No matter how hard I try, does this blog get done and dusted before Thursday evening or, more usually, Friday morning early hours, the sort of time we used to stagger home in our younger days? Does it buggery.
I’ve known for ages that the Spurs v Man Utd game was at the supremely inconvenient time of 2015 on a Thursday – it’s also Draw Night at the golf club, so I’m praying I don’t win; a sum that would pay for my season ticket, more or less. Despite our (their) indefensible defensive debacle at Newcastle on Sunday, I drove to Milton Keynes, squeezed into the one remaining parking space (the place’ll be empty by the time I get back) and am writing this as our Arsenal-supporting driver (not a happy Gunner but a lot happier than the three Tottenham tragics who got on his minibus at MK) ploughs southwards through the rain.
We usually have a proper coach (unlike Spurs – cheap crack, come on Ryan) but there are only eleven of us (wonder if we could get a game?) on the list tonight. Four got on at Bedford, two at Shefford and two at Hitchin. Was it Robert Louis Stevenson who said, “Tis better to travel hopefully than arrive?”
Ah well, United aren’t really that much better than we are (famous last words) though they have won a trophy already this season, are in the FA Cup final and do have a man in charge now who seems to have a plan and has a suitably scary death stare. Everything points to another close contest…*
If you’re not an eejit with a Grand Canyon-sized streak of optimism and resilience, don’t support a football team.
Talk of deadlines and death stares is probably not the most tasteful lead in to tributes to three friends who have died recently but two were journalists, members of the AGW and the third, an artist and Manchester United fan, also had a way with words; they were all well into their 80s, so not much would surprise or shock them.
I’ll start with Peter Haslam to whom I’ll be forever grateful for giving me my start at Golf World, as the editorial assistant. There were only four of us in the editorial department – Peter, the editor, not long arrived from the Kidderminster Times; Neil Elsey, the deputy editor, who knew a lot more about golf and the magazine business than Peter did and was to die far too young; and Dave Oswald, the art editor, a talented, Chelsea-supporting Scot with whom I shared an office and from whom I learned language that still gets me into trouble 40-odd years later. [NB Francesca Elsey, please DO get in touch with Dave, who knew your Dad as well as anybody.]
The office was in Bermondsey, so I stayed in St Margaret’s (between Richmond and Twickenham) with my cousin and her husband, the visitor who arrived for two weeks and stayed two years! Peter revelled in the job, relishing the golf, the players and particularly the travelling. As I remember, he wasn’t an always-in-the-office editor, he ruled with a light touch. Hawaii was one of his favourite trips and he made friends and contacts wherever he went.
Whatever the reason, Peter didn’t bat an eyelash let alone an eye when I, also very new, suggested that I should cover the World Amateur Team Championships in Pinehurst, North Carolina. Maureen was on the GB and I Espirito Santo team, with Mary McKenna and Belle Robertson, though Mc had back trouble and had to be subbed by Jane Connachan. Maire O’Donnell, of Murvagh, was the captain and I slept on the sofa bed in the team’s apartment.
I also stayed on for the Eisenhower Trophy, staying in Pine Needles Lodge and Country Club courtesy of Peggy Kirk Bell, a friend of her fellow legend Maureen Garrett, one of GB and I’s great cheerleaders. I met Dai that second week, so Peter has a lot to answer for and I can’t thank him enough.
John Ingham was on Maureen’s and my list of people to chat to for the blog but sadly we never made it down to Wimbledon to be entertained and enthralled for hours by his tales, tall and otherwise. I put him on a par with the likes of Mark Wilson, Michael Williams, Mike McDonnell, Peter Dobereiner and Renton Laidlaw, to name just a few, old-school newspapermen who brought golf to life and could spin a yarn with the best of them.
John was press officer all over Asia and Africa and had a wonderful story about employing a local witch doctor to make sure that the monsoon, or whatever, held off long enough for the tournament to go ahead as planned. Sorry to be so vague on the details but it was a bit of a miracle and the event got acres of coverage back home. It was hard to stop smiling when John was in full flow.
Last, but never least, the incomparable Harold Riley, a promising footballer in his youth in the days of the Busby Babes but a magician with pencil and paintbrush. A real artist, protege of Lowry (who was also a son of Salford), youngest student at The Slade, painter of popes and presidents, chronicler of footballers and golfers, luckily for us.
Golf was one of Harold’s loves and he attended many an Open, Ryder Cup and AGW dinner; many a menu ended up covered with his sketches and treasured for ever. He agreed to do the illustrations for Dai’s and my book Beyond The Fairways – “almost a classic” as one Dutch publisher described it, to my delight and Dai’s fury.
Sadly, our publisher, who shall remain nameless, cared more about the bottom line than posterity, panicked at the mounting cost, demanded a simpler layout, more words, cheaper paper and fewer illustrations, essentially throwing Harold’s work away.
It broke Dai’s heart – I don’t think he ever opened the book – and hardened Harold’s. The publisher later suggested another project to him and got a very blunt, northern response from an affable, good-natured, urbane and courteous man with high standards.
One last Harold story. When he was still a student at The Slade, he was asked to do the illustrations for a new edition of Gray’s Anatomy, requiring hundreds of meticulous medical drawings. Having completed the work, he tentatively asked about the fee. “Don’t worry, Mr Riley,” came the imperious reply. “You’ll get a prominent mention in the foreword.”
Lesson learned. Harold knew his worth and there would be no starving-artist-in-the-garret nonsense for him.
Thanks for all the happy times and priceless memories, Harold, John and Peter and love and condolences to your family and friends from Mo and me.
Finally, to end on a joyous, raucous note, congratulations to Wrexham on their promotion and return to the Football League.
*Spurs 2 Manchester United 2!