DURING last year’s school summer holidays, I found myself with my 8 year old nephew up in the attic wading through old boxes and bags, and generally having a “Cash in The Attic” moment. To the huge disappointment of an 8 year old who believes far too much of the fed fantasy of such TV programmes, we were unable to find any hidden family portraits, silver, gold or even diamond watches left from long since forgotten relatives, that were to jog a memory lost in childhood many years ago!
What we were able to acquire from dust ridden boxes and the excessive photo albums accumulated over not so many years, the fact that Uncle had once been a child himself, a nephew, a grandchild and was not just a money bank, chaser of wayward footballs when struck so widely off its intended goalposts path, it were to end in the local park stream. Uninteresting man, who gave big boxed presents at Christmas and on birthdays, wrapped so ridiculously badly that it took three differing colours of paper. Not just the one who was always late for family gatherings, but had the greatest and wildest excuses for such a poor attitude toward punctuality, him who can’t play computer games, but tells funny stories in lots of funny voices.
My memento was to be two small, although gold coloured – actually plastic – Runners-Up medals from the under-15’s Nottingham County school boys F.A Cup! “Did you really lose twice Uncle Chris?” I would not have the heart to tell him that I also missed a penalty in the first, yes losing final. Next out of the trophy bag would be my plaque from Player of The Year 1983 whilst playing for South Nott’s School Boys. “Wow was that when Brian Clough played for Forest” Clearly my brother’s history lessons to his young son need to be slightly more factual, and repeated more often as to sink in to this clearly unimpressed child.
Before we knew it we were to discover a little green felt bag which I had not seen since I was perhaps 13 years old, clinking like a bag of loose change. I suddenly was filled with many emotions, happiness, sadness, laughter and then embarrassment, oh yes this was my bag of Irish Dancing medals! “Uncle Chris did you used to do ballet dancing” Err at this point I felt it was time to let the boy go back to his usually pursuit of building a Farm or killing a monster on his PS3.
Why, then, the necessity to embarrass myself with tales of Irish Dancing, missed penalties, and a clutch of losers medals?
In a week when Liverpool legend and former skipper Tommy Smith auctioned off a chunk of his own medals, shirts and other historical items, I found myself wondering the reasoning for those players from eras long gone to feel the need and compunction when deciding how best to secure a future for themselves or family, in a world where Premiership footballs can go whole careers winning not so much as an Irish Dancing medal, yet be financially secure by the time they first step up to the mirror for their manhood defining moment of a first shave.
Will we ever see the day that El Hadji Diouf auctions off the shirt he wore the night he covered a supporter in spit, purely to pay the gas bill? I think not. Joey Barton having to sell the club colours from the night he jokingly stubbed a cigarette into the eye of a younger teammate?
Tommy Smith was, and remains a legend around Liverpool and Anfield. Our captain at the start of what would be a glorious period whilst we collected some of the most prized silverware imaginable. Over 16 years and 467 appearances, he would lead the side that secured our first European Double in 1973 winning both the League title and the UEFA Cup.
After his retirement from the game and in the latter years Smith has had a hip replacement, both knees and an elbow are made of plastic and has arthritis to such an extent that he requires a walking stick, and from time to time a wheelchair. His body is in such a poor state that he has even had to resort to claiming incapacity benefit. This the man who was voted number 25 in Liverpool Football Clubs 100 Most Important Players of All Time. If we only judge the man on what he achieved for Liverpool and what he was prepared to sacrifice in pursuit of that achievement, then he will surely sit up in the higher echelons of employees of the club.
Smith has every right to do what he sees as fitting with medals he has earned through blood and hard work. He managed to sell his medals and other memorabilia for a combined total of £137,272 at Bonham’s Chester, so a sum that many a Premier League player of very average ability would be earning in the space of a calendar month, he received for his most treasured memories. Tommy suggested that he had become increasingly concerned about burglaries against former and current players; this had also led to his decision to sell alongside an opportunity to get some much needed finance toward his family’s inheritance.
Liverpool Football Club aided in the auction in respect of purchasing some of the more historic items. What the club and other clubs do for ex-players at times must be applauded.
It could be said that it is a small shame in respect of Tommy Smith having to go to such lengths in securing other avenues of financial well-being, but on the other side of an argument, many people of my father’s generation like Shanks worked down the pit for 2 shillings and six-pence a day, and when that life of the workingman ended, they were not so fortunate to have been given rewards for their hard work, the rewards that later could be sold on for thousands of pounds like Tommy Smith. Are any of us due true reciprocation of the hard work we all give to our differing employers? Our heroes are not immune to large slices of what is known to the common folk as reality.
Luckily for Tommy there are more than a few video of his footballing exerts, which have also been recorded in annuls of footballing histories, enabling and affording opportunity for his children and their children to experience Dad’s and Granddad’s life’s work.
As for myself, I can forever be reminded and sit and wonder, days when missing penalties in school-boy football matches hurt me for what seemed like an endless moment and how it bought that child to tears. When high kicks and tap dancing choreography filled my mind, my player of the year and runners-up medals will every few years fill the corners of my mind, with memories of halcyon days, whilst giving my nephew the chance to paint a differing story of his Uncle Chris.
It has a worth that cannot be bought or for that matter sold, and the truth is I did manage to find those priceless heirlooms in the attic.
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