SUNDERLAND ‘TIL HE DIES in conversation with football agent & former Sunderland A.F.C footballer, Martin Smith (part 2/2).

It’s a big mix of Sunderland fans here in South Shields (we’re talking in the Littlehaven Hotel) there is the Shields branch and the Jarrow branch. I lived in Spennymoor which at one time was all Sunderland then the Keegan era changed that, same for a few Durham pit villages.

They were so entertaining they became everybody’s second team, for a Sunderland fan that was horrible. Although the way things are now with Brucie at Newcastle, sounds like a few Mags might want to come over to our side (laughs).

A message for the Mag’s. Celebrating scoring at St James’ Park (home of Newcastle United) for Sheffield United.

Wherever I’ve been I’ve enjoyed my time, and always got players player of the year that sort of thing. My record for goalscoring was 1 in 4 and scoring a goal is one thing you cannot replace.

I scored at St James’ playing in the FA Cup for Sheffield United, we were a Championship club then. It was right in front of the Gallowgate to make it 1-1. I bent it past Harper and went off to dance around the corner flag. I lost my head, for 15 minutes after that I was on a different planet.

It doesn’t look like the best goal I scored, but it meant a lot to me. It was special. In the end we got beat 4-1. I wasn’t bothered. I had a few songs from the fans in my career ‘Martin Smith, Martin Smith, running down the wing’ and ‘Loved by the lads, feared by the Mags’ (laughs).

I was playing for England under 21’s at Newcastle and got booed every time I touched the ball. People asked if I was upset ‘No I wouldn’t want the Mags cheering for me’ (laughs).

When I was at Northampton we were playing against Mansfield and I scored putting us 3-0 up. Job done. One of our players came up to congratulate me, he seemed to be more excited than usual and I didn’t know why, ‘It’s your hundredth goal’ he shouted. He was the statto of the team – every club’s got one.

I think I played in all, 400 odd games with over 100 goals. With the injuries I’ve done well to notch that many games. The Premier League is so demanding now, have an off day and you get found out – back then I could hide on the wing for 10 minutes and get my breath back.

You look at tactics now and the lengths they go to suss out a team’s weakness, they analyse everything. Back in our day somebody would go to scout the opposition and come back with a few notes and then go through it on a Friday.

A lot of 18 year old players I know have no doubt got the ability, but it’s what they have up there that counts (points to head). Can they handle bitter rejection, what about people having a go at you, you’re not going to be the best when at previous teams you’ve always been the best, can you handle fans telling you that you’re rubbish ? Suddenly it becomes a different game.

A big difference now is the intrusion into your life. When I was playing you only had a letter in the Sports Weekly newspaper that was having a go at you, or someone shouting at you in the pub, but now it’s all over social media, and it can be constant.

Remarks from the crowd from week to week are you’re either great or rubbish, maybe the amount of money the players are getting paid is something to do with that.

Stuart Ripley (Blackburn & Middlesbrough)

A former pro told me that Stuart Ripley who used to play here in the North East for Middlesbrough, during one game when he was playing for Blackburn he was getting a hard time from the fans. There was one guy in the crowd shouting at him ‘Ripley you’re absolutely f***ing useless’.

But Stu was sitting on the subs bench with his head in his hands thinking ‘I’m getting stick and I’m not even on the pitch’.

Footballers now are so different, they are athletes. I was at Northampton later in my career when we were playing Southampton in the cup. Both teams were lined up in the tunnel, I looked around and seen every player towering above me. 6 ‘2 players going to run over the top of you.

I think it was Brendan Rodgers (Leicester manager) that said don’t class yourself as a professional footballer until you’ve played 50 games. Today you see young players with their shiny cars in the carpark, my first game as a pro I only had a Ford Escort.

Sadly, I ended up with 13 operations during my career. I done most injuries like hamstrings and calves, the longest time I missed was a full season. But my main problem wasn’t something you could see like a broken leg, it was a degenerative cartilage in my knee.

You’d have the operation then three month rehab, come back kick a ball and it would go again. This went on for 15 month and the physio’s started to question what was happening.

Martin playing for Northampton.

It all started when I was at Huddersfield, then I went to Northampton, eventually the last one happened at Darlington and I didn’t come back from that. 

I remember we were playing Macclesfield, something just didn’t feel right. I tackled and my knee blew up, I knew I was finished. I retired in 2008. I eventually went back to light training and playing in the Northern league.

Martin had a spell at Blyth Spartans in 2008.

I tried a couple of other things but I had to come back to football, it’s all I know. Now I work for a football agency, Quantum Sports, I do a bit of scouting and some radio commentary for Northampton when they play in the north which I love.

In the agency I like working with the younger lads and try to help them make the right decisions. I talk to managers and try to get the lads signed. I like being involved, seeing players develop and I offer them advice and tell them the mistakes I made.

Actually there is more chances out there for young English lads to come through because of Brexit, I know a lot of foreign lads can’t come in to the country unless they meet a certain criteria.

Scotland and Northern Ireland used to be countries for good players but stopped coming through for many years because there was maybe a Romanian or Slovak player in front of them, but now they are starting to come through again.

I mentioned the camaraderie and togetherness that football gave us as players and even now we keep in touch. We have an ex-players club where four or five times a year we get together and play golf against different clubs around the North East. The FA Cup ’73 lads still get out and a few of us younger lads play – well we’re nearly 50 now (laughs).

I don’t think there is a day goes by when I don’t think about football, wishing I was going into training or playing. I’ve got a 7 a side game tonight, just can’t give it up. For the rest of my life I’d like to stay in football in some capacity – well that’s the plan.

