Reading Vinnie's comments about Denis Taylor stirred something inside me.
When I arrived at Hathershaw my sporting pedigree was already developing, having represented my junior school at soccer, cricket and swimming. Indeed I played cricket in my penultimate year alongside the 'bigger boys'. I was thus in anticipation of an exciting educational and sporting future and I couldn't wait to be coached by properly qualified instructors.
September was, of course, soccer season and I awaited the trials for the school soccer team with eagerness.
The announcement came and the annual ritual of selection began. Anyone interested was to turn up, kitted out, on the soccer pitch at 12.30 pm. This meant that I would have to attend the first dinner sitting in order to make it. But I was held back, for some reason I cannot now remember, and the dining hall had filled up before I reached the front. I was already conditioned to eat at meal times (probably post-war austerity) so I obediently waited at the door for the second sitting to begin.
(We had already received stern warnings about the evils of sneaking out to the chip shop and thus denying ourselves of the nutritional goodness which was only to be found in school dinners - which is how Jim Mills' epithet, 'Smelly Jim', came about. He would smell the fingers of anyone he suspected of this heinous crime in order to detect the characteristic aroma of vinegar.)
When, after an age, I was admitted, I wolfed down my food and, skipping pudding, rushed down to the changing rooms and thereafter to the top pitch. Breathlessly I explained my late arrival to Mr Taylor who looked at his watch, too pointedly for my liking, sniffed and sent me straight on. No sooner had I got on that the whistle blew - it was over, my chance had gone. I would just have to try and catch his eye in the subsequent games lessons.
After a couple of weeks with no obvious impression having been made (I suspect that Taylor had by now stopped looking) fate intervened. I was playing in a Probables v Possibles match during games period and in one attacking play I ran into the penalty area of the opposing side, waiting for the ball to be crossed over from the wing. Over it came but was punched out by Graham Sager. Colin Waldron, who was the opposing centre half, saw the ball coming in my direction and shouted, "Don't let Royales get the ball". This must have attracted Mr.Taylor's attention because he was watching when I blasted the ball into the top corner (sorry Graham).
That did it - I was in !!
I was selected to play against Counthill away, on that heavy pitch which was situated in Strinesdale atop a windy hill just a ha'penny bus ride from Heaven. We drew 1-1, Yogi scoring from the penalty spot. I played adequately, not exceptionally, but enough to keep me in the team, or so I thought. As it happened, my self delusion counted for little because when I looked around I noticed for the first time that Taylor hadn't the grace to watch his proteges in action. He'd stayed in bed.
Since he had nothing to judge me by I was selected as reserve for the next match.
NOBODY TOLD ME THAT RESERVES HAD TO BLOODY WELL TURN UP FOR THE BLOODY MATCH. I thought in my naievity that my job was over when nobody cried off on the Friday. I had an opportunity to play soccer with my local mates on the Saturday morning so I did that instead.
It was only on the Monday morning when Syd asked me why I didn't turn up that I realised my mistake. I immediately rushed to Mr.Taylor to apologise and to explain that I didn't know a reserve actually had to attend the match. He listened carefully to me with his head buried in the newspaper he was reading and, without looking up, replied, "It's OK Royales, you'll never play again".
And I didn't.
I was exiled to the Cabbage Patch for several years. Now, I can understand Vinnie's hurt at being treated thus but, by his his own admission, he couldn't play - whereas I could so it hurt me even more. One can handle physical cruelty, and there was enough of that at Hathershaw, but mental cruelty was harder to come to terms with. And Taylor was good at that, the Cabbage Patch being only one example. I can never remember a straight conversation with him. He always had an acerbic comment about someone or something.
Wars may have been won on the playing fields of Eton but on the playing fields of Hathershaw it was a different game. At Eton it was 'Play Up, Play Up and Play the Game'. At Hathershaw it was if you can't play up, bugger off out of my sight. Denis Taylor's idea of Physical Education, which is what the lesson was laughably called, was to pick winning sides and devote his attention to results. Maybe he was already thinking about his CV. Occasionally for form's sake he would feign interest in your development. Probably the School Inspectors were coming and who may have asked a question or two.
