Sunday, 30 October 2011

Black History Month- My contribution- Garth Crooks 1976

In April 1976 the 18-year-old Garth Crooks played his first match as a Stoke City player barely one month from becoming a professional player at the club. Garth’s rise in the club was memorable for a number of reasons. He was one of the first black players at the club although Stoke City had recruited from the ethnic minorities in the past Frankie Soo of Chinese origin- the first ethnic minority to play for England and Roy Brown who played for the club in the past. Garth was one of the first Ladsanddads players a local initiative which meant to foster family and community relations during the 70s. Roy Brown’s brother Doug, himself the first black mayor of Stoke on Trent played a leading role in developing the organisation. Although Stoke lost Garth’s first game 1-0 to Coventry by the end of the season he had established himself in the team. He scored his first goal for the senior squad a few weeks later for the senior squad against Birmingham City.
As a family we have always taken an interest in Garth’s career. In fact it is part of Cawley legend that Garth substituted my brother Andrew when Andrew left the field with an eye injury when they were in Stoke St Peter’s Junior School team in the mid 60s. Later after we moved to Abbey Hulton Garth would often play in impromptu matches on a muddy piece of ground in Eaveswood Rd or on the pitches by the Suburban Club. Even at an early age he showed great talent, a friend of mine at St Teresa’s had the unenviable job of trying to mark him along with another player they failed miserably as Garth scored five goals that day. I was not surprised that Garth along with Russell Pointon, another regular at Eaveswood, went on into professional football clubs.

The preconceptions around black footballers in the mid 70s sounds from the vantage point of 2011 to be absurd. In the view of the Sentinel of April 76

" so many coloured footballers seem to lack the physical aggression in their make up for the English game".
Over the decades many black players have proved their capacity in getting stuck in such as Paul Ince, Patrick Vieira and in the case of Stoke City George Berry or more recently Abdoulaye Faye. I doubt particularly in the last named that he could be described as a " shrinking violet"

As for Garth Crooks, he scored 48 goals in 147 appearances for Stoke City. He became most famous following a high-profile transfer to Spurs in 1980. With Crooks leading the line, Spurs won two FA Cups. Garth is frequently credited as the first black player score in a FA Cup final for his equalising goal in a 3-2 win over Manchester City in the 1981 final.

He is now a very well known television pundit on BBC Sport.

Where Garth led in the 1970s followed others followed, but this was at a price. During his career, racist chants and banners were commonplace in the stands, and sometimes made monkey noises. In one instance at Anfield a spectator ran on to the pitch and handed him a bunch of bananas. By the end of the decade more black players were being introduced in the game including Neville Chamberlain at Port Vale. However the problem of racism in football was not fully eradicated until the 1990s.
A major political dilemma that faced Stoke City in the 70s was their relationship with teams in South Africa. Stanley Matthews had formed strong relationships with teams in the black townships of Cape Town and Johannesburg some years earlier. In 1975 Matthews organised a trip to Brazil for some of his black township team - dubbed Stan's Men.

Most of them had never left their Soweto home, but Matthews took them to train with the top Brazilian teams. They even got the chance to meet Pele. And prior to the 1975-6 season the club had undergone a tour of the apartheid-ravaged country. For many any contact with such a racist regime was beyond the pale.
The region was engaged in a fierce conflict between the supporters of apartheid regimes in South Africa and the then Rhodesia. Two men with Staffordshire connections were caught up in the violence. Andrew McKenzie whose brother was a farmer near Eccleshall was executed by firing squad in July 1976 following a show trial in the Angolan capital Luanda. McKenzie had been part of a group of mercenaries engaged in a particularly vicious civil war in the country. After his death his brother was concerned that the Angolan government demanded £1,900 for the return of the body. Leek born Mr N Tatton was killed in a land mine explosion in November 1976 whilst on duty with the South African security forces near Kanyemba.

Sunday, 23 October 2011

Arnold Mountford, Director of the City Museum Stoke on Trent 1922-1990

The recent article on Arnold Mountford bought back a number of fond memories of a local man who really put Stoke on the cultural map in terms of museum provision.

I was Vice Chairman of the City Museum for a brief period in 1986 and the whole story in the Sentinel particularly bought to mind a very enjoyable few days I spent in Arnold’s company in July 1986. I was a fellow delegate to the Association of Museums conference in Aberdeen. I shared the long train journey with Arnold. He was a font of great stories and a few still stick in my mind.

The article touched on his war record and I can recall a story he told me of accompanying Churchill on a Middle East conference during the war. Arnold was a young army officer and it must be have been a daunting experience. It might have been the Casablanca conference in 1943. Arnold had to keep the great man amused. His job was to show Churchill films every evening. A favourite of the Prime Minster was " Lady Hamilton" starring Vivienne Leigh and Laurence Oliver as Nelson. He played the film every evening and Churchill invaribaly sipping a brandy was word perfect in the film by the time the destroyer got to its destination. He also told me that Churchill breakfasted on white wine and chicken legs. It makes you think that we were lead to victory by a great eccentric.

Arnold’s great ally in developing the Museum was Alderman Horace Barks who I was a little in awe of. He is also in need of greater comment. Horace was a great wag and Arnold told me a story of him informing the Mexican Ambassador that his flies were open at the opening of a major exhibition involving a Mexican artist.
The article concentrated on the reopening of the City Museum after a major overhaul in May 1981 by Prince Charles. The then Lord Mayor Les Sillitoe was fussing over his speech of welcome and thought that he would mention the "muriels" outside the Museum. Arnold corrected him " The word is mural, Lord Mayor. The day of the great event arrived and the day was a great success. It was helped in a major part by the soon to happen Royal Wedding and the crowds outside Bethesda St were calling for " Lady Di". The atmosphere got too much for Les as they walked down the ramp to the cheering crowds plucked on the sleeve of the Prince and blurted out " Have you seen out Muriel?"

The other reason to celebrate Arnold is the great list of achivement including a seminal work on English Saltglaze- the standard text on the subject. He was well known and respected throughout the national museum movement as the conference in Aberdeen proved.

The article in the Sentinel pointed out that Arnold was a working class man who was dedicated to the Potteries.In a time when Directors of City Councils departments who seem to adopt a here today, gone tomorrow approach this is as refreshing as it is rare.

Friday, 7 October 2011

A Gory Stoke Childhood

I can still recall what she looked like after a gap of over 50 years. She was about 60 but looked older. I supposed she was to use an old fashioned word a crone. She always wore a red mac, given as a gift by my Mother, and bootees with a zip down the middle of them. Leastways that is my memory of her. It was a very lined face with slate grey drab looking hair and a long nose. It was an intense face of constant toil and hardship. I don’t think that she was a frequent dealer in merriment or smiles. I think that I remembered a wart at the corner of the mouth but I may be wrong. It was a face and a personality that most children would have run away from screaming "witch" but I did not see it like that. I guess that she had stories and memories to pass on and I was a willing recipient. I was, as a child , very respectful to older people