Wednesday, 31 July 2013

Football Art: Ted Bates

"The most legendary and influential figure in Southampton's history," the Daily Echo said of Ted Bates.  "The very soul of Southampton Football Club," thought his obituarist in The Guardian.  "An emblem of loyalty and devotion," wrote the Daily Mail. Arriving on the south coast as a promising inside-forward, Bates was a fixture at Southampton for the next sixty-six years, making over 200 first-team appearances, steering the Saints from the middle of the third-tier to the top seven of the First Division, European football and an FA Cup semi-final, and later serving as assistant manager, club director and president.

Signed from Norwich City on his nineteenth birthday,  Bates' war-interrupted playing career peaked when he forged a prolific partnership with Charlie Wayman, the duo scoring 70 goals as the Saints narrowly missed out on promotion from Division Two in successive seasons at the end of the 1940s. Retiring as a player in 1953, Bates was working as reserve team manager when, with the club struggling in Division Three South,  the board of directors forced George Roughton out in September 1955 and handed control of the first eleven to the man who would eventually become known as 'Mr Southampton'.

Third Division champions in 1959-60, it took Bates another six seasons to finally attain the First Division status he'd been denied as a player, his free-scoring Saints side averaging over two goals a game as they clinched the runners-up spot behind Manchester City.  "Getting promotion to the First Division was obviously the high point for me,"  Bates remembered in a local newspaper interview.  "And once we got there, it wasn't the end of it. It was a struggle to stay up at first. We really had to dig in and keep improving the side. You can never stand still in this game."

Bates built Southampton just as Shankly made the modern Liverpool or Busby Manchester United, unearthing future England internationals Terry Paine, Mick Channon and Martin Chivers as the Saints reached the 1963 FA Cup semi-final, twice finished seventh in the First Division,  and played two seasons in Europe, beating Rosenborg and Vitória de Guimarães in the Fairs Cup of 1969-70 before losing on away goals to Newcastle United, then bowing out at the first round stage of the 1971-72 UEFA Cup  3-2 on aggregate to Athletic Bilbao.

After nearly two decades as manager, Bates stepped down in 1973, remaining on the staff as chief executive and assistant to Lawrie McMenemy as Southampton defeated Manchester United 1-0 in the 1976 FA Cup Final. "It didn't come any better than winning the FA Cup at Wembley, " he said. "It was our first trip to Wembley, the first time we'd won the cup...I don't think anyone involved with the club will forget it."

Joining the board in 1978, Bates was made an MBE and awarded the freedom of the city in 2001, two years before his death at the age of 85.  Four years later a £112,000 bronze statue, funded by the Ted Bates Trust, was unveiled outside St Mary's Stadium, only to be taken down within a week.  Widely derided for resembling Portsmouth owner Milan Mandaric shrunk to Jimmy Krankie proportions, the sculpture was called "an absolute abomination", "His head is too big, his arms too big, his legs too small," just one of the many criticisms.  "It was an embarrassing episode, mistakes happened, it wasn't very good and something had to be done," Southampton chairman Leon Crouch admitted as he revealed a £120,000 replacement. "Ted was - and in many ways still is - Southampton Football Club and we owe it to him to build a fitting statue."  The new work - by Sean Hedges-Quinn, who also sculpted Sir Bobby Robson and Bob Stokoe - stands outside the main entrance to the ground, showing Bates dressed formally in a suit and tie, waving towards the River Itchen. "Ted Bates MBE Mr Southampton," reads the inscription on the plinth.  "This statue has been erected by fans, friends and colleagues in recognition of Ted's 66 years of loyal service to our great club."  A fitting tribute to the man who did as much as anyone to build Southampton FC.

Saturday, 27 July 2013

Ground 222: Wingate Welfare Park, Wingate FC

"Now a village with a team," begins Wingate FC's Twitter profile.  A 19th century mining community whose pit closed as long ago as 1962, Wingate's 3,000 residents have been without a Saturday afternoon football side since 1995, when a club which had twice won the Monkwearmouth Cup dropped out of the Wearside League altogether after almost a decade spent in the lower reaches of Division Two.

