Tim Sheppard should need little introduction to NCFC supporters – particularly those of a certain vintage.
Whether this is unique for a club physio I know not, but Tim was not only an inaugural inductee into the NCFC Hall of Fame, he was also given the honour of a Testimonial against the mighty Celtic, when I was one of over 15,000 at the Carra who enjoyed a fantastic evening alongside our friends from Glasgow.
He served the club from 1980 until 2001. He also had the dubious privilege of being banned from working at the home leg of the Bayern Munich match due to being shafted by some obscure law about being away from the dugout for too long in the first match – apparently he was monitoring a shaky Ruel Fox when he “should” have been 80 yards away and thus unable to monitor Foxy. An appeal failed. Hmmm.
I first met Tim 10 years ago almost to the day. Determined to play until I was 50, I turned out regularly for number two son’s side on the UEA astroturf, albeit in goal. Over I went on a previously broken ankle, bang went the ligaments and off I went to see Tim, who did a fantastic job over the course of a few weeks.
He regaled me with tales (many cricket-related) and I actually started to look forward to my physio sessions, which says much more about him than it does about me.
And then I remembered: he is a Bolton lad with a strong sense of loyalty to his birthplace. So we organised a pre-match chat.
Straight in, we discussed why Bolton are known as the Trotters. There are many variations of this tale on the Internet, but none quite like Shep’s.
“In Lancashire, the word Trotter means a joker, or in Peter Kay (one of Bolton’s finest sons) terminology a bit of a prankster”, said Tim.
“One day, these two blokes had a challenge – who could keep their leg in a bucket of boiling water the longest.
“There was only ever going to be one winner – the guy with the wooden leg!”
Tim adds he believes that story to be true and the nickname grew around the club. Gruesome perhaps, but I believe the integrity of the tale.
I then reminded Tim that he was a bit of a player in his time.
“Well I grew up playing alongside Paul Fletcher, who played for Burnley and also England Under-23s. It should have been me really, but an incident with a sloping drainpipe when I was about 15 didn’t really help!
“I ended up playing for Horwich RMI but one of my knees was totally knackered by the time I was 20 so – via the NHS and Coventry Rugby Club – I took the physio route.”
So, who does Tim actually support?
“Well, I claim three teams – Norwich, Bolton and the Under-23s.
“I’m a bit like you Martin – we support our local team.”
And on to how you see Wanderers just now?
“Well, the days of Nicolas Anelka and other big names are obviously long gone. I guess Phil Parkinson is doing his best with free transfers and very low-value signings. His hands are tied.”
As a Boltonian, tell us a bit about Bolton, please.
“It’s a typical Northern industrial town. The man who epitomises it is Nat Lofthouse – the Lion of Vienna. In those days lads would go down the pit, do eight or more hours of hard graft, grab a shower and then go off to train. Or even play.
“Who might often be there to help the lads out training? Yes, Nat Lofthouse. It was truly humbling how a man like that would contribute so much to bringing on the youngsters.
“It was just a shared mentality that really worked.”
You’re proud of your birthplace Tim?
So what’s all this about the UEFA Cup teamsheets John Motson signed and gave to you?
“He was just a lovely guy who came to watch us train at that time and had a fantastic attention to detail. Nuggets of information!”
No chat of this nature with Tim can be complete without a cricketing tale. And this is a great one.
In pride of place on Tim’s wall at the Global Clinic in Colney is a photograph of a very long-haired Ian Botham possibly dismissing Viv Richards. Or possibly not…
“Viv signed the print for me – with a personal message – and Both said he would add to it if I brought it to him. And I did and then he did!”
You’re well-known for your cricketing activities Tim, particularly with Sheppard’s Flock – a charitable XI that raises money for local organisatons via the Lords Taverners. Are you still going strong?
“Yes, with Saxlingham Thursday and Saxlingham Gents. The Flock are still very much active after 12 years.”
“Finally… go on then, it’s cliché preview question time. Where are Norwich and Bolton going to finish as Old Father Time calls an end to this season?”
“Norwich? I’d say sixth. As for Bolton, it’ll be a right struggle but if they can tough out 21st I’ll be very happy.”
Our meeting concluded with Tim kindly giving me a lift back to the City.
Our entire conversation revolved around agents and their “contribution” to the modern game.
We promised each other that the entire discussion was “in camera” – and so it will remain – but by God it was interesting.