Month: July 2021

Just a Bloke Who Parked Alongside

Here I am, well over a week into the 2020 Olympics and still trying to adjust to high-energy team games being played in cathedral silence.

I try to make up for the empty grandstands by shouting instructions for players and imprecations at referees, but modern electronics do not yet permit my curses (or occasional praise) to be heard. I should have known better because I was told 70 years ago by a man who played soccer before multi-thousands in the great sports arena of the world that players on the field could never isolate single voise curses or praise from the massed voices in the stands.

My advisor on great spectacle crowds and their vocabularies was a young man named Stanley Matthews, still regarded by many as the greatest soccer player of all time. I hold no claim to long-life friendship with “call me Stan” Matthews.” He was just the quiet bloke who parked his car in the next bay to my truck in a South Shore Blackpool parkade in the immediate years after the Second World War. He played football

My first job after the war, driving medium to long-distance freight from Blackpool to London in the south, Glasgow or Edinburgh in the north. Day trips with a crack of dawn start; back home by around 5 p.m.; park the truck; catch a streetcar for a 20-minute ride home.

Stan lived in South Blackpool in those days and, with his wife, ran a small hotel near the seafront. He would be parking his car around 5 weekday afternoons, then walk home after a brief pause waiting for my tram to arrive. We talked about anything and everything, but rarely about football. It was during one of those rare chats that he talked about his decision to leave his hometown club Stoke City and join Blackpool, where he had been stationed with the RAF during the war. 

The transfer was a big story happening just after Great Britain had played a Best of Europe team in Glasgow on May 1, 1947. Stan had been selected to play. The first 11 players selected received 14 Pounds each – a little more than $50 each for the game. For league play in those days he got $20 a week during playing season, roughly half that in summer.

Stan was 32 when he was traded fom Stoke City to Blackpool, and some were suggesting he was getting old for the game. I asked him how he handled the “getting old gossip.” He just smiled and said: “We’ll see.” The end of play record for his football career shows Stan was the oldest ever to play in England’s top division (50 years and five days); the oldest player to represent his country (40 years and 104 days). On January 1, 1965, he became the first footballer to be knighted for services to the game.

I never got the chance to call him Sir Stanley, having joined the flood of post-war immigrants to Canada in 1948.

I did get the chance to ask in a last chat-walk before I sailed West for “one great outstanding memory” in his playing career, and he surprised me. I was sure it would be what went down in the history books as “The Matthews Cup Final – 1953,” a classic story with a classic Matthews ending.

Stan was already famous for having won just about every honour the international world of soccer could offer – except the highly coveted FA cup winner’s medal. Twice Blackpool had been to the finals – and failed.

At halftime, on May 2, 1953, Bolton Wanderers were leading Blackpool at Wembley 2-1. Ten minutes into the second half, it was 3-1 with Bolton fans planning victory parties and Blackpool fans trying to hide their team colours to avoid verbal abuse from their north-of-England neighbours.

Twenty-three minutes into the half, Matthews decided that if he wanted the gold medal it was time for high gear. The magician came to life. He danced down the right wing almost to the corner flag with the ball at his feet and then crossed an immaculate pass to Stan Mortensen, his striker. Mortensen made no mistake with a thunderbolt volley into the Bolton net. Score 3-2.

Mortensen scored again on a perfectly placed free kick with two minutes remaining, adding his tying goal to his first Blackpool goal before halftime, thus completing a rare hat trick of goals for an FA Cup Final. Score 3-3 – with only seconds to play. Those were gut-wrenching seconds. Matthews had the ball again and was ducking and weaving his way for a clear pass to Mortensen.

His cross was a fraction off target and behind Mortensen but fell at the feet of teammate Bill Perry who struck the ball fast and very sure. Final score: Blackpool 4, Bolton 3. Stan Matthew’s medal collection was complete.

So, what was the one great memory that stayed with Sir Stanley if it wasn’t the Matthews FA Cup Final? He thought for a few seconds and asked if I had ever heard “the Hampden Park Roar?”

I had indeed read about the legendary hundred thousand voice scream designed to intimidate visiting teams when Scotland takes the field and at double volume when it scores. But I had never heard it the flesh.

Stan said on the field you felt the roar more than heard it; that it was like goose-pimples or a light cool breeze on the skin. An assurance to the home side that the house was full of friends and a warning to visitors to be on their best behaviour. He said “I shall never forget feeling the breeze of the Roar the first time I heard it and trembled.”

I wonder what today’s athletes feel in the great silence from 60,000 empty seats. Pleased and encouraged by Instagram and Twitter posts no doubt, but I have a feeling they would prefer a Hampden Park Roar.

(Foootnote: For a fascinating review of Sir Stanley “in life and on the field” check “Sir Stanley Matthews Remembered” on It’s a review of his life from his 1915 birth in Stoke-on-Trent to his death in 2000 at the age of 80. He returned to Stoke for his final playing years. The program is rich with movie clips including the famous 1953 cup final. For good measure while in YouTube you can check The Hampden Roar. Turn the sound up. Put the cat or dog out. Don’t try to interpret the words. It’s a 100 thousand voice ROAR not Evensong.)

