We welcome guest writer Mike Whalley, intrepid former editor of the Morecambe Visitor, to the website this month to talk about football in the “good old days”.
Clear your lines! Clear your lines! That urgent piece of advice could be heard loudly and clearly on many a Saturday afternoon at Giant Axe 40 or more years ago, as Lancaster City struggled to keep opposing forwards at bay in a crucial league match.
Those words of wisdom were uttered from the Press bench by respected Lancashire Evening Post journalist Harry Aked who, when he wasn't winning the admiration of barristers and judges through his outstanding reporting of Lancaster Assizes, indulged in his Saturday job: following City's fortunes for the famous Football Post. Harry was one of several local journalists who had a passion for soccer and were more than happy to brave everything winter could throw at them - rain, winds, snow, ice, fog, plunging temperatures, frozen fingers, soggy notebooks, crumbling meat pies, boiling hot Bovril, crackling telephone lines, noisy supporters bellowing into your ear - in order to report back on the progress of City or Morecambe FC. There were hundreds of journalists just like them - still are to this day - who performed similar roles in leagues throughout the country - recording virtually kick-by-kick the exploits of the local side, whether at home or away.
It was my privilege to sit alongside Harry for a number of years as I followed City for The Visitor newspaper. No upmarket Press centre in those days at Giant Axe - a bench in the main stand, open to the elements, and a socket into which was plugged the Lancashire Evening Post's very own telephone. Harry, magically creating half an inch of ash on the end of yet another fag, would call Preston every 15 minutes with continuing reports, finishing with the final round-up and score, ready for inclusion in the Football Post, the production of which was a minor miracle.
Those days following City were glorious and I came to admire the dedication and loyalty of so many unpaid directors - the likes of Dougie Gayton and Bob Nixon - the wonderful secretary Harry Nicholson and chairman Charlie Capstick. And May and Doris in the snack bar.
It wasn't all sweetness and light for this young reporter, however. Sports editor John Morrell introduced a pioneering points system whereby the reporter would award marks out of ten to the different players. The day Sean Gallagher smashed home a superb hat-trick coincided with a mental aberration on my part - I awarded him eight points and gave nine points to another City player. That was all right until, the following Saturday's away match, Sean sat behind me on the team coach and wondered, out loud, what would it take to get man-of-the-match. Yours truly slumped ever further into his seat! But Sean held no grudges - he wasn't that sort of man. Indeed, he proved to be a fine ambassador for the game of football. A great guy.
There was potential for humiliation like when Lancaster travelled to Penrith for a pre-season friendly. Four City players still hadn't arrived at the ground ten minutes before kick-off. The coach driver, trainer and a young lad travelling with the party were drafted in, leaving one short. I was just about to knock on the team's dressing room door, which was slightly ajar, to ask for the team, when I heard Rodney Webb say, "what about Mike Whalley?" With a hitherto unappreciated turn of speed, I sprinted away and hid behind the main stand until the game got under way! Coward!!
Football reporting in those days often called for hasty readjustments. When I covered Morecambe Grammar School Old Boys I had to run from the school field with my copy to a telephone box on Broadway, every 15 minutes, to report to the Bolton Evening News or Manchester Evening News. Fortunately, the GSOB trainer, the one and only George Stevens, updated me on my return to the field before I had to depart once more. I hardly saw the game!
Harry Aked faced similar problems when City played away in certain parts of south Lancashire. All telephone boxes had been vandalised in one area and he had to trek to a nearby council house where the tenant had kindly agreed beforehand to make their phone available. The City coach driver that day didn't see the game - he stayed with his vehicle to make sure the wheels remained in place!
My colleague John Morrell was banned from the town of Mossley, having upset the locals with withering criticism of strong-arm tactics employed by some of the home players in a match against Morecambe. John's report was read out at the local council meeting and he was subjected to a wave of condemnation. It didn't stop him returning for next season's fixture between the two sides, smuggling himself into the ground in disguise and getting his report out!
We were an intrepid bunch in those days and proud of it. The club players and officials welcomed us into their midst and took any criticism on the chin. They were in it because they loved the game. There were no divas or divers, no ranting or raving at the ref, just a decent crowd of officials, players and supporters who had one burning desire in common: Lancaster City Football Club.
Come on the Dollies!
And don't forget: Clear your lines!!