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Two Rooms And A View: 43 - A Lesson In Human Behaviour

Robert Owen is picked to play for his town's under-15 football team.

To read earlier chapters of Robert's life story please click on Two Rooms And A View in the menu on this page.

Football was my favourite lesson at school and I keenly followed the progress of the school's two teams. The first team was chosen from years three and four, and the second team from years one and two. Jack Shipley ran the first team and in later years, Arthur Yeoman supervised the second team.

We played the other seven secondary schools in the town, and rather like the Premier League fifty years later, it could usually be divided into three sections. Boldon, Cleadon and Stanhope schools always seemed to be at the top, with Mortimer, Westoe and Dean Road in the middle and St Bedes and St Peter and Paul's fighting it out for bottom place.

Apart from Boldon and Cleadon, none of the schools had their own playing field with the result most games were played on the five pitches at Cleadon Recreation Ground. With junior school matches, fifteen games involving 330 children were played on most Saturday mornings with kick-offs at 9, 10 and 11 a.m.

During my second year at Stanhope, I did manage to get selected for an occasional game for the second team but was unable to command a regular place. In year three we were too old for the second team and had stiff competition from year four, who monopolised most of the positions in the first team. It was in September 1949 at the start of year four, that I got a very pleasant surprise. Arthur Yeoman had been our form teacher for two years and also supervised our weekly football session. He was a good teacher and we got on well together. Also, I knew he appreciated my football ability.

He apparently valued it so much that he recommended me for trials with the town's under-15 team. The first I knew of this staggering news was when Jack Shipley, our new form teacher in year four, announced it to the whole class. Everyone was amazed, none more so than myself. At the end of the afternoon, very excited, I rushed home to tell anyone who would listen. Unfortunately, none of the family realised the significance of the event.

My mother used to describe a football match as twenty-two men kicking a bag of air around a field while others watched and cheered. I remember feeling very deflated and this was perhaps the first time in my life that I missed having a father or a man in the house. I even thought of writing to Bob Charlton about my news, because it was he who had taught me the elements of the game.

The South Shields school football team in 1949 was managed by that well-known partnership of Coulson and Storey. Charlie Coulson was a teacher at Westoe School and James Storey, I recognised as a former captain of South Shields Cricket Club.

After reporting for training under their guidance and several practice sessions, it was obvious that there were too many players for some positions, and not enough for others, particularly outside left. Charlie Coulson used to write a weekly 'Schools Column' in the Saturday Green Football Gazette. His writings in October 1949 discussed the selection of the town team, and read, "The outside left position appears to be the main problem, although Owen (Stanhope), Gray (Dean Road), and Mayne (Westoe), all showed promise."

After playing several friendly games, much to my surprise, I managed to get selected for the final XI. This must have been because of my motivation, height and speed, because I had never played in that position before and was not a natural left-footer. If the truth was known, there were better left-footed players in our class team back at Stanhope!

In a friendly game, we managed to beat Jarrow and Hebburn Boys 5-0 before playing Gateshead Boys in the English Schools Cup. The match was played on Wednesday 29th October 1949, at Readheagh Park the then home of Gateshead A.F.C., members of the Football League Division 3. We were all excited about playing on a football league ground, but disappointed to find a dilapidated stadium and a heavy, uneven playing surface.

It was a tough game but with three County players, we should have won. Our failure was a missed penalty. Personally, I had a terrible game and hardly got a kick against their robust full back and captain by the name of Brown. The replay was arranged for the following week at Cleadon. A few days before the game, Jack Shipley took me aside at school and said, "I'm sorry, but they seem to have forgotten about you for the replay." Seeing I was disappointed he added, "I would have dropped whoever missed that penalty!" Later I found out this was the only change and amazingly, my replacement was the lad I sat next to in Jack Shipley's class. His name was Jack Lawson. Jack was brought in at inside left and Les Carpentier moved out to the wing.

My dropping from the town team in November 1949 taught me one of my first lessons in human behaviour. That is, many people in authority have no sensitivity for the people they manage. I had played outside left at the request of Coulson and Storey, but afterwards, they didn't even tell me why I was left out. Indeed they never spoke to me at the next Wednesday night training session, or on subsequent occasions. In the end, perhapsI had the last laugh when the changed team was beaten one nil by Gateshead at Cleadon.

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