Archive for December, 2014

The Best Football X1 from Players I saw Live.

Thursday, December 18th, 2014

I lived in Swansea for two thirds of my life, and apart from two seasons in the early eighties, I didn’t see many players from the Premiership or the old First Division. However, I did manage to see a couple of games in London featuring Man Utd vs Crystal Palace, and Spurs vs Leicester. From only two games I was fortunate to see Best, Charlton, Law, Tony Dunne, Nobby Stiles, Gordon Banks, Pat Jennings, Dave Mackay, Mike England and the incomparable Jimmy Greaves. I later travelled to the Welsh capital to watch Cardiff City vs West Ham in a league cup tie, and marveled at three World Cup winners on display: Bobby Moore, Martin Peters and Geoff Hurst.

I first witnessed Ivor Allchurch playing for Newcastle United against the Swans in a Second Division match in 1962. He was 32 years old by then and his powers were waning slightly. Nevertheless he was the best player on the park gliding contemptuously around the field and he scored a superlative goal from a free kick  curling the ball around the defensive wall into the top corner of the net.

Ivor eventually returned to the Swans several years later, and I remember him playing against Arsenal in the 3rd round of the FA Cup at the age of 38. There was no fairy tale ending as Ian Ure and Terry Neill attempted to kick him off the park, and Arsenal won 1-0 with a goal from Bobby Gould who was not good enough to lick Ivor’s boots.

Any attempts to select the best eleven players I saw live has to give serious consideration to nine of England’s World Cup winning team I was lucky to see play: Gordon Banks, Bobby Moore, Jack Charlton, Nobby Stiles, Ray Wilson, Bobby Chartlton, Martin Peters, Roger Hunt, and Geoff Hurst. Players who won the World Cup reached the summit 0f their profession which was no mean feat considering it’s the only time England has won the World Cup (1966.) Alan Ball and George Cohen were the two members of the team I failed to catch up with.

Most of the live games I saw naturally included Swansea Town/ City, and the team comprised some very good players over the years. One of my favorites was Mel Nurse who had two spells with the team, and proved to be a very commanding centre half and leader. There were others: Alan Curtis, Robbie James, Herbie Williams, Graham “Flicka”Williams, Roy Evans, Harry Griffiths, Len Allchurch, Derek Draper, Jimmy McLaughlin, John Toshack to name but a few.

Some of the opposing teams also comprised some very good players who were household names at the time: Charlie Hurley and Johnny Crossan (Sunderland,) Ian St John, Roger Hunt and Ron Yeats (Liverpool,) Brian Clough and Alan Peacock (Middlesb0rough,)  Paul Reaney, Billy Bremner, Norman Hunter and Peter Lorimer (Leeds,)and Bill Punton of Norwich City; the first bald-headed footballer I saw.

I’m picking a squad of 23 players initially:

Goalkeepers: Gordon Banks, Pat Jennings, and Noel Dwyer.

Defenders: Mike England, Mel Nurse,  Bobby Moore, Ray Wilson, Tony Dunne, Roy Evans, and Steve Nicol.

Midfield: Dave Mackay, Bobby Charlton, Martin Peters, Robbie James,  Ivor Allchurch, Ossie Ardiles, and Glenn Hoddle

Forwards: Ian Rush, Jimmy Greaves, Denis Law, George Best, Alan Curtis and Alan Gizean.

My Team in 4-4-2 formation:

Gordon Banks: as safe as the Bank of England. No frills; he simply commanded his penalty box. World Cup winner. Who can forget his magnificent save to foil Pele in the World Cup of 1970?

Tony Dunne: an attacking fullback who knew his defensive responsibilities.

Mel Nurse: a pillar of strength and a leader of men

Bobby Moore: Captain of England’s World Cup winning team and a legend. His anticipation and reading of the game was second to none. It was a travesty he was never knighted.

Ray Wilson: tough tackling fullback who filled Boot Hill with his victims. World Cup winner, and ironically became an undertaker.

George Best: a wizard with the ball at his feet. One of the top six players in any generation.

Bobby Charlton: World Cup Winner; the creator and scorer of spectacular goals and master of the comb over.

Dave Mackay: a hard man with no mean skill. Recovered from two broken legs and returned successfully to top flight football.

Martin Peters: Ghosted into attacking positions like a latter day Jacob Marley, and another World Cup winner.

Ivor Allchurch: Brazil players voted him the best inside forward (No 10 in modern idiom) at the 1958 World Cup. My dad and my Uncle Alec considered him the best thing on two legs (including their wives!)

Ian Rush: a prolific goal scorer, link man, and the inventor of strikers defending from the front.

