The little King of the Park and The Elastico Fantastico!

16 Mar

Rivelino cannon

The Short stocky man sits at a table at the back of the bar. He is balding, paunchy, has bushy dark eyebrows and sports a similarly bushy moustache which is white/grey in colour in contrast to the eyebrows.

He will tell you that he sports the moustache in honour of his father and that he feels naked without it.

Regular processions of people come to the table to shake his hand, kiss his forehead and just get a few words from him. It is a scene befitting of an Italian Godfather as portrayed by Hollywood, and in this instance it is totally appropriate as the man is indeed of Italian ancestry.

At one point, he gets up from his seat, and opens a cage within which a bird of some kind has been squawking. He takes the bird out of the cage, caresses it, talks to it, feeds it, and gently places it back in the cage. He has a fondness for, and an expertise in, birds it seems. Particularly those of the parrot and finch variety.

The man is clearly at home. When he smiles he does so with charismatically wrinkled eyes. He is engaging, constantly laughing and very descriptive in his stories – and he has plenty of stories!

He was born on the first of January 1946.

The first day of the year is said to be the day when the happiest and luckiest people are born and the paunchy man certainly considers himself to have been lucky and he most definitely appears happy with his lot.

He is always ready with a joke and a funny story.

He describes how a former boss once suddenly chased after a professional colleague whilst waving a gun about with the intention of shooting him. This act of potential violence in turn led to the boss man being replaced. “That was lucky for me & things really changed for me then!” he says with a smile and without further explanation.

However, that incident is part way through his story and to understand this man’s unique journey, and indeed his legacy, you have to go back to the start.

Ever since he could remember, the paunchy man loved to play football.

He would play in the city streets with no socks, no shoes and no ball. He and others played with anything that resembled a ball, and they would play till their feet bled, even though they were wrapped in bandages and covered in skin which was as tough as old leather.

From rough unorganised games in the streets, he progressed to indoor football. Five a side games or futsal as it was known locally.

Eventually he would get to play on the big pitch with a full blown eleven a side team. However, it was on the street, and later in those futsal games, where he learned to control a football and move it along with an extraordinary degree of skill, and in ways which the world of football had not seen before.

By the time he was sixteen he was playing for a local team which reached a state final against the youth team from the club that he and his family had always supported and had always adored. It was his dream to play for this club, but on this day and in this match he would do everything he could to defeat them. It was the biggest game of his life.

In the final he played well, really well. In fact he played so well that he caught the eye of the management team of his boyhood heroes who saw a stocky youth, with supreme confidence, unbelievable skills and what appeared to be a magical left foot.

After the game he received a call from one of the club’s directors asking if he would be interested in playing a trial for the club. He accepted at once and was delighted to start training with the club he had always dreamed of playing for.

However, his luck did not hold, and before the third day of his trial, he was told by the club’s coach, Mario Travaglini, that he would not be receiving an offer from the club. He was invited to stay and train if he wanted, but there would be no contract at the end of the sessions.

The young man was angry and declined the offer there and then. He walked out on the club he loved but vowed to forge a career in football – somewhere. Shortly afterwards, he turned up at the gates of the great rivals of the club he and his family had always supported and once again played in trials and impressed.

This time his impressive performances caught the eye of a coach who thought the boy was good enough to take a gamble on. Sure, the player was not the tallest, he would never stand above 5’7”, but he was strong, confident, had an abundance of ability, a fierce shot and that magic left foot.

“What’s your name, son?”

“My name is Roberto – Roberto Rivellino — with two L’s”

For those of a certain era, the very name Roberto Rivellino conjures up a mental image of the short, stocky, tousled haired Brazilian player with the fierce left foot shot and the wildest, craziest, bushiest moustache in the history of football.

And so it should, because Rivellino was a one off visually. No other football player before or since had his look and swagger, nor his crazy arm waving celebrations when he scored a goal. Almost 50 years on since the magic Brazilian played in his pomp, you will find kids in his native Sao Paulo, who were not born when he played, mimicking his style, donning false moustaches, wearing Rivellino wigs and masks, and acting out the manic arm movements he used to celebrate the ball hitting the back of the net.

Almost 50 years on and those who were not born when he played are mimicking him – both on and off the park.

Rivellino was a truly unique talent, and it might surprise some to learn that his impact on the game of football is still very evident, if not actually increasing, to this day. To gauge just how highly “Riva” is regarded you have to listen to the words of those who played with him and against him—and maybe one or two others!

The boyhood club that rejected him was Palmeiras (much to their later regret) and it would be with their great rivals, Corinthians, that “Riva” would make his name and first display his skills.

Having joined the Corinthians’ youth ranks he made his debut with the senior team aged just 18 in 1964 and very quickly he established himself as an absolute favourite with the crowds. In the end he would make 471 appearances for Corinthians over a 9 year period.

Of course, when Rivellino started playing professional football, Brazil were the World Champions having won the Jules Rimet trophy in 1958 and again in 1962.

Amazingly he made his International debut within a year of playing in his first full professional football match forcing his way into a glittering international squad before his 20th Birthday on 21st November 1965. By the time the 1966 World Cup came round he was in and around the group being considered for the trip to England.

However, the then national manager, Vicente Feola, who had led Brazil to success in the World Cup Finals of 1958, decided to leave the young Rivellino out of the final squad which would travel to Europe.

There was no doubt that Feola recognised and appreciated Rivellino’s talent, but the moustachioed player wore the number 10 shirt for his club, was barely out of his teens and well …………. Brazil already had a stocky number 10 called …….. Pele.

Accordingly, the youngster with the mop of hair and the moustache stayed at home while his countrymen jetted off in an attempt to secure their third successive Word Cup.

Of course, it was not to be and Brazil underperformed in England even although their squad boasted many names which would become not only familiar but legendary in the game of Football.

In addition to Pele, the Brazil squad of 1966 boasted Tostao, Gerson, Piazza, Jarzinho, and Brito who were all lined up alongside names such as Garrincha, Djalma Santos, Bellini, Lima and others.

Despite having players like these, Brazil failed to progress beyond the group stages losing 3-1 to Hungary and by the same score to a very physical Portuguese team who boasted the star of the Tournament one Eusébio da Silva Ferreira.

The Brazilian press and public turned on the team that had promised so much and for the next few years that public remained sceptical and critical of the national side and the men who would manage it.

Having failed to defend the World Cup title, Feola stepped down to be replaced by a succession of new managers during a period when the national team seemed to suffer from inconsistency and turmoil off the park.

First up was the man who had taken over from Feola after the World Cup Triumph in 1958 and who lead the team to victory in 1962.

Aymoré Moreira was an unusual character in that he started his professional playing career as a right winger but eventually switched position and became a goalkeeper. He was so successful between the sticks that he became the Brazilian national keeper for an 8 year period between 1932 and 1940.

He had previously managed the National side as far back as 1953 and then again between 1961 and 1963 during which period he successfully retained the World Cup in Chile in 1962.

Accordingly when he was once again appointed as the national team boss after the 1966 World Cup it was his third spell in charge.

By the time he left the post in 1968 he had a fairly impressive record of 61 matches, with 37 wins, 9 draws and 15 losses. He not only won the world cup but various other tournaments on the South American continent as well.

Moreira’s third period in charge did not start auspiciously, especially as the talismanic Pele announced that he was no longer prepared to play International football due to the heavy tackling and rough tactics he had had to endure during the 1966 World cup finals. Pele declared he was no longer interested in representing his country and so Moreira had to rely on other players one of whom would be young Rivellino.

After little over a year in charge however, Moreira was on his way and Brazil were without a manager.

The Brazilian FA then put another goalkeeper in charge for one single game.

The new man was called Dorival Knippel but was known to everyone in Brazil as simply “Yustrich” and much later he was inadvertently to play a major part in the career of Rivellino and have an unintended impact on the fortunes of The Brazilian National team and the way it was viewed by football fans throughout the world.

However, after just that one game, Yustrich was replaced with the most political and technically surprising of appointments in the form of João Alves Jobin Saldanha who took charge of the team at the start of 1969.

Saldanha had barely been a footballer and was considered more of a journalist.

In fact, he was a very good journalist, with an engaging if occasionally crazy personality which made him very difficult to deal with. It is said that the reason he was appointed Brazil manager in the first place was because the then president of the Brazilian FA ( Joao Havelange ) hoped that by appointing a journalist to take charge of the team, the press would desist in their criticism of the FA and the players.

Crazy as it seems, that was how it came to pass that a Sports Journalist became manager of the Brazilian football team just a year before the 1970 World Cup.

For 23 year old Rivellino, the journey between Moreira and Saldanho would be a roller coaster ride of changing emotions with immense highs, and desperate lows.

Having made his international debut in late 1965, Rivellino would wait two and a half years before winning a second cap when he played in a two nil victory over Uruguay in the Copa Rio Branco.

In the intervening period he had become a stalwart of the Corinthians side and had made a reputation for himself as a skilful and explosive attacking midfielder with a brilliant left foot. He had also earned himself a nickname “O Reizinho do Parque” – The little King of the Park, with the park concerned being the name of the Corinthians home stadium, Parque Sao Jorge.

However, despite his brilliant appearances in the number 10 jersey of Corinthians, who were not a good side at the time, he found it difficult to break into the National Team which boasted a wealth of talent such as Jairzinho, Tostao, Gerson, Edu, Lima and of course the undisputed holder of the Brazil number 10 jersey – Pele.

At this stage I should explain that the No 10 jersey is revered in South America and elsewhere with the player who wears that number normally being an attacking midfielder or a slightly withdrawn forward who plays just behind the centre forward or No 9.

The No 10 is also traditionally considered to be an honour bestowed on the best player in the team. Hence the No 10 jersey being worn by the likes of Diego Maradona, Mario Kempes, Ronaldinho, Zidane, Puskas, Platini and of course Pele.

Following upon the failure of the 1966 World Cup campaign, and the retirement from International football of Pele, Rivellino got the call from the then manager Aymoré Moreira.

Having been recalled to the squad in 1968, by the end of the calendar year he had played a further 17 times in the international colours scoring 6 goals.

Official records always list him as a midfielder, not a forward, and he played in a midfield role with various players beside him and in front of him in the forward line though it was never really a settled or consistent side.

Moreira’s team won internationals against Uruguay, Poland, Mexico, Portugal, Yugoslavia, Peru and Paraguay. However, there were losses to Czechoslovakia, Mexico, and Paraguay as well as draws with Germany and Yugoslavia at home, so the progress was not startling. While the team played some nice football, the Brazilian public were far from convinced that they had a settled national side which was worthy of wearing the yellow shirt.

After his 10th game in charge, in which Brazil lost 2-1, Moreira pulled off a coupe when he persuaded the great Pele to return to the international stage and lead the forward line along with the diminutive but consistent Tostao. Until that point Moreira had experimented with other strikers such as Edu, Lima and Natal, but none of these could compare to having the threat and excitement of seeing Pele fill the number 10 shirt.

Rivellino and others had contributed key goals from midfield but the side desperately needed a striker to hit the back of the net and create in the forward area consistently, and there was none better than Pele.

Accordingly, it was on 14th July 1968 that Rivellino finally got to play in the national side along with Pele with the latter playing in his usual withdrawn forward role just behind Tostao.

Rivellino, wearing the number 8 shirt, would play the role of an attacking midfielder partnering Gerson and Piazza in the middle of the park at that time.

However, despite relative success, Moreira made way for Saldanho after just over a year, and the new man had very different ideas.

Suddenly, Rivellino found himself frozen out. In the next 13 internationals he made just one appearance and that was coming on as a substitute against Chile where it took him only a matter of moments to score in a 6-2 victory.

Saldanho’s was an altogether different regime to what Brazil had experienced before. He wanted fit players and a player for each position so that his team functioned like a machine in a strict 4-2-4 system.

He also demanded immense preparation, regular national squad training sessions, an adherence to a strict diet and absolute compliance to his playing system.

His approach seemed to be working, on the face of it!

Saldanho’s team won their first nine International matches in a row, and they ran through the qualifying section of the World cup without a single loss. Going by the stats, Brazil were in good shape.

However, if you looked behind the statistics, there was another story altogether.

The Brazil fans were not impressed with the football played by Saldanho’s side. They found it boring, rigid and methodical with little flair.

Further, his regime was becoming increasingly authoritarian with Saldanho openly warring with some of his players, the backroom staff and the Brazilian FA.

As his winning streak progressed, so he became more confident in his position and progressively more outspoken about his team, politics and Brazil in general.

Saldanho was a known communist and for political or genuine sporting reasons he refused to pick a striker by the name of Dario who was a favourite of the President of the Brazil. As the pressure to pick the player continued, Saldanho became more and more outspoken against the regime and this cast a cloud over his successful results.

Worse still, Communism was banned in Brazil and so Saldanho was known to visit other countries, such as Uruguay, and make anti-Government pronouncements while visiting before flying home again and so courted huge controversy within and outwith Brazil.

However, despite all of these idiosyncrasies, it was accepted that his team was winning and as doing well in the World Cup was a matter of national pride, he was allowed to remain in office although the football supporting public appeared to be less than convinced about the abilities of his team.

However, then the wheels came of the Saldanho bogey in the most spectacular fashion and very publicly.

Having qualified for the world cup, Saldanho began a war of attrition with his own team. He became more and more dictatorial, behaving increasingly like an egomaniac.

He laid down strict and mad orders for his team in the preparations for the forthcoming World Cup. He started to dictate when and how the players could change their girlfriends, how often they could have sex, and exactly what diet they would eat.

On the question of diet, he split the squad in two, specifying one group as “the fat boys” and was at pains to limit and dictate their food intake. Pele was included among the “fat boys” and increasingly the players felt humiliated and resentful.

Further, Saldanho then picked a war with Pele in particular saying that he was blind in one eye and questioned whether or not the great striker was up to playing for Brazil at all. Pele insisted that there was nothing wrong with his sight but it was clear that he and others were adversely affected by the strange behaviour of the manager. Saldanho then went on to express the opinion that Gerson, his midfield general, had mental issues and required guidance and counselling. His behaviour had by this time become so unbearable that his No 2 resigned in protest.

All of this was clearly evident on the field of play when a lacklustre Brazil side lost 2-0 at home to their great rivals Argentina on 4th March 1970.

Not surprisingly, there was outrage on the terracing and among the millions watching at home on TV. Further, the press were clearly moving against Saldanho who stubbornly insisted on basing his team around players from Botafogo and Santos to the exclusion of others such as Roberto Rivellino. This insistence on basing the national side on players from just two teams became a running sore and the cause of heavy criticism from sports journalists and football fans within Brazil.

His Brazil team had a chance to redeem themselves just 4 days later in a rematch against the Argentinians which was once again played in Brazil.

In the intervening 4 days, a BBC Panorama crew were allowed access to the Brazil training camp and were able to report to the world that there was major conflict within the camp and that Pele himself was on the verge of quitting the national squad altogether and this time for good.

The BBC crew were there when Brazil overturned the defeat to Argentina by winning the second match 2-1 with goals from Jairzinho and Pele. However, despite the result the play was stagnant and stilted and the partisan crowd, while pleased with the result, were far from impressed with the style and substance of an uninspired and uninspiring national side.

The BBC crew reported that the result might not be enough to quell the growing criticism of Saldanho.

And it is here that fate played a hand in the career of Roberto Rivellino who was the forgotten man of the Brazilian national side.

One of Saldanho’s open critics was his immediate predecessor Dorival Yustrich, the man who had been in charge of Brazil for just one game. By this time, Yustrich was the manager of Flamengo, one of the biggest clubs In Rio, and when Saldanho heard of Yustrich’s outspoken criticism he chose to confront him in the most outrageous of fashions. He ordered his driver into his Brazilian FA vehicle and told him to set out for the Flamengo training ground where he thought Yustrich was to be found. The driver apparently asked him why he was carrying a gun but did not succeed in persuading the national coach into rethinking his mission. Once at the training ground, Saldanho simply marched in and started looking for Yustrich while waving the gun about. Apparently he met a Flamengo player whilst walking through the building and when he was confronted by the player and asked what he was doing, he simply told the player to stay out of his way or he would shoot him! Eventually, having failed to find Dorival Yustrich, Saldanho had the gun taken from him and then left without shooting anyone. However, that march with the gun more or less sealed his fate as the national coach.

This behaviour, his open communism, the loss to Argentina, the resignation of his No 2 and the festering feud with Pele and others was too much and so the President of the Brazilian FA simply disbanded the entire National coaching squad and then set about appointing a new one without Signor Saldanho.

However, before we leave the remarkable and outspoken Saldanho it would be unfair to leave the reader with the impression that the former manager disappeared quietly into the night.

After Brazil, he never managed any other football team but went back to his chosen profession of journalist. His dry and outspoken style was a huge hit in Brazil and he went on to be a very popular if occasionally crazy and outrageous TV pundit and reporter. Amazingly he became a huge critic of the “Europeanisation” of the Brazil team and despised the team’s more tactical play in later years despite the fact that his own Brazil team had been very tactical and lacked a degree of creative flair.

A lifelong chain-smoker who effectively survived for years on one lung, Saldanho died from progressive cancer whilst in Rome covering the 1990 World Cup. He was a unique character, but there is no doubt that had he remained in charge Brazil would never have won the world cup in 1970.

For that tournament, the Brazilian FA turned to the former international winger Mario Zagallo who had won the Jules Rimet trophy as a player in 1958 and 1962. The FA had approached other managers but they all declined the job believing that Brazil had no chance in Mexico and that what they were being offered was a poisoned chalice of a job.

Eventually, Havelange was able to persuade Zagallo to take the job.

Small and bespectacled, Zagallo was immediately nicknamed “the professor” and later “The Wolf”.

Unbelievably, the new manager was given the job just a few weeks before the start of the World Cup and inherited both the good and the bad from Saldanho. The good was the meticulous preparations Saldanho had made for the tournament in Mexico. Nothing had been left to chance at the chosen Brazil training camp and everything from the training pitch to the food to the scientifically redesigned shirts (they were made to measure for each player and had special sweat absorbent collars) was organised to the nth degree.

However, the “bad” was that Saldanho had left a team which played a rigid 4-2-4, was not convincing in its execution of the chosen tactics, lacked confidence, marale and togetherness, and was viewed as having no chance whatsoever of winning the world cup.

Zagallo, in direct contrast to the philosophy of his predecessor, stated at the outset that he wanted to play the best players possible instead of the best system. He wanted the football team to be exciting, inspiring and most of all attacking. But how was he to achieve this?

For a start he dropped Wilson Piazza back into defence alongside Brito and effectively transformed a defensive midfielder into a ball carrying defender.

Next, he slightly changed the role of the talented Clodoaldo and chose to promote him from the bench to partner the clever Gerson in midfield.

Gerson was not the most physical or the most mobile of players but he was clever and demanded inclusion in the team. By pairing him with Clodoaldo, who was much more of an athlete, it allowed Gerson to be much more effective.

However, the key decision in the opinion of many was to consult the senior players in the squad about the changes to be made. Whilst undoubtedly his own man, Zagallo recognised that there was no point in having experienced players such as Pele, Carlos Alberto, Gerson, Jairzinho and others if you did not consult them and listen to their opinions.

It may surprise some to learn that to a man the senior players, when asked about what should be done to improve the effectiveness and style of the team, were unanimous in their recommendation. Individually and quite separately they all recommended that somehow, somewhere a place had to be found in the team for 24 year old Roberto Rivellino – he was that important!

It is when you listen to the testimony of players who played alongside Rivellino that you begin to grasp the quality of the footballer concerned.

The 1970 World Cup was to be the first major tournament that was televised in colour and so it seemed that the game itself was suddenly bigger and better and more exciting than it had ever been, with the worldwide footballing public being treated to not only colour pictures but replays and minute by minute analysis for the first time.

Further, for many watching in Europe this would be the first time that they had the chance to see many of the world stars including the unbelievable Brazilians, many of whom were unknown in Europe. In particular, the tousled haired guy with the moustache was a bit of a mystery as he had not featured under Saldanho and so to many outside Brazil he was unknown and so they did not know what to expect.

However, the Brazilian players themselves, and some knowledgeable others, knew that Rivellino was a truly special talent.

One of these was Franz Beckenbaur who had played against Rivellino twice in the space of a few days in 1968 when he played against Brazil for a FIFA select and later for Germany in a friendly. Even although Brazil had fielded Jairzinho, Gerson, Carlos Alberto, Pele and various other well-known players, one particular player caught Beckenbaur’s eye. Before the 1970 World Cup he was asked what he thought of Brazil and commented “Well we know they have Pele – but now we know they have Rivellino too….In 1968 I came to watch Pele, but ended up watching Rivellino” Clearly in the Kaiser’s eyes the moustachioed one was the one to watch.

Back in the Brazilian camp, the praise of Rivellino as a player was unstinting and unqualified.

Players such as Carlos Alberto, Lima, Felix and various others all speak of what Rivellino brought to the football pitch,

First, there was his unbelievable close control of the football. He could stop the ball, move it, beat a man either at pace or while seemingly walking. Carlos Alberto would later say that in terms of ball technique, his dribbling and retention of the football it was almost hard to describe fully just how skilful he was.

Second, there was his ferocious shooting power especially with the left foot. Players from Brazil all knew that Rivellino could not be given any space at all anywhere around the edge of the penalty box as he would simply find a way to unleash one of those cannon ball shots which invariably meant a goal or led to a goal as the goalkeeper would not be able to hold the ball and would spill it.

Thirdly, he was arguably the best passer of a ball in the Brazilian team of 1970 – the other contender being Gerson – and probably one of the best passers of the football in the world at that time and for years to come. There is video footage of Rivellino using that left foot almost like a sand wedge. He would ping the ball about with slice, backspin or side spin with the result that the ball would bend, float, accelerate, stop , sit up and appear at the feet of players as if by magic. He would play long passes, short passes, give and goes and intricate short one twos long before Xavi or Iniesta were even born.

Fourthly, he was strong and muscular, could tackle, fight for a fifty fifty ball and either get to or get away from an opposition player with surprising strength and pace, and despite his 5 foot 7 inches he was no shrinking violet!

Zagallo had other left sided players to choose from, all of whom were very good players indeed – Ademir da Guia, Dirceu Lopes, Paulo César Caju – but none of them were Rivellino and everyone knew it.

However, to really appreciate just how good a player Roberto Rivellino was you only have to listen to one of his greatest admirers for no more than a few minutes or a few sentences, and even then some of the comments and the nature of the observations and opinions expressed might surprise some.

When it comes to talking Rivellino there is no better person to listen to than Pele.

As mentioned above, by 1970 Pele had already quit international football but had been persuaded to return to the National squad at the age of 29.

However, after the sacking of Saldanho few in Brazil believed that the national squad would get beyond the group stages of the 1970 World Cup where they were in a group which also featured England the holders, Czechoslovakia the European Champions – who had beaten Brazil twice in recent years – and Romania who were regarded as a very good side.

However, under Zagallo, Pele and Brazil rediscovered their mojo so to speak and the great striker is only too clear as to where Roberto Rivellino featured in that transformation.

“Rivellino was simply one of the greatest midfielders ever to play for Brazil. He had incredibly skilful technique and was unbelievably skilful especially with his left foot. People said that he and I could not play together because we both played in similar positions – both wearing the number 10 –  and so Zagallo decided to find a place for him out on the left and make no mistake it was the inclusion of Roberto Rivellino that made that Brazil team complete or made it whole.”

Pele goes on to talk about all the usual plaudits that one hears when talking Rivellino – his dribbling, his passing, his shooting – but then he goes on to add more:

“Rivellino also brought something else. He was an incredibly intelligent footballer. He had great vision and was very clever in seeing where other players were and was able to see where the game was going before anyone else realised.”

This is something that is echoed by Roberto Carlos: “Rivellino was very tactically astute and very clever. He was asked to perform a role by Zagallo and he was fantastic at it and was so important for us as a team”

Pele again: “He had great discipline and tactical sense. That was one of his greatest qualities.”

In short, playing Rivellino on the left was Zagallo’s stroke of genius yet in retrospect no one should have been surprised.

Zagallo himself had been a left winger and a very effective one for Brazil. He was known for both his attacking and his defensive qualities but at times was no doubt overshadowed by the immense talent of Garrincha on the right wing. Zagallo had only a fraction of Garrincha’s skill and flair but made up for it with sheer hard work and a tactical knowledge of the game. Some said that he was the luckiest Brazilian on earth to have won two world cup winners medals as a player, as he was not the most skilful Brazilian of the time, but they ignore the fact that Zagallo made teams better and more effective by way of his hard work and his tactical knowledge on the left hand side of the pitch.

In Roberto Rivellino, Zagallo had the opportunity to play a far more skilful player than he had ever been in a role which he understood perfectly.

And so it came to pass that Rivellino moved left to fit into a team which some said boasted the 5 No 10’s.

Jairzinho, Tostao, Pele, Gerson and Rivellino.

While the physical and mobile Clodoaldo protected and helped Gerson at the back of midfield, so Rivellino would use all his intelligence to dictate the shape of play on the left hand side of the field which in turn allowed Gerson lots of room to roam forward into space. When he did so, it would be Rivellino who would drop back slightly and inside to provide defensive cover or to collect the ball if it broke loose and so start an attack all over again.

Brazil had played a strict 4-2-4 under Saldanho, but with Rivellino in the team the formation easily shifted between 4-2-4, 4-3-3, 3-3-4 and even 3-2-5 on occasion.

Pele is unequivocal: “The attack line of Jairzinho, Tostao, Rivellino and me was irresistible and unstoppable. No team could deal with that”.

Yet within 18 minutes of the first game against Czechoslovakia, Brazil were a goal behind and it looked as if the doubters back home in Brazil were justified in their scepticism.

Then, in the 24th minute, Brazil were awarded a free kick on the edge of the penalty box and so the TV watching world was introduced to the fearsome left foot of Roberto Rivellino.

The resulting free kick was hit with such ferocity that the Brazilian number 11 was given a new name – “Il Patada Atómica” (The Atomic Kick) by the Mexican fans and press. The ball was struck with such force that it hit the back of the net as if fired from a rocket. The big goalkeeper, Viktor, who was absolutely sensational for the Czech’s throughout the tournament, had managed to get a hand on the ball but was unable to stop it due to the ferocious pace of the shot and was left sprawling and bewildered on the ground. As the keeper looked around him and appeared somewhat dazed, the TV cameras and the viewers throughout the world were treated to the wild arm swinging goal celebrations that were to become yet another trademark of the man with the biggest moustache in football.

From that moment onwards, the Brazilian team of the 1970 World Cup would not look back. They were simply immense.

Jairzinho would end up as top scorer and Pele would deliver moments of genius and memorable goals including his 100th goal which came in the final from a Rivellino cross. The most famous moment of the entire tournament was when the Brazilian number 10 actually didn’t score after dummying the play by ignoring the ball as it came across the penalty box at an angle, and instead ran around the advancing Romanian goal keeper only to collect the ball on the other side and just miss the far side post with a first time shot when the goal was at his mercy.

And all the while, throughout the entire tournament, rigidly sticking to the left touchline, other than when he was given the signal to roam, was Roberto Rivellino.

“Look at the number of goals we scored which were created from the left hand side?” says Pele making a point.

Even Carlos Alberto’s great goal in the final was fashioned all down the left hand side. Everyone talks about Clodoaldo weaving and jinking past 3 or 4 Italian tackles with the score at 3-1 when taking the ball out of defence. However, the big Brazilian midfielder is a man on a mission at that moment because if you look at the move again you will see that he is beating the oncoming attackers with only one intention in mind. He wants to go left!

Despite constantly moving forward when he releases the ball Clodoaldo is well within his own half and he playys a short pass to the left touchline where he finds the deep lying Rivellino.

If you watch the entire move for that goal you will see that Rivellino strikes the longest pass in the move from exactly the half way line. He bends the ball up the touchline some 25 yards taking out the entire Italian midfield with a pass that has been described as “luxurious”.

The ball lands at the feet of Jairzinho who for some inexplicable reason has abandoned his normal right wing position and has wandered to the left touchline. He starts to run with it across the pitch. The right back tries to tackle and misses, with the result that the right centre back now has to advance and the remainder of the Italian defence all move across to that side of the pitch like well-trained robots.

By the time the ball comes to Pele he already knows that Carlos Alberto is tearing up the Brazilian right and as everyone knows his simple lay off is sublime.

The Brazilian captain runs on to the ball like a steam train and thunders the ball into the back of the net!

There were no Italians there to block him; they had all gone to the Brazilian left.

According to some, including the Brazilian players, it was the presence and the ability of Rivellino that forced the game and the shape of the play left and allowed Brazil to capitalize on the space created on the right.

Rivellino himself would score three important goals in the tournament, all from outside the penalty box, but it was his tactical and technical ability mixed with his individualistic creativity and flair which really made a difference to the Brazil squad of 1970.

One of his goals came against the talented Peru side which was managed by former Brazilian legend Didi. Speaking of Rivellino, he had told his team to try and prevent him from being able to shoot at all costs.

After that first game against Czechoslovakia and before Brazil played England, Pele was asked by the press if Rivellino was going to be a world star? Repeating what he had told Zagallo before the Brazilian party had left for Mexico the great man said simply “Rivellino is a world star already!”

Hugh McIlvanney reporting from Mexico made this observation on the seemingly new discovery with the bushy moustache and atomic shot.

“The new menace that had emerged since England lost narrowly to Brazil in Rio a year previously was Rivellino. He had the handsome, moustachioed and side burned face of a playboy but his body was thickly athletic and the legs bulged with power. On the field his left foot looked dainty enough to put a match football in an eggcup but the shots when they came were intimidatingly violent.”

For the game against England, Brazil would have to play without Gerson who was injured. The England midfield at the time was considered very strong and included the legendary Bobby Charlton who was partnered by Martin Peters, Alan Ball and Alan Mullery.

With Gerson out what was Zagallo to do?

The answer was simple, he would allow Roberto Rivellino to play in his favoured role in midfield in direct opposition to Bobby Charlton and introduced Paulo Cesar on the left wing.

It turned out to be a classic match with the battle between Rivellino and Charlton being described as fascinating.

Brazil would win by a single goal from Jarzinho although England would have their chances as Brito and Piazza looked shaky at the back.

A later analysis of the game points out that Bobby Charlton was replaced after 70 minutes of duelling with Rivellino, who was clearly having the upper hand in midfield especially in the second half, and that after 10 minutes Martin Peters had ceased to be a force in the game at all. The three top rated players for Brazil in the game were Jairzinho, Pele and Rivellino.

By the time the all-conquering Brazilians lifted the Jules Rimet trophy for the third time, football as the TV spectating fan knew it had changed forever.

For a start, most of the watching public had never seen anything like a step over before and the first time it was seen around the globe on live television it was performed by Roberto Rivellino who seemed to do things at a pace that was hard to comprehend.

That was just one of his tricks.

The most often copied, however, is a move that almost bears his signature and is still being perfected and changed to this day.

Rivellino maintains that he is not the inventor of the flip flap, or the “Elastico Fantastico” as it is known but he is undoubtedly the person who singlehandedly introduced the move into International football and inspired countless numbers of others to attempt the move over the intervening decades.

Some, like Pele, were never able to master the technique at all and gave up trying. He laughs at the thought of Rivellino performing the move in training before the world cup and at his own inability to perform the manoevre. With Rivellino, however, Pele describes the ball as simply being glued to his foot.

If you are not sure of the “elastico”, just think of someone rolling their foot over the football, making it go one way but then suddenly moving it the opposite way and so wrong-footing the opposing defender.

Players such as Cristiano Ronaldo and Ronaldinho come to mind in the modern era but they only know of the move because of Rivellino.

There are various pieces of footage of Rivellino performing the trick including the 1970 world cup final where he uses it to “nutmeg” one of the Italians. At times he has performed the elastico while running and on other occasions he simply stands stock still and goads the defender like a matador with a bull. The result is that the defender jumps in and before he knows it the ball that was going one way has gone another with the moustachioed matador suddenly nowhere to be seen.

One of those who watched the world cup of 1970 and who was in absolute awe of the stocky Brazilian was a young Harry Redknapp. Writing much later about the 1970 world cup he said;

“We’d never seen anyone do the Roberto Rivellino move before! He would take the ball up to an opponent, put his foot on the inside as if to go outside him and then, at the last moment, step over it and move off in the opposite direction. We couldn’t believe what we were seeing. Defenders were going six yards the wrong way, and everyone at home was asking the same question: how did he do that? I can remember the TV panel slowing the footage down so they could study how it was done? Now everybody tries it – Ronaldinho, Lionel Messi, Cristiano Ronaldo – but Rivellino was the first to do the flip flap, ……..”

“Even footballers try to imitate the greats. I think when we reported back for training that summer, everyone was trying, secretly, to see if they could do the stepover like Rivellino. I mastered it in the end but never at the speed he managed it.”

After the 1970 World Cup final, the Italian press complained that the result in the final would have been different had Rivellino been playing for Italy. They argued that given his Italian grandparents he should have been wearing the blue of the Azzurri. However, the 24 year old went back to his native Brazil and Corinthians with his world cup winner’s medal and a whole host of new fans.

At Corinthians he was treated as a hero – The Little King — and was the shinning jewel in the team. Unfortunately, the rest of the team were not remotely of the same standard and in his time with the club he won nothing whatsoever.

Despite their star midfielder, Corinthians were not a good team and when they lost a state final in 1974 to their great rivals, Palmeiras, and in a country fuelled full of superstitions, Rivellino was blamed for being some kind of hoodoo or unlucky charm.

After that losing final and a nine year stay at the club, he walked out of the ground with his coat turned up and never returned to the park where he had been king.

In the interim, he was a stalwart of the new Brazilian team which now had to move on after the retiral of the great Pele and others.

It is said that Rivellino is singlehandedly responsible for dragging a pretty dreadful Brazil to a creditable fourth place in the 1974 world cup.

The 1974 national team were nothing like the team of 1970. Jairzinho was still there but he was no longer the fast strong hurricane of a player from 4 years before and the players around him were not of the same calibre as the heady days of Mexico.

However, Rivellino was there and now he was in the middle of the park and not confined to the left hand side. Once again he scored three goals in the finals – enough to make him his country’s top scorer in the tournament.

Just as he was at Corinthians, in the 1974 World Cup finals he was seen as almost a one man team.

He pomped and preened his way through the tournament with some majestic football that was awe inspiring. In the intervening years he had helped Brazil to some memorable victories in South America in minor tournaments and friendlies, but at the really top level his country was found wanting and in particular their tactics were seen as far too negative and counter attacking which didn’t suit the style of football that Rivellino had come to represent.

There was a new dawn in world football and the Brazilians would lose out in the semi-finals to Johan Cruyff’s wonderful Dutch team despite Rivellino himself being excellent. They would also lose the third place play-off game to Poland who were the surprise team of the tournament.

However, it was widely accepted that Riva was the midfielder of the tournament.

In 1974, whilst still at Corinthians, Rivellino would score a goal that was described as “the miracle goal” in the Brazilian press. The goal was not, of course, a miracle but did show the combination of quick thinking, tactical astuteness, skill and vision for which Rivellino had become known in his home land.

As he and a Corinthians team mate kicked off the start of the match, Rivellino noticed that the opposition goalkeeper was otherwise engaged. Some reports say that the goalkeeper was praying, others say that he was speaking to a photographer at the side of the goal just as the game commenced. Either way, Roberto Rivellino noticed that the keeper was not paying attention and upon receiving the ball from the kick-off he thundered the ball towards the goal from behind the half way line with a swing of his mighty left foot.

He was never officially awarded the accolade of the fastest goal in history as there was simply no means of recording the feat at the time but some reports say that the ball struck the net in less than three seconds from the sound of the first whistle. All that is known is that the goalkeeper did not know that the shot had even been struck and that his first knowledge of the game being underway was when he was alerted to the fact that the ball was in the back of the net.

In Brazil, and South America generally, the goal took Rivellino’s reputation to a new level, and it perhaps explains another phenomenon that was to occur not long after.

When he lost in the state final with Corinthians, Rivellino left the ground of the club he had served for over 9 years without knowing that he would never return as a Corinthians player.

The next he knew was that he was being sold to Fluminense who played in Rio De Janeiro and where he would have the most spectacular effect even before he had kicked a football.

In Rio, carnival is king and when Mardi Gras time comes the football stadiums lie empty as nothing can compete with “Carnival”.

However, his new employers decided that Rivellino would make his debut for Fluminense at the Maracanã on the first Saturday of carnival. The game concerned was a friendly against Corinthians and was no doubt part of the transfer deal between the two clubs. To play a pretty meaningless friendly on the Saturday of Mardi Gras was a decision which was widely thought of as crazy, but nonetheless that was when the game was scheduled to be played. It was widely thought that no one would come to watch.

Amazingly, over 100,000 spectators came to the game that day. This was so completely unusual that it was worthy of comment on the national news and when offering an explanation as to why so many people had gone to a football match on a day when nobody goes to see a game, the pundits were unanimous in their explanation – Rio de Janeiro had turned out to see Roberto Rivellino!

And what a show they were given?

Playing against the club which had so recently released him, the moustachioed midfielder put on a masterclass for the benefit of those watching and scored a spectacular hatrick in the process.

Now, Rivellino would get his winners medals. Playing in a team that boasted players in every position who were either current Brazilian internationals or who had been Brazilian internationals, Rivellino’s Fluminense would win titles, cups, and trophies by the bucketful.

Over the next few years, Roberto Rivellino virtually held a weekly masterclass in midfield football.

His Fluminense team waltzed past opponents with such relentlessness that in a country where giving someone or something a nickname is second nature they were deemed “A Macquina Tricolore” – The Tri Coloured Machine.

The line-up for this team – deemed one of the greatest if not the greatest Brazilian club sides of all time included Felix in goal, fullbacks Marco Antonio and Carlos Alberto, Edinho, Neto,  Paulo César, Dirceu, Gil, Doval and various others who would all command International recognition.

Rivellino was not so much the engine room of that machine but more the rhythm section of a truly sensational band, and he himself was the chief soloist.

The passing, the ball skills, the close control technique were all on show at their best as he teased, dominated, conducted, dictated and orchestrated his team mates and the game in general.

He won two state championships back to back and collected numerous other trophies with Fluminense prompting one former International team mate to comment that in that period he collected more trophies than any one man could carry.

The victories at that time included what was billed as a game between the two greatest club sides in the world with the Brazilians facing a Bayern Munich side which boasted Beckenbaur, Muller, Hoeness, Rummenigge and all the others who made Bayern top dogs in Europe.

The game resulted in a 1-0 victory for the Brazilian side with Gerd Muller scoring an own goal when trying to track back to cover a Fluminense attack. However, the ball only hit the back of the net after Rivellino had “flipped flapped” Beckenbaur and the rest of the defence and played a superb ball through for a team mate which would undoubtedly have resulted in a goal anyway had Muller not stuck out a foot.

In Brazil it was reported that the 1-0 result did not reflect the true nature of the game and that Fluminense were so dominant that they could have clearly won by 4 or 5 goals or even more.

In talking about his time at Fluminense, Edinho describes Rivellino as just sensational in their midfield. The range of passes, the ability to read the game, the spectacular goals and the tricks, flips and flaps were all on show and had the crowd on their feet week after week.

Fluminense toured Europe and won an invitation only tournament in Paris where they defeated Paris St Germain with two goals from Rivellino and then went on to defeat a European team which was made up of various stars from across the continent.

The French press declared Rivellino as the greatest player in the world at the time.

Ironically, in Fluminense’s second great year, 1976, their manager was Mario Travaglini who had told the young Rivellino that he would not be offered a contract at Palmeiras all those years before.

On the international front, 1976 saw Brazil invited to play in a 4 team competition in the United States as part of that countries bi – centennial celebrations. Besides Brazil, the other teams to play were England, Italy and an American league team made up of players from many countries who were now playing “soccer” in the USA. This team included Pele, Giorgio Chinaglia and Bobby Moore among others.

Both England and Italy were at full strength while there were two notable features about the Brazil team.

