a chapter full of curious and funny stories that have only added to the rich tapestry of their long history. The book tells the full story of a one of England’s most well-known football teams, with a name that is totally unique in world football.

    Jason Dickinson's new paperback edition of his book Sheffield Wednesday FC: The Official History 1867-2017 is available for purchase now.

  • Anfield Voices by David Paul

    Jubilant fans after the 1977 European Cup Final. (Anfield Voices, Amberley Publishing)

    Just as there are many thousands of supporters of Liverpool Football Club from many different walks of life, there is at least an equal number of tales told by those supporters – some happy, some funny, others quite simply bizarre, and, regrettably, some very sad. The volume of statistics goes back as far as 1892, when the club was founded, and it would be a brave person who tried to write a definitive history of Liverpool Football Club. This book is in no way an attempt to do that, instead it is the ordinary fans and their stories that feature in the following pages. Some stories are about players, some about exciting games and some about the weird and wonderful ways in which fans overcame seemingly insurmountable problems to see their glorious team.

    Tales of travelling to European ties are in amongst these pages, as are many personal anecdotes from fans who tell how Liverpool Football Club has played a part in their lives. And, because so many people just had to talk about him, a whole chapter is devoted to stories about the great Bill Shankly.

    Merseyside has a proud sporting heritage, with football taking pride of place. On any day of the week, conversation in pubs and clubs invariably gets around to football once politics has been cleared out of the way! Liverpudlians have a deep love of the game and many claim to have grown up in either a mixed family or a mixed marriage. This statement doesn’t relate to race or religion, but to peoples’ allegiance to the Merseyside football teams. Having said that, there is often heard around the city the words of that most famous of all football managers, ‘There’s two great sides in Liverpool – Liverpool and, er ... Liverpool Reserves’.

    I had to tell my Scouse friend that it wasn't the Germans who were responsible for the Coluseum looking like this! (Anfield Voices, Amberley Publishing)

    All of the photographs and other items of memorabilia in this book have been loaned by the fans themselves. The all-pervading theme of this oral history is the passion and loyalty which Liverpool fans have for their team. Many of the older supporters can no longer attend the games, but their love for Liverpool is just as strong and vivid as when they were young boys standing on the Kop.

    The Kop itself is now very different from the way it used to be and the Centenary and Anfield Road Stands have also seen extensive re-development, and no doubt there are more changes planned for the future. Amid all of these changes however, one aspect remains constant – and always will – the indefatigable spirit of the club and its supporters.

    How Did the Coliseum End Up Like This?

    In 1977 we flew out to Rome to see Liverpool play Borussia Mönchengladbach in the final of the European Cup. On the way out we met some Scousers who were based in Germany. The Aer Lingus jet that we flew out on was called the Saint Patrick. The whole experience was so amazing I’ll never forget it for the rest of my life. We went along to see the sights of the ruins of the Coliseum. These two Scousers tagged along with us. It was clear that they’d never ventured much further than the outskirts of town. When they saw the Coliseum they were outraged and asked if it was the Germans who had done the damage during the war!

    June Titherington

    The official UEFA souvenir programme for the Europen Cup Final held in Rome on Wednesday 30 May 1984. (Anfield Voices, Amberley Publishing)

    £99 For the Trip of a Lifetime

    My daughter got these tickets, £99 for each of us, that included the price of £3 for the game itself. We started off from Skelhorne Street, five National coaches, and there was a real sense of excitement and almost triumph - people were waving us off and cheering as the buses pulled out of the coach station. We were sleeping out of suitcases, but nobody seemed to mind. On the first night we stayed in France and the next morning we set off early to Switzerland. The following day we were aiming for Florence. It was a five-day tour, so we covered some miles during that time. On the day we got to Florence, we didn’t stay that long, as we then had to set off for Rome. We arrived early in the morning. It was absolutely magnificent. All the German supporters were there, arriving in their super-deluxe coaches, and we were in our somewhat less-grand National coaches, but that didn’t seem to matter to anyone. Anyway, there was much banter between the rival fans, but it was all very good-natured. We went to the Trevi Fountains, and many fans were splashing around, taking the opportunity of cooling themselves down. A German came over to me, and we got into quite a long conversation. He assured me that his team was going to win. I didn’t share this view.  He suggested that, irrespective of the outcome, we should have a drink after the game. We went our separate ways, he to his end of the ground and us to the other. We walked along as a group and, right in the middle of the group, was Bill Shankly himself. He was just like one of us. One of the supporters had lost his money. When Shanks heard this he gave him a few bob for himself. It was a little intimidating in the ground. At our end there were soldiers and police with guns. There were also several very large dogs, to say nothing of the heavy mesh wire which penned us in - almost like wild animals. There was just no need for it. Anyway, the game kicked-off, and it was very exciting game. It was just unbelievable! When we finally left the ground, it was decided that, instead of staying in Rome, we should make our way to Switzerland and do our celebrating there. We had a ball that night. We were one big happy family. From what I can gather, people who travelled either by train or jet didn’t have such a good time as we did.

