This story DEFINITELY did happen
Everyone loves an unlikely adventure don't they. A caper. We welcome back semi-regular Dan Forman with one such remarkable story of a young lad from Huddersgate.
When the editors first approached me about this series some time before the last World Cup, I had the idea of writing about a prodigious young boy who so mastered tactics and the transfer market on Championship Manager that he got a break at a professional club in the ultimate Moneyball-style experiment. But then Andre Villas Boas happened.
I then thought about a chairman who became so infuriated by a radio phone-in that he offered the manager’s job to the next Sun-reading, take-us-back-to-4-4-2, up an’-at-‘em, proper English football proponent that came on the line. But then Daniel Levy appointed Tim Sherwood. Truly there is little art left that life is yet to imitate.
But the story of Stanley Bagshaw and the Short Sighted Football Trainer will never happen now, at least not again. For starters, it's a cup match and those would never be an all-ticket sell out these days. The good people of Huddersgate would probably be shopping at the out of town Tesco or watching Liverpool on an illegal feed on a Saturday afternoon. So if young Stanley did fancy an old fashioned three o'clock kick off at the Albion he'd have no problems getting in rather than being locked outside clutching his autograph book.
And if he were to be stuck outside the ground there's just no way he would have found the door to the players' entrance ajar. Even at a lower league ground there'd be at least one steward on duty and rigorous security for the visit of a top-flight team, such as Stockwich Hotspurs.
Neither would 'Spurs be likely to bring their England international centre forward Wayne Flackett along in the modern age, probably sending him instead for some warm weather training and relaxation with his pop star wife in Dubai in the hope that he'd be fit for the resumption of the Europa League, rather than risking him in an early round of a cup no one takes seriously any more anyway.
But just imagine for a moment an era in which the visit of high fliers such as Stockwich had the whole town gripped from the moment the draw was made. Men in flat caps and moustaches all filled the ground by half past two while the womenfolk crowded round transistor radios to catch Reg Barber's rhythmic commentary. And Stan, while disappointed to have missed the last available ticket by minutes, if not seconds, was still excited enough to just want to be near the ground and experience some of the atmosphere by osmosis, rather than slobbing on a sofa in front of Sky Sports News and letting Charlie Nicholas watch it on TV for him while playing Candy Crush on his phone.
That's romantic enough right? But this story hasn't even started yet. That's just setting the scene. He hasn't even poked his head through that players' entrance door yet.
And let's face it. Even if all the above was possible in 2014, Stan almost certainly wouldn't have discovered that Albion had taken an unexpected 1-0 lead. Because the under pressure Huddersgate boss would probably have rested his own star players, with a bitter, six-point relegation battle coming up on Tuesday night. Or the chairman would have switched the tie to the 'Spurs ground for a bigger share of the gate receipts, what with deindustrialisation having had such a devastating effect on the local economy and Albion still paying the price of a botched deal to sell the club's historic Sewage Works Ground to its predatory owner who now charges them extortionate rent for it because they never did manage to build a new stadium with the proceeds.
But this was a different era. And Stan did find the door ajar and Albion were 1-0 up at home. And Flackett was playing. In fact, Flackett had just gone through on goal as the clock ticked down towards 90 minutes. And his shot was strong and vicious. So strong that the Huddersgate 'keeper was sent so dizzy by it that he hit his head on the post and had to be taken off with concussion. And so vicious that the only thing the backpedalling Albion defender could do to keep it out was handball it on the line.
And look, you might find this next bit quite hard to believe. But if you can imagine that 50 years ago it was one shilling for an FA Cup final programme (that’s 83p at today’s prices) and a 50-year-old Stanley Matthews was playing in the first division, well it's no more far-fetched than that.
So what happens is the short-sighted team trainer goes looking for the sub goalie who has just popped back to the changing room for a pee. While he's in there he mistakes Stan for a ball boy and asks him to look after his gloves. And it's just at that moment that the short-sighted trainer comes running in and sees - or doesn't see - Stan wearing the gloves and sends him out to keep goal.
Well you can't blame Stan can you? Who wouldn't want to go and face a Wayne Flackett penalty in the last minute of a massive cup tie for your home town team? And everyone’s been in the position where you want to say something about them having the wrong man but the person you’re trying to say it to just isn’t listening so you go along with just because it seems easier and a good, if unlikely, opportunity, right? (David Moyes I hear you say? Don’t be so cynical. There’s just no way a club the size of United would appoint the first man they interviewed without doing any analysis just because Alex Ferguson told them to).
So this is what happened and, look, I'm not saying this sort of thing happened all the time in old football, I'm just saying it's no less plausible than the idea that Wayne Rooney will earn more after tax than Huddersfield Town will turn over in a year. Because that would be ridiculous.
But it just wouldn’t happen now in the age of squad numbers and prozone analysis and electronic substitute number board things. BT Sport would have a photo of the sub goalie somewhere in their system and would notice that he didn’t look a lot like Stan.
And yet it did happen then. And what happened is Stanley went to face the penalty. And as he stood there he saw the sub goalie coming back out of the tunnel. And he raised his right arm and shouted ‘here Stopper, I’m over here’. And Flackett’s penalty hit the fingertips of his right hand and was deflected over the bar. And the Albion crowd went wild. And Huddersgate went into the hat for the next round of the cup. And – having failed to get Wayne Flackett’s autograph – Stanley went home and had his tea.
Believe it or not. That’s up to you. But, with apologies to the Life of Pi, which version of football do you prefer?