As the previous batch went down so well, here are some more of my soccer anecdotes, accumulated over many years as a UK tabloid journalist. Several of these date back to the '50s and '60s and will appeal particularly to Golden Oldies like myself! The Nat Lofthouse tales were recounted personally by the former England centre-forward, who sadly passed away at the weekend.
RIPPING YARN: England full-back Kevin Beattie was so accident prone that Ipswich manager Bobby Robson would delegate a team-mate as his ‘minder’ when the Tractor Boys played overseas. Poor Beattie even managed to set fire to himself on one occasion, but in football terms, arguably his greatest asset was his incredible speed off the mark. So much so that one year Robson had him entered in the world-famous Powderhall professional sprints in Edinburgh. Beattie duly arrived at Meadowbank Stadium with Ipswich coach Cyril Lea and, as an unknown quantity in Scotland, was made a rank outsider by the local bookies.
Impressed by the odds, Robson asked Lea to lay a sizable bet on his behalf—and Beattie repaid his boss by easily winning his heat. As the finalists prepared for the big showdown, Lea discovered that Beattie’s best time was every bit as good as any of his rivals. So on went a succession of new bets on behalf of Robson and the Ipswich staff. When the starting pistol rang out, Beattie hared off into the lead and was steaming towards victory when suddenly clutched his groin and slowed down to finish fourth.
"What happened?’’ demanded Lea after running over to investigate his racing cert’s private grief. Still clutching his most prized possessions, the acutely-embarrassed Beattie wailed: ‘’My f***ing shorts split—and I’ve got nothing underneath.’’
ALL SYSTEMS TOE: Liverpool manager Bill Shankly got the message from his Anfield No.2 Bob Paisley. ‘‘Adidas are on the phone,’’ Paisley informed the great man. ‘‘They want to know if you’ll accept one of their Golden Boots for services to football.’’ Shanks replied with his inimitable Scottish growl: ‘‘Aye. Tell them I take a size 15.’’
WING AND A STING: The reputation of Bolton hard man Tommy Banks preceded him when he finally made the England team - and manager Walter Winterbottom knew exactly where the daunting defender’s biggest strength lay. ‘’This outside right of there is very good, Tom’’ warned posh-speaking Winterbottom. ‘’He’s good on the outside, great on the inside and he’s excellent in the air. What I would like, Tom…is for you to make contact as early as possible.’’
IT’S A FINNEY OLD GAME: Tommy Docherty’s pay packet of £eight a week when he joined Preston North End was £6 less than that of his illustrious teammate Tom Finney - and he wanted to know why. ‘’It’s because Finney is a better player than you,’’said manager Will Scott, pointing to the England winger’s status as one of the world’s top wide men. "Not in the summer he isn’t,’’ retorted the cheeky Scot.
SWING, LOFTY: Big Willie Woodburn was such a fearsome figure that Nat Lofthouse was convinced the Scotland centre-half could not possibly be as tough as he looked. So the first time the ball skidded across the Scots' penalty area, the England striker decided to put the tartan ogre to the test. Bolton bruiser Lofthouse smashed into his 6ft 3in, 14-and-a-half stone marker from behind and Woodburn crashed to the ground. Lofthouse turned casually away, grinning to himself. Suddenly he found himself two feet in the air, his shirt collar trapped in a vice-like grip.
"Do that again and I’ll KILL you,’’ growled big Willie as Lofty dangled helplessly at the end of his arm. As his jersey tightened agonisingly round his neck, Nat decided that discretion was the better part of valour. "Of course, Mr Woodburn,’’ he yelped. ’’But please let me go….sir.’’
HEADS YOU GRIN: The legendary Stanley Matthews was a unique footballer. He didn’t smoke, drank only carrot juice and never swore. As for the wing wizard’s talents on a football field, Nat Lofthouse reckons Matthews assured him before their first international together: ‘’Don’t worry about heading the ball. I’ll make sure I always cross it lace away so it doesn’t hurt.’’
RED-HIT CARD: Graeme Souness’s jet-setting lifestyle during his time as Liverpool captain did not impress Bob Paisley. Said cardigan-and-slippers Bob after a rare defeat at Aston Villa: ‘‘Our skipper is so flash that I wouldn’t be a bit surprised if he tosses up with an American Express card.’’
ALIEN SIGNING: The reporter was taken aback at Everton boss Gordon Lee’s revelation that he had just signed striker Imre Varadi from Sheffield United. ‘’That’s an unusual name, isn’t it?’’ enquired the puzzled journo. ‘’I’ll say it is,’’ replied the anything-but-intellectual Lee. ‘’I believe he’s one of them Uranians.’’ (Varadi was actually an Englishman of Hungarian extraction).