When Bond beat Goldfinger in a golf match, you weren’t too worried about the result. You were more concerned as to where you could purchase that classic Slazenger burgundy v neck sweater. Likewise when Ken Rosewall lost to John Newcombe in the 1970 men’s Wimbledon singles final you were more focused on Rosewall’s polo shirt than the outcome of the match. These were much sought after items of clothing in the late 60’s and early 70’s in the North East of England, but not easy to obtain. Large department stores such as Bainbridge’s or Fenwick’s didn’t really cater for the sporting man at that particular time, the only shops that I can remember stocking these priceless gems were the sports shops run by Stan Seymour and Frank Brennan. These were must have items of clothing and could easily match anything that Fred Perry had to offer at that particular time. Oh, how times have changed, while Fred Perry has managed to stay ahead of the game Slazenger has slowly declined in to a second rate brand that is now owned by Sports Direct billionaire Mike Ashley. Ashley may be a brilliant businessman, but he was never going to take Slazenger back to its former glory. His policy of stack them high, sell them cheap has worked extremely well for him, but it is tragic to see that this once simple understated brand is never going to return to the level it was once. Despite all that has gone on at Slazenger I still crave that timeless v neck sweater, fortunately you can still purchase the real I am, not from one of Ashley’s dreadful stores but from Anthony Sinclair of Mayfair. It does not come cheap, but Sinclair has worked painstakingly to recreate this unforgettable jersey and has produced a great product that is as good as anything out there in the marketplace. In the hands of Anthony Sinclair, Slazenger may have a chance to rebrand itself extremely well in the hands of “Cashley” it is as they say at Newcastle United game over.
At the weekend my wife suggested that we go to the pictures for a change. As I haven’t been to the cinema (is it still called that, not quite sure?) for at least a couple of years, I did not know what to expect. The film we chose was Legend, starring Tom Hardy in both roles as the Kray twins Ronnie and Reggie. Prior to going I checked most of the reviews in the national newspapers and they were rather mixed. I personally found the film really good with Tom Hardy giving a very good performance. However, as with most British gangster films they tend to be set in the metropolis rather than in the provinces which is a pity because with all due respect to British gangster movies, the best one there has ever been was not set in London but in Newcastle and that movie is Get Carter. Now, you are immediately going to say that I am biased as I live in the North East and you would be dead right. But as British gangster movies go, nothing comes close to this movie. I probably like it most because I can identify with most of the places in the film that are now sadly all long gone, the film succeeds because it highlights the fact that the main character Jack Carter (played by Michael Caine) a Geordie hard man, has escaped the grime and dirt of the north east to work as an enforcer for a London firm of villains not too dissimilar to the Krays. However Carter cannot escape his roots and must return home to avenge his brother’s murder. The well-dressed Caine gives a great performance as a ruthless thug who is ready at any time to inflict pain to get answers as to how his brother died. Supported by an unforgettable soundtrack by Ray Budd, the film brilliantly captures the atmosphere of early seventies Tyneside, Caine gives a towering performance and it is a pity that it took years for the film to get the recognition it deserved. So please go and see Legend and enjoy it, but then watch the real thing.
Now that the dust has settled on the World Athletics Championships in Bejing, it is time to evaluate a comment made by a fellow frozen northerner, Brendan Foster, who suggested that Mo Farah is the greatest British athlete of all time. With all due respect to Brendan. Mo is great but in my eyes he is not the greatest. That title belongs to Seb Coe. If you look at their medals tally in major sporting events then you cannot deny that Mo is way ahead, but you need to look beyond that and revisit that golden period of the late 70s and early 80s when Coe was at his majestic best. Breaking world records and winning Olympic gold medals but also fending off the challenge of Ovett and Cram at the same time. Coe made everything look easy with that graceful stride allowing him to glide around the track effortlessly. Nothing that Mo does is going to erase those epic races that Coe took part in. Seb appeared to break world records whenever he felt like it and was fuelled by his rivalry with Ovett who was trying to do the same. Those torturous 800 metre training sessions on Rivelin valley road which were organized and planned by his father, Peter, enabled Seb to reach a level of performance beyond his or his father’s wildest dreams. His achievement in becoming the first man to win consecutive 1500 metre Olympic gold medals could be regarded as his greatest success, one could argue that it takes some beating, but for me that summer of 1981 will never be bettered and it gave us a watershed moment in athletics with the golden mile at the Hysel Stadium in Brussels. The world record was about to be broken for the third time in 10 days and in front of 50,000 people. Coe duly obliged with a performance of the highest magnitude, going through the first lap in 54.42 seconds, Coe produced a mesmerizing performance to win in 3 minutes 47.33 seconds. I have never seen anything like it and with Coleman going berserk in the commentary box you knew you had just witnessed something special. Mo is great but there is only one Seb Coe.
In the frozen north we are blessed with the finest makers of waterproof clothing in the world, J Barbour and Sons of South Shields. The Barbour Company, based at Simonside in South Tyneside, produces world renowned waxed cotton jackets. Over the years Barbour has built a reputation for producing quality products that has turned the firm into a luxury brand. The business has built up a huge following at home and abroad especially around Europe where Italians tend to go crazy for this item of clothing. Their waxed cotton jacket, commonly known as a “Barbour jacket” is much sought after and holds royal warrants to supply waterproof clothing to The Queen, The Duke of Edinburgh and The Prince of Wales. Mostly found in high end stores such as Harrods. Barbour also has large number of its own shops worldwide, with at least 3 in London alone. Which brings me to why I am writing this blog. Why do they not have a flagship store in either South Shields, their hometown, or Newcastle upon Tyne, the greatest city in the world? The North East is crying out for upscale retailers and Barbour should have one up here. Now I know you can buy their product at Fenwick’s or John Lewis but your choice is severely limited, Barbour could argue you that they have an outlet at their South Shields factory which is fine, but what we really need is a top class store showcasing their outstanding merchandise. They should maybe look to copy another outstanding luxury brand, Paul Smith, who despite achieving worldwide success, has never forgotten his roots and has kept a store in his hometown Nottingham. So come on Barbour show a bit support for your local area and give us a great store near or on the banks of the Tyne.