Substitutes: Pat Jennings, Steve Nicol, Mike England, Robbie James, Jimmy Greaves, and Denis Law.

Jimmy Greaves and Denis Law are unlucky to miss selection, but Ivor was a special player. Mike England should have the vote over Mel Nurse, but Mel became a good friend of mine and I guess I’m guilty of nepotism.

One final footnote: Ivor Allchurch and Mel Nurse were unlucky to be transferred to two mediocre teams. Ivor was idolized at Newcastle but they were unfortunately relegated to the second division during his spell at the club. Mel was sold to Middlesborough when there was a possibility he could have been transferred to Manchester United. What a difference that move would have made to his career.


A Wine Club Dinner in a Mailbox.

Tuesday, December 2nd, 2014

I have just returned from visiting my children and grand children in the UK. I missed some of the food over there and I took advantage of having kippers for breakfast (only once,) a splendid carvery  at a bargain price in Totnes, and  a liver and bacon casserole in The Old Inn, Widdicombe, Dartmoor. For my last night I plumped for a whole plaice (bones et al) which while very tasty tested my dexterity at maneuvering around the umpteen bones.

I didn’t realize that my stomach would react so ferociously to British culinary delights which I happily grew up with. Possibly it’s the march of time that’s taken its toll on my digestive system because it is 18 years since I emigrated to the USA. I was looking forward to making a Madras curry when I arrived home which may sound like a misnomer, but I’ve been eating curries from the age of 21. Swansea is regarded as the curry capital of the world, and there must be at least 60 Indian restaurants in the Swansea area. It may have something to do with the water or the  Welsh and Indian accents being very similar.

We hadn’t been home but for a few days when we were on our way to the bi-monthly wine club dinner. We enjoyed a baker’s dozen (13) in the club until one couple decided they could not cope with the various international cuisines that members were inspired to make. Their unique contribution to the menu was a spam casserole which consisted of two ingredients: spam and ketchup. The writing was on the wall when a few members complained of feeling very nauseas the next day.

We were back on an even keel, and the forthcoming dinner was of the Thai variety which I like very much.  The wine club is confined to our neighborhood so the drive isn’t a long one. Unfortunately the driveway to our hosts’ house is very steep and winding. To those familiar with Swansea it was tantamount to driving to the top of Kilvey Hill. For our international travelers, it favored the famous” zig-zag” Lombard Street  in San Francisco. Half way up the driveway one would encounter a formidable tree which would play an active role in later proceedings. Despite my pleadings my wife insisted we parked the car at the top of the drive near the front door. Heaven forbid we derive exercise climbing the steep gradient.

It is an eclectic group of people, but for some odd reason four of the eleven no longer drink wine. It was a mildly enjoyable evening and light hearted conversation filled the air. The food and wine were very palatable and members had made an effort with their pairings. What on earth do you pair with spam casserole you may well ask, rot gut?

Our evenings don’t go gently into the darkest night. They are usually over by 9.30pm when members begin to drift away. I don’t drive very well in the dark, but my wife didn’t relish reversing her car down the driveway and suggested one of the hostesses undertake the task for us.

At this point my male ego went into overdrive and I practically screamed out: “I’m a professional driver (which I am since I work part-time as a driver,) and I’m taking this baby down.” All well and good when you haven’t imbibed in copious amounts of wine particularly when you are making up a shortfall of 4 members.

I gave the impending obstacle a once over and discerned there were two bends to negotiate one of which was adjacent to the formidable tree. Very slowly and carefully I backed down the driveway cognizant of the formidable tree. It seemed like an eternity, but I miraculously reversed around the bends and mercifully avoided the tree. I was home and dry save for  a harmless little curve  egressing onto the highway which I failed to notice.

I triumphantly backed straight onto what I deduced as the highway and suddenly heard a sickening crunch. I immediately braked and pulled forward with the attention of  heading for home and sanctuary. Then I glanced in the rearview mirror and noticed the hostesses’ mail box lying prostrate on the ground. (For non-Americans  most houses have a free standing mail box situated on the road frontage. It comprises a wooden post approximately 4-5 feet high and a metal mail box sits on top of it.) I thought no problem; lean it back up and away to go. Unfortunately the post had snapped in two (hence the crunch,) and the box was badly dented.

I tried pushing the top half of the post into the ground, but it stood only 3 feet tall; good enough perhaps for a hobbit but unacceptable for the US Mail Service. Following a series of groveling apologies, we gave the bemused hostesses a cheque for $60 to pay for a suitable replacement, and my assurance not to interfere with reconstruction. My wife’s car, which is a sturdy Crown Victoria, was unscathed with barely a scratch.

Moral of the story……take a taxi. It’s cheaper!!!!