A Special Centenary

My Mum has appeared by proxy in several of my Tuesday Tunes posts, as I have referred to her musical tastes and how they differed from mine, yet occasionally coincided. Mum passed on 15th May 2008, at the age of 87, but if she had lived today would have been her 100th birthday. Although nearly thirteen years have gone by I think about her often, and my series of Tuesday posts on the music of the Sixties and Seventies brought back many memories for me. So I thought I’d do something to mark the date, with a few snippets about Mum and some of the other events of that year apart from her birth, to show what life was like back then.

This is Mum, probably in her late 30s (which places it around 1960ish):

Also in the photo are my Dad – still with us, and going strong at 93 – my cousin Sheila (top left), me, and my little sister, Heather. The photo was taken at a family gathering, though I’ve cropped a lot of others out. Those were the days when the gents still wore a suit to family events that weren’t weddings, christenings or funerals!

1921 was three years after the end of WW1, and a lot of the political events of the year were to do with the rebuilding from that, along with the settlement of reparations from Germany: this took place on 5th May, and required the payment of 132 billion gold marks, in annual instalments of 2.5 billion. That sounds a lot, even now! A couple of months later, on 2nd July, US President Warren Harding signed a Congressional order declaring an end to hostilities with Germany, Austria and Hungary: I’ve no idea why it took nearly three years, but, as that was the start of their habit of being late to join world wars I guess they were just keeping in character.

A look at the significant dates of 1921 reveals many which were related to wars and conflicts. There were a number involving the Soviet Union and neighbouring states, and also China. Here in the UK we had been fighting the Irish Republican Army (IRA) until a truce was signed on 9th July, paving the way for the official creation of the Irish Free State in December. Students of history will know that the ‘Irish problem’ wasn’t resolved by this, with the renewal of hostilities in Northern Ireland in the 1960s, which were only finally put to rest by the Good Friday Agreement of 1998. It is to be hoped that the aftermath of Brexit doesn’t screw this agreement. My point in mentioning these conflicts is that there is nothing new, and we seem to be doomed to continue making the same mistakes rather than learning from them. One of the scariest 1921 dates for me, which is almost lost in the mix, is 4th November: after a speech by Adolf Hitler in the Hofbräuhaus (the Bavarian State Brewery) in Munich, members of the Sturmabteilung (“brownshirts”) physically assaulted his opposition. Given the number of occasions that journalists and political opponents have been physically assaulted at Trump rallies, and the events of 6 January at the Capitol, there are some frightening similarities here.

There were numerous other acts of political violence and assassination that year, including in Spain, Portugal and Persia (as it was then) but I don’t want to dwell on the less pleasant events of 1921. They were different times in many ways, from those that we are accustomed to in our days of widespread social media and access to global news on an instant basis. It was five years before John Logie Baird gave what is now regarded as the first public demonstration of what became ‘television,’ and a full thirty years before the medium became widely available, albeit often in grainy monochrome images. So, apart from creating large families, what did the good people of 1921 do for entertainment?  These were the early days of commercial movie theatres, when silent monochrome films were the height of sophistication. In this year, the Charlie Chaplin film The Kid was released. Here is a brief sample:

That is charming, but it isn’t exactly what would encourage us to swarm to the cinema these days if we were allowed to, is it? But if that has whetted your appetite, the whole movie can be found on YouTube here – it is just over an hour long,  a little short by modern day standards!

Another famous movie star of that era also released a new one in 1921 – Rudolph Valentino, in The Sheik. Again, the full movie is on YouTube here but this brief clip will give you a feel for it:

At 1 hr 26 mins that is a little longer, almost up to the length of shorter movies today. I love that clip, and I imagine there was much fun to be had in the captioning room with lines that had to be deleted, especially in response to Agnes Ayres’ “why have you brought me here?” question. Tragically, Valentino died just five years later of peritonitis, at the age of 31, causing mass hysteria amongst his fans: the ‘Latin Lover’ was no more, but his early death sealed his status as an icon of the cinema, in much the same way that later happened for James Dean.

