Ticker’s on the mend. Now for a ticking off

NORMAN GILLER, safely out of hospital, his bedside manner severely tested, pays respects to his old mate and football writing colleague John Moynihan, who really did “have friends who had friends who knew Augustus John”

As I was saying before I was so rudely interrupted by a heart attack… not enough of our members get involved in this all-embracing SJA website.

Around the same time that I was keeling over with my ticker, dear old John Moynihan was losing an argument with a car within sight and sound of his beloved Stamford Bridge. He was knocked over and died from his injuries.

I logged on to this website from my hospital bed eager to take part in what I felt would be a tsunami of tributes. Apart from a poignant and heartfelt obituary from Trevor Bond, there was not a peep. Not one of his old colleagues bothered to add a comment to Trevor’s eulogy.

Peter Osgood: as good as Pele?

Back in the summertime of our lives as Fleet Street reporters in the 1960s, John and I used to circle each other like inquisitive animals meeting from different parts of the jungle. He with his Brideshead Revisted background, me the Kid from Cable Street.

John had parents who were both renowned artists, while my Dad was a bookies’ runner and pub pianist. While my family was on more than nodding terms with the Kray twins, John would casually refer to the likes of “Uncle Francis” and “Uncle Augustus” when speaking of the painters Francis Bacon and Augustus John.

We used to meet in the middle from our contrasting backgrounds and always got on famously. My running joke with him was that I bet he could not get through a conversation without managing to drop in a reference to Chelsea, a club he knew inside out and back to front and followed with blind loyalty.

He could write like a dream, but with phrasing and purple passages more suited to the pages of a book than the more cramped space of a newspaper.

If you have never read his 1965 book Soccer Syndrome you have missed a treat. It is a compilation of observations about the world of football, flowing with analytical reflections that could have been applied with his parents’ artistic brushes.

Here he is writing about supporters: “Without the crowd it wouldn’t be the same match because, with a yelling, baying, bawling crowd around him, a player’s metabolism rises as each swell of sound gushes towards him from the terraces as he heads for goal. If there was no crowd he would still be heading for goal but there would be no sound to make him wallow in the moment, in which needles of piercing devotion are driven into his bloodstream from the terraces. Those supporters who let their voices roll are the ulcerated hard core with whom an ordinary, shy spectator feels no real bond or brotherhood, only a condescending admiration from afar.”

A shuffling, always-smiling, cuddly bear of a man, John could also be humorous with Waugh-like shafts of wit. There is an hilarious interlude in Soccer Syndrome where he describes how he was sitting in a Parisian café in the late 1950s not paying attention to the then love of his life, who was imparting tearfully that their romance was over.

John’s concentration was on a small black and white TV set on the café counter, where there were flickering black and white images of the new teenaged football sensation in action. He had lost his amour but had found a new love in Pele. According to blue-blooded John, only Bridge idol Peter Osgood and the Chelsea-years Jimmy Greaves compared with Pele at the same age.

My sincere sympathy goes to John’s son Leo, a fine journalist in his father’s mode, and to his daughters Candy and Rosie. The Beautiful Game is a little less beautiful without his observations. He was a lovely man, literally a gentleman and a scholar.

THE JURY IS OUT as to whether I can risk watching Tottenham’s monumental match at Manchester City on Sunday, arguably the most important game for Spurs in a couple of decades.

Harry Redknapp and I – both of us with our newly installed stents – are going to have our hearts severely tested.

My thanks to all those of you who have kindly made contact to wish me well following my little drama with the old jam tart.

I must share a classic experience I had in the cardiac ward at the tip-top Royal Bournemouth Hospital, which has led to all sorts of aggravation and gave a lesson in not jumping to conclusions.

Transferred from the ward by a porter for my echogram, I stupidly left behind on my bedside cabinet my wallet and watch. When I returned 45 minutes later, both had vanished.

They sent in a team to search high and low, but neither could be found. It dropped a horrible cloud of suspicion on the ward, where we had a crowd of nurses, cleaners and assistants from places as far apart as Lithuania and Israel, and Poland and Portsmouth.

I had the hassle of then having to make six calls to Mumbai and New Delhi and all points east before I got my credit and debit cards cancelled. This all within 24 hours of my heart attack.

Six hours later, when the night-shift staff came on, a nurse concerned about what had happened decided to have another thorough search. Nothing. Then she decided to go through my bedside cabinet for a 10th time.

“Why,” she asked, “do you have these tablets …?”, holding up a strip.

“Never seen them before in my life,” I said.

Suddenly she disappeared to the other side of the curtain to where another patient lay in recovery, and she came back seconds later with my watch and wallet.

It transpired that while I was having the echogram, the ward cleaner had managed to switch the cabinets while giving the two-hourly mopping.

Now I have to go through the aggravation of renewing my cards. But at least my faith in human nature is repaired. I nicknamed the nurse Miss Marple.

My problem now is trying to beat a norovirus that kept our ward isolated for five of the seven days I was in hospital. Then, while watching Sunday’s showdown, I hope I am not bugged by Man City.

  • Read Norman Giller’s previous columns for the SJA website by clicking here


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