When I read the excellent article from Stewart Lewis about embarrassment, memories of my own father, Len, came flooding back. In droves. Not that he ever embarrassed me. Far from it.
My old boy was as far away from being a teacher as humanly possible. He left school at 13 and basically fled the bomb target that was East London in 1940 with his older brother Louis to Hull, Stornaway or anywhere he could get food, warmth and a bed for the night. Fast forward, Uncle Lou joined the Merchant Navy – but only after he knew an underage Lenny had been safely enlisted into the Royal Engineers (RE). I guess it was late 1942.
Dad’s personal War history would spoil the flow of this piece, suffice to say he was certainly one of the youngest British soldiers on the Normandy Beaches. And he drove a bren-gun carrier. A half-track vehicle with a light machine gun on the back, for our younger readers. I believe four of his gunners died, but Len survived.
He stayed in until late 1946. There were no jobs for lots of people. He was offered an opportunity of sorts when certain faces found out he was RE Middleweight Champion. Turn pro. Hence my link to Stewart’s article. While he was mulling it over, older brother Lou got a job as a stevedore at the West India Dock. He discovered the Port of London Authority were looking for Police Officers, told Len and he somehow got the gig. He could barely read or write. And that’s why he remained a PC all his working life. It was pointless for him to sit his sergeant’s exam – I doubt he would have understood the questions. On paper, anyway. He enjoyed 33 years of exemplary service, the last eight of them as Chief Constable Eric Ellen’s personal driver.
He had loads of connections in the boxing fraternity. He trained at West Ham Baths and Henry Cooper’s manager, Jim Wickes, got his builder brother to help him construct a primitive conservatory at the rear of our then family house in Chadwell Heath. Tickets for the York Hall in Bethnal Green were forthcoming to the family – but not to be passed on to me, I was too young by far, and my mother flatly refused to go.
What I find interesting is that Stewart’s father turned down a professional footballing opportunity when he was a teacher and my dad turned down an opportunity in boxing because he had just become a police officer. Stewart was so right when he said the money was just not there then – whatever side of any social divide you might have occupied.
So what’s all this got to do with Norwich City? Just this much. Often, people rail against footballers because they largely consider them to be greedy, earn too much and certainly too much too young.
But what working class boy wouldn’t give it his best shot?
I have no jealousy at all aimed towards those who earn x, y or z, but if I respect Grant Holt and Bradley Johnson above others, it is because I truly believe they have earned their rewards the hard way and respect them from the lessons I have learned in my own life. There must be loads of other examples I am sure, but I cannot think of any better just now.
I don’t claim to know too much about the parents of our players and nor would I want to, but I can think of at least three couples who have done everything they could to further the careers of their offspring. No names from me, but the dedication is there and the fruition of the efforts of one particular couple is to be seen on the pitch right now.
Just like Len, who would drive me miles to any tennis tournament I entered because he had more faith in me than I had in myself. He knew nothing about football beyond standing on the terraces at Upton Park, but taught me to swim. He taught me to drive (properly), and some of the basics of boxing. And when I lost a tennis match he always tried to cheer me up on the way home. It’s all a father can do.
And in 1967 when there were very few Chinese takeaways around, he would always manage to show his Warrant Card at our local one, get his food for free and give me a pancake roll. The only deal was we had to consume the food in the car as my mother wouldn’t accept it into the house. Fifty years ago…
It’s funny in a way. Dad’s strengths were boxing and swimming while I can barely break the proverbial brown paper bag and feel done in after three lengths. Give Dad a tennis ball and his first instinct would have been to eat it.
I will never forget buying him an illustrated book about Jack The Ripper one Christmas in the early 1980s. He was fascinated with the subject matter – which is why I bought the book – and asked me to read a couple of difficult passages to him. He knew a lot more than I ever will about policing in particular and life in general.
He left me in 2000 and one of his final comments was: “Why didn’t you support West Ham?”