It was an inglorious end to nearly a century of football. Wingate Albion, champions of the Wearside League in 1908-09,  had also been the first club of goalkeeper Ronnie Sewell, who went on to an FA Cup victory with Burnley and an England cap while at neighbours Blackburn Rovers, where he made over 200 league appearances.  Alf Young, another who started out at Albion, played almost  300 times for Hartlepool, Lincoln City and Gillingham, while Robert Thompson left for Preston North End and later became the first Leeds United player to score a hat-trick in the Football League.  Two other clubs, Wingate Colliery Welfare and Wingate FC, almost repeated Albion's title success, finishing runners-up in the Wearside League three decades apart.  In 1978, Norman Corner, who'd returned to the Durham coalfield after playing professionally for Hull, Lincoln and Bradford City, managed Wingate to second place in the league and a Monkwearmouth Cup victory.   It wasn't quite a last hurrah - there was a second Monkwearmouth win six years later and both Workington and Shotton Comrades were seen off on the way to the third qualifying round of the 1985-86 FA Cup - but local football, like much else in East Durham, was beginning a near-terminal decline.

Enter Steve Cook.  "Chairman, manager, coach, mug," is his self-deprecating description of the role he plays at a club he founded almost single-handedly. Cook, a UEFA-qualified coach formerly of Hartlepool United and with plenty of Northern League experience at Brandon United, Seaham Red Star and Esh Winning, launched Project Wingate on Twitter at the end of February. In March, the yellow-and-blue home colours were chosen by the club's Twitter followers, with one of the winning voters selected as honorary president. By June Wingate had applied for and been accepted into the Durham Alliance, one step below the Wearside and eight promotions away from League Two, where they join the likes of Brandon British Legion, Darlington Rugby Club, Dunston Holmside Amateurs and Spennymoor Town Reserves.  Twenty-five players attended training in the first week of July. "During the course of our first season we will create and train new coaches selected from the playing squad," Cook says on the club's website.  It's a self-sustaining model, all fees covered in exchange for training the next generation of Wingate players at open entry sessions.

There are just over a dozen spectators at Wingate's first home friendly, including four seated on top of the dugouts and another two on the changing block roof.  Wingate Welfare Park, laid out in 1930 as a miners' recreation ground, is fitted with floodlights and four steps of terracing, though the lack of pitchside railings, seats or paved standing around the touchline means there is a lot of work to be done before the club can begin to think of promotion.  Substitutes sit on collapsible camping seats or kick balls against the perimeter fence as Cook and his opposite number, Billingham Town Intermediates' coach John Swanson, shout out instructions to their teams.

The home team fall behind after just twelve minutes, an underhit backpass finding a Billingham trialist, who controls and fires high past the onrushing goalkeeper.  Despite the bone-dry pitch, both sides keep the ball down, passes bobbling from boot to boot.  Wingate's Philly Hickman flicks a header against the base of the post with half an hour played, then calmly levels from the penalty spot from his team's next attack.  "Think about the shape, blues.  Settle it down," yells Swanson. Ian Cookland sidefoots a second for Billingham, but two goals in a minute from Haydn Price and Hickman put Wingate ahead for the first time in the match.  "We've fallen asleep here," Swanson laments.

Wingate clatter the crossbar twice before the visitors equalise, Cookland rounding Russ Blenkinsop, falling over and then dispatching the ball with the front of his boot.  Both sides are now using rolling substitutes.  A few more supporters wander in with pushchairs and some children start a kickabout on the second pitch.  If Cook has his way, they'll be the next generation of Wingate's community football club.

With Peterlee Town the latest victims of the East Durham triangle, you can only wish him well.

Date:27th July 2013
Admission: Free