The latest in a series of profiles and interviews, Orginal Fat Bob gives his personal view on the life and career of a footballing guest, before sitting down for a chat and asking a few questions. Our Diasboro special guest this week is Doug Weatherall.
1. The Overview – the man and his career
I met up with Seaham born Doug Weatherall down at the Riverside on a match day, where he was still indulging in his favourite pastime of watching football. He is still looking good and as sharp as a tack at the ripe old age of 85. Now well retired, he was an award-winning journalist, who reported all sports coverage in the North East of England for most of his career. I used to read his match reports and see him on Television when he was a broadcaster for the BBC. Mike Neville, the well-known host on the Look North programme, once asked him on air if he was a Sunderland supporter and he said vaguely “they WERE my original team!”
Don’t say it too loudly on a Boro blog site, but he is a self-confessed Sunderland fan. He obviously has better memories of the club in their past than can be enjoyed by him today. Doug edited the Army newspaper in Austria whilst on National Service before returning to the Sunderland Echo where he’d joined as a 16-year-old. He moved onwards and upwards to the Daily Herald and then to the Daily Mail, where his work was read by all those who loved football.
I remember travelling down to London many years ago and by chance we sat opposite each other on the train and I recognised him from his TV appearances. We spent the next two and a half hours talking about football non-stop. Having a chat with Doug now in the present day, he thinks that all those years ago that he was going down to Wembley to report on an England game. Like most things, it’s all lost in the sands of time now.
A generous man and an admirer of all North East football legends, irrespective of which team they played for. He loved Jackie Milburn and when these great footballers played many years ago they didn’t earn a lot of money. Milburn’s last game for Newcastle was in 1957. But, 10 years later, a testimonial for the “people’s gentleman” drew a crowd of 46,000, earning him £7,000. To Doug who had initiated the event, Jackie Milburn gratefully said: “You’ve just paid for my house.” A house that he could say was his and had never owned one in his life before.
One of Doug’s most treasured possessions is a silver salver (pictured above) with the inscription: “To Doug with everlasting gratitude for Your Journalistic Approach in Starting my Testimonial Match”. There, too, in gold lettering, is Jackie Milburn’s signature.
Today Doug says quite emphatically that he is not a fan of midfield players, who play the ball sideways or backwards. He also doesn’t like the way that some free kicks are taken, which results in a back pass to the goalkeeper, as he strongly feels that the game is to attack. I think most of us on this blog would agree with him as we all like to see goals and that is what we pay to see.
2. The Interview – a quick chat
OFB: Did you play football before going to watch it as a spectator and what position did you play?
DW: At Deneside Junior School I organised many matches and around that time I, being right-footed, taught myself to be far more proficient with my left foot. When I passed the 11-plus to attend Ryhope Grammar School, I hoped to make my mark as a scoring forward. The mistake I made was to play in goal for Seaham House juniors. I meant it to be a one-off until the house captain found a regular keeper. It was with amazement that after that first house match I, a first-former, was included as a keeper in a trial game for the whole junior years. Third-former Kenny Allen, another Seaham lad, was the other keeper and he was to be preferred. In any event, when I told the sports master I wasn’t a goalie, he ruled with emphasis I’d play where he picked me!
I never missed an appearance, as a keeper, in any of our matches whilst I was in second and third years at school. In that third year, I played for Sunderland and District under-14s and I was proud to turn out at Roker and Goodison parks. In that year, too, our school established a Northumberland and Durham record which still stands. We won seven of the eight competitions we entered, and I was an ever-present, our photo is still on the wall at Durham F.A. headquarters.
The next year I won another trophy as the keeper for Silksworth Independent Order of Good Templars. Yes this ale drinker admits that was a temperance outfit and the following season, for Dawdon Colliery Juniors, I picked up another trophy
OFB: What was the first football match you remember going to see?
DW: I’ve been wrapped up in sport, particularly football and cricket, for almost as long as I can remember. Football boots and a size one ball, were gifts from Santa for my fifth Christmas. My first viewing of a football game was at Seaham Colliery Welfare.
