NORMAN GILLER doesn’t shy away from nob jokes, though this week writing his column was like pulling teeth. Which is what Giller’s dentist has been doing
How to take my mind off the dentist’s fingers inside my mouth, wrestling with a worn-out molar? Let’s consider Ashley Cole and where he ranks in the list of the top 10 England left-backs of my 70-something lifetime.
I watched and applauded my fellow Stepneyite as he led out England and collected his gold cap to mark his 100 international appearances. On Twitter and Facebook he was getting grudging praise, and lots of unfair flak from people more concerned about his private life than anything he has achieved on the pitch.
As the dentist reached for the dreaded drill, I closed my eyes and brought to my memory screen the following England left-backs in the order I rate them:
In 10th place, Cyril Knowles, an accomplished ball player with a crunching tackle. He brought skill and steel to the 1960s Spurs team, and would have won more than his four England caps but for an at times casual and cavalier approach to the game.
Ninth, Bill Eckersley, a solid, dependable defender in 17 England games, who usually partnered the more accomplished Alf Ramsey. He spent his entire career at Blackburn, and was noted for his uncompromising play in the era of flying wingers.
Eighth, Mick Mills. a versatile full-back who was equally comfortable on either flank, he played with distinction for Ipswich, Southampton and Stoke and was stylish and unflappable. He collected 42 England caps and was a driving captain in Bobby Robson’s sparkling Ipswich team.
Seventh, Terry Cooper, a converted winger who had his peak years as a fast and clever left-back with Don Revie’s Leeds United. He won 20 England caps and was a formidable force in Alf Ramsey’s 1970 World Cup squad.
Sixth, Emlyn Hughes, a multi-talented player who was a driving force whether in midfield, in central defence or at left-back. His energy and enthusiasm with Liverpool earned him the nickname Crazy Horse and he won 62 England caps.
Fifth, Stuart Pearce, a totally committed defender who was affectionately known as Psycho. He had his best years under Brian Clough at Nottingham Forest, and his full-blooded competitive attitude brought him 78 England caps.
Fourth, Kenny Sansom, a cultured left-back who won the first of his 86 England caps while with Crystal Palace before establishing himself as a fixture in the Arsenal defence. He was quick, composed and an excellent crosser of the ball.
Third, Roger Byrne, captain of the Busby Babes and a master of positional play. He had won 33 England caps at the time of his death in the Munich air crash at the age of 28. He was naturally right-footed but fitted comfortably into the No 3 shirt.
Second, Ashley Cole, who was a vital cog in the Arsenal “Invincibles” team before a controversial switch to Chelsea in 2006. He is an elegant player who despite an appetite for attacking play has never scored in his 102 appearances for England.
First, Ray Wilson, England’s left-back in the 1966 World Cup winning team and a player of supreme skill who was a pioneer of overlapping play. He was capped 63 times, the first 30 with Huddersfield before signing for Everton.
Right, that’s my list. Now what next? I know, I’ll start counting the teeth that I’ve got left …
THE SIGHT OF YOUNG Tykes Joe Root and Jonny Bairstow lighting up the England middle order against New Zealand at Headingley took this old hack back to the days when Yorkshire were challenging Surrey’s grip on the County Championship.
Surrey had won the title seven years on the trot when Yorkshire emerged with a formidable team that included Brian Close, Geoffrey Boycott, Ray Illingworth, John Hampshire, Joe Binks, Phil Sharpe and “Fiery Fred” Trueman, who was approaching the veteran stage but still a ball of fire.
It was the early 1960s when they started to make a huge impact, coinciding with the start of my Fleet Street career as a holiday relief sports sub on the Evening Standard (having told my bride of six months that it was a staff job).
The sports editor was a cold, ex-Army officer type called Peter Goodall, who was a cross between David Niven (looks) and Atilla the Hun (temperament). My main task was to edit the constantly changing cricket scoreboard through seven editions, in the days when the county game had huge support. It was the most aggravating job of my life, with queues of people standing at my back looking for their county scores. They included Goodall, not searching for counties but cock-ups.
One afternoon I took my eye off the ball and let through a literal, or rather a joke by the boys in the composing room. These were the days when The Nawab of Pataudi was gracing the Oxford University team. To get his title to fit in the scoreboard we would abbreviate it to “The N’w’b of Pataudi”. This particular day it got into the paper as The Nob of Pataudi.
Goodall took the laughter it generated as aimed at him personally, and soon after I was going cap-in-hand to the Daily Herald to beg for a staff job on their sports desk. I felt a complete knob.
Perhaps the likes of Root and Bairstow will get Yorkshire folk excited again about their county cricket team, but judging by the empty seats at Headingley for a Test match, there’s nowt stirring at the moment.
Watching Root and Bairstow harvesting runs with a mix of elegance and youthful energy and exuberance gave me good feelings about England’s chances in the upcoming Ashes series. If Pietersen is fit, Root will be the perfect opening partner for Captain Cook.
He will be like Boycs, with a turbo fitted.
Root. Ah, this is where we started. Wonder if the dentist has got to the root of my problem?
- What do you think of Giller’s listing of left-backs? Post your comments below