My kind of town

Harry Golightly offers some guidance to anyone with a spare afternoon in Scunthorpe

Scunthorpe United’s top scorer last season, Jamie Forrester, outraged locals by describing the town as “a shed” in a recent interview with top onanist’s periodical Loaded. In the inevitable media storm that followed (well, one publicity seeking local politician blowing a fuse in the town’s nightly excuse for a newspaper) Forrester neatly attempted to sidestep the issue with the same precision as he might finish off a move on the pitch. He claimed he had “never actually used the word ‘shed’”, as if this were crucially distinct from the words he actually uttered. Clever. “All I said was that there was nothing to do and nowhere worth going,” he disclaimed.

The matter finally whimpered to a halt when United manager Brian Laws went on the local television news to firmly point out that “Jamie Forrester was not being derogative”. The confusing intellectual mindgames he was employing seemed to appease the outraged councillor. Forrester’s mildly defiant attitude (“you know what journalists are like”) caused sales of Loaded in Scunthorpe to drop by, ooh, two or three copies a month.

But it is a really offensive indicator of the mercenary attitude of footballers in this day and age when you consider how little respect, and how little real interest, Forrester must have shown in the town when he first signed. Scunthorpe may well be less than a hot­bed of activity, but the town does have its redeeming features. If he had bothered to ask, and then had the patience to look, Forrester would have discovered there are actually myriad modestly stunning locations in the borough, all connected to the history of his employers.

Following redevelopment and the club’s trend-setting move to a purpose-built stadium on the edge of town, a national-chain supermarket now stands on the site of United’s original home. The Old Showground was used by the club in tandem with local agricultural business to display their sale stock – some might say that somewhere along the line the two got mixed up. Those of us old enough to har­bour real emotional ties to the gloriously ram­shackle but innovative stadium (which boasted the first cantilever stand in Britain) still find ourselves keenly touched by the hand of history as we pick up our Shredded Wheat. Who could fail to be nudged closer to tears by the sight of a disco-ball on a supermarket ceiling, suspended poignantly over aisle six’s cereals – the very spot where a significant centre-circle had once been?

The PlayStation-less kids who gamely fulfil their societal roles as shoplifting urchins may well evade the security guards by hopping across the car park wall into King Edward Street. It was here, to his modest Coronation Street-style terraced lodgings, that teenage apprentice Kevin Keegan ran one morning after a bout of extra-curricular laddism during which he crashed and wrote off the club tractor. He didn’t last much longer at United after that and the club offloaded him as soon as some mug came in with an offer.

Just round the corner is the house from which actor Donald Pleasance, in repertory theatre in the town during the late Sixties, would stride purposefully up to The Old Showground to stand on the terraces and shed the shackles of luvviness. A brick’s throw from Don’s old pad is the seemingly endless boulevard, Doncaster Road, once home to Tiffany’s, a Seventies/Eighties nightclub of the utmost taste, which features prominently on our tour because it was from this very establishment that goalkeeper Joe Neenan and lan Botham (yes) stepped, minutes before assaulting a local man who had the audacity to question Beefy’s credentials as the libero grande of the team. Botham lasted about six or seven games in a United shirt, was made vice president and then wandered off into the long grass, never to return. He was finally sacked from his hon­orary position a couple of years back after the club’s officials woke briefly from a perpetual stupor and no­ticed he’d not even bothered to come and watch a match, let alone invest a penny, since his playing days.

The pavement outside what is now an amusement arcade in the town’s shopping centre was itself host to my own first social encounter with a Scunthorpe Un­ited player. In the mid-Seventies, when I was six or seven years old, midfielder Mike Czuczman (pro­nounced something like “Churchman”) was my hero and, due to the complete unavailability of posters of the United team, I had pinned a picture of TV lawyer Petrocelli to my bedroom wall with the words “Mike Czuczman” carefully spelled out in felt-tip beneath. I was astonished to see Czuczman leaving the High Street dry-cleaners Zerny’s one close season afternoon. Over his arm was a terrible black and grey pin­stripe suit.

I raced over for an autograph and, as he signed, he dropped the hefty piece of gum he had been chewing on to the ground. The lump is there to this day, though it’s a little greyer. I often pause and look at it, wondering where the years have gone, and what happened to Mike. My autographed copy of Tiger has long since vanished, though I do remember quite clearly that his signature read “Mike Czzzzzzzzzzmzzzzzzzzzn, skill”. I may well have added “skill” myself.

The Gunness Straight is a very long road which leads away from Glanford Park, away from Scun­thorpe and out into the wilds, beyond which lie York­shire and other foreign places. United’s squad are often to be seen engaging in their training runs up The Straight, as it is imaginatively nicknamed. So it was one Monday morning recently as I was driving al­ong it. Curiously, a transit van travelled alongside them for almost the entire length of the road. As I pass­ed it I slowed down to a similar pace and wound down my window to shout some sort of encouragement to the team, only to hear the van-driver get there first.

Undeterred by the squad’s decision to keep their heads down and jog on in ignorance, he was shouting all manner of constructive criticism, the kind which would make even Ian Botham blush, before finally he gave up and ended his gargantuan tirade with a cursory cry of “Faster, you absolute bastards”. He gave a few wheel-spins for good measure, showering the team in mud and gravel, and then sped off. He had a Scun­thorpe United scarf dangling from his rear-view mirror.

From WSC 149 July 1999. What was happening this month