Decent Obscurity

Although I can’t remember a year where I’ve been paying less attention, it seems a shame to let the climax of the football season pass without mention.  So here is a report from the Harborough Mail‘s Football Correspondent Alec Swann (he also doubles up as one of the Northants Telegraph‘s (very good) Cricket Correspondents and would, perhaps, in a less celebrity-obsessed world, stand at least as much chance as his brother of appearing on TMS).

The Corsetmen have spent the entire season rooted to the foot of the table but have, at the last minute, performed a Houdini act to escape relegation from the Premier Division of the United Counties League to the First Division (there is no Second Division).  I’m pleased to say that Manager Gordon Kyle, unlike some of his more eminent contemporaries, is a stranger to braggadaccio:

“Our aim was always to finish at the top of the bottom three and we managed to achieve that.  Next year we’re looking for mid-table obscurity.”

Decent obscurity

And here, as a bonus, is a Spot the Ball competition (First Prize a Postal Order for 10 Shillings).  Struggling against relegation, Harborough are 2-0 down in their last home match of the season and their no 5 is through on goal in the last 10 minutes …

Spot the ball


Summer well, muddied oafs …


Fortuna Imperatrix Mundi

I’m looking forward to reading Ed Smith’s new book ‘Luck : what it means and why it matters”, which has been getting some very complimentary reviews (I know this because I follow his Twitter account and he’s been retweeting them all).  

On the subject of luck, I happened to be flicking through the News of the World & Empire News (two Great British institutions that have seen better days there)Two-in-One Football Annual for 1961-62

when I came across this –

I’m not sure whether this is an example of a lucky or a very unlucky juxtaposition of advert and text.  If you can’t read it, on the left we see Days of Disaster – taking in the Munich Air Disaster, the Bolton and Ibrox Disasters (in which 33 and 25 spectators died respectively) and Derek Dooley’s Misfortune (a broken leg leading to amputation).

It also, topically, lists various players who have died in the course of a game – John Thompson, the Celtic and Scotland goalkeeper (fractured skull); S. Raleigh of Gillingham (concussion); James S. Thorpe, the Sunderland goalkeeper (diabetes) and two players killed during the Army Cup Final replay at Aldershot in 1948 (lightning).

Under the heading Curiosity S. Wynne is noted as having scored two goals for each side, although he too later died during a match (cause unknown).

On the right (as some kind of prophylactic against this terrible wave of bad luck) Solomon’s Seal.  The Seal was “carried by three First Dividend winners in the Treble Chance … Beautifully GOLD PLATED this exquisite piece of jewellery also adds a magic touch of glamour to women of all ages … Men usually carry it in a pocket.  Until recently SOLOMON’S SEAL was made in solid gold only for twelve guineas, but leading soccer stars and their wives have been delighted with the new beautiful GOLD-PLATED creation.

SOLOMON’S SEAL is said to attract GOOD LUCK like a magnet.  PROVE IT with this GOOD LUCK TEST.  Look at it … hold it … make a wish.  If you do not enjoy GOOD LUCK within seven days, send it back, and I will refund your money AT ONCE!  Would I dare to give this GOOD LUCK GUARANTEE if I doubted the powers of SOLOMON’ SEAL?”

Newspapers like the News of the World, and magazines such as Reveille and Tit-Bits, used to be full of adverts for good luck charms of this kind (Lucky Leprechauns, the Jesus and Mary Chain and the like), usually in connection with the football pools.  Whether anyone really believed that they worked I don’t know, but they do, at least, represent an acknowledgement of the role of luck in human affairs, as opposed to the denial that Smith identifies in the complexities of risk management and financial technical analysis.

“Denying the existence of luck appeals to the basic human urge to control everything – a neurosis that affects almost every aspect of our lives. It is difficult to accept that we are all, to some degree, victims and beneficiaries of circumstance.”

Not that the scientific approach was unknown to the readers of the News of the World Annual. If only Lehmann Brothers had had acccess to CEDRIC – the wonder draw-forecasting electronic brain!  

Twilight Of The Bones

“All the culture that is most truly native centres round things which even when they are communal are not official – the pub, the football match, the back garden, the fireside and the ‘nice cup of tea’.” G. Orwell – England, Your England

Since the football club that I support moved to a ground that is inaccessible by public transport, I have been spending my Saturday afternoons watching a mixture of sides in the United Counties League – Harborough, Desborough, the Rothwell Corinthians, but mostly Rothwell Town (“the Bones”).

But, as the sign above illustrates, it looks like I shall have one less option for next season – or, at least, if the club survives, they won’t be playing at their long-time home at Cecil Street.

The club was founded (as “The Swifts”) in 1895, and have spent time in the Northamptonshire League, the Leicestershire League and the Kettering League, as well as the U.C.L.. Their highest point was achieved between 1997 and 2000, when they played in the Premier Division of the Southern League.