As I mentioned, mass tv broadcasting was still a long way off, but radio was in its infancy in 1921. The US had a plethora of locally based broadcasters, with no control, whilst the UK looked on sniffily and declared that it didn’t want to recreate the ‘chaos’ of radio in the US. As a result, it wasn’t until 1922 that the BBC (British Broadcasting Company) was established, becoming the British Broadcasting Corporation in 1927 to mark its independence from either government or commercial management. This little clip gives some of the background to that US chaos:

There is mention in that of the radio broadcasting of baseball. Radio and, later, tv have been instrumental in bringing us huge volumes of sports coverage. In these pandemic times, when mass gatherings aren’t allowed, the television has been vital for those of us wanting our ‘fix.’ But, back in 1921, if you wanted to follow a game you had to be there. It was on 7th May that the lowest ever paying crowd for a game in the English Football League was assembled: all 13 of them, for the fixture between Stockport County and Leicester City, in what was then Division Two. The match was played at Old Trafford, the home of Manchester United, as Stockport’s ground was officially closed after some crowd trouble – yes, really, it happened back then too! The official attendance of 13 was the number of spectators who paid for entrance after Man Utd’s earlier game against Derby County had finished, but it is believed that around 2,000 stayed on after the first match to get their money’s worth. I’m not sure that they did, though, as Stockport vs Leicester was a 0-0 draw. But as far as I can tell there were no reports of crowd disturbances.

I’ve always thought of fashion as being one of the most vacuous of industries, but it seems like it was going strong back then too:

They took it seriously: no dresses made of meat or bras like traffic cones for them. I’m not sure those clothes would be too well received by most people today, though, given the use of animal fur as decoration. I wonder if it was a status symbol to boast that your clothes were trimmed with bits of monkeys?

As you may have noticed through my posts, I am interested in folk music and the traditions that go with it. This one is still going today, albeit after the occasional hiatus:

If you have come across that before it may well be by the better known name of the Floral Dance. The Helston event is the best known, though there are others. As you can imagine, it now bears little resemblance to earlier versions like this one. It takes place on 8th May each year, and is a celebration of the passing of winter and the arrival of spring. The folk song Hal-An-Tow is associated with the day – it mangles together bits of celebration from English history.

All reviews of bygone years make reference to those who were born and died. Births in 1921, as well as my Mum, included several from the entertainment world, among them Humphrey Lyttleton, Diana Barrymore, Peter Sallis, Dirk Bogarde, Peter Ustinov, Lana Turner, Jane Russell, and quite  a few sportspeople, including Stan Mortensen, Sugar Ray Robinson and Jack Kramer. The big sporting event of the year has to be this, though:

I accept that there *might* be an element of bias in sharing that one.

Among those who departed in 1921 were Bat Masterson, the US gunfighter, army scout, professional gambler, lawman and journalist; Engelbert Humperdinck, the German composer (not the Release Me guy – though Mum loved that one); the French composer Camille Saint-Saëns; and the microbiologist Julius Richard Petri, who invented a dish.

That’s just about it for 1921, but as this is her day it wouldn’t be right to finish this piece without including a couple of songs that my Mum liked. This is one that she bought, saving me the need to do so:

And this is her absolute favourite song by her absolute favourite singer:

That says it all, really. Happy celestial 100th, Mum.

Sporting Loyalties

An introductory note: this piece has been kicking around in my drafts folder for the best part of two years, and for some reason I never got around to finishing it. I’ve finally been prompted to complete it by a post a few weeks ago from Michael, a blogging friend from Australia, who wrote in My Sporting Memories what his sports team meant to him. So I dusted this one down.

