Page 103. " Malcolm and me get the cigarette cards out on the hunt for Bobby Charlton. "
Bobby Charlton in action
Permission Granted by Copyright Owner for Use on Book DrumBobby Charlton in action - Credit: Newcastle Chronicle & Journal
Ashington was not famous for much outside of its own area, but one thing that put it on the national if not the international map was its position as the home town of great footballers - first, Newcastle United and England centre forward Jackie Milburn, then his younger relations Bobby and Jackie Charlton, who were both in the England team that won the 1966 World Cup. Bobby was by far the more famous of the brothers, and is still (as Sir Bobby Charlton) associated with his only professional club, Manchester United. At one time Bobby Charlton was the most well-known footballer in the world. He was also a survivor of the shocking Munich aeroplane disaster which wasted the lives of many Manchester United players in their prime in 1958. This story, Babes, is about the reaction to the accident in Ashington, as seen through the eyes of the young boy at the centre of the story.

Busby Babes cigarette cardds
Public DomainBusby Babes cigarette cardds
Cigarette cards were very popular at this time. They were inserted into cigarette packets by manufacturers hoping to encourage adherence to their brand by collectors wanting to collect the whole series of whatever the company were promoting at the time. Footballers and cricketers were the most popular of the cigarette card series.

Page 104. " We should take the ball across to Beatrice Street and have a kick about. "

Beatrice Street, a row of colliery houses in Ashington, was the childhood home of Jack and Bobby Charlton, and still the home of their parents at the time of this story. (In 1966, after England won the World Cup, Jack bought his mother a new house in Ashington which she called Jules Rimet after the World Cup trophy.) Beatrice Street was one of a number of rows named after Shakespearean heroines. It was flanked by Portia Street - where the author's mother lived out her final days - and Rosalind Street. Juliet Street was in the next block along. It seems the town planners' stock of Shakespeare's heroines soon ran out as the street beyond Portia is called Ariel Street, still in the Shakespearean mode but not female - Ariel is an androgynous spirit in The Tempest (whose heroine is Miranda; Miranda Street would have been more consistent). They did, however, show more imagination in this part of Ashington than in naming the first blocks of colliery rows in the town First Row, Second Row etc up to Eleventh Row.

Google Map

 

Page 104. " Surely even Charlton can't beat the mighty Yashin from this distance. "
Monument to Lev Yashin in Moscow
Public DomainMonument to Lev Yashin in Moscow

Lev Ivanovich Yashin (1929-1990) was a Russian-Soviet goalkeeper considered by many to be the greatest in the history of the game.

Page 106. " We've already missed the football results on Sports Report "

 Sports Report, which is still broadcast weekly on BBC Five Live, is one of the longest-running programmes on BBC Radio, having started on the Light Programme in the first week of 1948. It runs from 5pm-6pm on a Saturday evening to provide the football results and reports from the grounds. At the time of this story, the programme was presented by Irish broadcaster Eamonn Andrews (1922-1987), originally a boxing commentator who by this time had also become a regular television face, hosting such favourites as What's My Line and This is Your Life. 

 

Click on the radio below to hear the famous, long-running theme tune for Sports Report.

Page 106. " Nine goals altogether - it's like the games Roy of the Rovers plays in The Tiger, but this is for real. "
Roy of the Rovers cover
Creative Commons AttributionRoy of the Rovers cover - Credit: atomicShed

Roy of the Rovers was a comic strip character in The Tiger. Roy Race was a professional footballer with Melchester Rovers (also fictional), who were consistently involved either with title and cup challenges or - equally dramatic if alarmingly inconsistent - flirting with relegation. In the period covered by We Never Had It So Good Melchester became League Champions in 1958, and won the FA Cup the following season, by which time Race was captain. Roy of the Rovers was still going up to the end of the millennium, first as player and then as manager, long after The Tiger had been merged with later publications. It has long been a journalistic cliche to describe an exciting game or the dramatic rise of a star player as 'real Roy of the Rovers stuff'. Roy had an equally eventful life off the pitch - kidnapped at least five times in ten years, losing a leg in a helicopter crash in 1992 (which unsurprisingly ended his playing career) and losing his wife Penny in a car crash in 1995.

