Ray King column: everlasting memories
Having now drifted into my 90th year my mind continues to remain extremely active but frustratingly my body does not respond with anything like the same degree of enthusiasm. Memories of yesteryear ceaselessly invade my memory but I am limited by just how much I can write!
It had always been my intention that if I returned to Amble my first task would be to arrange a commemoration for all local sportsmen who performed on the sporting fields of Northumberland and beyond.
Well, as many of you will know, I did return almost thirty years ago. To arrange such a function was an enormous task but I was fortunate to employ the services of several old friends: former Amble footballers Jimmy Stewart, Jim Taylor, Billy Briggs and Teddy Taylor.
Our first assignment was to book the Legion Hall, an imposing building which stood opposite the Memorial Clock. Invitations were sent out to all those sportsmen and their wives who by their presence would make the occasion special.
In order to finance this event we needed the support of Amble business people and it was my task to visit local businesses in order to garner the support that would be essential. With one exception all those I visited responded very positively and their contributions enabled us to provide our guests with drinks and a wonderful meal.
I had invited my great friend, the legendary Newcastle United footballer, Jackie Milburn. He told me that he would be absolutely delighted to attend such a worthwhile event. Being such a popular figure, the news of Jackie’s attendance spread like wildfire and very soon it seemed that everyone wanted to attend.
The occasion was a resounding success. The highlight for me was the attendance of my boyhood hero Sandy Allen. During the evening he came up to me, pint of beer in his hand and a beaming smile on his face. He said, “Ray, this is the happiest night of my life! I want it to last forever.” He continued to walk around the room clutching his pint and greeting friends.
I particularly remember seeing goalkeeper Derek Goodfellow who played for Amble before the war and who had been another boyhood hero of mine. We had played against each other at St. James’ Park in front of sixty thousand fans when Derek was playing for Sheffield Wednesday.
Various groups of guests were huddled together, engrossed in animated conversation, recalling their days on the sports field. One hundred years old Billy Luke, a former Preston North End outside right, was there with his son Gordon, also a fine footballer in his youth. There was Norman Miller, then in his late eighties, who had kept wicket for Amble Cricket Club over several decades. Both Billy and Norman were presented with special plaques.
Jackie Milburn was, of course, kept very busy by the attentions of United’s fans. He gave a witty speech, which couldn’t have been easy for him, as at that time his health was starting to fail. He told me that his eyesight was deteriorating swiftly and he had little or no appetite. I hadn’t realised, until his wife Laura told me, that Jackie had been a very heavy smoker. All of us that night felt very fortunate to be in Jackie’s company – he wanted nothing in return.
It was certainly a night to remember – such happy memories.
Ray’s book ‘To the End of the Road’ is available from Pride of Northumbria,
Queen Street Amble, price £6.99