USA Giving Up As Top Cop?

It was in back in May that USA President Joe Biden announced he was calling the US Military force home from Afghanistan. Throughout the months of June and continuing on an almost daily basis since, has come news that the Taliban – the main force the US hoped to control when it began its role as an occupying army 21 years ago, has regained control of much of the country.

The United States is not the first foreign power to give up on trying force feed Afghanistan on a  form of government differing from ancestral beliefs. The English tried but finally game up in despair; The Russians gave it go after the second world war but went home defeated by climate and rebels with different ideas to both great nations.

 Both Russia and England thought Afghanistan unwise to reject their kind offers of how to expand their economy with, in their day, a great power to show them how, but accepted the Afghan final decisions, sulked a little but got over it.

It doesn’t seem to be going as smoothly for our good neighbours to the south.

Just a few days ago the once influential New York Times addressed itself to the problem facing President Biden as he brings the men and women fighting the longest war in American history home without a winner’s medal.

The headline on the NYT was in the form of a blunt question: “Is the US done with being a world cop?” It doesn’t post a definite answer but it does suggest that things are not as happy for USA as they were when they ruled the roost – or believed they did.

The article admits “for better or for worse, military engagements abroad and U.S. dominance more generally have become unpopular with the American public.” It adds that “national security” as the justification for USA supremacy by military intervention no long packs the the response it did back in the days following the terrorist  attack on the twin towers in New York on Sept.11, 2001.

For me the most telling quote in the most thoughtful and challenging article is from the book “Clear and Present Safety” by Micah Zenko and Michael A. Cohen: “Decades of fear mongering about foreign threats by Washington insiders have obscured what truly harms Americans: substandard education and health care systems, dilapidated infrastructure, gun-violence,inequality,congressional gridlock and climate change.”(my emphasis)

If the NYT is right it’s the general population of the USA that needs some serious mind changes before their nation can offer any other nation USA held notions of the good life. Affordable health care (a recent edition of Sixty Minutes on television exposed a multi million hospital bill for two months of Intensive Unit care for a Covid19 victim) would be a good place to start followed by desperately needed gun control laws. For far too long the nation that so desperately seeks recognition as the champion of rights and freedom has let the gun rule its homeland psyche.

I wish President Joe Biden well. He has a tough job maintaining Top Cop role for the USA –  some would say impossible unless he can bring peace to his own cities and streets.

“A Safe Place to Cry…”

It seems only a few days ago that the world seemed to be coming to an end for the 249 inhabitants of Lytton and the 1,700 members of Lytton First Nation in the surrounding territory.

But it was three days in late June that Lytton and neighbouring First Nations had become known around the world as residents of an area of the globe that, on three consecutive days, had recorded the highest temperatures ever recorded in Canada. On the third day, June 29, the thermometer read 49.6C(121.3F).

It was the highest temperature ever recorded in the world north of the 45th parallel. It was also the day Lytton Mayor Jan Polderman signed an evacuation order for the village and surrounding area known by native tribes for an estimated 10,000 years as Camchin or Kumsheen – the place where the Thompson and Fraser Rivers meet.

Mayor Polderman issued his evacuation order at 6 p.m. on June 29. Citizens were given only minutes to pack bags and flee.

As reported a week ago in this spot, among the first to offer practical aid to a new population of homeless First Nations and white settler refugees was the Tk̓’emlúps te Secwépemc – The Kamloops First Nation. It already had a solid core of volunteer workers and emergency service organizations in place and immediately made those services available to the newly homeless.

Campsites were made freely available; stores jammed with donated clothing, toiletries and household items were opened; medical aid arranged, meals cooked and served. The kitchen was soon serving 100-plus at breakfast and double that number of lunches and dinners.

Dianne Kehler, deputy director of Tk’emlups Emergency Services, told the press a few days ago that she expects the flow of survivors to continue into fall. “We are prepared for anybody and anything.” 

Typical of the refugees, Christine Abbott told reporters she and her husband were given 10 minutes to pack and leave their home, had found a great sense of community and security in the Kamloops camp. She is white, her husband a Lytton First Nation native. Both are thankful “to be in a safe place to break down and cry, and get mad then shake it off. We are healing. Everybody is here from every nation – this is total love.”

It’s what we call reconciliation and we can hope it’s just a beginning, and pray the hotheads among us, can learn the Tk’emlups way is better than destroying statues or burning a church or totem pole.

Reconciliation By Example

The prospects were gloomy. I had spent the last few sunny days on the back patio of my seniors’ retirement centre, contemplating my brief future on Planet Earth. At 97 pushing 98, “end of days” is a regular mental exercise.