Page 106. " Next week there's the second leg of the European Cup match. For once we forget Newcastle and become Man U fans. "
Busby's Mannester United team 1958
Permission Granted by Copyright Owner for Use on Book DrumBusby's Manchester United team 1958 - Credit: Alan Gough

Matt Busby's young Manchester United team captured the hearts and imaginations of many outside the city, especially when they became successful in Europe, for then they were representing not just their city but their country.

Page 107. " I stretch my hand out, palm up, and he thwacks it three times with the leather. "

Corporal punishment was practised in British schools until it was abolished in 1987 for state schools, but not until the turn of the twenty-first century for private schools. Punishment was usually either in the form of caning across the hand or buttocks or by the strap (called a 'tawse' in Scotland) across one or both hands. The leather strap (known as 'the belt') was the everyday punishment tool in North East schools, with the cane being reserved for more serious offences, often administered in the headmaster's study. Punishment by strap was usually done in front of the class in a deliberate act of humiliation for the offender and as a deterrent to the rest of the class. Children receiving the strap were usually instructed to hold out one hand, palm up and supported by the other hand, making it more difficult to move the hand away as the belt came down and ensuring that the full force of each stroke was taken by the hand being strapped. Strapping was common even for minor offences, such as talking or getting sums wrong. The author can remember, on his last day at junior school, getting 'six of the best' for using his school pen as a dart to hit the Famous Scientists chart on the class notice board.

Corporal punishment was the stuff of British comedy at the time. It was often mentioned in the BBC radio show The Clitheroe Kid about a schoolboy Jimmy Clitheroe (actually played by an adult midget of the same name), on television with 'Professor' Jimmy Edwards playing the scheming, drunken, cane-swishing headmaster of Chiselbury School ('For the Sons of Gentlefolk') in Whacko! and a series of films about the unruly Girls of St Trinian's.

Here's the introduction to Whacko! with a typical opening scene featuring Jimmy Edwards.

Page 109. " Man U plane has crashed whole team nearly dead. "

In the early hours after the crash, with the news filtering to Britain around tea time, there was all sorts of confusion about what had happened. Even the BBC six o clock news was short of detail.

Page 110. " There's 21 killed. Seems Bobby's got out more or less OK, but Tommy Taylor's dead, so is Whelan, Jones, Colman, Pegg, Bent and Roger Byrne the skipper. "
Evening Chronicle front page 6 February 1958
Permission Granted by Copyright Owner for Use on Book DrumEvening Chronicle front page 6 February 1958 - Credit: Newcastle Chronicle & Journal

In common with the nationals, Newcastle's Evening Chronicle was trying to keep up with the story. Its sister paper The Journal had the advantage of a few hours, and it was soon able to add more facts into the story, and managed to secure an exclusive telephone interview with the young local hero, Bobby Charlton.

 

 

 

 

 

 

From The Newcastle Journal Friday 7 February 1958

(reproduced by permission) 

SOCCER PLANE: 21 DIE

Seven are Manchester United players

CRASH AFTER TAKE-OFF

SEVEN OF MANCHESTER UNITED’S SOCCER STARS DIED YESTERDAY WHEN THEIR PLANE CRASHED AFTER TAKING OFF FROM RIEM AIRFIELD, MUNICH.

Altogether 21 people, including some of Britain’s top sporting journalists, perished in the disaster.

There are 23 survivors, but many of them are seriously injured.

CAPTAIN AMONG DEAD

            Heading the list of dead was United’s captain and English international left-back Roger Byrne.

            Others killed were Mark Jones (centre-half), Bill Whelan (Eire international and inside-right), Tom Curry (United’s trainer and former Newcastle and Stockport County player), Eddie Colman (right-half), Bert Whalley (the club coach), Tommy Taylor (United and England centre-forward), David Pegg (outside-left and an English international), Geoff Bent (left-back), and Walter Crickman (club secretary since 1926).

