Where’s the fire? NORMAN GILLER’s reporting instincts are as sharp as ever, even if his bleary-eyed control of his new tablet device leaves a little to be desired. And he remembers the time he helped Dickie Attenborough celebrate his support for his favourite football club
It’s April 1970. I am sitting at my desk in the Black Lubianka when the telephone rings. “Express Sport!” I announce.
“Dickie Attenborough here,” says an unmistakeable voice in my ear. “John Battersby suggested I give you a call. It’s about Dave Sexton.”
Battersby was the Chelsea club secretary at the time and Sexton was Chelsea manager who had steered the Blues to a thumping 5-1 FA Cup semi-final victory over Watford at White Hart Lane just that previous Saturday.
“John tells me you know Dave better than anybody,” said Attenborough, who was already on the board of directors at Stamford Bridge.
“Yes,” I confirm. “Dave and I have been close pals since his playing days with West Ham.”
The voice from The Great Escape, Brighton Rock and a myriad of other movies explains: “I want to get Dave a little present to show my personal appreciation of what he’s achieved in getting us to Wembley. I’m looking for inspiration. What would you say is his biggest hobby away from football?”
Without hesitation, I say that it’s jazz. “It’s always been our main topic of conversation, that and boxing,” I said. “As you’ll know his Dad, Archie, was a British middleweight title contender, but jazz is his No1 love outside football.”
Dickie, a life-long Chelsea supporter, was ecstatic. “I’m heavily into jazz, too,” he said. “You might have seen me in All Night Long, a jazz film that had Dave Brubeck and Johnny Dankworth playing cameo roles. I was in heaven. You have given me a great idea, thank you darling.”
Before the final in which Chelsea defeated Leeds in a replay at Old Trafford, Dickie quietly presented Dave with a collection of jazz albums, including the Miles Davis classic Kind of Blue.
“That,” said Dickie, “is, of course, Chelsea Blue.”
I was reminded of this little episode on the death of Lord Attenborough at the age of 90. He was Chelsea through-and-through, and became their Life President after leaving the board.
Those reporters of my generation got to know Dickie well because he was a regular at Stamford Bridge and took an interest in everything we wrote about the club.
He was once on hand as a witness to see my old Daily Express colleague Des “The Man in the Brown Bowler” Hackett eating his words after he had written in 1967 that if Chelsea reached the FA Cup final he would walk barefoot to Wembley. Tommy Docherty’s team duly battled through to the final against Spurs.
Never one to duck his duty (particularly when he knew its circulation value), Des started on his barefoot walk, accompanied by Dickie, the Doc and half a dozen Chelsea first-team players, who were ribbing him in good-humoured style.
A rubbish truck came slowly by and Des, without breaking step, said to the Chelsea players: “Here you are, chaps, your coach has arrived to take you to Wembley.”
Tommy Doc, not exactly slow with the quips himself, shouted: “No, Des, it’s come to collect your next column.”
What Des did not know as he watched the dustcart disappear into the distance was that one of the Chelsea players – that rascal Peter Osgood – had put his shoes on to the truck.
Yes, and Des wrote: “What a load of rubbish.” Happy days.
Now Dickie has gone to the great stage in the sky, joining Des, Dave Sexton and Ossie. Makes you feel kind of blue.
THE FOLLOWING anecdote has nothing to do with sport, but I share it with you so you can have a laugh at my expense.
I was awakened at 2.30 on Bank Holiday weekend Saturday morning by flashing lights filling my bedroom. I thought my computers had gone mad and I stumbled out of bed into the study at the front of the house to switch them off.
Then I realised the lights were coming from outside. I opened the curtains to find two fire engines parked across my drive, and a squad of fire fighters were directing their hoses at the deserted, detached house directly opposite.
It had only been sold the previous week, and was now going up in flames. The place was a complete burned-out wreck by the time they got the blaze under control.
As I finally emerged from my dozy state, the old reporter buried deep inside came to the surface. Sky News here I come.
I grabbed my state-of-the-art iPad, switched on the camera and started banging away. First a mass of still photos, then a nice panning video shot.
I retreated back to the bedroom to admire my work and select the best pictures to pass on to the news desks.
Uh, imagine my surprise when I found I had forgotten to switch the lens on the camera and had a collection of shots of me in the altogether.
Breaking news: Naked maniac on the loose in Hampshire.
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