The first was that they had a new Captain in Roberto Rivellino and the second was that Rivellino himself had a new young, raw, skinny, long haired midfield partner called Artur Antunes Coimbra. To avoid confusion within his family where there were a few “Arturs”, this young Artur was given a family nickname “Arturzico” and this nickname was then further shortened to Zico.

The American league team were not up to much and so the competition came down to Brazil, England and Italy. Indeed, at the end of the game one of the English born players playing in the American team, a chap called Eddy Keith, was so star struck at playing on the same park as the Brazilian captain he ran the full length of the park to try and swap shirts with Rivellino only to find the little king of the park exchanging shirts with Bobby Moore!

The Italian team which faced Brazil was very strong with a starting line-up of Zoff, Facchetti, Bellugi, Benetti, Antognoni, Tardelli, Capello, Causio, Graziani, Pulici and Rocca. Later they would bring on Roberto Bettiga and Eraldo Pecci among others.

Brazil, fielded a slightly experimental side featuring the midfield trio of the wily old Rivellino surrounded by the younger pairing of the attacking Zico and the more defensive Falcao.

Fabio Capello opened the scoring for Italy but the Italians eventually succumbed to a 4-1 defeat which could have been more.

Zico scored a great goal from midfield after Gil had scored two excellent goals stemming from superb Rivellino passes, and the big Brazilian forward Roberto added a fourth.

However, there is a video piece on you tube which shows the performance of Roberto Rivellino in this game that is worth the watching, principally for Riva’s passing exhibition against a very good Italian midfield, but also for the fun of watching world class footballers become so frustrated with his posing, strutting and general micky taking that they resort to pure unadulterated physical violence of the crudest kind.

Rivellino himself is shown as no soft touch, but his swagger and deliberate tormenting of the Italian midfield is something to behold.

The first Brazilian goal in this game comes from a Rivellino pass which almost defies belief as he sends the ball fully fifty yards through the heart of the pitch. The ball seems to bend first one way and then the other cutting out five Italian players before landing at his team mate’s feet in the penalty box.

However such a pass was apparently common place for Roberto Rivellino and his side went on to defeat England and the American league team to lift the trophy.

Rivellino was still playing international football in 1978 and featured in the world cup qualifying campaign and friendly matches in the lead up to the world cup finals in Argentina.

While he did travel with Brazil to the 1978 world cup, he did not feature much as he was carrying an injury and it is a world cup the great man does not remember with relish despite playing very well in the third place play-off game.

However, a relatively poor Brazil did succeed in coming third in Argentina though back in Rio the very thought of Argentina getting their hands on the new World Cup trophy was enough to cause great public angst and the 1978 finals marked a need for change of thinking within the Brazilian FA.

As a player on the international stage, Rivellino’s time had come and gone, however in many respects his noticeable long lasting influence was only just beginning. The great, but ultimately unsuccessful, Brazil side of 1982 would have more than a touch of Rivellino’s flair and swagger about them which is not surprising as most of that team had grown up watching the side of 1970 and had been inspired by the beautiful football it played.

I had sat and watched the 1970 World Cup on the television in glorious Technicolor like millions of other spectators. As has been mentioned above, few Europeans knew anything about Brazil other than that the great Pele played for the country, but beyond that they could have been a one man team as far as a European public was concerned.

Whilst the whole team impressed and Pele’s iconic smile became ever more famous, it was the “other” Brazilian players who were somehow a surprise.

The powerful and tricky Jairzinho ended up top scorer with a goal in every game. Tostao and Gerson were heralded for their clever contributions and Carlos Alberto scored the greatest world cup goal of all time.

However, Rivellino’s moustache, trickery, craziness, passing, creativity and his shooting prowess made him a viewer’s favourite and not just in in Europe either. As Harry Redknapp would later point out, the greatest coaching vehicle in the world for anyone – particularly kids – is to see great players doing what they do, and just as Johann Cruyff would 4 years later, Rivellino lit up the world cup with his ball tricks, step overs and elastico fantasticos firing the imagination of kids and adults all over the world.

Thousands of ten year olds like me were glued to the TV back in South America and one in particular is in no doubt what and who was most memorable and inspirational. Many years later he would recall the 1970 world cup with these words:

‘When I was a kid I used to watch Brazil play. I wasn’t bothered about what Pele was doing, though. I used to watch out for Rivellino, on the other side of the pitch. He was everything I wanted to be as a player. His dribbling was flawless, his passes perfect and his shots unstoppable. And he did everything with his left foot. It didn’t matter if his right foot was only good to stand on, because there was nothing he couldn’t do with his left. To me it was beautiful. He was my idol.’

To be fair, Rivellino’s right foot was for more than standing up in, as in the 1970 final against Italy it was with his right foot that he thundered a shot off the bar and you only have to see his right foot volley against Botafogo while playing for Fluminense to realise that it was no mean footballing weapon in its own right.

However, the kid who watched back then only saw a stocky left footed guy who could do everything with that left – run, dribble, tackle, pass, shoot and control the game despite being below average height and with apparently just the one foot.

The kid was called Diego Maradona and he has since repeatedly made it clear that Roberto Rivellino was the footballer that he always wanted to be!

From the mid 70’s onwards, South America produced a succession of midfielders who all pay homage to the football of the one and only “Riva”.

Osvaldo Ardilles, Socrates, Maradona, Zico, Kaka, Ronaldinho, Juninho, Rivaldo, Riquelme, Carlos Valderrama and many more in between and since, all eventually talk about what they saw in Roberto Rivellino that made them want to be the footballers they became. Strikers such as Romario and Ronaldo also talk of Rivellino as an inspiration in terms of ball control and shooting for goal.

Ronaldinho in particular liked the Rivellino style of play. “I used to dream of being Roberto Rivellino” he says. “I would watch endless videos of him and wanted to be left footed like him, do tricks like him. He was, and still is, one of my greatest idols and heroes.”

The use of the elastico fantastico was taken to a new level by the tall and muscular Brazilian between his time at PSG and at Barcelona where he used the move at spectacular speed and with devastating effect.

As has been pointed out, today, Cristiano Ronaldo, Neymar and of course Lionel Messi all use moves and dribbles that many first saw with Rivellino and which were later passed on by many others like Zico, Socrates and Maradona.

However, the comparisons do not stop there because as Pele said one of Rivellino’s greatest talents was his tactical awareness, his discipline and his ability to control the game and see where it is going.

Whilst it was not evident in the 1970 world cup where he was deployed more on the left wing, in his more central role in later years – particularly when with Fluminense – Rivellino became the rhythm section of his team by conducting a series of short sharp passes in seemingly tight areas of the pitch while surrounded by opponents. It was something he learned on the streets of Sao Paulo.

He would get the ball, give it, get it back and give it again whilst all the time controlling the direction of the play and the fate of the football, knocking it about with spin, slice and pace like a golfer with a wedge or a tennis player with a tennis racquet.

The pattern of play adopted by Pep Guardiola’s Barcelona and by Messrs Xavi and Iniesta in particular can find their pure roots in the footballing brain and instinctive style of play of Roberto Rivellino.

An adaptation of that passing style of play and the constant movement into space was a key part of the total football system so advocated by Rinus Michaels and performed brilliantly by Johan Cruyff. Cruyff would later take the “system” to Barcelona and instil it into their training regimes with the youth teams in particular being trained to run into space to receive the ball and then give it back.

Roberto Rivellino would openly say of the Dutch World Cup team that they brought a new style of football to the tournament and that they had to be admired for that.

However, 4 years before the Dutch entertained the world with their system, Roberto Rivellino, as an individual, was playing football in exactly the same way having learned the same lesson on the streets of Sao Paulo and using his footballing instinct and unbelievable skills. Get it, pass it, move and get it again and repeat.

One footballing article I have read suggests that Rivellino was the most influential South American footballer of his generation and perhaps of the past 50 years! And it cannot be denied that the influence of South American players on European Football has grown increasingly since the 1978 World Cup with ball players and entertainers becoming real supertsars within the game.

When his days at Fluminense had come to an end, his old International boss, Mario Zagallo, signed him for a club he was managing in Saudi Arabia and it was there that Rivellino saw out his professional career.

He was still scoring spectacular goals, and making the crowds gasp with his skill and artistry but the fitness was going and his time on the pitch was coming to an end. However, the goals and the tricks were in evidence in abundance and as the standard of player he played against dropped in comparison to World cups and the Brazilian domestic league, so Rivellino would conjure up ever more fantastic feats in Saudi Arabia.

In the course of winning three successive league titles there, he would score free kicks from forty yards out, play sublime passes and generally flip flapped and back heeled to the cheers of the crowd who came to watch in their thousands.

In South America, in particular, the Rivellino legend shows no sign of diminishing. In January 2015 the Argentinian midfielder Juan Ramon Riquelme announced that he was retiring from football after a stellar career.

There is no doubt that Riquelme was a terrific footballer and given that he was a gifted midfielder comparisons to others from the past were inevitable.

One such comparison was with Rivellino and stated that the Brazilian was the left footed or “southpaw” equivalent of the right footed Argentinian Riquelme.

The reaction from some was very heated and immediate. While most admired the talented Riquelme many did not think he was worthy of comparison at all to Rivellino stating that it was like comparing Monday to Friday. They are both days of the week but at different ends of the spectrum and that the very comparison was an insult to Rivellino.

“Riquelme is a great player, but it’s not fair to compare him to the genius that was Roberto Rivellino” said one critic with another adding unkindly that the only comparison that could be made would be to say that Riquelme was an overrated midfielder compared to Rivellino simply being an underrated genius!

The point is that almost 50 years on, In South America no matter how good you are you are not likely to outshine the reputation of Roberto Rivellino.

When he eventually retired and returned to Brazil “Riva” bought a petrol station but had to give that up because his ownership caused endless traffic jams. Motorists would queue for hours to get petrol just in the hope that their tank would be filled up by the great man and they could catch a few words.

However, his great love was always football and he never forgot the days when he was dirt poor and when he and his friends had to play with no shoes, no socks and no ball.

In due course, he was persuaded to write his autobiography, the title of which said everything about his entire philosophy on football, what was most important in his football career and perhaps about life in general

It was called simply “Get out of the street Roberto!” and is a reference to the regular call that came every night from his mother when trying to persuade her son to come into the house and stop playing football.  In it he states categorically that “… the streets formed me as a man and a footballer” and that his entire being, all his success and his attitude to life in general was shaped by the experiences of his childhood on the streets of Sao Paulo.

This belief and overriding attitude also explains why he built the Roberto Rivellino soccer school for children right in the middle of his native city, one of the most densely populated cities on earth. Barely a square foot of the city is not built upon and developed, yet today, in the heart of an ever growing concrete jungle, there are some football pitches  ( grass and Astroturf ) which bear the great man’s name and where kids can come and learn their football skills under the tutelage of Rivellino approved coaches and sessions.

He is adamant that the ever continuing development of the cities of Brazil have ignored the “street education of children” leading to a reduction in the amount of street football and a consequential deterioration in the ball skills among the young men and women of today.  The result, he argues, is that Brazil now produces far fewer footballers with real natural talent, and he passionately rails against such a situation. He further argues that if older guys like him gained raw basic skills in unorganised games played in urban open spaces and then progressed to provide the beautiful football of the 1970 World Cup team, then why can’t that lesson be replicated and maintained throughout Brazil ( and the rest of the world ) rather than be allowed to die under the auspices of so called progressive inner city development?

Today, as he heads towards his 70’s, he is a regular TV pundit on football and he hosted one famous show with Maradona where they talked football, football and football.

He owns the bar mentioned at the start of this piece and is treated by the public as an iconic godfather like figure with people coming to visit him virtually all the time.

In 1989 he came out of retirement and helped a seniors Brazil side to the title of World Cup of Masters where he scored in the final against Uruguay thus becoming the first player in history to have won the world cup and the senior’s world cup.

He is not averse to being commercial and knows what he is worth in terms of media contracts, yet at the same time the small balding paunchy man is neither a big head nor a braggart and as mentioned above he is a street footballing socialist.

His name appears regularly in polls of “the greatest” conducted by football magazines, UEFA, FIFA, retired players and sports journalists with monotonous regularity and for all sorts of different skills.

He has been voted as one of the greatest number tens of all time and is mentioned in the same breath as Pele, Platini, Zidane, Puskas, Maradona, Baggio, Hagi, Messi and Matthaus and at one point was voted as the fourth greatest footballer ever to come out of Brazil behind Pele, Garrincha ( his own personal favourite ) and the aforementioned Zico to whom he taught a thing or two .

He makes the list of the top 100 or 50 footballers of all time on a repeated basis despite the fact that more modern players get far more exposure and media coverage and so their feats and skills are more readily available to watch on video.

When Geoff Hurst chose his top 50 players of all time he added that in his opinion Rivellino, Pele, Jairzinho, Gerson and Carlos Alberto would have formed the greatest 5 a side team in history and would probably have beaten many 11 a side teams without a goalkeeper! By the way Gerson and Carlos Alberto didn’t make his list.

Rivellino is the only player listed as scoring two of the top 25 free kicks of all time. His goal against East Germany in the 1974 world Cup has to be watched in slow motion to be believed and to fully appreciate its pace and accuracy. Michel Platini has described that goal as firing the ball through a mousehole!

The name Rivelino appears yet again in the list of players who were the all-time great dribblers with the football with many citing him as a supreme example of someone who had complete control of the football with his step overs, flip flaps, feints and dummies.

When it comes to who had the hardest shot he is always nominated, as he is when it comes to the most stylish player ever seen, the player with the best left foot, the player with the best tricks in football, and of course the player with the most memorable moustache!

In some articles his football is described as “art” or “sheer artistry with a football”.

Any discussion about who was the best passer of the ball results in the name Rivellino once again coming to the fore, and those who played against him remember some of his passes with awe. The one mentioned above in the 1976 game against Italy in America was one such pass, however another is graphically described by Kevin Keegan in his autobiography where he makes no attempt to hide just what he saw and felt when playing against Rivellino.

“I’ll never forget one of his (Rivellino’s) passes in Rio, it was every inch of 80 yards,” wrote Keegan in his excellent 1979 book, Against The World. “I wouldn’t have believed it was possible to strike a ball so hard, so far, so accurately, until I saw Rivellino do it from the edge of his penalty area.

“The target man was 20-yards inside England’s half and starting a full diagonal sprint to get behind Dave Watson and Emlyn Hughes. Yet the ball pinpointed him, it fell in his stride. He didn’t need to change direction. I was about three yards away from Rivellino and I felt the wind as the ball passed me at shoulder height. The astonishing thing is that it stayed at the same height all the way. I watched wide-eyed as it flew on and on; that’s one of the rare times when I’ve felt outclassed.”

Yet that very pass throws up two conundrums about assessing Rivellino’s place in the record books of world football.

The pass was never caught on TV. Many of his truly great performances are only reported by eye witnesses while the skills of others he is compared to and with, and who played in a later era can be seen time and time again and so help further their reputation.

With Rivellino you have to go with the younger stars who went on to play for Brazil, Argentina and whoever at a later date to truly measure his impact, and you have to rely on guys like Keegan and Beckenbaur who played against him, and others like Pele, who played with him, to really get a sense of how highly players of real calibre rated him.

Keegan’s report of the pass in Rio raises another issue and takes you back to Pele’s comments about Rivellino’s intelligence as a footballer. His vision was said to be legendary and that he could see where the game was going long before others could. He could see where players were and where they could and would move to.

And so the question has to be asked when considering the pass described by Kevin Keegan: Did the forward player start to make the diagonal run which Rivellino then responded to instantly and with great skill in a split second, or did Rivellino strike the pass into an exact spot causing his colleague to make such a run thus changing the pattern of the game?

Pele says that Rivellino could do both. He could react with such skill that he made the ball do all the work whether the pass be short or 80 yards long, and he could play the ball in and into areas which would instinctively make players, both team mates and opponents, move into areas where they had no intention of going only seconds before.

Rivellino will never be heralded as the greatest overall player in the world, nor the greatest in any one discipline or skill to be seen on the football pitch.

However, what is clear is that to be classed as a better overall footballer than he was, or even his equal, in any area of the game, you had to be truly exceptional in any era and come from that rare pantheon of footballers whose legend transcends the generations and more importantly inspires others.

Those who do the voting and saw him play in the flesh care not for the comparison to the later Rivellino-likes no matter how good they may be or may have been. He was the original. He was the one little king of the park playing with a heavier ball and they will tolerate no mention of any pretender. He was the originator of moves, tricks and dribbles. Others may have taken those moves on, perfected them with the lighter ball which is easier to move and bend and deployed them before a greater TV audience, but they were not the original.

He has been dubbed “Maradona’s professor” and was the footballer who inspired not only the average Joe in the crowd but also a host of kids and young men who would go on to rank as among the greatest footballers the planet has ever seen. In that sense his influence can still be seen on the field of play to this day.

Some may argue that others like Cruyff were more influential, were better and more effective players and have had a greater lasting effect on the game.

However, Cruyff and others, whilst undoubtedly brilliant, played in a system, were coached and taught many aspects of the game with the result that the teams they played in were dominant for a period until someone else worked out a tactical solution to combat their system.

Rivellino’s skills on the other hand were natural, learned on the street, and then adapted and used in the professional game. He was not always surrounded by great players or deployed in a team which played to a winning system, but he still stood out and made the game seem magical.

He made kids want to play football like him and there can be no greater compliment especially when you consider the number and the calibre of players who would later say they were Rivellino inspired.

Zico would play for his country 71 times; Gerson would amass 70 caps as would Romario. Kaka gained 87 caps, Jairzinho 81 and Rivaldo 74. Carlos Alberto turned out for Brazil 53 times and the legendary Garrincha would make 50 appearances.  Cruyff would only play 48 times for Holland.

Rivellino would make exactly the same number of official international appearances as Pele with 92 caps, though some lists credit Rivellino as having appeared 96 times as some games were not treated as official Internationals.

Either way, he played for his country more often than Falcao and Socrates put together as they amassed 28 and 60 appearances respectively.

Had Saldanho not frozen him out over a thirteen match period then he may well now be classed as the third highest capped player in Brazilian history behind Cafu and Roberto Carlos neither of whom, while good, were the same calibre of footballer. He would also have added to his tally of 26 International goals.

When it comes to the measure of putting bums on seats, it is arguable that Rivellino was in a league of his own with his trickery, his shooting, his celebrations and his overall pomp, flair and character. Millions all over the world tried to copy his moves in training grounds and playgrounds and his very presence was guaranteed to add to the number of spectators attending any match. In the days before global football coverage on TV, Roberto Rivellino singlehandedly increased the gates at every club he ever played for.

One commentator has remarked that he came to watch Fluminense at the age of 14 and to see Roberto Rivellino play in that first match on the Saturday of Carnival. The same man goes on to say that he was so thrilled while Rivellino remained at Fluminense he never missed a single match.

Other than his final stint in Saudi Arabia, he never played football for any club outside of his native Brazil. His was an era when South Americans generally did not travel to Europe.

However, had the market for Galacticos been in existence in his era, there can be no doubt that the Real Madrid’s, Barcelona’s and the likes would have broken the bank for Roberto Rivellino.

Yet at no time in his career did he seek a move. He simply played and spent the majority of his career playing for a provincial side that were not very good while at the same time developing a reputation as a truly special footballer.

Unlike the little King of the Park, many of the later players who were inspired by him, and who would emulate his talents and tricks, only did so in the most talented of winning sides whilst earning millions of Pounds or Euros.

It could be argued that Rivellino was among the last of the truly great provincial players as from the 1978 World Cup onwards football players became real global stars with money dictating that the entertainers and ball players who would put bums on seats would cross oceans to play in successful teams.

Zico would go to Italy, Ardilles to England and Kempes to Spain thus heralding the fact that in due course the real ball players, the trick masters, the exceptional footballing talents would always command the highest transfer fees and go to the biggest clubs – and most would cite Roberto Rivellino as either their main influence or one of their main influences.

Yet the man himself is somewhat humble. He is or was a footballer and simply loved being one. He is a critic of the modern trend towards tactically killing the game and bemoans the lack of genuine skill and flair in the modern footballer.

He believes the crowd are there to be entertained and that players should hone their skills and provide flair and excitement with a view to getting those bums off the seat and the arms in the air.

In the modern game, with the value of transfers reaching ever crazier numbers, it is interesting to note that as each few years pass it is the Rivellino-likes who always seem to attract the really huge transfer fees. The Maradona’s, Ronaldos, Messi’s, Ronaldinho’s, Figo’s, Neymar’s and so on are all Rivellino types – the types that make you sit up and gasp. What would the moustachioed one be worth in today’s market given the testimony of the football players mentioned above?

He is adamant that the role of the No 10 as he knew it no longer exists in modern football together with the honour of wearing the number and the inspiration it brought –  and he deeply regrets its passing.

“The priority today isn’t creating, but marking, and that is all wrong. Today instead of calling up the best players in each position, the tactical options for each position are called instead” he complains.

The only sure way to occasionally beat any given tactical system is to face that system with a sheer genius in your midst and that is how many see Roberto Rivellino – a footballing genius who could change a game singlehandedly. The guy who could take a bad team and singlehandedly make it competitve or, as Pele says, the guy you could introduce into a potentially good team who would make it complete!

He is unfazed and amused by the plaudits that are thrown his way by the press and other bodies and while appreciative of the adulation he measures himself in other ways and with other comparisons.

“4th all-time greatest player for Brazil behind Pele, Garrincha and Zico? Yes that is not bad. However, I think of it another way. When Pele retired from the Brazilian national side, I was given his shirt. I was the next No 10 in the yellow shirt, I was his immediate successor. THAT means something.”

A couple of years ago, a Brazilian TV station caught the humble side of the ever joking talismanic Rivellino at a time and on an occasion which neither he nor the TV Company were expecting.

He had played for Corinthians for some 9 years and had won nothing leaving under something of a cloud. The relationship with the club and their fans had remained slightly strained ever since despite the fact that he had said that he would have given up his World Cup winners medal to have won something with the club.

Corinthians had permanently under achieved before during and after the Rivellino years but it was totally unfair of certain sections of the fans and management to lay any blame at the feet of Roberto Rivellino. When they eventually did win something he was asked for his comments and said he was delighted as for the better part of a decade the Parque Sao Jorge had been his second home. He was genuinely thrilled – a real fan.

However, once again the club were drowning in mediocrity when the President, possibly in an attempt to boost his own popularity, announced that the club had commissioned a bronze bust of “O Reizinho del Parque” as a tribute to him after all these years.

The TV footage shows the return to Corinthians of Roberto Rivellino who is seen walking through the club museum, taking in the memories of games gone by while talking and wisecracking as always. He is wearing a short sleeved casual shirt and is speaking directly to the camera as he walks into the boardroom of the club and sees, for the first time, the striking bust of his younger self complete with longish hair, bull like shoulders, and that iconic moustache.

The bronze piece sits on a sideboard and overlooks the boardroom table where the decisions that shape his old club are now made. It is a magnificent sculpture and dominates the room.

The TV cameras are still rolling when Rivellino sees the statue and suddenly and inexplicably stops talking and just bursts into tears. He holds his hands in his head and cries uncontrollably.

He turns his back on the camera and on the statue, walks away sobbing like a grief stricken child and the silence in the room makes for uncomfortable watching.

Eventually the President of the club goes to comfort him and is heard saying “Riva! Riva!” as he puts an arm around him to console the emotion struck man.

Rivellino eventually turns and looks at the statue again with tears running down his face and simply says “Fantastico – Obrigado! Oh Obrigado” – “Fantastic!  Thankyou – OH Thankyou.”

The emotion is clearly genuine and moving, and the whole incident was of such note that it made the national news in Brazil.

All the accolades, list mentions, and tributes will never bring him back those heady days when in his late teens and early twenties he developed and strutted at this club, but at least the statue has taken away the notion that he was somehow bad for the club and that no one wanted to remember his play and contribution while he was there.


A small balding fat man wearing shorts, trainers, a football shirt and a hat to protect his head from the sun comes out of his office, crosses the pathway and enters a football pitch where a group of school kids, both boys and girls, are being coached.

Many of the children involuntarily run towards the man and give him a hug.

“Who is he?” a watching journalist asks a young girl.

“That is Riva” replies a young girl pronouncing the name that is written on the back of the man’s shirt.

“And what is special about Riva?” asks the reporter.

“Oh he played football ……. For Brazil!” replies the child in a tone which makes it clear that 50 years on “Riva” is someone special.

The look on the face of the on looking, paunchy balding man suggests that the child has just paid him the greatest tribute of all.

Roberto Rivellino played football – he is and was The Little King of the Park, and to this day, directly or indirectly, he still inspires football fans young and old and the very best modern players who try to replicate his skills and tricks on the park – and when they do the fans, the TV companies and the sponsors all turn up in record numbers to pay and to watch!

The Stranger, The Queen and the Glasgow Garden Festival

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This is a slightly different style of tale for me.

It is far removed from the style and content of Fabulous Harry Maguire and his exploits, and it has a completely different mood.

Hopefully, those who read it will enjoy it and won’t find it too sentimental in tone.

All the characters mentioned in it are ……….. well judge for yourself!


Caroline stared at her coffee cup and felt a tear roll down her face. She wiped it away and sniffed only to find that she now had tears silently flowing down each cheek.

She tried to shake off the sadness that brought the tears and found that all her attempts were in vain, and despite her best attempts at concentrating on something else she found herself drawn back to that late summer night 12 years ago. It was a night she had almost forgotten about at one time, maybe deliberately forgotten about or put out of her head, but now it loomed large and just would not go away.

Her mind was in Nice, on the Cote D’Azur and the date was Tuesday 31st of August 1982.

There had been seven of them, sitting in a café in a somewhat shabby section of the city, and they were steadily getting drunker as the evening went on. As the alcohol took ever greater effect, so the laughter and the antics had become more and more spontaneous, silly and stupid. She could see that now, but at the time it had all seemed so much of an adventure; a vital part of their rebelliousness and their journey, whereas in reality they had just been seven daft students on holiday getting pissed and no doubt being a pain in the arse as far as everyone else in the vicinity was concerned.

They were just into their second week in France but this was to be their one and only night in Nice, before moving on through Monte Carlo to a brief sojourn into Italy where they would spend two nights in San Remo before starting to head north again to catch the ferry back to Dover.

Of the seven, Simon and Julie were loved up like Romeo and Juliette – everywhere they walked they held hands, constantly kissed and let everyone know they were in love. Of course it hadn’t lasted. He was now working in the city somewhere and Julie was a successful Advocate in Edinburgh, happily married with two small children. There were three other boys, Danny, Joe and Michael who, together with Caroline and Maria, made up the seven.

Maria was her pal, all long dark hair and brown eyes. She had always turned a head. She even turned heads first thing in the morning, when she walked into a lecture when everyone else was half asleep and looking as if they had just fallen out of bed in the clothes they had slept in. While Caroline would accept that she herself was pretty with a good figure, everyone knew that Maria was supermodel stunning – and knew it, sometimes playing on her good looks.

Of the boys, she knew Danny best as he was in some of her classes and generally hung about in the same company. Joe and Michael she knew less well though, as they sort of hung about the edge of her crowd. Throughout the previous week, all three had shown that they could be very funny albeit in a daft immature way at times.

As the week had gone on, Danny and Maria had been flirting with one another more and more until one night they disappeared together leaving Caroline with the ever entwined lovers and the other two boys. For some reason, this made her feel a bit awkward though looking back she did not really know why.

On that Tuesday night, they were all staying in a cheap hostel with the boys in one room and the girls in another according to the rules of the house, and so at the café Caroline had somewhat drunkenly warned the others that there would be no mysterious copping off together for some “hanky panky” that night – or so she thought.

They had been in the café since about 4pm after a day of wandering around Nice, taking in the sites and enjoying the occasional drink as they wandered. Prior to that night, they had spent a few days staying in Frejus just along the coast where they had spent lazy days on the beach, eaten fabulous food and been to an open air Roxy Music concert on the Friday night topping what had been a fabulous few days in the town. Now they were sitting at two tables outside the café door watching the world go by and getting steadily drunker.

Caroline hadn’t taken much notice of the others sitting at the adjacent tables. If she had, she would have seen two elderly men drinking wine and playing chess, a young man sitting on his own reading a book, a middle aged husband and wife sharing coffees in silence, and two men who were in heated debate about……. about something or other. There were others sitting inside the café but they barely registered, if at all, but she was conscious of music coming from a juke box or radio.

The street was not so much a street but a wide alley with old sandstone apartments on the opposite side from the café. Further up, there was a small supermarket, a dry cleaners and a pharmacy, before the alley took a curving bend to the left and disappeared out of sight.

This was the scene that she now looked back on from 1994.

Through her tears, she recalled that they had been playing charades. Maria was standing on the pavement attempting to mime the name of some book or other when there was the sound of glass smashing somewhere behind her.

Caroline was slow to react but the next thing she knew was that the game had stopped and Michael was out of his seat like a flash sprinting across the alley where an old woman had fallen whilst apparently attempting to enter the door of her apartment. It looked as if the old lady had tripped on the step leading to the apartment door and in so doing she had dropped her shopping bag with the result that a bottle of wine and a bottle of water had smashed to the ground.

The woman was half lying in the alley, muttering to herself in French, and struggling to get back to her feet.

Caroline could remember seeing Michael bent over the fallen woman and speaking to her in French, and then with the help of the young man with a book in his hand, who had made his way over just behind Michael, he was trying to get the old lady back to her feet. Whilst the book reader held the old lady’s hand, Michael rather awkwardly and rather forwardly wrapped his arms round the prone woman’s waist and physically lifted her off the ground and set her back up on somewhat unsteady feet.

“Is that what you call picking up a bird, Mick?” Shouted Simon rather boorishly, though the comment did get a laugh “Bet she gives you a knock back!” continued Simon encouraged by his earlier jibe.

As far as she could remember, Caroline and the rest simply carried on drinking while Michael and the book reader helped the old woman into her flat and the entire incident was literally just dismissed and forgotten about ……… until Michael came back and resumed his seat some several minutes later.

“ Poor old dear” he said as he sat back down “ she is a bit wandered. She lives on the top floor and must have real difficulty with the stairs!”.

“ And are you help the aged?” jibed Simon.

“ Naw, he’s grab a granny!” replied Joe which caused a burst of laughter “ I have never seen you move out of your seat that fast in my life “ said Joe grinning “did you think she had money or something? Were you looking for a tip? Did she take her dentures out and give you a snog?”

“Ah Shut it” replied Michael “ She is just a poor old soul. You lot are heartless!”

And with that the group simply continued to slag one another off and resumed their drinking and laughing. The game of charades forgotten, Joe ordered another two bottles of wine and the night continued.

However, about fifteen or twenty minutes later, unobserved by the group, the door of the apartment building opened once again and the young man with the book stepped out into the alley.

The next thing Caroline knew this swarthy good looking man was standing at their table clearly intent on interrupting their merriment.

“ Good Evening.” He said, addressing Michael in particular, “The old lady has asked me to thankyou for your kindness and has asked me to buy you and your friends a drink to show her gratitude.”

“ Oh, there is no need, honestly” said Michael “ is she ok?”

“ Yes, she is fine. A bit shaken, but it is her pride that is hurt more than anything else. She feels she has made a fool of herself in public, and that angers her.”

“Ha, being picked up by Michael would bring shame on any woman!” quipped Simon in his usual mode.

This remark drew a strange look from the young man who continued none the less:

“ She has given me the money to buy a couple of bottles of wine…. It would be…. impolite to refuse.” He said with a little purpose.

“ Oh we will never refuse wine from a handsome stranger, will we Caroline?” said Maria flirting somewhat outrageously which brought a disapproving look from a so far silent Danny.

“ The wine, is not from me, Cheri” said the young man in an accented voice “ It is from, Madam.”

He was somewhat matter of fact in his statement, and without further consultation he walked into the café and returned a few moments later with a carafe of the house red and another carafe of white which he put on the table without saying a further word. From his pocket he drew a solitary glass which he made plain was for himself

When he had put the wine on the table, he stood back, poured some red wine into his glass, turned to Michael and said “On behalf of my friend, Thankyou for your kindness. Merci à tous” and with that, he drank the wine and turned to leave.

“ Thanks” shouted Michael

“ Ha Michael, there is your holiday story” said Simon “ the best you could manage was being bought a drink by some old French bird!”.

There was some laughter at this, but it quickly stopped when the young man with the book turned on his heel and came back to the table fixing Simon, whom he had not addressed before, with a stare for the second time.

Caroline, now looked at this man altogether differently, as he was no longer a passing stranger. He was someone who was clearly annoyed and was intent on making a point. She feared there would be trouble as he had a very intense look on his face. At that moment she would have described him as intriguing, but tense. Very tense.

However, the stranger in their midst then did the most unexpected of things. He simply drew up a chair, picked up his glass, filled it with red wine again, and began to talk. Initially he addressed Simon, but one by one he would stare each of them straight in the eye.

“ Listen, my friends. Your wine does not come from some “old woman”. No, I tell you that this is an act of gratitude from someone I consider to be one of the greatest women on the planet.”

“ Sorry – I didn’t mean to offend your….. mother?” said Simon realising he had gaffed.

“ Oh she is not my mother, nor is she related to me in any way – in fact, I only met her for the first time when I went to help her with your friend here.” Said the stranger nodding towards Michael.

“ What?” exclaimed Julie somewhat drunkenly

“ I only met her for the first time a few moments ago” he repeated “ and I will probably never meet her again.”

The Group looked puzzled.

Caroline was just glad that the trouble she thought was coming appeared to have disappeared, as whatever this guy was about he was not looking for a fight although he still made her uneasy.

“ Sorry Mate, but you have lost me!” said Joe filling his glass.

“ Let me explain then” said the young man tucking his book into the inside pocket of his leather jacket.

“ That “old woman” as you call her was once a famous Parisian dancer, a famous international celebrity who had the world fall at her feet. More importantly she was at one time the fastest and bravest woman in the world. She should be a French national treasure—instead she is living in this cheap and run down area of Nice, living off charity and in the attic apartment of this building.” He said pointing across the alley.

Caroline and her friends looked at the doorway across the road as the young man continued.

“ With no disrespect intended to anyone here, “The Old Woman” was and always will be out of your league guys, I predict that none of you will ever have a woman like her…. Ever!”

This remark drew a narrowing of the eyes from Maria, a drunken shirk from Simon and a giggle from Julie, the rest simply stayed silent.

Caroline, looked at the newcomer again. There was something about him. He was dark haired, dark eyed, clearly foreign, probably French she thought, and very intense but in a sort of charming way.

She estimated that he was about 5’ 9”, slim and looked pretty fit underneath the faded jeans and T shirt housed underneath the leather jacket. On his feet he wore a pair of fashionably scuffed cowboy boots with a pointed toe.

She heard herself saying:

“ Go on. Tell us who she is then, maybe we have heard of her?”

This set the young man off again. He turned and fixed Caroline with the dark eyes.

“ I do not think you will have heard of her, but I will tell you her story. She was born Mariette Hélène Delangle on 15th December 1900 in a small village about 50 miles south west of Paris where her father was the village postman. However she left the village at the age of sixteen and came to Paris where she got a job dancing in cabaret in the music halls. By 18 she was causing a sensation in Paris as she danced naked, not as a cheap stripper you understand, but with feather boas and live birds to accompany her. She posed naked for photographs and generally caused a scandal. At one point she openly shared a house with two men who were both her friends and her lovers. Eventually she was topping the bill in The Casino de Paris dancing naked  before the glitterati of Paris and causing a sensation. The Parisian press loved her.”

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By this time, the group of Scottish students were captivated by the book reader’s tale of the old woman. All their laughter had stopped and they sat quietly, drinking the wine and listening to his tale as he continued.

“ She changed her name to  Hélène Nice although eventually she would further shorten it to Hellé  Nice and it was by this name that she became famous – for her dancing, her devil may care attitude, her fast, racy and scandalous lifestyle and eventually for………. Well we will come to that in a minute.

By the age of 25 she had had enough of being a naked solo act and so she decided to partner a man called Robert Lisset and together they formed a dance partnership which toured Europe. She had her own house, her own yacht and was so famous, so beautiful and so daring that she had an endless procession of rich lovers and suitors, including members of the European nobility and other personalities such as Henri de Courcelles and Count Bruno d’Harcourt.

However, even this fast lifestyle of frivolous fame and fortune did not satisfy her as throughout her life she only really had one true love……. and that was….. speed.

She was a fantastic downhill skier, but even more than skiing she loved to drive very very fast cars. After being injured in a skiing accident, she entered and won a Paris showbiz motor race, and so in 1929 she entered and won her first professional race — an all-female Grand Prix  at Autodrome de Montlhéry and  in the process  she set a new world land speed record for women driving at 197 Kilometres per hour. She was La Femme Rapide!

She won the race in an Omega Six car and more or less immediately gave up dancing to drive professionally. She toured America as the world’s fastest woman, racing on dirt tracks and hard tracks, driving a Miller car but then, on her return to France, she was introduced to Philippe De Rothschild who was to become yet another lover and who was known for racing a certain type of car.

De Rothschild eventually introduced Hellé Nice to the car’s designer –  Ettore Bugatti who immediately wanted her as part of his team of professional drivers. Rumours say she became Bugatti’s lover, and that she also seduced his son Jean Bugatti. From 1931 she was the only female driver who was allowed to compete on equal terms against all the male drivers of the time. She raced Bugatti’s and Alfas, but was mostly famous for her bright blue Bugatti which she personally owned and in which she was photographed often, bringing her huge commercial spin offs and rewards. She raced in the Italian and French grand prix and set many records. Whilst she did not win the races, she beat many of the leading men and had a reputation for being absolutely fearless. The crowds loved her, and it was at this point that her fame and fortune were at their very height. She still loved the fast lifestyle. She partied, drank champagne and had a host of rich and famous lovers yet could often be found sleeping just as easily with mechanics or people who worked at the race tracks because she liked them as people. She loved people and could see inside their skin which is a great talent.

She won the woman’s cup at the Monte Carlo Rally, entered competitive hill climbs and broke records at Le Mans.

She was, ladies and gentlemen, the undoubted Queen of Speed. The Bugatti Queen!

Then, in 1936 she was invited to South America for a series of Races. She was driving in a Grand Prix in Sao Paulo Brazil and was competing for a place in the top three of the race when her car hit a bale of hay which had strayed on to the track. The result was that her car left the track at over 130 miles per hour and launched into the crowd. The car killed 4 people and seriously injured 30 others. Hellé, herself, was thrown clear of the car but was fired into the crowd like a human bullet with her head landing square in the chest of a spectating soldier. The impact of her helmet on the soldier’s chest killed him, but saved her, although she was in a coma for two days and in hospital for three months. When news of her recovery was announced there was great cheering in Brazil as no one believed that she was responsible for the crash. The race organisers even paid her a large sum in compensation for her injuries and the loss of her car which was an Alfa.

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Remarkably, once back in France she decided to get back behind the wheel to race when no one thought she would even drive again. The following year she set 10 world speed records for women. She was all set to rejoin the Bugatti team when Jean Bugatti was killed during practice, and by the time the team recovered from this tragedy the war had started and racing was suspended.

However, it was after the war when real tragedy and hypocrisy struck. Hellé was due to take part in the 1949 Monte Carlo rally but on the eve of the race, right in the grand ballroom in Monaco, she was unfairly denounced as a collaborator during the war. Her accuser was a French driver called Louis Chiron, and despite having no evidence to support his claims, he stated that Hellé Nice had been a Gestapo Agent throughout the war – something that subsequent enquiry proved completely false although that would be many years later.

As a result of these allegations however, all her sponsors and friends deserted her and she never raced again. Her fortune was squandered by a lover who then left her, and for the past 35 years or so she has lived in the attic of the old apartment there, relying on hand outs from a charity called “La Roue Tourne” which means “Things never stay the same” or “ The wheel always turns”.

So that is your old lady – and as I say, with all due respect, you boys will never lay your hands on a woman like that! You are simply not in her league and never will be!”