            Frank Swift, the former England goalkeeper turned journalist, died in hospital after an operation. He had a fractured skull.

LOCAL SURVIVORS

            Team manager Matt Busby, also in hospital, was said by doctors to have little chance of survival.

            Among the survivors were Ashington-born Bobby Charlton, inside-right, and Ray Wood, reserve goalkeeper, who comes from Hebburn.

            Another who escaped was Margaret Bellis, 37-year-old stewardess, from Darlington, and formerly of Whitley Bay.

            The plane – a specially chartered B.E.A. Elizabethan – was bringing the players home after Wednesday’s drawn game against Jugoslavia’s Red Star in Belgrade.

            It had landed at Munich to refuel.

THIRD ATTEMPT

            Players and journalists were joking in the airport waiting-room while the air liner was refuelled before its final “hop” to Manchester.

            Snow was falling as the plane taxied out at 2.45 p.m. It returned.

            Twenty minutes later it went out again. There was another delay.

            Then, at the third attempt to take off, onlookers heard its engines rev-up, saw it start forward.

ENGINE CAUGHT FIRE

            Their looks turned to horror as one of the two engines appeared to catch fire immediately after the plane had left the ground.

            It lost height and ploughed into a two-storey house about 300 yards from the edge of the airfield.

            The tail of the plane broke off and burning debris was scattered for about 500 yards around, setting several other houses on fire.

            The plane was burned out in the centre section, but the pilot’s cockpit seemed to be little damaged.

            The captain of the plane was able to scramble free of the wreckage and help in the rescue work before he allowed himself to be taken to hospital.

            The B.E.A. issued in London last night the following statement made in Munich by Mr. Anthony Millward, chief executive officer of B.E.A., who had flown out with other officials to the scene of the disaster:

            “We are not certain that the aircraft became air-borne but we do know that it overshot the runway and hit a house 300 yards from the end of the runway with its port wing. It then veered to the right, hit a hut and burst into flames.”

           

 

 

From The Newcastle Journal Friday 7 February 1958

 (reproduced by permission)

ASHINGTON PLAYER TELLS IN 2am PHONE CALL OF CRASH ORDEAL

 

Bobby Charlton: ‘I woke to see plane ablaze’

FLUNG OUT 40 YARDS AWAY – ‘BUT I’M ALL RIGHT NOW’

In a telephone talk at 2a.m. today Manchester United’s inside-right Bobby Charlton, of Ashington, described his ordeal in the crash.

            “The trouble was we did not get off the ground. We taxied, then left the runway, crashed through a fence and hit a house,” he told a Reuter correspondent. “The next thing I knew was when I woke up and found myself about 40 yards from the plane, which was blazing violently.”

            “I had a cut on the head but was otherwise all right. I was a bit scared, though.”

            He was able to walk, and was one of the first three survivors to get to hospital.

            The others were Harry Gregg and Bill Foulkes.

            They all helped to get the manager, Matt Busby, into an ambulance.

Worries end

A telegram from Bobby to Ashington Police last night ended hours of worry for his mother, Mrs. Elizabeth Charlton.

            Her heart sank when she opened the door to a local policeman – but he smiled as he handed over the telegram from Bobby which said: “I am fit and well. See you all soon.”

            The telegram ended what Mrs. Charlton described as “The worst day of my life.”

            She first heard of the crash as she was doing housework at her home in Beatrice Street, Ashington.

            A neighbour called. “As soon as I saw his deathly white face I said ‘Bobby – the plane’ and he nodded,” she said last night.

            “I did not dare listen to the radio.”

            “It’s a tremendous relief – but those other poor lads,” she said sadly.

            Also waiting anxiously for news were his younger brothers, Tommy aged 11, and 15-year-old Gordon, a pupil at Bellingham Camp School.

            Bobby, who completes National Service in May, is a second cousin of Jackie Milburn.

