THE FOOTBALL MAN – by Tony Topping

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I’ll never forget him, though I’ve long since forgotten his surname, to me he’ll always be known as “Ted the Football Man”

I first met Ted in the early 70’s when I started working at Ashton’s the town’s premier tobacconists. He worked in the warehouse and was a supervisor for a team of packers. My job as a lowly* warehouse boy was to fill the hundreds of shelves with tobacco, sweets and fancy goods so that the packers could quickly find them and put them in boxes for delivery.

 

It was the best job I’ve ever had.

(I’ve always been “lowly” and several attempts to attain “upper lowly” status have been thwarted over the years leading me to begrudgingly accept my role as a rubbing rag).

I was football daft back then and when I wasn’t stacking shelves I was playing football dice. Football Dice could be bought from the old Oliver Somers shop that was the forerunner to the JJB Empire that Dave Whelan created. Five die of different colours each with a set of instructions on every face “Pass to Blue” “Shot at Goal” “Corner” etc. etc.

I copied the continental team names from the first ever edition of the Rothman’s Football Annual that I’d got for Christmas and performed my own cup draws. Latics were always in there somewhere and even made it into the Cup Winners Cup after FIFA granted a place to the Lancashire Floodlit Cup holders. Many a game was interrupted by shouts of “Were running short of Consulate can yer bring us some over?” but it all added to the tension.

My obsession to football was nothing though when placed alongside the love that Ted had for the game. He didn’t follow any particular side he just was mad about football. Ted hailed from Ashton and every weekend he would travel to a football game in Lancashire/Cheshire. He tended to watch teams from outside the top division. In 1971 his travels took him to Blackpool, Burnley & PNE in the 2nd Division. Bolton, Blackburn, Oldham, Rochdale & Tranmere in Division 3 which was incidentally won by Aston Villa that year. And finally in Division 4 he visited Southport, Bury, Chester, Stockport and Crewe. He also attended non- league games and watched latics from time to time.

His knowledge of the game was second to none and in me he had a willing listener. Ted was in his late thirties in 1971 and he would tell me tales about all the great players he had seen from being a schoolboy. The greatest player he’d ever seen? If pushed he would say it was a toss-up between Matthews and Finney. He once told me a tale of how he scored a goal against the legendary Bert Trautmann! He was playing for an Ashton in Makerfield schoolboy select side and they played the German prisoners of war in a friendly at their nearby POW camp. He was made up with that and I was doubly impressed!

At break time I usually had my nose in Goal magazine or Charles Buchan’s Football Monthly and one day Ted asked me if I collected football programmes. I said I did and the next day he brought a bunch of them in for me. I was thrilled to bits they were from all eras and differing levels of football. I still have them to this day and when Ted said “I’ve only given them to you because I think you’ll take care of them” I don’t think he reckoned on me loving them over 40yrs later!

From then on Ted would bring me a programme from every game that he attended and the two years that I worked there were the best working days of my life. One day at work I got a call to go to the offices. I was excited as I was approaching 18 and about to go on full pay and be promoted to a packing job or so I had been told. When I got to the office I was told I was being made redundant and I had to leave the premises immediately. I collected my jacket, held back my tears and walked out without being given the chance to say goodbye.

Years later I bumped into Ted again. It was a couple of days before Christmas in the late 70’s and I was in the Vic drinking with my workmates celebrating our early finish for the holidays. I looked across the room at another group of people who like everyone else were out on the ale enjoying themselves. And there he was my old football mentor, Ted.

I walked across to the group and interrupted their chatter with a slightly drunken “Hiya Ted!” Ted looked at me and said “I’m sorry lad do I know you?” I was shocked and there was a giggle from one of the women nearby “It’s me Ted, Tony, I worked at Ashton’s about eight year back. You got me programmes and everything!” Ted was a good man and even though he didn’t remember me he smiled and apologised and said “I’m sorry lad, that many have worked there I lose track of em’. Do you want a drink?” I mumbled something about moving on to another pub, wished him all the best and never saw him again.

The man who made such a great impression on me didn’t even remember me but he left me with some fond memories of long chats about the golden days of football, in between the Gold Flake and the Senior Service.

For Ted the Football Man.

Tony Topping

 

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