    Ivy May

    David Paul's book Anfield Voices is available for purchase now.

  • Proud to be a Baggie: A Pictorial History of West Bromwich Albion Fans by Dean Walton

    WEMBLEY 1968 – 50 YEARS ON

    Ten-year-old Ray Jackson and supporters from Barratts & Baird set off for Wembley. (Proud to be a Baggie: A Pictorial History of West Bromwich Albion Fans, Amberley Publishing)

    May 18th 1968, Louis Armstrong’s What a Wonderful World was at Number 1 in the charts and Harold Wilson was the pipe-smoking Prime Minister. Indeed it was a ‘wonderful world’ for everyone associated with West Bromwich Albion football club, the FA Cup was coming back to the Black Country.

    In front of almost 100,000 fans against Everton at the old Wembley Stadium, the ‘King of the Hawthorns’ Jeff Astle became the first player to score in every round when his left foot rocket in the third minute of extra-time proved to be the winner – his 35th goal in an incredible season. Albion’s Welsh international skipper Graham Williams lifted the trophy and a part of the West Midlands went absolutely crazy.

    Although hardly anyone owned a colour television in those days, the ’68 final was actually the first to be broadcast in colour, this meant that both teams had to wear their change strips – Everton in gold & blue and the Baggies wearing their lucky white shirts & shorts with the now legendary red socks being worn with the kit for the first time. The match ball was also yellow for the benefit of colour TV. Dennis Clarke also became the first substitute to be used in a final when he came on for the injured John Kaye at the end of the 90 minutes.

    Everton were hot favourites, they had thrashed Albion both home and away that season. Baggies captain Graham Williams proudly declared before the game that ‘no team ever beats another three times in the same season.’ This statement stuck in the players’ minds and helped spur them on to success.

    A crowd of 250,000 in West Bromwich town centre with the Star & Garter pub on the right. (Proud to be a Baggie: A Pictorial History of West Bromwich Albion Fans, Amberley Publishing)

    The next day, the streets from Birmingham city centre all the way to West Bromwich town hall were packed with an estimated 250,000 people who turned out to welcome the team back with the Cup for the fifth time.

    West Brom have never made the final since, despite getting to four FA Cup semi-finals, in fact it was the last major trophy that the club won. The FA Cup was very special in those days, fans would gather around the TV from 9am in the morning to watch the build up to the match itself – it was always the highlight of the season.

    Now we look back nearly 50 years later and every one of those players is still a household name amongst the Baggies’ supporters: Osborne, Fraser, Williams, Brown, Talbut, Kaye, Collard, Lovett, Astle, Hope, Clark C and Clarke D. Sadly three of the team are no longer with us; goalkeeper John Osborne, winger Clive ‘Chippy’ Clark and ‘King’ Jeff Astle have all passed away, Astle’s premature death was a result of brain damage caused by continuous heading of the old leather case balls.

    Fortunately the remaining nine players still get together regularly and at least three of the Cup winning team will be at the launch of Proud to be a Baggie – a book chronicling the history of West Bromwich Albion fans. The launch and signing takes place in the Fanzone at The Hawthorns before the forthcoming Albion v Spurs game on 5th May. Dean Walton’s book features many never-before seen photos of the fans heading to Wembley and at the homecoming on the Sunday.