The financing of football clubs (like the naming of cats) is a mysterious business, and I’m not sure of the precise reasons for Rothwell’s decline.  There are suggestions of extravagence and over-ambition during the boom years – as the manager wrote in the programme notes recently –

“It’s well known we have been struggling of late, but all those players of the past who earned good money from £40-£150 a week at times at Rothwell FC in a high standard not one as said I will come and help you after all you did give me the chance to play Southern League football.  Apart from one – Mick Tolton.” 

More generally, the decision to allow Sky to broadcast live football has, as predicted, hit attendances at matches hard.  Not at the level of the Premier League, of course, but lower down the leagues.  (The ban on the televising of live matches now seems to belong to the era of Retail Price Maintenance and half-day early closing – and none the worse for that, in my view.)

Clubs at this level are very much clubs (in the sense of social clubs) with any revenue generated at the gate as a bonus, and have been hit by the same blights that have affected other Working Men’s Clubs (including the smoking ban). What’s done for the Bones is ultimately that Rothwell folk no longer want to spend their evenings in the Rowellian or the Top of the Town Ballroom, given the more exotic attractions elsewhere in the town, or the consolations of supermarket booze.

It’s not so much a club that’s going under, but a way of life.

Watching football at Cecil St. this season has been a bit like watching it in the aftermath of some natural disaster, as essential facilities are cut off and the ground disintegrates.  Thieves have stolen the copper cable from the floodlights, so all games have to begin at 2.30.  They’ve had the electricity cut off anyway, because they can’t afford to pay the bill (£1,800).

Are the local community rallying round?  Not all of them.  The bumper takings from the Bones Tea Bar from their Boxing Day derby (about £90.00) were stolen, and the last time I went there was no Bovril, because the thieves had stolen that as well.

As I imagine the ground will be well on its way to becoming a housing estate by the beginning of next season (though I hope the club will find another home), I thought I’d publish some kind of photographic record to preserve what it was like in its last days.

Or perhaps there’s a Corby bus driver out there who fancies reviving a local football club?

The club flag – which seems to have taken on a different significance this season

The Press Box and the Directors’ Box (from the days when they had such things)

A floodlight, minus its cable …

and overgrown with ivy …

the roof of the cowshed behind one goal …

an old turnstile, long locked and abandoned …

a stanchion, peeling to reveal several layers of paint

the ransacked tea bar

and – saddest of all – the Rowellian and the Talk of the Town, leaving behind only the ghostly clacking of stilleto heels, the faint scent of hairsprayed beehives and the distant sounds of Matt Monro 

and this – one of the oddest things I’ve seen at a football ground – a squirrel’s tail left on one of the seats in the stand.  Presumably one of the fans – goaded past breaking point by the unkindness of fate – had grabbed a passing squirrel and ripped its tail off.

I wonder if this is what it will be like at Ibrox soon?

A Fund Raising Idea From 1903

From the Club History page of yesterday’s programme for the Rothwell Town v Olney Town match –

Evidence exists today of a signed balance sheet from 1903, one interesting item on the balance sheet gives the information that just over £1 was credited as proceeds from a smoking competition.”

Perhaps Andrew Flintoff should consider trying this for Sport Relief – after he’s finished eating hot dogs and catching lemons blindfolded.  How long do we have to wait, I wonder, before he boxes a kangaroo?

On Seeing The First Cricket Of Spring

To Rothwell again yesterday to watch Rothwell Corinthians win a hard-fought tussle against Burton Park Wanderers.  The Corinthians’ ground (Sergeant’s Field) shares a boundary with the ground of Rothwell C.C., and all afternoon I was distracted and bewitched by the sound of a motor mower mowing the outfield and the scent of new-mown grass. 

“Come you back, you Leicestershire member” – it seemed to be saying – “come you back to Grace Road!”

On leaving the ground, I spotted the first game of impromptu cricket I’ve seen this year (fathers and sons, presumably).

Begin afresh, afresh, afresh … 

A Rose By Any Other Name …

Name of the day : Anton Rottenbiler (Rotten? Bile? Rottweiler?), one of the coaches of Stewarts & Lloyds FC of Corby- “The Foundreymen”- (according to the programme, anyway).

Here we see him involved somewhere in the frank exchange of views between the two benches and the officials that resulted from the dismissal of one of the S & L players late on in their keenly contested FA Vase clash against Harborough Town FC on Saturday. 

Leave him Anton, he's not worth it!

(A perfectly ordinary name in Hungary, of course …)

Can These Dry Bones Live? (Ezekiel 37:1-14)

From one of the world’s great sporting arenas  to another.  Today found me at Cecil Street, the home of Rothwell Town F.C., on the first day of what is, of course, one of the most significant days in the sporting calendar – the Extra Preliminary Round of the F.A. Cup.  The luck of the draw meant that the Bones (so called after the ossuary in the crypt of the Church of the Holy Trinity) took on their near neighbours Desborough.

Both these clubs have experienced difficult times recently.  Rothwell almost went out of business earlier in the year, and now find themselves wholly amateur and in the same division as Harborough Town.  Desborough’s club house was burned down a couple of years ago, and they have just had the copper cabling in their floodlights stolen.

