The First Seventieth (or Hip, Hip, Hooray for me!)

These were the fellows playing on 12/12/08 and anticipating the first of their number getting to (to borrow from another game) 70 not out a few days later:

Back L – R Adrian Kevan, Paul Harrison, Iain Veitch, Ron Caley, Mark Warland, Andrew Caley, James Kearney

Front L – R John Wells, Richard Walker, Duke Maskell, Geoff Platt, Jim Harvey, Julian Germain

The picture was meant to accompany the following little note in the Hexham Courant but the Courant was too full of pictures of D-v-d Th-mps-n that week to have room for any picture of anyone else.

Duke Maskell, 70 years young and still playing football

Duke has been playing 5 a side football at Haydon Bridge sports hall on Friday nights for over 20 years. It used to be fortnightly but at 64, Duke insisted on weekly because he wasn’t getting enough games in.

Off the field he is the leading organiser, ensuring that there are enough turning up to give him a runaround. Emails fly frantically through the ether every Thursday and Friday until he has at least 8 ‘yeses’. A year ago he established our website, to expand our communications network. On the field of play he is equally enthusiastic and still regarded as the fiercest tackler and best covering defender on ‘the park’. Some describe him as ‘uncompromising’, others just rub their legs.

Three years ago he turned international, organising tournaments in Berlin, Madrid and Prague. He is looking forward to taking on the Germans again next June.

It has been rumoured that he is ‘not of this planet’, such is his everlasting energy. In recent years he has suffered plantar fasciitis (which cripples most people) torn hamstrings and calf muscles and a broken leg (which actually stopped him playing for more than 1 week) So he is human, if only just.

He has no plans to ‘hang up his boots’ and looks forward to roughly 320 more games before we celebrate his 80th.

Dr Johnson commented on reading this: “Sir, playing football at 70 is like a dog standing on its legs or a woman giving a sermon: the question is not whether it is well done or ill but that it is done at all.” Mr Maskell’s milkman said something very similar: “You are a silly old fool.”
The game was followed by a party at The Rat, which answered the famous old question of whether there was still to be cakes and ale and at which the team poet delivered the following noble and affecting address, one hardly bettered by either laureate of auld Scotland, Mcgonagall or Burns:
In Corbridge Town there lives a man,

Duke Maskell he is called.

Although he’s reached three score and ten,

He’s handsome, hard and bald

In former times he spurned the cross

He called the clergy ‘wets’

Though now he does a pilgrimage,

‘But just to ‘edge me bets!’

He lived dahn souf in years gone by,

A cockney sparrow, he,

Who followed Millwall Football Club;

Ate jellied eels for tea.

We don’t know why he fled up North,

But some say he was seen,

With head held high, but trousers down,

While flirting with the Queen

He likes to deal in politics,

He’s right of right…of right,

Dressed in his British Bulldog suit

He is an awesome sight.

He has no time for Communists,

He thinks they should be shot

And if you’re left of Kilroy Silk,

You should be left to rot.

There’s other folk he likes to hate,

Like lesbians and queers,

And lady boys and transvestites

And men with stuck out ears

And foreigners who take our jobs,

And foreigners who don’t,

And foreigners who pay their way,

But mostly those who won’t

And fatties, whingers, tramps and chavs,

And people who are young,

Unless they’re pretty females,

Who want a bit of fun.

He’s at his best on Friday nights,

At football with the fools

Who run around and kick the ball,

And never break the rules.

He looks a little peevishly

At those who keep the score.

To him, it is a blood sport,

With splashes on the floor.

He doesn’t need a ball or goals,

He doesn’t even warn yer

He kicks you on a leg or two

And traps you in the corner.

The elbows, knees and feet are used,

No matter if you shout,

Unless you lie down on your back,

He’ll never let you out.

He likes to join the après sport

Which takes place in The Rat,

When Plans are made for Big Days Out,

But if his beer is flat……

….or if the head is in the glass

And not above the rim,

His eyes go red, his lips turn down,

No-one dare look at him

The quaking barmaid tops it up

And Duke resumes his seat.

The beer is flowing out the glass

And dripping on his feet.

Well, Duke, I’d like to finish here,

I’m sure that you would too.

You are a legend, hero, God!

Hip hip hooray for you!
The party addressed was too overcome by emotion to reply at the time but did later pass around the following (scarcely adequate) email:

I say, you fellows, what an absolutely topping surprise–of quite the best sort, not vulgarly bursting upon a chap all in one go but sort of slowly overtaking him (like Andrew, if one’s standing still). A fellow ought, of course, to have twigged that something was afoot when he learned that Harrison wasn’t too tired to come out to play or, if not then, when he learned that Platt had permission to come for a drink or, at least, when he discovered that Broadey had come for one, headache, toothache, bellyache and all. But, of course, when a fellow is properly English and unaccustomed to being fussed over, nothing will even vaguely begin to dawn on him until samwidges and chips appear and fellows start offering to buy not just him a drink but those he’s himself at the bar trying to buy drinks for too. But show him a cake with his name on it and read out an Ode to him and the penny drops quickly enough.

And what topping presents! Presents that make you feel your chums really understand you. A framed photograph of me and a smattering of extras (props really). Two laminated photographs of me (and a ball–pity about the ball). A photograph of me and a Spanish girl struggling to appear indifferent to me. An ode to and about me. (Ah, if only it had been by me …) A cake for me (splendid cake–so splendid that on seeing it Matron said, “Oh, splendid. No need to make you one myself now” and Nurse (Matron’s daughter) said, “Splendid. If we take the candles off, it will do for Christmas.” And–almost best of all–a photograph of my shirt covered with my blood on a background of my (new) floor. (I take it that the caption ’69′ refers just to my age at the time the blood was spilt and wasn’t meant to flatter me by suggesting that I still have the flexibility to do what I once interrupted a drunken Irishman doing to himself on a late-night tube train many, many years ago?) And then, the shirt, the shirt, magnificent in itself but all the more magnificent for being (like me) redolent of Old England and Better Days (or, as Volka might say, ‘the Boer War’). And with my own name on the back (shared pretty well with no one who isn’t a dog) and my own age too. Pity so many share that but at least there’s the happy prospect of outliving them all. All washed down with Warm Beer in the Best Company. Tophole. I think maybe I’ll be 70 again next year too.

Yours with upper lip very slightly unstiffened,

Tim Dim-But-We-Have-No-Reason-To-Think-Very-Extraordinarily-Nice
PS: I have made a list of those who didn’t show up, and, in consequence, the next time they do, will be For It.