When I first took to the pitch in a Leeds Law League fixture in September 1984 for KMG Thomson McLintock how was I to know I'd still be trotting out (Editor’s note: Stoth always trotted because he had just had his tea) for the same team 20 years later. Well, I say the same team, we have had five names and kits, but to me it is no different to Trigger's broom in Only Fools and Horses, six new heads and ten new shafts, but still the same broom. Still the same fixture booklet every August, the same phone call/email every Friday morning... the same hassle every week getting five fit and semi sober lads onto the pitch in time.
Our team history runs as follows:
1984 - 1987: TMcL - ( 2 League Titles , 3 Cups, inc 2 doubles )
1987 - 1997: Peat Marwick ( 10 League Titles , 6 cups, inc 6 doubles )
1997 - 2001: Hitchenor Maher ( 2 League Titles , 2 Cups, inc 1 double )
2001 - 2003: HMI
2003 - 2004: Mazars
Last year, Ed Wood the team's (in)famous keeper retired and as a parting gesture listed all 79 players who had turned out for the team since 1989. Ed quite rightly thanked them all for the efforts, some glorious, some not so. Considering that the team had been in existence for five years before Ed's debut, I can conservatively estimate that over 100 players have adorned the Law League playing fields in the 20 years of our existence. Surely only Roman Abramovich's Chelsea can boast a more cosmopolitan squad but I doubt that Jose Mourinho would ever have to manage Tom, the caretaker at Bramstan who played 20 minutes for us in his jeans once when we were short and Mark "Pizziola" Ryan, possibly the worst footballer ever to "grace" the Law League ( and he had allegedly "had trials" ).
In the photo there are 87 years of LLL sweat and toil in the front row alone - going from left to right Robbo ( first game 1989), Stoth (1984), Smithy (1987), Gargo (1985) and Ed (1989) - I shan't name the seven youngsters in the back row (Editor’s note: now deleted for a more interesting view of Harrogate) but they have 19 years of LLL experience between them too. And it showed when we played what was our final friendly immediately after the photo was taken, with the youngsters taking the glory 8-5. Despite three of our team ( all youngsters) leaving immediately after finals day we still managed to get a team out every week right to the death, a big thanks due to the boys for turning out, especially those who came out of retirement for one last run out. You know who you are.
It has not always been me doing the organizing either. Sam Yik, Jane, Gargo and Ed have all had a go too. Robbo did have a short lived run at being manager but it was called short when he sent four members of the team to South Leeds when the fixture was at Bramstan, and its not a good idea to start a game against Emsley Collins with only three players. We won anyway though, just. (Editor’s note: Smithy also captained the side for two consecutive seasons; the League and Cup double was achieved in both of those; knighthood awaited!).
You would think that 14 League titles and 11 Cup wins would equal a lot of very happy memories, oddly though most of the best memories do not involve playing football at all:
- 11 team trips to Dublin - 1992 - 2003: Taking in very few cultural sights, and abandoning any notion of playing footy while on tour after the first year in favour of spending even more time drinking. The tours seemed to start earlier and earlier and finish later and later, especially if the flights back to Leeds were "delayed". Only two team members were ever-present tourists, well done. Most only went once and did not dare return.
- A night in Newcastle after winning the once only KPMG National Tournament - and a memorable reaction to a shortage of kit - plus five trips to Keele University to win the KPMG "National" Shield and numerous trips to Darlington to collect various North-East 5-a-side trophies, most of which are still in my study.
- A night in London after winning a KPMG London tournament and our first experience of Nigerian cuisine, a slight altercation with Birmingham Office which resulted in our Transit's tyres being let down and the subsequent mad dash north up the M1 to play in the finals of the LLL Cup at Leeds University. I need not recite the eventual winners but suffice to say the Faversham Pub in Headingley had its annual spike in Sunday afternoon takings that day.
- The first ( and only ) Leeds Law League dinner at The Queens Hotel in 1987 - I wonder why it never caught on, perhaps it was the cabaret act "Peppermint" and their lovely green lounge suits...
- Everything about playing football outdoors at Cranmore, from watching the gypsies defecating behind the goals, to having matches postponed because of a burnt out car on the pitch, to just being in the freezing portakabin changing rooms in the middle of winter waiting for warm water , to the friendly atmosphere in The Omnibus beforehand. Special mention though for the new mini goals the league purchased one year, leading to many nil-nils and rapidly replaced and enlarged goals the following week. Embarrassing or what!