With that, the stranger drained his glass and made to take his leave.

“ So how do you know her?” asked Maria “ Do you work for La Roue Tourne?”

The man paused and simply stood there: “ No…. I do not work for the charity. I just know her story, and know that she lives here. I decided to come and sit opposite her house for a couple of hours and perhaps catch a glimpse of her. Now, I have actually met her, albeit in slightly unfortunate circumstances. I have helped her up to her shabby apartment, drank her wine and I am delighted simply to be able to say that I made her acquaintance. I have a great story to tell—as have you.”

“ Remember her name, Hellé Nice, the fastest and bravest woman of her day!”

Once again, the young man with the book turned to take his leave.

He wished the somewhat inebriated students farewell and began to walk away. He had gone about 30 yards when Caroline suddenly jumped up from her seat, looked at her friends and said out of the blue “ I am going after him – if I am not back in a minute I will see you tomorrow!” and with that she was off with shouts from Maria, in particular, ringing in her ears.

She had no idea what she was doing or why, she felt she just had to go after this strange young man who had told them the story of Hellé Nice, the dancer and racing driver. She caught up with him just as he turned a corner, and disappeared from the sight of her astonished and alarmed friends.

When she did catch him, the young man was surprised and immediately thought he must have left something at the table, but Caroline was very quick to let him know that was not the case.

“Eh, excuse me but could we go for a drink somewhere… just you and I…. away from the others?” she asked somewhat brazenly.

He looked slightly puzzled at first but eventually smiled and said “ Well it would be impolite to refuse such a charming invitation!” and with that they turned another corner and entered into a small dark bar full of locals drinking strong coffee and various liqueurs.

For the next hour they sat and drank. She told him her name, how she was a student from Glasgow studying accountancy and business studies. In turn he said that his name was “Beco”, that he was only in Nice for the night and that he would be leaving for Paris the following morning. At 22 he was two years older than she was, but he seemed years older and so much more worldly wise than Danny, Simon, Joe and Michael. She asked more about Hellé Nice and her fabulous lifestyle, and how he had come to know her story.

“ It is just something I read” he replied “ Perhaps I am just fascinated by beautiful fast women?” he said looking directly into her eyes with more than a little devilment.

Looking back all these years later, Caroline realised that it was foolish to go back to the small hotel he was staying in. He was a stranger she had never seen or met before. She knew nothing whatsoever about him, yet she was absolutely pulled towards him on that night as if by some magnetic force of nature. She had never done anything so foolish or reckless in her life… and after this night she swore that she never would again.

Once in the room, they had climbed into a creaky bed and made love – awkwardly at first, then with greater familiarity and more confidence before eventually falling asleep in one another’s arms.

The following morning, they made love again before Beco announced that he had to go.

Caroline had known that this moment would come, she had not been that drunk, but all the same she felt awkward when the time came to part. She looked at him and said “ Well, thanks for last night. It was nice to meet you- I’ll just go back to my boring friends”.

As soon as the words left her mouth she felt guilty. Her friends weren’t boring; they just weren’t an exotic stranger with a great tale to tell.

Without any hesitation Beco turned to her and chided her slightly; “ You have good friends, nice friends, count yourself lucky. Think of Hellé Nice- she has no friends.”

“ Apart from you” said Caroline

He stood at the door and turned to her, drawing her close:

“ I don’t know her and she doesn’t know me” he replied “ And if I am a friend of Hellé Nice then your friend Michael is an even greater friend. It was he who was first by her side, helped her to her feet, and helped her up the stairs without even knowing who she was. I had a motive. I knew who she was and wanted to meet her, see inside her apartment, I wanted the story of helping Hellé Nice all for my own purposes. Whereas, your friend Michael just reacted. Just did what seemed right. He didn’t see the once famous racing driver who interested me, he just saw an old woman who fell and who he chose to help. I would think about that if I were you. By the way, Simon is a pain in the ass, tell your friend Julie she can do much better!” and with that he laughed, kissed her on the cheek, and left.

She never saw him again.

When Caroline returned to the hostel she was met with a very mixed reaction.

Maria was furious with her for running off with someone she did not know.

“ What were you thinking about?” she shouted “ He could have been anyone? A rapist or a murderer! You are a selfish cow- I was worried sick. I chased after you with Joe but we couldn’t find you anywhere. Fuck sake – of all the stupid things……… “ she slammed the door of the room and left.

Julie just wanted to know that she was ok, and then wickedly asked “ Well – come on spill the beans—what was he like?” and started laughing.

Later Simon couldn’t resist teasing her and calling her “ The Frenchman’s tart” which Caroline laughed at but inwardly didn’t like. Simon went further and said she had stolen Hellé Nice’s title as the fastest woman on earth which again Caroline didn’t like.

She now regretted the entire episode and wished she had just stayed with her friends rather than face this ridicule.

Maria and Simon later began to discuss whether or not the whole Hellé Nice story was a pile of cobblers designed just to be a good story which the guy told to get one of the girls into bed…. And it had worked!

Eventually Maria calmed down and appeared to forgive her though she was still furious and repeatedly said that she would not have fallen for such a load of baloney.

Caroline inwardly agreed with Beco, Simon was an asshole and Julie could do much better.

She was sort of saved by Joe and Michael who really said nothing and who just got on with the day and started the usual round of jokes between themselves. They were funny those two, but Caroline still thought the jokes and the chat immature and so looked upon them as wee boys in comparison to the mysterious Beco.

As they travelled along the coast through Monte Carlo and on to San Remo, she couldn’t help but think of the night before, the spontaneousness of her actions, the story of Hellé Nice and the dark book reading stranger. She wondered if she had just been caught up in the story? Did she just want to live one night like Hellé Nice—taking a mysterious lover in a devil may care moment?

She would ask herself that question for months afterwards.

The seven finished their holiday, returned to university and the months rolled into years and the next thing Caroline knew she was working for a PLC wearing a smart suit and being every inch the young business woman.

The others all went their separate ways and she lost touch with them all, even Maria – although she did send a card every Christmas.

In the following years, she changed jobs a couple of times, had  a few different boyfriends but never settled down with a steady partner and by 1990 she found herself as a single professional woman with her own apartment and several rungs up the ladder in the world of business. She had a growing reputation in her field and the night in Nice some 8 years before was completely forgotten. She was wrapped up in the corporate world, was successful, financially independent, enjoyed good holidays with professional friends and was as happy as the proverbial pig in shit.

Or so she thought.

Glasgow was in the middle of the year of culture celebrations with the specially built Garden Festival site proving a huge attraction.

She had worked late on into the Friday night on a project she was managing and on Saturday she had gone to visit her parents whom she had not seen in a few weeks. Her dad was forever asking if she had a boyfriend, and he always looked disappointed when she replied “No one special”.

On Sunday 3rd June she had arranged to meet some friends and colleagues at the Garden Festival site for lunch. It was going to be a big day – literally—as it had been dubbed “ The Big Day” Music concert with lots of famous bands and acts performing throughout the day.

She had left the car at home, and so was free to enjoy a few drinks with her meal, and after a couple of hours with her friends she felt a bit like a student again – they had had more than a few drinks and nothing to eat.

They had just sat down to order at one of the open air restaurants, when there was a commotion about thirty feet away. Caroline hadn’t seen what happened, she just heard chairs being knocked over, some glass breaking and some shouts. Someone had fainted, falling on top of a table and knocking over plastic chairs.

As Caroline belatedly looked over at the scene, she saw that someone was now cradling the head of the woman who had fainted—she immediately presumed that it was the woman’s husband or boyfriend. But then another man arrived and he seemed to be the woman’s partner.

As Caroline looked on, she suddenly felt there was something familiar about the guy on the ground holding the distressed woman’s head gently in his hands whilst at the same time speaking to her in a soothing voice. He had asked someone to bring her some water, and now he was putting the glass to the woman’s lips and telling her to drink slowly.

Caroline felt herself rise from her seat and involuntarily walk towards the scene, becoming more and more certain the closer she came to the man on the ground holding the woman’s head.

Now, the man was helping the injured woman to her feet and Caroline knew for sure— it was definitely him.

He had his back to her now, looking down at the woman who had fainted who was now sitting in a chair.

Caroline placed a hand on his shoulder causing him to turn round at exactly the same time as she said his name;

“Michael? Is that you?”

Michael turned to look at who had touched his shoulder and saw a good looking woman in jeans and a fashionable sweat shirt, wearing flat shoes. She had short dark hair, and looked pretty elegant in the sun light. Then he caught her eyes and her face;

“ Caroline! Good God! How are you doing, It’s great to see you!”

Caroline gave him a hug and looked at someone she had not seen in at least 6 years. Yet at the same time she was immediately aware that she was in fact seeing someone for the very first time. Here was goofy Michael, the guy with the immature jokes, but at that moment she knew he was not Michael with the immature jokes at all – this was a different Michael altogether – or later she would reflect that maybe it was a different Caroline.

He explained that he had only been back in Glasgow for a few weeks after spending four years working abroad and had only come down to the Garden Festival site for the music. He was on his own and was just wandering by when he saw the woman faint and obviously just did what he could to help.

He accepted Caroline’s invitation to join her and her friends for lunch and in the course of the afternoon they talked and laughed about days gone by.

Eventually, as the afternoon wore on, they got round to talking about their trip to France.

“ Remember Frejus?” Asked Michael “ Roxy Music in the Ampitheatre?” he went on without waiting for a reply. “ That was brilliant!” he concluded.

She said she did and they talked a little more.

“ And remember the night in Nice?” said Michael “ And the incident with the old woman falling and the handsome stranger coming to tell us all about who she was?” he added and gave Caroline a wicked wink.

She felt herself blushing and defensively added “ Yes, well that was when I was young and foolish. It was a most stupid and uncharacteristic thing to do—I must have been drunk!”

“ Oh give yourself peace, woman,” said Michael sensing her embarrassment and gently teasing her “ If a young woman didn’t fall for a handsome foreigner, personally telling a fantastic tale like that then there must be something wrong with her. Besides you were a grown woman and were capable of looking after yourself- you were just having some fun!”

Caroline was slightly taken aback at even talking about this as the incident had long faded from her mind. However, she felt pleasantly surprised at Michael’s opinion on what had happened that night.

“ Do you think his story was true?” she found herself asking.

“ What?” asked Michael “ You mean you don’t know?”

“Know what?”

“ You don’t know if the story was true? And who your mysterious stranger was?”

“ What do you mean?” asked Caroline now somewhat concerned that somehow she had missed something or had been the butt of some long running joke which only she had not understood.

Michael turned to her and said “ let’s go for a walk – I have something to tell you – though I can’t believe you don’t know!”

They made their excuses and started to walk through the Garden festival site.

As they walked Michael began to talk and as he did so he held her hand as if it were the most natural thing in the world. It was a gesture that Caroline had not resisted.

“ The fantastic woman known as Hellé Nice died in October 1984. She was 83 years old and until a few months before her death she was still living in that attic apartment.”

“ So the story WAS true?”

“ Oh Yes! She was exactly who we were told she was. But her story does not end there. When she was denounced as a collaborator, her family abandoned her. She was cut out of her parents will and the family house was left to her sister. Apparently, her sister was very jealous of her fame and her fortune and was openly delighted when Hellé was brought down by the false accusations of collaborating with the Germans. When we saw her, she literally did not have a friend in the world, bar the young fella you ran off with for the night.”

Caroline recalled the conversation she had had with Beco about being a friend to Hellé Nice and what he had said about Michael. However before she could say anything Michael continued talking.

“When Hellé died, she was penniless and asked that she be buried in the village where she was born along side her parents. However, the sister, despite promising to fulfil Helle’s last wish, simply buried her in an unmarked grave depriving her of that wish. The sister was a really miserable cow!”

“ How do you know all this?” asked Caroline

“ Because, I was intrigued with the story. We saw an old woman, but that old woman had once been the most fabulous woman on earth and I wanted to know what became of her, and so a couple of years ago I took some time out and went back to Nice on my own to find out what had happened to her. That is when I learned that she had passed away and what had happened with her sister.”

“And how did you find that out?”

“ Simple!” said Michael “ I contacted the charity that had looked after her—La Roué Tourne –and they gave me all the facts. I even went to her burial place in her wee village just to pay my respects.”

Once again Caroline found herself looking at the man talking to her and felt she was seeing him for the first time. He wasn’t interested in the tittle tattle of her night with her mysterious lover, he wasn’t making fun of her, he was just interested in the old woman and her story.

Again she remembered Beco saying to her that Michael had ran to help the old woman for no reason other than…….. other than that is what he did automatically. He had done the same thing just a few hours before with the woman who fainted. How odd was that?

They had reached the bandstand area and a huge crowd had gathered to hear a group performing. Caroline didn’t recognise the musicians on the stage at all but Michael did. They were in the middle of some song or other.

“ Let’s sit down here for a minute” he said.

As she went to sit, Michael suddenly added “ Wait here, I will be back in a minute!”

“ Where are you going?” she asked quizzically- in truth she didn’t want to stop talking, she didn’t want to break the spell that seemed to have been woven in the last couple of hours.

“ I am going to get a couple of drinks—and I am going to ask them to play a song for us—and Hellé Nice!”

And with that he disappeared down the steps.

She watched as he went to the bar and then approached the stage. Amazingly he was able to speak to the girl who was on the stage from the side. He seemed to have some sort of security pass which enabled him to get passed what she presumed were bouncers.

The girl on stage was wearing a black coat and a sort of pill box tri corn hat. Michael, pointed to the others on the stage, said something to her and in return she nodded.

Michael left the stage area and headed back up the stairs.

Caroline watched as the girl on the stage spoke to the other musicians making up the group. They had a quick confab and started playing just as Michael returned.

“ So what are they playing, and who are they?” asked Caroline

“ Ever heard of a guy called John Prine?” asked Michael

“ Never.”

“ Well he wrote this song in 1971, and when I heard it for the very first time, it made me think of Hellé Nice. It’s called Hello in There”

Caroline sat and listened. She was taken by the words and found herself resting her head on Michael’s shoulder while he sang along.

When the number finished the crowd cheered, the group left the stage.

Michael and Caroline got up to leave.

“ How did you manage that?” asked Caroline

“ Oh, I just asked the girl singer if she knew the song and asked her to sing it—and she did!”

Caroline wasn’t too sure about this but let it pass.

“ So “ said Michael “ did you ever hear from the mysterious boy with the book again?”

“ Oh no!” said Caroline “ I knew I never would” she added. “ As I said it was just one of those stupid things that happened and should never have happened.”

“ Do you regret it?” he asked earnestly

“ No… but it never happened again and I wouldn’t dare disappear with someone I don’t know—anyway would you mind if we change the subject? It was years ago and a lot of water has passed under the bridge since then”

“ Ok” said Michael “ But you do know who he was?”

“ Oh I know his name was Beco… but that was it”

“ You don’t know who he really was?” asked Michael with a tone in his voice which was unbelieving.

“ Yes! He was called Beco!” she said forcefully

“Caroline!” exclaimed Michael “ Do you really not know who he was?” said Michael smiling like the Cheshire cat.

He registered the confusion on her face, took both her hands in his and said

“ Look, I am not judging here at all and you have nothing to feel defensive about with me, but the story of that night in Nice does not end with the story of Hellé Nice …. You have your own fantastic story to tell.”

When she continued to look confused, Michael told her that “Beco” was a nickname and went on to reveal the true identity of the man she had chased after and shared a hotel room with for one night only —- and as he did so he had a great big warm reassuring smile on his face.

She was astonished at his news. She wasn’t sure how she felt but she had to admit it was a good story although at the same time she felt stupid for not knowing the boy with the book’s real name.

At the same time, she felt something else. Something weird. Again she felt she saw Michael for the first time and started to remember things.

He had always been kind, always had spare tickets for things so that someone could go along at the last minute. He was always generous with his time and anything else he had. He hadn’t seemed to run with a particular crowd, had never been judgemental and always did his own thing. Yes, his jokes were immature, but he had made her laugh—and she remembered again that he had ran to help Hellé Nice with no motive in mind.

By Christmas 1990 Michael and Caroline were living in the one house.

He made her feel special and she loved him more than anyone else and anything. He always knew just what to say and just what to do – and as she sat with tears strolling down her face on that May afternoon in 1994 she wished that he was here now.

But he wasn’t—he was at his parents house where he had spent the night because his father was ill – and he would not be back till morning so she was on her own.

She gave herself a shake and went to make some fresh coffee and thought about making something for her dinner. She knew it was stupid to feel sad and tearful but she just couldn’t help it. She started to cry again.

She didn’t hear the front door open and Michael walk in.  She turned around and saw him at the precise moment the television screen  changed to show a picture of a young handsome man with dark eyes – the same eyes that had been reading  a book in a Nice café all those years before, and the same eyes she had looked into on a creaky bed in a Nice hotel some 12 years before..

“ I knew you would be upset, so I came home early” said Michael.

Caroline burst into a flood of tears for reasons she really could not explain or understand. She clung to her husband for dear life and sobbed uncontrollably.

The caption on the television simply read.

“ Ayrton Senna pronounced dead.”

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For anyone interested in the fantastic story of Mariette Hélène Delangle; 15 December 1900 – 1 October 1984 otherwise known as Hellé Nice can I recommend a book entitled The Bugatti Queen: In Search of a French Racing Legend by Miranda Seymour which was published in 2004.

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The Roxy Music Concert performed in Frejus France on August 27th  1982 was recorded on video for posterity:


John Prine wrote the words and music to Hello in there in 1971

“Hello In There”

We had an apartment in the city,

Me and Loretta liked living there.

Well, it’d been years since the kids had grown,

A life of their own left us alone.

John and Linda live in Omaha,

And Joe is somewhere on the road.

We lost Davy in the Korean war,

And I still don’t know what for, don’t matter anymore.


Ya’ know that old trees just grow stronger,

And old rivers grow wilder ev’ry day.

Old people just grow lonesome

Waiting for someone to say, “Hello in there, hello.”

Me and Loretta, we don’t talk much more,

She sits and stares through the back door screen.

And all the news just repeats itself

Like some forgotten dream that we’ve both seen.

Someday I’ll go and call up Rudy,

We worked together at the factory.

But what could I say if asks “What’s new?”

“Nothing, what’s with you? Nothing much to do.”


So if you’re walking down the street sometime

And spot some hollow ancient eyes,

Please don’t just pass ’em by and stare

As if you didn’t care, say, “Hello in there, hello.”


The impromptu performance of the song for Michael, Caroline and Hellé Nice by Natalie Merchant, Michael Stipe and Billy Bragg took place on the bandstand on the Glasgow Garden Festival site on the afternoon of 3rd June 1990.

It too was recorded for posterity – the trio performed the song again three days later in Prague on 6th June. After that they never performed the song again.


Ayrton Senna da Silva ; 21 March 1960 – 1 May 1994 died while leading the 1994 San Marino Grand Prix. In 1982, having dropped the da Silva part of his name, he won the British and European Formula Ford 2000 championships  and would go on to be a three time world champion in the Formula One Category.

Senna had been a virtually unknown spectator at the 1982 Swiss Grand Prix which took place in Dijon-Prenois in France on August 29th. This was the only win of the season for eventual World Champion Keke Rosberg. The following year, Senna would complete a test drive for Williams at the Donnington race Track in Rosberg’s formula one car. He drove faster than any other driver including Rosberg.

He commenced his Formula One career on 25th March 1984 when he competed in the Brazilian Grand Prix.

Senna was given the nickname “ Beco” as a child by his family in Brazil.

He remains the last racing driver to have been fatally injured during a Grand Prix.

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St Patrick, St Joseph and St Paul’s Thunderbolt

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The restaurant was moderately busy and there was a steady flow of noise as the diners chatted and laughed. It had been busier at lunchtime, but now in the middle of the afternoon, some were just sitting down to a late lunch while others were nursing post prandial drinks and were using the joint more as a bar than an eatery.

A group of five sat at a circular table close to the bar and could barely hide their delight when they were joined by the restaurant’s proprietor. In truth, Jack Dempsey had sold a fair chunk of his interest in the premises many years before but his name was still writ large above the door of the legendary speakeasy on New York’s Times Square, and as such he still played the role of “mine host” from time to time and gave customers the chance to sit and chat with the former heavyweight champion of the world.

For fight fans, 75-year-old Dempsey was a legend – and most folk don’t often get the chance to speak to a legend let alone sit in a restaurant owned by one and have the man himself sit down with you and shoot the breeze.


The five men concerned were all Americans, two from Florida, one from New York, one from Washington and the last from Chicago. They were all from an Irish background and had been in town for the annual St Patrick’s day parade two days before. It was the New Yorker who had suggested that as part of their week long get together they should go to Jack Dempsey’s for lunch one day, adding that if they were lucky – really lucky – they might just get a word with the great man himself.

Now, miraculously, here they were sitting with the square jawed septuagenarian who looked as if he could still step into the ring and do some damage.

One of the five men was celebrating a birthday – he was called Joseph after the feast day he was born on – and they had already made several toasts to “Joe and St Joseph” by the time Dempsey sat down.

Once he had introduced himself and made sure his customers all had fresh drinks, Dempsey eased into his usual chat with customers which, as always, very quickly centred on boxing, his career in the ring, his most famous fights and on the champions and fights of the day.

On this occasion it took barely a minute for one of the visitors to ask the former champ for his take on the big fight that had taken place just over a week before at Madison Square Garden when the undefeated Joe Frazier had successfully defended his title against the returning, but also undefeated, Muhammad Ali.

“What a left hook in the 14th!” said one of the men referring to Frazier’s punch which felled Ali like a tree “Do you think that is what won it for smoking Joe, Jack?” asked the same man somewhat timidly addressing “The Manassa Mauler” by his Christian name.

“Well” said Dempsey “I certainly think that sealed it for him. I think Joe was the aggressor throughout the fight and it was he who was coming on and going forward all the time. For me, Ali fought in bursts and was holding a lot – I think it is obvious that his three year layoff has slowed him down. He looked a touch too big and was far more static – nothing like the fighter of a few years ago, and I doubt he will get that back to be honest. But it was a great fight that’s for sure.”

“ Yet afterwards, in the press conference, Ali maintains that he was the winner and that the verdict was a white man’s decision.” Said one of the company.

Dempsey, cocked his head to one side slightly and grimaced.  He said “I disagree. I think he lost, and if he is honest with himself, he will know he lost. But let me ask you this, when he made that statement who was he speaking to and what message was he sending out? Professional boxing is about what goes on in the ring, and about what goes on out of the ring, and what I take from Ali’s comments is that he is saying that he is not for quitting the business and going away quietly as some have suggested he should. In fact, he is saying the opposite. He is saying. “I am still here, I think I won, and that I am still the greatest” – of course whether he is or isn’t is of no moment at this time as he has just lost a decision and been dumped on his ass! But he is making a noise and saying to the promoters that he is up for more fights and making them more money. Ali is a great showman and a big draw, and in my opinion, he is deliberately firing up post fight speculation about a rematch and putting immediate pressure on Joe Frazier – if you like he is diminishing the result in Joe’s favour, and I suspect that Joe himself won’t like that – not one little bit! As for his “white man” jibe – both fighters were black!” he said dismissively.

“So do you think Joe has shown that he is the better fighter?”

“I think he was the better fighter on the night over 15 rounds” replied Dempsey “That is clear. Joe fought a great fight. He was brave and relentless in coming forward, landed some huge blows and really made Ali look like a slow fighter. He had him on the ropes for a lot of the time, and either Ali couldn’t stick and move the way he used to or Joe just didn’t let him stick and move. It looked to me that Joe controlled the fight – I don’t believe that any fighter, at this or any level, would decide that it is a good tactic to just sit on the ropes the way Ali did. I don’t think that was his game plan. I don’t think he would have wanted to stand there and take heavy punches on his arms and body, let alone to the head. No, Joe controlled the fight and dictated the style of fight. That will have counted for the judges who will have expected to see Ali dance, move and send out those fast bursts and combinations we have seen before. When that didn’t happen they will have seen Joe winning.”

“However, would Joe Frazier have been able to dictate like that against the Ali or Clay of a few years ago? That I am not so sure. Sonny Listen was a mean son of a gun and he tried to chase the young Cassius Clay all around the ring and permanently got leather in the face for his trouble. I am not so sure that Joe would have landed the left hook as often on the Ali of a few years ago. All fighters have a place and time when they are at their peak – for me what you saw the other night was not Muhammed Ali at his peak – his peak was three years ago.”

“Do you think there will be a rematch champ?”

“Well Ali certainly wants a rematch, going by what he is saying in public, but I am not sure “Smokin Joe” and his handlers will be too quick to offer one – He is the undisputed heavyweight champ and he whipped Ali’s ass – what does he stand to gain by offering Ali another chance? Would he want to face another brutal fight with Ali where Ali has been given the chance to maybe come in 6lbs lighter and be more mobile? Besides, If I am honest, I think there will be doubts in Joe’s head – more importantly, there will be doubts in Yank Durham’s head.”

“Sorry, can you explain that?” said the visitor from Chicago “Joe won clearly, he now knows he can beat Ali and stop him fighting the way he did previously. Ali is not a big puncher, never was, so why should there be doubts in Frasier’s head? Surely, the bigger doubts must be in Ali’s head and his calls for a rematch are all show?”

“That’s not the way I see it and that’s not the way that boxing works “out of the ring” son” replied the old man. “You see with fighters like Frasier and Ali, once one fight is over your mind starts to think about the next fight, the next opponent, and what you learned from your last fight – and while Joe won the decision, both fighters have an awful lot to think about. In my opinion, Joe in particular, has a lot to think about even although he won.”

“What do you mean?” asked one of those listening.

Dempsey, took a sip of his drink and looked at the men listening and continued.

“Joe is the champ right? He has the title, he beat his biggest rival and whipped him good. The title brings with it prestige and riches, yet fame and wealth and can easily take the edge off a man. There are easier ways to make money with the title in your pocket than stand toe to toe with someone who wants to take your head off while attempting to take that title. However, sooner or later you are going to have to go back into training and put up the title again in the ring, and if I were Joe Frasier just now the last person I would want to face in that ring is Muhammed Ali who has a point to prove.

Besides, as we sit here, Joe is still in the hospital. Despite winning, he took a real beating from Ali and there are only so many beatings a man can take before he decides not to come back for more. Plus, there is one other really big thing to consider and that is the fact that Ali got up! If you look at the knockdown in the 14th, Joe Frasier threw a haymaker that landed square on Ali’s jaw and lifted him clean off his feet. Now that gives you instant encouragement in the ring, but if the guy gets up having taken your best shot, that same few seconds can really work against you. If you look at the fight footage, Ali didn’t scramble or stumble to his feet, he got up right away, wiped himself down and went back into the fray. I am sure he was rattled, and I am sure he was dazed, but he got straight back up – and that is something we learned in this fight – Ali has a great jaw! That was never known before. Sure he got up against Cooper in England but there was a delay there. In this instance, Ali took the best hit the hardest punching heavyweight in the business can throw – a punch that has knocked many others clean out – and he got up! Trust me when I tell you that the difference between good fighters and great fighters – champions and legendary champions – is that the really great guys get up when they shouldn’t be able to. Ali got up, and when you are considering your next move in this business, you are not going to be too keen on going toe to toe with a guy that gets up when you hit him big.”

The assembled men were on the edge of their seat listening to this analysis from the former champion, and this dissection of the recent fight led one of them to ask:

“Did that ever happen to you champ? When you knocked them down they stayed down? Right?”

Dempsey was glad of the chance to switch the conversation to his own career.

“I always had a puncher’s chance” said Dempsey “But even when I beat Jess Willard to win the title in 1919, even when I knew I was winning and that he was in real trouble, I still didn’t want him to get up. I busted his jaw, his ribs, bust an eardrum but he still kept getting up. I was shouting at him “Stay down Jess: Stay down Jess” but he just kept getting up and as he was miles bigger than me I was afraid that if he got up and clocked me with a big shot then things could be very different. Fortunately, for me, he eventually – at last – stayed down.”

The men discussed Dempsey’s legendary win in Oklahoma on July 4th 1919 for a bit longer, with all of them knowing that Dempsey beat Willard by delivering one of the most brutal beatings in boxing history – so brutal that long before the fight ended Willard’s wife had to be escorted from the stadium as she could no longer watch as her husband was systematically and brutally beaten by Dempsey.

The conversation moved on to Dempsey’s fight with Gene Tunney and the famous long count where Tunney was given far longer than ten seconds to get up from a crushing Dempsey blow. Had the count been delivered in regular time, then Tunney would have been counted out and Dempsey would have regained his title which he had lost to Tunney in a points decision over ten rounds almost a year before. As it turned out, Tunney recovered and eventually won the second fight by once again taking a points decision.

“That’s an example in point about what I was saying earlier” said Dempsey “I hit Gene Tunney with everything I had in the first fight and he didn’t go down. In the second fight, I was behind and I hit him with a huge left hook and I knew immediately he was going down. However, he got up – long count or no long count – Gene Tunney got up and when you are not used to the opponent getting up, the sight of him getting up eventually plays on your mind. In the moment, you try and go in for the kill, but when you later sit on your stool at the end of the round and look over and see the other guy is still in the fight you begin to think about how your best hit is not necessarily going to finish this guy. Frasier hit Ali late in the fight last week. It would have been interesting to see what would have happened if he had knocked him down in say round six or seven. If Ali gets up and continues, then Joe might start to ask himself questions in his own head. Conversely, Ali now knows he can get up. He has taken Joe’s best shot and got up. That changes a fight.”

“Do you think boxing was tougher back in your day champ?” asked one of the group.

“I would have to say yes” replied the smiling ex-champ “Much tougher!”

“For example, when Jess Willard won the title from Jack Johnson, he did so by knocking Johnson out in the 26th round! Can you imagine that? The 26th round. These days you are not allowed to go beyond 15 rounds. What’s worse, when big Jess won some of the papers suggested that Johnson had taken a dive! Big Jess later said “well he could have taken a dive a hell of a lot earlier than the 26th round!”

From there the men started to ask questions about his career: His toughest fight: Who was the hardest puncher? Could he have beaten Frasier, Ali, Liston, Louis?

Dempsey took his time and regaled them with tales from both inside and outside the ring. He was charming, funny and enthralling when telling his stories.

Then one of the men asked who he thought was the bravest man he had ever faced?

Before Dempsey could provide an answer to the question, a voice from behind him suddenly interjected and entered the conversation:

“Before you answer that champ, I’ll bet I can guess who you will say was your bravest opponent?”

All six men turned to find the source of the voice who had somewhat rudely interrupted what had been, until then, a private conversation.

“I don’t mean to interrupt or be rude” said the voice “but I couldn’t help but be enthralled by the champ’s discussion with you guys, and that is such a good question I just thought it would be fun to guess the answer in advance.”

The source of the voice was a smiling suited man in his late 30’s or early 40’s wearing thick framed spectacles. He was sitting on a stool at the bar just behind Dempsey’s right shoulder and until that moment he had not been noticed by the five visitors or their host. The voice was accented and clearly not American, and it was perhaps this factor which prevented any of the others objecting to his uninvited entry to their conversation.

“Where are you from, Son?” asked Dempsey taking the lead in engaging the newcomer to the conversation.

“I am from Glasgow …. Scotland.” Replied the smiling face.

“Kenny Buchanan!” said Dempsey in a flash.

“Yes but he is from Edinburgh” said the Scotsman – “I’m from Glasgow.”

“Well, wherever you are from son, welcome to Jack Dempsey’s” retorted the owner “But I will tell you this, If a young man from thousands of miles away can predict who I would judge as the toughest guy I faced in the ring – what 50 years ago – then I am impressed! In fact, tell you what I will write someone’s name down, you guys can guess who I have nominated, and if anyone of you guesses right there is a round of drinks on the house.”

This brought a babble of good humoured discussion and a waiter was dispatched to find a pen and some paper for the ex-champ.

While the waiter was gone the young Scotsman once again raised his voice:

“Excuse me, Mr Dempsey? I think the original question was who was the bravest opponent you faced, not the toughest, though I accept that there might be very little difference between the two.”

At this Dempsey stopped and looked at the young man and paused for just a second before being interrupted by the waiter returning with pen and paper.

“OK” said Dempsey “The question is who was my bravest opponent?” and with that he scribbled something on a piece of paper.

Fight fans who frequented Dempsey’s restaurant fell into one of four factories.

First there were those who knew nothing about boxing at all – they just knew that Dempsey had been a fighter and was famous.

Next came those who knew that Dempsey had been world champ and that current boxers went in there – they could maybe even name one or two.

The third group, among which most of the table of five belonged, knew exactly who Dempsey was and had a fair knowledge of past and current champs.

The last group, were those who were really into boxing and who could hold conversations and debates about all sorts of boxers of different eras, their histories, merits and failings.

Dempsey quickly went round the Americans. They had various guesses including Tunney and Willard, with the guy from Chicago confidently predicting that French world war one hero George Carpentier must have ranked as Dempsey’s bravest opponent.

Dempsey, talked about Carpentier briefly, saying he was a tough and brave man, but he was not the name Dempsey had written down.

Finally, all eyes fell on the Scotsman who had not provided a name as yet in this guessing game.

Eventually, Dempsey looked at him square in the eye, reminded him of his confidence and said “OK the round of drinks rests on you young fella!”

The Glaswegian on the bar stool matched Dempsey’s solid gaze and said confidently:  “I believe the name you will have written down on that piece of paper will be that of Billy Miske”.


“Who?” said one of the guys from Florida “Never heard of him. Was he a champ or something in the old days?”

Jack Dempsey, however, simply stared back at the man at the bar and quietly asked “How did you hear of Billy Miske? He’s been dead for decades?”

“I just know about him” said the Glaswegian “And I just know that is the name on the paper.”

At this, Dempsey turned to the rest and asked “Any of you guys ever heard of Billy Miske?” – no one had.

Jack Dempsey open the piece of paper in his hand and sure enough clearly written upon it was the name “Billy Miske”.

A big cheer went up from the five Americans and Dempsey summonsed the waiter and ordered 7 drinks. However had anyone been watching closely they would have noticed a tinge of sadness in both Dempsey’s face and voice.

“So who was Billy Miske then?” asked one of the company.

“ Yeah tell us about him.” Said another.

Dempsey took a long draw from his glass, shook his head slightly and turned briefly to the Scotsman:

“I don’t often talk about this!”

The bespectacled man looked back and simply said “Well you should. It is a story worth telling – for all sorts of reasons.”

The former world heavyweight champion stole another quick look at the young Scotsman before turning back towards the five Americans and in a somewhat subdued voice started to tell the story of Billy Miske

“Billy is one of the best kept secrets in boxing history. He was my friend and I came to love him like a brother and he was one hell of a fighter. He was born in St Paul’s Minnesota and he started out as a middleweight. He was about a year older than me and came from a family with a German background. In those days, boxing was technically illegal in Minnesota but all the same St Paul’s produced a whole series of tough boxers including Tommy and Mike Gibbons and, of course, Billy. He was given a nickname – The St Paul’s Thunderbolt.

Billy fought at any weight between Middleweight and Heavyweight. He stood six foot tall, was strong as a buffalo and carried a real good wallop in both hands especially his left. He fought anyone who would agree to fight him and most of the time he would win. When he didn’t win, then the other guy must have been good – because you had to be good to beat Billy.

Billy was a far better boxer than me and better than most everyone else. He had great movement around the ring. Long before Ali floated like a butterfly and stung like a bee it was said that Billy Miske was “Slick as a whistle and as swift as a breeze.” As I say he ducked no one – but it is fair to say that there were a few guys who had titles and belts who ducked Billy when those titles were on the line.


In those days you had official fights and unofficial fights. There were fights in the mid-west where you just walked into a town, agreed to fight and walked away again. These were unofficial ones. Then there were official fights which were staged by a promoter in advance but even they could sometimes be scored by the newspaper men who came to watch and if you didn’t knock the guy out but won on points then it was called a newspaper decision. It was only later that we had official judges.

Anyway, Billy fought over a hundred times in real tough organised and unorganised fights and he won on 72 occasions had about 15 draws or so and around maybe ten defeats all told. In officially organised prize fights he only ever lost twice or three times at most.

About half of the 72 wins were won by knockout – and his defeats were mostly to real good guys like Battling Levinsky, Tommy Gibbons, and Kid Norfolk and these guys – and then Billy would fight them again and win. They would all fight each other and sometimes they would win and sometimes Billy would win. Interestingly when the likes of Levinsky, Carpentier, Kid Norfolk and others all held titles – the one guy they would never give a title shot to was Billy. He was ok to fight in semi organised fights but when it came to have something on the line all these guys made sure he was the professional undercard. They would never risk the titles against Billy.”

One of the five American guys interrupted Dempsey:

“You obviously fought him champ? Did he beat you?”

Dempsey sort of sighed and simply said “No. Billy never beat me in any kind of contest but jeez did he give me a hard time? He did beat guys who had beaten me, like “Fat boy” Willie Meehan – Jeez I fought Meehan 5 times and only beat him once on a decision. Billy knocked him out!”

“So, what happened when you met him champ? Why do you rate Billy as braver than say Willard or Firpo or Carpentier?”

“Well, I fought Billy more often than I fought any of those guys. I first stepped into the ring with him in May 1918 when we fought in the auditorium in St Paul’s Minnesota. I had been fighting all over the place – California, San Francisco, New York and had won about fifteen fights in a row. The last guy to beat me was the same Fatboy Willie Meehan I mentioned a moment ago and he gained a couple of points decisions against me over four rounds. Over a longer distance I fancied my chances against anyone because eventually I would give them a wallop and down they went.

I had heard of Billy and so was happy enough to go to Minnesota for a pay day fight with him. He turned out to be a really nice down to earth guy whom I instantly liked. He was a man’s man – an honourable man just plying his trade in the ring and making a good job of it. When we got into the ring, boy did I learn quickly that I was in trouble. Billy was really quick. He was really a light heavy and he had tremendous hand speed and defence. I could never work out his style and he very quickly got lots of leather in my face. I couldn’t catch him and at the end of one round I was taking a real beating and when I sat on the stool I was very nearly done.

Doc Kearns, my manager, said to me “Go out and smack him!” and I remember thinking that is easier said than done!

In the end, I was heavier and had the bigger hit so I slowed him down but I never really got his measure the way I did with other guys. Of the newspaper guys I knew there, four said I had won, three said it was a draw and one went for Billy – but all of them said it was real close. At the end, we shook hands, had a beer and enjoyed one another’s company. Billy was a great guy – I just didn’t know how great at that point.

What I also didn’t know then, but know now, was that when we stepped into that ring in May 1918 Billy was a dying man!”

“What?” exclaimed one of the listeners.

“You heard” said Dempsey “He was a dying man! Earlier in the year he had been diagnosed with what was called Bright’s disease – a disease which effects the kidneys and from which there is no recovery – or at least there was no recovery back then. However, I didn’t know any of that and so simply stepped into the ring with a view to beating Billy as quickly as a I could and moving on to the next fight down the road.

But that was not to be. We fought a full ten rounds and try as hard as I could I couldn’t beat Billy. The “official” newspaper verdict scored it a draw – but I am not so sure. That verdict might have favoured Billy as the home fighter. Some say he beat me; others think I may have won – I thought I did enough to win – but all these years later all I can definitely say was that Billy was the toughest fight I had had in a long long time.

I got to know him a bit after that and as I said I liked the guy. Really liked him.

I fought him again 6 months later. In the interim period I had about a dozen or so fights winning them all more or less by knockout in the first or second round – except for another four round loss to the Fatboy whom I just could not beat.

Anyway, in November 1918 I agreed to a series of three fights in Philadelphia. Up first was Battling Levinsky who was from Philadelphia and who was the reigning light heavyweight champion of the world and who preferred to fight me than take the risk with Billy. As he was a light heavy and I was heavyweight his title was not on the line – either way I knocked him out with a right hook in the third round. A good result for me – it got me noticed.

About ten days later I fought a guy called “Porky” Dan Flynn who didn’t present too much of a problem as he went down to a left hook in the first round and never got up again.