A couple of years ago I wrote a post I called A Man Blogs, Aged 64 and a Half , which, if you’ve read it, you will have seen is my little rant on what I perceived as a degree of ageism and sexism in certain blogging quarters. In that piece, I mentioned that many viewed sporting loyalties as a predominantly male preserve, and that I disagreed with that. That may well be the subject for another post but, for now, I’m mulling over something else that struck me: how and why we develop those sporting loyalties, and how they can inveigle their way into our hearts and minds. The complete absence of sport in these days of Coronavirus has given me plenty of time to reflect on why I enjoy watching sport so much, how much I’m missing it, what it means to me, and how my loyalties have developed over 60+ years.

If you have ever looked at my Twitter profile you will have seen that it declares my support for three football teams and one county cricket side. For the avoidance of any doubt in the land of handegg (or down under, where guys in vests play with an eggball – sorry, Michael), when I refer to football I’m giving it its proper meaning, as in association football or, if you must, ‘soccer.’ Having three teams to support may seem excessive, or perhaps self-indulgent – or just downright indecisive! But they all have my support for a reason and, until a few years ago, they gave me interest in different parts of the English football world. And then for a while the unthinkable happened – but more of that later. For this post I’m just featuring my football teams: I suspect that many readers won’t have a clue what cricket is!

My first team was Dover FC, as they were in those days, who have since become Dover Athletic. They were my home town team and my Dad first took me to a game when I was very little, probably about 5 years old.  Dad wasn’t really that interested in the game but it is one of the things Dads do with their sons, isn’t it? I was instantly hooked on the game, and poor old Dad was then committed to taking me again. We didn’t go to every match – far from it – but probably four or five a season. This was at the end of the 1950s and into the early 1960s, until I was deemed old enough to be allowed to go with schoolfriends and Dad could spend his Saturday afternoons in more pleasurable activities (for him, anyway), usually involving his shed or the garden. If you’re old enough to recall those days you will be aware of a couple of things: firstly, that football was played in black and white (just look at the old clips!) and secondly that as there were then only two tv channels in the UK there were very few live football matches broadcast. The FA Cup Final was shown each year but I don’t recall seeing much football on tv until Match Of The Day started in 1964, on the newly launched BBC2 (yay, three channels!) and that was only packaged highlights of one game a week. Just occasionally we were given an international match to watch, for no apparent reason, but tv football didn’t really take off until the glories of July 1966, when England hosted and won the FIFA World Cup. For those who don’t know, an image I have used in a previous post is a meme of the commentator from the Final and a very well chosen set of spontaneous words:

To any English football supporter of a certain age those words are now part of our culture, so much so, in fact, that they were used as the title of a tv sports quiz show some years ago. Not even Johnnie Cradock (‘May all your doughnuts look like Fannie’s’) has achieved that.

Cricket ground below, football pitch higher up. Spent a lot of time here!

In both incarnations Dover are what is known in this country as a ‘non-league’ team and can hardly be deemed to have set the footballing world alight. I first saw them in what was then the lower division of the Southern League, from which they were eventually promoted into the Premier division. After a relegation and another promotion, Dover Athletic, as they had become in 1983, reached the top tier of non-league – in those days called the Conference – in 1993. After 9 games Dover Athletic were top of the league, but it didn’t last! Several relegations and league reorganisations later eventually found my first ever team languishing in the fourth tier of non-league football, but several promotions later they were back at non-league’s top table, now known as the National League, and have stayed there comfortably for six seasons. A few FA Cup runs and wins over Football League (EFL) teams have been enjoyed, but that’s about it. You must by now be wondering why I bother! But anyone who has ever formed an affiliation to any sports team, particularly from the area in which they were born, will tell you about the strength of that loyalty. You never lose it: it becomes a part of you. Even though I haven’t lived in the Dover area for 50 years the team still matters to me, and the rare occasions on which their matches are broadcast on tv are treasured by me, most recently a 1-0 win over an EFL side – Southend United – last autumn in the FA Cup, made all the sweeter by the goal being scored by a player on loan from…Leyton Orient. I don’t know who wrote the script for that day! I have many happy memories of going to games as I grew up. One of the earliest – I was 8 – is when Dad and I went on the team coach to see the Whites (as they are still known) play away to Ashford Town in the final of the Kent Senior Cup. Dad knew someone through work contacts so we were offered some spare seats. We reached the ground, Dad gave me the exact admission fee and directed me towards the kids’ queue. I promptly spent some of the money on a programme and poor Dad had to get someone to keep his place in the grownups’ queue while he topped up my funds. Kids, eh? But it was worth it – we won!