Interview by Gary Alikivi   August 2021

GIBBO’S CHOICE – in conversation with award winning sports journalist & author, John ‘Gibbo’ Gibson (2/2)

AC/DC’s Brian Johnson (in cap), and the Chronicle’s John Gibson (on right) at the Kevin Keegan Roadshow at Heaton RAOB Club, Newcastle, February 1983. (pic Newcastle Chronicle)

Part two of the interview with top North East sports journalist John Gibson.

Have the North East had its fair share of talent ?

I may be biased as a proud Geordie but right across the spectrum the North East has produced quality. Whether it’s the footballers we’ve talked about or the sportsman Steve Cram or Brendan Foster who’ve done so much in athletics, cricketers Steve Harmison from Ashington, Paul Collingwood from Shotley Bridge, they played wonderful for Durham and England, or showbiz and music which I’ve always loved.

Brian Johnson became a very good friend of mine mainly through his love of Newcastle United. I knew him when he was in the band Geordie before he hit mega success with AC/DC.

I remember Supermac and I going to a launch with Brian for one of Geordies records but the superstar that day was Malcolm MacDonald because he was centre forward of Newcastle United and England. Brian was a hopeful young singer trying to make his way with Geordie in the music biz.

One night I done a talk show in Heaton Buffs, these gigs were a chat show on stage and I played the Michael Parkinson role talking to various people, still do some today. Anyway I was on stage with Kevin Keegan and it got to the interval and I was backstage when suddenly Brian Johnson pops his head in for a chat. He had paid £10 to get in to see me and Kevin perform on stage when he’s just been playing to 100,000 kids in Brazil with AC/DC.

Brian Johnson (AC/DC) & Kevin Keegan. (pic .Newcastle Chronicle)

LOCAL HERO

I used to come across Chas Chandler from The Animals, I knew his wife Madelaine who was a Miss Great Britain. Mark Knopfler when he was a lad used to run copy for us at the Chronicle for a time.

A close friend of mine is Ian La Frenais who wrote The Likely Lads, Auf Wiedersehen and a load of others, he introduced me to Jimmy Nail. When Newcastle played in the European Fairs cup Ian used to fly in to what city we were playing, stay in a hotel with me and watch the game. He put on the post-match reception for the 1974 FA Cup Final in London.

Jimmy Nail started off as a chanter, a good one at that, his band played in Newcastle. Ian La Frenais told me they were doing the auditions for their new TV show Auf Wiedersehen Pet and what they wanted was unknowns, not famous actors because sometimes you can start watching the person not the story.

He said they were sitting in auditions and looking for someone to play Oz when the door bursts open ‘Is this where they are daein’ all that for Auf Wiedersehen like?’ Ian said he turned round to his writing partner Dick Clement ‘I hope the bastard can act, because that’s Oz’. And yeah, it was Jimmy Nail.

Jerry Lee Lewis (pic. Newcastle Chronicle).

GREAT BALLS OF FIRE

The only World Champion boxer from Tyneside is Glenn McCrory, again a very good friend. He had read in an autobiography that Jerry Lee Lewis at the height of his rock n roll fame, had said one of his best concerts was at Newcastle City Hall where the audience went crazy for him. We thought why not try to get him back over to the City Hall ?

So we contacted a few people in Memphis and reminded him of the story in his autobiography and asked why not come over ? Unbelievably he agreed to it. At the time Glenn was Sky TV’s boxing man so we got outside broadcaster’s from Sky to cover the concert.

When he came over we put him up in the Copthorne Hotel, he was like Howard Hughes, he never came out for three days. He had one armed bandits and gambling games transported to his bedroom so he could play the machines all day. The only time he came out was the day of the concert.

Mind he had a very strong voice for an old man, he was still magnificent although never spoke between songs. But his set was just under an hour, he walked off at the end and never came back for an encore. We had to put the supporting band back on again.

It was one of the great moments of my career because I was brought up listening to Jerry Lee Lewis, Little Richard – I was a rocker. People came dressed up like rockers bopping in the aisles.

Do you know the cockneys Chas n Dave ? They came up on their own accord from London, stayed in a hotel overnight and paid to see Jerry Lee Lewis. I was backstage and yeah it was unbelievable.

I used to get all my records from Windows in Newcastle where you go into little booths and listen to them first. Great, great days. I’ve lived a varied life not just covering Newcastle United of which I’m really grateful, and by God I am, but always wanted to push the boundaries a bit further. Just testing myself to do things within my scope.

READ ALL ABOUT IT

As a newspaperman and writer, I was determined to be an author and I’ve wrote 16 sports books up to now, so just about got the hang of it. It’s different from writing for newspapers because there you learn to condense the story down to so many words where books can be 60,000 words.

I made a few TV documentaries with Glenn, one about boxer Sonny Liston and Mike Tyson in ‘The Meanest Man on the Planet’. We flew out to Las Vegas where Liston died, the other documentary was about Hughie Gallacher the Newcastle United forward who tragically committed suicide.

GATESHEAD

Then one day I thought as a journalist you’ve been telling Newcastle United how to run their club every day for years, how about trying to run one yourself – which is why I bought Gateshead and owned it outright for 11 years. Cameron Hall, owned by Sir John Hall who built the Metro Centre, helped me with sponsorship at Gateshead.

Thing is you become a better writer because you’ve seen that side of the game and you understand it. It was an eye opener and it had it’s wonderful moments, we got in Newcastle United goalie Steve Harper on a months loan, he went back to Newcastle and played in the Cup Final in the ‘90s.

BOARD GAMES

The Magpie Group put Sir John Hall in the Newcastle United boardroom by ousting the old board, I was part of that which heralded Kevin Keegan, the entertainers and buying Les Ferdinand, Ginola and everybody right up to Shearer. I feel very privileged to be part of that Magpie Group.

