Rob flanked by Mark (left) and Scott (right)
There are few people more inspirational than my friend Rob. He’s been an inner-city school teacher for over ten years and had a tremendous impact on numerous young student’s lives. But as they – and Rob’s colleagues are all acutely aware – much of Rob’s own inspiration comes from watching Spurs play at White Hart Lane.
Rob and Scott in December 1991. Delighted to hear Ginola will be signing for Spurs in six years time
Rob and Scott in December 2008, still celebrating Ginola’s wonder-goal against Barnsley in March 1999
And there have been few more inspiring Spurs players in recent years, than David Ginola. All football fans remember the Frenchman’s touch of genius, while most will recall a light-hearted stadium-chant suggesting that Ginola might be on Posh Spice’s mind during a certain ’domestic’ activity with her husband.
Anyway, no suprise that Tottenham Hotspur inducted Ginola into the Spurs Hall of Fame, and Rob, Scott and I attended the event on December 11th as part of Rob’s 40th birthday celebrations.
‘When Ledley, goes up, to get the Carling Cup, we’ll be there…’
As we arrived at the ground, we were greeted by a security guard, well known for previously ejecting one of us from the ground during a match for ‘over-exuberence.’ But after brandishing our tickets and giving him a Ginola-like shimmy, we were soon safely within the hallowed confines of the stadium.
‘This is suite…’
Rob, with a reputation for talking ten-to-the-dozen was temporarily quiet… …and took in the surroundings with a reverence usually exhibited by pilgrims to religous shrines.
‘Non! Non, David! We’re not worthy!’
Soon, we were in the club marquee, and watching Ginola make his modest entrance. Rob picked his moment and went and said a few private words to his hero.
Later, some of Ginola’s old team-mates made warm introductions. Midfield hard-men Tim Sherwood and Allan Nielsen recalled their exhertions to win the ball before Ginola could begin his mazy runs. Gary Mabbutt and David Pleat reminisced appropriately. There’s always a danger that awards ceremonies will turn into one big love-in, but the right note of appreciation and gentle ribbing was struck.
Ginola was invited onto the stage and similarly hit the right note of gratitude and appreciation. A moment of quality mirth involved an anecdote about Tim Sherwood. Before playing together at Spurs, their prior encounters for different clubs usually left Ginola on the ground being told by Sherwood to, ‘get up you French twat.’
‘Who is that over there? Sacre bleu! Its George Graham! I am so pleased to see you!’
Gary Mabbutt giving David Ginola his award
‘Because he’s worth it…’
Ginola seemed really, really delighted to be given his award, and I was glad to see someone so talented – and so often misunderstood by the managers he played for – being given some well-deserved kudos.
Its impossible to know someone from an occasion like this, but I was left with the impression of a man whose dazzling confidence on the pitch was matched by a genuine modesty away from it. Ginola seemed like the sort of bloke that would be very welcome on one of our nights out – although its fair to say he might find it a difficult experience, because of course all the girls would be looking at us handsome hunks and not David…
David Ginola and Turkish
One of the worlds most infamous heart-throbs and ladies man. And David Ginola…
As the evening wore on, Ginola and the other Spurs legends – Pat Jennings, Gary Mabbut et al – were all tremendous good sports signing autographs and having their photos taken. Rob, true to form, greeted each one as if he’d just bumped into them at the pub and was clearly having the time of his life.
Rob, Pat Jennings and Scott. Incidentally, Pat Jennings and I have two similarities: we’re both goalkeepers, and niether of us has changed our hair-styles since the 1970′s
A genuine, old fashioned gent. Pat Jennings was photographed on numeous occasions and was charming and accomodating throughout the evening.
“I think I’m going to win the raffle,” said Mary who was sat next to Scott. A couple of hours later, she did!
Gary Mabbutt. Sixteen years playing for Spurs. When he ran round the pitch at White Hart Lane after his final game, many grown men (including Rob) shed a few tears.
A bonus to the whole evening was watching Scott snoozing at our table. Our charming waitress had cleared everything around him, and as Rob and I returned from our numerous photo-calls she asked, looking at Scott, ‘I don’t know what to do… what should I do?’ At this point, Rob and I realised that this evening of inspiration was now at an end. It was time to wrap Scott up, and escort him home like a sleepy toddler.
Some time in the dim and distant mists of time… March 2004 to be precise… Chris Collins, and self-styled ‘directional savant,’ Jeff Dotts, got lost en-route from Heathrow Airport to visit me in Suffolk.
Fortuitously, they stumbled across a sign saying, ‘Great Dunmow, Ancient Flitch Town.’ Their curiosity piqued, they subsquently found out all about the famous Great Dunmow Flitch Trials, where married couples can put their love on trial, and if successful, win half a pig. The die was cast – they resolved to return with wives and friends, and compete for half a cured, salted pig as couples have done since 1104.