    Albion may well be heading for the Championship but the boys of ’68 will be remembered forever.

    Dean Walton's new book Proud to be a Baggie: A Pictorial History of West Bromwich Albion Fans is available for purchase now.

  • Trevor Ford: The Authorised Biography by Neil Palmer

    It was a March evening in Cardiff City’s 1992/93 season, a season in which the Bluebirds won Promotion out of footballs bottom tier and also added a Welsh Cup under the excellent stewardship of manager Eddie May. I sat in the grandstand at Ninian Park with my father to watch an evening game against Scarborough, (yes following football is not all glamour). The game will always stay in my mind, not for the 1-0 win by the Bluebirds but around 10 minutes after kick off my dad nudged me and pointed out that a couple of rows away sat next to the aisle was Trevor Ford. When he told me the game suddenly lost some of its interest, as I would glance at the match whilst constantly keeping an eye on this grey haired gentleman in a light brown overcoat who was constantly asked for his autograph by a whole array of supporters.

    My mind drifted off to my childhood as the name Trevor Ford will always be synonymous with how my father judged any center forward of worth during the 1960s through to today, Dad tended to do this with singers also claiming “They're not as good as Sinatra”. Well for him no center forward was “As good as Trevor Ford”. The comparison was a little lost on me as I was brought up with the football sticker and Esso coin era of players of the 1960s and 70s and to be honest my only knowledge apart from my fathers cast iron opinion of him being the best was a photo in an old Charles Buchan football book that showed him in a Aston Villa kit that fascinated me as the shirt had a laced up neck.

    trevor-ford-1 Aston Villa squad of 1949. Trevor is in the middle row, second from left. (c. Trevor Ford, Amberley Publishing)

    However I watched Ford throughout the game and when it ended my father and I made our way out of the stand, which just happened to mean passing Trevor Ford. As we did my father said ‘Hello Trevor” and offered his hand which Trevor then shook. Although I was in my thirties I felt like a child, rooted to the spot on meeting a famous person, as I just nodded in return for Trevor’s smile. All the way home we talked about his career. My dad explained how he was the big star at Cardiff City when my dad was on the ground staff and what a player he was, all of which I had heard many times from dad but to see the man in the flesh seemed too give these stories even more merit.

    Trevor was a player that always stayed in my subconciese, when I started writing sports books I had the honour of interviewing various football players from the 1950s and I would always ask them, for my own curiosity more than anything else ‘What was Trevor Ford like?’. To the public they would always talk affectionately about him, yet anytime he was mentioned in the media he was always referred to as “Fiery Ford” or “Terrible Trevor” which I thought was a little unjust. Even when he passed away the main bulk of any obituary in the newspapers tended to be based on his book “I lead the Attack” rather than the prolific goal stats for his clubs and Wales. And with the upsurge in Welsh football I started to think he was forgotten about by sections of the media as they talked about “greats” like John Charles, Ian Rush, Ryan Giggs, Ivor Allchurch and Gareth Bale, all of whom are quite rightly great Welsh footballers but I always felt there was room for one more.

    Unfortunately this was the same when pundits talked about great center forwards. It appeared that the modern generation of media with its seven days a week football, Internet forums and Radio talk shows only went as far back as Gary Lineker and Italia 90. I make no apologies for my continued frustration at this, even at the cost of being called a “Grumpy old git”. It is a title that when it comes to the recognition of “Old” footballers I wear with pride.

    trevor-ford-2 FA Cup, 1951. Sunderland beat Norwich City 3-1. Trevor (airborne, right) is in the thick of the action, as always. (c. Trevor Ford, Amberley Publishing)

    So with this in mind I started on path of finding out about Trevor Ford in detail with a view for a book .The writer LP Hartley memorably began his novel The Go Between with the words “The past is a foreign country: they do things differently there.” And that has never been truer when you look at a football world in the 1950s, which has now become unrecognizable today.