We had two sections – one who had the necessary financial clout, the other was honest fans willing to work for the cause and do the leg work buying shares. My main job was publicity, getting the message out to fans.

I always remember the moment we took over and it dawned we were going to get in after two years of furious fighting. After all the threats I’d received when they thought we would lose, and I wouldn’t be allowed in St James’ Park again – then the sudden realisation of what if it all goes tits up ?

We fought for two years, the fans thrilled to bits, but only one thing matters – you’ve got to be successful. And what if we’re not, what if we fall flat on our face. The backlash will be horrendous.

John Gibson, with Glenn McCrory and Malcolm MacDonald, at the signing of the Gibbo Files at Waterstones in Newcastle. (pic Newcastle Chronicle)

THE KK EFFECT

Luckily we brought in Keegan. He set the city alive. He was like the pied piper, best PR man I’ve ever known. We went from being one game away from the old third division to be second top of the Premier league.

I done a few talk shows with Keegan as part of the Scottish and Newcastle breweries deal that brought him here the first time as a player. Within 24 hours of it being advertised he sold out every pub. We would come off stage at 11 o’clock and not get away till 12.30.

He sat on the edge of the stage and told the crowd to form a line, he had a picture and signed an autograph for every one of them. Some nights I would say ‘C’mon Kevin can we not get away a bit early’? But no, he was there all night until the last one got his picture.

YOUNG AT HEART

People say to me why don’t you retire ? But what will I do, play golf and pay for a season ticket at Newcastle ? The Chronicle pay me to sit and write about them. As long as my brain stays sharp I’ll keep going.

I still do the shows on stage, got one coming up with McCrory, there’s a big golf day down at Ramside Hall in Durham, there’s a Steve Wraith Legends night at the Tyne Theatre in Newcastle, there’s regular podcast shows with Supermac. I’ll keep doing it because an agile mind keeps you young – and I love what I do.

When I was covering Newcastle United and going out to nightclubs with footballers like Supermac and Irving Nattrass they would say ‘Gibbo, I bet you wish you were a player – the fame, the money, the birds’. ‘No’ I said. ‘I’ll tell you why. At 35 you’ll be finished and looking for a job. I’ll still be writing and covering Newcastle United until I retire’.

I’ve felt privileged to write because it’s the only thing I can do. To be brutally honest I’m hopeless at everything else. I’m a lucky, lucky man.

You can read more stories in the 16 books that John has authored. These are a select few titles:

The Newcastle United Story 1985.

Spirit of Tyneside 1990

Kevin Keegan, Portrait Of A Superstar 1984

North East Hundred Heroes 1993

Newcastle United Greats 1989

Newcastle United’s Perfect Ten 2007

Gibbo Files 2014

Interview by Gary Alikivi  July 2021.

GIBBO’S CHOICE – in conversation with award winning sports journalist & author, John Gibson (1/2)

Top North East journalist John Gibson greets me with a ‘Hello kidda how yer daein’ and we’re immediately at ease. Sports stories come later, but first, who is John Gibson ?

During the war I was born in Benwell in the west end of Newcastle and brought up mainly by my Grandmother and Grandfather. We lived in a flat with green mould on the walls and an outside netty. People said you were poor but we were happy and no one else around where we lived was rich, we were all the same in Benwell.

When I was a kid everybody wanted to play for Newcastle United. I for some unknown reason wanted to write about them. I’ve still got scrapbooks from when I was 4 or 5, I would stick in pictures of players and write in pencil a little story underneath about them. My daughter has them now.

YOUNG MAGPIE

Aunty Grace was the only one in the family who had a postage stamp sized black and white television and we all gathered around to watch Newcastle United in the cup finals of ’51, ’52 and ’55. My Grandmother, who used to make clippie mat‘s, made me a black and white rosette. They won the cup three times in five years. I thought this is wonderful.

When I was a schoolboy my uncle Frank used to take me to St James’ Park. I used to be transfixed by the player Bobby Mitchell, and funnily later in life got to know him well when I was covering non-league football at Gateshead and he was manager there.

When Newcastle were playing away I used to walk from Benwell down over the Redheugh bridge to Gateshead and watch them play in the old third division North. Wonderful thing was I ended up later owning Gateshead football club for 11 years.

HAVE YOU HEARD THE NEWS ?

Nobody in my family was a writer or in sport so not sure where it came from, but I always knew I wanted to be a sports journalist. When I was at school I wrote to every paper in the North East asking for a job. One paper offered me a job and that was the Hexham Courant.

When you start you cover everything. I used to stand outside church and take the name of every mourner at a funeral. I went to Haltwhistle and Hexham for court cases and on Saturday the local football matches. The first was Hexham GPO winning 5-3, I had all week to write my report because it was a weekly paper.

My mum framed that report and put it on her cabinet, when I covered Newcastle United versus Ujpest Dozsa in a European final that replaced the Hexham GPO cutting.

I first got the Chronicle job in 1966 when I came back from London. I was in Fleet Street because I thought that was where you needed to be as a writer, all the glamour you know. But I was offered a job following Newcastle United and writing about the love of my life, I couldn’t resist coming back. 

When they rang me up offering the job it was great, but I asked for a bit more – as they say shy bairns get nowt. I said I’ll only come if you let me cover the World Cup finals and the Olympic games as well as Newcastle. I still would have walked back if they said no, but unbelievably they said yes.

The first job was the Cup games in the North East, North Korea at Middlesbrough beating Italy which was sensational. When the group stage was over I hooked my wagon to England. So within months of coming back to the Chronicle I saw England winning the World Cup, and within three year I saw Newcastle winning the European Fairs Cup.

