NORMAN GILLER’s spent the week trying to bring people together: Barry Hearn, David Gold and Boris Johnson. Plus memories of a 13-goal Summers’ day
Anybody share my fear that the magnificent London Olympic Stadium could yet become a white elephant of gargantuan proportions?
London Mayor Boris Johnson’s latest wheeze to invite the NFL to become “anchor tenants” could torpedo the one sensible proposal of letting West Ham United have it as their permanent home.
When I Tweeted to Hammers co-owner David Gold that West Ham and Leyton Orient should merge to give them a reach right across East London, he responded: “We would get strung up if we suggested that.” But surely it would make more sense for a West Ham Orient club to be occupying the Olympic Stadium rather than a 10 weeks a year occupancy by the NFL franchises.
Or perhaps the Hammers and the Os could ground share?
I urge the eminently sensible Orient chief Barry Hearn to get together with the Gold/David Sullivan alliance and come up with a joint plan to save the Olympic Stadium for the nation, rather than having it become a foothold for the NFL.
Mergers and shared grounds would be the solution to the problems of several debt-ridden clubs across the land, but traditions and tribal jealousies get first consideration ahead of sanity.
There have been four confirmed bidders for a permanent base at the Olympic Stadium: West Ham, Leyton Orient (with the geographical advantage), the University of East London and Formula 1.
But the waters have been muddied by Boris Johnson’s invitation to the NFL to get into the mix following Sunday’s New England Patriots and St Louis Rams showdown at Wembley that drew 80,000 spectators – more than any Premier League match can attract.
As I understand it, the NFL has a long-term contract with Wembley Stadium, including a plan to stage two games there next year. What happens to that?
It will not be so much gridiron coming to the UK as gridlock, with legal battles holding up the process to the point where the Olympic Stadium will become as under-used as a Coney Island pleasure park hit by Hurricane Sandy.
As m’learned friends are raking it in and taking months/years to unravel the legal rows, the Olympic Stadium seems likely to be booked for the 2015 Rugby World Cup and the 2017 athletics World Championships.
West Ham Orient makes sense to me. But then, I am sane and unimpeded by the shackles of tradition.
THE 12-GOAL THRILLER at Reading on Tuesday followed by the nine-goal blitz at Stamford Bridge on Wednesday set press box veterans searching their memories for a better and bigger banquet. Here’s my nomination:
The time: December 21, 1957. The place: The Valley.
Charlton Athletic were at home to Huddersfield Town, a club managed by Bill Shankly who was two years away from starting to build his legend at Liverpool.
Now fasten your safety belts for an action replay of one of the most extraordinary matches in the history of the Beautiful Game. Charlton were reduced to 10 men early in the first-half when their skipper and England international centre-half Derek Ufton was carried off with a broken collar bone. This was seven years before the introduction of substitutes (the first of whom was, of course, Charlton’s Keith Peacock).
Huddersfield were 2-0 in the lead at half-time, and cantering.
Within just seven minutes of the second-half Huddersfield had rocketed 5-1 into the lead, with the one Charlton goal coming from the right boot of their left winger Johnny Summers. Yes, four goals in seven minutes. Pity the reporters putting over running stories in those days of telephoned copy.
Huddersfield started to stroll around with the air of a team that, understandably, considered they had the game won. After all, they were easily dismantling a defence missing its best player and which had conceded 120 goals when being relegated from the First Division the previous season.
Now for Summers’ day. He scored a second goal with a right-foot shot, and a minute later set up team-mate John Ryan for another goal. Charlton 3, Huddersfield 5.
During the next 10 minutes Summers added three more goals – all with his right, “wrong” foot – to take his tally to five, and the score to Charlton 6, Huddersfield 5. Amazing? You ain’t seen nuttin’ yet.
In the 88th minute, shell-shocked Huddersfield gathered themselves for one more charge and snatched an equaliser. Enough’s enough. The Valley crowd was dizzy with the excitement of it all, many of them no longer sure of the score.
Johnny Summers had one more trick left up his sleeve. In the last minute, he dashed down the left wing and sent a pass into the path of Ryan, who hammered it into the net. Charlton 7, Huddersfield 6, Summers five goals, two assists. Eat your heart out, Theo Walcott.
No pressman had the courage to tell Huddersfield manager Shanks that this was the first time in Football League history that a team had scored six goals and finished on the losing side. For once in his life, Shankly was speechless.
Ray Wilson, arguably the finest left back ever to pull on the England No3 shirt, was in the Huddersfield defence. More than 50 years on he remembers the game as the craziest he ever played in. “It was pure madness, and few people in the crowd could keep up with the score,” he recalls. “Even we players were asking each other, ‘What’s the score?’”
Summers, a chirpy Cockney who had travelled the football roundabout with Fulham, Norwich and Millwall, said: “I wore these boots for the first time today, and I have never scored a goal with my right foot before. Today I got all five with my right. Amazing, ain’t it?”
In those £17-a-week maximum wage days, Johnny used to double as a Fleet Street compositor and was often casualing on the stones of Fleet Street newspapers. Within a couple of years of making, rather than setting, the headlines, lovely Johnny Summers was cut down by cancer. Suddenly it was winter – but those lucky to have been at The Valley on that astonishing day in December 1957 will always be warmed by the memory of a Summers day.
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