John Russell gets nostalgic about the Villa and less important stuff.
That’s the name of a radio programme in which well-known personalities are invited to read extracts from the diaries which they kept as teenagers.
The snag to this idea is that it has to be admitted very few teenagers actually kept written diaries and that I am among this majority. Except that I did keep what is tantamount to an appointments diary recording the major events which I attended, hence my attempts to tell you what I got up to.
Firstly I can record that I so hated grammar school that I can tell you very little about it. I used to have to cross the city using two buses but which I eventually choose to increase to three because on the return journey the second bus often went past full so it was easier to change from the inner circle 8 on to the 39 at Aston Cross, thence a nod to Villa Park before catching the number 5 to Perry Common.
But joy of joy actually came when my mother finally trusted me to cycle the six miles to and from school every day. I was then able to choose a far quicker and more convoluted route which enabled me to take in Beale Street, Aston. If only Beale Street could talk. Better still, she had earlier given me a note excusing me from having to take those interminably awful school dinners – it is impossible to describe how horrible the mashed potatoes were. Except her idea of sandwiches always included cucumber, which she soaked in vinegar overnight. Now for the nitty gritty.
Back in 1954 my brother was courting a girl from Clacton on Sea. Result, I get invited to spend a couple of weeks at the seaside. She lived in a bungalow and the most thing I can remember about it is that bath night consisted of a tin bath in front of the fire filled with saucepans full with hot water. Very 1900 and very Aston!
She had a brother and we went most of those two weeks cycling around the Essex countryside. Easter 1955 and the invitation is reciprocated. Michael was going to get an unforgettable experience.
Easter Saturday saw us at The Hawthorns where the visitors were Portsmouth. Albion won 3-1 but otherwise I cannot tell you anything about the game except that Michael was confused as to why I so wanted the visitors, who were top of the league, to win. Two days later ditto, only this time at St Andrews but again I was ‘disappointed’ in that the Blues also won 3-1.
Sunday morning could mean only one thing – football on Perry Common Rec. Michael had never seen anything like it. Eight games for free except if my memory serves me correct being Easter we did not quite get to see eight games, only six.
Finally the big moment. Michael was going to be able to tell his friends he had been to three top grounds in four days. Wolverhampton, who had beaten us 0-1 while we were on the Tilton Road terraces, were due at Villa Park. As a result they had replaced Portsmouth at the top of the pile just behind Chelsea, who were destined to be the worst-ever side to win the championship.
After a drab game the previous day cometh the Lord Mayors Show. Tommy Thompson opened our account after six minutes and not until 45 playing minutes later did Wilshaw equalise matters. Whereupon Thompson set about giving Nigel Sims, then in the Wolves goal deputising for Bert Williams, a hard time scoring that rarity of rarities at Villa Park, a home team hat-trick.
But with ten minutes to go Hancock seemed to put Wolves back in the title race. Then amidst mounting excitement amongst the assembled multitude, 45,000, Eddie Follan did what Eddie Follan seldom did and thrashed the tatter past Sims and Michael went home having seen three home wins. 4-2. The final league table makes remarkable reading.
Whereupon as football gave way to cricket my diary contains numerous references to cricket at Edgbaston. We were given time off ahead of the GCE examinations and there is no doubt that these references contain numerous occasions when I should have been using the time for the purpose it was intended. But all the revision in the world would not have got me through the French exam. Believe it or not, I never actually got to SPEAK French at school – no such thing as tape recordings, it was all text book stuff. The vocal test in front of a visiting teacher from another school was worse than embarrassing.