In the early 1980’s the frozen northerner spent most of his summer holidays on the Costa Del Sol, the main objectives of these holidays were to obtain the perfect tan and drink copious amounts of San Miguel, both of which were normally achieved. When the frozen northerner returned home he had to have in his possession at least one brand new polo shirt, normally it would a classic Lacoste, but for our intrepid traveller there was another polo shirt that had to be purchased and that was the Ellesse polo shirt. These polo shirts may have been standard issue in the Metropolis but in the darkest north east of England they were nigh on impossible to find. During this period of time there were few pretenders around trying to steal the crown that had been worn effortlessly by Lacoste since the beginning of time; they mainly came from Italy and included the aforementioned Ellesse, as well as makes such as Fila and Tacchini (I tend to think the iconic Fred Perry was on the backburner at this time but please correct me if I am wrong). Walking down South Parade in Whitley Bay on any Saturday night you were indeed swimming with crocodiles, there were that many men wearing Lacoste so, wearing Ellesse made you a bit different which, I suppose was the aim of the game. Founded in Perugia in 1959 by Leonardo Servadio the brand name Ellesse derives from the initials of original owner L S, with its easy identifiable tennis ball logo Ellesse sportswear was worn with distinction mainly by famous tennis players such as Boris Becker, Mats Wilander and Chris Evert, they may have looked good but you weren’t go to buy the shirt because of these players you were going to buy it because of one man Guillermero Vilas. The big serving Argentinian left hander, looked more like a member of Menotti world cup squad than a tennis player, with his long flowing locks he would easily have fitted in perfectly into a forwardline that included Luque and Kempes but chose tennis instead. The “young bull of the pampas” always looked great in Ellesse especially at the French Open at Roland Garros, on the clay which was his preferred surface, you were never going to look as good as him but it didn’t stop you dreaming. Sadly, Ellesse was taken over by in 1994 by the Pentland group, an investment that was bad for all parties concerned, the company slipped into decline which saw Ellesse gradually lose its place in highly competitive polo shirt market which was rather tragic. Now with the release of its heritage line, Ellesse is trying to make a comeback, I doubt it will make it back to those glorious days of the early 80,s there is just too much competition around producing a better product (stand up Fred Perry) I would love them to do well, but without Vilas they are going to struggle get back to the top.
Everyone will have a favourite Sherlock Holmes film or TV series, they come in all shapes and sizes with Holmes be played by a host of revered actors ranging from the inimitable Basil Rathbone to the very stylish Rupert Everett, the Victorian/Edwardian era with its swirling clouds of fog may not be cup of tea, you may prefer the modern versions such as the ones featuring the excellent Benedict Cumbernauld. Your choice like mine is a very personal thing and only you know why you like that particular Holmes film. The Private Life of Sherlock Holmes made in 1970, was written, produced and directed by the very great Billy Wilder, with a superb score by Miklos Rozsa, that perfectly captures the Victoria era, Wilder was given bumpy ride by the distributer the Mirisch Production Company, who edited the film mercilessly, nevertheless is the frozen northerner‘s favourite Sherlock Holmes film. Why I fell in love with this particular adaptation I have no idea, maybe its stems from one of the opening lines when Watson describes how Holmes has solved the perplexing murder of Admiral Abernathy by measuring how far the parsley had sank into the butter on a hot day, from then on I knew this was not going to be a typical Sherlock Holmes movie. Robert Stephens superb portrayal of the great man is akin to what I like to think Holmes would really have been like, Watson’s (Colin Blakeley’s best ever role) serialization of Holmes triumphs and conquests in The Strand magazine would have us believe that here indeed is the greatest mind in all England. However, as the film unravels Wilder reveals a darker side to our hero suggesting that if he is not indeed homosexual then he is most certainly bi-sexual, although it has said that no man or woman is ever going to come close to his real love, a seven per cent solution of cocaine. Wilder conveys the story in two parts, the first part involving the prima ballerina in the Imperial Russian ballet, the second part, an attack on the British Empire by German intelligence. These two plots slowly reveal flaws in the Holmes’s makeup, demonstrating that our hero is not quite the genius that Watson would seemingly have us believe. The supporting cast is ably led by Christopher Lee as his brother Mycroft and Geneveive Page as the mysterious Gabrielle Valladon, Irene Handl playing the part of the irascible Mrs Hudson, a performance of which is nothing short of brilliant. Part one would us believe that Holmes is averse to women, and the way that he disengages himself from the advances of Madame Petrova, hints a little bit about his sexual persuasion however, as the story unfolds Holmes is completely captivated by the seemingly widowed Gabrielle Valladon who is actually the top German spy Fraulein Elsa Von Hofmannsthal, a scenario that sees Holmes, utterly besotted by Teutonic temptress. Attempting to get the bottom of Monsieur Valladon’s death, they end up masquerading around the castles of Scotland as Mr and Mrs Ashdown with Watson as their dutiful valet, a plan that badly backfires on Holmes when he unwittingly leads them to the latest pride and joy of the Diogenes club, an underwater submersible, (a submarine to you and me) cleverly disguised as the Loch Ness monster. The plot continually twists and turns with Holmes completely unaware of the intentions of the Kaiser’s mole. Fortunately for Holmes his brother Mycroft has uncovered the real identity of Madame Valladon and the plot to steal the submersible, now that the integrity of the British Empire has been saved, Mycroft insists that Holmes must inform Fraulein Von Hofmannsthal that the game is up, the Fraulein bares her soul to Holmes stating that she knew all along that she could never outwit the brilliant Holmes, who plays along never revealing the fact that he has been completely outsmarted by the Prussian seductress. The scene at the end where Elsa Von Hofmannsthal bids Holmes Auf Wiedersehen using their umbrella to transmit a Morse code message is a stroke of genius. The film itself is often overlooked by Holmes fans maybe because there is a bit too much humour and perhaps because no one thought that Stephens and Blakely could pull it off so it well, but under the guidance of Wilder they have produced an often forgotten gem.