    Trevor was at the very center of the struggle for players to earn a better deal out of the game. It has been said many times that he was a player who knew his own worth. He knew early on, even in his Swansea Town days that he was the main attraction when it came to putting bums on seats, and football club directors knew it, other wise why would they pay for the very best players to enhance their football clubs. After all nobody said “I can’t wait for Saturday to see the left back play”. Trevor knew as a center forward he had a certain cache that clubs would pay for. Problem was in the eyes of the football authorities everybody got their £20 a week and that was their lot. In truth this was never going to work, nor did it. It insults our intelligence to think that a young 17 year old at Wolverhampton Wanderers would be paid the same £20 per week Wolves and England captain Billy Wright would get or would another 17 year old at Preston North End get the same as Legend Tom Finney. The answer is obviously no. The reality was that your Billy Wrights and Tom Finney’s were, like every other top player given various gifts that would make their stay at a club more confortable. The players knew what was going on and so did the Directors. But it took strong individuals like Trevor to stand up for change in the game whilst others kept silent.

    trevor-ford-3 Greats reunited at the Vetch, Swansea. Trevor and Ivor Allchurch hold up their favourite shirts. (c. Trevor Ford, Amberley Publishing)

    This resulted in a stronger PFA who were able to negotiate an end to the maximum wage and the ability for players to be in control of their own contracts. Trevor’s subsequence confrontations with authorities tarnished him with the tag of being “trouble” and not one to touch in terms of bringing to a club, yet his goal scoring record sits alongside any of the greats in the game past or present. The most damming of part of his career being his treatment by the Welsh FA with them not taking him to Sweden as part of the Welsh 1958 World cup squad. A decision that saw many Welsh selectors flex their muscles towards Trevor, making sure they taught him a lesson for what they deemed as embarrassing the organization rather than do what was the best thing for the country. It panned out the lack of preparation and amateurish attitude by the Welsh FA in the finals reconfirmed that many of the so-called “selectors” should never have been within 100 yards of running a football team in the first place.

    During the research for the book I was honored too meet Trevor’s son David who gave his support to the project. David’s honesty and enthusiasm to tell his fathers story, warts and all has been a real driving force of the book and I know that he has allowed me too share with you, the reader everything about his father and the Ford family. David allowed me the chance to see Trevor the man whilst numerous ex colleagues allowed me the chance to see Trevor the player and I will always be thankful to them for that.

    So for me the idea of taking just a name from my childhood memories and turning it into a book about what I believe to be one of the most influential footballers the game has produced has been a labour of love and one which I hope you will enjoy through the pages of this book.

    9781445640563

    Neil Palmer's new book Trevor Ford: The Authorised Biography is available for purchase now.

  • Rugby Union Memorabilia by Phil Atkinson

    OBSERVED OR OBTAINED: OLD ‘OVAL’ OFFERINGS & ODDITIES …….

    There were two reasons why I was particularly delighted to be asked by Amberley to write the short introduction to Rugby Union Memorabilia which was published in September. One was that I had long wished to attempt such a volume, the other that it would be the first, and much-needed, such look at the world of collecting the fifteen-a-side game’s wide range of interesting items.

    rugby-union-memorabilia-1 Games between Wales, England & Scotland, home and away, early twentieth century. (c. Tim Auty, Rugby Union Memorabilia, Amberley Publishing)

    It is perhaps fitting that it emerged just after the 2015 Rugby World Cup, held in England: an event which underlined the spread and popularity of the sport, with two million fans at the stadia and a global TV audience very many times that. At the same time another rugby record-breaker arose - nearly £200,000 being paid at auction for a 1905 NZ All Black jersey!

    Yet no-one to our knowledge had yet put into print and picture a survey of those jerseys, caps, cups, programmes, prints, photographs, autographs, cards, stamps, badges, medals, trophies, ceramics, books, archived records, ephemera and whatever else might evoke a nostalgia for and encapsulate the development of the game.

    Football of the Association variety, Cricket, Golf and to an extent Tennis have had their sample artefacts and accessories recorded: now the handling code which was allegedly born at Rugby School nearly two centuries back has seen a start on a similar process. The book briefly outlines the field, from Victorian kit and cigarette cards through flimsy first images and programmes and early Lions' and Colonials' tours to the 'merchandise' of the professional era.

    rugby-union-memorabilia-2 (c. Rugby Union Memorabilia, Amberley Publishing)

    With strict word and picture limits the problem – as is so often the case – was more about what to leave out, rather than what to include. My own collection and my connections within and/or due to the Rugby Memorabilia Society, whose ‘Touchlines’ magazine I edit, have helped provide a wide variety of information and illustrations, many not generally available. I have tried to show the novice collector how comparatively easy it is to begin - and indeed, to build up quite a mass of material relatively cheaply in the first place.

