It looks like a different world to now. People look more nervous in the photographs, like they’re not used to being in them. And though there is colour in some of the photographs, it’s often tinted in. This is a world that was lived mostly in black and white. On the relatively few televisions. In all the newspapers. And in the monthly magazine I treasured in the early to mid 1960s, ‘Charles Buchan’s Football Monthly.’ Which I’ve been remembering this week because I borrowed a book of the ‘best of’ it from Allerton Library.
And what a treasure it is. Depicting a world where the beginning of success for any young footballer appears to be signified by being asked to sign their autograph. A world where all goalkepers are ‘doughty custodians.’ Where brilliant young Pele of Brazil outrageously appears to be presented as the only black person on earth. But also a world where footballers clearly live amongst the communities that support them.
Which takes me, of course back to the north of Liverpool where I grew up. After being born in Walton and spending my very early years in Diana Street, just by Everton’s ground – where every other Saturday I’d stand in the window watching the thousands of people who’d stream past to the turnstiles, fifty yards from where we lived – we moved out to the suburbs where, I was to find, most of the Everton and Liverpool players lived too.
Not that there was some kind of celebrity guide to the homes of the rich and famous published. For a start they weren’t very rich. The houses they lived in were ‘club houses’ not theirs for the most part. And compared to footballers now, they weren’t all that famous. But to us they were gods and only The Beatles breathed the same air. But we knew where they lived because of the boy grapevine. Someone would be spotted, washing his car or taking in the shopping ‘for’ his beehived wife. And word would go round.
And we would go and get their autographs. In special little autograph books. We’d always go in twos. I’ve no idea how this method was arrived at. We must have realised instinctively that going mob-handed would have resulted in us being seen off. Whereas going on your own, even though none of us knew the actual word then, was a bit like stalking them.
So we’d go in twos and give each other courage. Who was going to knock? Who’d speak first?
Most of my hunting was done with my main friends Barry Ward or Paul Du Noyer. But never with both at the same time. And each of them was free to hunt with others, particularly where a player lived in a particular other boy’s neighbourhood. This practice led Paul and another boy into their most terrifying autographic incident. When they woke feared Liverpool hard-man Tommy Smith from his afternoon nap!
Tommy’s wife was just explaining to them that Tommy was asleep when the bleary-eyed tackler appeared in the hall asking what was going on? Paul can still now describe eloquently the blind panic they both went through in that moment. Running was obviously out of the question as even a half asleep Tommy Smith could have easily caught them and brought them both down. So they froze to the spot. Ready to take their punishment.
And Tommy of course was sweetness and light. Delighted and even flattered still, that early in his career, to be looked up to by the youth of Liverpool.
In fact I can’t recall anyone ever being even mildly rude to us. Gordon West, Ian Callaghan, Ron Yeats, Alex Young, Jimmy Gabriel, Peter Thompson, Brian Labone, Tony Kaye, Brian Harris. All genial and gentle. I had my own ‘waking up’ incident with Everton captain Roy Vernon, and again escaped not only with my life but also with kindly words.
Ian St John was my particular favourite. He lived close to me in a little road called Hillcrest, autograph paradise as Alex Parker of Everton lived in the road as well. And Ian never minded my repeated intrusions on his privacy as I would bring yet another keen autograph hunter round to meet him.
The pinnacle of my autograph hunting career, though, was Gerry Byrne. If you’d had to back anyone in a fight with Tommy Smith it would have been Gerry Byrne. Famously Gerry broke his collar bone in the third minute of the 1965 F.A.Cup Final against Leeds United. And because no substitutes were allowed in those days, he played on in excruciating pain through the rest of the match, including extra time. He made the cross for Roger Hunt to score the first of our goals. And the Leeds players never knew he was so badly injured as we went on to win the Cup. A very tough man indeed.
So a while later me and Michael Atherton approached his door, just off Sefton Drive, not with fear but certainly with deep respect. And Gerry said ‘Of course you can have my autograph lads. In fact, do you fancy a kick around?’ So off we trooped to a nearby field for a kick around, with Gerry Byrne, of Liverpool FC, who would be in the World Cup winning squad the following year. I didn’t think life could get any better.
Soon secondary school happened though. And the boy grapevine died off, as we were sent to separate schools depending on how we did in our ’11-plus’ exams. A cruel separation. Previous good mates like David Wilson, Tony Temple, David Kubiskie and Tommy Coulton sent off in one direction, while me and Barry and Paul were sent the other way.
Autographs were over. And life happened.
Then, in the summer of 2011, after forty six years apart, Barry and Tommy brought the autograph hunters back together again. Not everyone could make it, including Paul. But it was lovely to see them. The class of ’65.
We met in Maghull, north of Liverpool, where we’d spent so many happy hours together. Looking for autographs. And I played them my song about those days, When We Were Boys:
“Everything was always getting better, We sailed right round the Moon, Seemed like Liverpool really mattered, We collected autographs…”
Best of Charles Buchan’s Football Monthly available here for £10. Go on. You know you want it.