Despite the fluctuations on the currency market meaning one of our UK pounds costs approx $1 million, three American couples – Jeff and Erin, Chris and Nathalie, Shawn and Elaine – all decided to apply for the trials. But only five couples are selected for trials, which are held every four years.
We waited with baited breath…. would one of the couples be selected…. and yes, Jeff and Erin were!
As dawn broke on July 12th, a day which will live forever in the annals of true-love and pork products, Jeff and Erin explained to an expectant nation, via the BBC Radio Four outside broadcast car, why they had come from Nashville, Tennessee to put their love on trial. ‘What better way,’ explained Jeff, to Edward Sturton, ‘to express the love you have for your wife than to compete for bacon?’
Mr Sturton, used to grilling senior politicians and world leaders, on a regular basis wanted to know more. Was Erin worried about the questions she might be asked on the trial. ‘I’m just going to tell the truth,’ she said, ‘that we’re in love and happily married.’
Flitch Trial judge, Michael Chapman, sat alongside, and explained how the trials would unfold. He would sit high on a Dias with the jury to one side and the counsel to the other. There would be counsel for the couple, whose job it was to convince the jury neither had ‘wished each other apart’ in ‘a year and a day,’or committed a ‘nuptial transgression.’ Then, there would be counsel for the owners of the bacon, whose job it was to prevent them winning the prize.
While we waited for Jeff and Erin’s trial, we happened acroos a small exhibit of Flitch Trial photographs. These ones above are from the 1905 trials. They were the inspiration for the ‘team’ photo I took of the 2008 Judge and Counsel.
Jeff and Erin were going to be the second trial of the day. However, it wasn’t just a case of turning up, each trial was preceeded by a procession through the town, led by the court usher who stopped traffic to make way for the judge, jury, claimants and Flitch.
As Jeff and Erin followed the Flitch, a BBC TV crew appeared.
They were Miriam O’Reilly, and the BBC Countryfile team and they interviewed Jeff and Erin on the …. *ahem*… hoof…
The Court Usher, Martin Reed, leading Jeff and Erin into the Court Room. There were six hundred expectant people in the audience.
The Jury of six maidens and six bachelors were sworn-in. They are all chosen for their tender years in the hope that they are un-scarred and un-cynical about the whole concept of marriage.
‘What we’re looking for,’ the girls explained before the trial, ‘is the sort of relationship we’d like to have in the future…’
Chris Hancock, Counsel for Jeff and Erin started the proceedings. His first question was, ‘Where is your home?’ Erin replied, with their Nashville address, and the whole marquee was suddenly full of whispered exclamations and comments. They were the first American couple in almost 1000 years to compete for a Flitch! Although in fairness, the trials had ben going on for 700 years before America popped up on the world scene.
Chris’s second question, once the hubub had subsided was, ‘And how on earth did you end up in Great Dunnmow?’
There was a hushed pause… Jeff leant towards the microhone, and said, ‘We drove.’
Although this blog may not be able to communicatethe hilarity of the moment, from that second the audience knew they were in for a comedy feast. Jeff and Erin were on absolute top-form. Funny, warm and self-depriciating, the strength of their relationship and their love shone through.
They explained how they met – when Jeff interviewed Erin for a job, working as a counsellor at a camp for children with life-threatening illnesses. How they started dating once the job was over and began a long-distance relationship. (Jeff was now working on a project that took inner-city kids into the countryside, ‘we called it the hoods in the woods programme,’ he explained).
There were few dry eyes in the marquee when Erin explained how Jeff proposed….. they went for a hike, and at the bottom of the bag Jeff had packed a book containing all the photos since they had met. Jeff asked Erin to look through the photos, with captions and messages, and on the last page he’d written, ‘Look at me.’
She said, ‘Yes.’
However, it was now time for the counsel for the owners of the bacon to start their attack. Chief counsel was Dave Monk, BBC Radio Essex personality. With verve and witt, he questioned their love, age difference, and why Americans should be given the pig.
However, what no-one was prepared for (except Jeff’s friend’s who’d already heard the song) was the production of a guitar, and the spectacle of Jeff singing Erin, his true love, the Dunmow Flitch song he’d especially written for the event.
Here’s a brief excerpt:
What if we don’t win, let me fill you in, the prize is firmly in my hands
She and me will be, smiling everly
Like a bacon wafting on the wind
While the jury retired to deliberate, Jeff and Erin were interviewed again by Miriam and the BBC Countryfile crew, and were asked for autographs from the audience. The gentleman in the above photo explained his wife had been on the jury when she was a young maiden.
The jury returned. What would they say? Everyone knew it was by no means a certainty that Jeff and Erin would take home the bacon.
‘Do you find for the claimaints or the owners of the bacon.’
For the claimants came the reply!