Ten days later – at the end of the month – I stepped into the ring with Billy Miske for the second time. The fight was to be over six rounds and I was determined to put up a better show than I had in the previous fight with Billy. I won alright, but it was a decision – not a knockout. I hit Billy with everything and he just kept coming straight back with his own big hits – and he could hit hard.

I still couldn’t figure out his style, still couldn’t get in behind him and score any really big hits. No matter how hard I tried Billy still came marching forward. At the end one boxing commentator stated that there was no braver or more game fighter on the planet than Billy Miske – and he didn’t know how ill Billy was at the time he said it.

I still didn’t know he was ill – didn’t know he was dying – and gave it my best but still couldn’t put him away, He was a tough son of a gun.

He never said anything about being ill and unwell – he kept that to himself though eventually it became known in boxing circles that all was not ok with him.

In the next seven months I had about eight or nine more fights winning them all by knock out before beating Willard for the title in July 1919.

After that, I was heavyweight champion of the world. I was rich – a celebrity – and with the title in my pocket I set about making a few bucks out of the ring and I was in no rush to go back into the ring and risk losing the belt and all that came with it.

When I did choose to defend the title, It was in September 1920 in Bran Harbour Michigan and standing in the opposite corner was Billy Miske.


It was the first fight ever that was broadcast live on the radio and it represented a big payday for me and I knew for a fact that I would win because by this time Billy was clearly unwell. He had begged me for the fight. When you are the champ everyone wants a chance to get you into the ring, knock your head off and take away the title. You receive offer after offer – but that is not how it was with Billy.

By 1919 there was no hiding the fact that Billy was unwell. What he hadn’t told anyone was that before he fought me for the first time in 1918 he had been told he would have only five years to live at most. He was 24 years old at the time and the five years could never be guaranteed. He was told that he would only get the five years if he retired from boxing, eased up and gave his kidneys the best chance they had.

But Billy boxed for a living and in total he would fight about forty times after being diagnosed.

He kept all of this a secret from everyone except his manager who was a guy called Jack Reddy who, to be fair, begged him to stop fighting.

But Billy wouldn’t listen and swore Reddy to secrecy.

Anyway, by mid 1920 Billy was broke. He had taken whatever money he had and invested it in a car dealership which didn’t work. He owed between $50, 000 and $100,000 and so he came to me with Reddy and begged me for a title fight.

He looked unwell. He was all skin and bone: his shorts and his dressing gown were almost hanging off him. He admitted he had an illness but wanted the fight. I didn’t want to fight him. I told him to go bankrupt but he said that if we fought he would get a pay day, he could pay off some creditors and then he would rest up. Eventually I agreed and Doc Kearns, my manager set up the fight in Michigan with Billy getting a minimum of $25,000.


When it came to the fight I was determined to get it over with quickly. I wanted to knock him out – partly because I had always struggled with Billy and because I knew he was desperate. All his financial troubles would absolutely disappear if he beat me, and if he hit me with a big haymaker then he was in with a chance. But I also wanted to end the fight quickly for Billy. He was clearly unwell but he never said how unwell so I just wanted it over and done with.

In the first round I hit him with a body shot and a huge purple patch appeared on his skin. It was like nothing I had ever seen and I wondered then what the hell was going on. But he still kept coming in – strong as an ox and both me and Doc wondered if we had been conned by Billy and his manager and their story about Billy being ill.  He sure didn’t fight like a guy who was ill and I had the bruises to prove it.

But he had that big mark where I had hit him on the body which was really weird, and deep down I knew he was telling the truth – I knew he was ill.

In the second round I hit him on the chin and for the first time ever Billy went down. However, after a count of eight or nine – he got up.


I said earlier that when you are used to knocking folk out, the sight of a fighter getting up when they are not supposed to can have an effect on you. Well I watched Billy get up and I thought “Oh no – he’s getting up. He has to go down and stay down. Billy please stay down.”

But no – Billy got up and came in again still swinging with some dangerous shots especially with that left hook of his..


In the third round, I was determined this would go no further. I swung a vicious left hook at Billy and it hit him on the button. He straightened up, clearly dazed and dropped his hands, and with him standing there motionless I hit him as hard as I ever hit any man with my right hand and knocked him out. It was to be the only time that anyone would ever knock out Billy Miske –  I am only the only fighter who would ever drop him to the canvass for any kind of count.

I was scared he was going to die. As soon as the count was over I carried him back to his corner and got him on the seat. No celebrations, no raising my arms, no playing to the crowd – I just wanted Billy to be ok.


After he had recovered and got his cheque etc I begged him to go home and get better – not knowing he could never get better.

After fighting Billy, I would only ever fight eight more times.

The first was against a guy called KO Bill Brennan who I knocked out with body punches in the Garden in December 1920. Bill was a dangerous fighter and you either knocked him out or got knocked out yourself. There were no in betweens.

After that it was maybe one fight a year against really good people like Carpentier and Firpo until I lost to Gene (Tunney) in 1926.

Billy, on the other hand, continued to fight and between 1921 and 1923 he climbed into the ring on no less than 22 occasions. He couldn’t train, was clearly getting sicker and sicker but simply needed the money and so he fought. Amazingly, after losing to me he went on a run of fights where he won 17 straight contests with 12 by way of a knock out. His other 5 fights were effectively no decisions. In short, after fighting me for the title he never lost another fight again.

In October 1922 he fought here in the Garden against Tough Tommy Gibbons who was also from St Paul’s. To understand how tough Tommy was, I would fight him a year later and won on a fifteen round decision. Tommy was real hard.

Anyway, Billy came to the Garden looking like shit. Really unwell. He couldn’t train and was getting thinner and thinner. But somehow he battled through ten rounds with Tough Tommy and won. However, everyone was telling him to hang up the gloves. We never knew he was dying but he was clearly unwell. His five years were almost up though he kept that to himself.

In January 1923 after knocking out a guy called Harry Foley in the first round, Billy finally decided to retire for good.

Or at least that was what we thought. What I didn’t know at the time was that Billy was still flat broke and obviously that he was dying.

The story goes that by the time we get to Thanksgiving in November 1923 Billy knew he was about to see his last Christmas. He was now seriously unwell but not even his wife knew he was dying.

He apparently called up Jack Reddy and asked him to get him a fight- any fight – so that he could have money for his family at Christmas.

Reddy refused apparently and told him straight that he was in no condition to fight anyone but Billy persisted and laid it on heavy that he needed to fight to support his family. Billy also stipulated that the fight had to be against someone good to make the fight attractive and so bring in the money.

Against his better judgement, Reddy arranged a fight with KO Bill Brennan who had given me real trouble just a few years before.

Jack Reddy got a lot of criticism for arranging the fight for Billy – people thought he was just on the make and the guy had to put up with some abuse but at Billy’s request he never let on just how desperate things were.

Billy fought Brennan in Omaha on December 7th  and the deal was that if he could survive till round 4 then he would walk away with a cheque for $2500.

Jack Reddy told the press that Billy was training at home in secret when in fact he could barely get out of bed.

He arrived in Omaha two days before the fight and somehow fooled the match doctor that he was fit to fight. He then stepped into the ring with Bill Brennan and was determined to last the four rounds that guaranteed the cheque. However, he didn’t want to fight beyond four rounds, and unbelievably in that fourth round he swung his big wallop and knocked big Bill out!

I never knew too much about what was going on – I had beaten Louis Firpo in September 1923 and was just enjoying being champ – all I knew was that Billy was somehow still fighting.

Apparently, after beating Brennan, Billy went home with his winnings and put on the best Christmas ever for his family. He bought a piano for his wife Marie, who loved to sing, and on Christmas morning there were toys galore for his three kids and there was still some money left over.

On boxing day, he called Jack Reddy and told him it was time to go and asked Jack to come and take him to the hospital. It was only in the back of the car on the journey to the hospital that he told Marie that he was dying and that he had kept this hidden for over 5 years.

On New Year’s Day, 1924, at St. Mary’s Hospital in Minneapolis, Billy Miske died. He was just 29 years old.

And that, gentlemen, is why Billy Miske was the bravest man I ever fought. When I eventually found out the truth and learned the whole story – heavyweight champ or not — I cried like a baby.

I didn’t fight again for two and a half years until 1926 when I lost the title to Gene and I only ever won one more fight after Billy’s death when I beat Jack Sharkey in June 1927. After that there was the second fight with Gene and that was it for me. I was out.”

Dempsey drained his glass, sighed and looked at the men around him who sat in silence.

“Jesus” said one “That is an awfully sad story”


The former heavyweight champion replied almost immediately “No son, that is a great story, about a great man, a decent man, and the Scottish fella over there is correct, It is a story that should be told more often and should be more widely known. Billy was a great guy, he lived his short life the way he wanted to and the way he saw fit playing by his rules and his sense of decency. Few men can live a better life than that.”

“Now, if you excuse me” said the ex champion of the world “ I am going to move on and leave you guys to the rest of your day. Always remember the story of Billy Miske and remember that when a boxer gets off the floor when he shouldn’t be able to, the guy who knocked him down might just have some questions going around in his head. “How is he able to do that? Why is he getting up?”

As I said, Joe Frazier has something to think about when lying in his hospital bed because Ali is out there doing the rounds, knowing that he was beaten in the fight, but he has clearly not been beaten to the extent that he is going away quietly. Ali got up and you have to ask yourself how and why? He might just be the stronger of the two inside. When a guy is strong inside, there are forces at work that some of us will never understand. I learnt that from Billy Miske. Have a good day fellas! Nice talking to you.”

Dempsey got up from the table and walked towards the bar and as he passed the Scotsman sitting at the bar he said “Thankyou young man.”

“What for?” came the reply

“For making me think about Billy and telling his story – it is a long time since I have talked about him and he deserves better than that. I remember the times and dates like yesterday but until today it was a story I didn’t want to think about. Yet boxing fans need to know about Billy Miske. Everyone facing illness should know about Billy and there are only a few of us left who knew him – and we should remember him.

So thank you. Enjoy New York. Here’s to Kenny Buchanan – even if he is from Edinburgh …… oh……  and you are welcome in Jack Dempsey’s any time.”



On the 25th of March 1999, I walked into the Press Bar in Glasgow’s Albion Street to collect my father.


The offices of the Glasgow Herald and the Evening Times were just down the street and the smoked filled bar and lounge was a regular haunt for journalists and others who worked in the newspaper industry.

Years before, it had been a regular haunt of this Strathclyde University student and a few others who had a habit of abandoning the trendier pubs in Glasgow city centre from time to time in favour of the more traditional boozers near the University such as The Dunrobin on George Street and The Press in Albion Street.

Many a good story was told by old journo’s and others in the Press and The Dunrobin.

On this occasion I was only in the pub to collect my old man who had been out at a book launch which had taken place earlier in the day in the Central Hotel if I recall correctly. The book concerned was called Jungle Tales – stories from the famous enclosure at the north side of Celtic Park.

The book’s author, John Quinn of the Evening Times – a lifelong friend of my fathers – was holding court in The Press and present were various other well kent faces. Ian Archer, Jack Webster, Jack McLean “The Urban Voltaire” and others were all in and about the place chatting and telling stories.

When I walked into the bar, car keys in hand, with every intention of simply collecting the father and driving him home, I had no intention of sitting down and joining in the chat. However, the will is weak and temptation is strong and so it didn’t take long before I was persuaded to draw up a chair, grab a pint and join the company.

Celtic’s Tommy Burns had written the introduction to John’s book and had said a few words at the book launch and so of course we talked about Celtic, football and various related things.

Stories were being told of great sporting exploits and other tales and I listened on eagerly as a series of people reminisced about tales past.

John’s other great love was boxing and there a few tales of boxers and fights of days gone by.

Then, one of the company, a by now silver haired guy with thickish spectacles simply asked a question:

“Have you ever heard the tale of Billy Miske – The St Paul’s Thunderbolt?”

Needless to say, I never had – and the man concerned started to explain that one day not long after the Ali Frazier fight he found himself sitting in the bar of Jack Dempsey’s speakeasy in New York ………………



In June 2010, some 87 years after his death, The International Boxing Hall of fame inducted Billy Miske into its pantheon of legendary fighters.

Seven family members made the drive to upstate New York for the ceremony, including Billy’s great grandsons, Joe and Luke, aged 11 and 12.

“It was a terrific weekend for all of us and especially the boys,” grandson Bill said. “Joe and Luke had a great time finding out so much about their great-great grandfather.”

Billy Miske’s legend now sits in the hall of fame alongside that of Jack Dempsey. – the boxing records and statistics website lists Billy Miske as the 17th best Light Heavyweight of all time. Of those ranked above him, Miske defeated two of them in the ring. Gene Tunney who defeated Dempsey is ranked 9th.

When it came to bravery, Jack Dempsey rated Billy Miske above all others in any division and from any era.

















Wake up – and smell the lights going out!

17 Dec

Good Afternoon.

It is some time since I have used these pages to write anything at all about Scottish Football or indeed to do anything other than tell the odd story based on fact or fiction.

However, the time has come to set down some purely personal views on both the cultural and business outlook for football as we currently know it in Scotland.

On the one hand, more and more clubs are living within their means, are operating without the need for overdrafts or debt and on the face of it the clubs themselves seem to have improved their efficiency and general trading over the last 5 years or so.

On the other hand, Scottish Football is still gripped, crippled and hindered by the “Rangers debacle” and has to face up to the fact that the game in Scotland, as it does in many other countries, continues to get poorer and poorer when compared to the money flowing into the four big European leagues of Spain, Italy, Germany and England.

In terms of the National team we are rated as the 52nd best Footballing country in the world whereas in 2007 we were rated at number 14 with our worst ever rating being 78th or 88th in 2005 depending which body dishes out the information.

Scotland is now one of the “poor relations” in terms of European Football and when it comes to media, sponsorship rights and revenues far from being anywhere near the top table at the feast we are permanently given a seat at the beggars banquet!

While the world watches on dumbfounded, but not surprised, by the collapse of the self interested and self preserving menagerie that is FIFA, and waits to see whether the man at the head of UEFA can escape being embroiled and burnt in the wake of the FIFA debacle, The Scottish Football Fan is left wondering in amazement how the local game in Scotland came to be ran by the intellectual business equivalent of the Teletubbies (Tinky Winky, Dipsy, Laa- Laa and Po) and reported on by the ever less well read journalistic equivalent of the three wise (joke) monkeys who “see no evil, hear no evil and speak no evil”.

Many of those who run football in this country wear rose coloured specs and can only see the world through a rose tinted hue which blocks out all sight and sense of the ordinary people who are the backbone of football throughout the world – namely football fans.

Those same glasses also block out what some judges in the Court of Session recently referred to as “Common Sense” – a commodity which I have always been told was not so common despite it’s name.

Is it really asking too much of those who run football to see that a game which is financially dependent, in certain quarters, on daily PR and spin fed to newspapers is in deep financial, business and sporting trouble?

Is it honestly the case, that so called professional boards filled with professional administrators who are meant to oversee the running of the game and the application of sporting, business and compliance rules, can be said to have properly done their job and met professionally acceptable standards when thousands of fans who have invested hard earned money in football clubs regulated by that professional body have seen that money disappear in amidst a quagmire of failed stadia development companies, dodgy tax schemes, incomplete or irregular registration of players and the strangest of coincidences when it comes to a number of former international managers, captains and players during or after their stay at one particular club – though this latter set of circumstances merits no investigation whatsoever.

That lack of investigation really comes as no surprise when one considers that the immediate past President of the SFA was the architect of what has been established and accepted as an attempt to defraud HMRC of tax that was properly due and which all — and  I repeat all — of those involved in the administration of Scottish Football contrived, by design or by breathtaking professional negligence and incompetence, to ensure that his involvement in this entire episode was not only swept under the carpet but never even mentioned at all when the whole matter was allegedly being investigated by Lord Nimmo Smith.

Yet this crass stupidity, this blind idiocy, is not restricted to those who twiddle their thumbs at Hampden while all faith in Scottish Football burns.

As at today’s date there are plans afoot at two of the county’s biggest clubs to attract more fans and provide better facilities.

The shrewd and businesslike Ann Budge recently announced that there will be a revamping of Tynecastle which will provide better match facilities to an increased number of Hearts fans.

Aberdeen boss Stewart Milne predicts that the Dons will kick of the 2017 season before an increased number of fans in a new custom built stadium which will replace Pittodrie.

Clubs like Inverness Caley Thistle, Ross County and St Johnstone will hope to strengthen their community base and will seek to improve on field performance.

Yet none of these, or any other improvements will serve to make Scottish Football richer, more lucrative, or even better as a whole.

Such improvement would have to come from the governing bodies who, last season, could not find sponsors for all their competitions and who have spectacularly failed to address the realities of business over recent years.

In fact, the reality is that the Hampden squatters party have failed to take account of business realities for two decades and have done little, if anything, to improve the lot of football in Scotland during that time frame.

In particular, the maladministration of Scottish Football at the top level has been so chronic that fans of all and every club are on the verge of turning their backs on football as they have no faith in the institutional product that is being provided.

And it is the failure to see and recognise this change in temperature which totally jeopardises the otherwise sound business sense of the Milnes and Budges of this world.

The blunt fact of the matter is that the Professional football in this country is losing its grip among the masses despite the improving balance sheets and decreasing levels of debt.

A poorer product on the park is only part of the reason for this increasing public malaise and ambivalence.

Other sports are on the rise in terms of the public psyche and the pound in the pocket, and are proving to attract better media coverage without the dreaded media gurus spouting what is now accepted as a daily dose of drivel to the blats.

Who would have imagined that an arena across the road from Celtic Park could have sold out within days for a tennis match while Scotland’s only European Cup winners can’t fill a stadium?

In the era of Stein, Waddell, Ferguson or McLean would anyone have predicted record high level crowds for the Ryder cup in Perth whilst the football teams of Glasgow, Edinburgh, Aberdeen and Dundee all failed to fill stadia?

No one at Hampden, and no one in the press dare go public and point out that beyond a certain level Scottish Football is nose diving into the abyss.

It suffers from poor administration, poor media coverage and complete and utter lack of any business sense within the governing bodies.

During the Murray era at Ibrox, Rangers PLC lost over £160 Million pounds excluding any unpaid taxes, interest and penalties. Numerous clubs who all banked with the Bank of Scotland either went to the wall or had to be rescued by being sold for a pound, a bag of chips, or taken over by Argentinian lawyers of dubious character who were just out to make a buck – not to mention the chap from the Eastern block with his own submarine and method of balancing the books.

And all the while the football gurus and professional compliance merchants at Hampden sat and gazed at the walls and appear to have asked no questions and grasped no nettles with the result that the football fan was left clueless, in the dark and ultimately stung.

Now we are being fed the mantra that one possible boon for Scottish Football may well be the return of a revised Rangers team ( call them Rangers/Sevco/ Newco/ The Rangers or whatever ) playing out of Ibrox because this will see the return of the blue pound which, we are assured, will be good for Scottish Football.

There is no doubt that any Rangers team will bring a large support into the top league, but at the same time no one mentions that many many former Rangers fans departed the scene for a variety of reasons before the end of the Murray era, and even more have left the park during the magnificent governance provided by Craig Whyte and Charles Green — both of whom were welcomed into the fold by the blazer wearing guardians of the game at Hampden.

Even when these individuals were found to have broken rules or be worthy of sanction, the footballing authorities are widely accepted to have fudged the issues and failed to enforce any penalty which was imposed by what was described as barely short of “match fixing”.

I repeat again that during his tenure David Murray managed to lose £160 Million blue pounds, while his successors have achieved a mixture of administration, liquidation and criminal charges in connection with their running of, and their involvement with, the companies that generate that same blue pound.

The current Ibrox board are a mixture of old and new custodians with their chairman being unique among his predecessors in that he has been convicted of wrongdoing in a court of law while his two immediate predecessors are only accused of criminality at this time.

Yet the SFA seemingly fail to take any action or have any stance which would protect the ordinary football fan from any of these shysters or a Gavin Masterton, a Giovanni De Stefano – described by Wikipedia as simply a convicted fraudster, or a Vladimir Romanov.

And there is the problem – Scottish Football has become a business vehicle and a never ending gravy train for suits of many hues and little talent.

The overseeing of a sporting contest for people in the terracings to enjoy – win or lose – has become of so little importance that many commentators openly debated whether sporting integrity and fair play should win out over so called financial consequence just a few years ago. At that point the journos and PR punters weighed in as they saw that their own circulations and therefore wage was in jeopardy if proper sporting governance won the day.

As a result we were warned of Armageddon and have since been treated to the see no evil, hear no evil speak no evil brand of sports journalism.

With all due respect to Mr Milne of Aberdeen does it really make any business sense to have the plans for a new stadium holding say 25,000 supported by the argument that football at the top level will be enhanced by the participation of an organisation whose ownership of it’s own assets is in question, whose past chairmen face jail time if convicted of fraudulent activities, which does not have the support of any financial institution, and which survives on a mixture of emergency loans by investors and directors who take one another to court on a daily basis?

That is not the description of a stable business partner you can rely on at all.

As one business person put it to me, “The business position and model at Rangers is so unstable, so uncertain, you simply cannot proceed with any business plan or contract which relies on that club being a material or essential part of the bargain because you just do not know what will happen next at all. To do so would be crazy on a business front.”

Mr Milne presides over the only major football club in a large northern city within a county with a population of over 400,000.

If he cannot regularly fill a 25,000 seater stadium from that base then he should look to his business model and market as even inviting Barcelona or Real Madrid to join the league and play there 4 times a year does not address the fundamental problem – namely that senior football in Scotland is maladministered and is dying as a result.

The only hope for Scottish Football is for the governing bodies and those who run the clubs to actually listen to the fans. Not just some fans, not even their own fans, but all fans.

However, that view point is one that finds no favour among the administrators and they actively seek to shut the fans out.

Many will have read of Resolution 12 which was brought by a number of Celtic shareholders before the AGM of Celtic PLC for consideration at the 2013 AGM of that company.

Much ill informed comment has been written about the resolution in the intervening period with a considerable degree of misinformation coming from somewhere for whatever reason.

The most important part of the resolution’s progress to date has not been the attitude of the board of Celtic PLC to the resolution – both the board and those promoting the resolution have stated publicly at subsequent AGMs that the Celtic Board had made enquiries of the SFA regarding the issues concerned – namely the procedures followed by the SFA when it came to the granting of a European Licence to Rangers in 2011.

Further both have stated that the Celtic board have, thus far, supported and assisted the enquiries made by the shareholders.

Note that the questions asked were not questions about the conduct of Rangers Football Club and its officials per se, but about what had happened at Hampden when Rangers had applied for a European licence and what the blazers at Hampden did when reporting to UEFA.

I will not try to cover up the fact that some of that discussion surrounds what was or was not truthfully disclosed by the officials of a Craig Whyte governed Rangers, but of greater importance is what was or was not truthfully done, said and acted upon by the officials at Hampden.

No doubt certain information not widely reported in the press will come to light in some of the forthcoming court appearances surrounding the activities of the time.

However, for the purposes of this essay, the salient facts are that HMRC wrote to Rangers PLC formally in both February and May 2011 alleging that the club had deliberately falsified it’s PAYE returns for more than a decade.

The legal effect of the letter of May 2011 was that this letter counted as a formal demand for payment and as such should have been disclosed to both the SFA and UEFA for licensing purchases.

As part of the Res 12 enquiry line, the SFA were asked informally and formally if their records contained this correspondence and then begged two questions:

  1. If the letters were disclosed, what did the SFA or UEFA do about the position as it would appear that the existence of such letters should have negated the licence ( which was redundant in any event as Rangers had been knocked out of European competition ) or
  2. If the letters had not been disclosed then surely there should be some form of enquiry into how any kind of licence can have been granted and maintained in the first place.

Informally, my understanding of the position is that these letters could not be found within the SFA archives and so it would appear that the SFA and UEFA had been misled at the time.

Surely that would be a simple thing to investigate?

Strange as it may seem there has apparently been no such investigation despite the fact that all of this information was sent on formally to The SFA Corporate Compliance Officer Mr Andrew McKinlay by an International firm of Solicitors acting on behalf of Celtic PLC shareholders and ordinary money paying football fans.

The legal firm concerned have vouched that all of the fans concerned are shareholders in Celtic PLC and it will be obvious that they have paid thousands of pounds over the years to support their club and Scottish Football in general.

The reply to these formal letters from Mr McKinlay is illuminating.

Mr McKinlay was not working at Hampden at the material time, is a qualified lawyer and, as will be his duty, he will have taken his instructions on how to reply from higher up the food chain at Hampden.

Given the information and documentation provided, given that when initially addressing these issues Stewart Regan drafted a reply which he then sent to Ibrox for prior approval before being sent out ( only to be advised not to send the intended reply as it would embarrass both the SFA and the Rangers officials concerned ) and given that the whole issue requires comment on letters written by the past president of the SFA and his failure to disclose certain information over a decade long period, one might have expected a bland ” we need to look into this further” type of reply if you wanted to kick the matter into touch.

Alas no – on offical SFA notepaper the compliance officer stated quite clearly that the SFA were only prepared to discuss and correspond on these and similar matters with their member clubs and their official representatives.

So, there you have it football fans – tartan army fans, Rangers fans, Celtic Fans, Queen of the South fans, Motherwell fans, Aberdeen fans – any old fans — The SFA has nothing to do with you.

They are not answerable to you, they do not regard your enquiries as worthy of reply as you are not to be considered or given any sort of deference when it comes to ensuring proper governance of the game.

It matters not if you invested thousands of pounds in Rangers PLC or any other reincarnation of the Rangers brand and had your money stolen or lost by incompetents – The SFA will not answer your questions and they sure as hell are not there to ensure that those in charge of your club act properly or with propriety in terms of the football or business rules.

It matters not if you are a shareholder who bailed out Hearts or Motherwell or Dunfermline, Celtic or anyone else.

Corporate compliance and how to avoid it, implement it, hide it, breach it, and even talk about it is only for those who actually run football clubs. It is not for the ordinary investor, season ticket holder or occasional fan who pays their money at the gate.

It is only to be discussed with those who will take the name of your football club to the stock market, the bank, the fans or anyone else for the purposes of asking for money which, as we have seen above, is often mispent, stolen, squandered and applied for the benefit of those whose last concern is the long lasting well being of a football club and Scottish Football in general.

Good luck to Ms Budge and Mr Milne in the expansion of their stadia.

Good luck to those who believe that all will be well if Mark Warburton fields a team of Royal Blue in the SPFL.

Good Luck to those who are unduly concerned about the fact that no team from any league other than Spain, England, Germany or Italy has contested the Champion’s league final in a decade, and that there is a greater chance of Nicola Sturgeon winning the Grand National while carrying an elephant on her back than of a Scottish team ever reaching that final in the future

Good luck to those who continue to swallow the PR drivel put out by some of our senior clubs and the governing bodies.

Good luck to those who honestly believe that the SFA and the SPFL are properly run for the benefit of the game of football, are fit for purpose and that those in situ will ensure that the game is played openly and honestly with transparency and open governance that makes for common sense.

However, I believe we live in the land of the Teletubbies – strange little creatures running around in strange suits speaking an odd language with no obvious business or corporate sense – and that they have decided that the guy that pays at the gate can be ignored and doesn’t count but is expected to fund and financially support the member clubs the Teletubbies rely on and govern on behlaf of and in their name.

Yeah, Good Luck with that.

Other sports are better run, have better media coverage, have better customer relations and provide better customer involvement and value for money at a national and local level.

Rugby is on the up and up and other Sports see football fans abandoning the beautiful game in favour of the properly run one.

The fans of every single football club deserves better than this and it is no surprise that football in the lower leagues – amateurs, juniors and the likes are enjoying some success – due to ordinary people recognising better and honest governance free of the stench of self preserving money influences where they can watch a proper sporting contest – win or lose.

Senior football in Scotland is devoid of integrity, backbone and any sort of humility or obligation towards the ordinary fan.

The man or woman at the gate is no more than a credit card carrier with a chip and a pin, but without a voice or an opinion worth listening to.

There is no or little community in football, just profit and loss and lot’s of people who see the main chance.

Ignoring the fan in the terracing stinks.

Ignore him or her too often and they will move on for pastures new and all that will be left will be the smell of the Hampden lights going out for good due to the rotting vegetation within.













Paul Robeson, Ed Murrow and The Lucky Number Seven

7 Nov

Source: Paul Robeson, Ed Murrow and The Lucky Number Seven

Paul Robeson, Ed Murrow and The Lucky Number Seven

6 Nov

When the American singer and actor Paul Robeson took to the makeshift stage on 4th September 1949 a group of men surrounded the singer to prevent him from being shot by a sniper.

This was to be Robeson’s fourth concert in support of The Civil Rights Congress and once again it was to be held near a small town known as Peekskill situated in Westchester County, New York.

The precise venue for this concert was to be the Old Hollow Brook Golf Course situated at Cortlandt Manor, just outside Peekskill.

Originally, the concert had been scheduled for August 27th but had had to be delayed due to protests from locals who were steadfast in their opposition to Robeson and his political views.

By 1949, Robeson had gone from being one of America’s best paid entertainers, to someone who had been labelled in the public mind as a communist, a left wing agitator and anti-American sympathiser whose views were at odds with the best interests of the American people.

This view was enforced and enhanced by certain elements of the American press, including The Associated Press, who had misreported statements made by Robeson on a previous visit to Paris, with the result that Robeson found his concerts throughout America cancelled and his political views vilified.

In subsequent years, following the rise to prominence of Senator Joe McCarthy and his commission, he would have his passport confiscated, his movements restricted, his performances curtailed and his personal wellbeing repeatedly threatened in the land of the free.

The son of a slave who had become a minister, Paul Robeson was a very bright and athletic individual who would face prejudice throughout his life. He had won a scholarship to Rutgers University where he excelled both academically and in the world of sports. However, to gain a place on the University Football Team he had to overcome significant initial prejudice from team mates who were overly physical with him because he was the only black player on the team.

Eventually, because of his sheer strength, physique, determination and skill, Robeson would command a place as an “end” in the University football team and would go on to great success winning first team All American selection in his junior and senior years. Some would muse that at the time he was the greatest Collegiate “end” to have played the game.

By the time of the McCarthy inquisitions however, the record books would show no mention of Paul Robeson at all with the All American teams for those years showing only ten players rather than eleven. To the eternal shame of the university, Rutgers University football records showed his name having been expunged altogether.

In terms of American College Football – Paul Robeson had ceased to exist, and in fact would appear to have never existed at all.

Beyond the football field Robeson had excelled at College and was proclaimed valedictorian by his class and gained numerous commendations for his academic, debating, acting and singing talents.

After college, he played some NFL football for the Milwaukee Badgers and entered the New York school of Law in the fall of 1919. However he was uncomfortable there and transferred to the University of Columbia Law School from which he graduated with the intention of following a legal career.

He was working in New York law offices whilst pursuing a singing career at the same time initially. However, he chose to give up the law when some white clients made it plain that they would never agree to be represented in court by a “negro”. The final straw was to come when Robeson in the course of his job asked a stenographer to take a deposition. Her reply — “I won’t take dictation from a nigger” — led Robeson to pursue another career entirely.

So it came to pass that by 1949 Robeson was a worldwide star in the world of entertainment having gained success on the stages of New York, London and elsewhere with his deep bass voice. He had gained particular fame for his performances in Showboat in the movies and on the stage, and he had become the first black man to play Othello in London and New York.

However, his commitment to civil rights and his stance against the colonisation of Africa, the fascists in the Spanish Civil War and his campaigns for peace especially with Russia, overshadowed his entertainment value and even his support for American troops during World War two.

20,000 or so people turned up to see and hear him at the Peekskill concert, but that 20,000 had to be safeguarded by a protective ring of volunteer guards drawn from trade unions and civil rights activists who formed a human chain all the way around the concert venue.

Outside that venue stood some 900 state troopers who were supposedly deployed to prevent Robeson and the concert goers from being attacked by a mob of angry local residents, many of whom were just kids, some Ku Klux Klan members, but mostly members of organisations such as The Veterans of Foreign Wars and different chapters of the American Legion.

These groups had supposedly come to protest at Robeson and his “left wing” friends, and in preparation for their protest the Police had allowed them to collect, and indeed “truck in”, piles of stones and bricks to make their point.

Effigies of Paul Robeson were hung or burned, and those attending the concert were berated with insults including “Niggers” “Commies” “ Jews” and other inflammatory statements.

There was a real fear of Robeson being assassinated and one sniper was discovered in the woods surrounding the concert venue.

As it happened, the concert itself passed without incident, however it was deemed appropriate that Robeson’s departure from the venue be disguised.

At the end, he was seen being placed in a car, but in actual fact he left that car to go into another only to leave the second car behind in order to be secretly smuggled into an unmarked van in which he made his escape from the venue.

The rest of the concert goers were not so lucky.

Many cars had been destroyed when they turned up for the previous concert on August 27th. Drivers found their vehicles up turned or pushed over cliffs by angry locals.

Now, as they left the concert of 4th September, each and every vehicle was met with a hail of missiles thrown by the protestors. Car windows were broken, accidents caused and people were injured.

Concert goers had to run an organised gauntlet lasting roughly 4 miles where piles of stones and bricks had been stockpiled every few hundred yards for the protestors to use as missiles. While this abuse was going on, Law enforcement officers and state troopers merely stood and watched with no attempt to stop the violence.

A full blown riot ensued with many people being injured. Many concert goers, particularly black concert goers, were attacked.

News footage exists of one black man being knocked to the ground and being badly beaten by not only so called protestors, but also by local law enforcement officers and state troopers. The beating of this man was later described as “savage.”

At first, the state authorities and local Governor denied that this beating, and even the whole riot, had ever happened, but eventually had to accept that their version of events had been fabricated. Even then, the cause of the riot was laid fairly and squarely at the feet of Paul Robeson and his “commie” sympathisers.

As a consequence, Robeson was denounced on the floor of the house with one Representative stating that the American people were “not in sympathy with that Nigger Communist and that bunch of Reds who went up there.”

Democratic Representative Edward E. Cox of Georgia denounced Robeson on the House floor as a “Communist agent provocateur.”

Despite sections of the community and civil rights activists calling for an enquiry into the Peekskill riots, no further action was taken and no prosecutions ever followed. The perpetrators of the beating handed out to the black concert goer on camera were neither investigated nor charged.

The protestors were portrayed in Newsreels as war veterans, patriots and the supporters of a free democracy who had every right to stand and go to any lengths to prevent the influence of the “red element” being spread throughout America.

Paul Robeson’s records were withdrawn from sale in America, his concerts cancelled and his movies withdrawn. No Paul Robeson film would be shown on American television until the late 1970’s!

Robeson was invited to sing at Civil Rights functions and in black communities but in “white” McCarthyist America he was seen as a demon.

His wife eventually appeared before Senator McCarthy’s committee and asked about her husband’s refusal to condemn communism, Russia and those organisations which protested against the colonisation of Africa. The committee session was caught on film and it shows the junior senator from Wisconsin at his bullying worst.

However, in due course McCarthy would be destroyed by his own bigotry, prejudices and excesses.

The widely admired CBS journalist Edward R Murrow would play a pivotal role in bringing about the downfall of McCarthy.

On 20th October 1953 – 4 years after the Peekskill riots – Murrow would make a famous live broadcast titled “The Case Against Lt. Milo Radulovich, AO589839.”

Radulovich had been a reserve Air Force weather officer, in Dexter, Michigan, but was dismissed from service because he was considered a “security risk.” Senator McCarthy, as head of the Senate Operations Committee, and its subcommittee on investigations, had stirred up a massive search for such “traitors,” in the intervening four years, and these traitors had to be identified not only by relations with communists, but what they read, and whom they associated with.

The evidence against Radulovich was the fact that his father, an immigrant who read newspapers from his native Serbia, and his sister, who had attended a civil rights rally for Paul Robeson, were considered “communist sympathizers.” When Radulovich refused to dissociate himself from his family and their activities, he was dismissed from the Air Force Service.

Radulovich subsequently challenged the decision in court but failed to change the decision.

Murrow took up the story, interviewed Radulovich and demonstrated how ridiculous the decision was on live television. At the same time, he damned and condemned McCarthy.

The result was that Radulovich was reinstated into the air force within a month.

Television had succeeded where the courts had failed.

Murrow now knew that McCarthy would seek to attack him and to destroy his reputation. He was told that McCarthy was investigating Murrow and his communist sympathies.

In the full knowledge of what had happened to Robeson and his career, Ed Murrow and his producer, Fred Friendly, persuaded CBS to allow Murrow to launch an extraordinary attack on McCarthy and to question the fundamentalist reactions and beliefs that had led to, amongst other things, the Peekskill Riots and the damning of Paul Robeson.

At the time, Murrow’s broadcast and stance was seen as highly dangerous both to the network and to Murrow himself.

On March 29, 1954 Murrow made another broadcast entitled “A Report on Senator Joseph McCarthy,” featuring a series of film clips of the Senator himself.

Using the film clips and the Senator’s own words, Murrow exposed and clearly demonstrated the lies, absurdities and inconsistencies behind what McCarthy had been saying, preaching and doing supposedly in the name of the American people. The exposure of McCarthy’s baiting of witnesses, and the type of sustained bullying faced by Paul Robeson’s wife, was shown to the nation and provided devastating evidence of McCarthy’s lack of credibility.

Murrow ended the broadcast with this devastating conclusion:

“No one familiar with the history of this country can deny that Congressional committees are useful. It is necessary to investigate before legislating, but the line between investigating and persecuting is a very fine one, and the junior Senator from Wisconsin has stepped over it repeatedly. His primary achievement has been in confusing the public mind, as between internal and the external threats of Communism. We must not confuse dissent with disloyalty. We must remember always that accusation is not proof and that conviction depends upon evidence and due process of law. We will not walk in fear, one of another. We will not be driven by fear into an age of unreason, if we dig deep in our history and our doctrine, and remember that we are not descended from fearful men—not from men who feared to write, to speak, to associate, and to defend causes that were, for the moment, unpopular.”

He went on:

“The actions of the junior Senator from Wisconsin have caused alarm and dismay amongst our allies abroad, and given considerable comfort to our enemies. And whose fault is that? Not really his. He didn’t create this situation of fear; he merely exploited it—and rather successfully. Cassius was right, ‘The fault, dear Brutus, is not in our stars, but in ourselves.”

Murrow then ended the broadcast – and indeed the career of the junior senator from Wisconsin with his familiar sign off.

“ Good Night – and Good Luck”.

That signature sign off – “ Good night and Good Luck” – stemmed from Murrow’s years as a war correspondent in London. At the height of the blitz it was a reasonably common saying when saying goodbye to someone on any given evening. No one knew in those fearful days if they would be living in the morning or if they were ever going to see the person they were saying goodbye to again.

And so it came to pass that each and every broadcast Murrow would make from London during the war would start with “ This – is London” and would end with “ Good Night – and Good Luck”.

Within 5 short years of the McCarthy broadcast, Ed Murrow found himself waging his own war on not only his employers at CBS but on all the other news channels and networks in America.

He had watched the new idiom of television start to dumb down and viewed the advance of shows such as The $64,000 Question with horror.

He argued that television was a means of educating the nation and that the networks were selling the viewing public out by accepting the highest dollar for sponsored shows such as quizzes and the like at the expense of proper news reporting and educational documentaries.

He also argued that the sponsor’s dollar would eventually dictate the quality of the news and education provided by the television and predicted that news and proper reporting would soon become a thing of the past.

On October 15, 1958, in a speech before the Radio and Television News Directors Association in Chicago, Murrow blasted TV’s emphasis on entertainment and commercialism at the expense of public interest in what became known as his “wires and lights” speech.