    ‘It’s not just programmes’ is one of our regular refrains, and indeed my own fancy has grown from those early reminders of games seen, heard or read about to focus more recently on the easier-to-store cigarette, trade and post cards with a rugby connection, and old rugby prints. Friends swear by their own interests, too, and I have tried, however concisely, to mention their many various sectors as listed above!

    It’s a matter of taste, of course, but another of the ‘anthems’ of ‘us anoraks’ is to dismiss much of the current corporately-produced club and country merchandise as not being true memorabilia. Pre-signed, pre-framed, prepared items cannot produce the same frisson as the actual jersey, say, muddied or washed, from a notable game and player. Some like them signed, some like them not: it’s up to you and, of course, the original owner.

    rugby-union-memorabilia-3 Four Nations jerseys, 1955 and 1959 (c.Bryn Meredith, Rugby Union Memorabilia, Amberley Publishing)

    They, especially the older school, often have no concept of the importance placed on ‘their’ items by those of us stricken by the collecting/preserving/recording bug. Recently I helped organise the sale of the memorabilia of the great Bryn Meredith, Newport, Wales and three-times British Lion tourist 1955-1962.

    Marvellous gentleman Bryn, now 86, found it hard to credit that many were prepared to bid and battle for his jerseys, badges, socks(!), balls and other material from his stellar, pre-professional, pre-payments, pre-eBay career. He was particularly amused to learn that the Welsh Rugby Union, bastions of (sh)amateurism and strict expenses in his day, had now paid substantial sums for some of his items!

    rugby-union-memorabilia-4 (c. Rugby Union Memorabilia, Amberley Publishing)

    We in turn were shocked to find that these magnificently-evocative mementoes had been stored somewhat haphazardly in Bryn’s ancient touring suitcase in his garage. It reminded some of our members of their stories of horror or salvation when contents of Clubs, attics and archives have been saved from the skip at the last moment – or, sadly, sometimes not.

    Individual contacts, auctions real or ‘virtual’, collectors’ fairs, dealers there or online, car boot sales, and diligent delving: these are the methods by which your small scalpings may grow into great gatherings of rugby relics.

    Cost? Well, each to his or her own, but more recent material is cheap and there’s always a bargain to be had, if less frequently than of yore. However, at the top end of the market, material from between the wars or particularly pre-WW1 commands a considerable premium. Thus it was that a year ago that a world record for a single rugby item was not just beaten but demolished. The previous high was around £20,000 and indeed, the Cardiff auctioneers entrusted with the item expected only £20k to £40k for it. However, with interest from Down Under as well as premier British sports collector Nigel Wray, owner of Saracens Rugby Club, bidding soared to £180,000 hammer price plus considerable costs before Mr Wray won.

    rugby-union-memorabilia-6 1905 'Originals' record-breaking £180,000 jersey. (c.Rogers Jones Auctions, Rugby Union Memorabilia, Amberley Publishing)

    The jersey was an icon from an icon. Dave Gallaher, Irish born captain of the ground-breaking ‘Original’ 1905 All Black tourists to the British Isles, twice lied about his age to assist Britain in conflict: exaggerating it to fight in the Boer war, then ‘reducing’ it to do so on the Western Front in the First World War. There he fell in 1917.

    He had exchanged jerseys with Wales’ skipper Gwyn Nicholls after the epic and controversial 3-0 Welsh win, perhaps the most famous rugby match ever. Nicholls later gave it to a young worker at his laundry business, and decades later that family must have been as amazed as was auctioneer Ben Rogers Jones as the famous black jersey ‘cleaned up’.

    A number of families and clubs have since sought to cash in, without huge success due to the unique circumstances of the ‘Gallaher Garment’. Some of the jerseys ‘liberated’ from Club or family cabinet’s revealed one of the drawbacks of long such display: the faded front which has seen value, as well as dye, leak away.