I thought this is wonderful I’m going to be knee deep in success all my life. But really it’s easy to remember the dates cos they very rarely win anything.

BLACK & WHITE ARMY

I wrote about Joe Harvey and Jackie Milburn because the ‘50s was the great time, thing was I went on to be personal friends with them when working for the Chronicle. When I first covered Newcastle United Joe Harvey was manager.

I wrote five or six books with Jackie Milburn, we worked together in the press box and went to the Fairs cup final in 1969 together. He became a dear friend of mine and when he passed away with cancer I spoke at a commemorative service for him in his hometown Ashington. It was a very emotional time.

Today players are less approachable you only see them at press conferences. Malcolm MacDonald who played during the ‘70s, I was best man at his wedding to Carol who used to be married to Brian Johnson, singer of AC/DC. They married in Jesmond Dene. Irving Nattrass and Bob Moncur were Godparents to two of my daughters. Mick Mahoney was a good mate when he lived near me in Whickham.

We met up in Los Angeles, USA during the World Cup, Mick slept on my hotel floor when I was there reporting on the final in LA. When he left Newcastle he played in America and stayed there and got a job driving trucks. He lives back in the UK now.

Johnny Rep, (Bastia & Holland).

We talked about great players we’ve seen who’ve graced St James’ Park. Footballers who glide across the pitch and never seem to break sweat. Trevor Brooking for West Ham, Bayern Munich’s Michael Ballack and when Newcastle played French team Bastia – Johnny Rep. Even on a rainy night in November ’77 the Leazes End applauded his magic.

Newcastle had beaten Bohemians from Ireland in the first round. I was out there and the Dublin club were wonderful people but then we faced Bastia. Before the game United’s midfielder Tommy Craig said to me ‘Johnny Rep, what a reputation, he’s the biggest non-entity I’ve ever seen’. I said can I quote you on that ? Yeah, yeah, no problem.

Johnny Rep was sensational that night. He ripped us from pillar to post and at the end of the game I went over to Tommy who said ‘Don’t say anything, I know what you’re going to say’. Not long after, manager Dicky Dinnis got the sack.

Sometimes when you are beaten by better players, and teams, I can stand that, you can hold your hands up and say ok, that’s alright. It’s when you’re beaten by poor sides like Hereford in the FA Cup – that’s hard to take.

Have you been on duty when a world shattering event has taken place ?

I was actually part of it when I was covering the Munich Olympics in ’72. One day I was sitting reporting on the track events, then next I hear Black September, the Palestinian terrorist group, had broken in to the Olympic village where we were staying and were holding some Israeli athletes hostage.

I’m there doing a normal sports gig, albeit at the highest level, then suddenly for 48 hours it’s like being a war correspondent. The games had stopped, we were reporting on hostages being held, you could hear the gun fire.

Mark Spitz was an American swimmer, he was winning everything in world record time. Spitz who was Jewish, was frightened, he held a press conference to say he was flying back to the States. At the conference he was sat down and surrounded by armed guards – you couldn’t see him, just hear his voice.

Hostages were taken to the airport and stupidly me and a few other reporters gave chase in a taxi. It was daft because this was the dead of night and what we thought we might see goodness knows.

Unbeknown to us the airfield was full of German snipers lying in wait. We heard the guns and explosion happening and our taxi driver put on the anchors, shouted an expletive and took to his toes leaving us in the taxi with the door wide open.

We were traumatised going through all this, next day it was announced the games would go on and I thought it was the wrong decision. They had taken us into the Israeli compound and you could see the blood spattered walls and bullet holes.

The games did go on and with hindsight it was the right decision because if you give in to terrorists and close the games down that’s what they want. So you cannot give in.

I remember sitting at the closing ceremony and everybody was terrified because they put out the lights then other lights were flashing around for dramatic effect but everybody’s in the dark looking around thinking where’s the next shot coming from.

It was a huge event, like a 9/11. Without a shadow of doubt, one of the worst and most frightening I’ve covered. You didn’t know what the outcome was going to be. It was a big stand off for 48 hours. The whole world stopped and watched what was happening in Munich.

There was a time the I.R.A were going to shoot George Best if he played for Manchester United at Newcastle. They got the word through to the team at the Gateshead Hotel where they were staying. The police went on the coach when they were driving into St James’ Park, Besty was lying on the floor. Again you can’t give in and call the match off.

At a few talk show events that I’ve done with George he talked about that time and said ‘If I don’t play they win. In that hour and a half I was running everywhere on the pitch’ (laughs).

But seriously they had snipers on top of the stands at St James’. Unbelievable courage from the kid. Man United won the game 1-0. And who scored the goal ? Yep, George Best.

John Gibson, with Glenn McCrory (features in next post) and Malcolm McDonald, at the signing of the Gibbo Files at Waterstones in Newcastle. (pic Newcastle Chronicle)

IRISH EYES

Talking about Ireland, George Best was a Belfast lad from the North and in the Republic you had the Geordie connection with Big Jack Charlton managing the football team and taking them to considerable success at the World Cup in America ’94.

I have some wonderful memories from the ‘90s and Newcastle have had some great nights like the Barcelona game beating them 3-2 with the Asprilla hat trick. I’m fortunate enough because I’m old enough, to have seen them win the European Fairs cup in 1969. Now I’ve done 55 consecutive years covering United which is a unique record and I’m proud of it.

Has the North East had its fair share of talent ?

I may be biased as a proud Geordie but right across the spectrum the North East has produced quality. Whether it’s the footballers we’ve talked about or the sportsman Steve Cram or Brendan Foster who’ve done so much in athletics, cricketers Steve Harmison from Ashington, Paul Collingwood from Shotley Bridge, they played wonderful for Durham and England, or showbiz and music which I’ve always loved.

