Meetings With Remarkable (and not so remarkable)
By Paul Bretherton
From Issue 59, Winter 2002
Sir John Smith, Euston Station, 1992
The daddy of ‘em all, Sir John Smith, God
rest his soul. The briefest of encounters but
absolutely memorable all the same for some strange
perverse reason. Now just let me digress for a
second from my tale, to tell you readers that,
deep down, I just love having David Moores as
the chairman. I really do.
Rarely appearing on our screens, a la Ridsdale
or Kenwright. Never naming a stand after himself,
a la Ellis. And never giving Interviews or spouting
utter drivel in tabloid columns al la Uncle Bulgaria
Bates. Always quiet, self effacing and modest
to boot, but most importantly I suppose, always
there with the necessary funds to back the Manager.
If only he would lose the ageing rock star hairstyle;
hasn’t he heard of Victor’s in Paradise
Street for gawd’s sake? And if he also crashed
his fags once in a while to us chain-smoking bad
boys in the Paddock, then he’d be my ultimate
hero. I’d even go so far as to carry a huge
portrait of the man to the game, occasionally
release a booming “El Presidente”
cry to the masses through my hand held speaker
whilst firing a revolver into the air. So if (as
heavily rumoured to be true) this publication
does make its’ way back to the boardroom,
and you’re reading this Mr Moores, then
you’ll have a supporter for life in me If
you’d whack your expensive looking tabs
round to help ease those frayed nerves during
the game. Tell you what; I’ll arrange for
a portrait sitting of your good self, bedecked
in Military Camo fatigues, arms crossed sporting
ray bans, and I promise to carry it shoulder high
around on our travels this season to show my personal
appreciation. What other chairman would be able
to boast of having such a close relationship with
their supporters eh? Erm…where was I?
Ah, of course; what’s this have to do with
John Smith you may well ask? Well, I firmly belief
our current chairman’s style owes a big
debt to our former great, a man who wrote the
book on playing the quiet man, silent partner,
deliberately shunning the limelight and instead
letting the media concentrate on the most important
aspect; what happened out on the park. In fact
the only time I’d seen him interviewed,
was news footage of him when Shankly quit and
on the Club Video of 88 recalling the decision
to appoint Paisley as his successor. This man
presided over our most successful period ever,
yet he always seemed to cut this lone unassuming
figure in the background, never once taking the
credit for our run of unparalleled success and
using it as a basis for self-promotion. You only
ever saw his face in the Programme on European
nights, dishing out his strictest sternest head
teacher type warning about misbehaviour and the
consequences of pitch invasion. And that’s
just the way it should be in my opinion.
True, he was quite scary looking and at times
wore such a disturbing miserable sneer that it
was infamously rumoured to have given James Mason
inspiration for his creepy Mr Straker character
in Salem’s Lot. On the other hand, you could
argue on those extremely rare occasions when he
was pictured radiating a smile (usually when he
was collecting one of those huge over the top
cheques on the pitch), it was possibly more disturbing
than the grimace itself?
Small points aside, the man was, correction, Is,
a Legend at this football club, and you’d
be hard pressed to find somebody who influenced
our greatest years more than the man himself.
So I hope you forgive me, to admitting to fleeting
pangs of nerves, when deciding whether to approach
him or not. Ten feet away from me he stood there
reading the Times, casually glancing up at the
Arrivals Board, then back down to his choice of
reading matter displaying some deep burrowed intensive
frowns. ‘Go-go-go’ I thought, and
so I did.
Not wanting to resemble the Terminator searching
for a certain Sarah Connor, I attempted to be
as casual as possible in my approach. Beaming
from ear to ear, thrusting out my hand, and saying
‘Hi’ didn’t seem to go down
too well with him though. He looked me up and
down much like me or you would do on being approached
by one of those crazies off the tube. And this
was when the panic set in. I mean, just what the
hell do you say to your Club Chairman anyway?
Players are different of course; you can embarrass
them with shouts of encouragement or even discuss
their relative performances - but what to say
to a Chairman or Directors of the Board even?
Where do you even start?
‘How’s the Turnover this year?’…Or
‘Why are the insides of the sausage rolls
at the ground, bright pink instead of browny-red
like in the shops?’ Absolutely nothing is
So fairly pathetically I asked him for a score
prediction for the Cup Final the following day.
He cleared his throat and muttered back...“Piss
“Okay Mr Smith”, I replied, a little
Did I fume? Did I tell him to do one himself?
Did I push him up against one of the columns and
ask him to repeat himself? Of course not. I gave
him a ‘thumbs up’ and winced.
Believe you me, I was sorely tempted to say something.
Namely why, on the money he must have been earning,
did he still appear to be dressed in the same
old mac he wore to the 84 European Cup Final.
And then snatch his paper and toss it to the floor
for good measure. But I relented. The man after
all was a god in my eyes and they say all geniuses
have flaws, don’t they? Beating a hasty
retreat, I still observed some kind of protocol
though. I didn’t once turn my back on him,
I’ll have you know. Some things are still
important in life!
Two minutes later the fellas I’d travelled
down with shouted me over to let me know that
they were ready to hit the capital and one blurrily
asked me who the arl fellah was I’d been
speaking to. “Dunno mate, got mistaken,
…thought it was a mate of me dad’s
but it wasn’t”, I quietly replied.
Shamefully I was just too embarrassed to admit
to being ‘dissed’ by a geriatric.
And that was that. So if by chance you were sat
in a dodgy dingy Soho boozer that Friday pre Cup
Final afternoon wondering why one Red was looking
a bit preoccupied instead of heckling the dancers
with his cohorts, now you’ll know why. Twas
me. I’m still gutted ten years on.
