Nobbut laiking: Ross Brewster

Date: Tuesday 11th July 2017

TWICE in the space of a few minutes a group of burly, cloth-capped men lifted me off my feet and carried me forward in their safe hands.

I was just 10 at the time and it was my first proper football match. Manchester United were in town and my uncles, devoted Nottingham Forest fans, said they would take me along to see the Busby Babes.

First I was lifted over the turnstile. Then, as we found ourselves in the midst of a surging, swaying crowd, the men handed me over their heads and down to the touchline where schoolboys were sat on wooden benches commandeered from a local school.

I had to move my feet to allow the goalkeepers to take goal kicks. I could actually touch the white line. Officially 47,000 were in the ground that day. Unofficially, I heard many years later, it was nearer 60,000. You didn’t have a ticket. It was pay on the day and everyone who turned up got in and stood in the crush.

I remember, too, a 1963 Workington-Carlisle Derby when the ground was so full that fans climbed on the rusting roofs and shinned up floodlight pylons just to get a view amongst the more than 20,000 who crammed the terraces.

April 15th, 1989, is a day etched for all the wrong reasons in the minds of Liverpool supporters who were present at the cup semi-final at Hillsborough, or who lost relatives in the crowd disaster that killed 96 supporters.

The relatives are finally to get their day in court. Six people, some of them senior police officers, are facing criminal charges relating to the tragedy. After 28 years they will have to account for their actions.

The miracle, as football fans of older generations will testify, is that there were not many more Hillsboroughs and fires like the Bradford City disaster. It was sheer luck that days like that one I so vividly recall as a youngster in 1957 did not end in tragedy, too. Every weekend thousands flocked to football grounds and stood on crumbling terraces, wedged in unable to move, with never a mention made of health and safety.

We may mock the health and safety brigade at times. But if there was one positive to emerge from that awful day in 1989, it was that attention at last began to be focused on making football grounds safer.

Several times I’ve looked back on matches I attended when I was frankly scared. Occasions when, but for the grace of God, I’ve thought it could have been me.

Hillsborough was by no means the only time lives were lost in a football ground tragedy. It should never be the case that a fan leaves home on a Saturday and does not return alive. Football grounds are infinitely safer now than before Hillsborough. Sad that such a terrible price had to be paid for helping to make it so.

FILE UNDER REDUNDANT

IF you are in need of some technological advice, like how you switch your new phone on or reply to a text, go and ask a five-year-old. I never fail to be amazed how much kids barely out of nappies and play school know about the latest gadgets. So swallow your embarrassment, find a child and they’ll soon put you right.

I suspect that readers of this column, taken on a general average, are not at the forefront of technology. Some of you are no doubt whizz-kid OAPs, but for many the word “tablet” means remembering to collect your prescription from the chemist.

So I don’t suppose they were dancing in the streets of Nenthead or Ravenstonedale last week in celebration of the 10th anniversary of the launch of the iPhone. There may even be locals, not permanently wedded to these devices, who actually hold conversations with their friends and neighbours.

Isn’t it astonishing though, how far technology has come in so short a time. I’m the world’s most disorganised person when it comes to filing stuff. I’ve just spent the equivalent of a week of my life searching for my passport — it was out of date and no use — and my birth certificate in order to reapply for my driving licence now I’m on the verge of 70.

I have a theory that whatever I’ve got stored away will come back to the top of the pile once every five or six years. It’s wonderful the things that re-emerge in this way. Like a File-o-fax from the year 2005. Filo-o-faxes? Remember them? Crikey, they were the bee’s knees of their day. Just a glorified diary, but you had to carry one everywhere, even if you had nothing to put in it. It created the appearance of being businesslike.

Does anybody carry a File-o-fax these days? Does anyone under the age of 21 even know what a File-o-fax is or was?

My old File-o-fax contains phone numbers for MPs who are no longer MPs, businesses that went out of business, the fact that in one single day I got to interview Michael Palin and David Bellamy and just before Christmas I had a meeting arranged with Mr. Toad — the Wind in the Willows actor, not a real toad, of course.

It was the year of the Whinash wind farm inquiry at Shap Wells. For some reason my bosses determined that I should spend every day from 19th April, when it opened, until it came to an end many weeks later. So long did it last I gave up entering anything in my File-o-fax after the third week.

Only 12 years ago, and yet it already seems like ancient history. Sad that so many of the people whose names and phone numbers are listed in the File-o-fax are no longer with us. Some I met through work who became friends. It reminds me how fortunate I have been to be a journalist, working in this glorious part of the world, and coming into contact with so many kind and delightful people. The lady vicar, the band leader, the businessman and his dog, they’re all in that little black book.

The File-o-fax was doomed from the start. Outdated and redundant so quickly. But say what you like about it, you didn’t need to find a five-year-old to get it started.

YES, MINISTER

NO sooner had I committed to print last week a piece about the new Northern Powerhouse Minister Jake Berry’s anonymity than up he pops in Cumbria. Well, Carlisle airport. Part of a whistle-stop tour of the “far” North which took the Lancastrian MP to Northumberland and to Carlisle. It’s a start, I suppose.

The status of the Northern Powerhouse, and the role of its minister, would be greatly enhanced were the position to be elevated to a cabinet seat. But with a billion quid being doshed out to the Northern Ireland as a consequence of the Government’s grubby deal with the DUP, and the Welsh and the Scots no doubt holding their hands out in eager anticipation of their share, one wonders just where the future of the North’s economic well-being rests in the order of importance.

As for Jake Berry, it’s to be hoped that we see a good deal more of him than we did of his predecessors. His only previous manifestation of note was as organiser of Boris Johnson’s disastrous Tory Party leadership bid. Still, give the guy a chance, I guess.

WHERE SOUTH BEATS NORTH

I’VE noticed something about all those “best of” and “top hundred” lists that appear in glossy magazines and the weightier Sunday newspapers.

When it comes to the Lake District and Cumbria, the overwhelming majority of recommended hotels and restaurants seem to be drawn from the south of the county.

Which poses the questions: Are all the best hotels and restaurants in south Cumbria, are there really so few classy joints up here in the more northerly outposts, or is it simply that the writers and critics who enjoy their freebie weekend stays and taster menus are too darned lazy to cross Dunmail Raise?

MELVYN’S GREATNESS

IN the office where I worked in my early 20s, the staff should have paid the bosses because we had so much fun. Yes, the job came first and my fellow journalists were a talented and highly professional bunch. But we worked with a big smile on our faces, forever coming up with little larks and competitions.

One of these, I recall, was the “World throwing bits of crumpled paper into the waste bin” championship. I can’t remember who won, but thank goodness learned Cumbrian Melvyn Bragg wasn’t a colleague as he would have won hands down.

Wilfred De’Ath, a correspondent of The Oldie magazine, worked alongside Bragg at the BBC in the 1960s, and revealed that, whenever he threw a piece of crumpled paper across the room it always went straight into the bin. “I knew then that Melvyn would be a great man,” he said. Is there anything at which the Wigton wonder does not excel?