Cecil Street does suffer slightly in comparsion with Lord’s.  The state of the lavatories –


would have been the cause of raised eyebrows in a field latrine at the Battle of the Somme.  One of the turnstiles –

is abandoned and overgrown with weeds. 

But only a churl could complain, for the price of admission – £4.50 – about a lack of incident.  We saw a virtuoso display of handshaking

two sendings off, followed, in the first case, by a fracas

a tumultuous thunderstorm

a last minute penalty, tipped over the bar by the ‘keeper

and eight goals in all – the final score 5-3 to Desborough.

What more could you want?  And congratulations to Blackpool, who were, I believe, briefly top of the league in some other competition today.

Tiranos temblad! (Will you do the fandango?)

The football World Cup does have its educational aspects.

Stop any football-loving lad or lass, as they kick a ball of rags about  towards goal posts chalked on a terrace-end wall, and ask them to name five countries in South America and they will chorus as one – “Argentina, Brazil, Paraguay, Chile and Uruguay“.   If they have really been paying attention they will know that the name  Uruguay is claimed to derive from the Guarani for “River of brightly coloured birds” (though I am reliably informed that it is more likely to mean “River full of snails“).

Ask them to sing the national anthem of Uruguay, and I bet they could make a pretty good attempt at the first few verses.  Thanks to the extended progress in the competition made by the plucky Uruguayans, this fine specimen of an anthem has at last received the world-wide exposure it has long deserved.

In full, it runs to twelve verses, and, even in the truncated version usually performed, it is – at about five minutes – the world’s longest.  It also has the advantage of surprise, in that the various sections appear to be quite unrelated to each other, and – just when you think it’s over – up it starts again.

I’m sure the inspirational qualities of this anthem must have played a large part in Uruguay’s success, and I wonder if there are not lessons to be learned here for the England team.  It has often been observed that “God Save the Queen” is a little lacking in vim, and various attempts have been made to replace it with something more rousing and specifically English (Jerusalem, for instance).

But what typically English song can we think of that would be able to compete with the Uruguyan anthem in terms of length, bombast and unpredicatability?  Step forward, I suggest, Bohemian Rhapsody.  This has many advantages: the players might know some of the words, its great length will play on the pre-match nerves of the opposition, and if Wayne Rooney were to be allocated the loud shouty part at the end it might allow him to let off some steam before the match begins and lessen the likelihood of him nutting the ref.

I think I shall write to the F.A. and suggest it.    

And here, for anyone who unaccountably managed to miss out on it, is the Uruguyan anthem (played, in this instance, muy rapido) –

The Aftermath of Defeat



A small private lake a short walk from the Brampton Valley Way.  As the evening sky lowers, a tattered flag of St. George (as supplied by the Sun newspaper) struggles to disentangle itself from a tree.  Nearby, the burnt-out remains of a campfire (actually a disposable barbecue set from Sainsbury’s) has scorched the earth.

But, with a little imagination, you could half have the sense of the aftermath of some disastrous medieval battle here.

Very much so : the World Cup begins with a brief look backwards to Geddington

As county cricket is taking its now traditional midsummer break, let us turn our attention to football.  The eyes of the world are on South Africa, and looking forward to the next three months or so 0f the World Cup.  So let us – in the usual manner of this blog – look backwards – to 1894, and a subject I’ve touched on briefly before (see here).

This lot are an outfit known as the Geddington Stars.  The boy in the front row holding the ball is my great-grandfather, the man with the beard in civvies at the far left of the back row is his father and the other chap in the Derby hat in the back row is one of his brothers.  My great-great grandfather was a Scotsman, and was, at this point, employed as the Head Gamekeeper at Boughton House  in Northamptonshire.  He was clearly a man of several parts.  Apart from his day (or – often night – job) as the Hammer of the Navvies, he played the mandolin (which we still have somewhere, though, sadly, it’s now unplayable) and – as we see here –

he was also Geddington’s answer to Sir Alex Ferguson.

So what would he have thought of the current World Cup?  Obviously we can only speculate – and I’m slightly reluctant to use long-deceased relatives as sockpuppets for my own views – but I think we can guess that he would have been shocked not to see Scotland among the final 32, for one thing.  He might have found the melodious tone of the vuvuzela strangely reminiscent of the skirl of the pipes.  

But I imagine he would have been most pleased to see that the more cerebral short passing – or combination – game – pioneered by the Scotch Professors  (the professional players, usually Scottish, who had begun to dominate the game in the 1880s with sides such as Preston North End) has achieved world domination, as opposed to the more individualistic dribbling, kick and rush style of the Southern public school sides who had dominated in the early years of the Association code.  

I could, of course, continue with more of this incisive historico-technical analysis, but after tonight’s draw with the United States I’m afraid I feel too emotionally drained (are you sure you don’t mean “pissed”? – ed.)  to continue.  But, of course, there’s a long way to go yet in this tournament … and, when I have composed myself, I am sure I shall return to this subject.