Football: George Farm's message would probably have been: 'Get lost, don't bother me again'

Fan's Eye View No 227 Blackpool
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The Independent Online
I play football at every opportunity nowadays, so it is difficult to recall a time in my life when I would rather watch than play, but for a time in my teens that was indeed the case. I played for the school team on Saturday mornings and would rather go to Bloomfield Road to watch Blackpool in the afternoon than turn out again for Blackpool Boys Club with sopping wet boots.

I had been watching the Pool since I was seven, round about the time they won the FA Cup in the famous "Matthews Final" of 1953. Sadly, I did not see their moment of triumph. Watching the match on television at a friend's house, we decided it was a lost cause at 3-1 down to Bolton and went out to play on our bikes oblivious to the great comeback culminating in Bill Perry's last-minute winner.

However, I was a regular three years later when Blackpool finished second in the League to Manchester United. I used to spend hours waiting for autographs outside the ground. Day after day in the school holidays the players would sign a different photograph in my scrapbook.

The most elusive players were the great Stan Matthews and the Scottish goalkeeper George Farm. I am sure Stan had a secret exit from Bloomfield Road, because I only ever caught him once or twice. He proved as difficult for autograph hunters as he was for the hapless full-backs who had to mark him for 90 minutes.

George Farm was not quite so elusive, in fact, but he spent hours on his pedicure after training and was a terrible grouch when he eventually appeared at the players' entrance, glowering at the two or three kids still there while their lunch was going cold on mum's kitchen table.

"Didn't I give it to you yesterday?" he would growl, as I tentatively shoved an action picture under his nose. Then he pulled out his own fountain pen to carefully inscribe "Geo" Farm.

You had to be particularly careful about which photograph to select for his autograph. It would have been a very reckless child who asked Farm to sign anything from the 1953 Cup final, when he let in a couple of soft goals.

My favourite signature of all - apart, that is, from the greats such as Pele, Di Stefano and Puskas obtained in excruciatingly embarrassing fashion in much later years - was an unlikely one. Eddie Clamp, the Wolves and England wing-half, prefixed his name "Yours in sport". I thought this was really cool. Much better than having to beg, like some kids: "Please put best wishes."

I often wondered what George "Geo" Farm would have written if anyone ever dared ask for a special message. Probably "Get lost, don't bother me again."

George Farm was a perfectionist, always immaculately turned out, who was capped 10 times by Scotland despite employing a highly unusual technique to catch the ball, a nutcracker-type style with one hand above and one hand below the ball.

He once injured a shoulder in those pre-substitute days and moved to striker to head a goal in a 6-2 win over hated local rivals Preston North End. I was sitting on the wall behind the goal. Happy days.

I followed Blackpool for many years. I thrilled at the electric skill of Tony Green before his career was prematurely ended by injury after his move to Newcastle.

Alan Buddick came the other way in 1966 - a beautiful player, but one for whom the word enigmatic was surely specially coined. I often ask Jim Armfield about him now, but Jim, who has always taken his game seriously, tends to clam up, distrustful I suspect of anyone who did not make the most of the sublime gifts he had been blessed with.

Barrie Martin, a full-back of upright style, played a costly and ill- judged passback on one occasion from just outside the penalty area near the players' tunnel. Dear old Ellis Tomlinson, our football master at school, termed that corner of the pitch "Martin's Folly".

I still watch Blackpool whenever duties allow. But since my move away from Lancashire to the Football Association nearly 10 years ago, I have never seen them win.

The season before last I stayed away after a hard-won draw at Peterborough in March. Pool were top in April, then dipped to finish third.

A first leg play-off semi- final at Bradford City was won 2-0. Promotion to Division One looked certain.

For the second leg at Bloomfield Road I followed Gary Lineker's famous advice about Wimbledon and "watched" the match on Teletext. Agonisingly 0-1 became 0-2. Nothing in life was surer than that 0-2 would flick over to 0-3 in the closing minutes.

It did, and big Sam Allardyce lost his job.

Graham Kelly is chief executive of the Football Association