|Fitting that Jimmy Robson won the Supporters Clubs Special Award|
It was a halftime announcement during one particularly drab game that set me thinking one weekend. This one was asking for a ‘somebody Cockroft’ to report to the nearest steward.
Anyway… Cockroft… the name rang a bell… and slowly I remembered… I used to have a pal called Ed Cockroft and as the mists of time cleared, it all began to come back… the school sixth form, the lower sixth, a last, final 12 months of just having a good time, no worries about exams just yet, no thoughts of what to do with the rest of your life. Dave Brubeck was the hero for a group of us who loved jazz, the lyrical sweetness of sax player Paul Desmond, the miraculous drumming of Joe Morello. He toured the UK in the early sixties and we were there at the Manchester Free Trade Hall and after the concert we hung around; then when Brubeck ambled back onto the stage when the Hall was empty we went up to speak to him, and the great man spoke to us. Morello arrived to start dismantling his small kit. No drum technicians in those days or great ridiculous arrays of drums that the modern Rock drummer just hammers into submission. Desmond leaned against the stage door smoking. We were in seventh heaven. This was the last carefree year.
Things were still very much black and white in Todmorden but there was a sort of solid comfort in that. The smallness of the place was enveloping. Everybody knew everyone else. It was a ‘safe’ place; nothing exciting happened but then nothing dangerous either. Ed Cockroft had a car and that was useful; trips to the Stock Car Racing at Manchester, the pictures in Burnley, football at Turf Moor, pubs up on the Moors for a drink.
Nearer home, Jimmy Adamson in the summer of ’62 would be assistant England manager at the end of a season when Burnley won nothing but admirers. Maybe they would have done the double but in the final games of the season Jimmy McIlroy hardly played a game and wins became so elusive for the team that until March seemed destined for lasting fame.
I only ever had good memories of the last two years at school and played hooky just once. But it was in a worthy cause and I did have my parents’ blessing. How could they refuse given the occasion, and given half the chance my father, the description Dickensian was made for him, would have done the same too except that he was on the other side of a desk, the Deputy Head in a little primary school in Todmorden.
The occasion was Cup Final weekend in 62 and seeing as how my pal Ed’s brother was a rookie doctor in London, not that we cared that he was a rookie, what we cared about was that he had a flat where we could stay on Friday and Saturday night. I even remember his brother’s name – Gerald – which in a one street place like Todmorden we all thought was frightfully posh in those days, but then his dad (and Ed’s) did own a cotton mill, although with the economy being what it was in those days it wouldn’t be a cotton mill much longer.
But the Cup Final: We caught the steam train from Todmorden to Manchester and just out of interest Tod station was where many an embryonic Burnley footballer landed and was met by Albert Maddox. “Is this Burnley?” they would ask, askance, to which Albert I like to think replied, “Good God no lad, Burnley ho ho, is even worse than this.”
Then it was change stations in Manchester in an age when a railway station really was a place of noise, bustle and excitement and the station buffet sold what we called ‘station slab cake’ a cake so inedible it was only edible if you dunked it in your tea and seeing as the tea too was almost undrinkable it was a foolish person who bought either of them. And when we got in our carriage, old-fashioned corridor type, and settled in our seats, the only occupants thus far, a small, frail, old chap arrived. He looked as though a gust of sudden wind would blow him over and he wore a suit with a waistcoat and tie and carried a raincoat over his arm. He looked so aged and lined but we didn’t stare – much. And the train departed and it must have become clear to this little old man that we were on our way to the Cup Final. ‘Up fer the cup,’ as they said in those distant days.
He spoke. Being Grammar School lads and consequently polite and courteous, we listened attentively as he told us that he had once played in a Cup Final and he too was going to Wembley again. Then he pulled back his jacket and revealed a medal on a chain around the front of the waistcoat and said that he had once played in a Cup Final.
In truth I just don’t think the penny dropped with us two lads. The callowness of youth I suppose, the indifference of the teenage adolescent years. Had our fathers been there they would no doubt have knelt at the feet of this elderly man but Ed and I just smiled and muttered polite platitudes which today might be translated as “oh yeh.”
To this day I have felt a deep sense of shame at this missed opportunity to commune with the past, for there in front of us was a living Burnley legend, in the flesh, just the three of us in the carriage all the way to London and I doubt we spoke again. I think back and wonder which of them was still alive and well in 62 – Mosscrop, Nesbit, Freeman? Which one was it, Halley, Boyle or Watson? Ed and I didn’t know, we never even asked his name, and when we got off the train, this small, frail, slight man disappeared into the smoke and steam until all that was left was a grey moving shape and then that too disappeared just as a ghost might vanish into another world. Was he upset, I wonder, that we had been so indifferent, or did he just think to himself that this is the problem of old age; nobody cares.