    So, if you or yours are lucky enough to have, or to find, something old and related to the oval code, hang on to it. Get advice, store it or display it with great care. (Or sell it to me or my fellow members!)

    You can join the Rugby Memorabilia Society via Membership Sec., 21, Coulson Close, Newport NP20 2RQ or go to www.rugby-memorabilia.co.uk

    9781445657493

    Phil Atkinson's new book Rugby Union Memorabilia is available for purchase now.

  • Stack Stevens: Cornwall's Rugby Legend by Steve Tomlin

    As the stories emerge of Britain’s medal-winning heroes and heroines returning from the Rio Olympics a common theme has been the self-sacrifice, weary of hours of travel, grinding training routines yet that they still emerged retaining an engaging joy in their chosen sport, modesty and sportsmanship.

    stack-stevens-1 Lineout at Coventry. Alvin Williams jumps for the ball with Stack and Bonzo Johns behind him eager to help (Stack Stevens, Amberley Publishing)

    Forty years ago life was very much tougher still. Rugby Union in England was then a totally amateur sport even at the very highest level and was characterised by public and grammar school young men who were at (or had been to) an Oxbridge college, training in a London medical school or serving as young officers in the Armed Forces. The top clubs carried all the kudos and were generally centred around London and the Midlands with a few outposts like Bristol and Leeds. England teams consisted almost entirely from that somewhat narrow pool of talent.

    Brian ‘Stack’ Stevens left school just after his fifteenth birthday to work seventy hours a week on his father’s farm which was situated in a remote village in the far Southwest tip of the country in West Cornwall just a few miles from Land’s End. His village school had played no real organised sport let alone rugby and he was sixteen before he was introduced to his first game for his local Young Farmers Club.

    stack-stevens-2 Meeting the Queen before England play a President's XV at Twickenham, 1971 (Stack Stevens, Amberley Publishing)

    Cornwall has frequently been described as a ‘hotbed of rugby’ and certainly the local towns and villages always followed the game keenly especially when the Cornwall team took the field in the County Championship and this was the only tiny crack in the door when an England selector might just take some notice. Furthermore, living in the far-flung locality of Penzance in the depths of winter - long before the motorway system had been completed - was a massive challenge just to get the chance of playing at the top level. On many occasions he would hitch a ride through the night to a senior match or a squad training session on a broccoli lorry heading for Covent Garden.

    His story is how he overcame all this, often in the face of a dominant father who wanted him on the farm 24/7 to finally emerge as one of the leading lights of the England team. Moreover, this team was one which defeated South Africa and New Zealand on their own home soil for the very first time in history and indeed he scored one of the tries in the triumph over the All Blacks in their own back yard. He held his place for five years, was called out to New Zealand to join the 1971 British Lions in what is still their only series victory in that rugby-crazy country and then had to refuse a second Lions tour three years later due to his crushing farming commitments.

    stack-stevens-3 Going over for a historic try in Auckland with Ian Hurst (13) and Sid Going (9) unable to do a thing about it (Stack Stevens, Amberley Publishing)

    This book covers all the twists and turns, highs and lows, triumphs and setbacks of a remarkable rugby player which took place in the face of anti-apartheid demonstrations, IRA death threats and a near miss from being involved in a major fatal air crash. Above all this was achieved with an irrepressible sense of fun and enjoyment of the game for its own sake. Thus the book is littered with dozens of hilarious anecdotes from an age in rugby which has probably now gone for ever.

    His courage is now being put to the test even more in recent years by his contracting a debilitating neurological condition which has made normal speech impossible. Hence this book has been written largely through the eyes of his contemporaries many of whom were the very top rugby stars of that era who not only admired him as a rugby player but clearly loved him as a person.

    His was one hell of a journey!

    9781445652917

    Steve Tomlin's new book Stack Stevens; Cornwall's Rugby Legend is available for purchase now.

  • Ryan Giggs Fifty Defining Fixtures by Tony Matthews

    Ryan Giggs, OBE, was born in Cardiff on 29 November 1973 and made his senior debut for Manchester United in 1990. He became a first team regular at Old Trafford during the 1991-92 season and went on to score 168 goals in more than 960 competitive games for the club, as well as gaining 64 caps for Wales and playing in four Olympic Games matches for GB, before retiring (as a player) in 2014.