1960/61 double winners!

In addition to our little local team we all had a ‘proper’ team that we supported too. Mine has been Tottenham Hotspur (Spurs) ever since my Dad read something out from the newspaper about the club history of Bill Nicholson and I thought ‘that’s my team!’ At a rough guess I’d say that was around 1958-9, and when in 1960/1 ‘my’ team became the first team in the 20th century to ‘do the double’ – i.e. win the league and cup in the same season – I knew they were definitely for me! They won the FA Cup again the following season, having by then added the legendary Jimmy Greaves to the team, and followed that the next year by becoming the first British team to win one of the European trophies, beating Athletico Madrid 5-1 in the final of the grandly named European Cup-Winners’ Cup. The first time I went to a game there was on 14 December 1963. I was 10 and it was part of my Christmas present. Spurs beat Stoke 2-1, Greavesie scored both of the goals, and I got to see Sir Stanley Matthews play for Stoke at the age of 48. He was a very special player! Since then, the club has won four more FA Cups (making eight in total), four League Cups and two more European trophies, as well as a fluke run to last year’s Champions League final. But nothing has been won since 2008, despite some great seasons, and even the most loyal amongst us is wondering ‘when?’ To be honest, the suspension of the current season due to Coronavirus was probably welcome, in purely footballing terms, of course, as 2019/20 was shaping up to be Spurs’ worst season for years, and we were even in danger of finishing lower in the league than the Red Mess (sorry, I mean Arsenal).

Since the 1970s I’ve lived in Essex and always took an interest in the nearest Football League team: Leyton Orient. I started going to games regularly after I retired but ill health has kept me away for some time now. In that time the Os, as we know and love them, have had their ups and downs. The high point for me was reaching the 2014 promotion playoff final which, this being the Os, we managed to lose on penalties having been 2-0 ahead both in the match and the shootout. I still remember the tube journey home: unlike Wembley Stadium, the tube trains weren’t segregated and we had to put up with the celebrating Yorkshire oiks! We then suffered dreadfully for three years from from a malevolent (and probably insane) owner and for two seasons, from 2017 to 2019, found ourselves in the same league as Dover Athletic – I endured two years of extremely divided loyalties! Thankfully, promotion back to the EFL was achieved

 and the Os were able to begin the slow path towards recovering former league ‘glories.’ I think we’ll call 2019/20 a season of consolidation, but at least we weren’t about to get relegated again when the season was brought to a shuddering halt – without a climax, so far. We live in hope.

There are rumblings that the German Bundesliga is going to resume next weekend, with games being played without spectators.  At least one team has found a way around that, though:

Enjoying the game, guys?

My tv provider will be covering the games and I’ve no doubt that, having
been starved of real live football for two months, I’ll be watching to get my fix. Somehow, though, it will all seem a bit unreal. It isn’t a league in which I support a team and, with everything going on at present, I have to admit that even the strength of sporting loyalties that have been with me for so long pales into insignificance. I hope I can get my mojo back, as I have really missed the game. The late Bill Shankly once said something like ‘football isn’t life or death: it’s more important than that.’ No matter how much I want to see my teams again, I have to disagree with him on that one. But it would be good to be able to escape into the football world again, hopefully soon.

PS I’ve just realised that this is my 400th post. Thank you to anyone who has ever read, liked or commented on any of them. I’m rather glad this was the milestone post, as it is full of memories for me.