If one of the talented Huddersfield Town Academy’s graduate players inflicts any damage on the Clarets today, a man closely linked to the Academy can be found in a theatre dressing room on Broadway, New York and held partly responsible.
Perhaps better known for sitting in his Captain’s chair commanding the Starship, the USS Enterprise as Jean Luc-Picard, the famous British actor and lifelong Huddersfield Town fan, Sir Patrick Stewart, can be found there appearing in the Samuel Beckett play, “”Waiting for Godot.”
A few years ago, as the Chancellor of Huddersfield University, Sir Patrick presented Huddersfield Town legend, Andy Booth, with an Honorary Fellowship from the University and recently named the players of the 1925/6 squad as his favourite Huddersfield side, a team that won the league that year for the third time.
Hedging his bets, he named Alex Smithies, Ray Wilson, Mark Lillis, Vic Metcalfe, Denis Law, Jordan Rhodes and, of course, Andy Booth as substitutes.
The popular actor is now President of Town’s Academy and in his youth, no mean footballer himself.
I played alongside him in a team I organised while we were both acting with the Royal Shakespeare Company in the late 60’s.
A muscular, bustling, full back capable of tackling opposing wingers with all the ferocity of a Staffordshire bull terrier, Patrick was a formidable opponent.
He wore contact lenses to play and brought a match to a standstill one Sunday morning by shouting, “Stop,” in that deep, commanding voice that has helped make him into such a fine Shakespearean actor.
A bewildered referee asked him what the problem was and Patrick announced that he’d lost a contact lens as he was heading the ball.
Miraculously, a search of the muddy pitch by both teams, the referee and the linesmen, found it.
Patrick spat on it to clean it, popped it back in, blinked a few times and we played on.
Not long after, his vision fully restored, he crunched into the opposition’s winger with such force that, much to Patrick’s dismay, the winger never recovered enough to continue.
Somewhere, maybe, in the video files of the BBC, a copy exists of a programme made in 1970 by the sports writer, Brian Glanville called, “One Pair of Eyes, “ which looked at the phenomenon of Sunday morning footballers.
Patrick and I kicked off a game on Hackney Marshes in London to the sound of a helicopter filming overhead, capturing a view of the 88 full size pitches laid out there, every one with a match on it. An astonishing sight but the chances of getting a hot shower at the end of the game with around 2000 others fighting for the same privilege is daunting, to say the least.
I’ve no doubt that Sir Patrick, thanks to modern technology; will be keeping his eye on today’s match, sitting alongside his co-star, the Burnley born, Sir Ian McKellen.
I once listened, in a hotel room in America, to a home game at Turf Moor, courtesy of Clarets Player, when I was on tour there, Phil Bird’s northern accent filling me with nostalgia. Wonderful.
One Sunday morning, many years ago, like Sir Patrick appearing in the Big Apple, I bought a copy of the New York Times, found the “Soccer” results (not easy) and read, “Burnley 1 Preston 12.”
I spent the rest of the day praying that it must be a misprint, hoped that it was 1-1 and by nightfall, was willing to settle for losing 2-1, anything but 1-12.
Sitting in New York this New Year’s Day, playing a role that is light years away from Jean Luc-Picard, Sir Patrick will be wanting a Huddersfield win. I can almost hear him muttering, “Make it so,” as he stares at his mobile.
In the event of Huddersfield going behind, one can only hope that he doesn’t get himself beamed down to Turf Moor during the game.
I wouldn’t wish him loose on any Burnley players. I still wince when I remember those Sunday morning tackles.
The only way to stop him would be to, “Set phasers to stun.”