My memory of my first visit to a “big” ground was going to see Sunderland v Leeds United at Roker Park. I was aged nine and went with lads I played with on the Deneside estate where I lived. It was a memorable October day for me during World War II, since Raich Carter who was my idol was home and I’d heard so much about him from my Dad. Raich was on leave from the RAF and starred that day. He struck a hat-trick in a 7-2 win and even to this day I can still see one of his goals. It was a left-foot drive from the angle of the Fulwell End penalty area which thudded inside the far post. This was recalled years later when he was managing Middlesbrough and I was earning a living as a sports writer and we talked about it.
By coincidence, for the first Football League game at Roker after the war, Derby County were the visitors and again I was thrilled to see my hero in action. Raich Carter was playing for Derby by then, but I wasn’t too upset as Sunderland won 3-2. What did Boro do that day? Oh, they won 1-0 at Aston Villa.
OFB: Why did you decide to be a journalist?
DW: On the afternoon of the night my club Dawdon won that Cup I’d learned what l’d be doing when I left school. Via a prefect I was summoned to the headmaster’s office. I wondered what I’d done wrong, but Mr. S.B. Graham wanted to know my post-school intentions. Only three weeks earlier my Dad had read a Daily Herald article about how to become a cub reporter and he reckoned my English and interest in current affairs made me a candidate. Mr. Graham explained that Mr. Browne, the Seaham office reporter for The Sunderland Echo, wanted his first junior. I met Mr. Browne that night, the Echo’s editor the next day. I knew then what I’d be doing on leaving school: journalism.
I have so loved my life as a journalist from the age of 16 that if I’d had private means, I’d have done the job for nowt. Most lads of my age were called up for National Service. My two years were served in the Army (pictured above as the centre-forward with his army football team). After basic infantry training with the Highland Brigade, I somehow passed a three-month Royal Army Educational Corps course. I thought I’d be teaching as I headed for Austria; I’d have been hopeless, but, good fortune again, my task for 18 months was to produce the BTA Weekly Journal. My most glamorous assignment was to report Austria 2, England 3 from the Prater Stadium, the game in which Bolton’s Nat Lofthouse, though valiantly scoring the winner, earned his “Lion of Vienna” nickname.
Back in Civvy Street, I returned to The Sunderland Echo but soon developed itchy feet. I wanted to cover bigger stories, so I travelled to Manchester, which was known as the Fleet Street of the North, in the hope of landing a national paper job. The first and only office I visited was the Daily Herald’s, I then became, two months after my 22nd birthday, the country’s youngest national newspaper reporter.
I revelled in the variety of work, murders, train crashes, human interest stories, but bosses knew of my sporting interests. I scored goals and hit runs for the Herald football and Cricket Teams. I talked with great sports writers like George Follows (a victim of the Munich air crash). I was asked to be the paper’s first full-time sports reporter back in my native North East. I said I’d give the job a six-month try and the try lasted all those years until my retirement.
I still played football and cricket with clubs in Seaham, Ryhope, Murton and Spennymoor until I was too old to play anymore.
OFB: Who was your favourite player then and others that you have watched over the years?
DW: My work has naturally meant my getting to know well some wonderful sportsmen. It was a joy for the North-East branch of the Football Writers’ Association to honour at our first dinner, three all-time greats. I was the chairman, and the celebrated guests that we had were; Jackie Milburn, of Newcastle and England, Raich Carter, of Sunderland and England, and Wilf Mannion, of Boro, England and Great Britain.
My favourite Boro player of all time has to be Brian Clough (Doug and Brian pictured above in Majorca). My first viewing of him was at a midweek game at Ayresome Park against Grimsby in 1956. I wrote in the Herald the next day that he was the most exciting player to enter a penalty area I’d seen in years, yet Doug Cooper had been Boro’s No. 9 at the start of the season.
I still think the Boro attacking forward line Brian led is one of the best I’ve known. I have difficulty these days remembering forwards I saw a fortnight ago, but I have no bother with remembering Billy Day, Derek McLean, Brian Clough, Alan Pecock and Eddie Holliday even though they never played together in the top division. It’s one of the best forward lines I ever saw.
OFB: What has been your most memorable games and your best experiences with the clubs?
DW: My happiest football occasions? Certainly, Newcastle’s Inter-Cities Fairs Cup win in 1969 and Sunderland’s 1973 FA Cup triumph over Leeds. The parties afterwards couldn’t have been better. How could I ever forget the hug manager Joe Harvey gave me in the Budapest dressing-room.
I will also always remember the smiles of Bob Stokoe, as we downed champagne from the trophy in Wembley’s dressing room.