Amongst other things that night, when addressing the black ties and the ball gown types, Ed Murrow said the following:

“Our history will be what we make it. And if there are any historians left about fifty or a hundred years from now, and there should be preserved the kinescopes for one week of all three networks, they will there find recorded in black and white, or perhaps in colour, evidence of decadence, escapism and insulation from the realities of the world in which we live. I invite your attention to the television schedules of all networks between the hours of 8 and 11 p.m., Eastern Time. Here you will find only fleeting and spasmodic reference to the fact that this nation is in mortal danger. There are, it is true, occasional informative programs presented in that intellectual ghetto on Sunday afternoons. But during the daily peak viewing periods, television in the main insulates us from the realities of the world in which we live. If this state of affairs continues, we may alter an advertising slogan to read: LOOK NOW, AND PAY LATER.

For surely we shall pay for using this most powerful instrument of communication to insulate the citizenry from the hard and demanding realities which must indeed be faced if we are to survive. And I mean the word survive, quite literally. If there were to be a competition in indifference, or perhaps in insulation from reality, then Nero and his fiddle, Chamberlain and his umbrella, could not find a place on an early afternoon sustaining show. If Hollywood were to run out of Indians, the program schedules would be mangled beyond all recognition. Then perhaps, some young and courageous soul with a small budget might do a documentary telling what, in fact, we have done–and are still doing–to the Indians in this country. But that would be unpleasant. And we must at all costs shield the sensitive citizen from anything that is unpleasant.”

He then went on:

“To a very considerable extent, the media of mass communications in a given country reflects the political, economic and social climate in which it grows and flourishes. That is the reason our system differs from the British and the French, and also from the Russian and the Chinese. We are currently wealthy, fat, comfortable and complacent. We have currently a built-in allergy to unpleasant or disturbing information. And our mass media reflect this. But unless we get up off our fat surpluses and recognize that television in the main is being used to distract, delude, amuse and insulate us, then television and those who finance it, those who look at it and those who work at it, may see a totally different picture too late.”

Finally, talking of television, Murrow ends:

“This instrument can teach, it can illuminate; yes, and even it can inspire. But it can do so only to the extent that humans are determined to use it to those ends. Otherwise, it’s nothing but wires and lights in a box. There is a great and perhaps decisive battle to be fought against ignorance, intolerance and indifference. This weapon of television could be useful.

Thank you for your patience.

Good Night – and Good Luck”.

Three months before that speech, The United States Supreme Court made a ruling in the case of Kent v Dulles which set out the right of free travel to any American citizen.

It was a case that surrounded the restriction placed on Rockwell Kent being allowed to travel due to his having supposed “Communist Sympathies”. By a majority, the Supreme Court ruled that such a restriction was unconstitutional and as a result, Paul Robeson had his passport returned to him.

By 1959 he had become the first black singer to sing at St Paul’s cathedral and was appearing as Othello at Stratford on Avon.

He later toured the world and continued to work and speak out politically but he would never regain the status, fame and fortune that he enjoyed before Peekskill.

Eventually, ill health would take its toll on that deep voice and he lived out his last 13 years in seclusion. He was unable to attend many benefits, concerts and celebrations given in his honour at venues and in cities which had shunned him years earlier.

He was unable to attend a celebration of his 75th birthday at Carnegie Hall in 1973, however he did send a message: “Though I have not been able to be active for several years, I want you to know that I am the same Paul, dedicated as ever to the worldwide cause of humanity for freedom, peace and brotherhood.”

On January 23, 1976, following complications of a stroke, Robeson died at the age of 77 at his sister’s house in Philadelphia.

CBS and all the other news channels hailed him as a great American.

Ed Murrow’s lights and wires in a box speech did not immediately bring about the end of his career, but the writing was on the wall as far as his days with CBS were concerned.

Old friendships were now strained relationships. Where he had once been a director of the corporation his stance on news reporting and television’s use in general were at extreme odds with those who controlled the corporation and broadcasting as a whole.

He was eventually appointed head of the United States Information Agency by President Kennedy and so was in charge of broadcasting the official views of the Government to the public of other nations.

It was to be a position he would hold until ill health forced him to retire in 1964.

However, it was not investigative reporting which was his forte.

Old friends and foes at CBS did ask him to come back to the network after he retired from Government but he declined.

He had been the first man to publicly broadcast on the health dangers of smoking and the then suspected link between cigarettes and cancer, yet he himself smoked more than 60 camel cigarettes each day. That broadcast angered the tobacco industry who were major television sponsors.

He had shone the light on the shocking plight of farm workers and immigrant workers in the United States, had questioned the US policy on Israel and Palestine, and had made many other reports which were designed to tell a story which would shake the communal American psyche.

He questioned and challenged established thinking and doctrine throughout his entire broadcasting career and always sought to present the facts without fear or favour as he believed that ordinary people were better off knowing the facts and could deal with those facts even if they were unpopular or made the same public uncomfortable with Government or themselves.

On April 27, 1965, two days after his 57th birthday, Ed Murrow said “Good Night – and Good luck” for the very last time.

CBS carried a memorial program and in the intervening years Murrow’s reputation as a journalist and a broadcast visionary has increasingly grown with the lights in a box speech becoming a thing of legend in broadcasting and cultural circles.

One colleague said of him: “He was a shooting star; and we will live in his afterglow for a very long time.”

However, the lessons to be learned from the careers of Ed Murrow, Paul Robeson and the events at Peekskill in 1949 do not end there.

There is no doubt that both Murrow and Robeson were remarkable and brave men.

However, I believe this story has someone in its midst who puts both of them in a very respectable shade – but shade none the less.

To my knowledge there is no evidence to suggest that Paul Robeson ever met the “Negro” who was beaten by the state troopers, police and protestors at the end of his concert in upstate New York. Years later, the graphic and detailed photographs of that beating would find their way into a biography of the singer written by his granddaughter Susan Robeson.

The book was entitled: The Whole World in His Hands: a Pictorial Biography of Paul Robeson.

Nor can I find any evidence that Ed Murrow or anyone else at CBS, the main news network of the time, ever sought out the victim of the assault or reported on his wellbeing or history.

Had Murrow or his colleagues followed the story, as they did in the case of Milo Radulovich, they would have uncovered the most remarkable of stories which would have inspired, taught, illuminated and even shocked the American public – especially those who were responsible for the beating or who chose to throw stones on a September afternoon in 1949 just outside Peekskill New York.

The man concerned was called Eugene James Bullard and he was born in Columbus, Georgia on 9th October in either 1894 or 1895 depending on which account of his life you choose to believe.

His parents were William Octavius Bullard, whose family had originally been slaves on the French Islands of Martinique or Haiti and Josephine “Yokalee” Thomas, a Creek Indian.

The couple had a total of ten children of whom Eugene would be the seventh child with his father always believing that the boy would be “Lucky number seven.”

William Bullard was known locally as “Big Ox”. He was a large powerful man who was well educated and who could speak fluent French. He would regale his children with tales of France and his French ancestry, and would spell out to them that in France a man was not judged by his race or colour as was the practice in the Southern states of the USA. Further, Big Ox preached about the French belief in liberté, égalité, and fraternité – and to a young boy from the South his stories suggested that France was some kind of heaven.

Eugene was a student at Twenty-eighth Street School in Columbus between 1901 and 1906 and it was there he learned to read and write.

His mother died when he was only a young boy and so he was raised by The Big Ox and his siblings.

However, during that time Eugene  came to realise that he would always be the victim of prejudice in America because of the colour of his skin. He would witness his father be victimised and bullied by White bosses and on more than one occasion he and his family would have to hide from Klan members.

One of his brothers was murdered by Ku Klux Klan members, and when his father retaliated against a White man who had laid hands on him, there was an attempt to lynch his father which was only stopped when an influential white man intervened.

It was against this background that Eugene James Bullard took the reluctant decision to run away and leave Georgia for good in 1906 when he was just 11 or 12 years old.

That decision would mark the start of the most remarkable of journeys.

Eugene left home with only his pet goat which he sold in return for some money which he used to set him off on his travels.

Almost immediately he found himself in the company of a family of gypsies who were originally from England. The gypsies took him in, fed him, housed him and taught him to ride and tend for horses. For the next two years he would ride as a jockey winning several races throughout the State of Georgia.

However, he was not content to live the gypsy life on a personal basis and eventually left the camp and once again set off across America on foot taking odd jobs here and there.

This was a particularly dangerous pastime for a 14 year old black boy who was really no more than a child. Eventually he sneaked on board a railroad wagon which took him to Newport Virginia where once again he managed to obtain some employment on a piecemeal basis.

At the age of 16, Eugene found himself in Norfolk Virginia where he was working at the docks helping to load a German cargo ship called the Marta Russ. He had no idea where the ship was headed but he took the view that wherever it was going it was likely to offer a young black boy a better standard of life than the Southern States of the USA.

Sure, he could have travelled north to some of the big cities like Philadelphia or Detroit, but filled with his father’s stories of France, Eugene wanted to leave America altogether in search of a better life.

Accordingly, he slipped on board the Marta Russ and decided to stowaway to goodness only knew where.

He remained hidden on the boat for three days before eventually running out of food and water at which time he presented himself to an astonished captain by the name of Westphal. The Captain at first joked about throwing him overboard before sending him off to work in both the engine room and the cook house.

During a three week voyage, Eugene mixed with the crew and learned to speak some rudimentary German, realising for the first time that he had a natural aptitude for languages.

The boat and its cargo were bound for Sweden but the captain was wary of taking the young black man with him to Sweden where he thought that some tough questions would be asked about his unexpected and unexplainable young crew member.

However, the boat was due to make one stop before reaching Sweden and it was decided that Eugene would disembark there and head on out into the world. That stop was destined to be made at Aberdeen in Scotland.

When the Marta Russ docked in Northern Scotland, the German captain helped Eugene off the boat and gave him the princely sum of £5 to help him on his way.

Whether acting on advice or instinct, Eugene spent only one night in the city before travelling south by passenger train to Britain’s second largest city – Glasgow — where he arrived in the spring of 1912.

A Black sixteen year old American boy stood out like a sore thumb in Glasgow in 1912, however it was here that Eugene James Bullard would later recall that he felt truly free for the first time in his life. He would stay in the city for some 5 months, and while he would hear the odd comment about his colour or his accent, in his eyes the comments were more made in fun than out of any malice or genuine prejudice.

The atmosphere in Glasgow was completely different to the constant fear and threat of violence that existed in Georgia or elsewhere in the Southern United States.

Once again he made some friends who helped him get cheap but clean accommodation and he gained work as a lookout for local bookmakers, a profession which was illegal at the time.

It was in Glasgow that he also came across street entertainers for the first time and although he felt that some of the forms of entertainment were a bit like begging, which he refused to do, he felt a thrill for the very idea of entertainment.

After 5 months in Glasgow, he again boarded the train this time headed for Liverpool where he was told he would be able to possibly get himself a job that might take him to continental Europe.

In Liverpool, he earned money in some street theatre jobs most notably being the guy who was locked in the stocks who had custard pies thrown at him. However, he also started to attend a local gym and learned to box.

His boxing skills were quite good and the time at the gym resulted in his physique filing out and his frame becoming more like that of a man than a runaway teenager.

In time he started to box with some quite good results that brought him to the attention of a trainer who in due course persuaded him to move to London.

At the time, London had a whole host of expatriate American boxers including the heavyweight champion of the world – Jack Johnson. Amongst those he met in London was someone he came to look upon as a father figure and mentor for a couple of years – the world champion welterweight contender called Aaron Lister Brown otherwise known as “The Dixie Kid”.

Brown became Eugene’s manager and helped him with his boxing skills. Yet at the same time, Eugene also earned some money with a slapstick vaudeville and dance act working with an American female singer and dancer called Belle Davis whose “troop” was known as Freedman’s Pickaninnies – a pickaninny being a sort of comedic dancer.

Life in London was good for Eugene – or Gene as he was referred to – but having come all this way he wanted to see France and to determine whether or not it matched up to the tales told by his father.

On 28th November 1913, both The Dixie kid and Eugene James Bullard took part in a boxing bill in Paris.

Glasgow and Liverpool had been good; London had been fabulous to Gene, but as soon as he set foot in Paris he knew he was spiritually “home” and it soon became clear that he wanted to live there and would not return to England permanently.

He toured Europe with the Pickaninnies for the next few months but was permanently settled in Paris by early 1914.

Despite all that had happened to him and the thousands of miles he had journeyed he was still only 18 years old at most.

However, the adventures of Eugene James Bullard (though he had now changed his name to Eugene Jacques Bullard) were only just beginning.

He had many friends among the boxing fraternity in Paris and quickly got work acting as an interpreter and as a dancer.

However, in August 1914 War came and France found itself at War with Germany. Many of the Americans in Paris left continental Europe and headed back to Britain or elsewhere. Eugene Jacques Bullard chose to stay and on October 9th, his nineteenth birthday but declaring that he was twenty years old, he responded to the calls of the French Government by presenting himself at the recruiting office of the French Foreign Legion in the Boulevard  des Invalides.

Over the next two years, Eugene would be at the forefront of some of the worst battles of the First World War where the legionnaires wold suffer huge casualties. Over 32,000 foreign nationals had joined the French Foreign Legion including some 600 Americans only a handful of whom were black.

The legion lost tens of thousands of troops in the trenches and within 18 months or so, three legion units were merged into one, such was the number of casualties.

Eugene was a machine gunner and spent months in the trenches watching many colleagues die. He himself had been injured but counted himself lucky enough to be alive.

By early 1916 he was part of the 170th infantry division which had barely survived horrific fighting at Verdun which was seen as hugely important by both the Germans and the French. Eugene and his colleagues were literally ordered to die rather than surrender the city and they came under massive shell fire for a continuous period of two weeks.

On March 2nd Eugene was badly injured in an explosion which was sufficiently violent that it blew out all but four of his teeth. He had spent days on end firing his machine gun at advancing German troops and on other occasions he had crawled out into no man’s land to try and rescue injured comrades who were calling out for help.

On March 5th, in the town of Fleury a shell attack blew him into a dugout and opened up severe wounds in his leg and resulted in shrapnel lodging in his back. At the time, just three days after his previous injury, he had exposed himself to the enemy and was attempting to deliver a communique further along the line.

Fortunately, he was picked up by the red cross and taken by ambulance away from the battle area and later loaded onto a train.

Over 300,000 men died in the battle for Verdun and it was not until June that the French were confident of holding the city. The rally cry of “ Ils ne passerant pas” became legendary and the leader of the troops, Marshall Petain became a national hero.

The train carrying Eugene Bullard drove through France for three nights only stopping so that the dead could be taken off the train and some of the wounded could be treated. Apparently at one point Eugene Bullard was examined and declared dead such were his wounds. However, when he was being unloaded from the train he was discovered to be alive but barely so.

He was hospitalised in Lyon but the injuries to his leg and back were such that it was clear that his war was over and upon his eventual recovery which included massive dental work to replace his teeth, he was told that he was to be discharged and that his war was over.

However, Eugene Jacques Bullard refused to accept his discharge as he had another plan.

By this time, his father, The Big Ox, had somehow gotten to know of his son’s whereabouts and his involvement in the war in Europe. He asked the American Government to have him repatriated back to the USA pointing out that he was only 19 and according to American law too young to fight.

However, the American Government could do nothing about what went on in France and so The Big Ox had to trust in his belief in his “Lucky number Seven”.

Against all medical advice and all hitherto known precedent, Eugene Bullard, having recovered as best he could from his injuries, volunteered on October 2nd 1916 to join the French Military Air Service as a gunner.

He had bet other soldiers that he could become a pilot and that he could fly a plane despite having a badly damaged leg and back. By 5th May 1917 he had received his pilot’s licence (No 6950) from Aero Club De-France.

By June 28, 1917 Bullard was promoted to the rank of corporal and on August 27, 1917 he was assigned to the Escadrille N.93 based at Beauzée-sur-Aire south of Verdun, where he stayed till September 13. The squadron was equipped with Nieuport and Spad aircraft that bore a flying duck as its squadron insignia. Bullard’s service record also includes the aero squadron N.85 (Escadrille SPA 85), September 13, 1917 – November 11, 1917, which had a bull insignia. He took part in about twenty combat missions, often flying with his pet monkey in the cockpit, and he has been credited with shooting down one or two German aircraft although some sources differ on this.

In those days, Pilots could decorate their own aircraft and on his, Bullard wrote the legend “ All blood runs red” – a clear reference and message saying that the black man was no different to his white colleague or adversary.

And so it came to pass that Eugene Jacques Bullard was amongst the very first fighter pilots as at the time the Aeroplane was only twenty years old.

However, here is the thing.

When the United States eventually entered the war, the United States Army Air Service convened a medical board to recruit all Americans serving in the Lafayette Flying Corps (the squadron name for Americans flying for France) or the Escadrilles into the Air Service of the American Expeditionary Forces. Bullard went through the medical examination, passed all the tests, but was never admitted to the American air force because ……… he was Black!

After all that he had been through, his own country, from which he had escaped all those years before discriminated against him because of skin colour at the very first opportunity.

Accordingly, Bullard continued to fly for France.

Bullard would later get into a fight with a French officer and as a result he was drummed out of the French air force and reassigned back to the 170th infantry until the end of the war being discharged on October 24th 1919.

Once the war was over, there was no prospect of Eugene Bullard heading back to the United States. Paris was his home, and it was in Paris that he intended to stay.

He returned to Paris and renewed old acquaintances from before the war. However, by this time he was no longer just another American in Paris. He was Eugene Jaques Bullard, an honorary French citizen having fought for the country in the war and who had been decorated for bravery.

The runaway was now a bit of a celebrity.

However, no matter what level of celebrity he enjoyed in the immediate aftermath of the war, it was to be nothing in comparison to the lifestyle and level of local fame he would enjoy for the next fifteen to twenty years.

Somewhere along the line Eugene Bullard persuaded a friend to teach him how to play the drums. He became more than proficient as a jazz drummer and entered the world of Parisian nightclubs and jazz clubs as a recognised musician.

In 1923 he married a countess, Marcelle Straumann, by which time he was the resident drummer and manager of Le Grand Duc club in Montmartre, and after a while he became the owner of the club.

By 1924, Paris was a real haven for avant-garde jazz, dance and the decadent lifestyle – ironically the only city which had a similar scene was Berlin.

At Le Grand Duc, many a celebrity could be found mixing with locals and former army and air force officers. In that year, Bullard employed an American saloon singer from Chicago with flame red hair who was the daughter of an Irishman and a black woman. The singer had been christened Ada Beatrice Queen Victoria Louise Virginia Smith but because of her unusual parental mix and her flame red hair was simply referred to as “ Bricktop” and she was to become a Parisian fixture and legend.

It is said that Bricktop taught Josephine Baker to Charleston in Le Grand Duc, and that one night F Scott Fitzgerald and Earnest Hemingway engaged in a wild fist fight outside the club over her affections.

Bullard also owned a gymnasium where he had the boxing fraternity train and eventually he would own the L’Espadrille restaurant.

At Le Grand Duc,  the list of clients and performers read like a who’s who of the entertainment and literary world.

As well as Fitzgerald and Hemingway, TS Eliot and other writers would regularly come in as would The Duke and Duchess of Kent. Bricktop would eventually open her own legendary club up the road but Le Grand Duc was also home to Josephine Baker, Gloria Swanson, Helle Nice and various other artistes.

Louis Armstrong played trumpet there and a certain Dooley Wilson had stints as the pianist in residence before finding greater fame as Sam in Casablanca. The American playwright and novelist Langston Hughes worked as a bus boy in the club serving celebrities, war veterans, politicians and the like.

Regrettably, Bullard and his wife separated in 1935. Eugene retained custody of his two daughters by the marriage, a son having died in infancy, and so he mixed the life of a celebrity club owner and father.

By the late 1930’s however there was once again a clear threat from Germany as Hitler expanded his ambitions throughout Europe.

Bullard’s club was frequented by many German officials and he began to gather information for the French and the British intelligence services by eavesdropping on conversations which the German officers thought he could not understand.

Eventually he was warned by a friendly German officer that when the war came he should take his daughters and leave Paris as undoubtedly things would not be good for him if the German army marched on Paris.

Even before the war started, some in France were watching Bullard and saw that he seemed friendly with high ranking German officials. One night, as he was locking up the club, a bag was suddenly placed over his head and he was kidnapped. His captors proved to be the French resistance movement who feared that the official French authorities would not stand up to Hitler.

Bullard was able to convince them that he was not a Nazi sympathiser and thereafter agreed to pass any intelligence back to the resistance.

In essence he became a sort of spy for a number of months with his intelligence being passed to the resistance and British Intelligence.

Eventually, however, war came and as predicted the German army rolled swiftly over France with devastating results. Prior to the fall of Paris, Bullard decided to heed the advice he had been given and took his daughters to safety and got out of town in May 1940.

However, just as he had at the First World War, he volunteered to fight for France even though he was in his mid-forties. Bullard made his way to the city of Orleans by bicycle and there he met up with his former commander from the Battle of Verdun. As a volunteer he joined the 51st  infantry division and fought alongside the regular army in an attempt to defend the city. In late May he was once again severely wounded in battle suffering severe injuries to his back with the prognosis being that he would never walk again.

There was no way he could continue serving in the war effort and he was smuggled into neutral Spain in late July of the same year. Eventually his daughters were smuggled out of the country by friends and from Lisbon Bullard returned to the United States landing in New York.

It would be the first time he had returned to the country of his birth in 35 years.

Upon arrival in New York, Bullard was immediately taken to hospital and he remained under medical care for several weeks. Although he regained the use of his legs he never fully recovered from his wounds.

Moreover, he found the fame and freedom of association he enjoyed in France had not followed him to the United States and one again he found himself the victim of prejudice and suffered hardship as a result of the colour of his skin.

He worked as a perfume salesman, a security guard, and occasionally as an interpreter for Louis Armstrong, but his back injury severely restricted him and he more or less faded into the background and out of the limelight in the United States where his war record was not only not widely known or recognised but was initially at least swept under the carpet by those in officialdom. He attempted to regain his nightclub in Paris some years later, but his property had been destroyed during the war and initially at least he failed to receive any kind of financial settlement from the French government and so he was virtually forced to return to New York where he would enjoy, if that is the right word, a very different lifestyle to that he had built for himself in Paris.

However, he was an ardent supporter of civil rights, especially black civil rights, and it was because of those beliefs that he travelled to Peekskill New York in September 1949 to hear Paul Robson speak and sing in support of the Civil Rights Congress. It was because of those beliefs that he was in the wrong place at the wrong time on that September day when “Veterans” and patriotic defenders of democracy and free speech from chapters of the American Legion shouted abuse at him and others, eventually knocking him to the ground, beating him fiercely along with uniformed law enforcement officers who were apparently doing their duty.

Eventually, the filmed beating of Eugene Jacques Bullard would feature clearly but heavily in the 1970s documentary The Tallest Tree in Our Forest and the Oscar winning documentary narrated by Sidney Poitier, Paul Robeson: Tribute to an Artist – both of which the late Edward R Murrow would have been proud.

However, in 1949 neither America itself nor the television networks had shown any interest in Bullard.

Had they done so, then maybe those who attacked him as a “commie” a  “Nigger” or whatever would have recognised him and realised that in France he was by that time recognised as a National Hero.

I wonder how they would have felt had they known that the man on the ground was the holder of amongst other things the Médaille Militaire, The Croix de Guerre, The Volunteer’s Cross (Croix du combattant volontaire), The Wounded Insignia, The World War I Commemorative Medal, The World War I Victory Medal,  The Freedom Medal, and The World War II Commemorative Medal.

I wonder how they would have felt had they known that he risked life and limb in two world wars, spied on the Nazi’s and had been friends with and hosted some of the most recognisable celebrities and literary figures of the 20th century?

Alas, the stone throwers of Peekskill never saw any of that and only saw what they considered to be a dumb ageing black man with a distinct limp, and so he was thrown to the ground and beaten.

They were not to know that he had endured much worse in the course of defending the country he had come to regard as home.

Nothing more was really heard of Bullard until 1954 when the French government invited to him Paris to help rekindle the everlasting flame at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier under the Arc de Triomphe.

Eugene, standing with two white former soldiers who were invited to light the flame, was treated like a hero. Crowds called his name, soldiers and ex soldiers congratulated him, he was recognised by some and fetted by those who remembered him from his days in Paris. General de Gaul embraced and greeted him.

The day after the ceremony, Eugene was invited to a Government building where he was presented with a cheque representing compensation for his demolished property and his ruined business which was destroyed during the war.

When presenting the cheque, the French Government official said honestly that the cheque did not represent a sufficient sum in compensation but his hands were tied by strict rules concerning the amount of compensation available. He further added, that no matter what sum was paid, it would never be enough to recognise what Eugene Bullard had done for France.

Eugene returned to New York and with the modest sum he received from France he bought a small apartment in Harlem. It was not the greatest area in which to live but he would be away from White Prejudice there.

At one point he returned to Georgia in search of his family but met with little success and huge hostility. The story goes that he was about to be lynched until saved by some FBI agents and his gun. He never returned to Georgia again.

However, The French Republic was not finished with Eugene Jaques Bullard.

In the United States, his war record and remarkable life had gone unnoticed and unrewarded. Whilst other serving soldiers received war pensions and benefits, Bullard was ignored and received nothing. He was not even recognised among the nation’s early aviators though others who had flown for France in the La Fayette Espadrilles were.

There is only one honour which ranks higher in French military etiquette than the Croix de Guerre and that is The Legion of Honour, or to be absolutely accurate when someone is adopted into the National Order of the Legion of Honour which is an order comprising of only those who are deemed to have given the highest and bravest of service to France. It is an order which was established by Napoleon Bonaparte on 19 May 1802.

In 1959, The Government of France bestowed the title of Chevalier ( Knight ) de Ordre national de la Légion d’honneur on Eugene Jaques Bullard for his outstanding contribution in defending the interests of France and in upholding the values of the country.

Eugene was presented with his medal at a lavish ceremony in New York.

At long last, some Government officials started to ask “Who is this guy Bullard?” when they heard that he was to be decorated.

In the same year, a state visit was arranged for the following year whereby De Gaul would come to the USA and visit Eisenhower and address the both houses on the Capitol.

However, De Gaul’s staff also had a special request.

“ The General wished to meet with Eugene Jacque Bullard – one of France’s greatest heroes but who lives in America!”

The Whitehouse went into panic as they had no idea who Bullard was or where he was. A search for the mysterious war hero was undertaken and eventually they found that Eugene Jacques Bullard was working as a lift operator at 30 Rockefeller Plaza – one of New York’s best known skyscrapers and a building which housed the Rainbow Room restaurant and the fledgling ABC network.

No one in the building knew Eugene as anyone other than the lift man.

On December 22, 1959, just over a year after Murrow’s wires and lights speech, Eugene, wearing his lift operator’s uniform, was the subject of a short interview on NBC’s Today Show by Dave Garroway and received hundreds of letters from viewers as a result.

It was not an in depth interview and it failed to tell many aspects of his remarkable life. It made no mention of his having been the man who was seen to be beaten by law enforcement officers and protestors at the Peekskill riots.

In 1960, De Gaul came to America and at a public ceremony in New York he proclaimed Bullard as a true hero of the French Republic and the people of France.

Less than two years later, on October 12th 1961 Eugene Jacques Bullard died at the age of 66 in his New York Apartment. He died of stomach cancer and it can be surmised that his illness was brought about by the gases he inhaled in the First World War trenches.

Five days later he was buried with full military honours in the French War Veterans’ section of Flushing Cemetery in the New York City borough of Queens with representatives of the French Government present. There were no representatives of any official American body present. His coffin was draped with the French tri-colour.

Eugene Jaques Bullard was the recipient of no less than fifteen official decorations from the government of France:

Chevalier de Legion of Honour, Médaille militaire, Croix de guerre with bronze star, Volunteer combatant’s cross 1914–1918, Combatant’s Cross, Insignia for the Military Wounded, The Victory Medal, The Verdun Medal, The Somme Medal, The World War I Commemorative Medal, The Commemorative medal for voluntary service in Free France, The World War II Commemorative Medal, The Voluntary Enlistment Medal (World War I), The American Volunteers with the French Army Medal.

On August 23, 1994, thirty-three years after his death, and seventy-seven years to the day after the physical that should have allowed him to fly for his own country, Eugene Bullard was posthumously commissioned a Second Lieutenant in the United States Air Force.

Over the years, Bullard was referenced in some Hollywood movies but his name was always obscured and his full story was never told. The late Richard Attenborough was said to be very keen on making a full movie of his remarkable life and at the time of writing a film entitled “Black Jacques” is said to be ready to start production in early 2016.

Each year, The Actors Equity Association awards the Paul Robeson Citation Award to that actor or actress who has  best exemplified the principles by which Robeson lived his life; namely, a dedication to freedom of expression and respect for human dignity regardless of race or nationality.

In 2015, the award was presented to Arthur French who has worked on and Off Broadway for more than 50 years. Past winners include Maya Angelou, Sydney Poitier, James Earl Jones and various others.

Each and every year, since 1971, The Radio and Television Digital News Association have been honouring those responsible for outstanding achievements in electronic journalism with the Edward R. Murrow Awards.

Murrow Award recipients are meant to have demonstrated the excellence, courage and ethics of the chain smoking newsman in his prime.

Murrow’s historic fight with McCarthy and all the tension that surrounded it was brilliantly captured in the movie “ Good Night and Good Luck” which was produced and directed by George Clooney. David Strathearn is absolutely brilliant as Murrow.

All three of these men stood up against prejudice, bullying and harassment in their different ways and different forms. All three lived lives which in different ways stood for freedom of speech, freedom to associate and freedom from oppression. Or to put it another way they all believed in Liberté, égalité, and fraternité.

Perhaps you knew of their story before?

However, I genuinely hope that you have read this on your laptop, tablet, desktop or phone and learned at least something about these people for the first time.


Because the screen you are looking at, no matter how large or small, can teach, it can illuminate; yes, and it can even inspire. But it can do so only to the extent that humans are determined to use it to those ends.

Otherwise, it’s nothing but wires and lights in a box.

The spirit and determination of men such as Robeson, Murrow and Eugene Jaques Bullard deserve to be remembered.

Good night ……….. and Good luck.


I hope it becomes clear to anyone reading these entries that I enjoy writing them. As it says on the homepage of the Strandsky website they are for the enjoyment of the reader ….. and the writer.

If you did enjoy this, or any other of my stories, please bear the following in mind.

It has cost you nothing but your time to read this: similarly it has cost me nothing but my time to write it from the comfort of my home.

Some people don’t have such comforts as they have no home at all.

I am sleeping out voluntarily for the homeless on Saturday 14th November with a view to raising some money to help homeless and poor people this Christmas.

Over 1,000 Glasgow children will wake up on Christmas day without a home and that is a disgrace.

Accordingly, if you have gotten this far, would it be too much to ask that you pledge £1 to my homeless campaign by donating here.

Normally, my stories are read by about 3,000 different people and if every single one gave just one pound that would make a huge difference.

It would bring a whole new meaning to the phrase – Good night, and Good luck!

Thankyou for reading.

Frankie’s story

18 Oct

Sometime in the late 1980’s or early 1990’s Frankie walked into my then office in George Square in Glasgow.

He was brought in by another guy who was a friend and client and simply introduced – “This is Frankie!”

He was a couple of years younger than me, mid twenties maybe, had dirty reddish blonde hair, was of medium build with a red faced complexion which had seen a thousand bad nights and a thousand fights.

You didn’t need a B on one side of his face or a Z and an E on the other to know instantly that his eyes screamed the word BOOZE.

Frankie had been arrested, placed in a police cell, used his one call to call the other guy, who had been waiting outside the police station when he had eventually been released without charge several hours later.

Given that he had been released without charge, I listened to this tale but wondered what I, as a solicitor, could do for him and why he had been brought to see me.

“ It was me who suggested he comes to see you” said the other guy. “ You see, this will happen again, and when it does he will be charged and he will need someone other than the likes of me to be at the end of the phone. Besides he needs help with the DSS and his benefits as they are being withheld from him.”

Frankie said very little.

Over the next hour or so I discovered that Frankie was, in effect, homeless.

His background was a familiar one. A Father that drank, beat his mother, his siblings and himself. Frankie had left school without many qualifications, had found a job, been laid off, found another job, been laid off and on it went.

He had begun to drink his wages rather than go home to his parents’ home where all he remembered were bad experiences. He moved away, went down south, found a job, some digs, but eventually got laid off again.

He came back to Glasgow for his mother’s funeral, found his dad gone, and his siblings moved on but struggling.

He had found a job, stayed with a friend, but eventually had outstayed his welcome. He knew he drank too much, but part of him found it easier to drink than to face the fact that he was very much alone and had always felt he was dependent on other people – for a job and for a roof over his head.

Over the next few years I represented Frankie on a number of occasions.

Usually, he was arrested and charged with breach of the peace.


Because he was a vagrant. He slept rough, was boozed up, and was occasionally argumentative when police officers “moved him on”.

That’s what the police did back then; moved you on or charged you with a breach or some other minor offence when things didn’t go quite smoothly.

In those days, I used to take my turn as the duty legal aid solicitor at Glasgow District Court in Turnbull Street.

When the calendar headed towards December there would be an increase in the number of homeless people who were arrested, because some simply wanted to be “inside” for Christmas. In other cases, I am sure the police thought they were doing some of the homeless folk a favour by charging them with something and getting them inside and off the street.

They weren’t criminals as such, but some deliberately broke the law to get off the streets and a smartly concocted argument with a “polis” was always guaranteed to lead to the coppers eventually having enough and charging you with Breach of the Peace. If you had no abode and enough previous convictions for a similar offence, then you could guarantee that the magistrates would have no option but to sentence you to 7 days or 14 days or 28 days – or even just to deny you bail.

And that got you inside for Christmas or for a few nights at least.

To the best of my recollection, Frankie never played that game.

I can recall him getting a job as a kitchen porter and wearing his KP scrubs.

However, the wages were low, and there was a problem with getting him help with a council house or temporary accommodation. If he was on benefit then a room in a hostel or in a “licensed” B&B for the homeless or those on basic benefits could be found.

However, if he had a job, then the DSS, as it then was, couldn’t place him in a hostel or put him in a B&B.

So , even though he was working, Frankie slept rough.

He would finish his shift in the kitchen, gather his things together – he kept everything in a “roll bag” —  and then find somewhere to kip for the night.

He regularly used the showers that were then available at Queen Street station, but no matter how often he did, the shower could never disguise that he was homeless.

Anyone who saw him would know that he was in effect what used to be called “A Tramp”.

He looked like a tramp no matter how hard he tried not to.

I knew he was going to AA meetings and was trying to get off the booze. However, it was clearly a hard struggle and every now and then he would fall off the wagon, would get boozed up and either lose his job or get arrested for being too drunk to simply move on when asked to do so by the police.

Back in those days, a lot of homeless folk would attempt to sleep outside Central station on Gordon street.

There were big grills there which allowed the heat to escape from the boilers and machinery which were housed underground. Loads of homeless people would hang about the city centre at night waiting for the time when they could hope to claim a space on those grills and get a warm sleep without being moved on by the police.

They often had to wait till the queue at the taxi rank died away.

Frankie slept there a few times, though in the summer months he would tend to sleep in Kelvingrove Park and then walk into town to whatever job he had.

I know of a famous Edinburgh QC who was found sleeping homeless in Gordon Street one night. He had a drink problem. He had left court for the day, gone to the pub and just got plastered. When he found he couldn’t get back to Edinburgh and literally did not have enough cash for a hotel, he simply gathered his coat around him, placed his bag of papers under his head and slept on the grills outside Central Station.

He was quite a gallous guy, drunk or sober, so he could pull that off if the police came.

But not Frankie.

When the police came he would quietly move on, or on occasion get into an argument if he was too drunk – in which case I would find him in the cells the next morning.

On those occasions he would be very depressed, hungover, fed up and fearful that whatever job he had would be gone.

On those occasions, there seemed to be no escape for Frankie. He was on his own, struggling with the booze, struggling with life, struggling with himself and on a never ending downward circle.

One day, and it took me a time to realise it had happened, I just never heard from him again!

When I was training to be a solicitor, I was taught that publicity is not a good thing. Clients don’t want to read in the paper that their lawyer did a brilliant job of acquitting them – they would prefer that other people never knew they had been accused of something in the first place.

I was also taught that sometimes, people don’t want other people to know that they have even consulted a lawyer about this trouble or that – whether its divorce, or debt, or a criminal charge or whatever – and over the years I have been introduced to people whom I have already met but for one reason or another have had to greet them as if I was meeting them for the first time.

Given that I gave up the practice of law some ten years ago now, that hasn’t happened to me in a long time.

These days, I am lucky enough to earn my living in such a way where I don’t need to visit police cells at unsociable hours, and if I am honest, I no longer face stories like Frankie’s other than on a voluntary basis.

No, these days, me and my cowboy boots can wander down Byres Road, enjoy a coffee, a slice of pizza and watch the world go by in between meetings and phone calls.

I am dead lucky.

However, I have never forgotten the Frankie’s of this world and Frankie was only one of many people I met over the years who were in a similar position.

A couple of months ago, the cowboy boots took me on the usual walk down Byres Road on a sunny afternoon.

I was headed for my favourite coffee shop where the espresso is good and I could sit at a big glass window and look out on the world as I made my next phonecall and got on with my day.

As I walked down the road towards Partick, I was just taking in the Byres Road vibe, watching the world go by, looking in the charity shop windows ( you get a good range of interesting stuff displayed in the charity shops on Byres Road ) when something caught my eye.

Walking in the opposite direction, engaged in conversation with someone else, was Frankie.

I had not seen him in decades – and to be honest – I presumed he was dead.

As we walked towards one another, our eyes met for the briefest second. I am not sure if he recognised me or not, but I sure as hell recognised him.

The reddish/blonde hair was touched with grey now but still evident.

His complexion still made him look weathered and older than his years, but you didn’t need a G and D either side of his eyes to read GOOD in his face.

Frankie, was doing good.

Of course, I didn’t stop and introduce myself and ask how he was doing. That might have brought up a past his companion knew nothing about and which might cause a problem.

But my curiosity was peaked and so I did something that I am not conscious of doing at any other time in my entire life.

I turned on my cowboy booted heel and ever so discreetly followed Frankie and his companion back up the crowded street.

I just wanted to confirm for myself what I had read in those eyes – namely that Frankie was doing good.

I was able to walk just a few yards behind them and in that two hundred yards I heard Frankie say more than I had ever heard him say in my life.

He chatted away, was confident in what he said, shared a joke and was in control of what was clearly a chat with a friend.

He had a satchel slung over his shoulder, and, by the looks of it, it contained papers, books and the kind of things a student or an office worker might carry.

There was no bedroll,  no spare clothes, or sleeping bag in sight.

There was no suggestion of anything other than sobriety and contentment in his demeanor.

Everything said Frankie was doing good and that Frankie had a home – somewhere!

My legal training was, in the main, provided by a man who was an alcoholic. He himself had beaten the booze, but would always have his own insecurities and demons. He was, undoubtedly, one of the best men I will ever meet though he was not, and never claimed to be, perfect.

One of the most important things he ever taught me about the vulnerable in society was that there was always “hope” and that even when things might seem hopeless for someone, there is always the possibility that things will turn around if that someone just gets a helping hand and finds a bit of courage.

Clearly, somehow, somewhere, Frankie had received that helping hand and had found that courage to move on,

Frankie is doing good!


I hope anyone reading the above story enjoyed it.

The only piece of fiction in the entire piece is, of course, that Frankie is not the real name of the person involved. Other than that every single word is true.

One of the great sayings I have hung onto over the years is the following:

“In order to comfort the disturbed – first, you have to disturb the comfortable”.

On 12th November 2016 I am giving up the comfort of my own bed and the roof over my head which I take for granted every single night in life.

I am going to sleep “rough” for just one night in an attempt to raise some money for the Frankie’s of this world of whom there are far too many.

The number of homeless people in our society is on the increase and we are returning to the bad old days of the 1980’s and the 1990’s whereby there is little or no help for people trapped in their situation.

My sleepout is being organised through the Celtic FC Charity Foundation.

