Sheffield Wednesday Change

Sheffield Wednesday Alan Biggs

Highlights of reporting on Sheffield Wednesday

Some might say I’ve had the misfortune on reporting on pretty barren years for sport in Sheffield, with the major clubs somewhat in the doldrums but I’ve no regrets whatsoever and have been fortunate to have many highlights. It gives me great satisfaction when I look back on travelling to Wembley with Sheffield Wednesday when they won the League Cup (Rumbelows Cup as it was then) and seeing my report on the backpage of the Daily Express. Apart from Chesterfield winning the Johnstone’s Paint Trophy at Wembley & securing promotion, Sheffield Wednesday’s victory was the only major trophy any Sheffield club has won since I first started covering them!

It’s not so much the games that stand out as the characters you encounter along the way. Len Ashurst would play practical jokes on me whenever I went to Hillsborough to interview him. He would have a chair that would dismantle the second you sat on it. On post match press conferences he would try to embarrass me & play to the gallery. The radio stations would get their interviews first and then it was time for the printed press. He was quite a fearsome character, a Liverpudlian who made his name as a player at Sunderland. I remember leading with the first question after one game, asking him about the match and how he felt about the result and dead pan he responded with ‘All I have to say to you Alan is….your flies are undone’……I did the worst thing possible and looked and of course everyone fell about laughing!

Jack Charlton

In 1966 shortly after the World Cup, we went on a family holiday to Dorset to stay with some relatives. It was a beautiful hot summer and one day we went to the beach at Weymouth. There was a real buzz going round on the beach and people were pointing, as there, sitting on the beach with is family, was World Cup winner Jack Charlton! Can you imagine that scene happening now! It was just a couple of weeks after the final. I’m sure most of his England teammates will have flown off to foreign shores, but Jack being Jack was having his family go on an English beach holiday. It obviously couldn’t happen nowadays. People were very respectful though and just every now and then people would go up to him to ask for an autograph. I did. He didn’t really say much, if he even said anything at all. He was hard to figure out whether he was annoyed, embarrassed or how he felt about it all, but he signed an autograph for me in pencil. It was my most treasured possession up until my little brother, who was three years younger than me and didn’t understand the significance, traced over the signature. He just about survived…..!

The next time I saw Jack Charlton was when he was appointed manager at Hillsborough on a Saturday evening, after he had sat in the North Stand, opposite the press box to watch the match. He’d gone along trying to be incognito. Wednesday beat my team Chesterfield 1-0 with a very sketchy performance and after the game, Jack walked round to the main entrance and went in with the directors. I was covering the game for Radio Hallam, so we hung about and by 6:45pm he was introduced as the new manager. I have to say, that as a young radio reporter, I was pretty much in awe of him to the point where I would admit to being slightly scared of him. I soon discovered though that his bark was far worse than his bite. He certainly wasn’t orthodox, he took people as they were. I don’t suppose there were many tactics involved in his management, he’d get the best players he could and just mucked in with them.

There was something that resembled a social club at Hillsborough, with bar, dart board & a snooker table and that is where I’d go on a Friday to interview Jack about the following day’s game. He’d always be playing darts or snooker when I went in. On one occasion he was playing snooker against his star player, Terry Curran. They had a real love/hate relationship, they were like cat and dog. I was sat waiting with my tape recorder whilst they finished off a frame. They practically ignored me, though I knew Terry having interviewed him a few times.

A row broke out about something around the rules and Jack stomped across to me and said oi, get your tape recorder out and let’s get this recorded, there is a fiver on this game. Jack explains to the tape why he reckons he’s entitled to a free shot and Terry then argues the case why he’s not. Jack then asks me to find out what the correct ruling should be. They went back to the game, finished it off then Jack plonked himself down next to me and recorded a standard interview for the following day’s game.

As I was driving back to the studio I was thinking about the snooker match. The game had just come to The Crucible and I knew a little about it but also knew a guy called Mike Wattison who was the promoter for the tournament and players. We had a sports desk feature every hour on Radio Hallam so I hatched a plan to set the scene and play the tape of Jack and Terry’s snooker match and then get Mike on the phone on the radio to provide a live adjudication. I figured it would make for good radio and was pretty harmless fun, which was a little naïve in thinking on my part let me tell you! I played in the tape, Mike was on the phone, he said Jack has stuck his neck out wrongly on this one and that he owed Terry a fiver. Great piece of radio, off we go and I think no more about it.

I always took Monday off and on this occasion I headed off down to Dudley on a real ale tour. I’d often ring in to the studio just to check everything was okay. I was a little worse for wear when I called in. Yes all was fine, but….Jack Charlton had rung. Apparently he was furious and it was something to do with snooker….I kind of sobered up rather quickly!

I headed into work the following day with some trepidation. I rang Jack and he said “Are you the fella that came here on Friday?” When I said yes Jack went ballistic and I can’t repeat exactly what he said. I literally had to hold the phone away from my ear till he stopped! But fair play to Jack, there was a match the following day and once he’d issued my rollocking he then asked if I needed any info from him for the game and we duly carried out an interview.

In hindsight the whole episode taught me a valuable lesson about getting the measure right between what was for the public and what should remain private. I don’t have any regrets about broadcasting that piece though, it made great radio!

Alan Biggs @AlanBiggs1

Read Alan's Memories of Dave Basset & Sheffield United here

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