Middlesbrough’s League Cup win and European campaign came after my retirement from full-time work. But I was so delighted for them – and particularly for Boro John who drinks in my local club.
OFB: Was your job as a sports reporter as glamorous as it sounds?
DW: I’d be a liar if I said I didn’t enjoy the glamour of my work. To this day it’s heart-warming when readers, television viewers and radio listeners recall my observations and writing. I was so pleased when my close friend, Charlie Summerbell of the Daily Mirror, told a gathering of journalists I was “a born reporter.”
DW: Did you travel to within Europe and the rest of the world during your career.
DW: I travelled abroad to see Newcastle win the Fairs Cup and also to watch England Youths play. I regret that I was retired by the time when the Boro went on their great runs playing in Europe.
OFB: What was your worst football game or experience and why?
DW: I never had any worst football experiences.
OFB: Who was in your opinion the best manager that North East Football has ever had and why?
DW: Bob Stokoe, was the most successful North-East-based manager I have known. He won the Division II championship as well as winning the F.A.Cup in that memorable Wembley final against Leeds United.
The most consistently happy five years of my career were those of Kevin Keegan’s reign at Newcastle. The Geordies’ fabulous football brought back all my boyish enthusiasm. Let me tell you, I couldn’t wait for the next game to come around, it was great to see them in action.
OFB: Who was in your opinion the best manager that North East Football should have had and why?
DW: Brian Clough. He was only 20 when I first met him, but I believe he could have managed a team even then. His views never changed all through his managerial career. As he told me after his first few months when he had taken over as the manager, at Hartlepool,
“Management is about judgement of players; those that you have, also know those you want.”
He and his assistant, Peter Taylor (the former Boro keeper), were brilliant judges of footballers.
By the way, I think I’m a good one! (brilliant judge of a footballer OFB)
OFB: Who was the greatest influence on your career and why?
DW: Charlie Summerbell, of the Daily Mirror he was the greatest sports writer of them all.
OFB: How do you think the match day has changed, from the time that you started watching and being involved with it and how it is played in the present day?
DW: Current football writers tell me I still get worked up at matches even though football has changed so much from when I used to watch it and write about it for a living. Today football can be very boring and uninteresting to watch, with all its square and sideways passing and free kicks back to the goalkeeper. When I watched football, it was exciting, now it isn’t as entertaining as it used to be.
OFB: Do you have any regrets in your career, or missed opportunities?
DW: My greatest footballing regret is that Brian Clough never managed one of the North-East’s three main clubs. Three times I set it up for Sunderland to appoint him as the manager; three times they turned him down. By the time they wanted him to take over the club as their manager it was too late. Early in his trophy-winning years the chairmen of Newcastle, Sunderland and Boro told me they wouldn’t appoint him. The word prejudice occurs…
OFB: Whom have you made a lifelong friend through football?
DW: Bobby Mitchell, Newcastle’s brilliant Scottish International left-winger, was my closest friend in football. My late wife, Edna, and I holidayed with Mitch and his lovely wife, Belle. I later delivered the eulogy of my late friend at his funeral. I also did the eulogies at the ceremonies for Jackie Milburn Bob Stokoe, Bobby Cowell, Billy Elliott and Ian Porterfield.
Brian Clough was also my treasured friend and I was very moved when I attended his memorial service at Derby’s Pride Park, as well as at the later unveiling of Brian’s statues at Albert Park in Middlesbrough and the one near Nottingham’ s city centre.
OFB: Whereabouts do you live these days, what are you doing in your retirement?
DW: I live in Northumberland and these days in my retirement I still go and watch football. It was great, to come to Middlesbrough Riverside Stadium and meet up with Peach Peacock this season and talk about old times. I thank him for sending me a photo of him and Brian when they were dashing young men.
OFB: Is it nice for you to think that you acted as an ambassador for the North East area and its people?
DW: Yes, I was very proud of my roots and where I came from and remember it was always said that North East football was the hotbed of soccer.
OFB: Finally, if you hadn’t had the career that you have had, what do you think you would have done as a profession?
DW: I couldn’t imagine what I’d have done if I hadn’t been a reporter, it was the only thing I wanted to do.
OFB: A huge thank you Doug for taking the time to talk to Diasboro and all our readers, posters and bloggers.