During my 30-plus years working for national newspapers in the UK, I heard more off-beat tales about sports celebrities than I care to remember—many of them first-hand from colleagues who were there at the time. Here are a few tasters from my blog at www.grumpyoldgran.com. I suspect one or two of the stories may be apocryphal, but who cares as long as they make people smile...
LATE NIGHT EXTRA: Legendary Liverpool manager Bill Shankly was fuming on the night several of his superstars arrived back at their Belgian hotel 45 minutes later than the boss. "Where do you lot think you've been?'', blazed Shanks as international quartet Ron Yeats, Ian St. John, Roger Hunt and Ian Callaghan returned from a drinking session well after the boss' midnight curfew. "That's it!'', he ranted at Yeats, St. John and Hunt. "You'll never play for Liverpool again—and you can forget about international football as well. You're finished!'' Then, turning to his blue-eyed boy Callaghan, he added: "And I'm going to tell your missus about you."
DON'T CRY FOR LEE: Manager Gordon Lee wanted a word with his Newcastle chairman Stan Seymour. He marched into the club chief's office, only to be told by a secretary, ''Mr. Seymour is not available. He's gone to see Evita.'' Lee retorted: ''I don't think so. He wouldn't go and watch a foreign player without telling me first.'' When Lee moved on to manage Everton, the Merseyside media soon discovered his geographical knowledge matched his familiarity with Andrew Lloyd Webber musicals. After a dismal showing in a home Cup Winners' Cup leg against Standard Liege, a defiant Gordon looked ahead to the return in Belgium and rapped: ''Just wait until we get them in Standard!''
EMMY AWARD: Hard man Tommy Smith had two pet hates in football: Leeds United's Allan Clarke and his own skipper at Liverpool, Emlyn Hughes. And not necessarily in that order. When Hughes clashed with Clarke in a goalmouth melee and old squeaky voice Emlyn found himself on the deck with blood pouring from his nose, Smithy showed himself in his true colours. "Maybe that Clarke's not such a bad bloke after all," muttered Tom the compassionate.
CROTCH OF THE DAY: With manager Jock Stein in hospital, Celtic No. 2 Sean Fallon was dealing with press inquiries at Parkhead. When one reporter phoned to inquire about an injury to Scotland fullback Danny McGrain, the Irishman Fallon admitted: ''I don't think he'll make Saturday's game. He's suffering from a Grain stroin.''
GENTLE-MAN JIM: It threatened to be a bloody battle. Spurs and Burnley had fought out a particularly vicious FA Cup stalemate—and the replay promised to be even more physical. The teams were kicking in before the game when Jimmy Greaves, who was never noted for his ball-winning ability, approached his equally timid-tackling opposite number Jimmy McIlroy. ''Hey Jim, why don't we mark each other?'', said goal-king Greavsie. ''Then neither of us will get hurt.''
TOM AND JURY: Tommy Docherty was always the first person to poke fun at himself, as with his version of the infamous court case in which he was accused of perjury—and acquitted. ''I admitted to the judge I'd lied on oath, but he didn't believe me,'' is one of the one-time Manchester United boss's classic quips. Tongue-in-cheek Tom is also particularly proud of his dubious achievement as manager of Rotherham United. ''I promised the chairman I'd get them out of the Second Division (now the Championship) and I did,'' he recalls. ''I took them into the Third.''
EIRE RAID WARNING: League of Ireland champions Shamrock Rovers were convinced they had the answer to mighty Honved of Hungary in the European Cup. The lads from Dublin trailed 2-0 from the away leg, but on the eve of the return, manager Jim McLaughlin unveiled an unique plan for beating the magnificent Magyars. ''We'll be concentrating on all-out attack...mixed with caution,'' he insisted. No prizes for guessing who won the tie 5-1 on aggregate.
BETTER BY CALF: England legend Nat Lofthouse reckoned he was frightened of his own Bolton teammates in his playing days. Well, two of them anyway. Fullbacks Roy Hartle and Tommy Banks had such a fearsome reputation that striker Lofthouse maintained: ''When they were playing behind me, I used to put shin guards on the back of my calves.''
THE BALD TRUTH: Rival Midlands bosses Ron Atkinson and Jim Smith decided to travel together to a dinner they were both attending. Their teams had been having mixed fortunes, with Atkinson's West Brom near the top of the old First Division (the Premier League's predecessor) and Smith's Birmingham seemingly heading for relegation. They pulled their vehicle into a multi-storey car park near the function venue, left it on the top deck, and got into the lift. Big Ron turned to the Bald Eagle and quipped: ''You'd better press the button because it's you who's going down.''
NO WAY TO TREAT A LADY: Peter Withe's whip-round was apparently for the driver taking the Aston Villa players to their pre-season friendly in Dusseldorf. But the man behind the steering wheel didn't get a pfennig. Withe invested the money in an inflatable rubber sex doll, which was duly named Doris and went on to become part of Villa folklore. The obliging lady was adorned with the number 12 on her back, and the name of newlywed Colin Gibson's wife across her torso. She was then left in a suitably compromising position in Gibson's room at the team hotel. Gibbo was not amused—and poor Doris proved no match for him or the pair of scissors with which he cut her to shreds.
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