            He was capped for the England schoolboys’ team at 15 and was signed by Manchester United when he left Bedlington Grammar School.

Bobby Charlton and Ray Wood in hospital
GNU Free Documentation LicenseBobby Charlton and Ray Wood in hospital - Credit: Newcastle Chronicle & Journal

 

Page 111. " I'm convinced this really is Cissie Charlton. "

It was Bobby Charlton's mother Cissie, more than the father, Robert, who was associated with encouraging Bobby's football ambitions. She came from a football family, with her brothers all professionals, and her cousin was the Geordie superhero Jackie Milburn. Cissie was always more than willing to talk to the press about her life as a football mam.

From the Ashington Advertiser Friday 18 April 1958

(reproduced by permission)

Bobby’s mother can handle the Press

            The most frequently interviewed woman in Ashington must be 45-year-old Mrs. Elizabeth Charlton, of Beatrice Street, mother of the Manchester United wonder footballer, Bobby Charlton, who at 20 has been capped for England.

            As Bobby Charlton moves from triumph to triumph in the football world the newspapermen descend upon housewife Mrs. Charlton to ask what she thinks about her son.

            And, of course, she thinks he’s wonderful. What mother would not?

            Helped Train Him

            Reason for the interest of the Press in Mrs. Charlton is that she is known to have perceived Bobby’s latent football talent when he was a child, and in encouraging him went so far as to turn out herself into the back streets and the public parks of Ashington to encourage him in kicking a ball around.

            When he was an up and coming schoolboy footballer it was noted that he needed a vital quick burst of speed for the breakaway, so Mrs. Charlton helped to select a sprint track in a public park where Bobby, with mother watching him, galloped busily to pull out the extra pace.

            Mrs. Charlton herself does not make extravagant claims about her contribution to the making of a star footballer because she says he is “a natural”, and that it was always obvious that football would be his business.

            At Ease With Press

            Now Mrs. Charlton is completely at ease with reporters, because she has been interviewed scores of times. She talks to them freely, but nearly always manages to tell the men on the track of human interest sporting stories that every time she talks to them she has anxieties about what they will print.

            Young Tommy

            Interesting member of the household is young Tommy, the youngest son, who is still at school, says his game is rugby, and is interested in skiffle.

            While mother is being interviewed he sits in a corner fondling a George Formby banjoline and enjoying the limelight his famous brother has brought to his home and life.

            Good and Bad

            Tailpiece to the Charlton family story concerns a non-member of the clan. This is sport loving newsagent Mr. E. Cockburn who runs a business just along the street from the Charlton home.

            In recent weeks it has fallen to his lot to be the bearer of bad tidings and good tidings to the Charlton household. He reluctantly delivered to Mrs. Charlton the first news of the Munich air crash in which Bobby Charlton was one of the lucky ones, then within a week or two more happily was able to deliver the first intimation of young Bobby’s award of a place in the England team – his first cap.         

From the Ashington Advertiser Friday 18 April 1958

 

Bobby’s mother can handle the Press

            The most frequently interviewed woman in Ashington must be 45-year-old Mrs. Elizabeth Charlton, of Beatrice Street, mother of the Manchester United wonder footballer, Bobby Charlton, who at 20 has been capped for England.

            As Bobby Charlton moves from triumph to triumph in the football world the newspapermen descend upon housewife Mrs. Charlton to ask what she thinks about her son.

            And, of course, she thinks he’s wonderful. What mother would not?

            Helped Train Him

            Reason for the interest of the Press in Mrs. Charlton is that she is known to have perceived Bobby’s latent football talent when he was a child, and in encouraging him went so far as to turn out herself into the back streets and the public parks of Ashington to encourage him in kicking a ball around.

            When he was an up and coming schoolboy footballer it was noted that he needed a vital quick burst of speed for the breakaway, so Mrs. Charlton helped to select a sprint track in a public park where Bobby, with mother watching him, galloped busily to pull out the extra pace.