Summer came and it was cricket season. Denis Taylor asked those of us who played cricket at junior school to line up and tell him what our strengths were, batting, bowling etc. My turn came and I proudly informed him that I was wicket keeper for TWO years at Westwood. Again he didn't look up from his scribbling and just wrote down my name. After the line was exhausted he read out a list of names to stand on one side. Mine wasn't amongst it. Graham Sager's was though and he was asked if he ever kept wicket. When Graham replied that he didn't, Mr Taylor opined that as he was such a good goal keeper he would make an equally good wicket keeper. At the next games period I observed a reluctant Sanch being taught the rudiments of wicket keeping.
Cricket season is coincident with the athletics season of course. There was an Oldham Schools' cross country competition coming up and due to the number involved only two entrants per school were permitted. Accordingly in one PE lesson the entire first year boys were to take part in a cross country race and the first two home would represent the school. The course ran around the perimeter of the playing fields alongside, and sometimes on, the golf course and back home via a small stream and over a wooden gate onto the playground. On the final stretch I was in second place behind Booboo Dawson. He was 50 yds or so in front and couldn't be caught. All I had to do though was keep up the pace and that would be it - representing the school at cross country. I got to the gate and clambered onto it. I could see John crossing the line and Mr Taylor writing down his name. Mine would be written directly underneath - I was so excited. I must have been pondering over this too long because as if from nowhere, I certainly didn't hear him, Titch Taylor leapt over the gate like a gazelle. I was horrified and was immediately after him. I was gaining on him very rapidly but the playground wasn't long enough and Trevor crossed the line with me on his shoulder. Denis Taylor wrote down Trevor's name whilst I was gasping for breath and looking up at him expectantly. I was waiting for "Oh, hard luck Royales, good effort - I'll put you in the next competition."
But no - he didn't even acknowledge that I was there - he just turned round and went back into the changing room.
Trials for the athletics team then came - but I didn't bother.
The years passed and then two things happened. Firstly Colin Waldron, Brian Hartley and others left to pursue their careers and so did Denis Taylor. Tom Hill was the new P.E. Teacher and although we had an influx of soccer players in the new arrivals from surrounding secondary schools, Tom selected me for the soccer team. And there I remained, playing on the right wing for two happy glorious years.
Tom's method couldn't have been more different.
He actually taught techniques and was encouraging and brought out the best in you. I discovered I could also play basketball, throw the javelin and sprint. I represented the school at most things and was very, very happy. I even beat Harry Water's long standing javelin record at the town games. I still remember it now. Graham was my partner. When my turn came I charged up to the line like a raging bull and released. It was a sunny afternoon on the athletics ground at Boundary Park and there was the obligatory crowd comprised of those who were not taking part and who went under sufferance. They fell silent when they caught a glimpse of this glinting aluminium needle rising up into the clear blue sky accompanied by a 'whoosh' - and down it eventually came. So also did my foot - unfortunatley just over the line. My throw didn't count but the judge had it measured just out of interest. It was a good couple of yards further than Harry's memorable throw. But I still had two more attempts. Sadly when everything goes right it only goes right once and I never repeated that distance on my subsequent throws. We still won, mainly because Sanch was on his usual reliable form. But for the sake of a couple of inches my name would have been on that record, probably to this day since I would imagine such competitions have been long abandoned either because schools have sold off their playing fields or the javelin event has been outlawed for Health & Safety reasons.
The point is that I wouldn't have experienced any of this, nor had the joy of relating such stories, had Tom Hill not arrived and it is to him that I am eternally grateful.
Who knows, I may gone to University in the belief that I was no good at sports and missed out on the lifetime's enjoyment that I have subsequently had?
As it transpired I captained two soccer sides at University, learned to play Rugby Union and won a place in the first fifteen. From there I went on to play for many teams throughout my life at several sports, many of which I became team captain. In Cambridge I was playing for my firms' rugby team against the 'Cantabrigians' , Cambridge's premier rugby club. After the match I was quietly asked if I would trial for them.
Oh, yes, and I kept wicket for both Cherry Hinton Village and Fisons Ltd for three years in succession.
All this was a far cry from hanging around on the Cabbage Patch wondering what it was I had to do get in the school team - at anything!
I look at my 'Brief Lives' entry and see that I overly dwell on my sporting life. Do I do this because I am proud or is it perhaps Freudian and that I wish to exorcise Taylor's rejection? When I went to University, and after, did I try much harder to get selected for the various teams to prove a point or was I naturally able?
Would I have achieved more with earlier encouragement and training?
Did we miss out on a medal winning marathon runner in Harry Sandford?
We shall never know.
On Denis Taylor
by Keith Royales