    Ryan Giggs pic 1 Ryan Giggs in action during the friend;y match between Singha All Star XI and Manchester United at Rajamangala Stadium on 13th July 2013 in Thailand (mooinblack/shutterstock.com)

    Renowned for his tireless running, ball control, ability to create chances and scoring goals, he is one of the most decorated players in British football history, and during his playing days, he helped United win 13 Premiers League titles, the FA Cup four times, the League Cup on three occasions and the Champions League twice, as well as collecting several runner’s-up prizes.

    The first footballer in history to win two consecutive PFA Young Player of the Year awards (in 1992 and 1993), he was also named PFA Player of the Year in 2009 and is the only player to score in every Premier League season, starting in 1992-93

    Chosen in the PFA Team of the Century in 2007, the Premier League Team of the Decade in 2003 and the FA Cup Team of the Century, he was, being the youngest player to represent his country (Wales) when making his debut in 1991, and he captained Team GB at the 2012 London Olympics

    Made an OBE in 2007 for his services to English football, he was named BBC Sports Personality of the Year in 2009 and in January 2011, was voted Manchester United's greatest ever player.

    Ryan Giggs pic 2 Ryan Giggs, again during the Singha All Star XI v. Manchester United friendly at Rajamangala Stadium (mooinblack/Shutterstock.com)

    After acting briefly as United’s interim manager at the end of the 2013-14 season, he was subsequently appointed as Louis van Gaal’s assistant (May 2014) and is also co-owner (with some of his former Manchester united team-mates) of non-League club, Salford City.

    Ex-Ajax Amsterdam, CF Barcelona and Holland legend Johan Cruyff said: "Eric Cantona was a great player, but he was not as good as Ryan Giggs."

    To choose fifty out of the 1,000 plus football matches Ryan has played in was mighty tough… I can tell you that for nothing. In fact, 200 who have been hard going, even 100, but to narrow it down to just fifty was nigh on impossible. But with the help of some diehard supporters I got there in the end and although I know for sure that I have upset a few people simply for not including their ‘favourite’ match, I just hope that the ones I have reported on, bring back some find memories.

    9781445646787

    Tony Matthew's Ryan Giggs Fifty Defining Fixtures is available for purchase now.

  • Don Kenyon His Own Man by Tim Jones

    Don Kenyon was a ’leader of champions and a champion of leaders’ for good reason; he was his own man and did things his own way.

    Known as ‘Braddy’ at school - like Don Bradman - he would bat for long periods without getting out. He still holds the record as the youngest player to score a century in the Birmingham League first division aged just 14.

    For 19 seasons he scored over 1,000 runs and captained Worcestershire’s first championship winning side in 1964, (retaining the title in its centenary year of 1965). He remains the record holder with 589 appearances and 34,490 runs for the County.

    Elected to the Test selection panel while still a player, he fearlessly supported the inclusion of Basil D’Oliveira for the Tour to South Africa in 1968/69, the outcome of which ultimately led to their sporting exclusion.

    It was in the ‘Kenyon Room’ at Worcester – named after him – where he died in 1996 just as he was about to show a video of Worcestershire’s World Tour from 1965. He died as he lived his life, surrounded by cricketing friends and family.

    ‘His Own Man’ details the life of a devoted family man who did everything within his capabilities to provide for them. It was this devotion which drove him to be the best in his chosen profession.

    ‘His Own Man’ asks the question why one of the outstanding batsman of his generation did not play more Test cricket? Both team mates and opponents provide opinion. What made Don such an outstanding captain and leader of men? Former players give an insight into what ‘made him tick.’

    ‘His Own Man’ celebrates the back-to-back triumphs in the County Championship, looks in detail at the joyous World Tour of 1965 (supported by rare archive material) plus the disappointment of agonisingly missing out on a third consecutive Championship title in 1966.

    His Own Man’ covers Don’s three year term as Worcestershire President which coincided with the return of the glory years in the late 1980’s when the likes of Ian Botham and Graeme Hick were in their pomp.

    9781445647562

    Tim Jones book Don Kenyon His Own Man is available for purchase now.

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