If you enjoyed any aspect of the above story, or indeed any of the other stories I have written on the Strandsky Tales and Stories Pages, then please donate something to the my donate page that I link below.

A couple of pounds would be great and if you can spare more then that would be even better, However, every penny counts here and no matter how great or small any donation may be, it is greatly received and hugely appreciated.

All the money raised will go to help people like Frankie – with food, toiletries, underwear or whatever – and maybe, just maybe, it will help someone in a way that money just can’t buy.

I hope, that the above story has disturbed you in the nicest possible way.

No matter who you are, or what the circumstances might be …… there is always hope.

Thanks for reading.


The tale of Lubo and Joe —– and the old man in the park!

25 Sep

The tale below has been told elsewhere before. A shortened version first appeared on Celtic Quick News a few years ago, and then I rewrote it and extended it as part of the Celtic Anthology Book of stories.

Given recent events and the activities of the Celtic Graves Society, I thought it was worth reproducing with a couple of small changes.

Some of the scenes, stories and events within this tale are absolutely true. Others, alas, are the product of a fertile imagination ……….. apparently.

However, the basis of the story is absolutely true.


“Has he gone?”

“Yes, there was no persuading him.”

“Right, well I just hope that he knows what he is doing and what the consequences of this could be. Bloody Hell…… this could be a real problem down the line if he digs his heels in!”

“He says he will be back tomorrow and he will talk to us then. You never know, it may all come to nothing.”

“But what if it does? What if he comes back and says “Right, we could have a deal” and wants us to make it formal and start the wheels in motion? Do we really want to do that?

“Well, technically in this sort of thing he is the boss.”

“Yes I know that, but I have a position to think about too and I have the final say on where we spend our money, and I am not at all sure about this. This is a personal crusade if you ask me, and I am wary….. very very wary. We could get slaughtered for this…… even by our own people. And in many ways we can’t afford that.”

“At the same time, the man has a job to do and was entrusted with that job. Do you not have to let him do it? Do you not have to put your trust in him and his judgement?”

“Yes you do…. But as part of a team, not as a one man committee who makes decisions based on the past and based on some romantic notion he has in his head. You have to consider finance, PR, and of course the net result on the rest of the team. As a business we are behind in the race and we can only take steps that take us forward…. This is a trip to the past to a certain extent and as I say I am very wary.”

“Look on the bright side, he has gone on a 24 hour trip, will be back tomorrow and at this moment in time he is making a private trip which no one knows about—he is not even officially there on our behalf. If it comes to nothing, no one will know. If he comes back with a positive we can then sit down as a team and analyse the pro’s and cons and decide from there.”

“I suppose so…. But if he comes back with a positive he will want to proceed and I might just have to stand in his way, which could then lead to another problem altogether.”

“Jock—you are getting ahead of yourself. Just wait till tomorrow and see what it brings. In the interim maybe we should try and find out more about this guy. Maybe he could be on to something?”

“Maybe, but if that were so, then why would nobody else think the same way? Why would we not know more about him, it is not as if we don’t have our ear to the ground and have contacts here there and everywhere? None of those contacts have shown the slightest interest here. Never a mention, no recommendations, none. Yet here we are discussing the possibility……..”

The conversation was interrupted by the door opening and the two men in the room were suddenly faced with a third man entering through the door. He was younger than the two seated men, was dressed in a track suit and had a towel over his shoulder.

“Sorry, I was looking for the boss?”

“Well, he has gone for the day.”

“For the day?” said the younger man

“Yes he will be back tomorrow.”

“Where has he gone? Is he alright?”

“He has gone abroad for the day—to see a friend.”

“To see a friend? ……. For the day?”

The two older men looked at one another and with a nod of agreement and decided to tell the young man more.
“ He has gone to meet someone with a view to persuading him to perhaps join us… though, at this stage, we are not sure at all that the trip will be successful……….”

“……. And we are not at all sure we want him to be successful to be honest. This may prove to be very delicate as we could be in for some…….. conflict.”

“Ah” said the younger man “ I see. Can I ask who it is that he has gone to meet?”

The two older men looked at one another again, before one slid a manila folder across the table towards the young man in the track suit. He sat down and opened the folder and the first thing he saw was a name and a photograph.

Without delving into the folder any further, he looked up at the two men who were watching him closely for any reaction.
He looked back at both of them, smiled slightly and said “Him?” holding up the photograph.

Both men nodded.

“You have got to be kidding….. Right?”
The hotel was no different to many of the international hotels that the man had been in over a number of years. It was modern, luxurious, had all the necessary facilities and was close enough to the airport as to be convenient. He hoped that he would not have to be there for too long and that his business could be conducted quickly. He only had 24 hours before he was due back at his desk.
It was only the day before that he had made the call to set up the meeting. It was a call out of the blue that only he could make and which in the strictest sense of the word was against the rules. Any formal arrangements that followed would have to be dealt with in a very different manner.

Arranging the meeting was easy enough and all he had left to do now was to convince his prey that the proposal he was making would be mutually beneficial, was a good deal and a good move— and then he would let the executive types swing into action.That was their world, not his. He would have an input of course, but this was not an executive type meeting. This was a chat between two old friends and no more.

However, he had wrestled with himself as to just how to achieve his intended goal. After all he had known the man he was about to meet for years, knew him really well – and yet he was not sure if that made the conversation to come easier or considerably more difficult?
Time would tell – Nothing ventured, nothing gained – and besides the younger man was a friend was he not? He kept reminding himself of that.

He sat in the lobby waiting and his mind drifted to Anton.

Dear Anton. It was just about two years since he had been laid to rest with all the old gang turning up at his funeral.
He could see him in his mind’s eye….. Young Anton…. Swarthy…. Swashbuckling….. Funny ….. Brave.

He cast his mind back decades and pictured him in the dressing room pulling on his socks, chatting away, joking and laughing. He missed Anton…. Missed talking to him and listening to him.

He turned his attention back to the meeting. He felt slightly nervous for some reason which he could not explain…. after all this was just a meeting… that was all.

Yet it wasn’t all at all was it? The older man knew fine well that he may have to dig deep into his own past to make the deal work. He may just have to reveal a part of himself that he had kept hidden for years in order to gain the trust of the younger man.He may even lose a friend on this day, with the younger man concluding that his old friend had finally grown too old for the real world and had lost his marbles entirely!

He was thinking about that very thing when he saw the young man come through the door. Small, diminutive and with an impish grin which immediately lit up his face on seeing the old man.

Lubomir Moravcik still looked like a schoolboy in his eyes! Yet he knew he was 33 years old, and now a veteran in the eyes of the footballing world!



The two men hugged and embraced as only old friends do.

After some brief pleasantries, they retired to a waiting room where they could be alone for their chat.

Moravcik had also come alone. He had driven the short distance from Duisburg to Düsseldorf to meet Josef Venglos, and knew in advance that the old man would be alone and the reason for his visit.

Once in the seclusion of the room, the two men asked about one another’s families and talked of old times and acquaintances, before Moravcik brought up the business in hand.

” So– you are now in Glasgow– Scotland? And managing Celtic Glasgow?

” Yes Lubomir, that I am”

” And you want me to go there too– at 33?”

“Yes, I do – very much so”

” Boss,– (He still called him boss despite the years) – I am 33 years old, not at my fittest and I cannot hold down a place with Duisburg. My time in the footballing light has come and gone I’m afraid, and as much as I would like to play forever I have to face up to the fact that mother nature is telling me it is time to move on in life. Maybe coaching back in Slovakia, maybe somewhere in France, but the playing days are coming to an end if I am not at the terminus already!”

The older man sighed, poured some water into a glass, and looked at his countryman.

”Lubo, I know how old you are. I know where you have played, how often you have played and who you have played with. I first saw you as a schoolboy and know fine well that here you are in Germany and that you are not the youngest in the squad you currently play with. But, I also know that you can do a job for Celtic, even if you do not play the full 90 minutes of each game. This will be good for you Lubo– I promise you – and besides it will stand you in good stead for when you do finally hang up your boots. I have every confidence!”

“But Scotland, Boss? It is a very different standard to here in the Bundesliga. It is different to France and St Etienne and whilst everyone in Europe knows the Celtic of old – with no disrespect they are no longer amongst the big teams of Europe. I tell you, if it is a physical league – requiring fitness and physicality – then I am not up to it – at least I feel I am not up to it. I know Duisburg will agree a fee – they see me as surplus. But I can see out my time here, make contacts on mainland Europe and plan for the future. In Scotland? Well I know no one, and no one knows me. I may find myself in a wilderness and miss out on chances here – chances off the park and away from the game – I am not certain at all.”

“Besides” He added “ I do not speak a word of English… not one! On the continent I can communicate… French, Slovak, Croatian, German… etc. English? I have nothing…. And Scottish English? I haven’t got a clue!” he added with a huge smile.

The two talked back and forward.

Venglos briefly outlined how he found the club and the squad. He repeated that he was confident and that whilst Rangers were the dominant team in Scotland – he knew the day would come when they would be toppled from the top of the Scottish tree, and how he believed Moravcik could play a part in that process.

Despite all of this and despite their friendship, the younger man remained dubious and unconvinced.

Ultimately, Venglos knew he would have to make the last throw of the dice. It was taking a risk and would test a long-held friendship with his young counterpart but he decided to go for it.

“Lubomir? Do you remember when you first came to Prague?”

“Eh? Yes– I think it was when I was maybe 15 or 16.”

“I was younger– maybe ten years old.”

“Why do you ask?”

“Lubo, I am going to tell you something that you may find hard to believe– something hard to comprehend. Please hear me out as I thought long and hard about telling you this, and at the end I will ask you one question and no matter how you answer I will respect your decision no matter what!”

The younger man looked perplexed and out of respect for his older friend simply nodded his assent.
The old man continued

“As you know I was born in Ruzomberok in Slovakia. Until 1918 the town was In Hungary – all mountains, streams and cotton mills. I was never anywhere near Prague until I went with my school not long after the end of the Second World War – 1946. I was ten years old and all I wanted to do was play football – football, football, football – that was all I cared about. That visit has stayed with me ever since – though I have often been too embarrassed to speak of it because people would think me a fool.”

“On that trip to Prague, the school team played in a mini tournament that was held in the Letenske Sady Park. We were not very good I’m afraid but we played a number of games all the same.”

“At the end of one game, we noticed that our match had been watched by a few spectators, one of whom was an old man in a wheel chair. He was very animated this man. He had a nurse with him who kept telling him to be quiet, but despite this, he continued to shout instructions at us boys. The instructions were in broken Czech and they were barked – he seemed angry to me, he spoke in a funny accent – yet he also seemed knowledgeable about football and at the end we were taken over by our coach to meet him as apparently he was quite famous – or indeed had been famous at one time.”

“He was introduced as “Dedek” or Grandpa and he was 80 years old. We were told that he was the Grandpa of Czech Football. He had been the manager of Slavia Prague for 25 years and had won many championships, including what could be regarded as the forerunner of the European Cup. He coached in a different way to anything or anyone that had come before. He knew about tactics, and muscles and physiotherapy long before anyone else. He was a national hero! He had helped coach the most successful national teams, at the Olympics and in the lead up to the world cup. We hung on his every word.”

“However, the strangest thing about Dedek was revealed in a ten minute story he told me that day. For despite being a hero in Czechoslovakia, he was born in Scotland – in a town called Dumbarton. He was a riveter in a ship yard and played football part time for the local club and he gained some success getting to the Scottish cup final in 1887. Then he said everything changed – changed in a way that he could never imagine, that you would never believe.”

“In 1888, he was asked to turn out as a guest for a new team – for a club to be called Celtic in Glasgow. He was reluctant at first but eventually agreed. He told me that there had been several attempts to start a club called Celtic and that they had all failed. He honestly felt that this club would fail too, but this time there was something different. So– on the 28th of May 1888– Dedek became the very first player to kick a ball for Celtic Glasgow. He was their first centre forward, and as such he took their first kick off and so started the whole Celtic ball rolling– literally. They played against a team called Rangers Swifts and won 5-2.”

“After the game there was a celebration which Dedek went to, and at that party he was asked to join Celtic permanently, but he said no.
He returned to play for Dumbarton, which was a good team then and about 25 miles from Glasgow, but could not get the Celtic thing out of his head. He was pursued by other clubs from England but kept bumping into a Celtic man called Glass and another called Maley who promised him that something special would happen to him at Celtic Park– a park that the supporters built themselves Lubo. The way he spoke, it was as if they said that Celtic Park had been fashioned out of magic – you know like by a wizard? Eventually he signed for Celtic in August 1889 and stayed until 1897. He was apparently like you, Lubo, an entertainer, good feet, ferocious shot and a crowd pleaser. His nickname there was the rooter – because his shots were so hard they uprooted the posts. He won leagues and medals with Celtic and never left until he was forced to retire from the game.”

“After he retired from playing, he went back to working in the shipyards but kept up to date with football. He travelled, and in 1905 Celtic toured through Europe and by coincidence came to Prague. By design or accident, Dedek came too and somehow got the job of managing Slavia Prague on 15th February 1905. He was a huge success and he never went back to Scotland.”

“But on that day in the Letenske he said that his whole life in football truly started that day he turned out for a team called Celtic. As a young boy, I listened to this old man in the park and he told us that if you can play football at all then you can play at Celtic Park in Scotland. He said it was a place where, for some, their real destiny awaited and that strange and wonderful things happen there. So I always knew about Celtic park, and deep down I always believed in the old man’s tale that it was a magical place. So when I got the chance to go there I didn’t hesitate – and I have seen it Lubo – seen it with my own eyes. I have seen and felt what the old man told me of – and it exists Lubo. It is there and it is real, and most of all it says to me “Moravcik! Moravcik!”. You are the kind of player that can play there Lubo! You will shine and achieve things you have never before experienced– believe me.”

“The old man’s real name was Johnny Madden – go look him up – the very first guy to kick a ball for Celtic, Lubo, and he ends up a national hero in our back yard? A guy who was destined to fit rivets in a shipyard all his days until he went to Celtic park– and I meet him in a public park one tram stop up from the Sparta station in 1946 and he looks into my eyes all those years ago and says if you get the chance one day go to Celtic park because strange things happen there? And so here I am – all these years later. The manager of the club where that old man kicked the first football which in turn led him to be a legend in the country that both you and I played football for.”

“So here is my question Lubomir. I know you have doubts about your fitness and about Scotland. I know you have a future to think of and that you could have gone to Marseilles and Juventus and regretted not making those moves. So trust me Lubo – just this once more. Will you come with me to have a look at Celtic and their ground? Will you come and “feel” what it is like? See what the old man said was true all those years ago – and if you don’t get that feeling that you can play there, that you won’t fit in and that there is not something different about the place – well we will pay all the expenses of your visit and you can come back here – nothing lost at all!
“What do you say Lubomir – will you walk through what they call the Parkhead gates with me for a look at the place where Dedek kicked the first ball?”– I swear you will just never know if you don’t!


“No we are not kidding, that is who Josef has gone to see!”


“Eh… do I take it from that remark that you have heard of him, Eric?”

“Heard of him? I played against him!”


“Yes Really!”

“We know nothing about him other than that Josef is away to see him with a view to persuading him to come here. We have doubts and whilst we don’t want a row with Josef when he is so new to the job, there is a real concern about this.”

“OK first of all I have to say you appointed Dr Venglos and in my opinion you have to back him in any footballing matter unless the finances prohibit any deal. The Boss is the boss and that is the way it should be in any matter.”

“Yes we agree with that, but at the same time we do not have to, — actually cannot— sanction the employment of just anyone he throws at us….. any appointment has to make sense… even if it is someone he knows well from his past and who is a friend!”

“But this is Moravcik we are talking about!”


“So?… I am guessing from that comment you don’t know Lubomir Moravcik?”

“No we don’t… all we know is that he is an old protégé of Joesf’s… they go back years!”

“Ah now I see. OK. Lubomir Moravcik was possibly the most two footed player I have ever seen on a football field. With either foot he could more or less make the ball do anything he wanted it to. He played midfield, or just behind the strikers, and could pass with both feet, dribble, cross, shoot… you name it he could do it. He should have been a footballing superstar!”

“Well why wasn’t he then?”

“I can’t answer that. I only saw him up close towards the end of my time at Metz, though I kept an eye on French football obviously and saw how he stood out at St Etienne. He was there for years…. And then he moved on to…….. Bastia I think?”

“Why did he never move to a bigger club?”

“I don’t know that either…. He could have….. Possibly should have. When I moved back from France I obviously concentrated on other things. But I tell you this, if Josef thinks he would be a good addition to the staff here then I would follow that instinct. If we could harness his knowledge and skill he could teach the players an awful lot about technique and skill. He would be a great addition to the coaching staff in my opinion.”

The other two men in the room looked at one another briefly.

“ Josef, doesn’t want him to come and coach….. he wants him to play!”


“You heard… he wants him to play!”

Eric quickly reached for the file again and opened it.

“He is less than two years younger than me! He will be 34 next summer!”

“Yes we know.”

Eric Black got up from the table and walked to a nearby window and looked out.

“He wants him to play? To the end of the season?”

“The way he is talking he wants to offer him a contract for a couple of years. Effectively he wants to sign someone in his mid thirties who most people will never have heard of. We think that the club may well get slaughtered in the press. They will try to have our guts for garters….. and unless the guy turns out to be a superstar.. and that is very unlikely…. The fans will go ballistic.”

“But that is just it…. Moravcik IS a superstar…. He is just a superstar that people don’t know. But Jo Venglos knows it. The only question is can he still play?”

“Well that is the point….. he can’t even get a game for Duisburg in the Bundesliga, so why does Josef think he could play in the Scottish league?”

“You will have to ask him that, but….. and you say they go back a long way…. If there is any way that Josef can get Moravcik to play then honestly it may a masterstroke. He is a creative genius with a football….. bloody hell….. the fans will love him…. Absolutely love him…. If he can still play?”

“Anyway that is where Josef is….. and depending on how he gets on we may have to sanction his transfer….. or risk coming into conflict with Josef…. Which we obviously don’t want.”

“I am going to say it again, Dr Venglos is the boss in football matters. You gave him the job so you should back his judgement……. And maybe…. Just maybe….. you should back his hunches if this is a hunch.”

“What would you do? Honestly. Can a thirty something year old unknown European really come and make a difference here in this league?”
Eric paused before replying.

“Well, I have gotten to know Josef Venglos reasonably well and he is a man who believes in skill and a man who believes in people. However, he also believes in methodology and science, and at the same time believes in Celtic as a club…… that there is something special about Celtic among football clubs. I don’t know where that comes from or why it should be…. He hasn’t told me…. But he has said that fate lead him here for a purpose and to do a job. So if he believes that Moravcik can play here then you have to back him and his judgement.

“As for Lubomir Moravcik? Provided he is fit and can pass a medical then Celtic Park will never have seen anyone like him. He just could be a gift from God!”


Lubo Moravcik looked across the room at Josef Venglos and said:

“I still don’t know boss. That is a nice story but….. it is a story after all and I am not sure I can plan my future on a story…. Even a story told by you! You know I have always held you in high regard, you have always been there for me to call… with Nitra, in France, with Czechoslovakia and with Slovakia…. But this is different. I now have to look at earning a living…. Looking after my family……. Without kicking a football.”

“It is time to take the step that you took boss, move away from playing football, and move on to coaching football. If I come to Scotland and play for a year or so how will that advance my chances of coaching? Let’s face it I can’t coach in Scotland or England….. I don’t have the language. But I can coach in Europe…. It is something that I really need to consider. Of course I would love to play and keep playing but how realistic is that?”

“Lubomir, you are correct, the story of Mr Madden is a good story… a nice story…. But it is a story with a point and a poignancy, and with respect so far you have only heard half the tale and why I consider the story as more than just a story and something which points to sheer pragmatism….. nothing more and nothing less.”

Moravcik looked back across the room and raised his eyebrows, shrugged his shoulders, smiled and simply said “You know I will always listen boss. If you have something to say just say it no matter what it is…. I will consider anything you have to say.”

“Lubomir, you know that I spent all of my playing career with Slovan Bratislava?”


“We had a good team.. ….not a great team, but a good team…. A team that could be built upon and taken forward. We were Czech then…… although we were also Slovaks and very proud to be looked upon as Slovaks and a Slovakian team first and foremost. You yourself were the only Slovak in a very good Czech team.”

“Yes I know…. I was very conscious of that”

“I had to give up my playing days when I contracted hepatitis….. so my playing career ended early and my coaching career began early as a result. Perhaps, because of that I have always had a tendency to look forward and look back at the same time.”

“How do you mean— look forward and look back? I don’t think I understand?”

“What I mean Lubo is that I look at football today and try to learn things from the past. When you are playing, you only look at now, the game in hand, the game you are playing. Yes you might consider a career move, where you will play for the next couple of seasons and so on, but it is all very current…. very now.”

“When, like me, you are forced to stop playing early, you look at what happened to you, what influenced you at the time, even though you perhaps didn’t know it at the time. Plus, when I went into coaching I wanted to find out what made the footballer—what made him run faster, jump higher and so on and so forth. So, I gained qualifications and learned about sports medicine, physicality, training regimes, diet – all the things that make a good player a better player.”

“Forgive me boss, but you are losing me— what has all this to do with me and going to Celtic? What has it to do with the old man in Letenske Park?”

“It has EVERYTHING to do with that old man and that conversation Lubo… absolutely everything!”

“How Boss—I don’t understand.”

“Well remember he told me that everything changed for him when he signed for the new team called Celtic?”


“Well by the time he came to Prague he knew all about physiotherapy, being fit, tactics, coaching and so on”


“But he also talked of….. spirit…. about….. that certain something which you can’t name but which changes the way you play…. Changes your life….. changes everything…..

“Some might call it fate Lubomir….. some might say it is destiny, or luck or whatever. However, fate and destiny and luck can be helped along…. Fate can be moulded if you put the right people in the right place at the right time and for you Celtic park is the right place and this is your time Lubo and that I know for a fact…. It is not a dream or a nice story or an old man’s daft notion, it is a fact! And I know, not because the old man told me but because I saw it for myself and today I still see it”

“Are you saying this because you can tell all this from having the job at Celtic park for….. for literally a number of weeks? That is hard to accept Josef?”

“No Lubo…. These last few months have only confirmed what I have known for decades.”

“OK, what have you known for decades?”

“I know that Celtic Park is a place where a reasonable footballer can become good and where a good footballer can become great. I know that there is something there which acts like……. Like the greatest team talk you will ever hear. The place is inspiring to the footballer, it has an atmosphere all of its own. It has a spirit…. A something that I cannot properly name or adequately describe, but I know that it is there.”

“And you have known this for decades? From talking to an old man in a park?”

“No Lubomir, the old man only told me about Celtic Park, I first saw it for myself 35 years ago!”

“My recent appointment did not bring about my first visit to Celtic Park, I first went there in the early ‘60’s”

“You played there?” asked Moravcik

“No Lubomir, that is just it, I did not play there!”

“Sorry, but you are losing me boss!”

“Slovan Bratislava played at Celtic Park in the European Cup Winners Cup in late February 1964, Lubo. I was due to play but could not because of injury, and so instead I sat in the stand that night……. With my close friend and your namesake…… Anton Moravcik.”

“Anton? He wasn’t playing either?”

“No, Lubo, both of us missed out playing in Glasgow. My place was taken by Alexander Hovarth.”


“Yes Lubo, Hovarth. The previous year we had been drawn against Tottenham Hotspur at the same stage of the European Cup Winners Cup. Anton and I both played in the home tie against these great Tottenham players — Grieves, White, McKay and so on. Yet, on our own ground we beat them 2-0 but it was an ugly dirty game. The return leg was even worse – before a hostile London crowd – we lost 6-0 and went out. However, it was a really nasty bad-tempered affair and the packed White Hart Lane had a very ugly feel about it — a bad feel — and I am not saying that because we lost Lubo.”


“So one year later we draw Celtic. Now, at the time they did not have famous players, we knew nothing about them really, and so we just looked upon the game as likely to be more of the same from a British side — physical, ugly bad-tempered football. No more and no less”
“Then, I told the story about Dedek— the story of my meeting Johnny Madden and what he told me about being the first to kick a football for Celtic. To be honest, most had the same reaction as you — it is a good story Josef – and that was that.”

“However, one or two asked a little more about the story…. And one of those was Anton. What a player he was Lubo…. He was far better than me… much more clever… like you. 25 caps, Lubo….. he appeared 25 times for Czechoslovakia and scored 10 times…. Not bad for a midfielder eh?”

“Not Bad at all, boss.”

“What a pair he and Masopust were in the middle of the park — and you should hear Masopust about Celtic? Anyway, he and I were both disappointed to be left out in Glasgow and so we watched from the stand…… and there it was Lubomir…. Celtic Park. Not quite the way it was when Madden played, but very different to the way it is today Lubo.”

“How so, Josef”

“Well today there is a modern stadium with a huge stand facing you when you come out of the tunnel — as good as any in Europe. Then, it was more old fashioned with lower buildings, But it was not the buildings Lubo it was…… the atmosphere…. The feel of the place. During the game I had experienced nothing like it….. nothing whatsoever.”

“What do you mean?”

“Against Tottenham, the atmosphere was ugly. Against Celtic on a cold February night a crowd of 55,000 came to see their team play us and the atmosphere was spectacular. They sang and sang. They cheered. They shouted and waved their hats in the air as the game went back and forward — and the game did go back and forward. The best two players on the park were the goalkeepers — theirs was called Fallon and we had the marvellous Viliam Schrojf who had one of his best games ever.”

“The point is this game was nothing like Tottenham — this was an open game — with end to end play. Their players went on to become famous —McNeill, Clark, Johnstone, Murdoch, Chalmers and so on, but that night we played well — really well.”

“It was a great game to watch, Lubo, but all the while I sat in the stand with Anton and he kept saying “ I wish I was playing.. I wish I was playing”. So did I, but for Anton it was evident that he wanted to play in that atmosphere — he could feel it, taste it, touch it. So could their players, as by the end of the game they could run and jump and tackle when roared on by that crowd, they were just unbelievable.”

“In the end we lost to a penalty goal, but were confident of getting a result in Bratislava to be honest. However at the end of the game, the crowd cheered and clapped us. In the stand people shook our hand, and afterwards we were made most welcome by the Celtic people. After the game, we got speaking to some of their players and they made it plain that they played for that crowd, for their fans, and that made a difference to them. I didn’t tell anyone the Madden story that night for fear that they would laugh, and for years I wish I had.”

“In the return leg, try as we did, and even with Anton playing, we could not beat Celtic. We lost 1-0 again in our own stadium, and once again after the game we were told that these Glasgow players play for their fans…. Play for…… something I cannot quite put my finger on”

“So that was my first experience of Celtic Park Lubo and it confirmed all that the old man told me…. It is a magical place…. A place for footballers and for some to fulfil their destiny.”

“Within a couple of years Anton and I had retired from the game, but he always talked about the visit to Celtic park — always talked about the atmosphere and how it made their players run and tackle and play as if by magic.”

“But that is not what sealed my belief in Celtic Park. Within 3 years or so, many of that Celtic team went on to beat Inter Milan in the 1967 European Cup Final in Lisbon. They played beautiful flowing football. They attacked and moved the ball and the opposition about in a way that was fantastic, and this was against the great Inter side of Herrera who had dominated Europe by getting in front and killing the game stone dead. We did not see that game immediately of course as there was no live television available to us but we did get to see it eventually. I watched it with Anton and he raved about Celtic, the movement, the passing, the formation.”

“Two years later, Slovan Bratislava had their greatest moment when Alex — Alexander Hovarth —- lead them to victory against Herrera’s old team, Barcelona. I mention that because as you know Anton passed away two years ago. I went to his funeral and all the old guard were there including Alex. We talked about Anton and reminisced and so on but while we were there Alex told me that Anton came to believe in my story about the old man in Letenske Sady Park. He said that Anton and he had talked to one another about that night in Glasgow and how Anton had said for years that he wished he had been playing.”

“In turn, Alexander told me that he believed that he learned something that night out on the Celtic turf. He could see in the eyes of his opponents that they had a determination and a zest that came from the crowd — like a drug or a potion. Alex Hovarth also told me, that he felt that had it not been for that night at Celtic Park he does not believe that Slovan would have won the Cup Winners Cup 5 years later— because he and others had learned something that night and he too had felt that special……. something”

“So Lubomir, now there is a great big modern stadium in Glasgow, but that atmosphere is still there. It has a motivation all of its own Lubo. I can’t define it in terms of science and there is no mathematical equation or formula that will help you reproduce it. The only way you will find it is to see for yourself, but I assure you that it is there.”

“It is up to you if you want to come but I say again, I look at the squad, and the stadium and it all says to me “ Moravcik, Moravcik” but this time it is not Anton, it is Lubomir that it calls out for… and this time in a Green and White shirt.”

Lubo Moravcik looked at his mentor and after a pause he finally asked;

“Boss, is there anyone else at the club you have talked to about this? Anyone who…. Honestly feels the same “Thing” That you do….. that somehow fate will call on them at Celtic park?”

“Yes, Lubomir there is. If you come and have a look, I suggest you somehow have a chat with Henrik Larsson.”


In late October 1998, Lubomir Moravcik was unveiled as a Celtic player in a cut price —some would say cheap skate —- deal which saw Celtic pay the meagre sum of £300,000 for his services. He signed as a player for 2 years.

When asked by the press why he had signed for Celtic he said through an interpreter that he had been persuaded to come by Josef Venglos but then added “And as soon as I saw the stadium I FELT I can PLAY here… oh yes I have to play here.”

The Scottish Sports Press were far from convinced however and saw the signing as evidence that Celtic were cheapskates and that Venglos had exercised a jobs for the boys policy by signing “ an old friend” rather than seriously seeking to strengthen his team. Some went as far as to describe the signing as a disgrace and an insult to the Celtic fans.

Moravcik, made his debut for the club in a home match against Dundee which Celtic won comfortably with Moravcik easing his way unspectacularly into the team.

Two weeks later, Celtic would face a rejuvenated Rangers side at Celtic Park. Rangers were a large team, a physical team who would pose a far stiffer test than Dundee or St Johnstone who Celtic had faced the previous week.

Josef Venglos faced a decision. Should he include the diminutive Moravcik against this Rangers side or not? Perhaps he should leave him on the substitute’s bench and bring him on once the tension had died down a bit and the game had found a more leisurely pace. It was Venglos’ first game in charge of Celtic at home to Rangers before that famous Celtic crowd.

Dr Venglos sat in his office considering his options when there was a knock at the door, which quickly opened to reveal Lubomir Moravcik.

“Can I come in Boss?”

“Yes Lubomir.”

“Boss, I don’t know what your plans are, but I want to play tomorrow. I want to face Rangers!”

“Are you fit though, Lubo? You have been here only two short weeks and I recall you telling me in Dusseldorf that if it was a physical league and a physical challenge then you felt that you were not up to the challenge. This will be physical and maybe it is better if you allow one of the younger players to start….”

“No! I want to play….. from the start!”

“I see….. well, I will think about it….. I obviously need to put out my strongest team….”

“Boss. You told me about this place. You told me about Celtic Park and all its magic. Well now I have seen it, and to be honest I have felt it. I feel I can play here. I feel I have to play here…. For these people. There were 58,000 here for Dundee two weeks ago.. it was a great atmosphere, but it will be better with Rangers as the visitors…. I want to play… for them…. And to be honest for you…. And for Anton…. For Anton Moravcik who never got to play here. And most of all, I want to play for me!”

Venglos merely nodded

“And there is something else, Boss.”

“What ?” Said Venglos

“As you know, I have no English, but I am not a stupid man. I may not be able to read what the press have been saying but I still get to know what they say. I know they have ridiculed you, ridiculed the club, and ridiculed me in signing for Celtic. I am an “unknown old man” an “old pal” of yours, I am the cheap option instead of getting a real player apparently. Is that not correct?”

“Well Lubo, there has been some talk like that but ignore it, It is the chatter of fools.”

“No, I don’t want to ignore it, and if you let me play against Rangers I will talk to the press and put the record straight. I will talk to the Celtic support and show them the truth and explain why you have faith in me and why I have faith in you, this club, this stadium, the legend of Celtic and Dedek and these fans. I want to show them something.”

There was no impish grin on the face of Lubomir Moravcik and Josef Venglos could see that he was deadly serious.

Partly to humour his countryman, Venglos said simply “OK Lubomir, I will have an Interpreter standing by, and if things go well maybe you can say a few well chosen words to the press.”

Instantly, the impish grin returned to Lubo Moravcik’s face as he said “Oh that will not be necessary Josef, I have my own interpreter.”

Venglos looked puzzled.

“You do?” he asked.

“Yes boss, I will not need an interpreter…… I am going to talk in the language I know best….. I am going to make the ball talk for me and for you and for all the Celtic fans……and in reality I will not utter a word….. not a single one ….. none will be needed! Everyone will know and see Lubomir Moravcik …….. trust me!”

And with that Lubomir Moravcik left Josef Venglos with his thoughts……. And the story he first heard from an old man in Prague that for some their true fate would only be realised at Celtic Park, Glasgow.


24 Jun

Good Morning.

Let me tell you a story.

This is a hastily written story and is one that I have longed to tell properly for many years but circumstances dictate that it should be made public today in a perhaps rushed and imperfect form rather than at a later date when I might be able to make it longer and more detailed with many additional inserts included in the main theme.

On 8th August 1908, in Dufftown, Banffshire, Scotland, a man by the name of Maurice Walsh was married to Caroline Begg who was always known by her nickname “Toshon”. Maurice was an Irishman, having been borne in County Kerry, and was fond of writing the odd story. He was something akin to an early 20th century blogger.

While in Dufftown he sent away a few of his stories for publication but he did not achieve any great success.

Following the establishment of the Irish Republic in 1922, Maurice decided to return to his homeland and commenced working for the excise division of the new Irish Government. His wife and family joined him in Ireland in 1923 when Maurice felt that it was safe for them to come to Dublin and there they lived a happy life together until Maurice died in 1964.

However during that time, Maurice wrote many more stories and some of them were published. His writing was widely recognised and his readership grew and grew to the extent that at the time of his death he had achieved a reasonable degree of fame in Ireland and his funeral was attended by the likes of President De Valera.

Maurice Walsh exemplifies how doing a bit of writing on the side so to speak can change a life as he never foresaw that his hobby of writing stories would eventually become his main claim to fame.

One of his most famous stories was written in 1933 and was called The Green Rushes.

“Never heard of it” I hear you say although there may well be a few aficionados who may well recognise the title of the story and know of its claim to fame.

Well, The Green Rushes was published, among other places, in an American bi monthly Magazine called The Saturday Evening Post which can trace its roots all the way back to Benjamin Franklin and his publication of the Pennsylvania Gazette which first came off the presses in 1728.

The story was a great success and some 20 years later became a worldwide phenomenon when it was immortalised in film. The screenplay was adapted and written by a New Yorker called Frank S Nugent ( more of whom on another day perhaps ) who decided to change the title from The Green Rushes to ……….. The Quiet Man.

Who knows what the inspiration was behind the change of name. Perhaps it was merely a reference to Sean Thornton’s character in the film or perhaps it was a reference to an ancient Chinese proverb which says “Beware the wrath of the quiet man”.

I have always been intrigued by the image and the mystery of the quiet man and in literature “quiet” men have often been the unlikely or misunderstood heroes in books and plays.

Such men (and woman) often face adversity and prejudice, hardship and betrayal with a quiet grace and devastating dignity which is only truly recognised far too late in the tale. They often “turn the other cheek” when lesser individuals resort to retaliation, violence and a reactionary anger.

George Bernard Shaw once wrote “Beware of the man who does not return your blow: he neither forgives you nor allows you to forgive yourself.” While John C Calhoun said “Beware of the wrath of the patient adversary”

This is the story of a Quiet Man and a patient adversary who in many ways never returned a blow nor allowed many adversaries to forgive themselves for what they could not see at the time.

For me, he stands head and shoulders above many of the more iconic sporting heroes of our time and as the years pass more and more people have come to know and respect his famous yet untold and unknown story.

As a kid his friends called him “Skinny” or “Bones” simply because he was no more than a tall skinny kid. He wasn’t just ordinary skinny like other skinny kids of his age; he was noticeably skinny to the extent that his physique was instantly noticeable in comparison to others. Accordingly he became “Skinny” by name and by reputation.

Not only that, he was a kid that did not enjoy the best of health. He was sickly and poorly and because of this his father would forbid him to play in contact sports where he might be injured.

His mother had died when he was aged 7 and so our boy and his younger brother were raised by their father who was a strict disciplinarian and who drilled into his sons that there was a certain way to behave and a certain way to conduct yourself at all times.

It was a lesson that would never be forgotten although later it would be privately questioned, repeatedly pondered over, but never departed from.

One day the skinny boy was playing in a park in his native town of Richmond Virginia with some friends. Richmond was a town of segregation where black and white were not allowed to mix and accordingly there were black parks and white parks.

On this day, Skinny and his pals were playing in a certain area when they were told to move on by some white kids as they were just not allowed to play where they were. Some of Skinny’s friends protested: Some showed a degree of dissent: However, Skinny just turned on his heel and left quietly ………. And never ever forgot that he had been thrown out of the park because of the colour of his skin.

Because of his ill health and bean pole stature, his father forbade him to play American Football, or to box or even play basketball. Baseball was permitted, as was athletics, but skinny’s destiny lay in another direction altogether – a direction which would take him into the very heart and soul of elite white society in America and where he would make a mark on that society and upon his sport which has no equal and stands no comparison to any other sports star before or since.

Skinny’s real name was Arthur Ashe Junior.

To many people in the UK of a certain age, the very name Arthur Ashe conjures up a unique yet uninformed image.

Yes he was a black tennis player. He was one of the very few male tennis player in the world who wore spectacles – the only female, as far as i am aware, being Billie Jean King.

And he won Wimbledon in 1975 against the red hot favourite Jimmy Connors.

However, go beyond that very simple image of Arthur Ashe – dig a little deeper – and you will find a remarkable, tragic, astonishing and wonderful story.

Since his death at the dreadfully early age of 49 on February 6th 1993 the legend of what Arthur Ashe achieved outwith playing tennis has simply grown and grown.

Today, the name of the skinny kid who was kicked off the all-white tennis courts of Richmond Virginia is emblazoned all over the National Tennis Centre at Flushing Meadows New York with every single tennis professional in the world wanting to feel the pressure and honour of playing on “Arthur Ashe”.

Not only that, but for reasons that will become apparent all sorts of organisations from broadcasters, to charities, to newspapers, to sports bodies in a whole host of different sports hand out annual awards which bear the name “ The Arthur Ashe award for …….” whatever.

In terms of playing tennis it is worth briefly repeating some of the Arthur Ashe story.

He was unbelievably tall and skinny but started to play the gentleman’s game of tennis from the age of seven and showed a prodigious talent for the game. In Richmond he was coached by the best black coach of the time, Robert Johnson, who had also coached the first black woman to win Wimbledon, Althea Gibson.

From 1953 to 1960, Johnson coached young Arthur and reinforced the lessons that had been taught to “skinny” Arthur by his father Arthur Ashe senior, only this time the coaching was tennis specific and emphasized what was known as racial socialisation.

That meant that Arthur was taught always to be a gentleman, to return every ball that was within two inches of a line and if there was ever any doubt about whether a ball was in or out he had to cede the point to his opponent out of courtesy. Further, it was drummed into him that he was never to question the decision of an umpire and never to show any signs of emotion, distress, anger, frustration, annoyance or unsportsmanlike conduct when playing the game of tennis.

In short, no matter what the circumstances or the occasion or the pessure of the moment, Arthur Ashe was trained over the entire course of his formative years to be “The Quiet Man” no matter what.

It was to be a lesson Arthur learned well.

For a period, Arthur was not allowed to play in any integrated tennis tournaments in Virginia but eventually he was given permission to play in such a tournament and to the astonishment of many “The black kid won”.