- The pubs around Leeds which have become our haunts now for the best part of 20 years after football matches - The Rock (Bramstan ), The Angel (Morley), Tommy Wass (Middleton), Fox & Hounds at Horsforth (Holt Park) (or The High Farm if feeling adventurous), The Cock Beck (John Smeaton) The Junction (South Leeds Sports Centre), The Gaping Goose (Garforth), The Hope Inn (Richmond Hill), The Star (Armley), The Adelphi (every venue, always handy for a couple before the match, leading to countless times when we arrived so late we had to get changed on the pitch at South Leeds).
However... some of the memories do involve playing football:
- Simply winning the league 12 times in a row.
- Taking part in the League record score line against Pearlman Grazin indoors at Bramstan - a staggering 54-6 win. And, yes, they did have five players and I bagged one, but it was a good one.
- Going unbeaten for a successive run of 64 games that included an entire season including cup matches - a big thanks to Ali and Ned now of Tremark for that statistic.
- Personally scoring the equalizer in the semi against Barclays Bank in 1995 with five minutes to go and being subbed straight after owing to excessive mental excitement.
- Playing the last game of the season in fancy dress once when we had the title sewn up - this tradition did not last very long as it went down badly with the opposition, particularly Binder Hamlyn, when they were skinned inside out by a short ginger bloke dressed as one of the Bay City Rollers. Very funny but not very sporting.
I would like to thank the opposition, whom we have enjoyed doing battle with over the last 20 years too. Apart from the ones who inexplicably went straight home sweaty after the games without a shower, and there are far too many of them. However, leaving those with personal hygiene issues to one side, we have chosen a dream team of opposition from throughout the years, all of whom I will miss through not playing anymore:
Goalies - The Ginger Geordie from Mercers or Kareem Abdul Jabar from Shulman's – both very good and very annoying. A bit like Ed but not as good.
Jonny Dancing Feet - Mercers - possibly the best ever
Bully & Dennis - Digwa - solid, reliable and hard to get the ball off
Mark Bennett - Smiths - amazing left foot (but only if the team is winning; he doesn't like losing)
Decca - GRE - the gap-toothed wonder - good but not that good
Ali & Ned - Waite Hartley Sheard/Tremark - so good they came and joined us
Silver Fox - Thomas's - the oldest LLL player ever
Moustache Carl - Lloyds Bank - nearly as good as Jonny Dancing Feet; played in a poor team though
Boz Eyed Billy - Buckle Barton - definitely the most visually impaired player in the LLL
Smithy (Editor’s note: That’s me folks!) – Hepworth & Chadwick - pacey and skilful, did not make the most of his talent though. Famous for deflowering Miss Cambridge in between the semi and final on Finals Day one year. What a player!
And to manage them I could think of no-one better than Stig of the Dump who used to watch Waite Hartley Sheard every week, make notes in his little book and award a tin of soup or a Mars Bar to his man of the match, whatever was spare in his surprisingly spartan kitchen cupboards.
Finally, I would obviously like to thank the three individuals without whom the Law League would not be able to function:
- Geoff Lax - Treasurer. Quite clearly a thankless task, and yet Geoff never seems to tire of chasing people for unpaid debts, perhaps he should get a job working for Tremark. I'm not sure that Geoff has ever forgiven me and the boys for canning him from the original TMcL team in 1985, and sending him off to the lower divisions with Leeds Bar. Hardly proper thanks for the guy who actually set up the TMcL team in the first place, only to get binned a year later. Sorry. Just think of all those medals he didn't win.
- Diane Garth - Only works one day a week, Friday. Over the years Diane has never been anything other than helpful and friendly when dealing with me or any of my colleagues, although there was one occasion when we sent her a bunch of flowers to apologise for the manner in which one of our squad had spoken to her. Not hard to work out who it was either.
- Steve Garth –To start what is now the most established 5-a-side league in Leeds, from scratch, is an admirable effort. I shall miss seeing Steve (almost ) every year at Leeds Uni Sports Hall, and can just about remember the days when we used to go down to the YP building to collect the trophies. Steve puts in a lot of hours organising the league and should be proud of the status the league now has. Thank you for all the hard work.
- I would like to be in a position to thank the Disciplinary Officer too. However, the less said about that the better.
To conclude my tribute to the Leeds Law League (and obituary to our famous team) I would simply say that my three kids now have "Uncles" - indeed one even has a Godfather that they would not have had if the League had not existed. Heartfelt thanks to the League and to all 100+ boys who have turned out since 1984. I have many, many good memories and hardly any bad ones.
Leeds Law League - 1984-2004