Books in the English language, on the greatest footballer of all time are few and far between, hold on I hear you say, books on Pele, Maradona and Messi are numerous and plentiful but as great as these players are, none of them can hold a candle to the legendary Alfredo Di Stefano. Just how great this player was is often overlooked because he really played before the television era began. So, when Ian Hawkey recently produced a book on the great man, it had to bought and read immediately. Although I enjoyed the book I have to say it would not make my top ten of sporting books. Whilst the book explores Di Stefano’s experience as both a player and a coach, it is his time as player that I was most interested. Although he had a loan spell at Huracan early on in his career and a spell at Espanol at the end, it is his time at 3 clubs River Plate of Buenos Aires in Argentina, the Colombian club Millionarios of Bogotá and last but least the Spanish team Real Madrid (who he transformed in to the biggest football team on the planet) that really interested me. his time at Real Madrid has been well documented, but the other two clubs not so much. River Plate whether you like or not was the place that established him as great player, playing alongside the likes of Rossi, Pedernera and Labruna he developed his game to another level, success came quickly resulting in 2 Primera league titles in 1945 and 47 with his club as well as the 47 Copa America with Argentina. Although this was a golden period of Argentine football, it has to said the Argentine FA was consumed by greed and corruption, that forced their better players to head the rebel Colombian League. I feel Hawkey’s book has missed an opportunity here to explore just disastrous this was Argentine football, which saw them miss 2 world cups and the chance to be recognised as the leading football nation in South America, the repercussions of which are still being felt today. Di Stefano time at Millionarios was spent under the guidance of their President Alfonso Senior Quevedo, a man who you could argue created the first galacticos, (an idea pinched by Santiago Bernabeu and used to this day by Florentino Perez) his side nicknamed the “Ballet in Blue” dominated the Columbian League during Di Stefano’s time there. Quevedo was man ahead of his time, relentlessly chasing trophies home and aboard turning them into the football equivalent of the Harlem Globetrotters, when the toured Spain and played against Real Madrid, Senor Bernabeu was captivated by the brilliance of Di Stefano so much so that he knew that if Real Madrid were to come become great, then this was the man that was going to transform them. The rest as they say is history and Hawkey’s book adequately covers his Madrid years, discussing the tug of war with Barcelona for player’s signature, his glory days at Madrid, his partnership with Puskas, his tragic exit,his return as a manager it’s all there. Di Stefano had peerless career that no great player can match in terms of success and longevity, the only downside in his professional life was in the World Cup in which Argentina refused to play in twice in 1950 and 54 which, they could have possibly won, when he eventually got to play in the world cup he was badly hampered by injury and could not do himself justice. Di Stefano was an awkward, stubborn individual, who was not easy to get along with, but one thing always comes shining through and that was his hunger and desire to be the best at times. Hawkey’s book could and should have been a lot better, but having said that I did enjoy it, should you buy it, I would have to say yes if only for the fact it will expose you to the greatest player that has ever lived, Alfredo Di Stefano.
A couple of weeks ago the BBC showed a programme called the Story of Funk, it featured the usual suspects, James Brown, Sly, George Clinton, Earth Wind and Fire it was all there, among the various artists being interviewed were two white gentlemen from Dundee called Onnie McIntyre and Alan Gorrie. Seeing these two catapulted me back to 1974 and my efforts to obtain their album AWB or the White Album as it now more commonly known, This disc was bought purely on the basis that had been reviewed favourably by New Musical Express (NME), at this particular time the frozen northerner only bought records on the advice of this magazine. NME held only three areas of interest, the soul section written by Roger St Pierre, the crossword and the album reviews which were done superbly by someone like Nick Kent or Charles Shaar Murray (Murray once wrote a great piece expounding the brilliance of the Jackson 5 album Skywriter, but that’s another story). So when they said go buy, I bought, at that particular time Newcastle had probably three main outlets to buy records Jeavons, Windows and probably Callers, none these places had even heard of the Average White Band, I vainly trolled every record shop in Newcastle without any success leaving with one last chance which was the hippy sanctuary on Ridley Place known as Virgin Records, unbelievably they stocked the album which, was happily purchased from some John Lennon lookalike and was taken straight home to be listened too. On a first hearing I was quite smitten with the band, the vocals of Hamish Stuart and Alan Gorrie were outstanding, which is probably a bit unfair on the rest of the band who were all at their very best on this album, there isn’t a bad track people on the LP and every song is a little piece of magic, “Pick up the Pieces” is the best known track, although my personal favourite is “Just want to love tonight. It was produced by the great Arif Mardin, with a little bit of help from Jerry Wexler; both men knew they were on a winner with these Scottish funksters, with the outcome being an album of the highest quality. I don’t think anyone has really appreciated the fact that AWB reached no1 in USA, both in the Billboard and R & B charts, some achievement for bunch of lads from Scotland. Any fan of soul and funk should buy this album because it will over time become a prized possession; just remember unlike me you won’t have to troll the streets of Newcastle to buy it.