            Mrs. Charlton herself does not make extravagant claims about her contribution to the making of a star footballer because she says he is “a natural”, and that it was always obvious that football would be his business.

            At Ease With Press

            Now Mrs. Charlton is completely at ease with reporters, because she has been interviewed scores of times. She talks to them freely, but nearly always manages to tell the men on the track of human interest sporting stories that every time she talks to them she has anxieties about what they will print.

            Young Tommy

            Interesting member of the household is young Tommy, the youngest son, who is still at school, says his game is rugby, and is interested in skiffle.

            While mother is being interviewed he sits in a corner fondling a George Formby banjoline and enjoying the limelight his famous brother has brought to his home and life.

            Good and Bad

            Tailpiece to the Charlton family story concerns a non-member of the clan. This is sport loving newsagent Mr. E. Cockburn who runs a business just along the street from the Charlton home.

            In recent weeks it has fallen to his lot to be the bearer of bad tidings and good tidings to the Charlton household. He reluctantly delivered to Mrs. Charlton the first news of the Munich air crash in which Bobby Charlton was one of the lucky ones, then within a week or two more happily was able to deliver the first intimation of young Bobby’s award of a place in the England team – his first cap.

 

 

Cissie's own story, as told to local journalist Vince Gledhill, is still available on Amazon.  

Cissie Charlton
Creative Commons AttributionCissie Charlton - Credit: jeannie-bee
      
Page 112. " 'Jackie Milburn,' says Malcolm "

Jackie Milburn (1924-1988) was another of the famous Ashington-born footballers who came from the related family stock of the Milburns and the Charltons. If Bobby was the most famous on the Charlton side, 'Wor Jackie' was certainly the most famous of the Milburns. Wearing the number 9 shirt of the centre forward he led the line in Newcastle United's FA Cup campaigns of the 1950s which saw them win the Cup three times in five years - Milburn scored twice in the 1951 Final, scored in the 1952 Final and scored the then quickest goal in FA Cup Final history after 45 seconds in the 1955 Final.

Here are some brief highlights of the 1955 Final, including Jackie's headed goal.

Statue of Jackie Milburn in Ashington
Creative Commons AttributionStatue of Jackie Milburn in Ashington - Credit: Mark Smiles
Milburn also made 13 appearances for England, scoring ten goals. He left the Magpies in June 1957 to join the Belfast club Linfield as player/coach where he won nine trophies and finished as leading league goalscorer in two consecutive seasons. After retiring as a player he briefly managed Ipswich Town before returning to Tyneside to work as a sports journalist for the News of the World. A long-term smoker, Milburn died at the age of 64 in 1988 of lung cancer at his home in Ashington. His funeral at St Nicholas' Cathedral in Newcastle saw over 30,000 people turn out to pay their respects. In the same year Newcastle United opened their new West Stand at St James' Park and named it after Milburn. In addition, two statues of the footballer were commissioned. One stands at Station Road, the main street in Ashington. The other, in Newcastle, was originally situated in Northumberland Street but is now at a junction near St James' Park which is known as Milburn Junction. Jackie Milburn was inducted into the English Football Hall of Fame in 2006 in recognition of his contribution to English football.

Page 114. " Duncan's just died in hospital from his injuries in Munich. "
Duncan Edwards
Permission Granted by Copyright Owner for Use on Book DrumDuncan Edwards - Credit: munich58.co.uk

Dudley-born Duncan Edwards (1936-1958) was not only a great young prospect for Manchester United; he is generally regarded as one of England's greatest young players. He started playing for his country, at left half, when he was only eighteen. He died when he was still only twenty-one. Had he lived, it is thought that he would have been among the world's best. Although Duncan Edwards initially survived the crash at Munich, he died as a result of his injuries 15 days later.

 

 

 

 

Watch this moving tribute to Duncan Edwards, which includes rare footage of the young star in action.

