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.
The most famous person I have met is Prince Charles. He came to Northwood Stadium where we waited in line to meet him. When he reached me he asked what event I did? I replied that I was a coach and he said that he thought I was too old to be an athlete. I was in my forties!!!
When I was nine and at primary school, my dad took me to my first football match at the Victoria Ground, Stoke. There were no boys in our family but dad and I were close and often went on expeditions, so it was natural for him to include me in his football excursions. Sometimes we went on the train from our home in Meir, sometimes on the bus, and sometimes we cycled.
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.
To walk the mountains helps to make me whole,
shakes off the dust of daily work and strain,
invigorates my body and my soul.
My muscles and my sinews learn again
To work, obey demands not made this week
When I was at grammar school in the 1960s, I loved all sport. I was strong, with lots of energy, and as they say, it was a 'no-brainer' that I would be involved in every sport going. In an all girls school, it was so easy to take every opportunity offered. We hardly had any male teachers and certainly not for PE. It's funny but I don't remember any of the PE teachers but I do remember loving being part of a team.
Sporting Stories writes: Speedway doesn't feature on our list of sports (those which get you fitter through exercise) but Pat's beautifully written piece really captures the community spirit and sense of well-being which comes through participating in any sport, even as a spectator. If you've ever been to Speedway then you'll find this story wonderfully evocative. And the poems are perfect too...
Sporting Stories writes: Don Shelley's running career in North Staffordshire is worthy of a book in itself, starting as it did in 1954 when he won an inter-schools cross-country race and ending in 2010 when he finally retired from active sports administration. In between Don ran for the RAF, was secretary for the Michelin Sports & Social Club, founded the British Marathon Runners Club and the North Staffs Road Runners Association. In 1980 he became the first National Marathon Coach.
The game always starts with a sharp whistle blast
from the ref - the boss – all-powerful, all-knowing.
An accurate boot propels the ball high
One team waits tensely, the other gets going
Sporting Stories writes: Ken Rushton is a much-respected and honoured member of the sports community in North Staffordshire and beyond. Ken continues to contribute a huge amount to the local running scene, not least as the race director of the iconic Potters ‘Arf half marathon, held on the second Sunday in June each year.
I'm 80 years old now and fit as a fiddle! How have I maintained my level of health and fitness? Well, it's a long story...a lifetime of perseverance really.
Jean Gough is the daughter of Sir Stanley Matthews, and patron of the Sir Stanley Matthews Coaching Foundation. She has very generously shared this article (previously published on the Foundation’s web site) and some photos from the family’s photo albums as a very personal insight into Sir Stanley, the family man.