That leads us into the next post where Gibbo talks about Brian Johnson, Jerry Lee Lewis, Malcolm MacDonald, Kevin Keegan, Jimmy Nail & Ian La Frenais.

You can read more stories in the 16 books that John has authored. These are a select few titles:

The Newcastle United Story 1985.

Spirit of Tyneside 1990

Kevin Keegan, Portrait Of A Superstar 1984

North East Hundred Heroes 1993

Newcastle United Greats 1989

Newcastle United’s Perfect Ten 2007

Gibbo Files 2014

Interview by Gary Alikivi  July 2021.

WAVIS O’SHAVE THE SOCCER LEGEND ? NOT QUITE.

It’s hard to get away from football as the end of season covid infected games have been pumped out every night on the telly. Newcastle United finish mid table after another season of zero ambition under owner Mike Ashley. Times up Mike.

He needs to delete any connection with the football team, hopefully, new owners are waiting in the wings.

Last week I received an email from Wavis O’Shave who remembered better times for the club. Back in the ’80s Wavis released singles, an album and appeared on live music show The Tube, but before that he was a regular at St James’ Park, home of Newcastle United…

I used to go to all their home games and I remember at the start of one season about 50 Wolves skinhead supporters made their way around the ground to try and get in the Leazes End where they would have got eaten.

At one game I asked a bloke to zip me up inside my anorak so that my arms were inside. When the game ended I couldn’t move and got carried all over the place by the packed crowd as they made their way out. All good fun.

The first game I went to was the start of the ’68 season where Newcastle beat Man City 1-0 with an early Pop Robson penalty. I’d been deciding whether to support Newcastle or Man United but as Man U lost their opening game 4-1 at home to Southampton that same afternoon, I chose Newcastle. Big mistake!

I wasn’t a great football player but I could play football great, I had been invited to a trial for Newcastle on August 23rd 1973 at their Hunters Moor training ground, as a right winger – not the political type.

Strangely, I wasn’t playing any footy that summer and every week kept saying that I’d better start to get in shape for the big day. I went down to The Dragon playing fields near the South Shields beach to have a bit of a kick about. I wasn’t in great shape!

Day of the 23rd and I’m off to Hunters Moor which I thought was nearer to St James’ than it was, so I had to run like hell on the extremely hot day to get there in time for 1.30pm. I was knackered – great preparation, eh? Then it all went surreal.

I was to play on the right wing but when they called out my name I was down for left back – defence instead of attack and wrong footed! They threw me some shin pads and wouldn’t let me play if I didn’t wear them. I’d chose never to wear pads in my life so I found myself having to stop every 10 yards to readjust them as they kept whizzing to the back of my legs.

According to some mates who came to watch and give me moral support I played a good shift with some crunching tackles. The club said they’d let you know and it was months later I got an expected thanks, but no thanks.

Now, either the buggers made a grave error in playing me out of position or fate stepped in to ensure they never have a soccer legend. Either way, they’ve won nowt since and I don’t think they ever will.

Malcolm ‘Supermac’ McDonald.

When VIZ Comic had their 20th Anniversary bash I was invited but of course didn’t go. There were a few celebs there including my footy hero Malcolm Supermac Macdonald. I’d gave my ticket to a friend who went in my place, and when he was having a piss in the bogs next to Supermac he said to him ‘So you know, Wavis?’

If they hadn’t played me left back maybe I would have played with him!

I followed the Mags until I deleted all interest in them some years back when they lost to Sunderland five times on the trot. Unacceptable behaviour so I was out!

I can’t take footy serious now it’s not a sport anymore, just stocks and shares, and you can’t take the thing serious when players earn 100k a week and behave like girls blouse pop stars. They should get themselves a decent job.

Links to previous interviews with Wavis O’Shave:

https://garyalikivi.com/2017/06/06/felt-nowt-the-world-according-to-wavis-oshave/

https://garyalikivi.com/2017/09/05/method-in-the-madness-interview-with-wavis-oshave/

 Gary Alikivi  July 2020.

 

SANTAS BAG O’ SWAG

If yer lookin’ for a Chrissy present to buy why not take a butchers at these goodies that have appeared on the blog this year. 2019 has seen nearly 100 interviews posted mostly musicians and also featured authors, artists, poets and TV presenters….

Gary James from The Tube, spills the beans on the ground breaking ‘80s TV music show in his autobiography ‘Spangles, Glam, Gaywaves & Tubes’…. ‘It’s a fabulous main present for ‘70s & ‘80s music and fashion fans you love, or a stocking filler for those you don’t. All for a paltry £12.99 (or cheaper if you can be arsed to shop around). Some bad language (he says ‘sod’ in it)’.

Contact  http://www.bookguild.co.uk

Lowfeye are musician/producer Alan Rowland and song writer Carol Nichol…’Some songs on our album POW can be political or critical of society. I find the mainstream music scene along with TV celebrities really awful. It’s bland, it’s beige, it’s plastic and unfortunately we are spoon fed this crap by radio and TV’.

Contact Carol via Facebook and get yer copy at only £5 from paypal.me/lowfeye

The Fauves punk band formed in South Shields in 1978 and got back together 2016, bassist Bri Smith…I’ve got the perfect stocking filler for xmas for all you punks out there – The Fauves latest cd album ‘Back off World’. Most of the songs were written between 1978-81. There is a couple of new tracks and we think it has come out really well. Have a wonderful xmas you won’t be disappointed’.