Duncan is seen lining up here with the rest of the Busby Babes in what poignantly became the last team picture before the Munich air crash. They are just about to start the game with Red Star Belgrade, which took them to the semi-final of the European Cup. Most players in this picture, whether through death or serious injury, never played again.

Manchester United lining up for the game in Belgrade
Permission Granted by Copyright Owner for Use on Book DrumManchester United lining up for the game in Belgrade - Credit: munich58.co.uk
Page 117. " Princess Margaret came to open Ashington Technical College. "

Northumberland College
Creative Commons AttributionNorthumberland College - Credit: Mark Smiles
Ashington Technical College (now a Further Education College called Northumberland College) was officially opened by Queen Elizabeth II's sister Princess Margaret on 30 April, 1961, though it had been on the site since 1957. It seemed that the whole of Ashington turned out to see the royal visit, including all the schools who were marched along by their teachers to cheer at the kerbside as she drove by. Some of them waved flags. The author, 11 at the time, remembers his friend Les Freeman waving a huge Canadian flag as he didn't have a Union Jack.

Page 120. " "How's the leek's coming?" says Dad. "
Growing leeks
Permission Granted by Copyright Owner for Use on Book DrumGrowing leeks - Credit: Colin Clews

In this story Washed with milk (which refers to the practice of some growers who carefully brushed their leeks just before taking them to the leek show) the boy's father is entering leeks for the local leek show, but he has not grown them himself. It was common practice for men to get a gardening friend or relative to grow leeks on their behalf at an allotment. Uncle Josh is the champion leek grower in the town, and he pooh-poohs most of the myths about the best way to feed leeks - myths that include pouring Newcastle Brown Ale on them or 'pissing on them', though Josh does collect sheep droppings from the moor to use as fertilizer.

Here's a video featuring a North East grower in the 1950s explaining his method of growing and showing leeks, including mention of gathering sheep droppings from the moor and sleeping at the allotment to guard the leeks, as Uncle Josh does in this story.

 

Page 125. " "Finally on the far side of the hall we see where the blanch leek entries are laid out." "
Winning leeks
Creative Commons AttributionWinning leeks - Credit: tigerweet

In the early years when a stand consisted of three leeks (it changed to two leeks around 1960), a good single leek would measure around 30-35 cubic inches. The judging was done in great secrecy, with everyone excluded from the hall during the process, so there was great excitement after the long wait, when the competitors and their families all rushed in to see what the prize-winning entries were. 

 

Many people, however, used to go to the leek shows as much to admire the prizes as the leeks, onions and carrots on show, as the following column from the local paper pointed out at the time.

 

From the Ashington and District Advertiser Friday 30 September 1960

(reproduced by permission)

one thing

and

ANOTHER

by Spectator

INTO ITS OWN

The leek came into its own with a vengeance last week-end when shows were staged in more than half the clubs of the town. Of course there was the usual bit of bother here and there, when someone or other violently disagreed with the opinion of the judge, and then someone had to have his leeks cut up just to make sure that a particularly good specimen was completely ruined.

I notice that the thousands of people who visit the leek shows don’t really go to see the leeks at all. They usually look at the first four or five stands and then have eyes for nothing but the prizes. The womenfolk are particularly more interested in the prizes than in the leeks.

At one club a leek, not a particularly good specimen of the breed, got a prize for having the longest beard – well, that at least provided a little variety.

At another club a prize winner (not very high up), admitted to me that he had never grown a leek in his life and would not be quite certain which end to put in the ground if ever he had to plant them. Still, he managed a ‘stand’, and was obviously overjoyed with his prize.

STILL ON THE LEEK

You must pardon me harping on about leeks, but on looking through the records of successes over the past few years I have come to the conclusion that there must be one or two families in the town who have more kitchen cabinets, cocktail cabinets, sets of bedding and so forth in their homes than they know what to do with. Such are the rewards of being able to grow good leeks, and I probably am more than a little jealous of their achievements in this field.

Without knowing the first or last thing about leeks, I thought the best two stands were at the White House Social Club – they looked as if they would have held a very high place in any show.