After the excitment had died down, a second couple, Mr and Mrs Thorne, took the stand. It was a little like coming on stage after The Beatles in their heyday. They didn’t help their cause by forgetting the day they got married – although it was 40 years ago – but they were unable to convince the jury to give them the bacon.
This meant, that on the return procession to the market square, Jeff and Erin would be held aloft on their Flitch chair, while the Thornes had to walk behind their chair in shame – with the prospect of a concilliatory Gammon awaiting them.
Once the whole procession arrived at the market Square, all eyes were focussed on the decorated dray.
Jeff and Erin’s next task was to join the Flitch Trial Judge and Chaplain, and kneel on pointed stones while they swore the Flitch Oath.
Michael, the Flitch Trial Judge was then able to proclaim to the crowd, ‘The Pleasure is all ours, the bacon is yours!’
Try explaining this back home…
Now, many of you may be wondering what became of the Flitch Jeff and Erin won. Well, on Thanksgiving Day 2008, Michael Chapman will be organising a hog roast with their winning pig, selling tickets and giving the proceeds to the ‘Hole in the Wall Gang,’ charity where Jeff and Erin met. Bronny and I will be going – it you’d like to come too, then let me know.
The next day, Michael invited us to join him and friends for a…. wait for it…. hog roast with his church! A few days later, Jeff, Erin and the rest of the ‘Flitch 08′ team headed home with new friends and fond memories of Great Dunmow.
Before the misery sets in
Last year, in a moment of madness, Bronny and I decided to join our friends Jane, Jo and Brian at the Glastonbury festival. We’d heard of the fun, the music and the drugs, and in hindsight, if we’d started munching Class-A’s as soon as we left the car park then we’d have been far happier people.
When we were young
Even looking back at this photo is hard. So young, so carefree… without the scars and the miserable memories……
I could have gone to Margate
All during the first night, and into the next day it rained. It wasn’t just your ordinary rain, but the torrential sort that usuallly last a few battering minutes. But not at Glastonbury. It battered non-stop for hours. The place has its own unique micro-climate which dictates monsoon weather as soon as more than three people start pitching tents within twenty yards of each other.
Jane’s matching boots and bag ensemble.
Fortunately, we were travelling with Jane, whose a girl. She went to a posh school, and knows all the cocktails and dates blokes called Trevor and Miles. At the mere sight of this downpour, surely, she’d burst into tears, and demand that we hopped straight back into Daddy’s Range Rover and head back to Hampstead?
Jane: bench presses 350 and fights with knives to relax
Regretably, Jane is also a police detective and is tough as old Jimmy-Choo’s. I don’t think she’d even noticed the sheets of water lashing other people into a dazed submission.
Fancy the loo in 40 minutes?
Fortunately, some genius had ensured there was a tent selling warm cider. A brilliant idea, only marred by the fact that drinking such beverages meant using the toilets would be required sometime in the near future.
Exhibit A: Mud
What I started to find quite amazing, was that people actually seemed to be enjoying this purgatory. The mud, the smell of the toilets, the endless marches from A to B to get food, or to go to the toilet……
We could be in Ibeza right now
It was like watching a strange natural history programme. Who were these strange creatures that enjoyed this unique form of torture? It was like an adult version of detention….
Up close and personal: The Killers, somewhere half a mile away
Well OK, some of the music was pretty good. ‘The Killers’ were superb, and ‘The Arctic Monkeys’ lived up to their billing. Maybe if the acts had been James Brown, Stevie Wonder and Curtis Mayfield then I’d have looked beyond the mud…. but wherever I looked there it was…..
Exhibit B: more mud
As the weekend progressed, Bronny and I began to realise that Jane wasn’t going to weaken. There was absolutely no chance of her bursting into tears. Three nights running we left her dancing or cavorting, with energy to burn (usually sometime between midnight and 2am). Off we’d go, to seek the temporary refuge of our pitiful tent, that didn’t fit the airbed – and was next to one couple that persistently communicated their vigerous… *ahem*…. ‘hugging’ with animated grunts and groans while the tent next door blared their music at us with a grim determination.
Having or good time or just delerious?
On the last day, there was nothing for it. Waking up to our now miserable neighbours, faces streaked with mud and tears, as they quietly sobbed over their broken hearts, I chirped, ‘Not so ****ing chipper now are we?’ (I didn’t really say that, but I should have.)
Anyway, if you can’t beat ‘em, join ‘em….
Happy? We’re going home in three hours, of course we’re happy!
It was time to get-down, Glastonbury style. Unable to ‘cut-the-rug’ we squelched the mud….
Quite how Jane managed to look this glamourous, after four days of mud, lack of sleep and a strict diet of warm cider and cold falafels, while lying on an old bin liner, in a field of mud, surrounded by raving luncatics, I have no idea….
