Daley’s Of Perfect Ilk To Carry The Flame
THERE can be only one man to light the Olympic flame as far as a fan of Non-League football is concerned, and that is Daley Thompson, someone I’ve always carried a torch for!
Sir Steve Redgrave appears to be the other great in the running for the honour of opening the Games in Stratford next Friday night. The rowing legend has every right, of course, as the only Brit to win five gold medals in consecutive Olympics.
But for me, it has to be the man I once dreamed of playing alongside during one of the double decathlon gold winner’s brief forays into the national game.
It was the back-end of the 1995-96 campaign when I was starring for Ilkeston Town’s Under-18 team.
Keith Alexander had just taken over as New Manor Ground manager and, with my hometown club staring relegation from the Southern Premier in the face, he signed Matt Sisson and myself on first-team forms and told us he was looking to blood us.
Now, as centre-halves (although I had mainly been playing in midfield that year) Matt and I really ought to resent Thompson, because at the age of 37, he occupied one of the central defensive berths for nine games alongside Donovan Gethfield as Ilkeston staged a mini-revival.
They were still relegated, finishing third-from-bottom with just Stafford Rangers and VS Rugby below them, but they did manage to hold eventual champions Rushden & Diamonds to a 1-1 draw at home.
A report from the excellent ilsonfootball.co.uk site details how “Rushden came close as (Darren) Collins’ 25-yard shot was headed off the line by Daley Thompson”, during the 1-1 draw in Derbyshire.
It was during a local derby with Burton Albion that Thompson showed fire of a different kind, as another source explains: “Ilkeston’s hopes of victory suffered a blow in the 57th minute when Daley Thompson was pulled down by (Jason) Rhodes. Thompson reacted with a headbutt that led to a brawl, and he duly received a red card whilst Rhodes was issued with a yellow.”
I moved on to Arnold Town that summer, where I was soon joined by big Don and Mark Clarke, who had played right-back alongside Thompson.
Clarkey, now player-assistant-manager at Evo-Stik Division One South club Carlton Town, told me: “It was a fantastic experience to play alongside someone of Daley’s stature, and some of the stories he told us about the Olympics had us all awe-struck.
“As a centre-half he wasn’t the most skilful, but he was physical and powerful and he could run and jump for fun, as you’d expect. He was funny as well, especially when he took us for the best warm-ups I’ve ever experienced.”
It is as a person, however, that Clarkey best remembers the Londoner. “He still had his sponsorship with adidas and he brought a catalogue in one day and told us to choose what we wanted, write it down and he’d get it for us dirt cheap,â€ recalls the 40-year-old.
“We all ordered boots, trainers and tracksuits – the lot – and when it came he never asked for the money, just said he’d sort it.
“As semi-pro players on little money, it was a brilliant gesture and he wasn’t the Billy Big-Time sort who forgot about us as soon as he left. I remember seeing him a couple of years later and he stopped to have a good chat, even though we’d only been together for a short time. He was a top geezer.”
Fans of League One club Stevenage will remember Thompson in their colours, too, albeit briefly for a game against another of my old sides, Ware, in October 1994.
And Mansfield, then a Football League side, gave him a chance to start a professional career, with a couple of reserve appearances even leading to a place on the bench for a home game against Cardiff City in the 1995-96 season.
The Independent dubbed it “a publicity stunt to rival Ian Botham’s dalliance with Scunthorpe” although then-Stags boss Andy King said: “It’s no gimmick. When Ian Botham signed for Scunthorpe, that was a gimmick. Daley is an athlete, Botham wasn’t.
So our greatest cricketing all-rounder couldn’t hold a candle to athletics’ finest Jack-of-all-trades, according to King, and neither in the star-struck eyes of my youth does Redgrave.
He blocked my path to the first team, but I want my fellow ex-Robin to light up London!
Marcus Will Be Keeping Law And Order
THE OLD saying goes that you have to be a bit mad to be a goalkeeper, so you’d think the Tamworth technical area this season would be like an asylum after Marcus Law made Lambs legend Dale Belford his assistant.
Ex-keeper Law used his recent media day at The Lamb to distance himself from the lunatics, however.
Discussing the signing of Tony Breeden and how the ex-Kidderminster stopper was one of several of his new recruits with a point to prove to clubs in the Conference, Law – who started his career between the sticks at Bristol Rovers – said: “Tony had a fantastic end to last season.
“He helped a team that was mid-table up to just outside the play-offs, but for whatever reason he’s become available and I’ve jumped at it.
“We’ve said to him “You’re our number one, but for some reason he doesn’t want it, he wants number 13!”
As a player, goalkeeper coach, caretaker manager and academy boss, Belford is one of the characters that make the Staffordshire club such a friendly, banter-filled placed to visit.
“Tony’s very similar to Dale, so I’m just letting them be – I left the Goalkeepers’ Union many years ago,” said Law.
“I can’t stand training them and I don’t like coaching it. When they let goals in, I’ll have a little rant and rave here and there, but I’ll let the weirdoes stick together!”