Paul Stewart, The Village Hotel, Warrington
This chance meeting happened in the salubrious
surroundings of the Village Hotel, and it just
so happened to come the very next night after
the three each against the Mancs.
Now I’d seen him on the morning of the game
at Melwood as I took a mate from the South to
have a peek at the place and the chance to see
the professionals at work earning their crust.
The permed one had long since been banished to
the stiffs and on this morning as the first team
went through their paces, he had been ashamedly
forced to train with the Youth Team.
I felt for him, I really did. It was awful to
see our multi million pound star half-heartedly
perform star jumps with Sammy Lee barking instructions
of “get your knees up higher”. I just
shook my head and turned away. He’d apparently
been suffering from loss of form and niggling
injuries and was getting his fitness levels back,
yet in spite of this the Management team seemed
intent on humiliating him. How the mighty can
fall, I thought. Well, cut to 36 hours later and
my sympathy well and truly evaporated.
Still gushing with pride and buzzing over the
comeback of the night before, three of us decided
to head into the town centre and enjoy a late
night tipple or two, and that was where we spied
Sitting back on one of those trendy looking couches,
he was accompanied by two buxom dayglo peroxide
blondes, draped all over him. There he sat tapping
his feet to the beat, decked out in a pair of
leather kecks so tight, they would have made Frank
Worthington blush at the indignity of them.
A quick grunt to the lads followed by a huge extended
finger-pointing jab in the direction of the couch
and I was off, fuelled by a mixture of adrenaline
and lager. I decided I was gonna perk him up with
a pep talk and a well deserved back pat, much
better than Sammy lee could muster.
Now normally I wouldn’t have been this forward,
preferring just to stare, but alcohol does tend
to let you lose those inhibitions doesn’t
it? And I guessed that he was probably desperate
to shake off the unwanted attentions of the two
laydeeeze currently nibbling on his ear. I mean
come on, let’s be honest here, if me and
you were to suddenly make it as Pro’s tomorrow
and get the chance to play for the Reds, earning
a mega crust to boot, we’d be in the Albert
or the Park post match wouldn’t we? Discussing
how the game went with like-minded people, rather
than quaffing pink champagne in some phoney VIP
area, lap dancers on tap.
So up I went, blatantly ignoring the conversation
that all three were now deep in (admittedly a
disgraceful show of manners) and did no more….
than rub his head to announce my arrival! Eeeek…why
oh why! Did his head have healing powers of sobriety?
Did I just want to confirm whether that perm was
natural, or was he indeed a ‘gel head’?
Or did just plain old nerves get the better of
me? The latter I think. And he took it remarkably
well, more so than his companions seemed to. Probably
the whiff of my breath saved me from a punch as
well as my unsteady feet and Barry George-esque
staring eyes. I really did seem to unnerve him
with this, the strangest of introductions.
So with a mumbled apology, I forcibly moved myself
onto the couch and started to chew the fat of
all things football with him, drawing evil withered
stares from Blondies 1 and 2. Not that I can remember
too much of what we spoke about, not now, not
even then, as I was far too busy staring at his
loafers, and wondering just how much they’d
cost, and why he chose not to wear socks.
I do remember though, discussing his occurring
injury problems which were contributing to his
first team absence, and in front of me he promised
to fight hard for his place when fit, and make
a mark at the club and indeed show us all what
we were missing. He even called me ‘mate’.
I guess I lasted about ten minutes in all. The
next thing I knew, his companions whispered into
his ear and he apologised to me (yes, apologised!)
that he was going to have to take them onto the
dance floor to keep them happy, and so with a
knowing wink to me and a thumbs up back in return
from yours truly, he was up and off.
“Go easy…don’t strain that injury,”
I blurted back. They disappeared some twenty feet
to the minuscule dance arena, and what I witnessed
thereafter will indeed haunt me for the rest of
my life. The appalling Resident House DJ, as white
as Michael Jackson I may add, pitched it up in
a embarrassingly toe curling wannabe Jamaican
Patois style as he announced to the gathered throng:
‘Paul Stewart in the house people, yeah
mon, strut your stuff, wiiickkkeddddddd…In
the Village toooooonite!...Pauuuuuull Stewart
And with that all three of them proceeded to throw
some mightily impressive shapes whilst everybody
took a step back and gave them their deserved
stage. And did our injury prone midfielder bat
an eyelid? Did he hell! He was loving it, as they
put on an impromptu (but obviously over rehearsed)
performance to Black Box’s ‘Naked
in the Rain’, cheers and applause raining
in the background. And that’s when I thought,
“Hang on, he’s got a thigh strain
or so he says? What the hell’s he doing
dancing like that when he should be on the treatment
table, or resting at home in bed?”
My face turned from a cheesy grin of admiration
to a scowl as I thought back to his laboured efforts
at Melwood the previous day and this now sudden
recovery of Lazarus proportions. I swear to you,
if I’d been slightly coherent I would have
been pestering the barman for change for the phone
and badgering Directory Enquires for Souness'
“Disgraceful, absolutely disgraceful”
I muttered to my mates as I rejoined them and
slunk back to the bar and into a night of drinking
oblivion. “You’re just jealous”
one replied “and he’s crap anyway,
who’s arsed”. I suppose he had a point.
PS: I recently met a witness to that night who
claimed, much to my shame if true, that I too
tried the same dance manoeuvres, from the safety
of the bar area and was ‘whooping’
it up with the rest. He followed this up by stating
that my reason for my indignant outrage and mutterings
of maintaining ‘club standards’ was
due to my total incompetence at performing to
a similarly high standard and, instead, looked
like I was fighting an invisible hula hoop. I
can well believe it.
And the perm was natural, by the way.