Not a morbid one. Just philosophical ruminations and the back patio at Berwick Royal Oak retirement is an ideal spot for sunny day contemplation. A large ornamental pool with gorgeous water lilies in full bloom is fed by a waterfall tumbling from a higher pool which in turn is stream-fed by smaller pools.

There are goldfish in the pool. In early fall, a blue crane will become a regular morning visitor to check on goldfish growth. And, if deemed adequately fattened, they will provide a midday stork snack.

But, my ideal time for gentle reflecting on a long life well lived, mostly happy, is being disturbed this day by a nagging quote some thousands of years old: “Watchman, what of the night?” and the watchman’s reply: “The morning comes, and also the night.”

We live today in a highly disturbed world, as did the people of the King James Version of Isaiah 21 when they asked how long the dark times would last. And the prophet told them morning was coming – but so was another dark night.

And, that leaves me wondering where we are, three or four thousand years later, engaged in a world-encompassing battle with a dreadful disease and far from winning the fight, watching the advance of global warming and its ominous threat to Planet Earth.

A few weeks ago, leaders of the Tk`emlups (Kamloops) Indigenous tribe had shocked Canadians from coast to coast by making it known that 215 unmarked graves had been located on the grounds of the Kamloops Indian Residential School.

It was the first of what would become a growing and sad list of similar discoveries in the Kootenays and on the Prairies; other “schools” where the great experiment to deprive an entire race of human beings of their birthright had collapsed in a shocking and massively brutal betrayal of our supposed morality.

Overnight, several Roman Catholic Churches were torched and destroyed. Senseless attacks on statues of pioneer explorers and early settlers by ugly protests followed.

In my mind, I asked the Watchman when this nightmare will end and got a powerful unsolicited reply from the Indigenes Tk̓emlúps te Secwépemc.

Within hours of a forest fire destroying the small town of Lytton and while the provincial government was still pondering its response, the well-organized Kamloops Aborigine Tribe was online to: “Welcome all fire evacuees to the Kamloops Powwow grounds. The Powwow Arbour is open and moccasin Square Garden is stocked with free supplies for anyone in need. We emphasize that EVERYONE is welcome! Plenty of room for camping. Free meals. Free water, hygiene supplies, pet supplies, baby things, clothing. Please feed your children; do not be shy to come here – you are more than welcome.”

It is a message of great hope for the future, however ominous the Watchman’s warning that after every morning comes another night. We can handle those nights if we can meet the high standards our original citizens are setting … standards too many white folks can’t manage to emulate.

Time For a Clear decision

Strange times we live in; very strange as immediate history comes chattering into our lives via a multitude of electronics designed, so the people who use them say, to keep “the public informed.”

Sometimes it can be a little confusing as our newspapers, television and radio stations bury us in the rubble of babble, reminding us that the biblical Tower of Babel – created in the Book of Genesis to explain diverse human languages – collapsed for a reason.

It can be argued that I get easily confused. Maybe that was the case a couple of days ago when my local daily published BC Chief Coroner Lisa Lapoint’s monthly report on the use of illicit drugs. By the end of May, with 2021 less than six months old, at least 851 British Columbians had been killed by consuming a drug they once believed harmless.

In her report, Lapoint again stressed her now old plea for the provincial government to find “safe alternatives” to be made available throughout the province for opioid users who discover, too late, the difference between popping a bill for pleasure and eventual addiction.

Of the 851 BC deaths this year, 160 were in May – a slight drop from the 177 in May 2020, which had been a new high for the month. It breaks down to 5.2 deaths a day.

Producers of street drugs are finding ways to vary the ingredients. In April and May, the Coroner’s Service tested “extreme concentrations of fentanyl.” In 75 deaths this year so far, “carfentanil – a more potent analogue of fentanyl – was detected.”

Also detected in the Devil’s broth were “benzodiazepines, Valium and Xanax,” which the Coroner’s Service warns “creates significant life-saving challenges for first responders when used in combination with opioids.”

So – and well may you ask – what do I find “confusing” about a community problem clearly and responsibly outlined by our Chief Coroner and reported by newspaper reporter Cindy E. Harnett?

Simple really. I find it confusing that a problem can be so clearly defined and stated by a senior public servant with a sense of responsibility to the people she swore to serve – and then ignored. 

Coroner Lapoint has served us well. She has turned the spotlight on a grievous life and death tragedy that could be halted if essential health care were provided. Administering controlled drugs to an addict in a safe setting will never be a popular political decision. But it would be the wise and humane course of action until a better way can be found.

Mental Health and Addictions Minister Sheila Malcolmson added her voice to the newspaper story with a few weak-wristed suggestions for addicts: “The drugs you might use today are not the same as they were one or two years ago” and an advisory on where they can find free advice on drug checking and reduction services.

Oh, and: “As British Columbians gear up for a social rejuvenation after much sacrifice and restraint, please have these conversations with your family and friends …”

Good advice but she should understand that more than “conversation between family and friends” is required. And “safe alternatives” as suggested by the Coroner are available. Time to stop talking. It’s decision time.