In December 1960, and again in 1963, Ashe featured in Sports Illustrated, appearing in their Faces in the Crowd segment which highlighted up and coming people to watch in the field of sport. He became the first African-American to win the National Junior Indoor tennis title and was awarded a tennis scholarship to the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA) in 1963.

In the same year Ashe became the first black player ever selected for the United States Davis Cup team and in 1965, ranked the number 3 player in the United States, Ashe won both the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) singles title and the doubles title (with Ian Crookenden of New Zealand), helping UCLA win the team NCAA tennis championship.

In 1965 and in 1967 he reached the final of the Australian open but lost on both occasions.

In 1965 he had reached the semi-final of what was to become the US Open although at that time it was not a truly open tournament at all.

It was only in 1968 that the US Open became a fully open tournament where any of the top players in the world could enter freely and that first “US Open” was won by Arthur Ashe. Not only that but in the same year he had won the US Amateur Championship and so became the first black male to lift either championship and the only player in the history of tennis to have won both in the same year.

In 1968, Ashe was  a confirmed amateur player and so could not collect the winner’s prize money for the US Open with the money concerned going to runner up Tom Okker of Holland. Ashe was still registered  with the US army, where he was a lieutenant working at West Point, and was only paid $20/day in expenses for competing at Forrest Hills.

Now it should be remembered that all of this occurred at a very volatile time for black Americans.

Malcolm X had been shot in 1965, Martin Luther king had been shot only four months before Ashe won the US Open and Mohammad Ali had been stripped of his title by the boxing authorities in 1967 for refusing to go to Vietnam with the US Military.

However Ashe was no public militant and was a leading part of the US Davis Cup team which won the cup for America by defeating the reigning champions on their home soil in Adelaide Australia between 26th and 28th December. The following year saw the American team retain the cup by beating Romania with Ashe defeating legendary player and coach Ion Tiriac and the crazy and mercurial genius called Ile Nastase whom he defeated in an epic straight sets win 6-2, 15-13, 7-5.

1969 was to be a pivotal year in the life of Arthur Ashe, and indeed in the lives of countless thousands if not millions who were unknown to the tennis player from Virginia.

In that year the then reigning US tennis champion decided to apply for a visa to travel to South Africa to play in the South African open. The application was refused on the basis of the colour of the applicant’s skin.

To “skinny” it was like being kicked off the park in Richmond only this time he was not prepared to simply walk away quietly.

Over the next 5 years, Arthur Ashe would apply repeatedly for a visa to travel to South Africa with a view to entering tennis tournaments there and winning them. The purpose of the applications was to show the apartheid supporting government that a free black man could come to their country and defeat the white man at his chosen sport.

When the visas were repeatedly refused he used this example of discrimination to campaign for U.S. sanctions against South Africa and the expulsion of the nation from the International Lawn Tennis Federation (ILTF). Arthur Ashe was now a gentleman on the tennis court but a militant off it with South Africa in particular becoming a focus for his activism.

On the tennis court Ashe continued to achieve success. In 1970 he won the Australian open and led the US to their third consecutive Davis Cup title claiming that success in the Davis Cup was far more important to any individual achievement. This is a view he held and repeated throughout his entire career.

In 1971 he won the French doubles title at Roland Garros with Marty Reissen and reached yet another Australian Open final (his 4th) losing to Roy Emerson.

Due to his membership of the World Championship Tennis organisation (The WCT) the International Lawn Tennis Association banned him from entering the French and Wimbledon championships in 1972 but in the same year he reached the final of the US Open where he once again faced the crazy Nastase. This was to be the biggest disappointment of his career because he was leading the mad Romanian by two sets to one and by four games to one and let the match slip losing in an epic 5 setter.

To be fair, Nastase was the best player in the world at the time and he played some fantastic tennis to win, but Ashe was annoyed by his on court gamesmanship and openly criticised Nastase for his antics on the court which clearly put Arthur off his game.

Yet the relationship between the two players was a strange one. While Ashe despised Nastase’s court antics, he marvelled at his tennis abilities. Not only that, in his campaign against the South African Government and The South African Tennis Association Arthur Ashe was to find that he had no greater or more vociferous supporter than the Bucharest Buffoon as Nastase was known.

Where Ashe would at least be congenial to individual South African tennis players, Nastase greeted every single South African of his acquaintance with the same greeting: “Hello Racist!”.

It was during the 1972 US Open that a number of players began to express concern that they were not properly represented in the world of tennis and that they were being underpaid in terms of the sport’s growing worldwide appeal. The players felt that they were being manipulated by promoters and tournament directors and so it was decided to form the Association of Tennis Professionals ( The APT ) with Arthur Ashe at the forefront of the campaign. By 1974 the other players had elected him to the position of APT President.

In 1973 the APT voted by single vote to boycott the Wimbledon tournament of that year. Ashe was one of those who voted for the boycott and the decision was widely criticised by the press, by Wimbledon officials and the International Lawn Tennis Federation who were openly hostile to over 83 players demonstrating this exhibition of “player power”.

Accordingly, for two consecutive years when it could be argued that Ashe was at the peak of his game he missed out on Wimbledon twice and the French open once.

Then in November 1973, with the South African government seeking to end their Olympic ban and re-join the Olympic movement, Ashe was finally granted a visa to enter the country for the first time to play in the South African Open. It had taken fully five years of persistent and relentless lobbying to allow him the right to enter the country under an American flag.

As it turned out, he lost in the final of the competition to Jimmy Connors, but won the doubles with partner Tom Okker.

Despite boycotts against South African sport, Ashe believed that his presence could help break down stereotypes and that by competing and winning the tournament, it would stand as an example of the result of integration, and help bring about change in apartheid South Africa. He reached the singles final again in 1974, losing in straight sets to Connors for the second consecutive year.

However, later, in 1977, Ashe addressed a small crowd of boycott supporters at the U.S Open and admitted that he had been wrong to participate in South Africa and once again supported the boycott of South African players after he had tried to purchase tickets for some young Africans for a tennis match in South Africa, and was told to use an “Africans only” counter. In the media, Ashe again called for South Africa to be expelled from the professional tennis circuit and Davis Cup competition.

Between March 1974 and May 1975, Arthur Ashe defeated Bjorn Borg no less than 5 times in separate ranking tournaments including the WCT finals in Dallas. During the same period, he defeated old foe Tom Okker in the finals of three separate tournaments and so by the time he came to Wimbledon in June 1975 he had been declared champion in Barcelona, Munich, Dallas, Stockholm and Rotterdam.

The story behind Arthur Ashe’s victory in the Wimbledon final of 1975 is the stuff of legend. Connors was the heavy favourite having defeated Ashe in every single previous match between the two. “Fighting Jimmy” and his steel racquet represented a new brash era for tennis and the American from Philadelphia was expected to blow all opponents away for some time to come.

It is hard now to imagine just why the only bespectacled black man on the tennis circuit was seen as “old school” and “establishment” in comparison to Connors but Ashe was viewed as the gentleman no hoper against streetfighting Jimmy.

Not only that, but the background to the final is fascinating in that there was real enmity between the two men and only days before the final Connors commenced legal action against Ashe personally suing him for $5 Million.

Connors was already suing the ATP, with Ashe as its president, for alleged restraint of trade after opposition from the ATP and French officials meant he was refused entry to the 1974 French Open as a contracted member of World Team Tennis (WTT). Just two days before the start of the Wimbledon tournament, it had been announced that Connors was now raising court proceedings against Ashe personally for $5 million. The action was a result of comments in a letter Ashe had written to ATP members in his role as president, criticizing Connors insistence that Davis Cup captain Dennis Ralston should be fired and slating Connors “unpatriotic” boycott of the competition which had started after Ralston left him out of the team against the West Indies in Jamaica in March 1972.

On final day, Ashe pointedly and symbolically wore his U.S.A. Davis Cup warm-up jacket when walking out onto Centre Court and he put the jacket on again during the award ceremony while receiving the trophy and winners cheque.

There are some great stories behind the fantastic Ashe win that day. It is said that the night before the final Ashe went for dinner with fellow and friend Charlie Passarell  and long-time friend and mentor Pancho Gonzales.

Gonzales in particular was a wily old tennis fox and rebel who had outraged Wimbledon officials in 1969 when playing an epic match against Passarell. With the light fading, Pancho had suggested to the umpire that he could no longer see and that play should be suspended. When the umpire refused, Gonzales repeatedly fired the ball in the direction of the umpire’s chair feigning lack of vision due to bad light. Play was suspended. The final score was an improbable 22-24, 1–6, 16-14, 6–3, 11-9. With Pancho going on to the fourth round of the championship, where he was beaten in four sets by …………………. Arthur Ashe.

However, on the evening of the Ashe v Connors final the three old men of tennis ( Ashe was by this time 32 ) sat round a table and discussed how to defeat the power of Connors. It was decided that Ashe should repeatedly throw up lobs and play drop shots to take the pace out of the game and repeatedly place the ball rather than play his traditional power serve and volley shots which Jimmy could simply power back with his Wilson.

At 5’ 10” Connors was not the tallest player and the thinking was that a mixture of overheads and touch play would put him out of his traditional rhythm.

Another story told regarding Ashe during 1975 is that he practised by placing a chair on the opposite side of the net. The chair was repeatedly moved around the court and as balls were fired at Arthur in practice he was told that there was one golden rule: “Do not hit the chair when returning!”

Ashe apparently practised for week after week deliberately not hitting the chair no matter where it was placed.

Then, after weeks of such practice, the routine was changed with the instruction being that no matter what kind of shot was fired at him and no matter where the chair was placed on the other side of the net, Arthur now had to hit the chair time after time.

Amazingly, the story goes that using this technique Arthur Ashe became astoundingly accurate in learning to place the ball into a specific spot and the tournament results of 1975 show that he perfected this technique with deadly accuracy.

On July 5th 1975, in the first all American Wimbledon final since 1947, Arthur Ashe blew Jimmy Connors away by lobbing, dinking, and placing the ball wherever he wanted to. Connors had no answer and never got into the game.

Shortly afterwards he dropped the law suit.

After the Wimbledon final Ashe continued to play and won the Australian Open doubles with Tony Roche in January 1977, but a left foot heel injury requiring surgery a month later and subsequent long-term rehabilitation saw his world ranking drop to a lowly 257th before a remarkable comeback saw him rise back to 14th in the world again at the age of 35.

However, unknown to everyone, his longstanding health was not good and in June 1979 he suffered a heart attack while hosting a tennis clinic in New York. Emergency examinations revealed that one of his arteries was completely closed, another was 95 percent closed, and a third was closed by 50 percent in two places. As a result  he had to undergo quadruple bypass surgery in December 1979 and despite recovering from the surgery and being on the verge of a tennis comeback, he officially retired in April 1980, aged 36.

Both his father and his mother had congenital heart conditions and it would appear that it was a bit of a miracle that Arthur Ashe had ever been any kind of sportsman at all.

By the time playing career came to an end Arthur Ashe’s record stood at 818 wins, 260 losses and 51 titles.

After his retirement, Ashe took on many roles, including writing for Time magazine and The Washington Post, commentating for ABC Sports, founding the National Junior Tennis League, and serving as captain of the U.S. Davis Cup team from 1981-1985.

Ashe had always believed passionately in the Davis cup and was determined to emulate his achievements as a player where the US had won three titles in a row by bringing the cup back to America.

In this quest he was aided and abetted by, on the face of it, the most unlikely of allies – John Patrick McEnroe.

Where Jimmy Connors and some of the other top flight American players of the time had eschewed and abandoned the Davis Cup in favour of lucrative prize money events, McEnroe had grown up with the tradition of Davis Cup and was a keen supporter of the tournament.

However, JP McEnroe was the absolute antithesis of “Gentleman Arthur” and he embarked upon a series of court demonstrations which absolutely outraged Ashe.

The Davis cup captain stated openly that he had absolutely no time for McEnroe’s fiery and petulant attitude towards officials, umpires and opponents and it would be fair to say that at first he had no idea how he was going to handle McEnroe as captain at all – if McEnroe decided to play and if McEnroe could be managed at all.

Yet, for all of the antics and the petulance, Arthur Ashe openly said that John McEnroe possessed tennis skills and touches that Arthur himself could only dream off.

As a commentator, Ashe once described McEnroe as being like a surgeon with a scalpel. He said that while Borg and Connors battered opponents with power and spin, McEnroe lanced and nicked opponents with drop shots, heavy slice and unreturnable shots that got into their head and so cut opponents up with a nick here and a nick there with the result that they found that they were literally bleeding to death on the tennis court.

The relationship between the two men is worth a book on its own. Like Nastase before him, young McEnroe had no time for Arthur’s gentlemanly ways and at times considered him to be a weak captain and a poor leader.

Yet, underneath the New Yorker had an admiration for the pure tennis pedigree of Ashe and recognised the dignity and goodness of the once skinny boy from Richmond.

The two had many public quarrels some of which were fierce and brutal with McEnroe occasionally letting his temper go and saying the most derogatory things about Ashe as a captain and a man.

On one famous occasion McEnroe was persuaded to come directly from a tournament to play a vital Davis Cup rubber against Argentina in Buenos Aries. His opponent was the brilliant Guillermo Vilas and the match went to five sets before a very hostile crowd who took every opportunity to berate McEnroe, throw garbage on him and spit at him.

McEnroe was losing, his hands were literally bleeding from holding the racquet, and he was injured, knackered and was a beaten man in the 5th set ……….. and Arthur Ashe simply looked on and thought that he had never admired any tennis player as much in his life.

Sitting with a towel over his head, McEnroe turned to Ashe and asked if he had any words of advice. Apparently, Ashe simply said something like “ You are the best player in the world, a far better player than I could ever be, who am I to give advice to you?”

At this McEnroe is said to have retorted “Is that it? Is that all you have to say?” and then completely lost the plot at Ashe in front of the cameras and so absolutely humiliating him in public. Ashe was outraged.

McEnroe still lost the match, but later explained that he had meant none of what he had said and insisted that at that stage in the match he needed to get angry at someone and something if he had any chance of beating Vilas and winning the match for the USA. Ashe just happened to be handy.

This incident is vitally important when it comes to understanding something that Arthur Ashe did and said later.

He was a very successful Davis cup captain and he succeeded in his quest to bring the cup back to the states.

However, more and more he was drawn away from tennis by his health problems and his other consuming passions which were civil rights, the under privileged, the lot of the black man and woman and South Africa in particular.

In 1983, Arthur Ashe underwent a second heart operation which was intended to carry out some corrective surgery as a result of some errors resulting from his 1979 operation.

In the same year he had what he described himself as one of the best days of his life.

In 1971, Ashe had been touring the Cameroon when he discovered a young boy playing tennis. He and Charlie Passarell gave the boy some coaching and Arthur eventually gave the boy one of his racquets to keep. He was also instrumental in getting the boy into the French Tennis Federation in Nice and he was a courtside commentator for American television when his prodigy became the first French black player to win the men’s single title at Roland Garros in 1983. He then conducted the obligatory on court interview with the new champion before the cameras and the cheering French crowd. The player concerned was, of course, Yannick Noah.

Apart from doing his match summariser and commentator for American TV, the once “Quiet Man” was now an active civil rights campaigner. He was a member of a delegation of 31 prominent African-Americans who visited South Africa to observe political change in the country as it approached racial integration. He was arrested on January 11, 1985, for protesting outside the Embassy of South Africa, Washington, D.C. during an anti-apartheid rally. He was arrested again on September 9, 1992, outside the White House for protesting on the recent crackdown on Haitian refugees.

In September 1988, Arthur Ashe was hospitalized once again after experiencing paralysis in his right arm. He underwent exploratory brain surgery and after a number of tests, doctors discovered that Ashe had developed toxoplasmosis, a parasitic disease that is commonly found in people infected with HIV.

Subsequent tests later revealed that Ashe was HIV positive with his doctors believing he contracted the virus from blood transfusions he received during his second heart surgery in 1983. Once again, Arthur had conducted a hugely active life without ever realising that he was ill in this way. He and his wife decided to keep his illness private for the sake of their daughter, Camera, who was then two years old.

At the time, HIV and aides was considered not only a death sentence but also a disease which only struck at people who were, in the opinion of many, morally reprehensible. The disease was thought to affect only promiscuous gay men and intravenous drug users and Arthur Ashe was neither.

Ashe eventually went public with his illness and began to work to raise awareness about AIDS and advocated teaching sex education and safe sex. He also fielded questions about his own diagnosis and attempted to clear up the misconception that only homosexuals or IV drug users were at risk of contracting AIDS.

In September 1992, Ashe suffered a mild heart attack yet was well enough to address the United Nations General Assembly on World AIDS Day, December 1, 1992,  where he called for the growing need for AIDS awareness and increased research funding saying “We want to be able to look back and say to all concerned that we did what we had to do, when we had to do it, and with all the resources required”

Ashe founded the Arthur Ashe Foundation for the Defeat of AIDS. Two months before his death, he founded the Arthur Ashe Institute for Urban Health to help address issues of inadequate health care delivery and was named Sports Illustrated magazine’s Sportsman of the Year.

Arthur Ashe died on February 6, 1993,  from AIDS-related pneumonia at a New York Hospital. His funeral was held at the Arthur Ashe Athletic Centre in Richmond, Virginia, on February 10th and Governor Douglas Wilder allowed his body to lie in state at the Governor’s Mansion in Richmond.

More than 5,000 people lined up to walk past the casket. Andrew Young, who had performed the service for Ashe’s wedding in 1977, in the chapel of the United Nations, officiated at his funeral.

Over 6,000 mourners attended.

Ashe requested that he be buried alongside his mother, Mattie, who died in 1950, in Woodland Cemetery in Richmond, Virginia.

So that is a brief and potted history of Arthur Ashe – or is it?

I ask the question because in the intervening years since his death more and more has come to light about the legend of Arthur Ashe and the effect that he has had on other people.

During his lifetime Ashe campaigned repeatedly for many different causes. He championed those who suffered from Aids, heart disease, brain cancer and many other maladies.

He set up foundations for the better health of inner city kids and deprived families.

He founded coaching schools for juveniles and kids who wanted to learn how to play tennis but who came from backgrounds where they could not join clubs.

There are numerous awards and prizes that bear his name throughout the length and breadth of America and of course the American Tennis Federation and the ATP pronounce his name loudly.

The home of American tennis is not named after McEnroe, Connors, Budge, Tilden, Smith, Sampras, Agassi, Williams, Evert or anyone else – it is named after Arthur Ashe the skinny black kid who got kicked off the court in Richmond all those years before.

On July 14th 2014 Andy Murray was awarded the Arthur Ashe Humanitarian Award for his work with a variety of charities, including the Royal Marsden Cancer Charity and Stand Up To Cancer.

Every year since 1993, ESPN award the Arthur Ashe award for courage at a huge gala event which receives nationwide coverage. Although it is a sport-oriented award, it is not limited to sports-related people or actions, as it is presented annually to individuals whose contributions “transcend sports”

Past winners include Mohammad Ali, George Weah, Tommy Smith and John Wesley Carlos who stood with the black power salute at the 1968 Olympics just weeks before Ashe won his US Open title. The list of other winners is impressive.

Yet I believe none of these things demonstrate the real value and influence of Arthur Ashe.

I started this piece with the tale of an Irishman whose story resonated in a US magazine and which became a piece of Hollywood folklore many years later.

Well, Arthur Ashe wrote two books one of which he said was the most important and valuable thing he ever did. The second was the most astonishing autobiographical piece I have ever read.

Many years ago, I was given a copy of Days of Grace which was written by Arthur Ashe when he was dying from his Aids related illness.

This was not really a book about tennis, but rather the story and the thoughts of a black man who had led Arthur Ashe’s life.

In it, he talks about his regret and guilt at being “The Quiet Man” and how during the sixties he perhaps should have been more of an activist when it came to civil rights and protest within America. He openly expresses his wish that in many ways he had not been “gentleman” Arthur and had not had that great sense of sportsmanship drilled into him from an early age. This regret is not because he wanted to challenge more line calls or win more points in a tennis match, but because he felt he could have done more for his fellow black man given his influence as the only black man to have won a US Open and a Wimbledon title.

Further, it is remarkable book in that it reveals that despite the heart problems, his contracting AIDS from a blood transfusion and all that has befallen a once champion athlete, Arthur Ashe’s greatest asset is his humility.

At some point he was publicly asked if he ever thought “Why Me?” in relation to the AIDS illness. The questioner asks          “ Given that the transmission of the disease was just plain bad luck and that there is no cure, do you ever wonder – Why Me?”

The response is remarkable:

Ashe’s reasoning is that out of all the people who play tennis in the world only a tiny minority get to play the game and earn a living at it. Of those, an even smaller minority get to play in Grand Slam events and very very few humans ever get as far as a quarter final. Even fewer get to a final and an odds defying number get to win at Wimbledon. He then points out that he did to stop to think “Why me?” when he was lifting the trophy on centre court so why should he stop and think that way now because of AIDS and misfortune?

Days of Glory is one of, if not the, best sports books I have ever read and the last chapter – where Arthur Ashe writes an open letter to his then six year old daughter from his deathbed – could only fail to bring a bucket of tears from someone who has a heart of pure stone.

However, having said all of that it is Ashe’s other book which he was most proud of.

Published in 1988 it was a six year labour of love charting the story, history and lessons to be learned from many of the black American sports stars of the past.

Entitled, A Hard Road to Glory: A History of the African-American Athlete the book charts not only the sporting careers of the many men and women within its pages, but points out the very real struggles that these so called superstars had to endure in their own country despite their sporting prowess.

Ashe points out that very few were able to enjoy a peaceful and successful life despite their sporting successes. They were still discriminated against, remained poor and impoverished, and in many cases were destitute and absolutely on the breadline while similar white sports stars were lauded and made fortunes.

In later years Ashe called on black communities to push back from seeing the way forward for many black children as being through the baseball diamond, the running track, the football field and the boxing ring.

Ashe had a degree in Business Management and was a straight A student. He explained that he could never explode on a tennis court and rage at a linesman because in the sixties he was afraid that the watching white public would castigate all black kids like that and that there would be repercussions for others if he behaved that way.

Accordingly he played the role of the Quiet Man.

Yet, when asked many years later who he most admired on a tennis court his reply was automatic: The answer was John Patrick McEnroe partly because of his sublime gifts with the racquet but mostly because he envied McEnroe’s ability ……….. To Rage! And fire himself up.

It was only in later years that Ashe realised that he longed to rage, to get angry and to fight against oppression vocally, loudly and forcibly with rage!

In Days of Grace, he talks about the shame and embarrassment of being arrested in front of the South African Embassy yet knowing that his cause was just, his protest was right and that his opponent was evil and unfair. Yet the “Quiet Man” syndrome that had been drilled into him from the days of his childhood struggled with the act of civil disobedience.

More and more people have come to read and listen to the words of Arthur Ashe, and the more people talk in his name, raise money in his name and through his foundations, and reward others’ good deeds by making presentations in his name – so his legend grows.

What is not widely known is the effect of Arthur’s own personality and his own words had on one very significant person.

In the same way that Maurice Rush’s story The Green Rushes travelled thousands of miles so did Arthur Ashe’s story about the black American sports stars of yesteryear.

In particular, that book made its way to a prison cell thousands and thousands of miles away from Richmond Virginia and it was read from cover to cover and back again by a sports mad inmate. The man concerned wanted to know more about this Arthur Ashe and even made requests for a tennis court to be laid out in the prison yard so that he and other inmates could play tennis on a regular basis.

Not only that, but the prisoner had been writing a book for many years and after reading A Hard Road To Glory he decided to plagiarise the title slightly: he called his book Long Walk To Freedom.

When Nelson Mandela was released from Robben Island he was asked who he wanted to meet?

Among the first people he named, and definitely the first American named, was Arthur Ashe!

When Mandela came to New York after his release there is a moment when he is seen waiving to a crowd along with Mayor David Dinkins. At one point, Dinkins whispers in Mandela’s ear.

Mandiba involuntarily stops what he is doing, bursts into a huge smile and says audibly:

“ Arthur? Is Here?”

And at that point the two men meet for the first time.

I will let Arthur Ashe’s own words tell the rest of the story:

““I watched [New York City mayor David Dinkins] go over to Mandela and whisper in his ear. I saw Nelson’s head rise abruptly, and he broke into a beautiful smile.

“Arthur is here?” he asked, with obvious surprise and delight.

“He’s right here,” David said, turning to me.

“Oh my brother,” Nelson said, looking straight at me. “Come here!”

He threw his arms around me and held me for a moment in a most affectionate embrace. He told me that in prison, he had read my three-volume work A Hard Road to Glory, about black American athletes.”

Ashe noted what so many felt, that for Mandela, “to have spent twenty-seven years in jail … to have been deprived of the whole mighty centre of one’s life, and then to emerge apparently without a trace of bitterness, alert and ready to lead one’s country forward, may be the most extraordinary individual human achievement that I have witnessed in my lifetime.”

The connection between Mandela and Ashe had evolved into the most significant international bond ever between a politician and an athlete. After all, the two agreed that, as Mandela wrote, “Sport has the power to change the world. It has the power to inspire, the power to unite that little else has … It is more powerful than government in breaking down racial barriers.”

Mandela and Ashe would meet again in Johannesburg, London, and then in New York, at the Waldorf Astoria where, with the onslaught of Ashe’s deadly malady, their roles were oddly reversed. With courage and wisdom, Mandela the student, learned about Ashe’s new cause, AIDS awareness. When the end was approaching for tennis’ great humanitarian, Mandela wrote to Ashe, “I can never forget my own joy at meeting you. I hope you feel my embrace across the continents and that it serves to let you know that we love you and wish you well.”

Mandela played tennis as a young man, recalling, “I was by no means an expert. My forehand was relatively strong, my backhand regrettably weak. But I pursued the sport for exercise, not style… I was a backcourt player who only approached the net when I had a clear slam.”

A key part of the Mandela story is how, after years of a gutsy Gandhi-like disobedience campaign for prisoner rights, he gained the counterintuitive respect of his jailers, who evolved from sadistic brutes into respectful professionals that granted prisoners appropriate privileges. Years later, this same process of transforming his foes was replicated on a larger stage when his diplomatic brilliance led to the demise of apartheid. On Robben Island, the prisoners used their hard-earned rights to paint a huge green rectangle in the middle of their grim prison yard. They then added white lines and put up a net to create the world’s most poignant tennis court.

Ashe had first heard of Mandela’s name when he was attempting to get into South Africa without success. Ray Moore a South African professional had told him that there might be one man who could help him get into the country.

“Is he white?” asked Ashe

“ No he is a prisoner: He is a lawyer in jail called Mandela” said Moore in 1969

“Never heard of him” said Ashe

“ Well you will!” replied Moore.

There is much more to write about Mandela and Ashe. How Ashe demanded that blacks and whites sit together when he played in South Africa and how Mandela read Ashe’s words and realised that sport could be a great unifying weapon if put to the right purpose.

Along with Harry Belafonte, Ashe had formed Artists and Athletes against Apartheid and in retirement Mandela took to painting with many of his whimsical works featuring a tennis court.

I decided to write this piece just now because on Friday night at 9pm on BBC 2 there will be a broadcast documentary on the life of Arthur Ashe called more than a champion.

You will hear testimony from many great tennis players including Andy Murray, Serena Williams, Stan Smith, Martina Navratilova, John McEnroe and others all talk about the skinny kid from Richmond.

An older, wiser and mellower John McEnroe will openly shed a tear and tell the world that he is a far better man for having known Arthur Ashe and that the world is a poorer place without him.

I have read in other articles that had he lived there are those who would have supported the idea of a campaign to make Ashe president of the United Stares such was his charisma, integrity and his ability to reach out across a nation which to this day remains hugely divided.

At a time when we have recently had shootings in Charlestown and there is frequent friction between black and white all across America the timing of the programme could not better.

Do not miss this programme as it will probably explain and say more than I could ever do.

There are various video pieces on Ashe with one very moving one where Yannick Noah explains just why he is his hero and all that Ashe did for him and his family.

Days of Glory by Arthur Ashe is a must read book for any human being.

40 years from his heyday, Arthur Ashe is still the only black man on the planet to have won the Wimbledon crown  and scaled the heights of the sport of tennis. Away from the court he has inspired millions to never give up on freedom, heart disease, brain cancer, AIDS, injustice, bigotry and apartheid wherever it may occur.

In 2009, Nelson Mandela was awarded and gratefully received the Arthur Ashe Award for Courage from ESPN. That very fact and those words in that order,tells you something.

I finish once again with Arthur Ashe’s own words:

“True heroism is remarkably sober, very undramatic. It is not the urge to surpass all others at whatever cost, but the urge to serve others at whatever cost.”

“Success is a journey, not a destination. The doing is often more important than the outcome.”

“From what we get, we can make a living; what we give, however, makes a life.”

“I don’t want to be remembered for my tennis accomplishments.”

Beware the influence of the quiet man.

New Balls Please.


Celtic Links – A day out and the story of Joseph.

5 Mar

A teenage boy sits and watches. His father is on the edge of his seat throughout and constantly cheers on his team, but the boy just watches. Their team is losing – losing but playing brilliantly and the man refuses to give up hope and keeps telling his son:

“They’ll score! They’ll score!”

And they do score!

There is jumping around the living room. There are shouts of encouragement to the team so many miles away: “Come on now!” says the father “We have them! You can do it!”

And the teenage boy watches. He watches his television and he watches his father and his father’s belief and soaks it all in.

Then, in the dying moments, their team scores again!

“Ya beauty” shouts the father and leaps off the couch. Father and son hug one another, for theirs is a special bond. They leap, shout, smile and sing – and they rejoice in that one fabulous and universally understood word — CELTIC!

The kingdom of Fife is one of the earth’s holy places in the world of sport. People, from every corner of the globe come to Fife for the sheer thrill of standing in the rain or the sun or the wind or the cloud just for the thrill of being able to say that they have played golf there.

From California to Kathmandu, from Bangkok to Bangladesh, from Newcastle to New York and from Partick to Panama when it comes to world of golf St Andrews is Paradise, with Kings Barns, Crail and many other courses treated as if they are hallowed ground.

Our teenage boy of the story above dreamed of winning the British Open in Fife but it was a dream he would never achieve.

Sam Torrance’s moment on the World stage would come at the Belfry Resort and Golf Club in Warwickshire where he would sink the put to win the Ryder Cup. It was a moment that would define a great sporting career.

However, ask him about football, and he will tell you how he watched Celtic win the European Cup with his father and legendary coach, Bob. Celtic was Bob Torrance’s team and so Sam was always going to follow them – it was inevitable.

A number of years ago, a well-known Golfing magazine decided to do a feature on Golfers and their football teams and have some of the leading golfers of the day pose in the strip of their choice.

This proved to be a problem because one team seemed to dominate the potential photo shoot and that simply would not do.

Eventually Sam got to wear the hoops but only after fighting off competition from Bernard Gallagher, Paul McGinley, Padraig Harrington and various others.

Shortly before the Ryder Cup, Paul McGinley, who followed in Sam’s footsteps as winning Ryder Cup Captain and player, was asked in an interview:

“What is your favourite word?”

“Celtic!” came the instant reply.

McGinley only turned to golf after a knee injury brought his budding Gaelic football career to an end. However in pursuing his chosen career he has never hidden his other passion – The Green and White of Celtic.

Watching Paul McGinley on a golf course is quite an interesting phenomenon.
He tees up with green and white hooped tees and wipes his clubs down with a green and white hooped towel.

On the afternoon of 22nd May 2005, McGinley was leading the BMW Masters Tournament and was hot favourite to win the title. This was his best year in golf and he would ultimately finish third in the European order of merit.

Unfortunately, on the 15th hole, Paul completely fluffed a shot and ended up in a bunker. He was clearly disgusted and so out of sorts that his game lost its consistency during the last holes and he eventually came in second two strokes behind Angel Cabrera of Argentina.

There is a story that abounds which says that Paul was interviewed on television immediately after his round had finished and was asked by the interviewer where things had gone wrong for him and what happened at the 15th?

Allegedly McGinley replied “ F**king Motherwell Scored!” – though that quote cannot be confirmed — or denied apparently!

However, it is not just the golfers who have this amazing love of Celtic football club on the pro tour.

There are few more recognisable people on the golf circuit than Ian Poulter who is a devout Arsenal fan apparently. However, his golf towel his half Arsenal half Celtic on the insistence of his caddy Terry Mundy who is well known for having an affection for the hoops.

However, the last word on this golfing affection for the Glasgow Football Club goes to Sam Torrance.

The scene is a sporting lunch in a Glasgow hotel with a Q & A session with Sam.
The MC announces that the next sporting lunch will be to honour the Rangers side who won the European Cup Winners Cup in 1972.

“ I’ll give that one a miss!” says Sam very loudly and turns to take another question from the floor.

“ How would you compare yourself to Jack Nicklaus?” asks the questioner.

Sam Torrance pauses, then says with a smile:

“ Well that’s like comparing Rangers to Celtic” he says dryly.

“They both play the same sport technically – but they are not really in the same league are they? – never were and never will be!”


Joseph strikes a golf ball again and again. Sometimes the ball goes left, sometimes right sometimes it flies straight. It doesn’t matter on a golf range. The ball can fly for two hundred yards or barely make it past twenty yards and it won’t matter.

For Joseph it is the repetitiveness of the swing that counts; the recurring routine of the set up, the swing and the end result that counts. When he gets down to swinging the club again and again he is happy.

He talks non stop between hits:

“ That is a good one. I like that shot. That is a good one. Keep your eye on the ball when you hit it. That is a good one.”

And occasionally:

“ If you don’t hit it right you will go back in your box prospector! Yes you will!”

Joseph is severely autistic.

The exercise at the golf range is one of his favourite pastimes. He likes to cycle, swim, ski and various other things but he is keen on golf.

His mum can sit on the bench behind his place on the golf range and take a rest. She can maybe read a book or a newspaper and enjoy a cup of tea from a paper cup.

Sometimes she hits a few balls with Joseph but on other occasions she just takes a break at the golf range while he hits the balls.

After this there will be cycling, and then home for tea and then bed.

Tomorrow she will go to work, do her job and then come home and take Joseph out somewhere else – maybe to a concert, maybe just for a walk or maybe to the cinema – and then home for tea and the bed.

And on to the next day…… and the next.

Joseph’s mother is a widow. He only has her, and she only has him.

He is 25 years old and weighs 17 stone. If he doesn’t exercise he will get ever heavier and will suffer potential health problems. He is a big lump of a boy.

He is generally a happy bloke, and can be very funny with his observations and his repetition of any phrase he has heard on the TV.

Once his mother went out for dinner and a friend agreed to “babysit” with Joseph.

“ He likes to watch movies” his mum had said and so the friend thought nothing at all about saying to Joseph “ Come on and we will watch a movie big guy!”

And his face lit up as he sat down on the couch: “I like movies”.

Perhaps Pulp Fiction was not the best choice.

When Joseph’s mother came home he was in bed, asleep and all was well.

It was only the following day when she took him out and he started repeating all of the lines from the movie that she realised what had happened.

There was no point in trying to explain to passers-by, all they saw was a 6 ft plus chap with a big smile on his face suggesting that he was going to “shoot the mother**ker up the ass!”

That’s the way it is with an autistic adult and for the parent or carer of an Autistic adult.

Sometimes funny, more times sad – and all the time just hard —- bloody hard!


Thursday April 2nd 2015 is world autism awareness day.

Autism is a lifelong developmental disability that affects how a person communicates with, and relates to, other people. It also affects how they make sense of the world around them.

It is a spectrum condition, which means that, while all people with autism share certain difficulties, their condition will affect them in different ways. Some people with autism are able to live relatively independent lives but others may have accompanying learning disabilities and need a lifetime of specialist support.

Joseph is one of those who needs specialist support 24/7

People with autism may also experience over- or under-sensitivity to sounds, touch, tastes, smells, light or colours.

Some Autism sufferers, like Joseph, have severe communication and learning difficulties. They cannot communicate like other people do and have no ability to pick up the social niceties that most of us come to learn naturally.

The world is a jumbled mixture of sounds, people, personalities and situations which don’t always make sense and which can’t be described.

So, Thursday April 2nd is World Autism Awareness Day.

It is also the day of the inaugural Celtic FC Foundation Charity Golf Day which will take place at Renfrew Golf Club next to the Normandy Hotel. All proceeds raised from the golf day will be going towards a project initiated by the Celtic FC Foundation which will help children and young people with autism and their families.

In collaboration with the University of Strathclyde, Celtic FC Foundation intend to create a project which will offer an opportunity to enhance each child’s wellbeing through supported physical activity such as football, dance and maybe some golf with a focus on fun.

The autism project will also seek to enhance parents’ and carers’ skills in behaviour management with an emphasis on promoting the development of social interaction skills for children and young people with autism.

Ultimately, the proceeds from Celtic FC Foundation’s inaugural Golf Day will help support autistic children and young people through both inclusiveness and providing parents and carers with practical skills to enhance their child’s well-being.

The format of the Golf Day will see a host of teams playing 18 holes with a shotgun start and a Texas scramble scoring system.

Among the teams, will be a team of ex-Celts aiming to take the prestigious Celtic FC Foundation Golf Day trophy.

Following the tournament, there will be a fantastic carvery lunch as well as a charity auction, raffle and entertainment.

The cost to enter a team of four is £400 and availability is now limited. Guests who want to just come to the lunch can pay separately.

The golf day and its aims are supported by European Golf Pro and Celtic Season ticket holder Stephen Gallagher among others.

If you are interested in submitting a team for Celtic FC Foundation’s inaugural Golf Day or require any more information, please or call 0141 551 429.

If you are a golfer or have friends who are golfers please consider putting a team together and participating.

If you are not a golfer and would like to help then please text CELT07 followed by £1, £2, £3, £4, £5 or £10 to 70070 or donate on the Celtic FC Foundation just giving page which can be found here

Autism is a very real problem for a huge number of people so please help.

Sadly, it is a very real problem for Joseph and his mum as theirs is an absolutely true story.

Joseph will never be Sam or Paul or Stephen or Padraig and he will never play St Andrews but you can help guys like Joseph by having a day out at the golf in Renfrew on 2nd April.

Thanks for your time.



17 Sep

A judge of my acquaintance once made a passing remark to me.

“ It’s amazing what you can see when you stop thinking like a lawyer!” he said, and went on to explain that when a committee of ten people, nine of whom were lawyers, came to consider a situation the nine lawyers all came to the same conclusion instantly and were unanimous on a course of action.

The one non lawyer was not the least intimidated by this and simply said that he saw things differently and went on to explain what he saw, why he saw it and what he thought should be done as a consequence. Needless to say it was a different course of action to that suggested by the nine lawyers.

The reaction to this dissenting voice was extra ordinary. One by one, all nine legal minds looked at the situation again, and one by one all of them came to the conclusion that their initial decision was wrong.

My friend was one of the nine, and what troubled him was that until the dissenter spoke he was convinced his initial decision was right. He was someone who regularly weighed up evidence and argument, cut the wheat from the chaff, and reached a decision.

However, in this case what bothered him was that it had become clear to him that he, as an individual, and his fellow lawyers as a group, had become almost institutionally bound to think a certain way….. and they did. All believing they were right, yet eventually coming to a conclusion that their automatic and natural response was in fact inappropriate and incorrect.

And that, he said, was scary.

That story is where I start my journey when it comes to the referendum on Scotland’s future which is set for 18th September. Have a look, consider the options, reach a decision … and then have another look and come at things differently and challenge your instinctive stance, and only once you have done that, make a final decision.

I have waited until now to write about this issue so that I can look at the entire picture, having listened to all the arguments and viewed the whole idea from a micro, macro and, dare I say it, a pub perspective.

And I have reached a conclusion. It is a conclusion that once reached I then challenged, argued against in my head and tried to talk myself out of. I have had others try to point me on a different path as well. However, I have finally reached my decision, having argued, read, researched, considered, and now at long last, I finally record my thoughts and ideas in written form below —- for all to shoot at if they so wish.

First a few statements of fact or opinion – it is not for me to judge which is the more appropriate term.