Get yer copy from Goldies opposite South Shields Town Hall or contact The Fauves on their official website  thefauves.wordpress.com

The Attention Seekers have a regional feel about some of their songs which gain’s regular play on local radio and at St James’ Park. Guitarist, Alan Fish…If you’re looking for a chilled Xmas why not relax to the sounds of the latest CD from The Attention Seekers ‘A Song for Tomorrow’. Or if you’re looking for something more action-packed why not start Xmas Day singing along with ‘The Fans’ version of ‘The Blaydon Races’. Physical copy of ‘A Song for Tomorrow’ available from  

http://www.the-attention-seekers.co.uk/shop.html 

or download from the iTunes store.

‘The Blaydon Races’ at https://open.spotify.com/album/6RdXvJhnJxwgPubsFU0cvz 

Gary Alikivi  December 2019.

HOWAY THE LADS in conversation with North East songwriter Alan Fish

In 2016 representatives from Newcastle United were looking to recreate a new version of The Blaydon Races that would capture the fan’s imagination. Rob Byron the announcer at St James’ Park had been playing some pre – match tracks by The Attention Seekers, so got in touch with the songwriter Alan Fish….

The version of Blaydon Races that they’d been playing for the past 20 years had originally been copied from vinyl so the quality wasn’t great. Rob asked if I was interested in coming up with a new version. The biggest challenge was every version I heard was a jolly, lightweight novelty song and sitting playing it on guitar or piano just added to that, The song didn’t have any of the dynamics that fans give it!

With Rob Byron St. James'

Alan (left) with match announcer at St James’ Park, Rob Byron.

What was your initial idea about recording a new version of the song ? At the games we attended during the research phase of the project it was evident that the fans rarely sing the song, so what I wanted was to reach back to the nostalgia of how I heard it back when I first started going to the matches and try to create a fan’s version.

I’m thinking back to 1968 in the Leazes End covered stand where it sounded really powerful and loud like through a loudspeaker. You would get to the match early to get your place and sing with all the other fans, it was a real communal thing and helped pass the time before kick-off. Now people can walk in 5 minutes before because they know they have their seat.

How did you put your idea into practice ? I had a chat with representatives of the club and they wanted a single voice to create a sense of unity and pride, Rob added that the fans only sing one verse, I thought this is going to be short then (laughs).

But it was one of those 4am thoughts when I got the idea how I was going to put it together, not have one voice but 50,000 voices as one. That’s where the challenge was, to make it sound like that.

I contacted sports radio stations to see if any audio of the fans singing the song without being contaminated by the match commentary existed. One person got back to me, Chris Watson used to be in a Sheffield electronica band called Cabaret Voltaire, now he’s a top sound engineer who has worked with everyone including Sir David Attenborough. With him living up here now, he had taken sound gear into the ground and got loads of recordings. I bought quite a bit of audio off him. Chris is also a big NUFC fan!

I also set up an evening where members of fan clubs Wor Hyem 1982 and Gallowgate Flags came to a pub and we recorded them singing The Blaydon Races. Then back in the studio, to build the track we mixed in the audio from Chris Watson’s ‘Toon Army’ chants, referee whistles, cheers, goals, crowd reactions….. in place of conventional instrumentation. We then added Stu’s tribal drumming.

All of this was to stay away from the jolly, comedy feel. However listening back it still didn’t sound how I wanted, so we then asked for full access to the Stadium and pitch side areas in order to pump the track through the St James’ sound system, then re-record the mixes of the fans singing, from different areas of the stadium. RESULT! Sounded great!

Originally the club wanted Jason Isaacs to sing it, he’s like the Michael Buble of the North (laughs). We met up and got on well and agreed we needed someone to lead the song, but this was going to be a fan’s version not a celebrity version so I asked him not to sing it but be ‘five pints in’ belting it out (laughs).

He loved the idea ‘I go to the match and sing along so it’s no problem’. He done a brilliant job and belted it out like a fan – five pints in!

How do you feel about the song now ? It’s still being played at St James’ and I see it as an ongoing project which I can add to. Using photos and visuals of matches from past to present is an idea I’ve been looking at, and how The Blaydon Races has been sung at matches over the years.

I would love to have recordings of The Blaydon Races from the 50’s, 60’s, 70s…. to mix in to the track and create an audio/visual exhibition. (anybody out there with any recordings?)

Stu Haikney was my co-producer on this and he’s done a brilliant job. Stu is also a big Newcastle fan and we felt it had to be right. We wanted to get it to transition from a music hall song to a real football chant. We wanted the true authentic sound of fans singing at St. James’ Park and not take the easy option of using a ‘stadium simulation’ studio plug- in. Football fans spot that sort of thing a mile off (laughs).

It’s like a call to arms, a Northern anthem which captures the tribal spirit of the beautiful game and the roars at St James’ on a match day.

More stories soon from Alan about The Loud Guitars and current band The Attention Seekers.

For further info contact the official website

the-attention-seekers.co.uk 

where the track is available as a download/stream on Spotify, Amazon & iTunes.

Interview by Gary Alikivi October 2019.

BOBBY ROBSON SAVED MY LIFE – a New Play by Tom Kelly

Theatre and football come together in a new play about the life of one of football’s most successful and well-known personalities. Sir Bobby Robson’s story has been written by North East playwright Tom Kelly (Geordie the Musical, The Dolly Mixtures, Nothing Like The Wooden Horse)….

‘The play looks at three characters and how Sir Bobby has had a real and lasting influence upon their lives’ explained Tom. ‘This is not only about football and Tyneside but hopefully underlines we each have a responsibility to care for one another.’

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Former Newcastle United number 9 and England international, now Match of the Day pundit, Alan Shearer has added his support. In a video message he is really looking forward to seeing the play’ and described Sir Bobby in three words ‘passionate, committed and professionalism’

A footballer who played for Sir Bobby at Ipswich Town was George Burley. The former Scotland international full back revealed in his message to describe Sir Bobby ‘Father-figure, determination and enthusiasm’.

