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Two Rooms And A View: 79 – In Demand

…After leaving school in 1950 I had to make a decision about my sporting future. Was I to become an active Newcastle United supporter, or should I continue to play football?

Factors to be considered were the cost of going to St James's Park every other Saturday. On the other hand, the Magpies had won promotion to the First Division in 1948, and visiting players such as Stanley Matthews, Len Shackleton and Tom Finney were a treat to watch. It was a hard decision, but I decided to continue playing football. Had I known the Magpies were to have such a good team and were to win the F.A. Cup three times in five years, I might have decided otherwise…

Robert Owen
decides that it is better to play football, rather than to merely watch it being played.

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

Psychologists have argued for decades about the nature (heredity) and the nurture (environmental) theories of human development. Sigmund Freud thought the ratio was about even, while the modern American behavioural view is that it is much more environmental.

Whatever the theories of the academics, it is perhaps true to say that many top class sports people are born with an innate ability, or at the very least are conditioned at a very early age, in the skills required for a respective sport. For others, the not so lucky vast majority, whatever the amount of enthusiasm or coaching, their level of ability will be limited compared to their more natural colleagues. I was one of the vast majority, not knowing what a bat or ball was until I was seven years of age.

Undoubtedly I had Bob Charlton at Fence Houses to thank for my introduction to the sporting world. I often wonder if we had stayed in Shields, and without a man's influence, would I have had the same enthusiasm for these sporting activities. This enthusiasm continued at Stanhope Road School, where I must have had some ability to be chosen for the town's under fifteen football team and one of only three selected for coaching at South Shields Cricket Club.

After leaving school in 1950 I had to make a decision about my sporting future. Was I to become an active Newcastle United supporter, or should I continue to play football?

Factors to be considered were the cost of going to St James's Park every other Saturday. On the other hand, the Magpies had won promotion to the First Division in 1948, and visiting players such as Stanley Matthews, Len Shackleton and Tom Finney were a treat to watch. It was a hard decision, but I decided to continue playing football. Had I known the Magpies were to have such a good team and were to win the F.A. Cup three times in five years, I might have decided otherwise.

Therefore in early September 1950 I looked forward to representing the 18th Company in the local B.B. League. Unknown to me, two other people had other ideas and expressed an interest in my soccer ability before the start of the 1950/51 season.

The first was on the top deck of a trolley bus. Someone saw me get on and as soon as I sat down, he moved to sit beside me. Turning quickly, I saw a fit-looking guy about thirty-five years of age. I didn't recognize him.

"Don't be alarmed - I know you, even if you don't know me," said the stranger, passing me an introductory card. I read the card which indicated the holder was a 'Ben Darling of South Shields Ex-Schoolboys', which I knew to be a well-known junior football team.

He said he knew me from playing for Stanhope Road School and the town football team. He then invited me to play in their trial match the following weekend. I was surprised and impressed, and as he left I said I would let him know my decision as soon as possible.

One evening during the same week while at St Andrew's Youth Club I was told that somebody wanted to see me downstairs. It turned out to be Ernie Gardner, the well known 'work horse manager' of the South Shields Boys' Brigade Battalion football team. We knew each other.

"I've come to invite you to sign for the Battalion football team." Ernie said enthusiastically. "We have a practice match this Saturday," he added.

"The ex-Schoolboys have already invited me to play in their practice match!" I replied.

This seemed to surprise Ernie and make him more determined because he remarked, "Your Company colleagues Cyril Halliday and David Deacon are coming, so you will be in good company."

At the same time he got a form out of his pocket and said, "Just sign here and you can let me have your birth certificate when convenient."

I admired his persuasive skills, thought for a moment and then signed on the dotted line. The way I felt, anybody would have thought I had signed for Newcastle United, not an unknown junior team in the second division of the Jarrow and District J.O.C. League.

Many years later I detected this stood for 'Junior Organisation of Clubs', that the league was born in 1937/38, and one of the eight founder members was a Boys' Brigade team.

The practice game went well and I was the youngest member of a fairly strong team. However, I believe that I only made the final XI because the J.O.C. League rejected David Deacon's registration. He was two days too old. Football's loss however, turned out to be the athletic world's gain.

David was an apprentice saddler at Harton Colliery at the time and also a keen athelete. He eventually found his true vocation in the police force and at one time was the Northumberland and Durham sprint champion. Years later, one of his sons did even better and won European and Commonwealth honours.

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