When Rev ‘Gib’ Gregory moved to Derby in 1941 it was the beginning of a ten-year relationship not just with a large family of members at Normanton Road Congregational Church, but with Derby County - the Rams. It had been a toss-up whether young Gabriel continued a career with the cotton industry in Bolton, his birthplace, or enter the Christian ministry. He had been ‘converted’ at a meeting in Bolton market place and as a determined disciple of Jesus Christ was intent on training for a career in the independent nonconformist churches.His widowed mother was strongly opposed to necessary university education for such a career, and needed his paltry wages from the cotton mill. She even threw his study books into the fire. But Gib persevered, and after a spell in a Manchester Church, moved on to Derby. During his Manchester ministry he played for a local team, at Prestwich, and would arrive on Sunday to take the morning service, bruised and battered from the previous day’s match. He was an excellent centre half, suffering, as all players did, from heading the often wet and heavy leather ball.
When I was aged 10 my grandfather gave me as a Christmas present the Times Atlas of the world. I spent many hours studying every map on every page, especially the maps of the main mountain ranges. From as early as the age of five, I remember that I loved beautiful country and hills, and I decided that one day I would be a mountaineer.
In my atlas I noticed the small independent states of Chitral and Swat (now part of Pakistan), and in Chitral I counted the Hindu Kush peaks of Tirich Mir, Noshaq, Istoro Nal and Sad Istragh. For some reason I decided that, if it was still unclimbed, I would one day organise an expedition to Sad Istragh.
I started Abbey Hulton Infants School at age five, that was 1938, I loved going playing with other children in the playground, skipping and playing tick. Then it was junior school at the same school - we were involved with more sports like running, we were put in groups and had a coloured sash. I think I was in the blue team.
I will never forget my first match: a big European game under the lights as Dutch giants Ajax came to town. I wasn’t really there for the football. Although I was just nine years old, I was there for the atmosphere, the experience: the noise, the smells, the kinship, the camaraderie.
People talk about culture, and this was real working class culture.
A few years ago I was fortunate enough to meet and become friends with some well-known wrestlers from around the country. I met many of them while they were working for Orig Williams from a base in Rhyl. Amongst my favourites were Might Chang, Klondyke Kate (who lives in Bentilee even as I type), Frank Cullen, Steve Peacock and Johnny Palance. My most favourite of all though was Klondyke Bill...
My favourite sport was netball and I played goal attack in the school team. I especially enjoyed the away trips and seeing the different schools. We had a blow-up giraffe as a mascot and kept it under the goal post.
I didn’t mean to cycle from Land’s End to John O Groats. I foolishly told a cycling friend that I’d always wanted to do it when I was younger, and before I’d fully realised what was happening, we were planning to do it together in 2014. She was celebrating her 60th birthday, and at 68 I was just hoping to keep up.