1. I am not a Nationalist per se and am more an Internationalist. I am not keen on borders, border regulations, barriers, obstacles, inward looking declarations of “ I am”, “ We are”, “ They are” or “ They will”. I am not at all sure I am keen on anything that approaches “Us” and “them”!

2. I am not anti English, anti British, anti Welsh, Irish or anti any “sh” you care to mention.

3. I am not a jingoist. I am not keen on Edward Elgar, pomp and circumstance, the beating of the great British drum, or the Scottish drum, The Empire Drum, Commonwealth Drum or any other kind of drum that is associated with a set of borders or the power to control or govern those within or outwith those borders.

4. I am not a member of the SNP. I have never joined a political party ( though in my youth I was a member of various societies that were associated to, if not affiliated with, The Labour Party.) My reluctance to join anything ( political party, trades union, gardening association, chess club or any other kind of organised plutocracy ) is based upon the fact that as sure as eggs are eggs I will eventually be expelled from the movement if I have not already resigned.
Traditionally, I am not a very good team player at anything, and I am not the best at listening to, or suffering, those who want to advance their “prospects” within any political party or movement. I am a curmudgeon when it comes to those who aspire to a career in politics.
Anyone who wants to be a politician should automatically be barred from being one!
5. I am, however, an optimist. I believe far more in the word “can” than “can’t” and when someone says “You can’t” I see that as merely an opinion that should be independently challenged before being meekly accepted. I am drawn to positive people far more than those who are perennial doubters and naysayers.

6. I cannot help being a lawyer – even although I no longer earn my living within that profession. I will read and read, stop and consider, argue and counter argue, and eventually reach a conclusion. Sometimes that is an infuriating practice however 30 plus years ago in my legal training I was told that the worst thing any lawyer can do for a client was to hedge your bets and fail to advise on a course of action. In other words, there comes a time to give an opinion: “Right, here is what we should do!” and then outline a plan and a process. Good lawyers don’t get skelves on the arse!

I have spent many years involved in the running of companies where at boardroom level you have to argue your corner, advance a strategy, be prepared to have your plan criticised, point out errors without making enemies, heal rifts, look at the short, medium and long terms and generally negotiate internally and externally.

Compromise is not a dirty word and more than one person can be right when two or more people are saying different things.

Business is business; it should be personable but not necessarily personal and stubborn intransigence will get no one anywhere. Business and politics in my opinion boil down to the art of the possible.

7. I believe I am passionate about certain things, but rarely angry, hopefully never ill-tempered, speak with a degree of confidence in support of what I believe, but never just dismiss the opinion of others. God gave us two ears and one mouth – those proportions were not an accident.

8. I believe that in approaching things you should not always put your own personal interests first. That is just the road to greedy decision-making. We are not allowed to steal, commit murder, or whatever for our own personal gain and in making any decision we should also consider others and what is right as opposed to what suits us personally.
I will not pretend for a moment that this is easy to do, and I know that such an attitude can be looked upon as sanctimonious and even twee. People will always consider what is best for them and their families, but that should never be the only consideration when thinking about Government, social justice and what is best for the country as a whole. And by country, I mean Scotland as well as the rest of the UK.
That is what I believe, and to be frank, if you have a problem with that please feel perfectly free to go and commit an act that should be physically impossible, requires being well endowed, double jointed and extremely supple but which should give you lots of pleasure. Good luck to you in your efforts!

9. Wealth is not solely measured in pounds shillings and pence ( or any other currency you care to mention ). Banks, Big Business, PLC’s, and Companies in general look after the interests of their shareholders. They require to balance the books and pay a dividend as opposed to looking at social welfare, or have any concerns about the civic community as a corporate goal. Of course many companies try to do both and succeed to a greater or lesser extent. Government, is, or at least should be, different. It is not just about money, balance sheets, share prices and figures.

10. Government is about people, systems, rights, powers, checks, balances, representation, accountability and the common good. Banks, Corporations, Companies, Political Parties, Politicians, Statisticians, Clergymen, Fitba Teams, pantomime Dames and every other bugger then operates within that system of Government and then, and only then, can they bring their talents ( or lack of them ) to the fore for the benefit of the people – who in turn give them money – or votes – or abuse – in return for their services and actions.

It is the system of Government and the accountability of Government that comes first and foremost. Abraham Lincoln called it correct at Gettysburg and no one has ever improved upon his “Government of the people, by the people and for the people” philosophy – not in a democracy anyway.

11. Lastly, and most importantly, I am not always right and many people, good people, will have a view that is different to mine and they will be entitled to it. My view carries no more weight than the next man’s ( or woman’s ) and I do not write these words with a view to persuading anyone to my way of thinking, but more towards recording how I came to my own conclusions.

So, with a thousand or so words out of the way, why will I vote YES?

Quite simply because I believe that the system of Government in the UK does not work, and I think that becoming Independent provides the people and the businesses of Scotland with a real opportunity to live and work in a better system.

Further, I think the entire campaign to persuade us to vote no in this debate absolutely highlights all that is wrong in our political system and why our current system of Government does not work.

It does not work for Scotland, England, Wales or Northern Ireland. In fact it doesn’t work for anywhere on the planet – even the city of London itself ( which is to blame for many a thing ) and so it must be changed as staying still and preserving the status quo is a non starter for all of us.

And before anyone shouts “ Devo Max” or any such thing – hey—that is a nonstarter. It has not been offered and in the last days of the campaign the leaders of the Westminster parties have realised that they have made a cod of it and are now offering something, somewhere sometime – they just don’t know what. They offer anything to retain power in Westminster – typical pathetic UK politics.

Back across the border, there are already those among their party rank and file who might just have something to say about what has been offered by the three party leaders and it is pretty plain to me that what the three amigos have allegedly offered will probably not be delivered by their parties in session, or by the Westminster Parliament.

Anyway, to other things.

INDEPENDENCE is no more than a word.

Different people can use the same word and mean many different things.

In this instance I believe that what we are talking about is a degree of political independence that is not at this time available to the Scottish electorate. Although it was previously available to the Scottish Parliament AND within the United Kingdom.

There is no such thing as complete political Independence, nor is there any possibility of complete monetary independence, in the modern world. So if Scotland votes YES what I think we will see and should strive for is greater and fairer INTERDEPENDENCE with our neighbours, with Europe and with the rest of the world.

Independence is an idea and an ideal, and how you make that idea and ideal a practical reality is what really counts.

So, what are we voting for on 18th September?

My answer is that we are voting for the idea of Independence and the RIGHT OF INDEPENDENCE (not the practicalities and the detail – they are to come and to evolve if we vote yes) and to change the existing system of Government.

Most importantly we are voting to completely change the substance and style of Government – not just in Scotland but in the UK as a whole.

We are not voting for any political party or any particular politician, and to vote NO because you don’t like Alex Salmond, The SNP, Wee Nicola, Paddy Harvey, Brian Cox, Tommy Sheridan or whoever is just plain daft.

You don’t decide to not buy a car or a house because you didn’t like the salesman. You might go to another garage, but you buy the model you want.

Equally, it is also daft to vote NO because of the style, tactics, dress sense, singing voice or because of the ugliness of any of these people.

None of that affects the system of Government under consideration.

It would be equally daft to vote yes because you don’t like George Galloway’s hat, David Cameron’s voice or, Alastair Darling’s eyebrows or whatever.

They themselves are an irrelevance as it is the issues and the opportunity which counts.

There are many who argue that you cannot vote YES without knowing the detail, the facts and figures, and a clear note of what we will and will not do, can and cannot do in an Independent Scotland? As a consequence they chose to vote NO with a view to preserving stability as they see it.

I understand the dilemma; appreciate the concerns and the worries when there is no immediate definite answer to fundamental questions. People are afraid of “into infinity and beyond” but I question that approach.

In so doing I have come to examine the evidence and consider the arguments proffered by both the yes and the no camps, and maybe some others that have been mooted by no one.

Since 1945, 142 countries have come into being as Independent states. Not one has sought to reverse the process. Not all of them started out with a definitive idea or road map for getting to where they are now. They evolved, went back to the polls, elected Governments after independence, voted on policies, kicked Governments out and selected new ones.

30 of those countries became Independent following upon referendums, others as a result of internal armed conflict, or war, or some other route.

In the course of history it has quite often been the case that the guys that lead a country to Independence were more or less immediately booted out of power as soon as Independence had been gained as they had served their purpose. Hang on to that notion!

However, all these new nations changed after independence. All eventually morphed into the representative countries we have today. The latest European countries arrived in 2006 when Serbia and Montenegro separated. In 2011 South Sudan was created.

So why shouldn’t Scotland want the “Idea” of Independence and could it work practically?

Well, again I would argue that Scotland has always been a nation. It has a distinct ancient physical geography. A distinct people. A distinct History. A distinct political and social make up when compared to the rest of the UK.

Scotland has a GDP that is greater than that of many Independent countries ( Ireland is an example ). It has an educated and skilful population, a tier of Government that could be extended without too much difficulty, a distinct International and Cultural Identity and a set of resources and assets like no other country of its size which combine in a unique formation making it undoubtedly viable as a stand alone independent country if left to its own devices.

Now, if you are in any doubt about whether Scotland could go it alone in terms of finance there is a whole welter of opinion that says that this is so. Nobel prize winning economists, world bankers, analysts from the Financial Times and other publications, University Professors and leading academics and many industry chiefs all say that Scotland can be, and has the tools to be, a successful financial country.

Then of course there is the McCrone report which, having been prepared for the Westminster Government in 1974, stated that if Scotland were to control all of its oil income and become independent ( politically ) it would be a haven for international investors and would be embarrassingly rich.

Of course the McCrone report was shamelessly hidden away on the orders of Harold Wilson so that no one in the UK could read it and was only released into the public domain after a period of thirty years.

Not that it received the national or international attention that it might have deserved when it was released.

I will come back to that report later.

So, new Independent countries are nothing new. They have emerged pretty regularly over the last 60-70 years and the world has kept spinning on its access and the sky hasn’t fallen in. Further it would appear that Scotland is pretty well equipped to become Independent if it wants to – so what’s the big deal?

Given that it has happened before, and will no doubt happen again elsewhere, surely the question we should be asking surrounding Independence is why not?

I mean in pure democratic terms it must be obvious that a single vote in 5 Million or so is more valuable than a single vote in 70 Million?

Who would not want their vote to be worth more than yesterday on a purely democratic numbers basis?

So, if it can be done, has been done elsewhere, and some pretty clever people say that it could be done successfully, then why not?

For me, the only sensible answer to that question would have to be “ Because you are better not to!” – so off I went to see if it would be better not to become Independent as a point of principle and to look at the pragmatics of implementing the principle should we vote YES.

But before I went too far, the old legal head kicked in and asked a straight forward legal question which every retired and practising court practitioner has faced a thousand times.

On whom does the balance of proof lie? Or in other words is there an onus on someone to persuade me to opt for Independence or is the onus on someone to persuade me to keep the current system and so vote NO to Independence?

After thinking about it, I came to the conclusion that my starting point had to be the current system of Government and whether or not it was worth preserving. As I looked into Government in the UK in 2014, I concluded that it does not work, is a busted flush and has no prospect of recovering from a terminal position without radical surgery. At the bottom of this essay I list the sources I have looked at and relied upon to reach my conclusions. Yes, I know that there are other sources and that some point to an alternative view, but on balance this is the argument I favour and why.

The more I looked into things the more I became convinced that this system of Government is objectionable and simply does not work in principle or in practice and therefore has to be changed and yes is a vote for change. And by the way that change has to come for the benefit of the people of England, Wales and Northern Ireland not just Scotland.

Here is why:

Westminster itself has the lowest council tax in the whole of the UK and is one of the richest areas in Northern Europe. Yet 9 of the 10 poorest areas in Northern Europe are governed by Westminster. 21st century Britain is glaringly unjust and getting worse.

Does that seem like good Government?
Is it Government of the people, for the people, by the people?

The gap between rich and poor in the UK is amongst the greatest in the developed world and it is getting bigger.

Is this acceptable?

Many people in England, Wales and elsewhere all think that the City of London is dangerously over cooked in terms of its economy and that for a long time Westminster Government has meant Government for London, by London, and in the interests of London – and to hell with everyone else.

The other large cities all around England and Wales have all called for an end to London centric Government and are seeking new devolved powers themselves so that they can gain a degree of autonomy for their cities.

Further, some areas of England feel completely overlooked by Westminster Government altogether. Cornwall has its own Independence movement and the areas and cities in the north of England have expressed a desire to forge closer links to an Independent Scotland should we vote yes. They propose a borderlands pact to improve trade and commerce.

Does this smack of good Government? Representative Government from Westminster?

Government from Westminster appears to have become more and more London centric with many areas of England becoming increasingly disenchanted with Westminster Government. Yet the “institutions” do nothing to support social justice and a fair crack of the whip outside London. There have been at least three BBC news pieces over the last few years which have suggested that London itself is so strong financially that it should perhaps become Independent of the rest of the UK.

Increasingly the Westminster Government appears to be a Government from London for London aided and abetted by the role of the Mayor of London – currently Boris Johnson.

Mr Johnson has already revealed plans to have Westminster spend £1.3 Trillion ( the same amount as the entire UK Debt ) on improving the infrastructure for London. This sum is to be spent between now and 2050.

He is also famous for saying that £1 spent in Croydon is worth more to the UK than £1 spent in Strathclyde and that if you want to create jobs in Scotland then invest in Croydon.

Increasingly the politics of Westminster reflects the need to protect the structure and infrastructure of London and the financial interests of the city of London. It is remote from almost everywhere else in the UK and that feeling is very strong in Scotland in my opinion.

The proposed West Cost High Speed Train Line between London and Birmingham will cost £46 Billion approximately and Scotland under the current formula will contribute £4.6 Billion of that cost for absolutely no benefit.

Why? To be part of a union where you feel ignored?

That entire project is designed to get people from Birmingham into London quicker and easier — to go to work. The Government will not spend £46 Billion in and around Birmingham to create jobs, but will spend it to help service the jobs market in London.

London does not create enough graduates and so there is an ever-increasing brain drain of graduates and talented individuals who have to go to London from elsewhere in the UK to find employment and it is not in the interests of the City of London to have the Westminster Government invest in the regions ( including Scotland ) and so stem that flow.

In other words when it comes to Job creation, investment initiatives, and overall Government spend. London is our competitor and not our ally – yet it controls OUR purse strings! Everybody’s purse strings.

Not only that, but the City of London is the only city in the UK who has its own official Westminster officer – The Remembrancer – who sits behind the Speaker in the House of Commons and whose job is to remind the Westminster Parliament and all its officials and members of the interests of the City of London when it comes to any policy or enactment. In other words, in every single piece of legislation, great or small, the interests of the city have to be considered!

No other part of the UK enjoys such Parliamentary privilege.

The City of London is all about profit and loss, gain and financial advantage and it is only superficially interested in Scotland if there is a profit to be made — or not as the case may be.

The City of London is all about the big commercial interests much of which is represented by many household names — Lloyds, Barclays, HSBC, Nat West, The Financial Times, BP, Shell, RBOS, and all the other big BIG companies you can think of – they are all part of, and play a role in, The City of London and its infrastructure and interests.

Traditional industries in Scotland, such as shipbuilding, have diminished or disappeared over the last 30 years. Scotland makes not a single motor car. We have no steel plant, no heavy industry to speak of – when we used to have these skills.

That is a consequence of LONDON Government.

London Government is about the best price for everything and the maximum profit – that is why the latest Navy Tankers are being built in Korea and not on the Clyde or in Belfast or on Tyneside.

London would build it themselves but they don’t have a shipyard! So the Government goes to the cheapest one they can find. No thought is given to the social infrastructure of the rest of the UK it is all about the best price.

That is not Government: That is consumerism: and I don’t vote to elect the winning contestant on the price is right or bargain hunt. I want a Government!

And preferably one that does not regularly, if not constantly, lie through its teeth!

By now everyone has heard it said that Scotland receives a great deal under the Barnett formula and that “England” or Westminster subsidise the standard of living in Scotland.

But when looked at closely, it would appear that this is not the case at all and that the formula itself is skewed and gives a skewed result as a consequence.

Further, Scotland has some really poor standard of living statistics and of course in recent years we have seen the rise and rise of food banks and real poverty. Child poverty, poor life expectancy, and areas of real deprivation are very much in existence in 2014

Is this really the best that wealthy Westminster can do for us?

Yet we are constantly told by wee Eck and others that Scotland could be a seriously rich country, so I had a look at that and found considerable support for that contention.

Not only that, the notion that we were subsidised by England appeared to be the exact opposite of what some economists and commentators were saying.

For the last 32 years, it would appear that the Westminster Government has failed to balance its book and ran at a loss. However, to keep the show on the road, it would appear that the Westminster Government came up with the plan of borrowing against future revenues – especially the oil and gas revenues from the natural resources which were located in Scottish waters.

Now, this may have been a fair enough accounting and fiscal policy if we were all in the UK together on an equal basis, or even a fair basis so to speak, but somehow or other the Westminster parties have allowed the myth to grow that the Scots are subsidised by the other countries in the UK and in calculating our contribution to the whole we are given no credit for any oil and gas taxes. While Westminster practices policies which make London and the South East appear to get ever richer in monetary terms, the further north you come from London the greater the obvious poverty in other areas.

This gap is now so great, so wanton, so obvious that it simply cannot be an accident and simply cannot be allowed to continue.

Now in the course of the debate I read constantly that Oil and Gas is a diminishing resource and that it will eventually run out and so produce no income. In which case the UK as a whole had better balance its books really quickly on a current term basis and reduce its borrowing rapidly thus forcing ever greater austerity on the populace.

Yet others say that there is still oil aplenty, in which case its value should not be squandered by a system which has allowed any previous wealth to result in some getting extremely rich whilst leaving others in obvious abject poverty.

I can either choose to believe there is going to be no oil or believe that there is every chance that there are increased oil and gas reserves in the North Sea and more likely in the Atlantic waters off Shetland.

Fortunately or unfortunately I know some people in the oil industry and they have told me that there is real excitement about the oil and gas discovered near Shetland and BP have indicated that the Clare ridge field is expected to produce 49 Million barrels of oil more than expected. Further, the investment in new exploration over the last few years means that in the coming year there will be an extra 750,000 barrels of oil coming on stream this year.

However, of even greater importance is the advancement in technology which makes the recovery of oil and gas from deeper areas much easier and more viable than before.

But let’s assume for a moment the oil is running out and that there is to be no income from oil and gas.

I am old enough to remember the previous referendum on the question of devolution when the people of Scotland were told by Westminster that the oil would run out within ten years.

Yet that same parliament, the same UK parties, were sitting all the time on the McCrone report which I remind you again said that Scotland would be an embarrassingly rich country if given access to its oil revenues.

Not only were those facts not given to us, the public, but they were also kept from all the potential investors who could have and probably would have chosen to invest in Scotland over the last 40 years!

Scotland lost out on that investment because politicians of all parties in London, together with civil servants who we all pay for, sat on that report and deliberately kept it secret!

Instead, what de facto happened was that Scotland did not get a devolved assembly or Parliament for 20 years or so and in the interim the UK Parliament spent away merrily and mortgaged the very income they chose to keep secret at the time of the last referendum.

To be honest that is just blatant fraud. It is fraudulent representation and fraudulent Government. That kind of Government I can do without.

Now one might argue that this was long ago and that it no longer really matters, but I am left begging the question do I want to be governed by a system which allows and perhaps encourages the decision makers of the day to simply lie to me or at the worst simply decide to withhold all the information from me which would allow me to reach a fully informed decision about anything?

However, a closer examination of current policies and the current campaign shows that this type of fraudulent and dishonest Government is far from untypical and in fact I believe that Westminster is now so self-obsessed, so self-serving, that it has ceased to be a Parliament of the union and instead has become a Parliament for Westminster and the City of London alone.

A couple of years ago, the 30 year rule revealed papers which showed that the then Prime Minister, Margaret Thatcher, had gone to the nation, the public, and even Parliament, and stated that the budget for Scotland was £x. The papers then showed that behind the scenes she was secretly writing to the Scottish Secretary, George Younger, asking that he pass back £60 Million of that money to the UK treasury in secret.

Amazingly, Younger advised that he could not do that without it being noticed, but stated that he could send back £30 Million under the counter and get away with it!

That again is complete and utter fraud. There is no other word for it.

Forget about reneging on election promises, u turns on policy and all the usual things we get in politics, these letters show a crime being committed. If the same thing had happened in private industry whereby people were encouraged to invest on the basis of a major stakeholder saying they will invest £x but secretly having no such intention and then cooking the books to show that it looked like they had, then that is a matter for the police and the procurator fiscal’s office.

However, let’s come forward to the modern day:

According to one former UK Ambassador, Westminster buried the fact that they categorically knew that there were no Weapons of Mass Destruction under the control of Saddam Hussein and the entire decision to embark on the gulf war was based on a race to gain control of ……. Oil!

In a different way this is history repeating itself. It is all about the control of an energy resource and if Westminster has to lie, deceive and even take up arms to get its share of the loot then history shows it will do so. Make no mistake we still have major energy resources in our back yard and there is no prospect of Westminster playing with a straight bat.

However perhaps of even greater concern is the fact that Westminster and the City of London are responsible, unquestionably responsible, for the 2008 banking crisis and the Euro crisis.

Don’t just take my word for it, take the word of someone who is regarded as the most respected EURO MP on financial matters – Sharon Bowles. By the way she is a Lib Dem and has made it clear that London is to blame for the financial crisis and that the Bank of England and the Government has accepted this when dealing with the rest of Europe and their banks. They just don’t want to admit the fact within the earshot of the UK electorate.

London and the City of London is in many respects looked upon and referred to as FRAUD CITY in financial terms.

The City of London hopelessly failed to regulate banks, insurance companies, stockbrokers and any number of other financial institutions and services. Years later, these same institutions are still being fined record sums for mis selling that, misrepresenting this, and generally deceiving customers and shareholders. Yet these are the same institutions who lobby parliament, donate to parliamentary parties and who influence the parties who regularly provide members to that parliament and who regularly form Governments.

MP’s themselves are caught up in the Westminster moneygoround. I could go on and on about the expenses scandals, monetary irregularities, party donors and their connections and so on as they have all been regularly mentioned in the news.

However, if I bring things right up to date, a few weeks ago it was revealed that over 200 MP’s or members of the Lords ( an outdated and relatively useless institution ) had direct contracts with companies who had been awarded contracts related to the NHS as effectively managed through Westminster.

If this is not having your nose in the trough then I don’t know what is?

When you consider all the other areas where contracts may be awarded – defence, utilities, education ( by the way did you know that the company which produces the financial times also produces education books, and operates an education authority which recommends its own books ) etc then the mind boggles about the notion of conflict of interest.

There are any number of examples of where Westminster completely fails in my opinion and so I ask:

Is this the best we can do? Is this the kind of policy and structure that I want my children and grandchildren to live under? Is this a good system of Government? Is this what we should expect from the Mother of all Parliaments?

The answer to all of those questions is no.

And don’t tell me that I can vote at the next election and get rid of Cameron or all the other Westminster MP’s. By this time the main political parties are so closely aligned, so attuned to the Westminster psyche and system, and so beholden to the financial institutions of the City of London that it makes little difference who is elected to Westminster especially if you come from Scotland.

At the start of the current Government’s term we had the farcical situation where 16 members of the cabinet went to the one school!

That is not representation of the people by the people for the people that is a tuck shop reunion! It is farcical.

From the selection process to the election process our Governmental system needs a swift kick in the arse – big style and this referendum is that opportunity.

Westminster is currently bent over like Bishop Brennan with its arse exposed and you are invited to swing your representational leg and give it an almighty boot!

Not only will that make you feel good, you will be better for it and actually Westminster will ultimately be better for it too!

Now lest I am accused of being too facetious about such a serious subject, one of the the best arguments for maintaining the status quo would be the effect of disruption and the consequences of change especially after a global recession.

On that front, I find the No campaign deeply disingenuous and absolutely lacking in any positive argument or thinking which can reasonably expected to persuade the Scottish electorate that the United Kingdom is good for them.

Instead, what we have been fed is a whole series of arguments which proclaim one thing but which when examined more closely really show another.

For example, the point about banks moving office is a complete red herring as it is in potential compliance with an EU regulation which has been around since 1995!

Further many American banks are making similar provisions in respect of the UK potentially leaving the UK – they are going to Dublin!

In any change of system there is going to be a need for change, and when there is change then the so-called “markets” start to get twitchy.

Well guess who controls the markets in this country? I know you will fall down in apoplexy when I say – Westminster and the City of London!

I too would be shitting a brick if I could see the oil & gas revenue I have been using to balance my books disappearing into the ballot box.

Just when would be a good time to talk about the consequences of Independence? At what point in the economic cycle? Top of a boom? Bottom of a bust? When we are recovering? When we are sliding into recession?

In all honesty, there is no right time or wrong time or even easy time to set out the arrangements for a new country but that should not be a reason for voting NO.

Further, the uncertainty is at least aggravated by a Westminster regime which is playing hardball and being obstructive in its own interest.

Now I don’t blame them for that but lets not pretend that market uncertainty is all caused by the right of an electorate to choose to change the system of Government and let’s not pretend that the existing system of Government is a guarantee of stability and promises an easy economic ride.

When you stop and look at Westminster over the last 50 years ( I am 52 ) there have been as many booms as you get from the dearly departed Concorde’s arse and as many busts as you could spot in a Miss World contest.

I was in the head offices of the Bank of Scotland in London in April 2008 when a bank official announced that the Bank could not borrow a penny in the city of London and was a busted flush.

I was a schoolboy who lived through the three-day week when schools closed due to lack of oil and the electricity went off at home at 8pm. I studied by candlelight and recall the streets filled with uncollected garbage and all of that.

I have lived through the Miner’s strikes, Toxteth riots, London riots, Falkland’s War, Gulf war times two, Afghanistan, various recessions and can recount various politicians of various parties all promising to end boom and bust.

As I have said before, the City of London was largely responsible for the financial collapse of 2008 and they have sent their officials around the other financial centres of the world to acknowledge that.

And now we have Boris wanting to buy a few water cannon for some reason? Maybe they are included in his £1.3 Trillion for London — by the way Scotland’s share is a mere £130 Billion.

If Scotland had £130 Billion to spend do you think it would want to spend it in London so that Scotland could be a better place with a more vibrant economy?

London Government does not work – and I haven’t even started on things like the Poll Tax, The Bedroom tax, Hundreds of food banks, Trident ( a weapon which prevented none of the conflicts listed above ) and so on and so forth.

Government from London is out of touch and is particularly out of touch with Scotland. It is rotten and unrepresentative. So why keep it? Why not ditch it altogether?

Well some people say that to change things will cause a destabilising of the whole economy.

Again I ask, what happened with all these other new countries? Are they all on their backside struggling? It doesn’t seem so.

In any event, I believe that Scotland has a unique case to argue.

If Scotland votes Yes, economic stability in any transition period could be, and in fact must be, far smoother in the interests of all of the people in the UK as it makes for common sense. Here is why it should be so at least.

In 1603, the kingdoms of England, Scotland and Ireland were united in a personal union when James VI, King of Scots, inherited the crowns of England and Ireland and moved his court from Edinburgh to London; each country nevertheless remained a separate political entity and retained its separate political, legal, and religious institutions.

The term Britain is often used as synonym for the United Kingdom. The term Great Britain, by contrast, refers conventionally to the island of Great Britain, or politically to England, Scotland and Wales in combination.

The 1707 Acts of Union declared that the Kingdoms of England and Scotland were “United into One Kingdom by the Name of Great Britain” though the new state is also referred to in the Acts as the United Kingdom of Great Britain and the United Kingdom. The name “United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland” was adopted by the Royal and Parliamentary Titles Act 1927. It reflected the independence of the Irish Free State, and the partition of Ireland, in 1922, which left Northern Ireland as the only part of the island of Ireland within the UK.

So, if I pause there and stop to consider all the loose worded bullshit we have been inaccurately fed by both politicians and the press, the fact of the matter is that:

A – no matter what way Scotland votes it is not ceasing to be part of Great Britain and:

B – following upon the Union of the Crowns there was a United Kingdom, under one monarch, in which Scotland had its own Parliament, legal system and so forth and was politically Independent. That is the History of the British Isles.

Therefore these Islands existed in that fashion and with that political make up for over 100 years.

If it happened before, why should it not happen now?

Oh that is all ancient history I hear someone say and has no relevance at all to modern day Scotland and the current situation.

With respect, I would beg to differ as there are important principles here for all to consider.

For a start, The Bank of England was founded in 1694 although it had been proposed three years before by a Scotsman by the name of William Patterson. Its initial purpose was to raise a loan of £1.2 Million for the English Parliament so that they could completely build a new English Navy following the battle of Beachy Head where the French sank the entire English fleet.

Two important factors come from this history lesson.

The first is that the Bank of England existed prior to the Union of the Parliaments in 1707 and so existed while Scotland enjoyed complete political autonomy.

The second is that The Bank of England remained a completely private concern until it was nationalised by the Atlee Government in 1946. It was only at that time that it became a central bank to the whole of the UK.

The Bank is custodian to the official gold reserves of the United Kingdom and many other countries. Since 1998 it has been the function of the bank to set, look after and advise on the monetary policy of the whole of the UK independent from Government – any Government.

The Bank performs all the functions of a central bank. The most important of these is supposed to be maintaining price stability and supporting the economic policies of the Government ( of the UK ), thus promoting economic growth. There are two main areas which are tackled by the Bank to ensure it carries out these functions efficiently

1. Monetary stability

Stable prices and confidence in the currency are the two main criteria for monetary stability. Stable prices are maintained by making sure price increases meet the Government’s inflation target. The Bank aims to meet this target by adjusting the base interest rate, which is decided by the Monetary Policy Committee, and through its communications strategy, such as publishing yield curves.

Ensuring Financial stability

Maintaining financial stability involves protecting against threats to the whole financial system. Threats are detected by the Bank’s surveillance and market intelligence functions. The threats are then dealt with through financial and other operations, both at home and abroad. In exceptional circumstances, the Bank may act as the lender of last resort by extending credit when no other institution will.

The Bank works together with other institutions to secure both monetary and financial stability, including:

HM Treasury, the Government department responsible for financial and economic policy and other central banks and international organisations, ( including Governments where necessary ) with the aim of improving the international financial system.

The 1997 Memorandum of Understanding describes the terms under which the Bank, the Treasury and the FSA work toward the common aim of increased financial stability. In 2010 the incoming Chancellor announced his intention to merge the FSA back into the Bank.

So, if I pause there, to my mind, The Bank of England has a duty to ensure financial stability in respect of the whole of the UK, independent from Government, and works towards that aim sometimes with other banks, international bodies and occasionally Governments.

Further, as it was nationalised as recently as 1946 by a UK Government, it is a truly UK asset in which we all have a vested interest and share.

Whilst it might be officially named “ Bank of England” it is not England’s bank – it is the UK’s bank.

So far so good.

Except that part of the greatest problem with the whole public debate is that there are those who take the view that the Bank of England would have nothing to do with an Independent Scotland and is in essence a “foreign body”.

I do not believe that to be true as it is a national asset, and so has to have regard to the interests of Scotland, at least certainly during the transition period and any negotiations following a Yes vote.

There is also a perfectly good argument to say that an Independent Scotland would be entitled to a share in the Bank of England or at least to its reserves – reserves which could be moved to set up a new Central Bank for Scotland or which could be held separately by the Bank of England for the benefit of Scotland.

However, of even greater importance is the fact that its stated aim is to preserve and maintain fiscal stability – throughout the UK, not just in London – and again that is meant to be Independent of Government – any Government.

Accordingly, it seems to me that one of the big red herrings in this whole debate is about financial stability and the role to be played by the Bank of England in ensuring financial stability in the event of Scotland choosing to return to political independency.

Has there ever been an emergent country which, if independent, starts on day one with either a share in a central bank or which starts out with a situation where a world leading central bank has a duty to bring about financial stability while that nation becomes established?

How many other potentially emergent nations would sign up for that?

However, let’s leave the Bank of England behind and look at Government and the decision to keep it or change it again.

When the Parliaments “merged” to form this union, Scotland was meant to join as a partner. However, it strikes me that it has long been the case that the Westminster Government has ceased to be anything other than a Parliament that looks after the interests of the City of London, and it would appear that I am far from being alone in reaching that conclusion.

Westminster has devolved power to Edinburgh, but only after a prolonged political campaign to re- establish any kind of Scottish Parliament. In the interim, London, Westminster and the City of London has forged ever closer and ever more interdependent links.

In particular London has become spectacularly rich, an ever bigger financial centre, and a metropolitan beast where house prices bear no relation to comparative properties in other areas of the UK. To stay in London companies have to offer greater salaries, bigger bonuses, charge higher rents and so on and so forth and on and on it goes. This has now gotten so crazy that London cannot afford to lose influence, and both the city and the parliament have become fat, arrogant and lazy – so much so that they have, in my opinion, made a fundamental political and economic error.

Much of that fat has been the result of Scottish Economic activity and the issue of potential Scottish Independence has been a real live issue for many years.

Any sensible manager should have seen that if Independence arrived, the desk jockeys in London would lose control over vast money-making assets and money-making potential that is Scottish. The same should have been seen by the Westminster politicians.

In short, if the money men and the politicians in Westminster had been in any way clever at all, they would have bent over backwards to deliver far better Government for the people of Scotland – noticeably better Government—to such an extent that the notion of Independence would be of no interest to the average Scot.

The very fact that we are having a referendum at all shows that Westminster is or was failing and the fact that anything close to 50% of the available electorate would consider ditching Westminster altogether shows that this system has de facto failed – past tense!

Further, when it comes to banking and finance, it appears to me that whenever a new nation emerges the banks and the finance houses are keen to get in the door so as to be part of any opportunity that exists.

Who has ever heard of a country with oil and gas reserves, large hydroelectric capability, and various other resources where the banks and the money men have all stayed away and kept out of the road?

I go back to the McCrone report again which predicted that foreign investors would pile into Scotland with investment. If McCrone was wrong and that the world financiers would not pile into a Scotland with spectacular resources, why hide the report away?

No, for me, Westminster in all its forms has been asleep at the wheel when it comes to Scotland and its potential, and when it woke up all it could do was cry Boo and attempt to scare the living daylights out of anyone contemplating voting YES.

Westminster doesn’t work. It doesn’t work in any shape or form and it should be booted into touch by the Scottish Voters and if it wants it can reinvent itself – Parliament, city, institution in the reality that up the road there is a wee nation that at any given time will say “ Maybe’s Aye, Maybe’s Naw” in response to any situation rather than just sit there and be told what gives by the chaps in the South.

However, let me be very clear about something:

There is no point in voting yes and getting rid of the wastrels at Westminster if all you are going to do is replace it with a similar, smaller, just as useless model in Edinburgh.

That won’t do and if Scotland does become Independent then I am all for booting any YES politician in the arse who is not on their metal and who does not come up to scratch. The same goes when it comes to setting up any new or reformed institutions. Having empowered the people of Scotland, don’t think for a minute that we should go back into our boxes and return to political slumberland. Ordinary folk will want a say in a lot more things from now on and rightly so.

Further, in the event of YES I want to hear how the Labour party, The Conservative Party, The Lib Dems and anyone else would see the way forward for an Independent Scotland.

I would want to see and hear all parties do their utmost to implement the spirit of the Scotland Act which says that not only will the result be accepted but that all parties will do their best to maintain stability in the markets, in Government and in society – all with the view to making the transition to independence work.

A very different debate starts immediately the result is known no matter what the outcome of the vote. That is a discussion which will be every bit as intense as the referendum debate, but which should be geared towards creating a stable, economically stable, socially just and successful Scotland.

A very prosperous Scotland is very possible according to very many experts and commentators and my gut instinct based on listening, reading and researching says that it is achievable. Not only is it achievable and desirable for all the reasons I have set out above, but when I stop thinking like the lawyer, when I stop analysing, arguing and counter arguing and look at things a different way, it just feels right.

Do we have the ability to forge excellent individual, business and cultural relationships with the rest of the UK, Europe and beyond?

Yes we do!

Can we run our own business and forge partnerships with international traders and our fellow inhabitants of the British Isles?

Yes we can.

Do we have the resources, the knowledge, the guile, the savvy, the charm and the common sense to be able to attract investment, manage our business, create jobs, housing, capital projects, better infrastructure, research and development, greater creativity in the arts and so on?

Yes I believe we can.

Can we create a better society where wealth and opportunity here in Scotland is more readily abundant and available to all ages, classes, colours, creeds, backgrounds, areas, sexes and right throughout society? And can we be an inspiration and show that a different and more socially just system of Government is possible in the UK?

Yes we can!

Do I believe that the banks and the financiers will come into an Independent Scotland in droves?

Yes I do because that is what the capitalist marketeers have always done since time immemorial. They more than anyone else will rush to create and be involved in a stable financially successful Scotland because that is how they make money. They would have to be properly regulated of course.

A man from Kuwait said recently that oil exploitation had started in his country in 1951. Before that the country had been poor and the standard of living low. Once the oil was discovered, Kuwait was inundated with Americans, Russians, fellow Arabs, Europeans and most noticeably The British.

All these people brought their banks, diplomats, insurance companies, engineers, road builders, construction companies, hotels, airlines, telecommunications, news reporters and so on.

The man from Kuwait asked a question; “Do you think all these bastards came for the sand?”

Scotland has far more than just oil to attract the very same bastards into doing business directly with us as a nation while maintaining an excellent cultural, social and fiscal relationship with the remainder of the UK. And by the way a proper relationship with the rest of the UK and its people is a must. The Scottish electorate by voting yes can improve the governmental system of the rest of the UK.

So that is my view, my take, on why I will vote YES.

In my head I am a capitalist. I like business things. I enjoy business and it is essential that everything is done to ensure that Scotland is open for business right away.

In my heart, I am a socialist. I want a fairer society, a better society where money is not everything and regard for your fellow-man is paramount. Robert Burns’ a man’s a man is a basic mantra.

In my soul, I am an anarchist. If the system does not work – change the system. Boot it unceremoniously in the arse. Boot the politicos – all of them – who have let us down right in the gonads. Get rid of the system and don’t be afraid to change it and the people who run it for a new system and new people. Don’t accept the perceived wisdom of the establishment because their greatest interest is self-preservation. Challenge the norm and question the existing.

I see those three ideals as living in perfect harmony.

If the proper running of the business of the day ( capitalism ) does not result in the greater creation and sharing of wealth ( socialism ) then tear up the business plan and the system and start again ( anarchy ).

Feck me – sometimes I am deep and profound – other times I am just an arse!

And by the way the press needs a boot in the nuts too! The BBC should look at their licence fee take from Scotland and reassess the allocation of funds to Scottish Broadcasting.

If the licence fee were properly distributed and BBC Scotland were to receive its fair proportion of national income, then there is a great opportunity in the creative industries across Scotland who are completely ignored and underfunded by one and all.

Oh, and if you are wee Eck, Nicola or any other Yesser – if you win then you had better go out and get some of those padded cycle pants because eventually my cowboy boots will connect with your arses too!

Lastly – whoever wins, whoever loses – this is politics. It’s not personal and it’s not worth losing close friendships over nor being rude to anyone about.

Mind you, if you hold any position of power and influence after this referendum is over then I have a message for you:

If you don’t get off your arse and do something for the people of Clydebank, Dalmuir, Old Kilpatrick, Bowling and Dumbarton really quickly ….….. then I hope your legs fall off in the middle of the night and that your arse falls into a puddle of acid!

I leave you with my list of references below but first of all the fantastic and inspiring words of Mr David Hayman who stirs the soul with fiery speech — and i love a good fiery speech!

I have never joined a political party — I have always been —- Of Independent Mind!

Ordinary Miracles

This blog is my story about a life forever changed by chronic illness. I hope you'll laugh and cry with me as I try to make sense of it all. Oh, and nothing I say should ever be construed as offering medical or legal advice.

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