The game, a blur really, funnily enough the most significant memory is that of seeing the bloke next to us pee into his beer bottle and then carefully place it by his feet at half time. God forbid somebody found it after the game and thought ‘ah ha liquid refreshment, that looks nice.’ Funny the things we remember. 40 years on I can’t remember a thing about the game except that we were miles away at one end behind the goals. Now we see snippets of the game on videos and I watch and yes it brings back the hazy memory of Jimmy Robson scoring but bugger all else. Perhaps that’s because we lost and you consign these things to the dustbin bit of memory.
The evening was spent with Gerald and his girlfriend, a nurse, what else? And in those days there used to be a very well known and illustrious restaurant called Simpson’s. And thus we went to Simpson’s for our tea. Well no, you call it dinner don’t you but to a cobbled street Tod lad like me we called it tea even if it was as late as 7.30. And this was my first ever taste of dinner in a plush restaurant. Schoolteacher my father might have been but since when has a schoolteacher ever been well paid and dined in fine restaurants. This then was a first sighting of waiters in uniform, with starched aprons, and smug speech and condescending manner. Some of them I’d guess had been there since Edwardian days. This was the first sighting of ranks of cutlery enough in my place alone for three people. At Simpson’s you had beef but I can’t remember if we had Yorkshire Pudding because in those days the world didn’t stop at Watford, it stopped at Islington and anything further north than that was akin to falling off the edge of the world. Anyway the beef was the easy bit once you’d sorted out the cutlery but prior to tucking in God did I blot my copybook. We had wine, another first, and Gerald knew exactly what to do but gauche clumsy David did not. A smarmy waiter poured out a tiny taste for Gerald to sample and swig except that I didn’t know that was what happened, so as soon as he had put a quarter of an inch of the stuff in Gerald’s glass, and Gerald hadn’t even had a quick rinse and slurp, David thrusts out his glass and loudly announces bold as brass, “Yes ah’ll ‘ave sum er’ that please.” There was a shocked hush. They all looked at me. I swear the whole bloody restaurant looked.
“What,” I said nonplussed, like Peter Kay does in that advert in the Indian restaurant. “What?”
In the long silence with the waiter shocked and Gerald aghast, I withdrew my glass knowing I had committed some great sin but having no idea what it might be, until Gerald, wine expert extraordinaire, Tod lad made good, pronounced the stuff acceptable. The waiter filled his glass and I learned my first lesson in fine dining.
Years later I came across a newspaper piece about the ’62 Cup Final. I was scrolling through three or four years of old Todmorden Advertiser newspapers on microfilm in the library. I spotted a headline at the top of a column, 1914 FA Cup Veteran. To my astonishment it was all about Billy Nesbit, and that he had been born in Todmorden, something I never knew. At the date of the article he was 70 and there he was pictured with his niece ready to set off for the Cup Final by train. He played 99 games for Burnley and was a member of the great side that won the title in 1921. His pay in the early ‘20s was £4 a week. Was it little Billy on that train? Maybe it was. I’ll never know.
So, The Cup Final of 62, Spurs 3 Burnley 1, was memorable but alas for the wrong reasons. I met a Burnley immortal on the train and have no idea who it was and still remember that ghostly shape disappearing into the mist; it was almost eerie, Harry Potter-like and I wonder now if ghost is what it was. And then for an encore I upset the maitre de wine at Simpson’s Restaurant.
Ed Cockroft and I left school and went our separate ways. Two young lads grew up and grew old, but still love Burnley FC. Ed must have somehow got wind of where I live in Leeds, because quite out of the blue he once phoned a few weeks before Christmas. We talked for an age of this and that, of school, and life and of course the thing that bonded us together then and still does now – the Clarets.
“I still remember that weekend in London,” I said. “Wasn’t it great?”
“I’ve often wondered who that old bloke was on the train,” said Ed.
“Me too,” I replied.
“Can’t remember much about the game,” he said.
“Me neither, and by the way how’s Gerald? I asked.
Ed thought for a moment before replying. “Fraid he died a few years ago, but he never forgot you upsetting the wine waiter at Simpson’s. Can’t remember a bloody thing about the game but I’ve never forgotten you and that wine. Funny the things we remember after all these years.”
I can proudly say now that I saw Jimmy Robson score Burnley’s goal in that Cup Final. It was fifty years ago. How fitting he was given a special award at the 2012 Supporters’ Awards Evening. . One by one those heroes are passing away. We should treasure them all. They are the immortals.