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Giller strums a good tune on a new organ

The SJA website’s regular columnist, NORMAN GILLER, celebrated his 70th birthday this week, and now is working on two keyboards

My regular reader may detect a slight change in the delivery of this blog; a slowing of the thought process, perhaps, or maybe an awareness of a trembling of the fingers on the keyboard.

This, you see, is my first blog since passing the milestone (I prefer to call it the smilestone) of 70.

Look around your office. Do you see many dinosaurs like me, still clinging to the life raft of sports writing?

My hackles jumped to attention when I read the thoughts of Independent co-founder Stephen Glover on ageism in journalism (we could marry those two words for a perfect portmanteau: Journalageism).

He made the pertinent point that the likes of big-beast writers Neal Ascherson (The Observer) and Peregrine Worsthorne (Sunday Telegraph) were ditched from their staff-writing jobs all too early in a form of age discrimination.

Hitting 70 does not mean your mind has suddenly seized up, and it is ridiculous to “spike” so much experience and knowledge. I can reel off a team of septuagenarians that would write many of today’s highly paid sports writers under the table. Off the top of my head: Hugh McIlvanney (captain), Brian Glanville, David Miller, Frank Keating, David Lacey, Ken Jones, Peter Corrigan, James Mossop, Colin Hart, Alan Hubbard, Brian Scovell ” under the management of our SJA President Sir Michael Parkinson.

I am sure they are as determined as me to carry on writing (have you read any of my Carry On novels?). Old sports writers don’t die. They just get deleted.

For those of you concerned about one day hitting the 70-barrier, let me tell you that so far it is a very pleasant experience. I tried to leave a message on my daughter’s answer phone to say: “Since reaching seventy, sweetheart, the sun’s not stopped shining …” Try saying it aloud and you will realise why my message finished up with a crazy old man cackling with laughter. My daughter, the gorgeous Lisa, now believes I am on the slippery slope to senility.

In a conscious effort to show that I can punch my weight in the modern world, I spent much of my 70th birthday at the weekend setting up single-handed a website for myself: www.normangillerbooks.co.uk.

I am to technology what Albert Einstein was to ladies’ hairdressing, but I am almost managing to keep pace with the ever-changing internet. Most veteran writers I know who have all-singing, all-dancing websites are in the hands of whizkid designers. But I like to be hands-on … and I come cheap. Whizkids make me feel deficient, which clashes with my oncoming dementia.

I bridge two fairly contrasting communication worlds. When I started on my word journey as a local newspaper reporter back in the mid-1950s I worked with veteran journalists who had used pigeons to fly their match reports to the office. Now here we are in the age of the internet and instant information.

To be honest, I preferred the days of travelling the world with my portable typewriter and putting reports across by telephone or telex machines. Now ” with laptops, mobile phones and iPads ” there is no time for calm consideration, and you only have to go into any Forum to find people dashing out comments and criticisms that are shot from the lip without a moment’s deliberation or reflection.

I no longer report from the pressure points of Press boxes, or in the buzzing atmosphere of offices where deadlines and headlines drive the agenda.

As I sit here in my study in dozy, delightful Dorset I am looking out on a golf course where the deer and the antelope play (ok, there are no antelope, but there is a deer family), and there is no sign or scent of volcanic ash. Immediately behind me I have a piano that I swing around on my swivel chair to play, from one keyboard to the other. My neighbours will confirm that I am succeeding in my ambition to be recognised as the world’s worst jazz pianist.

It is all quite idyllic as I chase my target of 100 books before I am deleted (14 to go). While creating the new website my concentration was interrupted by a familiar voice coming from the television in the corner of my study.

I looked up to see Terry Venables leading The Sun gospel choir in “If I Can Dream”, and suddenly I was transported back 40-plus years to when I was close buddies with El Tel in his Chelsea days. I remember accompanying him to a nightclub where he sang with the Joe Loss band.

Those were the days when Tommy Docherty was in charge at Stamford Bridge, and they were in fall-out mode with the Doc saying that “there can be only one manager … and it isn’t going to be Venables”.

When he heard that Terry was singing with the Joe Loss band, the Doc ” “Don Quickquote” as we called him ” said: “Sounds a dead loss to me.”

Within a matter of weeks, Venners was singing from a different song sheet as a Tottenham player.

Featured with the The Sun backing group on the TV advert is Harry Redknapp, with whom I can remember singing in the Black Lion in West Ham with the Bobby Moore drinking school. Harry could not hit a note from 10 yards, unless it had the Queen’s head on it (a little joke, Aitch).

Venners and Harry are just young whippersnappers ” Terry 67, Harry 63. When they become septuagenarians I hope they are not just ditched, but given the respect and dignity we old geezers deserve. Never throw away the vintage wine.

Read previous Norman Giller columns by clicking here.


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