I asked Tom what research he did for the play… ‘I read a great deal about Sir Bobby’s life and discovered he often sent messages of support to a wide variety of people which had a positive impact on their lives: It gave them hope. He had a real empathy for others. His life underlined, for me, the way we treat others is not just important but crucial.’  

Tickets are available for the play at South Shields’ favourite theatre, The Customs House. A portion of each ticket sold will go to the Sir Bobby Robson Foundation, a charity he and his wife, Lady Elsie, founded in 2008 to help find more effective ways to detect and treat cancer.

Curtain up on the first night is Tuesday 16th July at 7.30pm, running through to Saturday 20th with matinees at 2.30pm on Wednesday 17th and Saturday 20th.

Telephone 0191 454 1234 or check on-line for details https://www.customshouse.co.uk/theatre/bobby-robson-saved-my-life/

 Other shows are on July 31st at the Regent Theatre, Ipswich

https://apps.ipswich.gov.uk/en-GB/shows/bobby%20robson%20saved%20my%20life/events

And 2nd & 3rd August at the Tyne Theatre, Newcastle.

https://tynetheatreandoperahouse.uk/events/bobby-robson-saved-my-life/

 Interview by Gary Alikivi June 2019.

GATESHEAD GET RHYTHM with drummer Steve Laidlaw

One of our strangest gigs was when Pyramid supported the Welsh heavy rock band Budgie at the Newcastle Guildhall. They and the crowd were all denim and long hair. But we were playing Glam Rock, Bay City Rollers, Mud, that sort of stuff… but went down a bomb!

From the 1960’s to the late 80’s Steve played for many North East bands including Pyramid, Busker, Backshift, Flicks and Smokestack. Recently he has returned to the stool…

Last year I got back together with Chris Batty from one of my first band’s. We done some busker nights, got my mojo back, and we are getting a band going. My son Andrew is a record producer and is signed to Slam Jam Records owned by Chuck D from Public Enemy. Chris and I are doing drum and bass tracks for his new album. Can you believe it. Talk about being down with the kids (laughs).

When did you first get interested in music ? My dad was a commercial artist who played guitar and piano at home, thing’s like New Year parties. So when growing up music was around the house. When I was about 14 I got friendly with two lads who lived on the next Gateshead estate, Richie Close and Steve Davidson. Richie was already an accomplished musician playing piano and guitar. He later played with major bands such as Camel and was MD for Tony Christie.

We started messing around and Richie suggested I try drums. One day we went to his mate’s house and he had a kit. I got on and found I could separate my hands and feet and whack out a rhythm. We used to record little tapes, it was a hobby.

I remember being influenced by listening to straight four on the floor players like Mick Avory and Mick Fleetwood. No fancy complex stuff for me ! I was never technically gifted as a drummer. I was influenced in my early days by watching the great John Woods from the Junco Partners, Ray Laidlaw (no relation) with Downtown Faction and Brian Gibson of Sneeze (later with Geordie).

Later I met a lad called Peter Chrisp who played bass. He was a blues man and we formed a band with John Gormley (vocals), Ronnie Harris (guitar) and me on drums.

Can you remember your first gig ? My first gig was at the Wesley Memorial Church Hall in Low Fell in 1967. Ronnie could play the John Mayall album ‘Beano’ note for note, so were ostensibly a blues band. We did The Quay Club, Bay Hotel in Sunderland loads of youth clubs and schools.

But the band sort of lost interest so I formed my own called Tycho Brahe, with my mate’s Chris Batty, George Curry and Stan Rankin. This was late 1969.

We did the Bowling Alley in Gateshead and the usual round of schools, but only lasted a few months. Then in 1970 I got a call from a guy called Jim Campbell. He was managing a club band which became The Paul Dene Set. I got Chris Batty from my previous band in on bass, but we were only 19, and the other guys were 26/27, a lot older and very experienced. I went from playing Cream/Mayall to Tom Jones and Elvis with dickie bows and velvet jackets.

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Did you have a manager or agent ? Most of my time in bands we were managed by Ivan Birchall or Mel Unsworth who were always fair with us. We started getting regular work in the clubs, and had a van and good PA. We got gigs like the Airport Hotel, Top Hat, Guildhall, these were really decent clubs.

That lasted until ‘73 until I formed a band called Smokestack featuring Stu Burns and Steve Daggett. He played a blinder by stepping in at the last minute with no rehearsal, it worked out great.

Then I answered an advert in local newspaper The Chronicle, that was for a band called Pyramid who had been on the go for a while. At first we just rehearsed in a basement in Gateshead as one of the members was ill so the band were off the road. At first the agents didn’t want to know but eventually we got a couple of gigs and literally tore the places apart with comedy and chart music.

Straight away we got repeat bookings and our agent Mel Unsworth started giving us work. Subsequently we started to build up what became a huge following and some people had seen us a hundred times.

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Have you any stories from the road ? We auditioned for TV talent show ‘New Faces’ in 1974 – and got on. The panel were made up of Micky Most, Tony Hatch and Clifford Davis who were not keen on us. Arthur Askey was there and he was a lovely gentleman.

I remember the night we were on. We recorded the show in Birmingham on a Tuesday and the night it was broadcast we were booked for a club in Ashington, The Central I think, and we watched the show before we went on stage. There were no videos in those days. We got a load of gig’s after that and the work went off the richter scale, doubling our pay from £40 to £80 a night (laughs).

The band went full time but I continued to work. I was working in sales through the day and got very little sleep. We would be doing a club then maybe The Sands which was above the bus station in Whitley Bay or the Burgundy Cobbler also in Whitley Bay. We’d get to Palace of Varieties over in Prudhoe, then a few places in Newcastle like the Cavendish, Stage Door and the Rainbow Rooms.

