Some things change, some things stay the same
Fifty seven years ago, a young lad from Amble was snapped up by a talent scout, and began to make a name for himself as a professional footballer. Last year, another Amble youngster’s dream came true in a similar fashion, signing as a professional footballer on his 17th birthday.
Times have changed for players and spectators, teams and stadiums; the sport itself is now big business before being entertainment. But there is a point, at the beginning of a player’s career, when 57 years makes no difference. Talent may have been recognised, but the financial rewards are still slight and the future is still uncertain.
|John Angus: Right Back in the day with Burnley FC
“I started by playing for Amble Boys’ Football Club” says John Angus, a quiet, gentle, soft spoken man. He tells me he doesn’t remember every detail, but when I ask him to recall how he got his break, the memories are there as clear as those of a 17-year-old.
“I played a couple of games for Amble Town and Alnwick Town before the scouts found me. I was 15½ and I went straight to Burnley. Alan Brown, the manager, was keen on promoting the younger kids. I had just turned 18 when I was signed. There were five of us in the team my age. Loads of kids go through the books and don’t make the grade, so we all had to do an apprenticeship at college. I studied as a joiner. I was working during the day and training at night. They put us up in digs.
My first match was on September 3rd, the day after my 18th birthday. We played Everton at home and we won 2-1! I played number 2, Full Back. We played in the First Division, but I was still working and training at night.”
Burnley was at the top of the First Division in those days and won the League Championship in 1960. After that, the cap on players’ salaries was removed and gradually pay and perks became increasingly more lucrative.
“It was a good side for eight years,” says John. “But then the players started moving away to other clubs. I started on £9 per week. A win got you a £2 bonus, £1 for a draw. Top pay for all footballers was £15 per week. Players stopped in one club. In the 1960s that was abolished and teams changed. When I was 20 I was earning £15 per week and living in digs. I always came home to Amble for three months in the summer. That’s when I met Florence.” (They married in 1961).
England call up
Early in his career John had to travel by public transport or walk to and from the football grounds, chatting to the expectant crowd as he arrived – worse was dodging their disappointment if Burnley failed to win.
“If you got beat, then you had to try and leave quietly! But I enjoyed every minute, playing against the likes of Manchester United, Manchester City and Liverpool. And of course I remember matches at Newcastle, against Bobby Michell, Jimmy Scoular and Jackie Milburn. As a young kid, you used to dream about playing them. My family and friends came to see me although they cheered for Newcastle first!”
John played for Burnley 521 times, scoring 4 goals. He was called up a total of 10 times for England’s youth team and under 23s; his full cap was awarded in 1961, when he made his debut for England against Austria in Vienna.
“We used to have 20,000 on the gate at Burnley. I played from 1955-73, when I had an achilles op and that finished me. But the team had started to break up and we got relegated from the premiership on my last game.
After retirement, John returned to Amble where he and Florence ran a series of businesses including JK Crafts on Queen St and John worked as a locksmith in the prison. They have three daughters and two grandchildren. “People come in to my shop even now and ask to meet him,” says Florence.
So does he miss those glory days?
“I’ve always had lots of interests; photography, hill walking and golf, even when I played football. I don’t think about my football career much now – I don’t even watch it any more. I think it’s best not to live in the past.”
|Luke James: Hartlepool United striker
Luke James, a polite, affable but determined teenager is at the very beginning of his professional football career, retracing the steps set by John Angus nearly six decades ago. The former JCSC student, who still lives in Amble is now a striker for Hartlepool United, and as he told me, “It is a dream come true!”
Luke started with the Amble All Stars under 10s team; and progressed to Cramlington Juniors’ under 13s where he was spotted by Hartlepool’s talent scout. After playing for their under 16s team, Luke won a scholarship to play on the Hartlepool youth team.
“I only did four or five months, then I signed my first professional contract, on Nov 4th 2011 – my 17th birthday” said Luke. “It was the best birthday present I’ve ever had! My first game was against Colchester at home. I came on as a second half substitute, as we were getting beat. I played with no fear, I thought I may as well grab my chance with both hands. I played well and we finished 2-1.
“In my debut match I scored my first goal. It was against Rochdale. As striker, there’s no better feeling than scoring. I went wild, running around the place. I don’t think I’ve scored a better volley from 25 yards.”
Hartlepool United themselves described Luke’s debut in glowing terms: Showing composure and tenacity well beyond his tender years the attacker harried and harassed his defenders all afternoon and capped a fine performance with a stunning twenty-five yard strike in to the top corner of the net – a spectacular effort which was later crowned Goal of the Season.
Two weeks later, in January 2012, in the local derby against Carlisle, Luke scored two goals. He was “over the moon”. But trouble came when he injured his back and was forced to sit out the next few matches.
“It was horrible. But I’m recovered now and I got the last couple of games in at the end of last season. And I’ve had no problems with my back so far.”
Luke has begun the new Division One season in much the same way as last year; a steady start, picking up momentum and crowned by a goal. He also appears in the latest FIFA13 computer game – something his predecessors did not experience.
Luke credits his achievements to hard work and a lot of support from his parents. “I owe a lot to them, they’ve taken me down to Hartlepool three times a week. I wouldn’t be anywhere without them. They come to watch every game that they can.”
“My main tip is to work hard. It doesn’t matter if you’re having a bad game – you can always practise on the technical side. But if you haven’t got the heart and the work rate, you’ll never make it.”
Ambler columnist Ray King is another local football hero. What is it about Amble that cultivates such footballing talent?
Perhaps readers can help compile a ‘List of Fame’?