Exhibit C: ankle breaking mud
And then, late into Sunday evening, Jane suggested that maybe it was time to make our way home. We avoided breaking our ankles, unlike 13 other poor folk who snapped theirs over the weekend, and left 100,000 people behind us as they enjoyed the final acts.
Shaking our booties
We packed our tents and began the long tramp to the car park. Eventually we reached Jane’s Dad’s Range Rover, and negotiated our way out of the car park. The next day, other souls would spend 10, 12, 14 hours or more doing the same journey we did in two minutes.
Then, as the headlights lit up the motorway infront of us, and as the early morning hours clicked by, I knew my home and a warm bed was getting ever closer. It was one of the few moments in my life I can say without any doubt, that I experienced the purest feeling of joy….
The Ashes… Rangers vs Celtic…. the north London Derby….. England vs Germany…. Ross County vs Inverness Caledonian Thistle….these are just some of the great sporting rivalries in the world. And now, we can add to this list: the darts challenge between the villages of Shieldaig and Lochcarron.
You’re going home in a Lochcarron mini-bus
Nestled in the picturesque highlands of Scotland, passing tourists will admire the landscape and the rows of whitewashed cottages. However, unknown to them, underneath this picture-postcard facade, there lurk the beating hearts of some of the fiercest darts competitors in the northern hemisphere.
Kenny Cool with Cuddy: brilliant arrows when sober
The Shieldaig team, captained by my good friend, Kenny ‘Cool’ MacLeod, threw down the gauntlet (or ‘Claymore’) to Gus and the gnarled, arrow-chuckers from Lochcarron. Only few weeks before, Shieldaig had beaten Lochcarron, and now there was the smell of revenge (and scotch eggs) in the air.
Tommy and Mattie: the future of darts
The Shieldaig team comprised of the veteran players – as well as the younger athletes including Tommy and Mattie. They obviously look delighted here, as being selected for the Shieldaig team is a great honour, and the result of a rigerous training regimin that invloves early morning runs, complicated mental arithmatic and a strict diet of Irn-Bru and Tennants.
Jim: Shieldaig’s expert pub sportsman and botanist
Over eight singles matches, and four doubles the advantage swayed one way and then the other. For a while it looked like Lochcarron would be a pushover. But they came back strong and Shieldaig had to rely on players like fisherman, one-time botanist and local pub legend, Jim Alexander, to bring Shieldaig back into the game.
Kenny Cool, Shieldaig’s team captain
The main personal rivalry is between the two teams best players and captains, Kenny and Gus. Last time they played, Kenny won. Gus was clearly determined to restore his personal honour and Lochcarron’s reputation as the bully-boys of highland darts.
Gus, Lochcarron’s team captain
This time, Gus’s power game shone through and he won his match with Kenny. But before long, Kenny bounced back with the nights only ‘one hundred and eighty’ and this highlight helped win his doubles match.
Murdo John wins a match for Lochcarron
The tension mounted. Lochcarron’s Murdo John clinched a nail-biter. Meawhile, a phenomenal amount of beer was washed down with numerous multi-coloured shots; players and spectators alike were then thankfully kept on their feet by a well timed arrival of scotch eggs, pizza and haggis drumsticks.
Its thirsty work being a Shieldaig WAG
Despite the Shieldaig WAGS best attempt to distract the Lochcarron fellows with their ravishing good looks and a fine exhibition of speed-drinking, after twelve matches, the teams were even.
To decide the game, it was going to be a team match of ’1001.’ The darts equivalent of a penalty shoot-out. Initially, Lochcarron stormed into the lead as each player took it in turn to throw. But when all looked lost, boy-band look-a-like, and local heart-throb, Scott Taylor, calmly threw a 140.
Throwing on the McFly: an old head on young shoulders
Nevertheless, Lochcarron were way ahead and throwing to win. But they just couldn’t close out. Even so, it seemed a certainly Shieldaig would lose any minute.
Gary: shortly to have a rendevous with destiny
Cometh the hour, cometh the man….. with all eyes on the dart-board (except the Shiledaig WAGS who were sinking another round of shots), Gary calmly stepped up to the ocky.
The WAGS relive the tension with another round of shots
The last time I can remember this amount of sporting tension, Colin ‘Monty’ Montgomery, was putting to win the Ryder Cup.
What would happen? Would Gary cover himself in glory? Would this be the moment of failure that would haunt him to his dying days? One can only imagine the pressure he felt.
He threw… HE SCORED!
The moment of victory: Gary hits the spot
The bar errupted. It was a magnificent victory for Shieldaig, but more than that, it was a victory for darts.
There were handshakes and congratulations all round. Lochcarron were spirited losers, knowing their day would surely come, sometime in the future when the two giants of highland darts meet again.
The darts over, its time for the ‘sesh’ to begin