I’d fall into bed around 3 or 4am, then back up at 7 (laughs). We once did 93 consecutive one nighters, but by this time we had two full time roadies, and we went in our cars.

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In 1975 I got married so left the band as my new wife wanted to see me (laughs). But re-joined a couple of year later and did a tour of Germany with the comedian Chubby Brown. I remember being stopped at the East German Checkpoint and they got really funny with us. To get to Berlin we were told to ask for a Russian Officer, who we had to pay off to get through (laughs).

A story from one night involved Allen Mechen, who was the front man and guitarist Brian Pick. We used to start the act with me and Brian on stage and Allen used to run out of the gents. One night we started playing and were going over and over the song with no sign of Allen. After 5 minutes our roadie went to find him. He was asleep on the bog with the door jammed (laughs). John poured some water over him.

Incidentally Brian used to be in well known Tyneside band The Sundowners and Allen ended up playing the character Terry in the Tudor Crisps adverts. After recording an EP I left the band again, then went back for their last gigs in 1983.

What studio did you record in ? We recorded the EP at Soundlink in Newcastle and sold it in the clubs, but I haven’t got one cos I gave my copy away. We also recorded a couple of tracks at Impulse Studio in Wallsend. That was for  North East TV show Geordie Scene, but in the end they decided not to put us on. We recorded a new single at Impulse but it was scrapped at the last minute for some legal issues.

Not long after Pyramid I played in a band called Flicks. Terry, the keyboard player, was asked to join another recording band called Busker who had a huge hit with ‘Home Newcastle’. The song was a massive hit locally, and is still played at St.James’ Park.

The band didn’t really exist but songwriter Ronnie Lambert wanted to put a band on the road. He also played guitar and harmonica. He asked us if we could get a few of our old mate’s in and do a few gigs, so we did. We also recorded a new single, and a new version of ‘Home Newcastle’ with a few different lyrics but the band drifted apart. I think Ronnie just wanted to be a recording entity.

After that I joined Backshift, who became an 8 piece soul band, fronted by legendary Junco Partner, Ronnie Barker. This went on for several years, we done some good gig’s and had a great laugh, but finished about ‘88. I always meant to go back to playing but had two kids and things just drifted. I had 23 years in bands by then.

What does music mean to you ? I always felt music should entertain and not educate. The general public are bored shitless by drum solos. As Brian Gibson from Geordie always said, get the girls dancing then you are ok (laughs).

 Interview by Gary Alikivi June 2019.

FOOTING IT TO EUROPE with Tyneside poet Keith Armstrong.

In the week of the 50th anniversary of Newcastle United’s victory in the Fairs Cup, a 6-2 win on aggregate against Ujpest Dozsa in the final. Tyneside poet and lifelong supporter of the Magpies, Keith Armstrong, reflects on their journeys through Europe.

Bobby Moncur, Newcastle United, with the Fairs Cup

I hate to give away my age but my dad took me piggy-back to see Stanley Matthews play at St James’s Park in the days when peanuts were only a tanner a bag and the ground capacity was well over 60,000. Since then, I’ve followed the lads through thick and thin, usually thin, across Europe and back home.

It might surprise you, but United in Europe isn’t new you know. They toured Italy, Czechoslovakia, Hungary, and Austria, in 1929 – just after the last time they won the League, with the legendary top-scoring Hughie Gallacher at number 9.

In Milan, full-back Tommy Lang had a nasty set of bite marks on his neck when he left the pitch and the club’s bus was hit with bottles and stones and the players had to barricade themselves in their hotel room. Not to worry, the team was guarded by the stalwart men of Mussolini’s blackshirts!

After an 8-1 defeat in Czechoslovakia, the lads were accused of not trying by the Czech officials and then it was off to Budapest for another ‘friendly’ where Gallacher was sent off after a punch-up and the locals spat and threw coins at him as he was escorted through the crowd by armed soldiers. The Hungarians accused Gallacher and the rest of the team of being ‘drunk and disorderly’ on the field and withheld the guaranteed fee. United left the country quickly.

A Football Association enquiry exonerated the team after Gallacher had explained that he and some of his teammates had been so thirsty in the heat that they ‘rinsed their mouths out with a drop of Scotch’. The Hungarians spotted them passing the bottle round and jumped to the surprising conclusion that the boys were on the piss! European sporting ambassadors, don’t you know!

1969-05-29

And, just so’s you really know how old I am, I have to say that I was ‘on the hoy’ as well in Hungary, with the Supporters’ Club back in 1969, belting out the ‘Blaydon Races’ on Budapest High Street when we last won a major trophy, the Inter-Cities Fairs Cup.

It never seemed to be part of a plan to win then, they just stumbled into the Final, and, with Wyn ‘The Leap’ Davies nodding the ball down to Bryan ‘Pop’ Robson, and no real midfield to speak of, we had those continentals, used to playing the ball on the ground (the mad fools!), completely baffled when faced with our Geordie ‘laeng baell’ game. A one-off but the toon went crazy when the lads came back with that Fairs Cup.

It worries me a bit just how crazy the toon will gan should we ever bring another bit of silverware home – not that that’s likely, let’s be honest, a trophy is never on the packing list, if you’re following Newcastle United.

Soccer - Newcastle United Parade The Inter-Cities Fairs Cup

Captain Bobby Moncur with the cup in Newcastle.

Tyneside poet Keith Armstrong was born in Newcastle. He has travelled throughout Europe to read his poetry and is widely published and broadcast. He is available for events and functions.

tel: 0191 2529531.

Interview by Gary Alikivi June 2019.